Our latest flight for MCC on Xbox and PC has been up and running for about a week now. Earlier today, an update was released for the flight build on all platforms that includes a variety of fixes and additions. If you're currently a participant in the flight, you should automatically get the patch the next time you log in. Active flight participants can view the updated patch notes and details HERE and be sure to check out the latest known issues HERE (note only registered players in the current flight will be able to access this link).
Additionally, to help ensure these new changes get adequate time in the wild, the flight itself has been extended and is now targeted to conclude on Friday, November 6. You'll also find an updated playtimes schedule that runs through the remainder of the flight which includes alternating modes and focus areas daily between 10AM-1PM and 5PM-9PM PT. Of course, you're free to play and provide feedback and file tickets on anything in the flight build but given some of the new matchmaking-related features coming to MCC, we're really hoping to have a healthy population moving through different Halo 4 MP modes on all platforms.
To talk a bit more about this current flight, today's patch, and the process in general, please welcome Publishing Team Associate Producer Chris Case!
Chris, welcome! Seeing as this is your very first appearance in an MCC development blog, let’s start with a quick intro and a bit of background. Clearly, your name is Chris, but what’s your day to day role as an Associate Producer on the Publishing Team? You’ve been involved with MCC for quite some time now even before this role – what’s the path that brought you to us today?
Chris: Thanks Brian! MCC has been a consistent landmark in my background working with games. My first job was a contract tester on MCC back in 2014, and later as test engineer when we began our work reviving the collection in 2017. I’ve worked on a few other Microsoft titles in the meanwhile, but I’ve found myself back at MCC multiple times now and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see MCC through so many different stages.
Generally, my day to day involves planning with our production team, working with Support and Community teams to help give up-to-date information on our project, working with Test to ensure they’re unblocked and have the information they need to find bugs, and running our nightly Triage sessions where we discuss project status and work remaining. Ultimately, I aim to spend most of my time listening to folks on our team and helping find solutions to daily problems. Lately, most of those efforts have been put into supporting our flight and launch processes.
So we’re just over a week into this latest flight - How’s it going out there? What are some of the key learnings and takeaways the team has found so far? Anything truly surprising or unexpected pop up?
There’s always a little anxiety prior to launching a flight, for us this time it was around PC to Xbox crossplay, Input-based Matchmaking, and the Server Region Selection. These have been hotly requested features, so we’re pleased to see the positive feedback around these items from folks! Our biggest reports from Halo Support (which we monitor daily) have been around giant white squares on Pitfall, crashes while alt-tab’d out, and a binding issue with the Sprint key - all of which were prioritized for fixing in today's Flight Patch and upcoming retail patch. I think our biggest learning from this is usually the same as all our flights – often our biggest concerns going in usually aren’t the biggest issues we hear about from Flighting, and that’s a great thing. While we’re listening on all fronts, the reports we get through Support really help our team prioritize bugs that are impacting the community the most. The alt-tab crash is a good example of this: a known bug we planned to file for launch, but was given further priority and upgrade as a ship blocker after a majority of our support tickets came through with PC users encountering issues with this.
Another issue we’ve have reported ties to a progression blocker on the mission Reclaimer. Interestingly, issues on this mission have dated back to the original legacy 360 version (specifically around bits of the level failing to load). Improvements here have been on our backlog for some time, but we’ve often found that there are some other gremlins that show up around this. Support recently pulled one we haven’t seen before that involves some non-regulation jetpack usage.
How has overall participation been so far? Am I correct that this is probably our biggest flight to date in terms of the total # of invites that were sent out? While there’s been a lot of excitement for Halo 4’s arrival, this is also our 6th title and… checks notes… our 1,000th flight? Seriously, I’ve lost track, but it sure feels like we’ve been flighting for years now, I’m curious if interest and participation has endured?
Yeap! We’ve been expanding our flight audience over the last few releases (which also helped us test out our invite flow with each expansion). Since our focus this time was on crossplay, we wanted to get as many folks in as possible to test out that flow and ensure players are joining matches consistently. Between PC and Xbox, I believe we’ve sent out ~500,000 invites for this flight alone and that’s helped us get a good test case for adding both Xbox and PC users into the mix simultaneously.
With ODST, we saw a bit of a lower turnout then we expected. While we were able to get feedback from those who participated (helping us bring the H3 hit registration improvements into retail fully), we tracked a lower participation overall compared to our previous flights. We polled a segment of these Insiders after ODST’s flight ended to get a better understanding of why folks decided to not participate. Unsurprisingly, that survey didn’t get many responses, but from folks who did we found that there was a segment of people generally excited to be invited and participate, but couldn’t due to being busy or who missed the invite until after the flight ended. Considering that’s only a small segment of users, I think that “flight fatigue” could very well be a factor (not just for participants, but for our team as well who’ve been working hard getting these builds out!) To be clear: flighting isn’t stopping anytime soon. It’s been absolutely invaluable to our launch process and we’ve really appreciated everyone helping us out by providing feedback and filing bugs to Support. After we launch H4, we’ll be looking at ways to improve this process all up (both from an engagement and time-investment perspective).
