News

MCC Development Update - June 2020

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Hey Friends,

This is Postums, welcoming you back for another lengthy installment in the MCC Development blog series for June, 2020. We have a LOT of content to cover this month, everything from the recent flight and what folks were able to experience there to details on new features players will have when Halo 3 launches. We’ll also touch on this month’s announcement that Halo 3: ODST Firefight will be coming to MCC (it’s finally happening!). Then we will go into a technical breakdown from members of our engineering teams, conduct a lengthy interview with the Design Team, and get an overall project update to close out the blog.

I hope you are hungry for information because this month’s blog has a lot of meat on its bones!

Halo 3 Flighting

One update, two extensions, and nearly 350,000 Halo Insider invitations later – the Halo 3 PC flight came to a close on Monday. During this flight, the team got some great feedback from our Halo Insiders who submitted tickets, roughly 4,000 tickets in total. With the scale of players and tickets, along with the types of tickets being created, Halo 3 seems to be shaping up solidly on PC. In the flight update that was released last week, the team was able to knock out nearly 100 different bugs, including these two: 

  • Improving muffled audio sounds for weapons and VO
  • Resolving player emblems so they appear accurately on character models

Both bugs were items the team had been wanting to tackle for quite some time and are happy to finally have resolved. We are thankful for all the feedback and reports by the community during flighting and will continue to work on resolving issues and making improvements where we can. We can’t wait to get Halo 3 out on PC! 

Halo 3 ODST Firefight

Earlier in the month, you may have heard some rumblings around Halo 3: ODST Firefight coming to MCC. We are all very excited, as ODST is next on the docket once Halo 3 releases. Work has been underway for quite some time and the team has recently hit an important milestone in updating the networking model for its release on MCC. We’ll share more news on when and where flighting will happen in the near future. But, if you want a little bit more info on ODST, head on over to last week’s Community Update from Unyshek to learn how to get in on Firefight when it is released later this Summer!

Now, we are going to dip our toes into the world of engineering efforts with two of our best and brightest – Greg Hermann and Sean Cooper.

Engineering Discussion

This month is a real treat! We have a couple different pieces that the engineers over on the Publishing Team have been able to write up. One from our Engineering Director, Greg Hermann, who is going to talk about some recent audio work and another from Sean Cooper, Software Engineer, who is going to talk a bit about hit registration in Halo 3 and the current investigations that are ongoing there. Let’s get this section started: First up, a deep dive into the inner workings of game audio for Halo 3 and Halo: Reach. The floor is yours, Greg.

Audio Updates

In order to truly talk about the work we’ve done to address audio issues, it will be helpful first to explain how legacy audio systems worked and where the challenges arose in this system. Halo 3 and Halo Reach’s audio predated higher level sound middleware such as WWise or FMod studio, and was built directly on top of Xbox 360’s XAudio. (A low-level sound API that predated XAudio 2)

The audio is routed through a series of submix voices which apply realtime DSP processing.

Here’s a diagram of how sound for H3 (and Reach) is routed in its original implementation:

 

Some terms:

Obstruction: When an object is in between the listener and the sound source (direct path) but indirect paths are unblocked.

Occlusion: When both the direct and indirect paths are blocked to the sound source.

Reverb: When sound echoes around a space.

Radioization: The process of making a sound seem like it’s being played over a radio

Note, this is just the sound routing. At each submix voice, certain effects (DSP effects) are applied, and the graph starts to look a bit more like this:

 

The term ‘Waves’ here refers to a specific company (not the canonical ‘wav’ format). These DSPs were not in common use for games, and Bungie penned a special deal to have them built for Xbox 360.

Additional terms:

LPF: Low pass filter

BPF: Band Pass Filter

Waves Qn: Equalizer, modifies sound in certain frequency ranges

Waves L360: Surround Limiter, balances out the overall mix

Unfortunately, when MCC was originally being built, there was no version of the Waves DSPs that worked on Xbox One, so other DSPs were put in place to try and simulate their effect. These components were somewhat successful in limited cases (LPF/BPF) and were less successful in others (L360/Final Mix).

