Each month we take some time to discuss ongoing feature work, content, and changes that the Publishing Team is working on for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. This month we are joined again by Design Director, Max Szlagor, and Technical Designer, Dana Jerpbak. Let’s dive on in with some updates from Max!
With Halo 3: ODST out now and Season 3 in full swing, players are loving all the new Halo 3 content and pretty much unanimously want more of it. Players have been vocal about wanting more vehicle skins like what Halo: Combat Evolved received along with additional weapon skins. We have seen this as a hot topic across the community since Season 3’s release. Do you think there's potential for more Halo 3 content down the road?
Max: Short answer is, yes, we do! We are looking at where and when we can deliver in the categories that we have already delivered for skins and then where can we introduce new categories of customization. Meaning, what sort of customization can we add beyond what we have already done?
There are some additional areas we are exploring so investigations are definitely underway and we’re coming to it with a lot of ideas, including looking at unreleased content. But we are unsure of the technical feasibility of bringing that work into MCC like the [REDACTED] armor pieces. We’re excited, but we want to keep some of the [REDACTED] stuff close to our chest as we figure out just how realistic it is. We do not want to over-promise stuff, but we’re definitely taking a look.
I really hope we can make that [REDACTED] happen as a LOT of players would be happy with that! Moving along, one piece of feedback that we have been seeing relates to the Halo 3 Acrophobia skull. Is there a world where additional skulls come over to ODST for either Campaign or Firefight?
Dana: Some clever folks have already discovered that the Acrophobia skull’s implementation was not limited to Halo 3 – it’s hooked up in a few of the other engines as well, just not fully enabled. Officially supporting this skull in ODST (and beyond) in the future is absolutely something we’re open to doing. Acrophobia is a really cool skull in that it allows players to experience classic environments – missions they’ve played hundreds of times – in an entirely new way. Seeing familiar spaces from an entirely different angle is really exciting.
For ODST, we prototyped yet another new skull but we didn’t quite get it in a place we were happy with. I hope we can circle back to it in the future as it was a really cool concept that leaned into some of the same strengths I described about Acrophobia above. It just needed more time to bake.
Regarding new skulls in Firefight, the answer is largely the same. When developing ODST Firefight game variant support, we were careful to build a foundation that would support future additions without breaking compatibility with existing variants. This leaves the door open for skull additions among other things. There are lots of great Firefight options in Reach that would be cool to explore in ODST such as skull configuration and wave composition.
As for when any of this will happen, we’ll have to wait and see. Right now, our main focus is Halo 4 and some of the other cool features we’ve recently talked about. It’ll also depend on how players react to the current ODST Firefight game options suite and what they want to see more of.
Well, thank you for the details. We'll continue to keep a close eye on this feedback across the community and be sure to let you know what we hear. Next up, I was hoping to discuss future seasons and features. As Halo 4 approaches, we've got a lot of new content and features on the horizon. Last month, we talked a little bit about Season 4 and sort of teased some new content for Halo: Reach. Max, is there anything else regarding Season 4 content that you want to talk to more about?
Max: Yeah, players can expect to see a few long-lost pieces return for Halo: Reach when Season 4 comes online. The "GRD" helmet is the one that most people have requested, but there were other pieces like another helmet and an additional chest piece that we're able to basically unearth, finish, and polish-up to get in for a future update and seasons. We really think players are going to enjoy these future pieces!
The long-lost unreleased Halo: Reach helmet referred to by the community as "GRD" is finally coming to the game! What's "AKIS"? Stay tuned for an upcoming deeper dive with our own lore master GrimBrother One in an upcoming Canon Fodder here on Halo Waypoint!
An unreleased chest piece from the original game is also coming to Halo: Reach in Season 4! Here's a first look from a work-in-progress build.
In addition, we are bringing armor effects back for Elites along with new combinations of chest pieces paired with the prosthetic arm. We are looking at content in terms of how we can expand the surface area of what is possible. We look at finishing unfinished things, making new content, and bringing in things that may not have made their way into MCC but existed before.
I think just saying that GRD is going to be a reality will make some people super excited! But, it sounds like y’all are taking the customization even further, building on some of the recent Halo 2: Anniversary work that was done with this last update. Can you provide some more detail there?
Max: That's true. Like I mentioned with the new prosthetic arm pieces, players can take that unique piece and mix it up with some of the other outfits that already exist. Basically, we’ll be bringing MCC to parity with legacy Halo: Reach customization and then pushing it a bit further. One of our goals is to bring parity to areas that we were not on par with Legacy and then expanding or improving on that.
This is all a win in my book and will get players even more excited! OK, so I am going to go even deeper and ask about bringing customization across even more the games in the collection. What can you share on that front?
Max: To be clear, we have a lot of ideas for MCC across customization. Finding out what is possible and how that builds on the existing experience is something we are talking about internally. Right now, we are doing our planning for the future sustain plans for MCC leading well into next year. There are a lot of things we are looking at in terms of how we continue to expand and build. I think the more interesting customization pieces we are going to look at in the future are ways we can give you more places in our lobbies and menus for you to showcase your character, pre-match and post-match, that kind of thing.
