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Season 2: Modes Preview

Photo of Alex
  -  2 years ago

“Lone Wolves,” Season 2 of Halo Infinite, is less than two short weeks away!

Launching May 3, we’ve got a lot of exciting new content coming to the game. Last week, we took a closer look at Season 2’s two new maps, Catalyst and Breaker, and today we’re exploring three new modes and additional variants which feature a mix of returning favorites and something new to Halo.


The return of the king (of the hill)!

Key image for King of the Hill

You know how the game is played, but there’s a little bit of a twist to this one. A neutral hill spawns on the map and two teams battle it out to control the hill and earn points. When a player enters the hill uncontested, it is captured and begins earning 1 point per second into a capture bar. When a team’s capture bar is full, they score 1 point and a new hill spawns somewhere else on the map.


Control those zones, Spartans!

Key image for Land Grab

At the start of the match, there are 3 neutral zones around the map. When a player captures a zone, it is locked and gives their team 1 point. When all zones are captured, there is an intermission before 3 new neutral zones spawn. The first team to score 11 points wins.


Objective: Survive.

Key image for Last Spartan Standing

Last Spartan Standing is based around the Lone Wolves theme of Season 2.

In this free-for-all experience, 12 players spawn on Big Team Battle maps with a confined loadout and 5 respawns. Once a player runs out of respawns and can no longer participate, they can either spectate or leave the match without penalty.

If a player gets a kill in the match, they can upgrade to a different weapon—something players of “Escalation Slayer” will no doubt be familiar with. The match ends when there is just one Spartan left standing.

I’m joined today by Zach Boyce (he/him), Multiplayer Modes & Systems Designer, to talk a bit about these new modes for Halo Infinite. We get some insight into how and why these modes have changed, and what new experiences players can look forward to in Season 2.

First of all, a very warm welcome to you! Thank you for taking the time to chat about these new modes. Why don’t you introduce yourself?

Zach Boyce here, I sometimes go by my gamertag karnivore. I’m a Multiplayer Game Designer on the Multiplayer Team, and I work on Modes and Systems as well as generally overseeing the Arena experience.

This season, I had the pleasure of helping the team ship three new modes: King of the Hill, Land Grab, and Last Spartan Standing, as well as several social variants for use in new playlists.

Screenshot of Spartans in Warthogs on Breaker

King of the Hill has been a fan-favorite mode in Halo since 2001, no doubt a lot of folks are super excited to see it return. Is the mode exactly as we remember it or are there a few new twists?

I’m the excited one! It’s one of my favorites in the franchise.

As with all our modes of play, my process is to run a paper design through my fingers, filter ideas in prototyping with my peers, and start building a “playable” experience we can show wider groups to further refine the design.

As with something like Capture the Flag, King of the Hill is a long-time classic—so the paper design part is a bit different compared to a fresh mode with a blank canvas. The core of the mode needs to feel the same; it should strain the same skillsets as the classic mode and drive home the same objective fantasy as its predecessor.

I think a fair sum of my own gripes with the mode as a long-time player, as well as our initial feedback in playtesting, looked something like this:

  • The Hill moving on a strict timer clashes with opportunism; it’s really annoying to finally usurp the controlling team, only to have the Hill disappear and bank just a few points.
  • The instantaneous nature of flipping ownership spikes pace-perception (players would say the mode feels frenetic to a fault) and strains the legibility of messaging and feedback systems.
  • End-match resolution is too often too flat. The Match Timer clashes with the Hill Timer in a way that can mathematically ice the match. Conversely, even some tight matches end with a team touching the new Hill for just a few seconds, under-delivering on the hype built up by a hotly contested match.

These findings were solidified when UR testing gave us similar feedback. Iterating to cull away those weaknesses started to garner better results.