During the port to PC, we decided to take another crack at engaging Waves. With the help of our friends at Formosa, and the Xbox Advanced Tools Group, we were able to build a working relationship with Waves to get the originally used DSP codebase ported natively over to 64-bit and Xbox One. Putting the right DSPs in place was a crucial step toward addressing regressions in the overall sound of the game.

XAudio 2

With the move to Xbox One, our entire codebase needed to shift from XAudio 1 (which existed only on Xbox 360) to XAudio 2 (publicly released). For PC, due to Windows 7 compatibility XAudio 2.7 was the only version available. Unfortunately, XAudio 2.7 had some instability around device switching and source voice stops (which cause audio pops at transitions) – Recently Microsoft has made a version of XAudio 2.9 available for downlevel platforms and we’re currently moving MCC over to a consistent XAudio 2.9 everywhere. The result is more stable gameplay with audio device changes and fewer artifacts (clicks/pops).

Additional sounds/materials

Some material changes and source audio was lost when integrating the Halo 3 DLC maps into a common MCC depot. This caused undesirable behavior (dirt footstep sounds on Heretic, or missing fence sounds on Ghost Town). This upgrade should see these issues be improved quite a bit.

~Greg.

Thank you, Greg, for that awesome breakdown of audio. With these additions and changes, this means that many audio fixes across the board for both Halo 3 and Halo: Reach are going to be coming to folks soon and will see them roll out with Halo 3’s release!

We aren’t done yet though - it’s time to take a 2nd scoop and catch up with the man himself, Sean “Scoops” Cooper who has been heads-down investigating some flight feedback regarding Halo 3’s hit detection and working on a new skull coming to Halo 3. Take it away Sean!

Swing-and-a-miss 

People like to call out Halo 3 in MCC as having hit detection/registration problems and have done so for quite some time. Saying the phrase, “It’s not like legacy!”, they generally exclaim. In some ways, yes, this is true, MCC is not 100% like legacy. But, what if I told you legacy wasn’t perfect? What if these imperfections were exacerbated by changes done to keep these games running in the modern era?

MCC does several things differently from legacy. 

  1. All the legacy games starting with Halo 3 targeted the Xbox 360 with a PowerPC processor where MCC targets Intel-based 64-bit processors. There are subtleties that will occur between the two, especially around floating-point precision. 
  2. All the legacy games ran their game updates at 30hz (30 updates per second), while MCC is 60hz (60 updates per second). This is also referred to as the “game tick rate”. 
  3. All the legacy games ran networking updates at sub-30hz (a value less than 30hz), while MCC is in line with its game tick rate: 60hz. 
  4. There are other things, but those are probably the most applicable to the topic at hand. 

A lot of cracks started to show when the games were changed to update at a higher frequency. Quite a few were physics related and were addressed back in MCC circa 2014. Some, more recently in our update for Halo 3 PC. These were due to using formulas which were not independent of the game tick rate and so they had to be scaled relative to their “authored” tick rate of 30hz. That is, designers supplied values that worked as desired for a system running at 30hz, but those must be rescaled based on the tick rate difference from 30hz to have the expected behaviors. 

Other cracks were due to the fact that game updates are at fixed timesteps. While the game’s render view can be interpolated, the actual game systems cannot. Regardless of whether the game is rendering sub-60FPS, or say 200FPS, the game logic is always updating at 60 times per second. 

Think about a clock face. It has an hour and minute hand, plus sometimes a second’s hand. Think about that second’s hand. Specifically, think about the ones that ‘jump’ every second, rather than stay in a constant sweeping motion. Now, after every second, that hand must jump from its current value, to the next. There is no in-between. It goes from 7 seconds to 8 seconds. If you turned it off at 7.5 seconds, the hand would remain at the 7 seconds marker. 