The possibilities are endless of what y’all could do, and that is awesome to hear! So, looking at things that have undergone planning over this year and are now in development, we have a lot of features coming. We have talked about some of these over the past month both internally and externally. We have had spec reviews, and there are a few features that are going to be debuting in flighting.
Max: Yes, we have a lot of things upcoming for MCC - Input Based Matchmaking and Crossplay, and possibly Regional Server Selection and work relating to PC file share updates to name a few, but there are even more features beyond that for the future.
So I’ve heard! We also have the long-awaited Custom Game Browser which is a huge feature the community is eager to check out.
Dana: We have been busy for sure.
An early work-in-progress look at the Custom Game Filter that's currently in development and coming soon to MCC!
Yes you have! One interesting thing I’ve been seeing is that even though we didn’t commit to specific timeframes on when these features would launch, some in the community expected they were coming with ODST. I was hoping we could clear up when we think these features are coming, what the community can expect in the flights later next month, and set some expectations on where we are at in development for them?
Dana: So yeah, Input Based Matchmaking and Crossplay are first, and they are features that we consider co-dependent. These are in development and we did a deep dive into them in the previous blog, but we have continued to iterate on the design, and implementation is going well. It is coming along, and I think it should work the way players would expect and I am excited about flighting it with Halo 4.
Input-based matchmaking is one new feature in the works for MCC and slated for release this year. Here's an early look at an input selection message from a recent internal development build.
A closer look at new additions coming to the "Network" settings page offering more options for matchmaking experiences.
A preview of an update to the 'Controls' settings page to allow players to choose their preferred input device.
So that’s what Uny hinted at in the Halo Waypoint Community Update last week! Alright, what is the latest status with Regional Server Selection? I believe that is another piece the team is trying to get ready for Halo 4 flights.
Max: Yes, we are working to get that in as well. We're going through this exercise right now of what fits into what, because there's a lot of stuff happening for each launch and update, so this again is the kind of more an internal-facing bit of content, but we could share some of the behind the scenes on it. Right now, we've got to get Halo 4 completed and ready to go. With its release, we have quite a few pieces that we are prioritizing to make sure the body of work for it is complete. Beyond that, we also have some things we are working on for the future and planning where they fit, but we can’t talk about those just quite yet. Overall, we have a lot of features that we need to get prepped and have a limited amount of time to make it all happen.
Really big features like Custom Game Browser, for example, are most likely going to roll out in stages. We’d start by getting it into flighting once we feel good about it, and at this point, it’s going to be post-Halo 4. Then we’d roll it out for one game in the collection to properly evaluate. We want to see not only how it works, but how the community uses it in a more public setting. And then, we'll take those learnings to iterate and roll it out to the rest of the games. Although that isn’t set in stone, this process of working hand-in-hand with the community is something we’re all familiar with now.
We are also making great progress on Regional Server Selection and it is straightforward. We are expecting it to be ready in time for the Halo 4 flight, but it is still in active development so it's TBD if it'll make it in or not.
That all makes sense. Another area that I know the team is working on is adding in a File Share upload option for players on PC. Where is that at currently?
Max: That is also another one where it's on our list and is about a medium complexity item in terms of everything that goes into the feature set. Beyond what the public will see for the feature, we also have parts for internal use around tooling and how we manage the entire system. What does the process look like for players making reports? With these key aspects of it, we are looking at PC file share and the tools like how Input Based Matchmaking and Crossplay are tied together. PC file share is tied with how we handle filtering, banning, and reporting players. That all works together and because the tooling piece is probably the more complex part of it and being very dependent on it to function appropriately, we need to complete those parts prior to it coming online. That area is really what will have an impact on when this feature rolls out.
So, based on that information, is it still our goal to deliver this in the near term or do you think it may take a little bit longer to develop?
Max: Our goals are to develop the features we have committed to and get them out when we are confident with them. Again, if there are some cross-team dependencies, in terms of making sure everybody has the tools they need to make sure this feature rolls out properly, then it just takes a bit more time. I am feeling pretty good and we are making more progress there. But as far as specific timing, we are not 100% sure quite yet.
An additional incoming feature I want to highlight relates to Text Chat. A new option will live in the Accessibility menu and is going to give players the option to turn it off! I know a lot of folks have been asking for this. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Dana: With the launch of Halo 4, we’ll be giving players more control over text chat. By default, players will only see messages in the Squad channel. Players can opt into their Team channel and into the All channel if desired. In short, you won’t have to read some of the lovely things folks say on the Internet if you don’t want to.
Thank you both, I think that covers the core of the questions that I wanted to ask. I know the team is always heads-down looking towards the future of MCC and more content, more designs, and more quality of life improvements. Are there any additional topics that you wanted to discuss this month?
