Inside Infinite August 2021 - Halo Waypoint News Article
With the exception of May 2021, we have gotten an Inside Infinite article every month since December 2020. Each article sheds some light on the work performed by various teams collaborating to finish up Halo Infinite for its launch on December 8, 2021. This month, we heard a bit about learnings from the Technical Preview, the design goals for Arena, and the inspiration and inner workings of Bots.
"First off, I want to correct my own language when discussing the Battle Pass all-up. In our live stream I stated that the Battle Pass system will always have free and paid rewards available at each tier, this statement is incorrect for our launch Battle Pass. Our goal is to still provide great value to players for their time spent playing Halo, whether they choose to go the premium route by purchasing the Battle Pass, or by unlocking the incremental Battle Pass items that are available for free. So, while there isn't a free reward at every tier, there will be numerous free rewards to acquire across the entirety of a season's Battle Pass." - Jerry Hook
In the Tech Preview Livestream, Jerry Hook originally mentioned that all tiers of the Battle Pass would have both free and paid rewards, but this was not true in the Tech Preview. Here, he clarifies that it will not be true of the Season 1 Battle Pass either. There will still be free rewards offered throughout the Battle Pass, even at higher tiers, but not every tier will offer one.
"Our challenge system had some issues in the preview that hit a few players and prevented forward progress on their Battle Pass. Our first issue was that we failed to cull the challenge decks of challenges that could not be completed with Bot-only matches. This caused players to get blocked behind these challenges and is not our intent for launch." - Jerry Hook
In the Technical Preview, there were multiple Weekly Challenges that required players to complete matches in modes like CTF, which were not available in the flight. While these Challenges could be rerolled to get possible to complete objectives using Challenge Swaps, the Daily Challenges could not be changed. Completing the first four Daily Challenges would give players another Daily Challenge requiring that they complete 6 PvP matches, which was only possible for 2 hours. That meant the Daily Challenge XP that could be earned was capped at 400 (without Boosts), preventing many players (including myself) from earning everything in the Battle Pass.
"We also missed some tuning for our daily challenges that caused them to not to refresh. This also caused players to get blocked as they would run out of daily challenges." - Jerry Hook
Partway through the Tech Preview, a server-side change was made to remove the PvP-focused Daily Challenges. Unfortunately, this didn't really improve the ability to keep progressing with Daily Challenges as they stopped refreshing after the fourth one was completed.
"Lastly, we just wanted everyone to remember that for the Technical Preview we had expedited XP earn rates to help players get through the pass in the short window for the preview." - Jerry Hook
Although it may be obvious, the rate at which XP could be earned in the Technical Preview was expedited (albeit unintentionally limited). In the launch game, XP will be earned more slowly, making it take more effort to earn tiers in the Battle Pass.
"Using challenges, our goal is that you will always be earning progress in your Battle Pass through playing and winning matches. This will allow you to always jump into a game of Halo and make progress on your goals." - Jerry Hook
All XP progression in the launch build will be through Challenges. This line refers specifically to Daily Challenges, which were awarded in the Tech Preview for simply playing matches. Based on the way it is worded, it seems likely that higher-tier Daily Challenges will require players to win matches to progress, rather than simply completing them. Weekly Challenges will have more varied objectives that may require the player to play a particular game mode or use a specific sandbox item.
"The Player Spartan is Halo Canon – We want players to feel invested in their Spartans and part of that is making them be part of the bigger Halo universe. This led to the world wanting to feel more grounded to reduce 'game-y-ness' without compromising gameplay.
"Extensibility at the Core – Modes, systems, and everything we built for Infinite to be modular and expandable over the lifespan of the game. This enables us to recontextualize parts of one game mode quickly to stand-up new mode prototypes for future Seasons. The long-term benefit is this also helps us extend this beyond our internal team and into our community development tools by exposing these various components through Forge and Custom Games settings to empower the community to build more content that feels more “real” alongside things built by our team at 343.
"Always Onboarding – Playing online is intimidating for many and difficult to master. It was important for us to develop an evergreen onramp of features into online play that we refer to the Academy. Starting with the Tutorial, players start their journey; joining the ranks as a Halo Spartan to learn the basic mechanics. Through additional features like Weapon Drills, Training Mode, and the Players vs. Bot playlist, players always have fun and 'safe' ways to practice and explore Infinite before they’re ready to jump in boot-first into matchmaking." - Tom French
Here, Tom French delves into the core pillars behind Halo Infinite Multiplayer as a whole. For one, the player's multiplayer Spartan is a canon Spartan, much like in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. However, this time, much of the multiplayer has been recontextualized to fit within canon, such as the inclusion of "Dumb" AI companions and the introduction of Spartan Commander Agryna.