Now, think about game objects. The game’s render view may give the perception that things are running like a sweeping second’s hand (i.e., always in motion). However, under the hood they are not. They are updating just like that second’s hand, which jumps between each mark. Due to this, the game logic must fill-in-the-blanks for what would happen during that time between 7 seconds and 8 seconds. What kind of things would happen? Things like, object collisions. 

For a projectile that is in flight, in each update it must determine if moving ahead X world units would result in a collision and respond in kind. This is fine, and by itself a generally stable system no matter the game tick rate. However, there are many other game systems involved, and those systems then must be balanced to work in a distributed environment like that in Multiplayer or nowadays Firefight. Clients run in a predictive manner, but there is a central host that has the authoritative view of the world. Campaign on the other hand is a synchronous environment where all machines run in lockstep and have the exact same view of the world so long as they remain in lockstep. 

The fundamental problems in legacy Halo, not just MCC, relates to these matters specifically. “But MCC is not like legacy!” This is true and is potentially due to a legacy bug which we are investigating.

Starting with the original Halo 2, the projectile system was changed to support an initial-update step if the projectile was flagged with an instantaneous update flag (which the Battle Rifle has). For instantaneous update weapons, like the BR, that initial update performs a single frame of projectile movement. 

  1. The Halo 3 BR velocity is 180wu/s (world units per second) 
  2. MCC Halo 3’s game tick rate is 60hz (ticks per second) 
  3. Legacy Halo 3’s game tick rate is 30hz 
  4. The number of WU moved per frame is calculated by velocity divided-by tick rate 
  5. The distance traveled in a single frame is calculated as: 
    1. MCC: 180/60 = 3wu 
    2. Legacy: 180/30 = 6wu 

Why am I explaining all of this? Two reasons. 

  1. The initial-update is effectively for hit-scanning 
    1. Halo 2 and Halo 3 projectiles with instantaneous updates move and effectively look at game tick’s length of their velocity ahead to determine if they would instantly hit something immediately after creation, then encode that information for networking uses 
    2. Change the game tick rate, and you change how far this hit-scan distance is 
    3. MCC has a higher tick rate. Which leads to a shorter hit-scan distance
      1. 3wu in MCC, vs 6wu in Legacy 
  2. Projectiles are updated normally in the same tick at which they are created on the host 
    1. Instantaneous projectiles then get to effectively update twice in a single tick 
      1. MCC: 3wu hit-scan + 3wu normal update = 6wu traveled in the first tick 
      2. Legacy: 6wu hit-scan + 6wu normal update = 12wu traveled in the first tick 
      3. This technically means the projectile has 2x the velocity for the first tick, with the first half having hit-scan behavior 
    2. This is also part of the (but not the full) reason why “hit registration” seems to be worse even when playing splitscreen on a single machine 
    3. To give additional comparison against Halo 2’s BR velocity of 400wu/s: 
      1. MCC: 6.67wu hit-scan + 6.67wu normal update = 13.33wu traveled in first tick 
      2. Legacy: 13.33wu hit-scan + 13.33wu normal update = 26.67wu traveled in the first tick 
    4. To give additional comparison against Halo: Reach’s DMR velocity of 3000wu/s: 
      1. MCC: 50wu hit-scan + 50wu normal update = 100wu traveled in the first tick 
      2. Legacy: 100wu hit-scan + 100wu normal update = 200wu traveled in the first tick 

So, there is effectively a legacy bug here. The initial update probably should have flagged the projectile to NOT update again in the same frame. When this setup was added to Halo 2 it might have been that the projectile didn’t actually get updated twice in the same tick, but then things may have been refactored to address predictive/distributed networking issues and then this became the norm for Halo. Or, it could have been a detail that was missed. Innocent enough unless the game tick rate is changed. 

