Inside Infinite – September 2021
Welcome, one and all, to our latest edition of Inside Infinite!
Every month we sit down with the teams hard at work on Halo Infinite to learn more about contributions to the next chapter of Halo, gain insight about their process, and understand their goals on the road to our December 8 launch.
Before you carry on, if you find yourself interested in learning more about other disciplines and areas of Halo Infinite be sure to check out our previous editions, which at this point cover a wide variety of topics:
In this edition we’re spending a bit more time with the Multiplayer Team. Last month, we had a chance to chat with them about the ins-and-outs of the very first Halo Infinite Tech Preview, this month we’re preparing for the upcoming Multiplayer Tech Preview – which will make available both the Arena (4v4) and Big Team Battle (12v12), bringing brand new ways for players to dive in and check out the next chapter of multiplayer Halo. To learn more about what’s going to be included and how the devs put it all together, we sat down with the Multiplayer Team to get some of the finer details on what their goals were through development, and what they’re most excited for you to play.
Then, we hang out with the Multiplayer Team for just a bit longer to hear more about the Academy, the experiences it offers, and the goals that the team had for players as they set foot in the classroom for the very first time.
Last but not least, we get a recap on the Challenge and Progression systems in Halo Infinite, to learn more about what the ways you’ll be building up your Spartan when the game launches on December 8.
Now, it’s time for the fun stuff.
BTB FOR YOU AND ME
When crafting the next chapter of Halo multiplayer, no stone can go unturned – digital, physical, or otherwise. When we talked to the Multiplayer Team last month, we heard some of their initial thoughts on what they most wanted to accomplish when creating Halo Infinite’s free-to-play multiplayer experience, from the Academy all the way to the Arena.
Now, with Big Team Battle on the menu for the upcoming Multiplayer Tech Preview, we wanted to take another opportunity to sit down with them to learn more about what’s happened since our very first Tech Preview, along with some first sets of intel about what went into creating the next version of Big Team Battle.
A Spartan flees with opposing team's flag in a round of Big Team Battle. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
So, sit back, relax, and enjoy as we sit down to hear more from Multiplayer Associate Creative Director Tom French, Lead Multiplayer Designer Andrew Witts, Senior Multiplayer Designer Fernando Reyes Medina, Senior Multiplayer Designer Patrick Wren, Lead Multiplayer Level Designer Cayle George, Multiplayer Bots Designer Sara Stern, and Senior Multiplayer Designer David Ellis. (If you recognize any of those names, chances are good you remember them from August’s Inside Infinite!)
As we’ve discussed a few times before, Halo Infinite is going to be a live game. When creating the multiplayer experiences for Halo Infinite (maps, modes, Academy, Bots, etc.), how do you prepare for an evolving sandbox?
Tom French: Every map and mode combination is really the sum of its parts all playing together in concert. Some of our systems like our Weapon Racks are purpose built to enable us to inject new toys into Quickplay and BTB maps quickly. Other areas like Ranked require more scrutiny which usually begins with our team talking passes on the level placements and then begins the process of discussion and debate over each one to make sure it’s balanced into the environment. Even after we launch, we’ll continue to learn and see what the community is and isn’t excited about and continue to massage everything we do, refining and refreshing the game over time.
Andrew Witts: The main problem we knew we had to solve was - how do we add new sandbox items to our gameplay experiences without creating friction among the player base? In previous Halo games, if you wanted to play the new content then you had to wait for a specific map to appear in the matchmaking queue or hope that it was not vetoed by other players in the lobby. We wanted to build systems that could receive new sandbox toys and populate across the game vs. just in certain maps. We invested so much into the Item Spawner system that players see with weapon racks, equipment pads, grenade pads, and vehicle pads so that we could push a new weapon, equipment, grenade or vehicle into the entire experience. That’s not to say that we won’t put all changes through their paces. We want to make sure we add new sandbox items in a way that generates positive gameplay experiences for our players.
David Ellis: One of the things I learned from working on post-launch content for Halo 4 and 5 was no matter how much you think you know how the community will react to a feature or mode, it’s always critical to ensure you schedule out time to read and respond to that feedback. We’re already talking about future opportunities to go after with Halo Infinite, but as with any live game the further you travel out on a content calendar the greater the flexibility you want to allow for the studio and the community to find the fun together as Infinite grows.
How often do you work with the Live Team in your process? What parts of the free-to-play multiplayer do you often work on in tandem?
Andrew Witts: We work alongside them all the time. I have a sync with the Live Design Team every Monday where we share what we are up to and the challenges we are facing in creating content for our players... but we also geek out about each other’s ideas for Halo and where we want to go next. On a game like this, it is imperative for Live and MP’s features to mesh well together.
Tom French: It’s important for our teams to be able to work in partnership effectively because our work is directly intertwined together. For us to succeed, we need them to succeed, and vice-versa. This means we’re regularly syncing with them to make sure our features are supporting their progression needs and cosmetics are working in harmony with the combat dance demands of the modes and Sandbox.
When approaching Halo Infinite’s version of Big Team Battle, what were some of your most crucial design pillars?
Andrew Witts: The team created the pillars for Big Team Battle after a long meeting where we invited each MP team member to share their favorite moments from past BTB experiences. After doing that we bucketed all those experiences which ultimately became our design pillars:
• Embrace the Spartan Battle Fantasy – We want players to really feel like they are within a Spartan unit pushing through the battlefield and capturing objectives as a team. That’s why we’ve invested in things like Pelican Drops, Commander mode VO, Weapon Pods falling from the sky to resupply the field and a few more dynamic elements – we wanted it to feel like an active battle inside the Halo universe. Additionally, we wanted maps to feel like they were a part of an iconic battle within the Halo universe.
• Empower Player Types to Thrive – There are many different types of players in the Halo ecosystem. Some players are pilots, others are slayers or objective hunters, but we wanted all of them to work together in this BTB experience. Fernando has a fantastic phrase that sums up this pillar well: Make sure everyone can feel like a hero in any match.
