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MCC Development Update - April 2020

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Hey Friends,

Postums here, welcoming back friends to another monthly installment of the MCC Development Update! This is our second entry while working offsite during quarantine and this month’s blog will be a bit different given these unusual circumstances. While we will dive into some proper development updates, much of this month’s news centers on our recent Halo 2 flight and the team’s continued evolution to adapt and keep progress going while we’re all away from the office. To kick things off, we will check in on people working from home and see how this unique reality is impacting their day to day. Then, we will get a Design Update that goes in depth on several new features and the playlist schedule for the month of May. Lastly, we will be looking at the most recent flight for Halo 2, what folks can expect for playlist updates in the coming month, and an overall project update for MCC.

Let’s dive right into it and get things rolling!

Working offsite

Working from home is now the norm for nearly everyone at 343. This way of life is something each of us has handled differently as we are all in our own unique situations. Today, we are going to take a look behind the curtain at a handful of folks that are on the teams helping bring MCC to PC including the Community Team, Marketing, Data Analytics, and Quality Assurance. These are our stories (insert Law & Order sound-bite here).

Tyler “Postums” Davis - Community Dude

It has been nearly 2 months since I and many others last stepped foot inside of the offices at 343. The safety and wellbeing of our teams and their families is the top priority so everyone across the studio has been adjusting and adapting to working remotely. Our studio members have taken this change in stride and pushed through the challenges that have come with it to continue driving progress against development milestones. With school closures, daily routine disruptions, the new “norm” of how our society has been changed to meet a new unique threat to our species and everything else we’re all dealing with, it’s hard to describe how we have changed collectively as we all handle the impacts in such unique ways. Today, we wanted to share some insights into how each of us have been handling the changes to working from home and share the stories we have been going through and what our lives now look like as we continue to work on Halo! I’m going to start this one off with my changes and talk through how I’ve been handling the whole working from home piece. But first – here’s some of my working from home friends and a look into our lives.

(Goats pictured above are Ogre1, Ogre2, and Walshy)

My current work from home status is that my son’s room is also where my office is. Days have begun to somewhat blur together at this point with his nap schedules mirroring mine or being just timely enough to conduct meetings. Each daily meeting when he has been here consists of patrolling the farm and live streaming chickens, goats, and tractors. 2020 is… weird, but it’s also somewhat enjoyable for me as I’m getting to spend extra time with him and watch him grow and learn.

At Home Setup

My at home setup is having twin 4k monitors side by side with my monster work PC setup alongside my Xbox One X. Being a person who helps support the Publishing Team, they were kind enough to ship me out one of these 4k monitors when we all went to working-from-home status. It has helped significantly in ensuring the most pixels possible!

Challenge of working from home

For me, the biggest challenges in working from home has been the lack of socialization. Going to lunches with my team was one of the most enjoyable parts of each day. I miss our Ramen, Poke, and random food adventures around the studio. Just good, wholesome, and laugh-filled afternoons of catching up with those I care about. Working on games is so fun because of the people you work with. I would say that is the most challenging piece, apart from ensuring to stay on a proper day-night sleep schedule in between binge watching random cooking shows and House M.D. for the ten thousandth time.

work life balance

This is an interesting piece because of where I live in relation to the office. I grew up in the sticks, I love living in the sticks, but I also have to drive from the sticks to civilization each day for 40 miles on freeways that are the core routes to and from the greater Seattle area. When commuting with normal traffic, my drives take anywhere between 1-3 hours each way. As pretty much everyone knows from my extensive moaning over this drive, it is not fun, and I complain about it quite vocally because I can! Soon though, I will be relocating significantly closer to the office so the drive is not as bad. I have come to find out that my work life balance issues of past stem mostly from the long drives. For the sanity of not only myself, but for those who must work with me, I will be doing us all a favor lol.

(Henrietta lays the tastiest eggs)

The silver lining to the current situation is that I have been reclaiming those lost traffic hours. My work life balance has become much more balanced! I’ve been sleeping longer, exercising regularly in the AM, cooking a lot of fresh foods, spending more time on my interests and hobbies, and just being able to get in quality time with my family in the area which includes my son, Owen.

