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MCC Development Update - April 2019

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It has been over a month since pizzas came flooding into the 343 Industries studio following the announcement of Halo: Reach coming to MCC and the entire Master Chief Collection coming to PC. The carb-load was real! The excitement coming from the community after our announcement has been humbling to watch. Not to mention, we enjoyed the tasty pizzapocalypse that followed!

What follows is a peek behind the curtain and a look at what the teams working on MCC for PC have been doing to make the dream come true.

However, before I get too far, allow me to slightly derail for just a moment to make one PSA: MCC on Xbox got an update last week! If you are interested in reading more about the changes that came with it, please check out this post on Halo Waypoint and read all about the latest update which brings an end to the Yappening. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Today, we are going to share more info on MCC for PC by discussing the team’s vision, what we are doing to get there with members from both Splash Damage and 343’s Publishing Team, provide a Halo Insider update, and cover a lot of details in between. First, let’s recap for those who are joining us for the first time.

Two Slices of Pepperoni Please

Things have been busy here. Since Ske7ch’s appearance on Xbox Insider (enjoying some deep dish pizza) to announce Reach in MCC and MCC on PC, we launched our Halo Insider program, and took to Reddit to conduct an AMA that answered some of the questions that were pouring in. For a full list of questions we answered during the AMA, head on over to the Halo: The Master Chief Collection (PC) forums post to dig into the details.

In the end, talk is cheap and saying we are doing something is the easy part - it’s more important to actually do it. The 343 Publishing Team has been working day in and day out making good on the promise of continuously improving MCC since last year. In parallel, the team has been hard at work on the ambitious plans to eventually bring all this content to PC players. There's already been a lot of great progress made, particularly with Halo: Reach, which is up and running and looking fantastic on both Xbox One and PC.

A work-in-progress screenshot of Halo: Reach within MCC (Xbox One).

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Publishing Team at 343 before, let us be clear: these aren’t the folks working on Halo Infinite. They are a much smaller team focused on working with external developers to bring other Halo experiences and projects to life. They are the team that has provided the plethora of updates to MCC and Halo Wars 2 over the past year plus.

However, they still are human and can only do so much within the laws of time and space. With the team now fully focused on the ambitious challenge of bringing Reach to MCC and the whole collection to PC, ongoing updates for Halo Wars 2 and MCC’s base content will need to be reduced in both frequency and scope. It will be a journey, and we are asking the Halo community to come with us on it. It’s a journey through development, through public flighting, and finally through ongoing iteration and improvement even after it’s been released.  The Publishing Team will continue supporting Halo Wars 2 and all of the games under the MCC umbrella, but it’s time to pull back a bit on those to make sure we have the best launch experience for Reach and MCC on PC.

Splashing into Halo

Speaking of PC, we have been working very closely with our partner studio, Splash Damage, who is knee deep in the code for MCC. Their mission is to bring MCC to life as a true PC-native experience by adding in the features, bells, and whistles PC gamers expect.  Our philosophy (more on that below) is that a straight port from console to PC just doesn’t cut it; MCC needs to be authentic to Halo and the PC platform. The team has greater ambitions and we know PC gamers demand, and expect, more than that.

Some out there may think it’s “just a lot of copy and paste” to get things to work but making games at the quality level players expect is most definitely not that simple. A project can have hundreds, or even thousands, of people working towards one central goal: creating fun! It is a beautiful and unique process that each studio handles with finesse and flair that helps create a unique brand of magic.

Joining us today to talk a little bit about this is George Wright, a Senior Producer from Splash Damage, who will offer an update on what the team has been working on. So, let’s dive on in and peek at what it is like to bring the vision we have for MCC on PC to life.

Overall, how is development going?

George Wright: Development is going well, with Halo: Reach already in a playable state. However, we have a very high bar for where the game needs to be, so have a lot more work to do before it’s ready to ship.

As you’ve dug into the Master Chief Collection’s code base, has anything caught you by surprise?

Looking at the game code, one of the surprising things to discover is how much of the original code from the classic Halo titles endures through the years. There have obviously been tons of improvements with each title, but you can see the core DNA hold true throughout. It’s quite a testament to the original designs that they’re still keeping us hooked 20 years later!

It’s also super interesting reading all the comments in the code: it really tells the story of Halo development over the years, and there are a LOT of funny moments to be had reading some of the expletive-laden late-night commits.

What is the most challenging aspect of bringing MCC to PC?

A lot of the challenges revolve around the sheer scale, and the age of MCC.

To start, even though the games are older, there’s still a lot there: eight game releases, and over 7 terabytes of data (Special shout-out to our IT dept for the stack of new hard drives!). There are multiple game engines, even non-Halo specific engines, with their own differing programming styles, and contributions have been made by various dev teams over the years. This means that there’s a lot of complex content to analyse before we could properly get started.

