Saber Interactive CEO Mathew Karch has identified Halo, not Gears of War, as Microsoft's premiere francise, despite record-making sales of Gears of War 3 and Master Chief's long absence from shelves.
The remarks, which echo Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer's assessment of Halo's centrality to Xbox, came during an exclusive CVG interview on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, the HD remake Saber is co-developing with 343 Industries.
"We gave them a very strong pitch and showed a lot of passion for it - they vetted us out very closely," Karch commented when asked how Saber scored the Anniversary job. "We said 'we're going to over-deliver on this', 'we're going to beat your expectations', 'we're going to take it as seriously as we would a $20 million new IP that we need to go all in on'.
"We realise how important this is and we've gone all in on it. It's Microsoft's crown jewel - that's my opinion. People can say Gears, but as big as Gears is it isn't Halo. I don't think they have a Gearsfest every year. I don't know, maybe they do, they had a Halofest and Anniversary was a key component of it and it showed really well."
Karch's gentle belittling of Gears may be owing to more than Saber's work on Anniversary. The developer's forthcoming new IP Inversion is comparable to the Epic Games hit, a co-op capable third-person shooter with a lock-to-cover mechanic.
Inversion does, in fairness, differentiate itself a fair whack by letting you fiddle with gravity, crushing enemies or hoisting them aloft.
"I kind of like being the underdog, I kind of like our position," Karch admitted when CVG asked how it felt to break into the big time. "I mean, I'd like to be retired at some point but I like it.
"It's given us more visibility which we need and one of the things that excites us the most is that it's got such as huge fanbase and there's something really great about working on a property that already has a built-in community."
Saber Interactive's last game, Timeshift, had a mixed reception from critics and players alike - our review handed it a 7/10. Karch reckons Anniversary will help dispel doubts about the studio's capabilities.
"I think what it will do is give Saber a little more credibility. We did Timeshift, which was good, a solid first game. There was a lot of scepticism since it was a Vivendi title first, another shooter coming out opposite Call of Duty.
"With Timeshift it came out and I don't know what the expectations were but for some people we matched them - for those that didn't think we'd be the next Halo. For others we didn't and couldn't with a relatively low budget first shot out there on console.
"With Inversion, even within the publishers we're working within we kind of had to overcome that, 'oh your last game was Timeshift, what's going to make this one better?' Well we're a more experienced team, we have better technology, we'll build off the experience of the previous games to make this a better game and ultimately that will get us better results.
"This idea in Inversion is a better one than it was for Timeshift. We'll have a better game just based on that. The other aspect is the profile of the developer and being able to... I don't want to say piggyback off Halo because we're working on Halo, but in people's eyes it validates us."
Despite its patent derivativeness, we enjoyed Inversion when we sampled it last. Here's the preview.
Don't forget to read CVG's full interview. If you're interested in how precisely Halo came to be one of Microsoft's jewels (we'll leave you to debate whether it's the "crown" jewel or not), pick up OXM's Halo Special Edition, a 145 page tome of Halo lore covering the entire series from Combat Evolved to Halo 4.