 

With not constantly having to be on the go and working entirely remotely I have become much more balanced in my ability to get offline and stay offline at the end of my days. Before, I would commute in very early to beat traffic and continue to stay online long after the end of my days by reading, replying, and talking to folks across all social media platforms. Being able to have the time to “shut off” work and have that time for myself has been very important. The ability to unplug and not be in that “always on” mode is a staple in my daily routine now and is an important part to my day.

In closing, working remotely and seeing everyone rise to the challenge has been inspiring to say the least. Everyone is facing this together and the comradery amongst such a diverse team that spans so many disciplines is unbelievable to be witness to. Working on Halo is honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life, but getting to work with such a talented and battle tested group of individuals whose response to any challenge that comes up is on par with the “hold my beer” meme is truly inspiring. I’m proud to be surrounded by so many supportive, focused, and devoted individuals who bring unique passions for progress and push through any challenge that we face together.

Stay safe out there everyone! Be sure to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and don’t forget to wash your hands. Catch you later!

Noah “Philosohraptors” Benesch – Marketing Man for MCC

When we were mandated to start working from home, I decided to haul home my work PC and set myself up with a nifty folding table in my garage. Understandably, I’ve been asked “why?” quite a few times. To put it simply; working in my garage ensures that “home” stays that way. When I walk into my house, I physically leave all my work behind me. It makes it a lot easier to maintain my established work/live boundaries and it keeps me from going too terribly stir-crazy!

At Home Setup

Challenge of working from home

Oddly enough, I’m working for longer hours. With no time for in-person hallway conversations or desk drop-ins, people are filling their calendars with meetings! It’s been challenging to find focus time without running (too far) into my personal time.

Not seeing your colleagues is challenging. There’s so much we take for granted in our minor face-to-face conversations. Some of our best ideas come from these random person-to-person interactions and it’s hard to replace those organic moments in a work from home environment.

My cats love to SCREAM at me from my house. But if I let them into the garage, they stand in front of my screen or try to stand on my keyboard before SCREAMING to be let back into the house…

work life balance

I’ve sort of alluded to this above, but in addition to my garage-office to keep me sane outside of work, I’ve started homebrewing and gardening and it’s been very rewarding (both literally and figuratively)! It has been unique and I’m making lemonade out of lemons, well, something stronger; but you get my drift!

Melinda “wildMischief” Reeb – Data guru

Working from home has been an interesting experience for me as I just recently joined the team. It has been challenging, but it is an experience I have taken well in stride. I have really made the world my home office and enjoy taking walks and hikes while still participating in our regular meetings. But, when I am in my actual home office, my PC is setup just the way I like. This setup helps me to keep on top of all the pieces I am working on to support the team at large.

At home setup

  • 3 19” AOC Monitors
  • GAOMON Sketch Tablet
  • Logitech Pro Gaming Keyboard RGB
  • GRIM Gaming Mouse
  • Box built from scrap parts
  • Corsair Void RGB Elite Headset

challenges of working from home

I haven’t had too many challenges working from home although it has been significantly more difficult as I have been onboarding during this time as well. My manager has helped to facilitate the gathering of resources as well as the adaptation to the work from home environment causing a smooth transition thus far.

Work Life Balance

Balancing work-life responsibilities can be a challenge for anyone. I often find myself taking small breaks throughout the day to make sure that I have a clear head before starting each task. The situation has helped me understand how to improve my own efficiency and focus while maintaining a healthy familial relationship. Communication is a pillar in any foundation for resiliency and I have found that taking a break to speak with my “co-workers” about something mundane (like the weather, or the new Seattle NHL team name that will never be announced) can help shake up your day!

Eric “IK Grubb” Ferdinand – QA Lead for MCC

My PC has always been a constantly growing force to be reckoned with, as it lives within a workbench case for easy swapping of components. Shortly after WFH began, the Production team equipped me with a new GPU and a snazzy high refresh rate monitor to go with it, rounding out my capabilities and helping to ensure I can assess our VFR implementation from home. On top of that, I run AMD hardware primarily, so I have become the go-to for any AMD specific assessments. 

At home setup

  • AMD Ryzen 5 CPU
  • RX 5700 GPU
  • 5 Hard Drives (2 M.2 NVMe, 2 SSDs, 1 HDD)
  • 2 hot swap bays
  • Cooler Master Liquid Cooling system
  • Lots of RGB

Additionally, I use an Intel i7 NUC PC for server access and a Surface Book 2 laptop for when I get sick of sitting in my DXRacer. 

