At this point, it is now a regular occurrence that we chat with our friends over on the Publishing Team. This month Design Director Max Szlagor, Game Designer Matt Jordan, and Technical Designer Dana Jerpback, are back to discuss the various pieces that are coming to MCC.
It’s been a busy one, so we’ll start with Max for some updates across a variety of topics and then I’ll follow up with a direct interview with Dana. Let’s get started!
The launch of Season 3 will bring a total of over 80 new items to earn via the season reward tiers as well as through seasonal challenges. There will be new weapon skins and visor colors for Halo 3, nameplates, and Halo 3: ODST Firefight characters to unlock. Note that you will still be able to unlock items from Season 1 and 2 in the season panel, but any seasonal challenges that award skins in Season 2 will be rotating out for the new season. Be sure to get them before they go, though do keep in mind that items that rotate out from a season may return at a future date.
With the launch of Season 3, we will be expanding customization for Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST even further than what was previously available. Halo 3 will include dozens of all new visors and weapon skins. Just like in Halo: CE, you will be able to opt-out of seeing these new customization items via an options toggle if you want to maintain an experience closer to the original game. Halo 3: ODST will also include new variants of Firefight characters. This is just the start of expanded customization and we look forward to bringing even more cool ways to customize the look of your characters in each game.
In addition, we are expanding the customization options for Halo 2: Anniversary. For the first time in Halo: MCC, you will be able to customize your Halo 2: Anniversary Spartan or Elite’s armor components on a per-piece basis, similar to the systems in Halo: Reach and Halo 3. We hope players enjoy coming up with cool new combinations as they do battle in Halo 2: Anniversary multiplayer.
A Sneak Peek at Season 4
While there is a lot of cool stuff coming for Season 3, Season 4 will bring more new customization items to both Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, including a long-lost item or two. For Halo 3, we will be taking inspiration from some of the work we have done for Halo: CE customization. Halo: Reach will feature new ways to mix and match armors as well as giving the Elites some customization options previously only available to Spartans. There will also be a couple of surprises. We will be sharing more details on Season 4 closer to its launch.
Custom Game Browser
Design and implementation is underway on the custom game browser. Our goal is to offer players a way to host and join a larger variety of gametypes than what we are able to support via social or competitive matchmade games. We want to give players control over multiple games (HCE - H4), gametypes, and maps in a custom browser rotation. We want to make it easy to play with friends and to find games you are interested in based on filters you provide. We want to provide a detailed browsing experience. We also need to make some adjustments to the core Halo multiplayer flow for custom game browser so players spend less time in the UI and more time in maps. Our plan is to get a version of this feature up and running and into our flighting rings for feedback. We will have more details and examples of the UI flow to show in the near future.
File Share on PC and player/file reporting
Work is underway on bringing file share to PC in a future update. A key component of this effort is adding more tools for players to report harmful or offensive players/content wherever it is found, as well as the tools we need to follow up on these reports. Our goal is to empower players to file reports when and where they see a player acting badly. For files, we want to make sure players can clearly understand where files come from, whether they are trusted or not, and to provide easy ways for players to report files that are malicious or offensive.
We have heard the feedback on how players want more choice in the servers they connect to and we will be providing a way to limit the regions you can matchmake into. Our goal is to provide as much choice as possible in region selection while ensuring players don’t take advantage of region limiting to boost their competitive ranks. This is something we are working through and Matt Jordan can help share some additional insights into this feature.
Matthew Jordan: Thank you Max. When Server Region Selection is added, players will be able to choose severs they want to opt-out of. This will allow players to not matchmake in regions they want to avoid or limit their searches into regions they want to specifically be on.
(Work in Progress and final implementation is subject to change)
Additionally, while players are viewing the list of regions, they will also be able to see the an average population for each server region along with their current ping, so that they can customize their matchmaking search and be able to better know how it will affect matchmaking times. More in-depth information will be shared about this feature at a later time.
Thank you, Max and Matt for sharing all of those updates! Now, let’s dive into the interview portion of this design discussion with Dana.
Postums: Thank you so much for joining me today. Let’s jump right into it with some hardballs. I know that Crossplay and Input Based Matchmaking is something that's been talked about for a while. What are some of the core design goals that the team has been working on for these features?