I'm curious what this flighting process looks like now, nearly a year after this PC journey began. Does it get easier over time? Are there things you and the team know now that you wish you could go back and tell yourselves last year before the very first Reach PC flight kicked off?
At it’s core, the flighting process hasn’t changed from the initial outline we set with Reach – that being the “Rings” and “Ring Blocker” process. I think one of our biggest changes came shortly after the launch of H2 on PC and in advance of H3’s flighting, where we decided to run a build in Ring 1 prior to our reduced scope of content and for significantly longer then we had ever before. There were a few reasons for this, one of which being the WFH order had hit Test the hardest and we wanted to give more coverage time to this group prior to launching Ring 3 or a full CU. This led to a refinement of what bugs were flagged as “Ring 1 Blocker”, including significant blockers in areas that we wouldn’t want to have in Ring 3, but didn’t directly impact the path Ring 1 needed to take to give feedback on the areas of focus. While this exposed a lot more bugs to Ring 1, it helped us smooth out the process to Ring 3 and has now been established as a best practice for our team with subsequent launches (our H4 flight included).
I mentioned “flight anxiety” above. I think that’s something that’s improved a lot since we first started flighting with Reach, but that initial preparedness helped us catch generally terrible bugs and seasoned us a bit on where the truly blocking and critical items were. We wouldn’t have been able to take the approach above without getting through the Reach, H1, and H2 flights. We’ve grown a bit and have hardened our processes to a point where we can work a bit quicker and smarter, but there’s still more we can improve.
One key feature of this current flight is the long awaited addition of input-based matchmaking, regional server selection, and crossplay! How have these features generally performed so far during the flight and what kind of data and feedback are you seeing?
Generally, feedback’s been pretty positive around these features! Our Ring 1 audience had a moment where they realized they were some of the very first users in retail to successfully join a matchmaking game with a PC and Xbox player and defined it as a historical moment for Halo. We had a similar realization a few minutes after going live in our call when our on-hand Xbox and Steam players joined each other as the first group of flight Insiders started to trickle in. For the most part, the feedback we’ve gotten through Halo Support has been around UI improvement and various bugs. Server region selection has a few navigational quirks and was missing some messaging to better explain how it works, and we had a few reports of Xbox players getting stuck with mouse and keyboard as their preferred input. We’re hoping today's flight patch resolves a good deal of these, and would hugely appreciate folks filing tickets to Halo Support if you find new or repeat bugs.
At the time of this writing, the current flight is being extended to at least November 6th and a patch was just released. Can you talk to us some about what’s in this patch and what Halo Insiders can expect?
Sure! Right now our team is working toward finalizing our H4 Launch build, so a lot of the fixes coming in with this patch will be close to what we see with our next update. We’ve resolved a few crash issues around loadouts, added terminals for H4 on Xbox, and fixed a few UI issues that were listed on our known issues. The big inclusion with this flight is adding Halo: Reach as another title to test additional video settings and crossplay features. Notably though, Reach now features improved interpolation work on PC that was done as part of the work to support 120Hz on Series X/S hardware. This new Reach content also features a hotly requested bug fix – player emblems on armor! Your spartan should now represent the player emblem of your choice in gameplay (so long, smiley face…).
Lastly, I know these flights have been an invaluable and critical component of the work to update MCC and then bring it to PC. We get tremendous amounts of data but also super helpful player feedback. What advice would you pass along to a Halo Insider who wanted to make sure they were doing all they can to help you and the team do your best work on MCC?
In one of our recent triages with the Support team, an observation was made that a lot of Insiders will only sign into Support once to file a ticket, then never return. While we’ve beat the drum around asking for participation, something that really helps our team is both follow up and count tracking. While Support recommends not filing Known Issues, filing bugs that you don’t see on the list as individual tickets is incredibly helpful – as we often use report count to help us prioritize where our bug fixes should come in. Encourage your friends in the flight to file their own issues, or recommend it to folks you hear on Reddit or Twitter that are talking about bugs. The support agents work to both help serve your issues, as well as track and collect bugs for our team that we can review. Often the questions they ask come from our engineers as they are hunting down problems, and we hugely appreciate any follow ups you may have around improved fixes or changed behavior over time.
Thanks so much for sharing all this insight, Chris!
While we are nearing the release of the final title for MCC on PC, as was noted above, this does not mean flighting is coming to an end. In fact, as you're likely aware, the team has plenty more features, improvements, and content heading to MCC beyond the release of Halo 4 (more on some of these details below!). There's no time like the present to sign-up and opt-in to the Halo Insider program if you'd like opportunities to participate in future flighting activities and more. Head to haloinsider.com to sign- up (and please be sure to complete your profile and verify your email address or we won't be able to send you an invite when the time comes!).
Next up we're joined by another member of the publishing team to talk about the recently announced Xbox Series X|S upgrades coming to MCC next month. But first, how about a gorgeous Halo 4 screenshot from the PC build?
Halo 4 is looking better than ever! Coming soon to MCC on PC.