Live & Customization
As ske7ch said, it’s time to sit down with our Live Team and talk about our approach to designing a live game such as Halo Infinite, free to play multiplayer, and armor customization. Without further ado, let’s dive into a Q&A with the team!
Ryan, Chris – thank you so much for joining us today to represent the Live Team! Since this is the first time you’re both talking about Halo Infinite publicly, I wanted to give you a chance to introduce yourselves to our community. What do your roles at 343 entail and what’s your experience with Halo, as a fan or employee?
Ryan Paradis: Thanks for having us, Uny! So, hi! I’m Ryan Paradis, and I’m the Design Director for the Live Team. That means I’m focused on overall Live Team strategy and planning, ensuring we meet our goals as a studio, that the Live game has a strong direction and plan, while ensuring the team has the agency and focus to react to feedback and improve. I’m constantly meeting with others across the studio and the Xbox team, and always looking to ensure the clearest roadmap and path forward.
My experience with Halo as a fan, I’ll never forget: it started with the E3 2000 trailer. I remember being ABSOLUTELY blown away by the visuals, the gameplay, and definitely the score. So many feels came out of that experience, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I bought my Xbox & Halo with my own money in Fall ’02 in my senior year of High School, and it definitely contributed to my senioritis and a rocky first year at college. But I was hooked!
I’ve always had a place in my heart for Halo, getting my hands on every release on Day 1, digging into the lore, and even becoming somewhat passable at Multiplayer!
Chris Blohm: Hi, I’m Christopher Blohm and I am the Lead Progression designer. I work for Ryan and I am focused on Engagement and Customization. Another way to state that is I am the designer that works with the production, art, and engineering teams to create awesome in-game content that people will be excited to access and play with in the game. I also lead the team that controls how things are unlocked, be that via challenge or levelling.
The first time I saw Halo was when I was working on MechWarrior 4. The Bungie guys worked above us and a few came down to show us an early build of Multiplayer. I was hooked immediately. We all played shooters on PC but you could feel the tectonic plates shifting when we got our hands on those controllers even in an early build.
I joined 343 after working on MechAssault, Crimson Skies, and Shadowrun. I jumped right into the Sandbox team and worked on the Railgun and the Sticky Det for Halo 4.
We’ve said “Live Team” quite a bit, so I want to ask, “What does the Live Team do?” In other words, what are the team’s responsibilities and how do they contribute to the overall game?
RP: You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time and answering this succinctly, given the shifting roles and coverage Live takes on, is kind of daunting.
The Live team takes a meta role in our contributions, in that our content tends to bridge experiences. Think of things like Challenges & Progression, Customization, Achievements, etc - there’s no one area of the game these belong to, or work to support; their best functions support players in all the ways they choose to play.
After we see Halo Infinite launch, we’ll shift a bit more to monitoring the state of the game and ensuring we react appropriately. Not only is this working with our friends on the Community team, but with Analytics, ongoing work with User Research, etc. to ensure that the team knows what’s working and what’s not. This means that we will have a direct partnership with you, the players, that we’ll use to improve the game experience together over the lifetime of the game.
Lastly, we’re working across the studio to form the long-term roadmap for Halo Infinite. What should players look forward to each Season? We’ll be partnering with the community to plan how the game is going to grow and evolve over time. And then, how do we work with you to ensure that our Roadmap can be communicated effectively.
I’m sure I’ve missed or glossed over a lot, but that’s basically it!
CB: I think the Live team's main job is to give the player goals outside of getting the next kill. We have great teams working on gunplay, the maps, the modes, the moment to moment of the multiplayer dance, and epic campaign. Our team works to bring all these separate experiences together into one cohesive Halo experience at launch and then continues to build on that and evolve into the future.
Thanks for laying that out! It sounds like you’ve got your hands in quite a few cookie jars. As you look at all those different aspects of the game, how do you approach each of them as a designer?
RP: Yeah, so as the Live team, we’re involved in almost every area of the game, in one way or another. Everything from Marketing to Multiplayer, Sandbox to esports, and teams both internal and external - these are all our partners. There’s a lot of gear-shifting, and perspective shifts throughout the day.
The easiest way for us to work across all these experiences is to ensure that we are all focused on the same principles and pillars. These serve both as a general starting point for designs and decision-making, but also as a razor to cut and hone the creative vision, and ensure that we’re building content and systems that – we feel – deserve to be in Halo Infinite.
Gotcha, so these “principles and pillars” you keep in mind essentially act as guidelines and guardrails, correct? If you don’t mind sharing them, what are the Live Team’s pillars for Halo Infinite?
RP: Given our roles, Chris and I have different focus areas, so we’re going to vary a bit here…
I’ll talk about the Strategic Pillars the Live Team has formed and continues to refine. We’re some of the biggest fans of Halo, so it wasn’t hard for us to build our founding principles in building the game.
