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To war... zone

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What’s up, Halonians! Our beloved Ske7ch is racked with a myriad of tasks yet-unmentionable, so apologies in advanced that you’re stuck with me for at least another week. This edition of the Halo Community Update includes a smattering of subjects both salty and sweet – the written equivalent of a chocolate-covered pretzel you could say. We’ve got some neat things to hit all over the proverbial map this week, so let’s get started, shall we?

WARLORDS' RETURN

While the recent Halo World Championship 2017 Finals put top-flight Arena gameplay front and center for all to see, next weekend will showcase a very different type of elite-level play as Warzone Warlords makes its hotly-anticipated return to our regular rotation. With full-party matchmaking available, the finest and most deadly Warzone warriors in all the land will be out for blood and bounty – you think you’re good at Warzone? Try taking on one of these all-conquering companies. Trust me, it’s usually not pretty.

Warzone Warlords will be available from April 14-16, and will match parties of 6 or 12 in an all-out onslaught that competitive large-scale Halo players won’t want to miss – so get on your Horn of Gondor and summon your Spartan Company… Warlords is back.

In addition to the standard fare matchmaking action that Warzone Warlords will bring, make sure you mark your calendars for 2PM PST on Friday, April 14, when we’ll be fielding our very own Warlords team here at 343 and venturing out into the dangerous wilds of the internet to take on – and inevitably get slaughtered by – community kill-mongers eager to take our heads, our pride, and our sought-after skins all for their own. If you want your chance to grab the coveted 343 Ice Unicorn skin, make sure you are following @Halo for details on exactly when we'll be jumping into the Warzone Warlords playlist. If you get matched with our squad during that time – win or lose – you get the skin. If you’re currently lone-wolfing it and are interested in putting together a crack fireteam of your own, don’t forget to hit up the official Halo Club and check out the LFG features built right into Xbox Live.

TURBOMEN (AND WOMEN)

Speaking of Community Playdates, last week we took to the online battlefields to defend our studio’s honor during some frenetic and furious Warzone Turbo action. With our fierce fighting force consisting of ske7ch, Unyshek, BachEach (James Bachici), StrongSide, Bartleby VII (Sarah Stern), and yours truly, we waltzed into Warzone Turbo with 343 emblems emblazoned on our gamertags… and promptly got waxed 1000-41 in our opening endeavor.

While the bulkhead of our pride took a direct hit, we remained undaunted and shook off the community’s initial assault, flipping the script with decisive victories of 1000-75, 1000-308, 1000-472 to finish our hour of power 3-1.

We’d like to imagine that our opponents spent the next few nights racked with fitful dreams and visions of Uny and myself rolling through their disintegrating lines in full Phaeton formation, their only solace being the shiny new weapon skins they’d earned for their troubles. Pretty sure that’s what happened at least. At any rate, we’re confident that our hubris will be swiftly returned to earth when we hit the lobbies for Warlords, so we won’t be gloating for too long…

HALO: ENVOY

Earlier this week, we got a very cool new hot-off-the-presses (literally) arrival in the studio – one that will be making its way to bookshelves for your own enjoyment very soon!

Halo: Envoy is written by Tobias Buckell (author of Halo: Cole Protocol, and short stories in both Halo: Evolutions and Halo: Fractures), and heralds the long-awaited return of Gray Team back into the fold! These fan-favorite Spartan-IIs will have a brand-new adventure on their hands that story fans won’t want to miss. You can preorder your own copy right here (and in audio book form), and make sure to keep an eye out for more details very soon in an upcoming issue of Canon Fodder (!).

LETHUL WEAPON

Not content with just dominating the competitive Halo world, Tony “Lethul” Campbell set his sights on the world esports community at large. As part of ESPN’s fan-voted “Favorite esports Pro” bracket, Lethul took on 63 of the top esports pros in the world – a pool that featured players across a myriad of platforms, genres, and games. In his climb to the top, Lethul bested esports legends like Daigo "The Beast" Umehara (Street Fighter V), Armada (Melee), and Faker (League of Legends) to set up an epic all-GreenWall final with Call of Duty veteran Matthew "FormaL" Piper.