Dana Jerpbak: Thanks for inviting me back! Currently, players in MCC are split by platform, but that’s a fairly arbitrary split. With input-based matchmaking and crossplay, the goal is to break down as many barriers between players as possible but to split players by something that has a direct impact on their moment-to-moment gameplay experience.
To accomplish this, we are looking at input-based matchmaking being implemented at the playlist level. This allows us to have more control on where we do and don’t separate players into sub-groups.
Basically, what that means in terms of implementation, in certain playlists, players will be locked to a given input, and we will have a couple of different knobs we can tune to alter this experience over time.
For example, in a playlist like Infection when crossplay and input-based matchmaking features come online, we're not going to limit by input at all. The same can be said for something like Firefight. We don’t believe that there is a need to lock players by input in these areas, so in those cases players will get the full benefit of crossplay so anyone can play together, which is really great. This should help those player groups find matches more quickly and break down barriers between players on different platforms for those offerings.
In other areas, such as the more competitive playlists, we will have the capability to limit players by input method. In some cases that will mean all players have to use the same input. In other cases that will mean that we will allow squads with some amount of mixed input to play together and balance out those using mouse & keyboard and those playing with controllers. Players will be locked into a single device when they enter matchmaking for those offerings. You’ll be able to see which device other players in the lobby are using as well.
Each player will be able to set their preferred input device and they will be locked into that when searching in the specific playlists that enforce it. But once outside of those playlists, again, you will be able to use any input method.
That’s an interesting way of approaching it. So, it sounds like the goal here is to allow for some tighter restrictions in specific areas of the game to help reduce the impact of splitting the population up. So, this is not going to be a toggle of “I only want this input” but is going to be determined per playlist for players. What are the reasons for this approach?
Yes. Players will set a preferred input device and it will only be enforced on specific playlists, and to varying degrees. We want to avoid a situation where there are three different separate populations searching. Having a mouse and keyboard only population, a controller only population, and an ‘all inputs possible’ population would split the population extensively and having them all searching the same playlist would drive up the time to match significantly. We’ll be able to tune which playlists require input locking based on search times and player feedback as well. Our goal is to break down the barriers of platform and focus on input method instead so we can tune the experience more easily. We want players to be able to play with their friends and make the pool of players you can match with be larger within matchmaking instead of limit it.
Thank you so much for that explanation. Moving along, previously we have discussed new options coming to ODST’s Firefight. This included being able to set starting weapons, vehicles, and expanding custom game options akin to some of the Halo: Reach settings. What are some of your favorite setting changes or improvements?
ODST Firefight is a beloved game mode, but there was only really one way to play it: as a more hardcore survival mode. It did that one thing really well, but when bringing it to MCC we wanted to offer to players the ability to create completely different ways to play it as well. So, we looked to Halo: Reach for inspiration and built in ways to have more options. Players could see this in the most recent flight where we have a more arcade style mode and you had all these wacky game types and stuff which is really cool. This will help give both new and old players alike a different way to experience Firefight. Of course, we also doubled down on that classic survival experience too!
All of the new settings are meant to give players that control; things like the starting weapons, the vehicle set overrides so you can go on Lost Platoon and, instead of a chain gun Warthog, you can have a Gauss Hog, a Scorpion, a Hornet, or even an Anti-Air Wraith. You can just go nuts with that and play how you want. You can set random weapons and play Fiesta style, or you can start everyone with a sniper. Things like the time limit, the set limit, betrayal, booting, and friendly fire (plus some additional pieces) are also up for adjustment. It’s up to you to customize and curate the experiences you want.
ODST Firefight in legacy never ended until you ran out of lives. You can still play it exactly like that today, but for matchmaking, the unending experience is not suitable and we needed additional options. To accommodate that part, it was more about whittling it down to a single set, so it's going to last, you know, 25 to 30 minutes. Offerings will continue to include that hardcore survival, but it's not going to be endless in the matchmaking space.
What? We can’t have the multiple hour marathon games.
You absolutely still can do that. Just not in matchmaking to respect people’s time.
Really quickly, as I’ve seen this question pop up quite a bit, but Halo 3 Elephant in ODST when?
We actually looked at it. It would be pretty sweet, right? You're like holding out on an elephant. Got your whole team locking it down mounted on the turrets and just locking everything down. It’s something we did look at trying to make happen, and perhaps one day it will.