• Unleash the Halo Infinite Sandbox – This pillar kind of speaks for itself. We felt like the “big” in BTB was not just the number of players in the match or the size of the maps but the number of options at players’ disposal. All the toys are available in this space for maximum fun.
When the team set out to design the new Big Team Battle experience for Halo Infinite, how did you approach drawing inspiration from the past vs. injecting something new? Were there specific elements you knew HAD to be there from the past?
Tom French: A lot of the discussion came from talking about our favorite past BTB experiences, targeting a set of modes that aligned with our goals, and figuring out any new twists that would partner with the gameplay to give us our own stamp on a fan favorite.
Andrew Witts: When starting to develop BTB, we started by having the Multiplayer Team share memorable stories that they have had in past Big Team experiences in Halo. We talked a lot about how those stories made us feel as players. What more did we want from those stories? What more would we want out of the BTB experience that would make those stories even better? These are all the questions we asked each other to come up with the feature list for BTB. So we didn’t key into specific features as much as we tried to key into experiences that were possible in BTBs of the past.
As you set out to evolve Big Team Battle, what aspects did you specifically see as areas to improve upon and make ‘new’?
Fernando Reyes Medina: We are all really big fans of legacy BTB so we were careful not to mess with what isn’t broken. We wanted a BTB experience that feels classic and modern at the same time. An opportunity I saw to improve Classic BTB was to make sure that the mode rules and balance consider the increased player count and the amazing new maps that level designers made for Halo Infinite. This allowed us to create an exciting pace throughout a BTB match, which, combined with the awesome new toys in our sandbox, makes the perfect stage so players can play out memorable moments with their friends.
Patrick Wren: We took a similar philosophy in how we approached BTB as we did with Arena, but turned it up to 11. There is the core experience of spawning at your base, jumping into vehicles, and going out into the world, but we looked at how we could spice it up. Tanks for example, especially the Scorpion, are extremely powerful vehicles that would tend to dominate matches in previous Halo games. We looked at how we could make them an amazing moment in a match that really punctuates their power.
"FLAG TAKEN. FLAG DROPPED. FLAG TAKEN." [For the above image in full res, click here.]
How did the team arrive at the design for an expanded 12 vs 12 player count?
Andrew Witts: The short answer from me is that we wanted this to feel like a bigger “Big Team” experience and adding 4 players to each team seemed like a natural path to iterate towards. More players means more player interactions which we felt was a net positive to a lot of the strengths of BTB.
Fernando Reyes Medina: The more the merrier! Having said that, we found that 12v12 player count maintains that classic BTB pacing that we all love while increasing the possibility for fun player engagements in all parts of the map. It also contributes towards our first pillar: embracing the Spartan Battle Fantasy. No matter what you are doing in a BTB match you will see awesome moments happening around you.
Patrick Wren: Having worked on Halo 5’s Warzone, it was important to me that we didn’t go smaller than that. There was a lot of learning we could bring forward to create a bigger battlefield for players in BTB. It would feel weird if we lowered our player count back down after that. I wanted to make sure BTB in Halo Infinite started out with a bang and that we scope to make classic Halo modes and new Halo modes better than ever.
What types of new design challenges come with increasing the player count by 50%? And, how did the team attack these challenges?
Andrew Witts: I think one of the biggest challenges has been around game mode pacing. What I mean by pacing is the feeling of escalation or urgency in a match. Ideally you want to start a match with excitement and over time that turns into increased tension so that at match end you feel fulfilled/jubilant as a player when the conclusion is reached, and one team is victorious. Pacing can be a big challenge when you increase the number of players. A lot of the stress of providing good pacing falls on the map and game modes and I think our teams have done a fantastic job working together to crack this puzzle.
When considering Halo Infinite’s maps, what’s the approach from a design standpoint? Are there major tenants you adhere to based on the size or mode being played on the map?
Cayle George: We strive to build exciting levels that offer unique combat experiences within our suite of gameplay spaces. Our aim is to create maps that enable and challenge the variety of play styles within Infinite’s multiplayer. While we want each level to offer a different flavor of the game, we simultaneously are looking to retain the core combat experience and sandbox interactions. It’s a tricky balance and one we are constantly pushing to polish. There are so many cool types of equipment and weapons that it’s exciting to find the perfect spaces for them to thrive.
We keep an open mind to variety in our suite of levels. We don’t feel that gameplay spaces are a one-type-fits-all when it relates to size, pacing, modes or engagement types. We have some good starting metrics, sure, but we find that playtesting and feedback usually lead us in directions that do not always fit the mold. For example, while we aim to find the right balance of speed and rotational gameplay in a Strongholds map for example, we have found that balance may be quite different depending on the unique flavor of the gameplay space.
The Banished Shock Rifle will be up for grabs soon in a Halo Infinite's Multiplayer Tech Preview. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
How does Halo Infinite’s new Equipment factor into BTB?
Andrew Witts: Similar to how Arena is structured, there are equipment spawners all around our BTB maps. The biggest difference in BTB is the amount of equipment charges that you receive per pick up. When you pick up equipment in BTB, up to 5 uses depending on the specific piece of equipment. The reason we made this change is because we felt that increasing the frequency of the equipment verbs, players would be able to see more systemic outcomes of the sandbox more often. We felt it tied very well to our “sandbox unleashed” design pillar and our playtests have been validating this design choice.
Grounding Multiplayer, and BTB in particular, more in the fiction of the Halo universe is something we’ve heard the team mention in the past. Why was this a goal for the team?
Andrew Witts: Grounding MP was a goal that stemmed from Tom’s creative pillar of “you are your Spartan in the Halo universe”. The team loved this pillar and we felt that we needed our designs to own up to his direction. We’ve talked in previous Inside Infinite’s about how we wanted MP to be soaked with “Halo feels” when designing our systems, maps, and modes and it is mainly in service to this creative direction. As a team, we felt that if players are building their own Spartan story, then they need to feel like they are inside the Halo universe when playing our multiplayer experiences. We felt that the best way to immerse you in the universe of the franchise was to take some of the most memorable moments and put them front and center in the gameplay loops of MP.