We can fix this specific issue to behave more like legacy with some careful changes and validation with focused flighting. However, even with that, there remains some rather fundamental issues in Halo 3 that were addressed/fixed during Halo: Reach’s development. It requires more time and visuals to fully explain. However, the gist is that there are issues with event/player action ordering as they come from the network and are applied to the game state. This can lead to stale aim assist information being used, or multiple grenades/equipment being deployed. Fixing this is less straight forward and something that will take time to flesh out fully for a proper solution.

If all of this is hard to understand or picture in your mind’s eye, do not worry. I will be following up with additional visuals and examples to help regular players see and understand what is going on in a later dev blog. These things take time, which means time spent away from shipping Halo 3 or later games. But, rest assured, the team and I are continuing to take your feedback seriously and have made some great headway unraveling the mysteries of community hit detection complaints and hopefully, a proper solution.

Cracking skulls 

The past two months have felt a lot longer than they have been. A LOT of work has gone in for many of the games, not just Halo 3. Some of it coming out in this update, some of the work will not come until later. However, one thing I worked on was a totally unplanned “hey, it would be cool if…” that I was told about on a Sunday…of the week we were due to branch for flighting. 

“Hey, it would be cool if we could have something besides an emblem we could use as a player reward for Halo 3’s launch. Like a new skull.” We have been interested in doing some new skulls in the later games for a while but have never had a clear need to do so that also justified the risk of the changes required. I ended up taking the evening to figure out how I could extend Halo 3 to support new skulls without breaking the existing ones or systems that assumed they were the only skulls. To my surprise, it was actually pretty straightforward. Granted, it was something I previously pondered about for a while, and I have a pretty good grasp of the different areas of the engine that need to be addressed/fixed. 

But what would the new skull be? 

Serendipitously, I think it was the week prior that I saw a video on youtube by Hardy LeBel. I think it was a Q&A video he had done, and someone raised a question that led to talking about Halo: Combat Evolved’s Boarding Action multiplayer map. As Hardy LeBel tells it, H:CE at one point had Jetpacks prototyped and this is what led to the design of Boarding Action. But then, they cut jetpacks. Sorta

You see, while players didn’t have access to super cool jump boots, the developers did. Enter, cheat_jetpack. This cheat allowed developers to use a rather obtuse button combo to fly forward in the direction they looked as if they had a jetpack on. 

What if I gave players a skull that enabled this behavior? I made it so, then let our QA team hammer at it to find any showstoppers. There were maybe one or two bugs I had to address the following day, but the largest issue was the button combo. That was not going to…fly. It was unintuitive and error prone. So, I reworked it to effectively function like another thing I worked on recently for Reach and H4: Jumper Jumper. If you are not familiar with this setting, it allows players using the actual Jetpack equipment in those games to double press and hold the jump button to engage the jetpack’s thrust. This was a quality-of-life fix for users of the Bumper Jumper control preset, so they didn’t have to claw the controller to use the jetpack. 

So, it is a bit funny how things have come full circle…in a roundabout way. H:CE prototyped jetpacks, then cut them but apparently kept a cheat in for the functionality. Reach then implemented them as a full-fledged feature. Then MCC fleshed out the Jumper Jumper improvement. Then we retroactively brought jetpacks back to Halo 3 as a passive ability with a specific skull on, and let users control it via the same Jumper Jumper pattern they may already be familiar with. 

In retrospect, it would have been nice to also backport the jetpack sounds from Reach and set them up in Halo 3. However, this was all unscheduled work and brought up late on our road to flighting and shipping Halo 3. Maybe later. 

There was also a bunch of front-end work that went into supporting this new skull. Dana Jerpbak, our Technical Designer, did a lot of that work, plus design related tasks for it. Our art team also finished it off with a new icon for the skull. The working title for it was actually “Boots Off The Ground”, but our Franchise team offered a more succinct name for what we show users. Thankfully, we were all in agreement on the H:CE nod with its description. You’ll get to take the new skull for a test flight yourself once Halo 3 releases in the not-too-distant future.