As a Live Service game, Halo Infinite has been designed to be as modular and expandable as possible, and this is especially true of the Multiplayer. Things like new game modes, new maps, new sandbox items, and more are easier than ever for 343 to make, and many of these tools can be exposed to players through Custom Games and Forge so they can make their own maps and game modes as well.
Finally, since it is a Live Service game, Halo Infinite has been designed for players to be able to jump in at any time and begin learning how to play Multiplayer. Things like the Tutorial, Weapon Drills, Training Mode, and Players vs. Bots give new players an accessible entry point to jump into PvP Multiplayer.
"Fair Starts – Players start the match as equals with balanced gameplay mechanics.
"The Lone Wolf Survives but the Pack Thrives – Players can achieve individually through skill expression, but the team with better coordination, communication, and reactivity will seize the most victories.
"Mastery = Mechanical Depth + Tactical Decision-making – A match with two teams of equal skill should be determined by the team’s tactical decision making as the game mode’s state is altered by player action.
"Game Mode Clarity – The modes in Halo Infinite’s Arena communicate their game states efficiently and urgently to bolster the tactical decision-making required for a player’s path to mastery over the Arena experience.
"Power is Earned and Impermanent – Scavenging pushes teams to contest the acquisition of items within the Halo sandbox. Any item that can be earned can also be taken away through combat resolution, positioning, and tactical actions." - Andrew Witts
The above design pillars were set for Arena and may differ in some ways for Big Team Battle. A core tenet of Arena in most previous Halo games has been that everyone starts with exactly the same equipment, weapons, and grenades. No one has an advantage over anyone else. Furthermore, players should be able to do well on their own but need to work with their team to maximize their effectiveness.
Teams will find success by knowing how to react to new situations as the game progresses. If they are similarly skilled, that knowledge will give them the edge necessary to claim victory.
Game modes and relevant details should be communicated clearly. This includes how to score, where objectives are located, who is carrying the objective, and more.
Finally, in Arena, establishing dominance on a map is accomplished by seeking out and gathering more powerful items, as well as using them effectively. Players without Power items can still play skillfully to kill their wielders and obtain them for themselves.
"For modes, we tried to add an additional level of clarity about what players should do off the rip with Personal AI 'kick-off' lines that describe the mode in a concise manner. We’ve also added mode-specific scoreboards to many of our game modes in order to better explain game mode states to newcomers. This is the first time Halo has made completely unique scoreboards for modes and we’re excited to get some feedback on how they are functioning for our players when they see them in upcoming flights." - Andrew Witts
Part of the challenge with designing Halo Infinite's Multiplayer has been to make different elements accessible to new players without losing their legacy feel. In Halo 4 and Halo 2: Anniversary Multiplayer, the announcer would state the name of the game mode and then how to play it. Many fans complained that this was unnecessary information, so the feature was removed in Halo 5: Guardians Arena.
In Halo Infinite, this element is returning, but in a more unique way than before. Rather than having Jeff Steitzer announce the gist of the game mode, the Personal AI utters a unique voiceline that indirectly explains how to score.
In addition to unique AI voicelines, Halo Infinite will feature mode-specific scoreboards showing relevant information for the current mode.
"Halo 5 had a voice in your head that talked about incoming Power Weapons and players have always captured zones in modes like Strongholds by standing in them. But this is Halo, and you’re a Spartan! Instead, a Personal AI is now delivering that information and 'hacking' zones, giving players their own Master Chief/Cortana dynamic within multiplayer." - Alex Bean
The Personal AI also acts as a way to further integrate canon into the Multiplayer. The Personal AI announces Power Weapons and captures zones in modes like Strongholds, acting as the player's very own "Dumb" AI construct.
"Now at match start or when you die, the camera transitions to and from your helmet instead of simply cutting, just as it does in the Halo Infinite campaign. And when you spectate a teammate driving a Warthog, you’ll see the camera mounted to the vehicle much like a cutscene from Halo: Reach." - Alex Bean
Smooth third to first-person transitions abound in Halo Infinite's Campaign, and the same is true for Multiplayer intros and deaths. Interestingly, when spectating a teammate's vehicle, the camera will now be mounted on the vehicle, which is similar to how Halo: Reach did some of its cutscene shots.