What is it about Big Team Battle in particular that has made it such a longstanding, resonate favorite amongst the Halo community?
Andrew Witts: I think Big Team Battle is such a favorite in the Halo community because it puts the Halo sandbox on display in such an extravagant way. There are always so many toys in play that you can’t help but feel the rush of sniping from your base and then being a gunner on the back of a Warthog a few seconds later. I think the Team vs. Team fantasy of Big Team Battle is important to the experience. Sieging an enemy team’s base with multiple vehicles full of players is such a memorable thing in Halo. I fondly think back to my days of playing H2/H3 and being in the passenger seat of a Warthog as its flying over the middle hill of Coagulation and I'm just playing the Halo theme in my head the whole time with a big smile on my face.
BTB isn’t just more players – it also features some new modes and mechanics. Can you speak a bit about the gameplay experiences within BTB?
Fernando Reyes Medina: We designed Halo Infinite BTB modes from the ground up to encourage teamwork and support different player archetypes. Whether you are an incredible sniper, a skillful warthog driver, or a stealthy flag runner, you can contribute meaningfully to the outcome of any match. Across both classic modes like CTF and Slayer and brand-new modes like Total Control, the BTB experiences should feel fresh and iconic at the same time.
Patrick Wren: We wanted each mode to have a different life to it to help spotlight those different player types. BTB is a place we want as many different players as possible to come in and have a good time. We also wanted each match to feel fresh. That’s why we invested so heavily in systems that changed up each match. In one map we even have some new ways for players to get a cache of power by interacting with the map a whole new way with their Personal AI.
A key exciting element to BTB is the inclusion of iconic vehicles. How does your design approach account for the huge impact vehicles – both ground and air – have in this mode?
Patrick Wren: This is where Halo vehicles shine! We looked at vehicles in BTB in a few different ways. First what is the combo of map and vehicles that are always there. When players spawn into the map, they will always have a place to go hop in a vehicle just like always. We also wanted a way to escalate the experience over time. As Pelicans drop in vehicles, they will at first start dropping in your standard ground vehicles, but as the match goes on, they will start dropping in more powerful vehicles, air vehicles, and eventually tanks. We wanted the more powerful vehicles in the sandbox to really feel special and create a moment in the game that can change the flow depending on what vehicle is brought in.
The venerable Warthog. A trusty friend and a terrifying foe on any battlefield. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
What’s your personal favorite BTB memory from the Halo franchise?
Andrew Witts: If you asked me two years ago, I’d tell you about the rest of that match on Coagulation that I hinted at in the previous question, but I’ve played Halo Infinite’s BTB and most of my favorite stories are from this game. One of those stories involves me driving a chopper through a grav-cannon to splatter two enemies, exiting the vehicle and grapple-jacking an enemy Wasp that is chasing a friendly Razorback that’s escorting our team’s flag carrier back to base to score. It was the best, haha.
Patrick Wren: There is always a moment from a Halo 2 LAN party that comes to mind on Coagulation where I am in the middle of the map on the hill by the cave. There is an enemy Scorpion about to shoot me and a rocket launcher on the ground. I run and hold X to try and pick it up, hoping I can shoot it in time, but in the chaos their teammate in a Banshee tries to splatter me so I highjack instead as the Scorpion shoots and I fly away to safety. With Halo Infinite BTB, there are just so many moments like that and more opportunities. One of my favorites is getting into a full Razorback while playing [REDACTED], driving full speed to the objective as the other team does the same. I had picked up a Repulsor on the way and jumped out to throw the enemy Razorback into disarray as my team used that moment to secure the objective and get out.
Fernando Reyes Medina: It’s funny, I feel exactly like Andrew on this one. I have so many fond memories of playing H3 BTB in LAN parties back in the day, but playtesting Infinite’s BTB has created so many new core memories! Probably my favorite one was in one of our last CTF playtests. We were tied 2-2 and there was one minute left in the match. I love being a sneaky flag carrier so I knew it was my time! I snuck into the enemy’s base, got a double kill noob-comboing them (no shame, haha) and nabbed the flag. I had no teammates around so I had to hide with the flag in a little corner, hoping someone would get the hint that I needed a driver. A teammate got the memo and picked me up in a Mongoose, but just as we started the drive back, we got chased down by an enemy’s Wasp. With 5 seconds in the clock, I managed to get the flag capture and win the match for our team! I never felt so cool in my life before!
Tom French: My old favorite BTB memory was more of a development memory at the end of H4 when we would play endless (timeless/scoreless) games all day long while waiting for new bugs to trickle in. I love driving the Warthog and had countless runs trying to jump a squad full of teammates into the front of the enemy bases on Ragnarok to pull the flag and then launch the crew in the hog out of the base for a run back to home. I remember giggling all day long doing that. But like everyone else, Infinite BTB continues to give me amazing “water cooler” moments and playtests are always filled with people yelling and cheering as we play the game. I can’t wait to keep having these kinds of crazy moments with the community in this upcoming flight and when we release!
What else would you like our community to know about Big Team Battle in Halo Infinite?
Andrew Witts: We are super excited for you all to get in and play this experience and give us feedback. We’ve had a blast making BTB what it is today...and we’re just getting started.
Patrick Wren: We worked hard to make sure we made the classic experience shine with improvements from what players expect of a game in 2021. From gameplay experience for how players get Sandbox items, to more flavor of how the world reacts to when a team scores or driving by wildlife that scurries out of the way, this is BTB at its most alive with players laughing and screaming at each other.
Fernando Reyes Medina: When I play BTB, I feel like I am at home because I get to experience everything I love about Halo in a single match. I hope you all feel the same way, and I can’t wait to see all the amazing moments and memories that you will create playing BTB!
Thank you for taking the time to talk through Halo Infinite’s BTB with us! (But, Multiplayer Team, we’re not quite done with you yet.)