When all the votes had been tallied, our boy Lethul emerged as champion with a dominating 65%-35% victory, notching not only a pretty tasty feather in the cap for OpTic Gaming, but also a rather sweet moment of triumph for the entire Halo community, showing that you all truly do know how to back up a fellow Spartan when pride is on the line. If I was on the ground, I'd pin the medals on you myself. Well done to Lethul, and to all of you who voted for him! We’re pretty sure we’ll somehow be seeing him on an even bigger ballot come 2020…

RVB S15 ETA IS ASAP

We’re beginning to think that there’s only three things in life that are certain – death, taxes, and new episodes of Red vs Blue. Rooster Teeth’s brilliant and beloved Halo-based series is back, perhaps even bigger and better than before, with a brand new season of awesome content, characters, and storylines. If you need a moment to get hyped about exactly what that means, look no further than the Season 15 trailer:

In typical fashion, we awkwardly accosted Burnie Burns and Gus Sorola for some quick-hit thoughts on the new season, and what makes them excited about it…

GRIM: Seriously?! Season fifteen? That’s crazy. Can you talk a bit about some of the biggest differences between seasons 1 and 15 for RvB – technology, production pipeline, distribution, style, story?

BURNIE: Well, the biggest changes have been the advancement in Halo itself. Back in Season 1, there was no Forge, no Theater mode -- we couldn't even get rid of the pistol reticle. It just had to be part of the show. Now, there are so many tools that make the quality of videos so much better.

GUS: The internet has also totally changed since we started it.  Season 1 premiered in 2003, two years before YouTube even existed!  Back then, we had to help people download video codecs and learn how to torrent our videos.

GRIM: Related to the above, what is something that has remained unchanged since day one for RvB?

BURNIE: The characters are still as dumb as ever.

GUS: You can always get the newest episodes at roosterteeth.com!  That, and I’m still a shameless shill for projects I work on.

GRIM: I mean, it’s understandable, all things considered. What can fans expect from Season 15? Anything you are particularly excited about the community getting to experience?

BURNIE: This is a return to the ongoing storyline of RvB (Season 14 was an anthology season) and we have a really talented writer/director taking the reins this year -- Joe Nicolosi. He made one the most popular storylines in Season 14 and has been a big Red vs Blue fan since the early seasons. He's written a tremendous script that is a great starting point for people who have heard about the series but never watched it. 

GUS: I don’t want to overhype it, but I am extremely excited about the script for Season 15.  There are so many literal laugh-out-loud moments, and I can’t wait to see the community’s reaction.

GRIM: Oh, trust me, we can’t either – thanks guys!

If you’re new to the party, and are looking for a bit of high-caliber catch-up on how the Red vs Blue story has ended up here, don’t worry, the RT guys have you covered there as well – make sure you check out “The Complete, Unabridged Story of Red vs Blue. Abridged.”

343 TEAM SPOTLIGHT: VINCENT HUI, UX DESIGN LEAD

343 Industries’ UX Design Lead Vincent Hui recently joined us in California for the HaloWC 2017 Finals, and today he joins us in a more verbal capacity, as our next vict- er, participant, in our ongoing 343 Team Spotlight series. Let’s see what makes the man tick!

Q: Hey Vincent, thanks for joining us for this week’s 343 Team Spotlight! To kick things off, can you first tell us a bit about yourself – what’s your role at 343? How long have you been with the team?

VH: I’m the UX Design Lead for the Halo FPS team. I transitioned from being the Concept Art and UI producer to this role after the release of Halo 5: Guardians.

Q: Can you share a bit of background with us – what were you doing prior to joining 343?

VH: I’ve previously worked at ESPN, EA, and Microsoft Studios. I was a dev and writer for ESPN.com, designed a ton of games at EA, and worked on the Microsoft team responsible for Nike+ Kinect and Xbox Fitness.

