Welcome to this month’s discussion relating to all things Design for MCC. I will be joined today by a few returning members of the Publishing Team here at 343 Industries. Topics to be covered will include Challenges, Theater and Forge work for PC, what goes into large updates that also come to console, and additional tidbits. This one is lengthy, so make sure you have brought adequate snacks and beverages. Let’s dive on in!
Postums: Welcome Max, Dana, thank you so much for joining me today. For those who don’t know much about you two, tell me a little bit about who you are?
Dana: I'm Dana Jerpbak, a technical designer here on the pub team. I report to Max. I’m responsible for designing various systems for player progression and engagement, designing events and content for sustain and matchmaking, as well as features supporting Forge.
With both designing systems as well as implementing them I interact with both content and code in what I do.
So, it sounds like you are heavily involved in both the planning and the doing in terms of getting all things MCC up and running. Very cool. And Max, what about you?
Max: I’ll keep it short today, I’m Max Szlagor, the design director for the publishing team which some of you may already know from previous updates.
Yes indeed! Tell me gentlemen, what are some of the awesome cool new things y’all are working on?
M: Well, that is a very broad question. For the new features we want to talk about today there are quite a few key pieces we can go into detail on. I'll let Dana speak to the multiplayer game types and playlists. In general, the way that we look at features is that MCC is a very large game that is now spanning multiple platforms, and there's a lot of stuff there, so we want to make sure that we can bring each game to each platform in a way that's native, and that it’s a good experience for everybody. And we want to make sure that every feature is brought to everybody in that same way. So, when we think about features, a lot of it has to do with what we think the right experience for that platform is.
If it's on console, we have some amount of legacy to look back to, but there's also another piece of it which is, does it warrant looking at whether that system can use updating? Could we make some part of it more intuitive? Could we make it more accessible?
Evaluation comes on a feature by feature basis. Dana will speak to the Theater and Forge, or “Thorage” piece as we are calling it internally. I think that's an interesting case of how we looked at legacy content and discovered new things that we could do with it. Other work comes out of understanding player needs to make experiences native for PC. Examples include new ways we need to update the interface for features originally built for console.
PC is a much more open-ended modifiable platform and there's a lot of things that you can do there that you can't do on console. If you're a very curious person, you want to go and poke around and do things we didn’t imagine. How do we enable those scenarios while ensuring the integrity and safety of our core game experience for our fans?
I think for other kinds of features some of our ability to make updates comes down to technical challenges and time. Finding how do we bring those features to new places in a way that will perform well and will work across a wider range of hardware now available for MCC.
When these games were originally created, they were very optimized for the platforms they were made for. But it’s something that we must revisit when we look at bringing these games to other places, like for example going from 30fps to 60 fps, to more than 60 fps. Those are pretty significant investments, technically, to get working across different platforms in updates. We continue to discover new ways in which such changes present new challenges.
With so many ways we can approach things of this nature, our goals are to make sure that across our team and the community, we're reaching out to identify and understand key desires and pain points. A lot of it just comes down to discussion and evaluation so we can properly prioritize the features we hear requests for.
Dana, do you want to talk to that process of how we have collectively worked together across our feedback avenues to take in community feedback as it relates to game types, playlist and how you approach it?
D: So basically, a little over a year ago, we kicked off our efforts to start updating and improving a lot of the matchmaking content across MCC. This has been ongoing for a while now, but we got into this weekly cadence of updates and started really thinking about how we get each titles’ matchmaking content in a really good spot. Specifically, making sure it’s consistent, making sure it's accessible, making sure there are things that are consistent between games so it's not a jarring experience when you're switching from Halo: CE to Halo 2 and other games. It’s very important that we’re also retaining the identity and the legacy of each individual game and what made them unique.
We've spent a lot of time doing that, and the process involved lots of data. This includes looking at various metrics, quit rates for specific maps and their variants. Without getting into the nitty gritty, we use these pieces paired with our own experiences, and those of our community, to begin to form an opinion.
We have various channels for qualitative feedback and combine this with quantitative feedback to see the insights we can draw from this joint data. I think if you look at either in a vacuum you can make some assumptions that aren’t fully informed and don't tell the full story. Marrying the two together allows us to make better decisions of what works, what doesn't, what can be better, and how our process can be better.