In the end, we landed on these distinctions from the classic version of the mode:

  • Each Hill now has a Control Meter. Teams fill their Control Meter when occupying the Hill uncontested.
  • Contesting a Hill will pause Control progress.
  • When a team fills their Control Meter, they earn 1 Point.
  • Hills have a very quick Capture Time that can be paused by Contesting.
  • Hills quickly decay ownership back to Neutral when unoccupied.
  • Hills move only when a team has filled their Control Meter, “winning” that Hill.
  • Quick Play: The first Hill is always consistent (equidistant), but all Hills thereafter are randomized.
  • Ranked: The entire Hill sequence is consistent every match.
  • Matches utilize the Objective Clock mechanic. Like Oddball, the Match Timer only depletes when the Hill is unoccupied.

Naturally, we also maintained support for Classic KOTH settings via Custom Games.

Screenshot of Spartans battling on Catalyst

Let’s talk Land Grab. The description for this reminds me a bit of old-school Territories action from the Halo 2 and Halo 3 daysis that something the team was looking to evoke with this mode?

Totally. We also wanted to explore a multi-zone objective that works well on mirror-symmetrical maps. A weakness to our Strongholds mode is triple-zone layouts on symmetrical maps tend to be problematic as they need to sit along a line of symmetry in order to feel fair. Generally speaking, when we set out to create a new mode, we like to go after niches not yet filled by other modes of play.

Land Grab offers a unique solve here. Once a player or team captures a Land Grab zone, it disappears from the level, banking 1 Point for the capturing team. This naturally whittles down each set of three zones toward a final zone crescendo each set. Once all zones in a triplicate have been claimed, a new three zone set begins to spawn in new positions on the map until one team reaches 11 points.

So, why did we choose 11 points for this mode? Because matches progress in sets of 3 points, 11 points to win ensures hotly contested Land Grab games most commonly end in a three-zone set. We do, however, have special logic to help craft a more compelling crescendo at match-end: if a team is 1 point from victory, then 2 zones will spawn, if both teams are 1 point from winning then only 1 final zone will spawn and decide the match.

The result is a triple-capture-zone mode where the points-of-interest churn and pull teams to varying locations on the map, rather than stagnate along a line of symmetry.

I can only take a mentor’s share of the credit here, however. Land Grab is a mode designed by Mickey Cushing.

Cheers, Mickey!

Screenshot of Warthog approaching dynamic laser on Breaker

I’m particularly fascinated by the new Last Spartan Standing mode. What was the core idea behind this new experience for Halo Infinite?

We had a ton of fun developing Last Spartan Standing! As a designer, the box for this mode was the seasonal theme, “Lone Wolves,” as well as featuring our new Big Team Battle map, Breaker. To me, that screamed building something that was all about “You versus everyone else,” and leveraging the larger play space available in BTB.

I felt like eliminating enemy players, rather than vying for a greater score, fit best as a more visceral path to the top of the FFA mountain—a bit more wolf. Enter FFA Attrition on Big Team Battle maps.

After twenty years, one might wonder what mode Halo hasn’t done to some extent in the past. Is it a challenge to come up with new experiences like this?

Personally, it’s all good fun for me. Really though, the challenges between something new and iterating on something “classic” is more a trade-off of skillsets rather than one being easier than the other.

Designing a mode from a blank canvas requires more creativity upfront, is a bit more exposing, and pushes one to craft and hold a vision in their head throughout the process. Fresh new modes need a “north star,” or they can thrash wildly during iteration.

I alluded to this before: iterating on classic modes is just as challenging but demands an apt understanding of the established “north star” and maintaining a forward direction while attempting to iterate toward current-day goals and player expectations.

Screenshot of three Lone Wolf Spartans in a Warthog

I hear there are some exciting new quirks to Last Spartan Standing that we’ve not really had in a Halo game mode before...

It all started by initially playing FFA Attrition on Breaker; no other notes or changes—let’s just see what shakes out and talk about it. It was immediately obvious that a typical scavenging story wasn’t going to work.