During the Tech Preview a great many Halo Insiders got the chance to go hands-on with the Academy for the very first time. We took the chance to ask our friends on the Multiplayer Team a bit more about the goals for this experience, and the design pillars that pulled it all together.
PENCILS DOWN, MA40’S UP
Halo’s 20-year history spans generations of consoles and players alike. When setting out to create Halo Infinite’s Academy, the Multiplayer Team knew that granting grizzled veterans and freshly enlisted free-to-play Spartans a chance to tool around with their favorite weapons was incredibly important. But, so was doling out some knowledge – be it terminology, tactics, or anything in between.
To learn more about how they accomplished this, and what their goals were, we sat down with a few members of the Multiplayer Team that are responsible for the Academy experience, to find out just what they had in mind for Spartans of all skill levels.
What are the goals and design pillars for Academy?
Tom French: With Infinite’s multiplayer being free, the Academy was born out of the necessity support an evergreen place for new players join the fight and returning players to be able slide back into each season by having ways to warm up with the game and learn the new toys. This became the core driver for the Academy features.
• Give players ways to learn about maps and systems without the fear of being shot in the face by players – Players desires to play a multiplayer experience is often at odds with how good the community becomes at the game. Even dipping one’s virtual toes into matchmaking brings a lot of anxieties to new players trying to get into the game once the game has been released. Academy gives multiple outlets for players to better prepare themselves and even fall back into if they need more practice.
• Provide tools to learn core mechanics and provide pathways to mastery through crafted fun, replayable bite-sized experiences – Learning often comes from repetition on a smaller problem set and this is a game, so learning needs to be fun to compel players to want to learn more. Short burst experience let players try things and try them again to see how they improve themselves in a specific area.
• Give context for the MP Spartan within the greater Halo canon – As we’ve mentioned before, this concept is part of our core pillars for Infinite MP, but the Academy, and more specifically the Tutorial, is where this journey begins. To the initiated, Spartans are cool, but what about new players? The question became, “how do we show everyone how cool Spartans are,” and, in particular the player Spartan, are important in the larger Halo universe as well as Master Chief. On top of that, for fans of Halo it is intended to strengthen their love of their Spartan without interfering with the gameplay they already know and love.
Lumu, a Personal AI in Halo Infinite, is going to have a lot to comment on this weekend. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
When building an Academy experience that met the goals above, how did the team arrive at the three experiences; Tutorial, Weapon Drills, and Training Mode?
Tom French: It’s funny how sometimes real life becomes a good tool to educate the designs of things. When we kicked off Infinite and the Academy, I was coaching my youngest son’s soccer team at the time. This helped my brain organize how you prepare the players for the big match. We discussed how Academy was like a practice session; giving players drills to focus on their individual skills (Weapon Drills), give them tools to safely experiment with their learnings (Training Mode), and chances to work together as a team and scrimmage without the stress of a “real game” (players vs. Bot Arena).
David Ellis: Initially we thought about shipping another drill type in lieu of Weapon Drills, but when we tested the game with players across a greater variety of skill levels, we recognized that just about every player could aim and shoot. So, one player might fully engage just gaining familiarity with aiming and shooting (later moving while aiming and shooting) while players with more experience are more likely to enjoy Weapon Drills on another level by perfecting their runs and sharing high scores online with friends. Ultimately, we decided to prioritize features that were critical for onboarding new players while also providing opportunities for a greater variety of player skills to enjoy.
Since Academy is filled with firsts for the Halo franchise, there must have been some challenges when designing and building it. What was one particularly tough obstacle that the team had to overcome when creating these experiences?
Sara Stern: It took us some time to find the right balance between experiences that promoted learning and experiences that were fun. We had early prototypes that reinforced sandbox mechanics and explained them to players but felt really flat when you played them. We had other prototypes that leaned so far into “fun” gimmicks that they reinforced gameplay behaviors that would get you in trouble if they carried over into PvP.
David Ellis: Being a “downstream team” from other core foundational teams we’ve had to be agile to make sure Academy content represents the game we’re shipping. The Tutorial itself pulls so many elements together from across the game we regularly keep tabs on items and features as development progresses to ensure we’re aligned with the rest of the game.
Tom French: Trying to find the right lens of “what” Academy need to teach was important for us to figure out. We landed with the mentality that Academy shouldn’t try and teach EVERY nuance of the game to players because it would be too overwhelming to teach every trick jump, every min-maxing method with weapons, etc. Instead, we teach the fundamentals and if players learn about these techniques, they have the tools to experiment with them in a safe place. Eventually, as the game is in the wild and we see all the kinds of crazy things players learn to do in the game, we aim to add more training over time to give players more tools to learn more nuanced details of mastering Infinite.
We’ve only mentioned the Academy Tutorial briefly before in the Multiplayer Overview video. What can players expect when checking it out for the first time at launch?
David Ellis: The tutorial is a unique linear mission where players are introduced to the Spartan Commander Laurette Agryna and explore the grounds of the Avery J. Johnson Academy of Military Science. Here you’ll complete a series of objectives to help acclimate players of all skill levels to the world of Halo Infinite. We want players to come away from the Tutorial with a greater sense for what it means to be a Spartan in the Halo universe and how they can be an example for the rest of humanity.
“Training Mode” is an Academy offering that players will get to experience in the upcoming Multiplayer Tech Preview. What is it and how does it fit into the overall game experience?
David Ellis: Training Mode started as 1v1 Bot experience for players to warm up with more items from the Halo sandbox on our maps. It grew from there to provide a larger literal sandbox where players can experiment with their loadouts and a variety of Bot/player options. Do you want to practice your sniper shots on Behemoth with unlimited ammo, zero risk of dying, and then swap to the Shock Rifle and add Bot teammates without reloading the map, playing in matchmaking or delving into Custom Games? You can do that with Training Mode.
We often talk about “launch is only the beginning” and it’s safe to say that applies to Academy as well as PvP Multiplayer. How is the team thinking about Academy post-launch?