I’m assuming since it’s not in, it was due to technical limitation?
Yes, the Elephant we tried, but there were problems unfortunately.
Can you talk through some of the challenges that the team went through when updating ODST to add in these new options and features to make the experience more customizable?
On the custom game side of things there are components of ODST Firefight that present unique challenges. Namely that under the hood it is built from campaign and the Firefight maps in ODST aren't actually maps. They are insertion points within the campaign spaces. Players interact with insertion points as rally points. This can be observed in Campaign when you select, say, rally point Alpha or rally point Bravo on a mission and kind of jump into the middle of a mission. ODST Firefight Maps are actually the same thing - they're insertion points that aren't exposed in the same way as multiplayer maps are. So that was a new unique challenge when extending some of our matchmaking and other systems to support them.
It also impacted how we manage those Maps, particularly in expanding the suite of objects available. Folks had to do some special work to make it so that you could spawn a Gauss Hog or Scorpion into Lost Platoon or get a particular weapon in there when it wasn't present in that campaign map or in that section of the mission. Just general additional work to support pulling those tags in to these Firefight Maps.
In my mind I’m just picturing there will be random BR hidden on each map somewhere to help get them in?
No, no, no. It's a little bit more complex than that and definitely a better implementation lol.
I figured and am glad it is! So beyond discussing ODST’s Firefight, I know there are some additional things coming over to Halo 3 multiplayer for the first time. What did the process look like bringing over the weapons from ODST to Halo 3? What approach was taken around balancing these new weapons for a different sandbox while preserving their original feel from ODST?
First and foremost, when we looked at bringing these weapons over, we wanted to ensure that they were sensible additions to the Halo 3 sandbox. We wanted to retain each weapon’s identity from ODST, but before that in terms of priority, they had to fit in Halo 3 or what was the point, right? Each weapon had kind of a slightly different approach to where it fit into the Sandbox and how we investigated them.
The Brute Plasma Rifle is probably the simplest one to start because, in ODST, it is essentially a reskin of the default Plasma Rifle. Its functionally identical, so when we brought that to Halo 3, of course, it already had a weapon that functioned exactly the same. In this case, we looked back to Halo 2 where the Brute Plasma Rifle was different. It fits a different niche than the default Plasma Rifle in that it fires faster, overheats faster, and it leans into the Brute fiction of just being, you know, everything's dialed up to 11! For Halo 3, that was really interesting, and we really dialed it into that. It’s very effective at stripping shields at close range, but if you're not careful you're going to overheat it really fast and it even takes a little longer to cool down. With these changes it feels and fits right into that that dual-wield sandbox.
With the Silenced SMG, it was a little more unique because in Halo 3 there aren't any fully automatic weapons that can be zoomed in with scopes. That was something we wanted to be careful with. In Halo 3 full-auto weapons are effective at close range and then aren’t typically effective at long range.
For it to make sense and keep that identity from ODST we needed it to be a weapon that was going to have at least some effectiveness at longer ranges. We spent a lot of time play testing and tuning it to where it felt good but not overbearing. It does behave very similarly to ODST, but there were a couple of dials tuned to make it fit into the sandbox in a way that's effective, but it's not too effective.
One of the key differences from Halo 3 and ODST’s implementation was that in ODST, all of the bullet damage is actually cut in half against shields. This is why the Silenced SMG, and especially the Automag, aren’t very effective against shields. We could have gone that route but decided to bring its damage output similar to the regular SMG but fill a unique role instead. To make if fit into the spot we wanted it to fill in Halo 3, it has some extra range and we have tuned the recoil and the accuracy. This way the recoil kicks in just a little bit sooner so at longer ranges you have to just be a little more conscious about firing short, controlled, bursts. This will make it effective at suppressing enemies at longer ranges. You can still get kills at longer ranges, but it's not going to be easy.
Then there is the Automag. This one has seen the most changes from ODST. Its fire rate in ODST was very high, and was balanced by super high recoil. In Halo 3, weapons generally don't have recoil outside of the SMG where the recoil pattern walks upwards as you fire, which was kind of a hallmark of that weapon from Halo 2. So for the Automag, in Halo 3’s Multiplayer context, having a headshot-cap weapon that fires that quickly and is counteracted by recoil would introduce an unpredictable time-to-kill. Our goal of bringing a new pistol to Halo 3 was to kind of fill that niche that the current Halo 3 Magnum doesn't fill: a precision utility pistol.