Challenges of working from home

I am a single father of an 11y/o girl who had the rest of 5th grade cancelled due to the pandemic. Because of this, I have become a home-school teacher on top of my regular work week. I had about 2 days to figure out how to continue her education for the remainder of the school year while I simultaneously support my team and complete my work. It has been a daily balancing act that I am finally getting comfortable with.

On top of becoming a teacher, I also decided that RIGHT NOW is the time to buy a home. Actual footage of my life right now:

This has resulted in my home being exploded into boxes and bags. It's been interesting trying to close on my house while the whole world is shut down around me. I've had great support from everyone involved and have even received some early housewarming gifts from some of the folks on the Pub Team! 

Work Life Balance

I've began taking Wednesday's off work to spend the day sitting with my daughter and helping her stay engaged and focused on learning. I try to avoid rolling out of bed and into work, so I've started setting up the slow cooker for dinner before I begin my workday. The benefit is twofold since the house smells amazing all day and by the time I'm done with work, dinner is already done! 

A huge shoutout to the Publishing Team and all its partners that have been supporting the development for MCC PC as of late! The challenges that all have been facing are honestly unprecedented. I want to leave a heartfelt thank you to the IT team at 343 that has been working safely behind the scenes to help ensure our remote development teams are empowered to still do their best work. They are literally the heroes of us all and without them literally nothing would be happening. Teamwork makes the dreamwork!

Now, let’s take a look behind the curtain on some upcoming feature work pieces!

Design Update

This month we are joined by a few individuals from the Publishing Team’s ranks: Dana Jerpbak, Technical Designer, and Max Szlagor, Design Director. Below is a look at some of the latest work relating to Challenges, Forge, File Shares, Key bindings, Control Updates, View Model Updates, and next month’s Playlist Schedule. I’m going to pass the reigns over to Dana to dive on in.

Challenges

Thanks Tyler, With the launch of Halo 2 on PC, we are releasing an early version of our challenges feature. This preview of the challenges feature is designed to meet one specific goal: granting players XP for completing campaign missions. Each week, the first campaign mission a player completes on each difficulty in each game in MCC will grant XP. Difficulties stack, so completing a mission on Normal will also complete that game’s Easy challenge and so on. Upon completing these challenges, a notification will appear, and the player will receive XP payouts tuned to the difficulty they played on.  Each Wednesday at 10 AM, in conjunction with the weekly matchmaking update, players’ challenges will be refreshed. These challenges can be completed in campaign or campaign playlists.

In a future MCC update, the full challenges feature will be released. This will include a much broader suite of challenges which reward players (with XP, Season Points, and unique unlocks) for engaging with game modes and content across MCC in different ways. Challenges will be displayed to players via the Challenge Hub screen which we shared a mockup of in our previous MCC Development Update. Players will also be able to pin a challenge to the main menu for easier tracking. Players will see their progress on a given challenge through notifications which appear every 10% of the way until a challenge is completed. Challenges will refresh on varying timetables: some weekly, some seasonal, and some for special events. We’re excited about the flexibility of this system and look forward to tuning challenges to match how players engage with the game. For now, here’s a preview of the pinned challenge as well as the new Season Preview on the main menu.

(This is a Work-in-Progress mockup. Challenge names and details may not reflect final design)

Now, I will pass things over to Max to talk about some additional features that are works-in-progress.

Forge and PC File Share

Thanks, Dana! Progress on Forge is coming along for Halo: Reach, with the focus being on improving controls for mouse and keyboard, UI improvements for PC, and adding support for remappable keybinds for Forge actions.

In addition to core Forge functionality for PC, we also have infrastructure work to do in our file share system, which requires additional consideration for PC. Our goal is to support a cross-platform file share system that ensures the health and integrity of files shared in the ecosystem. PC gives users more flexibility in terms of what can be created and shared, which will result in new and unexpected content. We want users to understand where files are coming from and make it clearer which are user generated versus built in or considered trusted. We also plan to include an option to toggle file visibility for these different types so users have control over what is available and shown on their local device. Given how closely users associate Forge with File Share, we want to ensure all the appropriate infrastructure is in place before both features are rolled out.