"One area of focus for me lately has been on analyzing player sentiment around what we’ve been calling the 'Combat Sensor' or as everyone has been calling it, 'Radar'. ...We’ve heard all the feedback and we have a new iteration that will be in the next preview which will be more in-line with players’ expectations." - Andrew Witts
In the Technical Preview, players did not appear on the Combat Sensor until they moved faster than walking speed or fired their weapon. This meant that sprinting, firing, and using mobility equipment like the Grappleshot would all cause the player to appear on the Combat Sensor for enemies to see.
This was a bit of a departure from the Motion Tracker used in previous games, where enemies could be seen if they moved faster than a crouch walk or fired their weapon. A new iteration of the Combat Sensor will be included in the next Tech Preview based on player feedback.
"And while our Medal animations weren’t playing correctly in the Tech Preview, sentiment on Medal visuals has been heard and our UI team is investigating addressing some of that feedback." - Alex Bean
One of the more common complaints from participants in the Tech Preview was how Medals looked a little too similar to one another. While they were color-coded to show their rarity and difficulty, having only four main colors for all the medals made them less visually interesting than they could have been. This feedback has been heard, and the UI team is looking into ways to improve the visual designs of the Medals.
"The biggest pain point we saw were some lines and events repeating more than expected for both Spartans and Personal AI. Spartans in particular really wanted to make sure you looked “Over Yonder.” We identified the biggest pain points and added a buffer so that the same events aren’t commented on over and over." - Patrick Wren
In the Technical Preview, some voicelines from Spartans and Personal AIs were repeated a bit too frequently. In the future, the frequency of these voicelines will be reduced so that a larger variety of events will be commented on overall.
"For Personal AI, the biggest request we saw was the ability to preview their voices. Good news, we have already had that for a bit and is primed and ready to go the next time you all get your hands on the game." - Patrick Wren
In the future, Player AI can be previewed from the menus, allowing a player to hear a sample of the AI's voice lines prior to selecting them.
"For Weapons Drills we’ve already added and adjusted a few items which should improve the experience for everyone. We heard you loud and clear (cough… Bulldog 3) and tweaked target ranges in a few drills so they don’t tread outside the intended range for too long. We also saw some opportunities to improve readability with targets and introduce new target behaviors so be on the lookout for those in the future." - David Ellis
Some of the Weapon Drills in the Technical Preview were very good at providing enemies within the ranges and groupings that were best to target with the provided weapon, but others, like Bulldog 3, had enemies well outside the intended range. Many of these Weapon Drills have been tuned to better fit their associated weapons. In addition, target readability and additional target behaviors will be added in future iterations.
"We identified a number of Bot behaviors we wanted to improve coming out of the Technical Preview, but two areas of focus for us have been rebalancing our difficulty tuning and improving how well Bots prioritize contesting powerful weapons on map. The difference between Spartan and ODST Bots should feel like a significant increase in difficulty, which wasn’t a target we hit in the Technical Preview build. They also ran in a pack to all try and get the same weapon at once – we're exploring solutions for getting them to spread out and search for weapon pickups without competing with one another." - Sara Stern
In the Tech Preview, Bots were impressively competent in some ways, but in others, they were a little too predictable. For example, at the start of every match, all four Bots would run to the same location to try to obtain a Power weapon. This made it really easy to throw a few grenades and clean up for an Overkill right off spawn. Efforts are now underway to get Bots to be more unpredictable at the start and go for different items rather than grouping up for one thing.
Furthermore, there was not a significant increase in difficulty between the ODST and Spartan Bots, so work is planned to differentiate those two difficulties more effectively.
"Getting a 'Perfect' with the VK78 Commando or nailing the 'one, two, DEAD' firing cadence of the Mangler is immensely satisfying." - Alex Bean
We got to use the VK78 Commando in the Tech Preview, but the Mangler was absent at the time. Here, we can see that the current iteration of the weapon makes it a 3-hit kill, which makes sense given its slow firing rate.
