Art & Design Update
This month, there is quite a bit of content to talk about as it relates to both Art & Design. I was lucky enough to take some time and talk through these bits with several folks from the Publishing Team at 343. Today’s interview includes conversations with: Design Director, Max Szlagor, Technical Designer, Dana Jerpbak, Art Director, Horia Dociu, and Artist and Designer, Matt Jordan. This interview will cover quite a few topics, such as updated character customization, Season 2 content, Forge and File Share systems, updates to Forge, art updates for various things across Halo 3, and more. All screenshots shared below are works in progress and are subject to change between now and when Halo 3 joins MCC on PC.
Without further ado, let’s get this started with Max!
Postums: Hey Max, thank you for joining us this month! Word is, y’all have been working hard at getting prepped for the next season for MCC. Do you want to share some new information as it relates to customization and what the next season is going to look like for players?
Max: When Halo 3 launches, so will our second season. Players will have the chance to unlock over 100 new items by spending season points. In the first season, the only way to earn the 100 season points needed to unlock all items was by earning enough XP to gain 100 levels. Beyond level 100, there are no more season points to be earned. With the launch of our challenge system, players will now have the ability to earn season points in campaign, Firefight, and PVP by completing weekly and seasonal challenges. In addition, some challenges will unlock items as well as XP.
We also heard feedback that players want more choice in the order they unlock items, so we are adding the ability to unlock seasonal items in a given tier in any order that players want. To clarify, a tier is a list of ten unlock slots in the season catalog. In Season 1, for example, there were ten unlock slots in each tier and a total of 10 tiers. Players will still need to unlock all items in tier 1 in order to access tier 2 items, but in any given tier players can choose their favorite items first.
The rewards in season 2 will include a combination of all new nameplates as well as the new visor, weapon, and vehicle skins for Halo: CE. In future seasons, we will expand customization options and season rewards for each game.
Updated Halo 3 Customization:
With the launch of Halo 3, we have added in full 3d character renders for all Halo 3 armor and color customization options for both Spartans and Elites. In addition, players will be able to individually select their helmet, right shoulder, left shoulder, and chest pieces and see them previewed in real time on the 3d character render.
We are also adding back in the tertiary color customization option, which was previously unavailable in Halo: MCC so players have even more ways to show off their favorite looks. Finally, we are restoring the functionality for emblems to appear on in game armors in Halo 3, a feature that was previously not available in Halo: MCC.
Halo: CE Customization
Launching along with Halo 3 is an all-new customization system for Halo: CE multiplayer. We’re excited to be able to update classic content with new coats of paint but we also know some players may prefer keeping everything the way it originally was. To this end, we’re including a settings option that will allow players to toggle skins on or off (which will determine if you see the legacy classic content when playing MP or see other Spartans rocking a new visor treatment).
Players will be able to customize the following items:
When other players see you in the match, they will be able to see your new custom visor color. This visor color change will not affect any first person HUDs to keep the look of the original game intact. When a custom visor is selected, it will always show to other players if the option to enable new skins is turned on.
Players will now be able to customize the look of both UNSC and Covenant weapons. Even the default skins will be enhanced in Halo: CE. The way these skins will work is that when a player picks up a weapon that has a custom weapon skin, the weapon will change its looks to match that skin and other players will see this as well. If this weapon is dropped, it will retain the look of that skin until a player with a different skin picks it up, in which case it changes to the custom skin that player has set.
Players will now be able to customize the look of both UNSC and Covenant vehicles. Even the default skins will be enhanced in Halo: CE. The way these skins will work is that when a player enters the driver seat of the vehicle that has a custom skin, the vehicle will change its looks to match that skin and other players will see this as well. If this vehicle is exited, it will retain the look of that skin until a player with a different skin enters the driver’s seat, in which case it changes to the custom skin that player has set.
These all sound awesome! When building out the new season, what helped influence the decision to start adding new content for Halo: CE over the other games in the collection?
Max: That’s a very interesting question. We always had a vision of expanding customization options for MCC. A key part of that was just making sure you could see the characters in 3D renders, which is one thing we've been adding for each of the games since Halo: Reach. We went back and added the full per-piece armor customization which is what we're bringing to Halo 3 as well. We wanted to bring a greater level of customization to the games that didn’t have as many customization options for armor sets so players can have their uniqueness in each game. With that in mind, we thought, “Hey, wouldn't it be cool to have some new options for Halo: CE and what's possible there?” Turns out there were a number of things that we could do! We sat down and started to come up with some concepts, going through trial and error in trying stuff out, and I think we're quite happy with what was possible and how to spice things up in multiplayer with these options.