Max: We are looking into all-new game modes and modding - how we can start to stand up those pieces and deliver a solid experience. Like I said earlier, how can we expand customization, not just in-game but in the front end, and how can we give people more value in customization all up - those are areas we're evaluating. We are also looking into Campaign customization. What can we support there? Things like snazzier nameplates - can we put animations on 'em? Is there an opportunity to bring over some of the Halo Online maps? There’s a lot of options out there and it’s all dependent on what’s feasible and everything takes time and has to be measured against the bug list, backlog, and feature priorities. All in all, we are definitely looking towards more goodness and continuing with more seasons.
I’ve also heard some rumblings that Halo 4’s Forge is getting a sort of “Thorage” treatment. Do you want to talk a little bit about what’s new coming with Halo 4 and some of the areas the team is working on?
Dana: I’ve seen some speculation about this as well, and the answer is, “Yes!” When H4 launches on PC, it will come with a number of improvements and updates to Forge. Players will get to enjoy these improvements on PC as well as on Xbox. First, we’ll be bringing the Toggle Rotation Axes feature we’ve added to the other engines to H4. This gives Forgers much more control when manipulating objects. Additionally, we’ll be restoring Trait Zone editing in Halo 4. This is a feature which was previously missing from MCC; it’ll work very similarly to H2A’s Trait Zone editing.
A work-in-progress look at "Trait Zone editing" coming to Halo 4 Forge in MCC
Lastly, Halo 4 will be receiving some of what we have called the “Thorage” treatment. We’ll be adding a number of objects to the forge canvas maps. Some are pulled from other multiplayer maps while others are pulled from Campaign or Spartan Ops. Some will allow forgers to add visual flair to their maps while others are new toys with exciting gameplay opportunities. These additions will be backed by increases to the Forge budget and object quotas. As always, I can’t wait to see what the Forge community comes up with, whether it’s building entirely new experiences, or touching up familiar ones.
A sneek peek at some new content coming with the "Thorage" update for Halo 4 Forge when the next release drops.
That all sounds awesome! Ok, one more additional question - I have received quite a few inquiries about Forge relating to our previous updates. Specific maps have gotten certain objects in the updates and one of the questions that people are asking is if there will be any future updates to make it so all the map-specific set pieces potentially get expanded to all maps. Basically, they seem to want the same Forge palette regardless of the map. What would it take to add all those additional set pieces into them?
Dana: So, I have a two-part answer to that question. In Halo 4 specifically, each Forge canvas has its own specific palette with unique objects. Impact has cool space station corridors, Ravine has some unique base pieces, Erosion has pipes, and Forge Island has trees and other natural objects. We’re adding all of these objects to each Forge canvas, so you’ll be able to place those Forge Island trees on Ravine (or in outer space)!
As far as more broadly making all objects available on all maps, that would require some more fundamental changes and won’t happen in the short term. Currently, when an object is added to a map, it gets baked into that map’s cache file. This can pretty significantly increase the size of that file. If we did this for all 24 maps for a given engine, and across multiple engines, it would have a massive impact on the install size of the game (among other things). In the future, we’d like to share these palettes across all maps, but this gets really tricky given that we also need to maintain compatibility with all existing Forge map variants out in the wild. Until then, we target specific maps where we can get the biggest bang for our Forge bucks. In Halo 4, that includes Ravine, Erosion, Impact, and Forge Island so players will have a lot of variety in the environments that received forge enhancements.
Ok, that makes a lot more sense now in terms of why we haven't already globalized these Forge objects and canvases. It sounds like MCC would become around 400GB to install!?
Dana: Yeah, if we added every Forge object to every map in every game that supports Forge, we would be adding many, many gigabytes.
Well, now that is really about all I had to ask about. Is there anything additional that you would like to mention as we move towards Halo 4 and what players can start thinking about with the next big release?
Max: One additional piece to note is there are many other areas that we are still investigating. So also, for Halo 4, we are investigating and actively working on how we can bring in some of the missing skins and armors that came at the tail end of Halo 4 from the expansion packs. So again, we do not really know the time frame yet on this and can’t make commitments there, but it is in progress that we are looking at those to see if and when we can bring them into MCC.
Another big piece we are looking at is the community's ask that we add the ability to change teams in the pause menu during a game. You can’t play infection for Halo 2 without this and this is a big deal for those players. With our Custom Game Browser, we're also going to have some leader controls for it so it ties in nicely with that feature. It's not going to be immediate, but it's definitely in the plan.
Man, just looking at what is on the horizon is absolutely just crazy. Who would have thought we would see so many new features coming online. I am super stoked for all this.
Max: Yeah, it is a lot. As I said, the question is going to be what the time frame is more than anything. So, I believe we will have some of these things coming with Halo 4 and then we will have one more update before the end of the year. But, if things need some more time to bake, then sometime in the next year we can get these additional pieces out. I expect some of the bigger stuff is going to get chunked across different windows of time.
Alright, well thank you gentlemen for stopping by and I will see you both in November!
Max: Awesome, thanks for bringing us in to talk more about what’s going on!
Dana: Yes, thank you very much!