FFA modes have a way of really straining combat-outcome-perceptions—players often describe it as “third-partying” one another and would consistently dislike that scavenging more power from the level amplified third-partying, while also increasing the match’s snowball so much that leading players ran away beyond where others could catch up. That, coupled with the fact that players struggled mightily to take combat risks and perceive rewards for combat outcomes as worthwhile because everyone has a limited number of respawns.

Essentially, people were hiding in corners of the map, banking up their respawns and power weapons, refusing to take risks, and it was boring. It wasn’t going to work, but still there was something there. Attrition’s Danger Zone encroaching on a big level, pushing players to improvise, led to a bunch of hilarious and compelling encounters. We just needed to solve for player motivations and make the risk of entering combat worthwhile.

So, we turned off all the on-map weapons and implemented a new system where we can grant players new weapons from script. It started off with something like “Escalation Slayer” mechanics and other variants seen in the genre, except that the typical paradigm of “starting strong and ending weak” wasn’t going to work—the whole point was to increase combat motivation. So instead, players would earn an upgrade each time they scored a kill.

And that kind of worked. Players now had plenty of motivation to risk their neck in combat, but it introduced a couple new design puzzles:

  • The lack of agency when receiving an upgrade was sometimes annoying—even though a new weapon was objectively “more powerful,” it didn’t always fit the exact scenario you found yourself in moment-to-moment gameplay. Think: we give you a Sniper Rifle after you score a kill, but you’re immediately challenged by a third-party in close quarters.
  • “Third-partying” frustration was amplified. Since the credit only went to the player that scores the kill, swooping in and stealing kills from other players was doubly rewarded.

So, we instead implemented a Leveling System that utilizes a player’s Personal Score. Earn Personal Score, earn progress toward your next upgrade.

This let us do a few things to further curate the experience:

  • Spread combat rewards to Assisting players
  • Put the player’s power-climb on a curve as a means to craft balance (mainly curtailing the leading players’ snowball separate from trailing players’ ability to catch up).

This worked quite well, but there’s always more…

  • Players still didn’t like that the Level Up moment would happen without their input.
  • Regardless of how the leveling curve is tuned, a mechanic where combat rewards more power to players can still sometimes leave trailing players too far behind.

So, with that in mind a couple of new mechanics were created:

  • Players now receive a “Level Up” prompt when they reach a new level threshold—now they can choose when to take their new loadout rather than having it happen to them.
  • Modified Attrition’s AI Bubbles to dispense “Bonus XP”—when a player gets eliminated, they drop their AI Bubble in the world. In Last Spartan Standing, enemy players can interact with these and collect 300 Personal Score, or 3X what a kill is worth.

In the end, what we have is an FFA Attrition experience with a layered in Leveling system to pair with a curated on-map power-scavenging story—which currently is:

  • Random Equipment and Power Equipment come in via Ordnance Pods.
  • Equipment can be found in some interior locations.
  • On-map Weapons and Vehicles are disabled.
  • Grenades are randomized each time they spawn.

Be the Last Spartan Standing to win!

Please note: We’ve implemented measures to allow eliminated players to leave Last Spartan Standing matches without incurring a quit-penalty while still retaining any progress they’ve made on Challenges. There are some Challenges that may not update their progress until the game itself has completed. If you leave early, please know that your progress will be added at the conclusion of the match.

We’ve got two new maps coming with Season 2 as well, Breaker (BTB) and Catalyst (Arena). Are those purpose built for these modes or can fans expect to be playing them across all our maps?

Not specifically purpose-built, as there are a lot of considerations that go into crafting these spaces to accommodate existing modes as well as future ones. But there are many aspects of the design of these maps that really complement how the new modes coming in Season 2 play.

Breaker is a really fun CTF map, you’ll get all the chaotic BTB fun players love on that map. Catalyst will immediately be available in Quick Play with all modes except for Strongholds, and in Ranked Arena with CTF and Slayer.