Some of that's involved things like adding new options and granularity for custom game settings to allow us to do things that maybe weren't possible in these games before.
Like the new Fiesta work for H:CE, adding audio, adding new playlist options that include “no spread” to our Ranked Playlists. I know historically there are many different pieces you have worked on.
D: Yeah, exactly, those are some of the most recent examples. The no spread work, the primary and secondary weapon selection, new weapons sets, and more. We’ve added some new time limit and score limit options to H:CE, and other work with Halo: Reach. We’re adding additional tools to our toolbox to respond to feedback.
That’s great, getting the custom tools you need to do what you wanna do is clearly already paying off. Continuing with that theme, how are things going on Halo: Reach? Do you want to talk a little bit about the Theater and Forge update, or “Thorage” as it’s called internally?
D: Sure thing. Forge can kind of be broken into two main categories in how we think about it. There's the tool and feature side of it, and then there's the content side.
For the tool and feature side of it, obviously with bringing forge to PC we're bringing in a new input device. Certain things that maybe work nicely on controller don't necessarily translate one-to-one for mouse and keyboard, for example the raw controls and the UI. With this comes player expectations like rebinding keys and having more accessibility. More pieces to empower players to create awesome content.
To maintain consistency across all of the titles in MCC, we have been doing these changes in conjunction to help maintain consistency and a unified experience. We want to create a more cohesive experience so when you jump from Forge in Halo: Reach to Halo 4 it’s not jarring.
Now we know that Forge is not identical in each game as iteration happened between titles, but in areas that are shared our goal is to maintain as much consistency as possible. All with the goal to make Forge feel native on mouse and keyboard and really empower players who don't have a controller or have never touched Forge before.
The second piece of our Forge discussion is the content, and this is where the Thorage comes in, as far as our goofy codename for it. For Halo: Reach specifically I remember back when I originally played and there being objects in the campaign that weren’t available in Forge. Things like civilian vehicles, vehicle variants, and just cool stuff I had wished I could have in Forge. When we started this project we looked at ways to make use of them. Then the question became, “why stop there?” Reach had several DLC Maps with even more unique object additions, and we decided to bring those back to Forge World and into Tempest.
Tempest is treated as our secondary forge canvas as it’s nice to have a secondary option that's visually different for players to have more variation in themes on their maps.
After these changes we thought, “Let's see what else we can do.” Reach campaign offered many more objects with strong visual utility that could add variety to maps. Some were chosen for their strong gameplay utility, like weapon cabinets that refill your ammunition for your weapons. New ways to help empower people to do things on the gameplay side that maybe weren't possible before.
With Forge it's not about using things the way they were intended; it's about offering a toolset broad enough so someone can be creative with the tools at hand. We want to give people the freedom to make amazing, unpredictable, and new stuff that everyone can then play and enjoy.
That’s a lot of great information about Forge! I know that the second part of the “Thorage” update will be theater. What are some things you want to speak to about it?
D: Theater is much less grandiose compared to Forge, but we took the same approach in regard to focusing in on making the experience native to the platform. This includes supporting things like key bindings so that players have greater customization over their theater controls and being able to interact and use it the way they want to. The primary change and goal for it was to make it feel native on PC with mouse and keyboard. Making it so using free cam really feels natural on a mouse was a challenge we believe we have been able to achieve.
I’m excited for people to get their hands on these! I know that there are still pieces coming together still, but in terms of an area players are going to get some hands-on time with in the next flight for Halo 2 and Halo 2: Anniversary, let's talk Challenges and their addition to the game. Can you explain these from a top level down in terms of core concepts and what y’all are exploring for options in-game?
M: I can touch briefly on some goals we had, and then Dana can dig into the details of the exploration and implementation.
Across Halo games, we've had Challenges and are looking at ways to grow them within MCC. In the past we've had this concept of these daily and weekly challenges in a fixed pool and had different objectives to them. We were looking at that and we asked ourselves two questions:
- Does this model fit into how people are playing games today?
- And what sort of things can we do to expand on that?