- Healthy engagement is paramount. We want everyone to play the game in a healthy manner that they enjoy. We’re not trying to build a grind-machine that burns everyone out in an attempt to get more game time from them. Halo Infinite needs to be a place where we all look forward to spending time.
- We maintain a player-first focus. Think of all the games we’ve all played that have random rewards, ask people to play a way they hate just for a new shiny, or weaponize FOMO against the player. There will be limited-time events, but we don’t want to turn free time into a chore. We’re not all about that. Everyone should enjoy their time in Halo Infinite.
- Unambiguous Value. If someone invests their time or money in the game, they should understand what they’re getting and that it will be worth more than the investment. Examples of this in practice include no lootboxes, either through engagement or any premium route. And we’re not selling power or giving an unfair advantage in-game via any route.
- Always be listening, learning and experimenting. The Live team is all about growth and iteration. We build and support some fun content, but there will be times when things don’t go as planned or where something we tried didn’t land well. There will also be times when we believe in ideas and want to give them a chance in the wild, and we ask that you be understanding as we try them out. These will be moments for us to learn, and grow. It’ll require a close partnership with our players, where we can talk about what happened and what we were trying to do, and be transparent in our plans to move ahead, as much as we can.
CB: Tactically we take the above pillars and look to a few others in our day to day from how we position rewards to what items we make.
- Provide Value. Combined with our engagement pillar we want to be clear about how to earn rewards. Most of all, we want to bring the best set of cosmetic-only rewards to Halo. We want great looking assets and ways to show that Spartan off. We want players to get close to their Spartan and spend time swapping parts and pieces.
It has been said before - and it's important to restate - no loot boxes, no randomness in rewards.
- Allow Player Expression. We want everyone to build their dream Spartan. We are always looking for more ways to customize in-game personas and give the players options. My team knows that our long-term players have favorites that they love and may have for two decades. We want to make sure that Halo Infinite players will be able to get their old favorites, as well as find new favorites at launch and as we expand over the months post-launch. Much like MCC, I want to bring everything to Infinite (eventually).
RP: I want to circle back with a note on our pillars and the structure of our title. Halo Infinite Multiplayer being free to play has demanded that we examine how we want to build and release content and has also influenced everything we’ve just talked about. There are certain places where we’re going to move away from approaches seen in Halo’s legacy and try something new, but ALWAYS keeping in mind the goalposts above.
Seeing a lot of pillars that prioritize the player’s experience definitely makes me happy, both as a Community Manager and as a fan. One thing you mentioned that stood out to me though was that some things may change because Halo Infinite multiplayer is going to be free to play. We’ve touched on it lightly before and it’s a pretty big question in the community, but will that apply to customization? If so, how do you make those changes while staying true to your design pillars?
CB: This is a great question and one we think about all the time. We see and hear the current concerns of our community, specifically right now around coatings, and we look to our systems to make sure we are doing the right thing both for our players and their ability to represent themselves as well as what is right for a free-to-play service-driven title.
Yes, being free-to-play does mean that there will be some premium cosmetics, but players will still obtain tons of customization content through things like playing campaign, challenges, skill, special events, legacy rewards (such as the Halo 5 SR 152 reward), the progression system, and more.
We will always provide value for pure engagement and simply playing the game. We believe that providing value isn’t exclusive to monetary transactions, it’s also about making sure you’re properly rewarded for the time you’re investing into the game. Players that play for free will be able unlock items across a multitude of different customization types to allow them to represent themselves in-game.
Halo 5 didn’t do a great job at rewarding our most engaged players (SR 152s), so we’ve added a few tokens of appreciation in Halo Infinite to help make up for that. Below you can see two of those tokens in the form of an exclusive armor coating and weapon coating. We’ve also used our learnings there to better structure the player rewards in Halo Infinite.
Ultimately, we want to make something that all of our players respect and love. By staying true to our pillars outlined above, especially in regards to maintaining a player-first focus and listening to the community, we should be able to do just that.
You mentioned coatings specifically, which have turned some heads over the past few weeks, so let’s talk about those a bit more. Can you elaborate on what coatings are and why they’re in Halo Infinite?
CB: Yes, the coating system is something that the Live team and our 3D artists designed directly after Halo 5 and is part of the overall customization picture. In previous Halo titles, we had a series of inputs that were simple RGBs in primary and secondary channels. For Halo Infinite, we didn’t feel that flat colors in a singular pattern were good enough.
The coating system allows us to define color, wear and tear, patterns, and materials on a region-by-region basis on the Spartan or anything in the game be it armor, weapons, vehicles, or even environment elements like fuel barrels. To get to our design vision we needed to make an exceedingly difficult decision to move away from a system that was in the game from early days – primary and secondary color. This decision was not made lightly, but it has laid the foundation for greater detail and variation when it comes to color customization.