Each game was also developed for a very specific set of hardware and software requirements, and we need to harmonize the games so that they’re performant on contemporary PC setups, and then start adding the features that players have come to know on PC. A lot of the tools used to build each title no longer exist, so we need to reconstruct, and repair these systems to make them function correctly.

The games were built using older development techniques, so it’s been an interesting challenge for a lot of us used to modern AAA development to go back to the old ways – a bit like the difference between building a skyscraper and restoring the Sistine Chapel!

What is your key priority/focus?

A big focus for us right now is getting the input system feeling right on PC. There are a lot of components to good FPS control on PC including: fully-remappable controls, minimal input latency, broad device support, and more. We’re also focused on adding some advanced input functionality and are currently testing out the ability to create custom mouse acceleration curves. This will allow very detailed tuning possibilities for mouse movement that many should be excited about.  

Can you share a few details of some of your recent accomplishments/milestones?

We’re working on a major overhaul to the MCC user interface. We’ve completed the visual designs for the new system, but the roll-out of the new UI will be gradual. It’s an incredibly labour-intensive task to replace the old system and have it work alongside the new tech, but it will be worth it.

The new UI will bring a lot of benefits to players. Aside from the fresh lick of paint, the interface has been improved so that it works well with both mouse and gamepad. We’re also looking at restructuring the menus so that it supports the new features we’re adding to MCC.

What’s next in terms of big deliverables / milestones?

Looking ahead to our future milestones, one of the new features we’re delivering is a progression system for MCC. Initially, it will be a straightforward and familiar system that allows players to track their Halo gameplay experience and unlock rewards. Our plans for progression are much wider, however, and we have a few things up our sleeve that we hope will really engage the whole Halo community.

Anything you might want to share just about the studio, day to day, etc.

Since starting our partnership with 343i, we’ve been pretty hyped. Halo is a great franchise to work on, and since we’re also big PC gamers ourselves, we feel privileged to be able to bring the series on to the platform we love.

And while it’s challenging work, it is a lot of fun – especially around playtest time. We try to get as much of the team involved in playtests as possible, but we’ve very quickly found that our best players are dominating others, so to find some REAL competition, we think a studio v studio tournament is in order. What do you reckon, 343? Winner gets pizza.

As a reminder, we have another great external partner, Ruffian, who is hard at work on bringing Halo: Reach to MCC on Xbox One. While this blog post is primarily focused on PC, we want to give Ruffian a shout out for all of their efforts and will look to share an update from them in a future post.

Now that we’ve seen what one of our external partners is working on, let’s turn our focus in-house. This next section is a breakdown by the Publishing Team’s Design Director, Max Szlagor, of a few of the key pieces that make up the vision of bringing an entire era of Halo from the Xbox to PC.

Halo PC Pillars

When building games, there are different frameworks people use to communicate the vision for that game to the team and to our community. One way to communicate the vision is through a series of pillars that clearly articulate priorities of the game along with attributes that support each pillar. When we began planning the PC version of MCC, we set out to define our pillars. The three defining principles we are focusing on are three key pillars; PC Native, Legacy, and Engaging & Evolving.

PC Native Pillar

Being PC native means that we deliver a best-in-class PC shooter as measured by PC gamers that require the following specifics.

Controls

  • Robust action mapping options
  • Great mouse/keyboard input across the entire game
  • Low input latency by leveraging raw input and latency validation via slow motion cameras
  • Support for a broad set of mouse and gameplay options

PC Native UI

  • Updated UI controls familiar to PC users
  • Robust video and game options that allow users to tailor the experience to their hardware
  • Support for FOV sliders (to the extent each game can realistically support)
  • Text chat

Runs on a variety of hardware and takes advantage of what is there in both UI and gameplay

  • Range of resolution and aspect ratio support for monitors
    • 4K+ resolution, native aspect ratio support from 4:3 up to 21:9 Ultrawide
    • GSync/FreeSync support
    • High refresh rate support
  • Mice both high or low DPI
  • Multiple styles of Keyboards
  • Video cards, both dedicated and integrated
  • XInput supported controllers
  • Loading optimizations

High quality window handling

  • Borderless full screen
  • Flexible window resizing
  • Gracefully handles keyboard shortcuts such as ALT-TAB/ALT-ENTER, etc.

Using a combination of competitive analysis, internal team playtesting, pro team testing, usability testing, and flighting we are iterating on great controls and building a PC native experience.

Our goal is that we can deliver on the gameplay experience that makes Halo unique while meeting the expectations of modern PC shooter players in terms of usability and game feel. For control and options settings, we are experimenting with a variety of mouse and keyboard values.

