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.