In addition to getting better variation, we can also create coatings much faster than we could create weapon skins in Halo 5, which will allow for even better variation over time. Additionally, with coatings now being their own customization option, we can also use them as rewards for player accomplishments or even create bespoke ones for certain occasions. Lastly, coatings use smaller digital footprint and let us add new ones to the game without massive patches or taking up tons of disk space, which was a learning from Halo 5.
We have looked at the system and we understand the concern. In our recent value balancing pass, which was a direct result of community feedback around coatings, we have looked hard at how many coatings are in the starting set and how many and of what quality are unlocked via engagement vs other systems.
Coatings are one part of the customization picture, but we feel all-up we will hit our goal for player representation by offering more possibilities across the entire system. While this does mean losing some player control, it increases the depth of customization that we can achieve internally and that you can ultimately show off publicly.
Thank you for providing some extra insight there, I’m excited to see how the coating system can benefit armor, weapon, and vehicle customization. Now, speaking of armor customization options, we’ve teased “Halo: Reach levels of armor customization” before – can you tell us what that actually means in regards to Halo Infinite armor?
CB: One way to look at inventory systems is to look at their breadth and depth. How many things can I customize and how many choices within it do I have? Reach allowed the player a lot of individual customization types on a single armor suit with each type having many options. We knew we had to return to that level, but also do more.
To me “Reach Customization” is both the options, helmet, helmet attachment, left shoulder pad, right shoulder pad, as well as the number of individual assets.
To dial it in a little, the geo that could be changed or added to in Reach was: Helmet, Helmet Attachment, Chest Gear, Shoulder Pads (left and right), Knee Guards, Wrist Gear, and Utility as well as Visor Color. These will all be back, and we will go further. Personally, I have always loved visors and we have a surprise to show soon.
I understand that there is a level of being vague that is unconscionable, and I am riding that line hard, but we do want to save some surprises for later.
I love it! I knew the team was cooking up some awesome stuff, but I was still really impressed when I saw all these options for the first time. The best part is that we were only talking about armor customization there – you’ve been working to add deeper personalization elsewhere as well, right? Are you able to elaborate on those right now too?
RP: As Chris mentioned, we’re going to be vague for a bit longer. Just know, there’s still tons to talk about between now and our launch next Fall! We’re showing some cool Spartan customizations and armors in this update – but we’re not done showing players what they can do there. Likewise, players have seen coatings for weapons and vehicles – they know about that. But that’s not all they’ll be able to customize there either.
And then there’s things that don’t fall into those three areas that players will be able to get via engagement and premium paths too. We have a lot left to talk about!
When it’s time for the hype train to leave the station, we’ll be sure we’re on it with… a briefcase… full of information and screenshots. I think I lost the metaphor.
All right then, keep your secrets… for now. I know we’ll get to chatting about everything the Live Team has been working on in due time, and in even greater depth. Thank you again for taking the time to chat with us. Are there any closing words that you’d wish to impart to our community before we wrap up?
RP: First off, I want to thank the community and you guys for allowing us this platform. It’s super important to everyone at 343 that we begin the open and honest conversation with our community, and start talking about who we are, what we do, and how we’re going to make Halo Infinite great. We want to begin forming the relationship with players, and start the two-way discussions that’ll continue well past release.
You mentioned it: there’s been some heat recently in some areas where we’ve decided to make changes. And there will be more discussion with every bit of content the studio releases. We see what the community is saying – I lurk Reddit and the Waypoint forums like a madman – we talk about it almost every day, and we work to improve. We’re going to learn, iterate, and evolve as time goes on. But I can promise that we, and everyone here at 343, will make this the best Halo game that we can.
CB: We are out there listening, and we take it all to heart. We cannot act on every suggestion or idea, but we do make sure that we are plotting the course forward for the best experience.
I look forward to talking more about specifics and getting more of our team up here to show off what they are working on. There is great stuff coming and launch is only the beginning. The Live team is already plotting course for post launch beats and we all look forward to partnering with the community on our mutual journey that will evolve and grow Halo Infinite.
To round up a little. No loot boxes. No randomness or items that influence the sandbox and gameplay.
Ryan and I, and the whole Live team, are dedicated to delivering a wonderful experience. We are going to supply great content and what we have seen so far, with our partner promotions, is just a small amount, and there is great and cooler stuff still to be revealed and talked about.
Well, now I’m just excited and I can’t wait to talk with your team again at some point in the future. Thank you both so much once again!
To close out our first “Inside Infinite” update, I’ll toss the reins back over to our Creative Director, Joseph Staten.