Also, it’s one of those things where there’s honestly so many Halos. There's just so much stuff in MCC that it takes time to build out these features to the level of quality and the level of depth that we want. This was an opportunity where we saw Halo: CE didn’t have any of these types of features previously and now, we are bringing these to life.
We knew that we wanted to launch this effort as part of a season and as soon as it was ready, we wanted to get it to the community. In this case, our deliveries aligned perfectly with our season 2 plan. This season will have some content that's available for any title, like nameplates, but the customization items will be focused on Halo CE, and we are looking in the future seasons to add customization items to other titles as well. And, I think people are going to be stoked to see what crazy stuff comes up for all the different titles in MCC.
Some people in the flight have recognized an option that toggles on and off for skins. You touched on this earlier, but can you explain a little bit what that option will do for players in game?
In the event a player does not like the look of the new skins, we have added a new option to the Gameplay tab that allows people to opt out of seeing the new skins. It is called New Skins and is enabled by default. Toggling this to disabled will only show the original Halo: CE weapons, vehicles, and visors for the player on their machine regardless of what option the other players have set. All players who have the option enabled will see the new skins.
To pivot a little bit, I know that with this next update, Forge is going to be available for the first time on PC. Can you speak a little bit about how it will work as it relates to being able to share files? I know that on PC, players won’t be able to upload to file share at launch. However, they still will have an option to be able to share them with others.
Max: While we are rolling out Forge for Halo: Reach, Halo 2: Anniversary, and Halo 3 with the launch of Halo 3 on PC, we will not be including File Share upload on PC at this time. Any content shared from Xbox can be downloaded on PC, but content created on PC can only be shared from that PC by manually copying over local files at this time. We still 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 clear which are user generated versus built-in/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. That said, when Forge launches on PC, any maps and game modes created in Forge still generate local files, and these files can be shared like any other file on a PC or can be hosted on web sites. Once Halo 3 is released, we will include detailed instructions for players on how they can locate and share these files on the Halo Support site as a KBA.
Thanks Max for all that goodness of what y’all are working on. Next up, we have Horia Dociu and Matt Jordan here to talk about some of the Art and Design updates they have been working on.
Horia, some players noticed this in the flight, but I wanted to talk to you about some of the changes that were made to cinematics and understand why they were made.
Horia: We wanted to maintain the integrity of the original Halo 3, exactly how players remember it as we brought it into MCC on PC. Rendering the game in 4k lets players have a crisp visual experience on their brilliant, modern monitors, but with all the nostalgia still intact. However, some of the cinematics, like movies, relied on hand-painted matte backgrounds. Some of these looked a bit pixelated, because unlike movies, games still have a texture size limit, and what would have looked all right back in the 360 days on a 4:3 TV, simply can't be stretched without some artifacts. So we decided to take on a few of the more prominent matte vistas and upscale the art so that the image quality is less pixely but still looks exactly as it was authored back in the day.
When performing these updates, what did you see as the most challenging or rewarding parts in performing these updates?
Horia: The challenge was figuring out how the old cinematics were built. There were a lot of brilliant, yet very old school tricks used to fake a bit of motion and flare to these scenes, and sorting out how the texture masking systems worked to pull off some of these illusions (billowing smoke for example) took a little bit of trial and error on our part.
In going through this process, was there anything you found or cool parts you wanted to share with the community?
Horia: One cool surprise was that I found a source texture for one of the backgrounds that was painted by the original artists, yet this final version was never checked in. So, in the Cortana mission, the shot that has you flying over burning wreckage- well, what you saw in Halo 3 was not the final art that was intended. Now we have this more detailed, finished piece of artwork that was never implemented either mistakenly or due to time running out, and I was able to up-res that version into our game. I felt a bit like an archeologist! You could say that in a very small way, this most recent release will be a more true and complete version of the original Halo 3. Now where's my Indiana Jones hat?
Pictured below, the shot that was released in Halo 3 vs the new-found original artwork along with an explanatory call out of the difference in the up-scaled texture resolution.
That is so cool to see! Thank you so much for your time Horia and I can’t wait to for players to see more of these upgrades and all of the stuff you and Matt worked hard on. Speaking of, Matt, I know you do quite a bit of work on the different main menu video takeovers that players see at each new game release. Could you walk us through some of the process on your end for what goes into building these?