Keybindings and controls update

Work is also in progress on improving keybinding functionality, including the ability to have a secondary keybinding. Users will be able to include a secondary keybind for any of the currently bindable actions and to unbind keys with a single action. Some remappable keys are considered global and do not allow multiple keys to be bound, though there are relatively few of these. We are also working on adding push-to-talk support in for controllers on PC, which will be mapped by default to the down button on the D-Pad. Push-to-talk on controllers will be enabled only when users toggle the push-to-talk option “on” from settings.

 (This is a Work-in-Progress implementation and may not reflect final design)

  (This is a Work-in-Progress implementation and may not reflect final design)

Weapon and View Model Adjustments

Another feature we hear requests for is the ability to toggle the weapon view model offset so that more of the battlefield is visible. We are adding sliders into the settings menu for each weapon category that allows players to change the X and Y offset of the weapon view model. The adjustment can be previewed in the pause menu like the FOV slider. If players want more control over the offset, additional adjustments are possible for the weapons in a configuration file. Adjustments beyond what is offered in the UI are possible for custom games, though we will be limiting the adjustment for matchmade games. Here are some comparison images of the DMR with default offsets versus a 15 percent offset in X and Y.   (This is a Work-in-Progress implementation and may not reflect final design)

(Default offset values)

(15 percent offset values in X and Y)

Thanks Dana and Max for all the info and screenshots of these work-in-progress features! Before we wrap up the design section, we wanted to share out the currently planned playlist rotations for the month of May in MCC.

Future Playlist Schedule

  • 5/6: Grifball
  • 5/13: Big Team Battle Update
  • 5/20: Experimental Playlist
  • 5/27: Monthly Feedback Maintenance
  • 6/3: Shotty Snipers

Now that we have had that solid information share, let’s shift gears to our most recent flight that concluded earlier this week for Halo 2.

Halo 2 Flighting Recap

On April 17th we began flighting for Halo 2 and Halo 2: Anniversary on Steam and the Windows Store. We invited just over 100,000 Halo Insiders and invited around 75,000 more for the final weekend. We were very excited to get this flight out to everyone once bugs from Rings 1 and 2 were all fixed up.  With this flight, it was all systems go for our new flighting invites and messaging structure for Halo Insiders. Our new Halo Waypoint focused messaging included direct links to knowledge-based articles (KBAs) which were hosted on the Insider Halo Support site for flight participants only. This new messaging system and dedicated threads for installation instructions helped us create a more streamlined experience for users and increased awareness of the Support site. We saw a significant decrease in issues being reported that were on our known issues list, and an increase in flight participants who were able to find and use their Steam keys.

As soon as folks were in flight, we saw social media sites across the board light up with tweets from folks getting in and having loads of fun participating. It was pretty cool getting to witness and join in with so many reliving these games on PC. Over the first weekend I was able to hop in and play some games with a couple of friends, UberNick and Greenskull (who agrees with me that Pineapple belongs on Pizza) for a long day of play on Big Team Battle. You can check out their awesome collaboration, showcasing some of what Halo 2 has to offer on PC, below.

Later in the month, on the 24th, we updated the flight build and invited a second group of Halo Insiders to test out fixes and some additional features from the top reported issues and feedback. As a result we were able to close out many of the support tickets and saw a down tick in tickets being filed. We also witnessed quite a bit of feedback that the flight’s performance and feel improved with the update. There was a lot to like. And speaking of someone who enjoyed getting new blood into the flight, Mint Blitz, helped…Welcome the new flight participants in this clip below:

All in all, the flight generated just over 2,000 tickets in total with 46 types of tickets or what we refer to internally as “buckets.” This is a fancy term for similar issues being reported.

Once the flight wrapped earlier this week, we sent out a survey to a select number of flight participants to gather even more feedback. To all that have taken the time to respond, to fill out support tickets, and leave feedback to us on the Halo Waypoint forums, thank you! Your feedback helps us understand areas that are liked, helps us make decisions on where to focus, and work on changes that the collective community would like to see in our releases and future updates. The time you spend helps us make our games even better and is intertwined in our development process all up.

We are happy so many enjoyed the flight and are now looking forward to releasing Halo 2 on PC in the not too distant future!

And now it is time yet again for an overview of features the team is working on to address and an overall status update from the man himself. Take it away Farns!

State of the Game with Farns

What a great month we have had, our team and partners really hit their stride with our work from home situation. It has been a large adjustment, but we continue to make great progress on our development goals. 