Q: Did you always aspire to work in the game industry?

VH: ESPN esports’ Timothy Lee asked me the same thing at the HWC Finals when he found out about my background: I was going to make sports writing my career since I had my own column, but ESPN sent me to E3 to look at expanding their video games section. After I attended, I started thinking that making video games would be more fun than breaking down which running backs to handcuff in Fantasy Football year after year.

Q: What prompted you to join 343?

VH: I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi as a genre and Halo’s sandbox (RIP, dual-wielding SMGs). I also played Halo on LAN with splitscreen with friends as a kid and have all the same memories you guys do.

Q: So “User Experience Lead” is a pretty nebulous title – what does that mean? Can you briefly describe your responsibilities and how/where you fit into the broader 343 team?

VH: My definition is probably different from everyone else’s, but simply put: it’s my responsibility to represent the player base internally and try to ensure that we make things fun for our players. My responsibilities include managing a UX team that does both the design and implementation of menu and HUD features, driving and holding the vision for these features, and partnering with people across the studio to work out how any feature will impact different types of players.

Features my team has helped add to Halo 5 include UI improvements to color selection and PGCR, the Forge and Observer HUDs, and the Content and Custom Games Browsers.  Also, when I have extra free time, I write the loading screen tips.

Q: What’s a typical “day in the life” like for you at 343?

VH: I try to get in at least one game of Warzone Firefight every morning just to remind myself I have the worst shot in the studio. After that, it’s some combination of design or consult on features, watch streams, go to meetings, play more Halo at my desk or in our playlab, and read forums. I do more designing in the evening while I’m watching scrims on a second monitor – it’s a habit I picked up from my ESPN days where I found I worked best while I watched sports at the same time.

Before you ask about how some of things I listed above don’t sound like work, I watch everyone who consistently streams Halo and read almost every single Halo-related post on as many forums as I can (is it “reading” if Beyond just has pages of Emma Watson gifs?). It gives me a real-time perspective on how users of varying backgrounds feel about anything related to the franchise or studio. This comes from being in previous roles that interacted with fans consistently, and knowing that even before I started in the industry, I was a forum poster first.

Q: In your role it seems like you have to work very closely across a very diverse cross section of the development team. How does that impact and affect the work you do and the ultimate outcomes you seek?

VH: It’s actually one of the best parts of my job. Working with everyone to make features that are inclusive and not exclusive just feels really good. Also, I think players like when that happens, or so the internet tells me.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about being the User Experience Lead? What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

VH: The best part is walking around in every players’ shoes and identifying problems that the studio then works collaboratively to solve. It’s easy to come up with solutions – our fans post really constructive ones all the time on the forums - but it’s much more difficult to make sure it solves for the right problem. On top of that, you also have to make sure you’re not solving a problem with a problem, which is a common pitfall because most people can’t see that their solution actually hurts another group of players they aren’t a part of.

The most challenging aspect is that even when we have a great solution and know how to execute on it there are times when it just can’t make it into the game for any number of reasons (like Sell All). Still, it’s critical that we track these issues, experience it firsthand ourselves as players, and keep these things top of mind as we plan for the future.

Q: What type of experience, training and skillsets are needed to become a User Experience Lead?

VH: The human interaction design pedigree a lot of my industry peers have probably helps, but I don’t have one since I was supposed to be a doctor and ended up doing all sorts of other things instead. That said, my experiences have been invaluable. I’ve designed gaming experiences for almost every type of user from your kids to your grandma, casual and hardcore, different regions and cultures, and any type of screen, including wearable hardware.

Having a good perspective on people from all walks of life is really important to anyone who wants to be involved in this aspect of game development. If you can, I encourage you to travel the world, experience other cultures, play games in different genres and mediums, and participate in lots of activities.  I didn’t have the means to when I was younger so I took the cheaper route and spent a lot of time at the library back when they still had books and issues of Nintendo Power to borrow. 

Q: With a such a diverse game community and a game itself that offers so many modes and means of customization and personalization, how do you holistically approach the “user experience?” How do you measure success and determine where to prioritize your time and energy?