Screenshot of Spartans on Catalyst

Giving players agency to manipulate our modes in different ways always leads to crazy, often unexpectedly brilliant outcomes. When can players expect to see these modes turn up in their Custom Games list and what sort of options are we giving them to tweak?

Day one, these settings should be available:

King of the Hill

  • Legacy Scoring Enabled
  • Score Per Interval
  • Score Interval Seconds
  • Hill Timer Duration
  • In-Hill Player Properties:

- Health Multiplier
- Shield Multiplier
- Shield Recharge Multiplier
- Weapon Damage Multiplier
- Melee Damage Multiplier
- Movement Speed Multiplier
- Sprint Speed Multiplier
- Slide Duration Multiplier
- Sprint Enabled

Land Grab

  • Number of Zones
  • Variable Number of Zones
  • Capture Time
  • Intermission Duration
  • Initial Incoming Duration
  • Subsequent Incoming Duration

Last Spartan Standing

  • All of Attrition’s custom game settings. We are investigating adding even more options to expand the extensibility of the mode.
Screenshot of a Spartan with an energy sword approaching another with a sniper on Breaker

In addition to these three new modes, the MP team has also been working on updating our overall playlist offering. Is there anything you can share on this front in terms of what we can expect for Season 2?

We’re working on rolling out a much wider variety of social experiences and playlists that fit for variable party sizes.

Rumble Pit, for instance, is an 8-player FFA playlist with a mashup of “base” modes alongside variants with a twist. This will be available on day one.

We aim to rotate in playlists like Social Skirmish, Social Slayer, Team Snipers, Team Doubles, and more throughout the season.

As for some of the new variants themselves, here are a few to chew on:

Ninja Slayer – You’ve got infinite ammo Energy Swords and Grappleshot loadouts, with only Grappleshots and Power Equipment on-map. What ya do in this mode is swing around and hit people with swords.

Vampireball – This is something I was inspired to try after a long-winded post I made about Oddball on Reddit drummed up some interesting discussion. In this Oddball mode, the Skull carrier is no longer nerfed—instead, the Skull is a one hit kill and has 50% Shield Vampirism (which, if you score a kill with the Skull at full shields, say, bleeds into an Overshield).

Rocket Repulsors – Infinite ammo Rocket Launchers and Repulsor loadouts, with only Repulsors and Power Equipment on-map. This might be a good time to remind everyone that you can deflect things like Rockets with the Repulsor equipment… or super-jump yourself upward to avoid an explosion…

I look forward to the community getting hands-on with these, and more, and giving us feedback about what might make them better!

Screenshot of a Spartan running at another on Catalyst

When can we expect to jump into each of these modes during Season 2?

Both King of the Hill and Last Spartan Standing will be available day one.

We’ll be inserting King of the Hill into Quick Play and Ranked Arena, as well as featuring the mode in its own playlist for those that want to purposefully check it out.

Last Spartan Standing will be immediately available as the first Seasonal Event. It will be available throughout the Season after the event concludes, but while the Seasonal Event is running all eyes will be on Breaker.

Land Grab will be featured as part of the Fracture: Entrenched event around a month after S2’s launch, after which—much like Last Spartan Standing—it will remain available for players to jump into throughout the Season.

As with all our modes of play, limited-time experiences can be added as permanent installments if they’re well received. Attrition is a good example of our process here—many wanted the mode to immediately be added to Quick Play (which is happening in Season 2), but during Attrition’s event we discovered opportunities for improvement that we wanted to address before graduating it to a permanent mode in Halo Infinite.

Thank you very much for your time, Zachit sounds like “Lone Wolves” is going to deliver players an absolute treat with these new modes and variants!

And there we have it! In less than two weeks, you’ll be right in the thick of all this mayhem and we can’t wait to hear what you make of it.

See you on the other side, Spartans!