~Scoops.

Thank you Sean for the great details and all of the efforts you have been working on for MCC. I will check back in with you in the coming weeks and see if there’s any information we will want to share regarding your investigations for a future MCC Development & Flighting Update. For those who haven’t seen these, feel free to bookmark this thread HERE. For everyone else, it’s onward to this month’s Art and Design update!

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:

Visors:

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.

Weapon Skins:

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.

Vehicle Skins:

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.

State of the Game with Farns 

I hope you’ve all been enjoying the Halo 3 flight as much as we have 😊. Our team has continued to push forward with our development goals, much of the non-game specific work is starting to move at a greater pace now that we’re essentially mid-stream in our release process. In the next blog, I hope to be able to share a better snapshot of what our roadmap looks like for the rest of 2020.  

I am also working to get a better (and more current) snapshot of our top community reported issues and their status together for the next blog. We have a ton of tickets from all the flights and retail games and we are committing more time reviewing that backlog so we can get better movement on tickets and feedback back to those folks that are properly using our support system.  

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, March, April, and May). 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 H3 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 continuing to investigate and improve performance issues on Xbox. Updates will come along with each game release. 
  • Pistol Spread for H:CE MP with Higher FPS: Initial results for the changes we rolled out with the H2 launch are overall positive. We’ll continue to monitor but for now are removing this from active status.
  • Audio Issues: Most reported issues for Reach should be fixed in the next update with Halo 3’s release, if the changes are positively received, this will be removed from the list in the next blog 
  • 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.  
  • 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.  
  • 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.  
  • Hit Registration: We started an initial investigation a few weeks back (as you have now read above). While this is not one of our top issues coming into our support ticket system, it has been a long-standing complaint from many in the community so it is being added to the list. We will continue to investigate, share our findings with you, and hopefully be able to flight some potential changes in the near future.

GLOBAL FEATURES AND DEVELOPMENT STATUS    

There are additional features we know that the community has discussed and wants 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 (This has been flighting alongside H3, we will continue to make improvements leading into H3’s launch) 
  • UI/UX Improvements around navigation, roster, customization, and many more areas of the game (This will be merged and released in a coming update) 
  • View Model Adjustment (Update: We are bringing these to all titles and will be released for each game in the coming months)
  • Steam Account Linking (This will be merged and released in a coming update) 
  • In Game FPS Cap/Adjustments (This will be merged and released in a coming update) 
  • Customization Improvements (Improvements are being flighted alongside H3 and will be released when ready)  
  • PC File Share (Added) 
  • Additional Video Settings/Options (Added) 

In Design Iteration  

  • Custom Game Browser 
  • Input-based Matchmaking 
  • Regional Server Selection 
  • Cross-Play between Xbox & PC
  • Additional Mod Support    
  • Text Chat Improvements   
  • Better ways to Report Players  
  • Double Key Binds for all games  

In Backlog Pending Further Discussions  

  • VFR Improvements to Reach & H2A  
  • Idle System Improvements    
  • Bringing PC Features to Console (Like FOV Sliders)    
  • Additional Accessibility Support   
  • Split Screen on PC (Added back to the backlog based on community feedback)  
  • HDR Support on PC (Added back to the backlog based on community feedback)  

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   

Closing

Halo 3 is turning out to be one of the biggest content drops for MCC PC yet with all of the new features being added, Season 2 coming online, and a plethora of fixes across the board for all games in MCC on both Xbox and PC. There is a lot of excitement and we can’t wait to share in it with you. And, as with this entire journey, we couldn’t have done it without the help of our community and Halo Insiders.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read through this month’s blog, I look forward to bringing you more awesome news in July! Stay safe, stay awesome, and stay healthy friends. As always, we will catch y’all online!

Cheers,

Postums

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