VH: I want to make sure that we don’t lose things that players liked from previous titles and that when we add things, we don’t disrupt other things unless it’s a clear improvement to players.  I also wade through a ton of ideas internally and community posts to make sure we meet these goals.  For example, the Content Browser was a plus for those who were interested in it, and it didn’t harm anyone’s else experience. Contrast that with something like adding an animation to the Railgun’s reticle to show that you can let go early to fire?  Dicey, but maybe lowering the skill gap slightly is worth trying to teach more people to use it efficiently.

Success for me really comes from player feedback. If we’re doing a good job, I’m confident you’ll let us know just like you would if we’re doing a poor job. Combine that with the data about all the things you do, and we have a good picture about how we can improve. All my time and energy goes towards making sure players are having fun or will have future fun so there’s really no other priority – I work for our players.

Q: You recently attended the Halo World Championship 2017 finals in California which, I think, was your first in-person Halo esports event. How was that overall experience for you? Were there aspects to that side of the Halo community that completely surprised you?

VH: I helped run the warmup stations for the pros, and seeing winners and losers after matches return with different emotions was really the behind-the-scenes part that you never get to see unless you’re back there. Every single player and coach there put in a ton of time towards making Worlds, so seeing teams come back deflated is heart-breaking.

The overwhelming support from parents, friends, and significant others who visited the warmup area for the pros was incredible. It was hard enough to tell my family that I wanted to make games for a living so I can only imagine what it means to say you want to play games for a living. Also, I can divulge that OpTic’s secret on LAN is the back rubs they get before matches, and watching Mikwen and Huke play to overtime in Octagon was amazing live (you can ask them who won).

Q: How do you think about the user experience for a professional or aspiring pro Halo player vs. the day to day “casual” players that enjoy Warzone or Action Sack?

VH: Everyone can agree that they just want to have fun playing Halo. What’s fun for everyone is unique though so understanding where fun overlaps and where it’s in conflict is really important. To complicate things, the same user can be both an aspiring pro and casual player in the same session – you may grind FFA to earn Champion, and then play Action Sack with your friends just to unwind. As players, you shouldn’t really worry about these things. It’s our responsibility to make sure that you all have plenty of ways to experience Halo the way you want to even if you change your mind. Challenging, but that’s fun for me.

Q: What was your biggest takeaway after attending the Halo World Championship 2017 finals?

VH: We’re all in agreement that further increasing interaction between fans, top players, organizations, and us can only lead to good things for everyone who loves the scene and the game. I especially want to thank Mikwen and Ace for their honest in-person feedback at HaloWC.

Q: A lot of fans always ask us for advice about how to break in and get a career in the gaming industry. What advice would you give to someone looking to someday follow in your footsteps?

VH: Only try this if you can live with making your work your hobby and your hobby your work, or you’ll burn out. This industry is not for the faint of heart, and you may work terrible hours for less pay than other industries and could end up disliking your favorite game forever. If you do make it though, you get to work with incredibly passionate people and share that passion with incredibly passionate fans.

Q: Do you have a favorite Halo game and/or mode? Why?

VH: You guys probably want me to say Reach’s UI, but it’s really ODST’s campaign because it felt really different at the time. Unlike the other campaigns, I’ve never replayed it since I’m sure it wouldn’t feel the same. 

Q: Do you play a lot of other games as well? If so, do you find it sometimes difficult to turn off your analyzing and dissecting of the user experience to just sit back and play and have fun? What other games are you into right now?

VH: I play lots of games in a lot of other genres since I’m terrible at first person shooters. I don’t think the analyzing a game ever stops for really anyone. We all can feel when we’re having a fun experience, and when we’re not, we try to think of ways to work around it, or we give up and stop playing.

I’m currently into Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius on mobile because I get to play with my favorite characters from the FF universe, grind levels mindlessly, and pull on virtual a gashapon.  On console, I’m playing Madden because they stopped making NCAA Football.

