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.