We have built a custom settings app while we update the options settings menus in the main UI. Here is a peek at our work-in-progress control settings app:

As we make greater progress on the PC native UI, we will build these settings into the game. Here is a sneak peek at the updated settings menu in the UI (work in progress):

There are 2 additional pillars that are closely related and impact the way we think about being PC native – “Legacy” and “Engaging & Evolving.”

Legacy Pillar

Being true to legacy means that we do not change the core gameplay of Halo unless we are fixing bugs or making small, modern quality of life adjustments that can benefit both mouse and keyboard players as well as controller players. One such example is the discussion around how to handle movement and crouch interactions. We have heard feedback from internal playtests that for a modern shooter, there is an expectation of better support when transitioning between standing/moving and crouch. This issue demonstrates the tension between our legacy and PC native pillars and is only one of many issues that is likely to put pillars in conflict with each other. As we discover more and more of these issues, we will make decisions based on a combination of data, community feedback, and prioritized design goals to deliver the best experience across input methods, play styles, and player expectations. Once we begin flighting the game to a larger audience, we will continue listening for thoughts on this issue and see if there are additional reasons to move forward or to discard this idea to see if it fits with our legacy pillar.

We also need to be mindful of the fact that we will have players who prefer a mouse and keyboard for Halo and other players who will prefer controllers. We want both of these player types to be able to play together in the same match and for them to feel as if they are on relatively equal footing. There will naturally be some differences in feel and expectations for different input methods, such as the strength of aim magnetism. Whenever we have tested a Halo PC title with any audience using a mouse and keyboard, the expectation is that aim magnetism is disabled. On controller, the opposite is true, and some degree of aim magnetism is needed for controller players to compete effectively and for Halo to play the way it does on console. We want to minimize differences in gameplay between input methods, which supports our engagement pillar.

Engaging & Evolving Pillar

For us, the engaging & evolving pillar encompasses several things, and for the purposes of this blog we are referring to the need to build for growth and ways for people to play together across input methods.

Our engagement pillar also encompasses the beginning of our journey to evolve MCC over time. Because we are updating older games, adding an FOV slider will naturally have some limitations to the range that is possible in the short term. In the longer term, we may be able to include a wider range of values. Some of the other PC native additions such as higher frame rate may take additional time as we learn about the side effects of rolling these features out, and they may need more time to cook in the flighting rings before going out to the full retail audience. Making the UI for MCC more flexible for the variety of monitors and aspect ratios on PC will also take some time, and we will prioritize the areas that impact the core user experience core flows before moving into less frequently visited areas. We will make a better game together, and we hope you will come along with us on this journey and share your experiences and feedback.Our engagement pillar also encompasses our all new progression system. Our goal is to deliver a system that captures the spirit of progression in Halo: Reach but delivers it in a more modern way. Think levelling, seasons, and unlocks. More details will be coming in a future blog. Please look forward to it.

Thanks,
Max

A Passionately Positive Postums

Hey Friends,

Since before I joined the community team, people like Ske7ch, Brav, Uny, Grim, Snickerdoodle, Jessabirdy, and many before me have worked hard to gather feedback from across the community and channel it into the development teams. From being a fan for more years than I have been a person inside a studio in the game industry, I know that even with the hard work of these great people, players can sometimes feel that their voice isn’t heard. Gathering feedback has been a bottleneck issue that gets increasingly challenging as the feedback grows in scale and scope. Though you should know, it’s not from a lack of trying to listen to this fantastic community. The fact is we all want to build the best games possible for those who want to play Halo.

I joined the Community team from the Publishing Team specifically because of my passion for Halo and wanting to help be a champion for the community with a simple set of goals. Listen to the community, gather feedback, and present it to the developers to improve our games. However, one of my biggest areas of focus has been player support to ensure everyone has the best possible Halo experience.
 
Ske7ch, however, had much bigger plans as he and the community team knew my efforts would never scale from living on Waypoint, Twitter, Reddit, and an absurd number of Discord servers. He and others from 343 reached out to other Xbox studios around the world to talk through what they’re doing and what best practices they have found for collecting feedback and creating a full-on customer service suite to support their games. After listening, using different tools, and talking with many people, we believe we have identified a new tool for the community to create a more efficient, scalable solution for players to share their feedback with our teams and get more information in return to further improving their game experiences. After many months of planning and years of preparation we are happy to announce a brand-new Halo Support site.