Q: Thanks again for stepping into the spotlight Vincent! Any final worlds or parting thoughts you’d like to share with the Halo community?

VH: I want to thank everyone who’s engaged with the franchise in any way. Whether you’re playing any of our titles, posting about the franchise, reading novels, wearing apparel, buying toys, making content, or attending events, you’re all really important towards my team’s goal of making sure that you’re having fun. If you’re no longer engaged with the franchise (or know those who aren’t), then I encourage you to let us know why that is - if you don’t tell us, we’ll never know.

APP-ETIZING UPDATES

For the latest new and happenings on the official Halo app on Windows 10, let’s hear from Halo pro-turned-Project Manager, Sean “Dersky” Swidersky!

The March Update has landed on the doorstep, Spartans. It’s been a little over a month since the release of Halo Wars 2 and we have already been introduced to a new playable leader in the universe. Kinsano is her name and she brings the heat to the battlefield... Literally. For this update she has taken over our dashboard and is now available to play if you have the Season Pass or purchased her from the Store! In addition, we have made some improvements across the app. The Halo Wars 2 stats experience took some improvements with retrieving your stats, adding CSR visibility, and making some tweaks to the PGCR from a match. Improvements have also been made to the stability of the app and to high contrast settings.

With the addition of Halo Wars 2 to the Halo app, we’ve built a variety of features specifically designed to enhance your Halo Wars 2 experience – whether it's Campaign or Multiplayer we want to provide you easy access to important information before, after, or even while you're playing! Here’s a quick look at our features:

  • Service Record
  • Game History
  • Challenges
  • Achievements
  • Campaign
  • DLC Access

Be sure to check out the latest piece of DLC in Halo Wars 2 with Kinsano. Please don’t hesitate to provide your feedback in our Support thread on Waypoint. We look forward to hearing about your experiences – both on the app, and on the Ark!

HALO WARS 2

Speaking of updates, yesterday Halo Wars 2 received a new update to further improve player experience in a number of areas. More info can be found on our forums here.

And speaking of Halo Wars 2, we’ve got some pretty awesome new details about the game’s next DLC leader that should be emerging next week, so grab a buddy and be ready!

This week the Community Spotlight shine's on the Forge map, Nemesis, by WARH0LIC. While the action on this smaller-scaled map plays great for both Slayer and Capture The Flag in Doubles, it's also a great map for the community-made mode, Extermination.

If you'd like to get a better sense of Nemesis, TheRoflzDude - the master of map showcases - has you covered with an excellent map walkthrough.

You may bookmark the map here on Waypoint, and if you'd like to continue reading more about it on ForgeHub, you may do so there as well! 

In addition, we also ran across a couple of pretty incredible "mixed-media" fan creations – one combining Halo and Minecraft, one combining Halo 5's Forge and Halo's old real-life home –  both are ridiculously cool. Check 'em out!

PLAY OF THE WEEK

It's time for the Play of the Week! However, this week we actually have two plays... so it's Plays of the Week. Our first one comes from Harenil, who finds way to flank the enemy team, and clutch up a game of Capture the Flag on Coliseum in overtime. By making this play, he allowed his team to win 3-2 after a nail-biting flag stalemate. 

The other play we wanted to highlight was a group of players being good sports in matchmaking. It shows that camaraderie extends past your team color and reminds us that Halo is about having a good time, even with people that you match against. In this clip, BurritoWeek and his friends () find themselves playing against a team that only had one player by the end of the match. As a reward for being a good sport, and just being a fellow Halo fan, they offer him the Beam Rifle and stand in a line as the clock ticks down to zero. As a result of Harenil's clutch flank, and BurritoWeek's team's kindness, they are all going to receive the 343 Fire Unicorn Skin. Keep up the awesome plays!

Aaaaaand scene. As always, thanks for joining us on these little journalistic journeys we take together. Can’t wait to meet again soon!

Until next time… Live well, play Halo, and don’t forget to vote Lethul & Snipedown 2020.

<3

Grim

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