Matt: Yes, sure. So all the videos kind of started the same way where, we would sit down and talk about what best symbolizes the game we are working on. Halo: CE was all about Master Chief, so showing him off in the Cryopod was key, for Halo: Reach it was Noble team, so showing each team members’ helmets made the most sense. We talked through a lot of options and made a list for each of the games whittling down what we believed could best represent each game. After we had made our decisions, we would go into game files and either pull the full models if we had them or, if not, I would have to make the models by hand. With Halo 2, we were lucky and utilized some of the Blur work from Halo 2: Anniversary.
A lot of those assets were pulled from game assets and then updated with high resolution versions of them to help stylize them for each game’s main menu video. Once all work had been done for each of the scenes, we would hand the models and concept work off to our partner Toros, and he would build the shots out based on the guidance we provided. Our Franchise Team would be looped into this the entire time as well to help with lore tidbits and additional context when the shots were further along.
Toros would take the base models we provided and would bring a lot of life to these scenes - adding in things like textures for each surface, lighting, and then what we call the “digital dust” which is all the tech overlays on all the models. This includes the lore bits from Franchise, such as the warthog’s military name and stats, or various identification numbers, and overall contextual information for the scene. After this, we would go back and forth with feedback and make various alterations until we were all happy with them, ensuring they work with the games UI, and are polished beautifully.
You mentioned that you don’t always have high quality renders to work with in the beginning. What is your favorite thing so far that you've had to build from the ground up for some of these shots?
Matt: Oh man.
*Laugh* Let me clarify – just speak to things you're allowed to talk about. Best to hold off for now on some of the cool work you have going for the future titles.
Matt: Of the released titles, I want to say Halo: Combat Evolved because I had a lot of fun building out the detailed version of the Cryopod. Getting to see all that goes into building the textures and details and everything. It’s such a creative process and being part of it from the set-up we initially envisioned to what it finally became was so cool. We originally were going to use the actual Bay where the Master Chief woke up, but we couldn’t find the geometry. So, we went with using the original geometry of another location we found. The final video I think turned out feeling very authentic to the game and we were very happy with it.
In terms of the Halo 3’s main menu takeover we don’t want to spoil it, but which piece are you most excited to share?
Matt: It’s been a while since I worked on that one, let me think. I think the Battle Rifles look pretty great.
Was it something where you were able to pull the assets out of Halo 3 and perform the up res? Or, did you have to build it from the ground up?
Matt: Some of the game assets worked for this shot, but a lot of the meshes for Halo 3 I had to do 100% by hand. The <redacted>, the <redacted>, and others. Base mesh was there, but some of it needed to be updated to fully make things look like Halo 3, because there were some areas where we pulled straight from the game and parts of the weapon model were not displaying the way we wanted it to (because of rigging etc.). This was most apparent when trying to build out the details for textures, areas like vents, bolts on weapons, or other small pieces. Making those fine changes was quite enjoyable and helped bring the scene to life.
That’s pretty cool to say the least. Getting to see the history up close and carry it forward in a new way is awesome. Well, moving along to another topic – Season 2! I heard you had a hand in helping build it and helping define when and where pieces could be unlocked. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the philosophy behind planning out the season and building an entirely new one for Season 2?
Matt: Yeah! For starters, this season is unique in the sense that we didn’t have content that was previously outlined like Halo: Reach, so we didn’t build one out based on any sort of legacy unlock series. Instead, we got to take a look at all of the content we created and determine what we thought should be common or rare and sprinkle different pieces of each type of customization content across the entirety of the season.
We also had to take into account the new seasonal functionality of having the nonlinear unlocks where you can choose any of the 10 tiers within a given set and balance each series out with them. Halo: CE never had weapon skins or vehicle skins or visor skin, so helping define which ones were rare and which ones wouldn’t be was a challenge. We also didn’t want to just keep all the fun stuff at the very end of the Season’s unlocks. So, for example, we made a cool Warthog skin available pretty early on because we wanted to see everybody driving it around. There are other awesome looking ones later in the season like “Superstar”, and other less conventional skins like “Groovy” or the “Package.” But, building everything out so there are rewards players will appreciate both early and late in the Season was something we really wanted to drive towards.
Thank you, Matt, for taking the time to talk through those. I know we are hyped and eager to see the new main menu takeover for Halo 3 and the new Season 2 content when Halo 3 joins MCC! Let’s turn our interview attentions to Dana Jerpbak to talk to us about some of the latest work that has been done with Challenges and Forge. Both have been discussed earlier in this blog, but there’s always more to learn!