TOP COMMUNITY REPORTED ISSUES

Below is a status update to the top Known Issues which we’ve previously discussed in prior MCC Development Updates since December (December, January, February, and March). As updates are made between blogs, you can always check out the latest status discussed in the MCC Development & Flighting Updates (https://aka.ms/FridayDevFlightUpdateMCC), and also please review the Known issues found on the Halo Support site for latest details. Please know that while our #1 priority is driving towards the release of H2 and the rest of MCC on PC, the team is still progressing on various backlog issues and feature requests as possible. The scope and implications of these issues vary greatly so while some may see good movement in a given month, others may not.

  • Xbox Performance: We are actively investigating the performance issues players are reporting. We have made some improvements that are noticeable and are continuing to investigate at this time. Our goal is to bring this back to what it was prior to the H:CE launch. 
  • Pistol Spread for H:CE MP with Higher FPS: This will be resolved in our next update.
  • Audio Issues: We are continuing to quality check these fixes for Reach and other titles, we hope to be able to flight this and gather feedback soon. 
  • Stuttering Issue: There is no active development being done on this at this time, but we are continuing to investigate. 
  • Menu Performance: We have made some improvements in this area that are planned for a future update. If you are encountering issues with this, please submit a ticket at the Halo Support site
  • Screen Tearing/Vsync: Some bugs that have been fixed around these issues will be coming in our next release while we continue to improve this over time. If you are encountering issues with this, please submit a ticket at the Halo Support site
  • Co-Op Latency: No updates on this one. There is no active development happening around improving/re-writing the network code around this area of the game.    
  • Double Key Bindings: This work is undergoing a test pass, then will enter a bug fixing phase. From there, we will have this in an upcoming flight to gather feedback. Check out Max’s design update above for additional details.
  • Mouse Input: This is an area of the game that we will continue to monitor and improve upon where we can. If you are encountering issues with this, please submit a ticket at the Halo Support site
  • View Model: Development has progressed well on this feature and we are currently working through bug fixes and gathering internal feedback per Max’s update earlier in this blog. We hope to have this in one of our upcoming flights. 
  • Idle Stops matchmaking: This is still on our list but nothing new to share on this one as we try to tackle higher priority issues. 
  • Aim Assist: No updates on this currently. 
  • Achievement Issues & Support Tickets: We have continued to fix bugs around reported achievement issues. If there are achievements that you are still encountering issues with specifically, please submit a ticket at the Halo Support site

GLOBAL FEATURES AND DEVELOPMENT STATUS   

There are additional features we know that the community has discussed and wants in order to improve the overall experience for players. As we finish work, re-prioritize, or move items through development phases we will let the community know what is moving up on the list, what has been added, and where it lives.  

Actively in development

  • Progression System improvements including Challenges (Flighted) 
  • UI/UX Improvements around navigation, roster, customization and many more areas of the game  
  • Text Chat Improvements  
  • Double Key Binds   
  • View Model Adjustment (added

In Design Iteration

  • Additional Mod Support   
  • Additional Video Settings/Options   
  • In Game FPS Cap/Adjustments   
  • Steam Account Linking 
  • Customization Improvements 

In Backlog Pending Further Discussions

  • Input-based Matchmaking   
  • Regional Server Selection   
  • Cross-Play between Xbox & PC   
  • VFR Improvements   
  • Idle System Improvements   
  • Bringing PC Features to Console (Like FOV Sliders)   
  • Additional Accessibility Support   
  • Custom Game Browser 
  • Better ways to Report Players 

On the remaining games development front, we are approaching solid Alpha candidates for both Halo 3 and ODST, stay tuned for more sharing on these titles (and eventually flighting!) as we get further into development. 

As always, there are likely some things we’ve neglected to mention in here. Please reach out to us through the various forms of social outlets and let us know your thoughts to help us build our topics for the next development blog.    

-farn  

Outro

Thank you everyone for swinging by yet again for another monthly blog. Rather than talk with words and stuff, I got a handful of screenshots sent over my way and figured I would just drop them below. These are current work-in-progress shots of Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST. Enjoy!

Halo 3 - Work In Progress Screenshots

Halo 3: ODST - Work In Progress Screenshots

If all goes according to plan it shouldn’t be too much longer now before Halo 2 officially releases on PC and then we’ll get ready for Halo 3 flighting!

We will see y’all back again in a few short weeks. Please take care of yourselves and stay safe out there!

Cheers,

Postums

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