David Ellis: We’ve talked about this publicly, but there are a variety of other drill types we want to explore post-launch, Vehicle Drills for example, to help support the entire Halo sandbox. We’re also excited to find new ways we leverage our multiplayer Bots to create more arcade-like gameplay experiences to help reinforce core gameplay loops and map knowledge.
Sara Stern: We also want to expand the integration of Bot behaviors and Academy experiences. As an example, we’ve discussed ways we could give players more control over the difficulty of the Bots they fight against in Training Mode than we’re currently offering for launch. We'd love for players to be able to toggle off certain behaviors (such as grenade throwing) they didn't necessarily want to deal with, or to combine the aspects of different difficulty levels to create a Bot experience that better fits their needs than our predefined difficulty levels.
Tom French: There’s no shortage of ideas to expand upon Academy post launch and on top of that we’ll be watching what the community is looking for and finding ways to expand the Academy more based on community desires. I think the idea of “scrimmages” as I mentioned earlier is an area where we can really expand the fun/replay-ability of the Academy that leverage the systems/sandbox we have to create whole new gameplay experiences for players to get lost in while having fun playing and experimenting with the game.
Currently Academy is a lone wolf experience – has the team considered ways to expand into multiplayer experiences perhaps in the future?
David Ellis: YES. We decided to focus on “lone wolf” for launch for a variety of reasons. We wanted to account for players who are wary of playing with and against other people, and so we were able to focus on a solo, offline experiences mainly as a priority.
Sara Stern: Although, in future updates, we intend to add or update experiences so players will be able to welcome friends into Academy features.
Tom French: Yeah! The players vs. Bots playlist is more our first Academy co-op experience but there’s a lot of a ways to continue to create more shared experiences within the Academy modes in the live game. We’ve mentioned before we plan to add Leaderboards to things like Weapon Drills to add more lite-social gameplay by letting people compete for scores against friends and the greater community. Also, while you can more-or-less do similar things in Custom Games, Training Mode is another area we look to expand by adding co-op support in the future as well as other new “scrimmage” type experiences we plan to develop.
Do you have a favorite experience within Academy? If so, what sets it apart from the others for you?
David Ellis: Training Mode will always have a special place in my heart. We had a basic proof of concept prototype that was playable, and it showed promise. Because life doesn’t always respect perfect timing, it just so happened I was going out on parental leave just before we were handing the prototype off to an engineer to build out into a shippable feature. I wrote up everything I could think of that I wanted from the feature, including stretch goals and without meeting said engineer I went away to take care of my then baby daughter for several weeks. I came back to the office and discovered the engineer (Hi, Brandon!) had not only tackled the basic asks but had virtually every stretch goal in the build. Seeing his enthusiasm for the mode and the Academy all up was energizing.
Sara Stern: As a developer, it’s the Tutorial. Collaborating with partner teams like art, audio, and narrative on how we could set a tone for a new player entering the Halo universe for the first time was an incredibly rewarding experience. As a player, I spend the most time tinkering with different settings in Training Mode. It’s a great way to practice skill jumps I’ve seen other players do in playtest, or practice against Bots with weapons I’m not as confident with yet.
Tom French: I go back and forth all the time but to me it’s the players vs. Bots playlist. It’s kind of the final step for players to feel comfortable dipping into the 4v4 matchmaking and gives players the chance to really feel the fun of playing with teammates. It gives a lot of the same satisfaction of playing in matchmaking without the same anxieties that the full competitive experience has.
Concept art from the Multiplayer map 'Behemoth' on Zeta Halo. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
What else would you like our community to know about Halo Infinite’s Academy?
David Ellis: We want to create experiences in The Academy that cater to everyone. Our audience is anyone who downloads and plays Halo Infinite. Just because you might not consider yourself a “new” Halo player doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear your thoughts on how we can help you enjoy Halo Infinite even more.
Tom French: The Academy, like the rest of Infinite Multiplayer, is an “evergreen” feature, meaning we plan on continuing to add new things with each season of the game. New Weapon Drills for weapons being added to the sandbox, expanding options in Training Mode, and adding completely new gameplay loops for players to explore and learn about the sandbox of Infinite.
PROGRESSION, CHALLENGES, AND CUSTOMIZATION
In the days and weeks since the Tech Preview we’ve heard a lot of feedback and questions around challenges and overall player progression in Halo Infinite. While some of this was lightly touched on as part of the Technical Preview Outcomes blog, today we want to go deeper and provide more clarity around the player experience for launch and what the team is looking into for the future.
At launch, Halo Infinite will feature one primary progression path for players which is tied to a seasonal Battle Pass. The pass, which includes avenues for both premium and free unlocks, will offer a large array of cosmetic content (helmets, visors, armor coatings, etc.) along with a few “consumables” (XP boosts and challenge swaps) which are unlocked by earning XP via the completion of challenges (more on that below). Every tier of the pass will require the same, consistent amount of XP to unlock from beginning to end. So, regardless of whether you’re working to unlock tier 2 or tier 52, each unlock across the 100-tier Pass will require the same amount of XP. As a reminder, your Battle Pass in Halo Infinite will not expire – players are always able to progress a pass from any season.
In addition to the primary Battle Pass for each season, Halo Infinite will also offer special limited-time event passes. These free special passes are only available during specified event periods and include a separate track with separate rewards that are often tied to the unique armor core for a given event. In general, an event will be available from one to multiple weeks, including weekends, offering players multiple opportunities to unlock available rewards. The marquee event, (though not the only event) for Season One is the “Fractures: Tenrai” event which is how players will obtain and adorn their “Yoroi” (Samurai) armor core. This event will be available for all players approximately one week per month during Season One, and the event will come and go throughout the season; available for players to make progress. Each time the Fracture returns, your progress will carry over, giving players multiple opportunities to unlock all 20 tiers of rewards on the event pass.
We have heard community feedback around wanting more progression options including things like “match XP” to feed into the Battle Pass and an entirely separate, incremental system along the lines of earning SR152 in Halo 5: Guardians. Expanding Multiplayer progression offerings is something the team is actively exploring, and we look forward to continuing to evolve the experience in future seasons post-launch.