From this we came to a couple of different conclusions. One is that we liked what was possible within the philosophical framework we have. We do events right now and that is something we will be continuing. We also wanted to prove more opportunity and accessibility to folks who may not be able to play as regularly and miss out on them. Our goal was for challenges to be more flexible, and to have larger windows of time for completions. Also offering a variety of rewards that all feed into our existing MCC progression system. Dana will speak to the evolution and details of this system.
D: To that end, one of the core components of challenges for MCC was to ensure that they are quite configurable. We have lots of freedom in what we can adjust and track for any challenge objectives. Thus allowing great flexibility to provide objectives that touch across a lot of different playstyles, skill levels, modes and activities within the game.
(This is a Work-in-Progress mockup. Challenge names, details, and rewards may not reflect final design)
One of the big challenges with challenges is that we needed a system to drive progress across all of MCC. As Max mentioned, Halo: Reach and Halo 4 had their own challenges and were designed differently using systems based on ‘incidents.’ In MCC, we have to account for the different Halo engines across the collection, and needed a more complex system to support this. Our universal system tracks objectives across all the games, and supports game-agnostic objectives. For example: killing a grunt in H:CE is treated the same as in Halo 3. Existing data structures that we already tracked within MCC have been leveraged to allow this higher degree of configuration ultimately providing more unique challenges for players. Ranging from short to long term goals, but they can span many areas in the experience.
For example – here are a list of some kinds of challenges you might run into:
- Kill X units.
- Play X matches of this specific game type in this playlist.
- Save user-generated content.
- Play anytime in the month of April.
Historically these have been done manually, but challenges allow us to systemically drive these kinds of objectives and awards. This addition of a more robust system helps to address feedback of wanting more places to earn XP beyond Matchmaking.
In past blogs I know we’ve talked briefly about the desire for future unlocks and customizations, are there any sorts of details you can provide about these rewards?
M: We're looking at offering different types of rewards for completing challenges. Initially, I think we're looking at experience points and season points. At some point, the goal is for system to be able to include item rewards as well.
Lots to get excited for! To go in a completely different direction, we recently had an update on Xbox recently, that was 60 gigs. With it there was a lot of new content like customization, new features, future setup work, and bug fixes. Do you two want to talk a little bit about how updates to PC are going to bring certain things to Xbox? And what that means for file size etc.?
M: Let’s chat briefly about the Xbox update. It’s always our goal to minimize the size of updates for our players. With such a large surface area of game, and the scope of changes that need to be made this can make them rather large. Whenever core game data files are updated, this usually means a larger update. We manage this process very carefully to minimize the amount of times this happens. But it is one of those things that can come up. This mindset drove development for features like Intelligent Install where players can choose which pieces of games in MCC they download. We expect some updates will be larger than others but we will be as mindful as we can with those updates.
What were some of the changes in the recent update that contributed to its size?
D: With the CE Update, because we are developing the PC versions, we had work that was prep work for stuff coming down the road. But some larger changes in terms of file sizes included resolving water ripples in Halo 4 among other pieces. Some other pieces included updates to various Forge items across MCC.
Now, for my final question. I talk regularly with various community members that are interested in breaking into the industry. Now we have talked extensively before about your path into the industry to get where you are today before Dana. What would you say is a key piece of advice you’d give someone if they said “I want to design video games” but they have never had any industry experience?
D: If somebody wanted to get into design, I would say they should first learn about what the types of design are and identify which one sparks their interest. I mean there’s so many different applications of design. There’s level, systems, technical, gameplay, sandbox, and so on and so forth. With so many games providing avenues for creating content through mods or other user-generated content features, the opportunities to gain firsthand experience through these processes is endless.
Digging into what excites you and stretching mental design muscles, building them up, and truly thinking through problem solving techniques for how games collectively work together across disciplines; these are all great areas to start with. Figuring out what thought processes you need to have on your own to efficiently breakdown why things are done and which interest you most.
From this analysis exercise, you will likely find an area that you latch onto and then can learn more about through communities, books, or even trial and error. The key is to practice on your own and start building a portfolio of content you have created.
Well thank you both so much for stopping in and sharing this wealth of knowledge on all things design for MCC! Now that we know more about cool new things being worked on, let’s take a look at flighting for Halo 2 and Halo 2: Anniversary!