Players are familiar with this from Halo: Comat Evolved, Halo 5, and to a lesser extent Halo: Reach and Halo 4. So, our aim was to create a pistol that was reliable and had some real utility at range as a headshot weapon. It meant that having a super variable time to kill wasn't going to suit that vision. To accomplish the goals we wanted it to meet, we removed the recoil and made it a consistent five shot kill. It puts it in a time to kill range that's a little bit higher than the Battle Rifle’s.
I’ve played around with it in the flight and can definitely say that they are all very fun to use!
It’s definitely fun experimenting with these weapons in the context of Halo 3, and in multiplayer in general. I also love hearing the “thwack” (or the ‘Bip! Bap! Bam!’) sound of the suppressed weapons – it can be a little comical to listen to when everyone is using them.
Speaking of changes for the future, with Season 3 on the horizon, what are some of learnings we’ve had with Season 1 and Season 2? Are there things we are changing as we move onto the upcoming Seasonal Challenges in Season 3?
Yes, so for Season 3, first off, it's a shorter season in terms of number of unlocks. This season there are only 50 tiers compared to the 100 of the previous seasons. This is due to this season coming online much sooner after the previous one compared to the time window between seasons 1 and 2. For Season 3 a lot of the unlocks are being centered around Halo 3, with some for ODST. As a reminder, all Season 1 and Season 2 will continue to be available once Season 3 begins.
A key focus for us on Season 3 Challenges has been improvements and adjustments we've made based on feedback. One of the big pieces of feedback we heard about Challenges in Season 2 was that players wanted more variety. In Season 2 there are Challenges that rotate every week and there are also challenges that are static. Currently all of the season point Challenges are static, so if you're just going for season points, you don't really get that variety of the rotational Challenges. The idea for Season 2 was that the weekly season point Challenges were these weekly rituals that you'd come back each week and kind of go through. To improve this for Season 3, we're going to strike more of a balance, so we're still going to lean into these weekly rituals but will also balance it against more variety for the season point Challenges so that it doesn't feel like you're just doing the same things each week.
Then, beyond that, we’re also going to lean into the theme around ODST in the seasonal challenge deck. We have a few planned ODST themed Challenges that'll be throwbacks to some of the ODST achievements from back in the day.
That’s awesome! I know a lot of people have been asking about that. We've also received a lot of questions about Achievements and what the plans are in regards to ODST and the addition of Firefight.
We are not currently planning to add more achievements, we think that 700 is probably enough for the time being. More than enough, you could say. But our aim is that Challenges will be our path to delivering some of that achievement-style grind.
I know that there is additional feedback that you’ve been working on as well as some additional quality of life updates to the system. Do you want to talk a little bit more about those?
Yes, sure. We have made a couple of key quality of life improvements to Challenges that players will get to experience in Season 3. Firstly, the Challenge Hub will be accessible directly from the pause menu in any game mode. This will give players easy access and means you can check the status of the one you've been working towards at a glance.
Another quality of life improvement that I think a lot of people have asked for is that we've added a setting that allows you to disable Challenge notifications altogether. This will make it so that if you don’t want notification “toasts” to show up in gameplay, you can just turn that off. Along with that we’ve also done some changes to the colors for notifications. In the Challenge Hub you will see that some Challenges are featured and are gold while others are blue. The featured ones generally have special rewards such as season points, so to help identify this better in notifications, with Season 3, when you make progress and a notification appears, that visual theme will carry over to the notification.
Those all sound like great changes that will be appreciated with players.
Thanks, there are a handful of smaller improvement we’ve made in terms of player-facing improvements and we’re not done yet. We've had challenges out in the wild since Halo 3’s launch and have been able to gather the feedback, see what's working, what's not working, and these insights just make what’s coming in the Season 3 that much better!
Well, I know I and many out there are looking forward to Season 3, Dana. Thank you again for stopping in and talking through what folks have to look forward to with our next game update for both Xbox and PC when Halo 3: ODST joins MCC on PC.