The next five episodes of Spartan Ops Season 1 are available! That’s Episodes 6 through 10. It’s a 2.21 GB download, available for free on the Xbox Live Marketplace to owners of Halo 4 with an Xbox Live Gold Account. That last bit sounds redundant considering that a Gold Account is required just to start a chapter, but whatever.
The package has only been available for 20 minutes as of this writing. As I wait for the download to complete, I have to wonder what’s in the package. In the teaser 343i released, I counted the number of new environments we’ll see. There are at least six, including one that is onboard the UNSC Infinity. These all needed 3D models and possibly new textures.
What else is in there?
The current cast is Commander Palmer, Captain Lasky, the five members of Fireteam Majestic, Roland, Spartan Miller, Spartan Dalton, Doctor Glassman, Doctor Halsey, Gek, and Jul ‘Mdama. That’s fourteen characters who will need new dialogue. We’re not even counting any auxiliary characters that appear throughout the chapters.
It’s unlikely that new music is included, but it would be difficult to tell either way. An hour of orchestrated music would weigh in at about 78 MB, and I’m being very generous by saying there’d be an hour of new music. It would be an insignificant amount of data.
There would also need to be five more of those gorgeous pre-rendered cinematics by Axis Animation. Remember that these cinematics are at an HD resolution and typically run for 4.5 minutes. The total runtime for the first half of the season’s cinematics was only 22 minutes. The new cinematics undoubtedly make up the bulk of the download, even with all of the compression.
Keep in mind that the entirety of Halo: Infinity content came on a second disc. The Xbox 360 uses 8.5 GB DVDs. Looking at the stored game data for Halo 4 in the dashboard shows us that War Games is 2.0 GB. Spartan Ops Episodes 1 through 5 is 1.5 GB. That second disc was used for only 3.5 GB, allowing for 5 GB of extra space.
Why wasn’t Season 1.5—yes, that’s what 343i calls it—included on the second disc? There’s more than enough space. There would be enough space even if 343i shipped Infinity on one of the older 6.8 GB DVDs, as there would be 3 GB of free space available.
The only explanation I can conjure is that 343i put Spartan Ops together in a rush. They consciously cut Episodes 6-10 because of a rewrite midseason. This means that Axis Animation might not have had enough time to change the shots for the second half of the season. Priorities shift, and getting the first five episodes to be coherent takes precedence.
So how much time would have been needed to ship these episodes? Halo 4 went gold on September 26, 2012. Season 1.5 was released January 21, 2013. However, members of the press got an advance preview of Season 1.5, so the episodes must have been finished before then. It’s unlikely that they had been finished for very long, so we’ll say Season 1.5 wrapped up on January 7—two weeks before the press saw it. This means it takes at least three months for Axis and 343i to prepare five episodes.
With this number, we might want to expect Season 2 of Spartan Ops to start as early as late May 2013, with Season 2.5 coming in early August 2013. That is, if 343i decides to ship a second season.