The means by which a player will progress through their seasonal Battle Pass and unlock new items is tied to XP (experience) that is earned via completing challenges. Challenges will come in two different flavors – weekly and daily. In general, challenges are meant to be straight forward and never directly conflict with the objective of the match.
Weekly Challenges are usually more directed and specific while offering more XP in return compared to Dailies. Each week, players will be randomly assigned approx. 20 weekly challenges (exact number not quite finalized for launch) out of a total pool of several hundred potential options. Within this group of 20, some challenges will be pulled from the ‘easier’ tier while others will be pulled from the ‘harder’ tier with the XP reward being commensurate to the difficulty and time investment required. We’ll speak a bit more about these ‘difficulty tiers’ further below in the context of Challenge Swaps.
The specific Weekly Challenges a player gets are unique per player so while there may be some overlap, in general players won’t all be chasing the same specific challenges at the same time. This means that it is extremely unlikely that everyone in the same match will need the same “Get X Kills with the S7 Sniper” challenge. However, the total amount of obtainable weekly challenge XP is the same for every player. By default, all players will have 3 active challenges at any given time but players who purchase a Battle Pass will be granted a 4th slot. Again, the total # of achievable challenges and total potential XP available is the same for ALL players but Pass owners will get one extra ‘active’ slot as a perk.
An example of Daily and Weekly Challenges in the Multiplayer Tech Preview build for Halo Infinite.
When a player has completed all their designated Weekly Challenges, a final “Ultimate Challenge” (referred to as “Capstone” in the Multiplayer Tech Preview) becomes available which is the same for every player each week. Completing the weekly Ultimate Challenge will grant a unique Weekly Ultimate Reward such as a coating or emblem.
For further context, here’s a list of 20 randomly assigned Weekly Challenges that a player could receive in Halo Infinite:
- Stay Off My Yard – Kill an Enemy Spartan Attacking a Friendly Zone (0/1)
- For the Win – Win a Quick Play Match (0/1)
- Castle Crasher – Complete a Strongholds Match (0/1)
- Spartan Killer – Kill Enemy Spartans in Slayer (0/3)
- Large Squad Scuffle – Complete a Big Team Battle Match (0/1)
- Play Ball – Play an Oddball Match (0/1)
- Back Smack Attack – Kill an Enemy Spartan from behind with a Melee Attack (0/1)
- Wargames Warrior – Kill Enemy Spartans (0/10)
- Banshee Bomber – Kill Enemy Spartans with the Banshee’s Fuel Rod Gun in PvP (0/5)
- Mortar Minimizer – Destroy an Enemy Wraith in PvP (0/1)
- Spread the Love – Kill Enemy Spartans with the Battle Rifle in PvP (0/15)
- Big Wheel Bully – Destroy Enemy Choppers in PvP (0/3)
- Gaptacular – Knock an Enemy Spartan off the map with the Repulsor in PvP (0/1)
- Noisemaker – Kill an Enemy Spartan with a Rocket Launcher in PvP (0/1)
- Wheelin’ Dealin’ Poultry Mealin’ – Win Any PvP Matches (0/3)
- Chef’s Kiss – Kill an Enemy Spartan using a kinetic semi-auto or burst weapon with peak efficiency in PvP (0/1)
- Flag Switching – Capture Enemy Flags in PvP (0/10)
- Separation Anxiety – Kill Enemy Spartans by Sticking them with a Plasma Grenade or Spike Grenade in PvP (0/5)
- Grapple-jack – Grapple to and Hijack Enemy Vehicles in PvP (0/3)
- Autopilot Engaged – Kill an Enemy Driver of a moving vehicle with a Sniper Rifle in PvP (0/1)
Here’s an example of a corresponding Ultimate Challenge that would unlock once these Weekly Challenges are completed:
- Tactical Precision – Kill Enemy Spartans with a Headshot in PVP – (0/15) – “Rewards Abby Lime Sniper Rifle Coating.”
Fret and his Spartan get to work in a round of Big Team Battle for Halo Infinite. [For the above image in full res, click here.]
Daily Challenges are strictly engagement-focused and essentially serve as the persistent “XP drip” for the Pass. Daily Challenges come in three varieties starting with the “easy tier” and progressing into challenges that have slightly higher and more specific requirements. Initially, players will have a large pool of Daily Challenges along the lines of “play any multiplayer match” which awards XP for playing any MP mode that operates on a trusted server (i.e. Bot Arena, Arena, and BTB playlists). Once a player has completed all of their “Stage One” Daily Challenges, they’ll move into “Stage Two” which includes a slew of dailies that now awards slightly more XP but requires playing PvP matches (i.e. Bot Arena no longer counts). And finally, once a player has exhausted all their “Stage Two” challenges for a given day, they move into “Stage Three” which awards slightly more XP for winning multiplayer matches.
Each day, a player’s allotment of Daily Challenges will refresh and reset back to “Stage One” again and the cycle continues. At launch, we anticipate that on average, it should take a player 16 to 18 hours of playing, and eventually winning, before they run out of Daily Challenges. Of course, this is going to be an area the team monitors closely, and adjustments could be made if necessary. In the July Tech Preview it’s worth noting we had some specific issues which led to some players getting stuck with no way to progress, but that has since been resolved.
While we understand the community’s feedback around wanting a steady drip of match XP and more ways to earn XP for the Battle Pass, we are optimistic that the system available at launch will give players adequate means of continually having something to accomplish and a means to progress. Looking further ahead beyond launch, we expect these systems to evolve in direct partnership with player feedback.