Hey Dana, thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me for this month’s blog. First, I want to start off by asking a question that I’ve seen floating around for a while. Are we planning to do anything for events where rewards such as nameplates will be tied to challenges in the future?
Dana: Yes! Theoretically, all future events like The Yappening, which we just did, or the older Winter Contingency pieces we did earlier in the year, those events will funnel through challenges in the future. Challenges provide much more visibility for players to interact with them as they are directly in game where you can monitor your progress towards each goal. They have several advantages really. One being that we have a vast amount of configurability for each one. We also have the ability to display what the challenges are in game instead of having to tell folks about them on Twitter, in a forum post, or detailed instructions over in a Steam event saying that you will get a nameplate later after you do these things. With Challenges it will be a straightforward: go do this, here’s what your progress is along the way, and once completed you'll get the nameplate right away and show off that you did it. I’m very excited for this to be available for future events.
This next update is already looking amazing. The various types of daily and weekly Challenges, how they are built, and the sheer number of them is awesome to see. My main question here is are there any specific areas within the upgraded system that you are looking to improve, add to over time, or are building towards?
Dana: I think it's a bit early to say right now as we need to see what players do first. We like to see how the community interacts with it and make changes based on that. One of the key aspects of the Challenge system is that it's super configurable and that it provides us a lot of flexibility to tune the challenges. We can make change how various aspects of them work, and to do that separately from game updates.
Now that's not to say that we're going to always be reactive in tuning these things on the fly, and that every week your Challenges are totally different. But, what it does mean is that we have the ability to, and we've already been doing this in the flight to observe how players are interacting with the challenges and then make adjustments based on that to continue to improve the experience. So even without the underlying system changing, the content of a challenge or the goals of various challenges might change a little bit.
That’s pretty interesting. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you are saying that if you see people not getting a specific challenge or people are earning them too easily adjustments could be made as needed to help balance them out.
Dana: Exactly! That's also true of the rewards as well, and various other aspects of how you progress through challenges. Many of them track kills with specific types of weapons and stuff, so it's very possible that in the future we have a challenge that focuses on a weapon and we can expand that or take that in a different direction. The world is our oyster now when it come to making those sorts of things and we’ll be able to also adjust based on feedback from folks. I'm sure we will make refinements to the system all up in the future, but I think in the shorter term it's more about how we configure the content within our updated system.
That’s sweet! I think people will enjoy this flexibility and appreciate these opportunities of improvement. Well, let’s move onto Forge! I know that there has been a ton of feedback so far coming in from the community on the Halo 3 Forge update and it seems like overall people are pretty happy with the controls and how the different pieces are coming together. Is there anything from this flight that you've seen feedback-wise that the team is looking at for future iterations or changes?
Dana: For Halo 3’s Forge, this was a revolutionary change, not an evolutionary change, right? We added in things like the phased physics, coordinate snap, rotation, rotation snap, all of these features from Halo: Reach into Halo 3. There is quite a significant surface area of changes in there. A lot of the value from the flight, both internal flights and then the Public flight, has been focused on getting players, especially long time forgers, in and hammering on it. In doing so, they have helped expose certain issues and seeing where things fall down or causing unique issues. These areas of feedback have been very important and have been where I’ve focused ahead of the release.
There's been a lot of value there. But, my biggest takeaway is just that I'm ready to see what the Forge community does with all this stuff once it's fully in their hands. All these people who forged in Halo 3 maybe 10 years ago are coming back, and they check it out and they're like wow, this thing that used to take me 30 minutes, takes me 30 seconds now. Or, they can't wait to go revisit a map that they couldn't finish years ago because they ran out of budget, objects, or just didn't have the pieces they needed. Seeing those people eager to come back and take those maps and finish them or take existing maps to the next level with new object editions and stuff like that is super exciting for me. I can't wait to see the cool stuff that people build and then I can't wait to help share that cool stuff with everyone!
It's not just about, you know, the portion of players that actually directly engage with Forge and create stuff, but it's also about everyone experiencing the cool stuff that that portion of the community creates. Whether that's through sharing it out or through Matchmaking, it’s all about the love of that cool content.
Thanks you Max, Horia, Matt, and Dana for the updates and insights into what you’ve been working on and what we can look forward to when Halo 3 releases on PC! Now it’s time to kick things over to Fahrny for our monthly “Stage of the Game” update.