To improve how we listen to the community, we have built an entirely new support page that will eventually replace our Halo Waypoint support forums for specific titles. Participants of the Halo Insider Program will be the first to interact with Halo Support and work with us as we move towards providing these new tools for the entire community. The goal of this is to allow for an all-inclusive place for players to share high volumes of feedback, submit streamlined tickets around technical issues and bugs, and provide informative articles and resources to keep players up-to-date on known issues and development priorities for Halo titles. There’s a whole lot of science behind this effort and the community team, publishing team, user research team, Halo Infinite’s Director of Player Voice, and overall studio leadership team are all very excited to let the community take it for a test drive. We’ll be flighting the new Halo Support portal in parallel with the game flights as we iterate, improve, and expand to prepare for prime time at retail launch. See y’all soon!

Cheers,

Postums

Oh, and here’s ske7ch again for an update on flighting…

Halo Insider update

Thanks, Tyler! Since we formally opened the doors to the new Halo Insider program, we’ve been blown away by the community’s outpouring of support and excitement. Part of the reason we decided to go ahead and announce this work was underway was to ensure we had enough of a runway to round up a large pool of participants to support our goals for public flighting. Well, it turns out that the community is even more eager and excited than we could’ve possibly hoped, and we crushed our goals for Halo Insider opt-ins within a matter of hours. Thank you!

Members of the 343 Publishing Team participating in an internal playtest of Halo: Reach on PC.

The good news is we have a huge audience of eager and passionate players standing by, ready to jump into a public flight and help us deliver the best possible experiences on PC and Xbox. The less good news (depending on your point of view) is that all the work needed to get the actual game build ready for public flighting is taking a bit longer than we hoped. It’s not to say the project is at risk or anything crazy is going on, just that this is a complex, ambitious project with many technical challenges – not to mention the process and steps needed to get the right build into the hands of Halo Insiders is also quite complex with numerous dependencies. 

While the 343 Publishing team and our partners at Splash Damage and Ruffian have made great progress, there are still a number of items to work through before we feel we’re ready for the first public flight. While flights are obviously work-in-progress builds, they do require a certain level of polish and functionality to ensure that players can have a successful, enjoyable session and that the team is able to get the data they need to validate the flight. While a lot of technical work commences, our internal “Pro Team” and test team are continuing to participate in regular playtests with a specific focus on the ‘feel’ and the m/KB controls.

The 343 Playtest Lab has been outfitted with loads of PCs, mice, and keyboards. 

One of the technical areas that’s still being worked through is finalizing the process of generating an appropriate build and then ensuring that a player on Steam is able to acquire the build. This also includes being able to add specific content in a build while cleanly removing content that isn’t needed (this helps keep the overall build size down and keep players focused on the specific areas/activities tied to the goals for the flight). There’s also a lot of work happening around security of these builds – we need to ensure the build is tied to the correct user and that it can’t be accessed or operated outside of the intended channels and processes. There’s also a matter of telemetry – specific code that needs to be added to the build to provide critical data to help validate the flight. For example, if a flight goal is tracking average time to match and match success rate, we need to ensure that the client and servers are setup to properly report this data to our team. This gets more complex as the flight goals expand – eventually I can imagine the team will want to understand how Insiders are interacting with custom keybindings and how mouse/KB players are faring against controller players. A lot of work is also still underway on the PC-specific UI (as you saw in Max’s section above). We can’t solicit valuable feedback on the controls or how “authentically PC” it is if we don’t have all those areas implemented yet.  

You can stay up to date on the latest Halo Insider status via the forum here on Halo Waypoint. In general, the Halo Insider forum is a great place to keep bookmarked to stay up to date on the latest Insider happenings. We’ll do our best to share ongoing info and it offers a place to meet, mingle, and discuss with other Halo Insiders. Remember that you can update your Halo Insider profile at any time and edit your preferences, change your availability, add a dxdiag snapshot, link your SteamID, and more.

And as another reminder, please remember that when flighting does begin, it will start small and grow over time. The number of interested Halo Insiders far exceeds what we can realistically accommodate in the earlier rounds of flighting, but our hope is to continue growing and expanding over time with the goal of all eligible Insiders eventually getting a chance to participate.

We want to thank everyone who signed up for the Halo Insider program – we seriously can’t wait to have you join us on this journey and look forward to your feedback and help to make MCC for PC the best it can be! We also appreciate your understanding and support as the team takes the time it needs to deliver a great experience. 

Closing Time

Well, that was a lot of words. As of typing this sentence it looks like well over 4,000 of them - all about the goodness that is Halo coming to PC and how the work behind the scenes is shaping up. There’s a lot more to say and show in the weeks and months ahead – and we look forward to having you along with us on this journey. 

With all the questions the community has had since our PC launch, we hope that this blog has answered some of them. There’s no way to answer them all in one, but you can head on over to our MCC PC Forums and post questions you would like us to address going forward. Until next time, we hope you enjoyed all the words.

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