A Challenge Swap gives players a means of swapping out one of their assigned Weekly Challenges – they do not apply to Daily Challenges. Remember those “difficulty tiers” we mentioned for the Weekly Challenges? Well, using a Challenge Swap will swap a given Weekly Challenge for another suitable Weekly Challenge from the same tier. This means players will not be able to use a Challenge Swap to get easier challenges, and therefore faster XP. So if you’re already in the last half of your Weekly Challenges and use a swap, you’re going to get a new Weekly Challenge that offers the same level of investment and XP reward. Challenge Swaps will be obtainable via a few different avenues: they can be unlocked as part of a Battle Pass, an Event Pass, they can be purchased via the Store, and they can be earned via partnerships and promotions.
An XP Boost will award DOUBLE XP for any challenges (Weekly and/or Daily) completed while it is active. For now, an XP Boost is set to last 30 minutes, though we are still evaluating the final duration for launch. For launch, the XP Boost timer will count down in real time once activated – regardless of where you are or what you’re doing in the game. Looking further ahead, this is an area we’ve received feedback on and are looking at ways to make this tied more closely to actual gameplay time. XP Boosts can be obtained via unlocks from a Pass, purchase from the store, or as part of a promotion or partnership.
"SINGLE REWARD VECTORS”
One of the team’s core pillars for player customization is ensuring that each unlock come from a single consistent vector. With our Player First design pillar, we want to ensure that we’re respecting players’ time for unlocks they’ve earned and purchases they make. For customization, this means ensuring that each unlock comes from a consistent vector. If you choose to purchase a Battle Pass, the content within that pass won’t be offered via any other means. Similarly, customization content a player earns during a Seasonal Event won’t be obtainable again via different avenues. The one current exception to this plan is that there may be times when content that was previously allocated to a specific partnership or promotion may be released broadly at a later date. This specific example is largely to address the fact that in many cases, partnerships and promotions have very limited windows and might not even be available to all players.
Here are all the ways you’ll be able to acquire customization content in Halo Infinite at launch:
- Weekly Ultimate Rewards
- Seasonal Battle Pass rewards (both free and premium tracks)
- Fracture Events - i.e. the “Yoroi” / Samurai armor
- Special or Seasonal Events - i.e. a special nameplate commemorating a real-world event, earning a Unicorn nameplate during a 343 Playdate, etc.
- Partnership and promotional items - i.e. Mega Construx codes or Rockstar Energy Drinks
- Skill Ranks – achieving a specific Skill ranking/tier for a season will award a unique cosmetic item
- Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Perks
- In- game store purchases
- Halo Infinite Campaign - some unique Multiplayer cosmetics are rewarded for various accomplishments within the Campaign
We’re very excited about the breadth of cosmetic content and the lengths to which players will be able to go while creating their own personalized Spartan in Halo Infinite. While our next Multiplayer Tech Preview will only contain a tiny sliver of what’s coming for launch (essentially the same “Season 0” offering as the July preview), rest assured that there are hundreds of unique items in store for Season One with more armors, coatings, accessories, and other surprises already underway for Season Two and beyond.
As we look into the future, the Halo Infinite team will continue to improve and evolve player progression in conjunction with your feedback. There’s already some great ideas in the works for grander systems that weren’t in scope for launch and we look forward to delivering new experiences in partnership with our players. In the meantime, we look forward to jumping into our next Multiplayer Tech Preview together and getting your updated feedback!
TALES FROM THE TRENCHES
While Inside Infinite grants us a chance to sit down with a team or two to discuss Halo Infinite – the whole studio is hard at work – building, crafting, creating, and ideating. Sometimes those very exercises can bring forth some interesting instances of code behaving badly, or as it’s more commonly known, a bug.
While most of the studio is currently heads-down working on getting Halo Infinite to the finish line, we did have a couple of stories that came in this month that we knew we had to share. One of which tells the tale of a server-crushing Needler.
“Through the past several months we’ve been bringing in final refinements to various systems on the graphics team, especially a few key performance initiatives. For me, this has meant work like massively improving Hex Column rendering performance by improving their shadow rendering time, refining our offline culling of the columns for a further speed boost in every pass they render in, or just reducing how much memory they use so we have more room for textures and the good-looking bits of the world you’ll see on Xbox One! Sometimes this can also mean writing a bespoke streaming solution for FX – a type of content that has to be “preheated” so it appears at a satisfying resolution the first time you pull the trigger – and accidentally creating a chaotic situation wherein firing the Needler in an MP match crashes the whole match (literally 1 of the few weapons I didn’t test before submitting my code – so it goes). Thankfully I fixed it a few hours later, well before the Tech Preview landed in your hands. You’re welcome! Though I think it could’ve been a rather thrilling twist on the sandbox.” -Keegan Jones, Graphics Engineer
“Making a game is hard. But making a game during a pandemic is a new challenge that no one in the games industry had faced before. Granted the ‘Knucklebones’ game makers (yes, it’s a real thing) have certainly faced hardships that we cannot even begin to fathom over the past few millennia, but I’m only talking about video games here.
So yes, we are shipping a AAA flagship title amidst a global pandemic and everyone is working from home. So how do we review the game diligently and safely before it launches? This was a problem I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to solve with partner teams as we were thinking of shutting Infinite down.
There was no playbook or manual on how to approach this – so we took it step-by-step:
• First, we needed a space, that was the easy part since the studio had essentially been vacated for safety reasons a few months prior.
• Second, we needed consoles and PC’s to play recent builds and evaluate their overall quality on each platform.
• Third, we needed TV’s and monitors – we set up all sorts of HDR, OLED, 4K, 120Hz capable screens that allowed us to look at the game under all possible permutations.
• Lastly, and perhaps more importantly – we needed people. Experts, Area Owners, Artists, Programmers, Producers, QA, etc. We wanted everyone to be able to review our game without putting anyone at risk. Microsoft Teams and Xbox One Manager allowed us to do so by streaming any screen to all participants at any given time.
While everyone focuses on one screen, we might encounter a platform-specific bug on another and decide to shift our attention towards it to discuss reproduce steps or what might have caused it. For example, we could be playing and discussing Xbox One gameplay when the group suddenly notices a Brute hanging by its foot (paw?) stuck in the ceiling after being sent flying by one of the Master Chief’s rockets on Xbox Series S. At this point, the room explodes in laughter and our review ‘DJ’ seamlessly switches from one console to the next in order to illustrate the issue and file a bug on it. Being able to all watch live playthroughs together allowed us to get instant feedback from experts - and more importantly - get a mutual understanding of the new levels of quality we were reaching week after week.
I’m very proud to have contributed to this project for our Campaign, MP and Live products and hope that you will enjoy playing the game as much as we have during these shutdown reviews.
If you want to take a peek - the space itself is highlighted in one of our recent video, Halo Infinite – August Development Update – and you may find that it’s a bit rough around the edges given the circumstances, but we made it work.
We’re looking forward to playing Infinite with our community on Dec. 8, 2021! See you all in a couple of months!” -Alex Le Boulicaut, Graphics Producer
With the next Multiplayer Tech Preview arriving so soon, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of excitement being felt throughout the entire studio – and, we couldn’t be more thankful for a chance to go hands-on with each and every one of you.
Now, with us on the verge of flighting, we actually wanted to take a chance to sit down with Unyshek and have him close us out with some of his parting thoughts. John, if you’d be so kind?
TECH PREVIEW 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO
Concept art of 'Behemoth', a multiplayer map for Halo Infinite. [For this image in full res, click here.]
It feels like just yesterday we were battling against Bots during our first multiplayer tech preview. Now, as launch approaches, it’s time to look forward to our second - and even bigger - tech preview. This weekend (September 23-26) and next weekend (September 30 - October 3), we’ll be taking things up a notch and testing out full-blown multiplayer. Yes, you read that correctly, we’re doing back-to-back weekends of Halo Infinite flights.
The first weekend will focus on the Arena (4v4) gameplay experience, and the second weekend is when Big Team Battle (12v12) will come online. We’ll dive into a lot of the specifics in a separate blog on Wednesday, but for now let’s touch on the high-level areas such as the goals, available content, and the schedule.
TECH PREVIEW GOALS
Our primary goal for these two tech previews will be to test our online services at a larger scale than ever before. To achieve this goal, all Halo Insiders with eligible accounts as of September 13 will be invited to participate. To help focus our population and test our servers even more, matchmaking will be limited to set periods of time each day. You can find out more about those matchmaking windows below. Jumping on during these play sessions will help us prepare our on online services ahead of launch. We will also be expanding our audience ahead of the second weekend, so you and your friends (who may have forgotten to register as Halo Insiders in time) can join us for some Big Team Battle and push the servers even further. Stay tuned for more information on that within the next week.
Our secondary goals for these two previews will be to receive feedback and find additional bugs around the content in the flights. If you spot anything that feels like it’s a bug, please be sure to submit it on the Halo Support site. The “Insider” version of the Support site will go live when the flight does, allowing all invitees to read up on known issues, submit tickets, and more. To collect feedback, we will be standing up forums posts on Waypoint that focus on key areas and sending out surveys to a portion of Halo Insiders. We will also be keeping an eye on out Twitter, r/Halo, YouTube, Twitch, and other places, but we recommend posting your thoughts here on Waypoint. To reiterate, please share your thoughts on the Waypoint forums and only use the Halo Support site to report bugs or technical issues with the game.
During these two technical previews, we will have plenty of new experiences as well as all the content from the first technical preview. Here’s a high-level look at all of the content included the next two weekends:
- Social Arena (including objective modes and a new map on Sunday, September 26)
- Bot Arena (including objective modes)
- Big Team Battle (debuting September 30 - October 3)
- Three modes on Fragmentation
- Training Mode
- Weapon Drills
- Battle Pass
- New Halo Waypoint app & web experiences
We’ll have all the details about what is included within each of these aspects in our tech preview blog and livestream this Wednesday.
SCHEDULE & PLAY SESSIONS
As mentioned above, matchmaking will only be up for a set amount of time each day in order to help us test our servers against the highest concurrency possible. While this does mean shorter time for players to go hands on, it’s critical to our primary goal of ensuring that our online services are ready for launch.
The daily matchmaking windows for both weekends will be 10am-2pm PT & 5pm-9pm PT on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of each flight. Lists that break down what’s happening when are usually more helpful for me, so I made one in case it’s helpful for you too:
WEEKEND 1 (ARENA)
- Thursday evening, September 23:
- Build becomes available for download Thursday night
- Training Mode and Weapon Drills are available
- Friday, September 24 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Saturday, September 25 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Sunday, September 26 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Monday, September 27 @ 10am PT: Flight access closes until Weekend 2
WEEKEND 2 (BIG TEAM BATTLE & ARENA)
- Thursday evening, September 30:
- Flight access turns on
- Training Mode and Weapon Drills become available
- Friday, October 1 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Saturday, October 2 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Sunday, October 3 @ 10am-2pm & 5pm-9pm PT: Matchmaking available
- Sunday, October 3 @ 9pm PT: Surveys go out to a portion of Halo Insiders
- Monday, October 4 @ 10am PT: Flight access closes
- Wednesday, October 6 @ 10am PT: Halo Support site closes
When we are outside of these matchmaking windows, the Training Mode, Weapon Drills, Battle Pass, and Customization experiences will remain online and available in-game.
In addition to this blog today, we’ll be outlining all the details about the tech previews in a livestream and blog post this Wednesday, September 22. The livestream, which will also provide a closer first look at Big Team Battle gameplay, will be live on Twitch and YouTube that afternoon. It will be accompanied by a blog that will have even more information written down and ready for you to easily reference over the course of the next two weeks.
As part of the tech previews rolling out, we will start sending out “preselection” emails within the next 24 hours to let Halo Insiders know that they’ve been selected for the upcoming flights.
We’re excited to jump back into another tech preview with all of you. Not only is it a blast to play with the community, but it also marks one of the last major milestones before launch. It’s going to be an eventful time these next two weeks, but it’s nice knowing that we’re nearly there.
Let’s have fun together this weekend, next weekend, and on the exciting road to release. I hope to run into you all online!