"There are a lot of fun ways you can use Bots, but our primary design goal is that Bots help players learn how to play Halo and serve as good practice partners. ...They need to move like players, shoot like players, use equipment like players, and so on. They should also use the same tools (or a representation of those tools) that players can so that a player can beat a Bot by getting better at using that tool than the Bot is. It’s why we avoid allowing Bots to 'cheat' by using information that players don’t have access to." - Sara Stern
Bots are primarily designed to help new players learn how to play the game and offer competent but beatable player-like enemies to practice against. They are intended to act like players and use all the same equipment, weapons, and grenades that real players can. Bots cannot use information that players can't access, so, for example, they won't be able to know where someone's exact location is through a wall unless that player is appearing on the Combat Sensor.
"We’ve broken down all the high-level actions for the Bots (like running the objective, getting a new weapon, engaging in combat, etc.). We then assign each of those actions a value that’s based on a number of inputs, weighing each one a little differently, and then we choose what the optimal action to take at a given time is.
"This is a tricky thing to get right. Getting a new weapon is pretty important if you’re low on ammo, and really important if you’re completely out of ammo. Finding the right balance of all these variables and how to rank them all against each other is as much a problem of human psychology as it is an engineering one, which has made it super interesting to work on." - Brie Chin-Deyerle
Bot decision making is relatively simple at a high level. There are numerous actions a player can take at a given time, and they must choose one of these actions. The same is true for Bots, and based on the game state and their personal health, ammo, and inventory, various weights will be assigned to each high-level decision available to them. The most heavily weighted decision is selected. Tuning these weights to respond to interactions in a way similar to that of a player is difficult because it isn't well-defined for humans either, and some players will make different decisions than others.
"Recruit level Bots are the least challenging experience – they know how to perform each combat action, but they don’t react quickly in a firefight. Marine Bots are like players who are comfortable playing Halo, but they haven’t quite figured out the best way to strafe yet. ODST Bots are competent players that react well to player movement and know how to use equipment more aggressively. While this wasn’t enabled in the Technical Preview build, we’re experimenting with allowing Spartan Bots to communicate with one another about certain gameplay events (such as the location of enemy players)." - Sara Stern
Here, we get a more detailed explanation of the differences between each tier of Bot difficulty. Recruits know how to do the basic actions, but they won't put up much of a fight beyond that. Marines can fight back better, but they won't avoid shots as much. ODSTs have a better mastery of the sandbox, tend to avoid incoming fire better, and can use equipment aggressively. In the future, Spartan Bots may even be able to communicate with one another to provide information about enemy location to their Bot teammates.
"We may also introduce new levels of difficulty over time based on what players are interested in seeing from the Bots." - Sara Stern
Although the starting set of difficulties will only range from Recruit to Spartan, more difficulty levels may be introduced over time depending on player interest and feedback.
"Lower difficulty Bots focus on strafing, medium difficulties can jump but won’t crouch as often, higher skilled Bots can do both. ...When you try to disengage from a Bot, they'll remember where they last saw you and try to hunt you down. When they have the Grappleshot, they'll look for openings to zip in for a melee attack, especially if they're holding a good close-range weapon. Higher level Bots will look for opportunities to backsmack if you're facing away from them." - Ilana Franklin
Other Bot behaviors include strafing, jumping, and crouching, with each behavior being combined with previous ones as difficulty increases. Bots will seek out players that leave their line-of-sight by going to their last known location to find them. If they have the Grappleshot, they'll latch onto enemies to close the gap for a melee attack or perhaps even a Gravity Hammer swing. High-level Bots can also Back Smack if given the opportunity.
"When we implement a new feature, we try to get the Bots to perform at a high skill level so we can identify what the 'ceiling' is for that behavior. We then reduce how effective they are for lower difficulties. We hadn’t done that enough for grenade throwing in the Technical Preview build." - Sara Stern
Bots in the Technical Preview were very good with grenades, and players frequently found themselves on the receiving end of grenades that were placed extremely well, even at lower difficulties. According to Sara Stern, the grenade throwing behavior for Bots was not reduced in effectiveness enough from the skill ceiling for lower difficulties in the Tech Preview.
"[Bots] were predictable off initial spawn and often ignored important map pickups. These behaviors made it hard for Bots to compete against players who had fully stocked up on power weapons and equipment, and we’re looking for ways we can improve Bot performance in this area in the future." - Sara Stern
When discussing some of the learnings from the Tech Preview, Sara Stern mentions that the Bots were performing more poorly than expected since they were easily predictable at the start and frequently ignored map pickups. Both of these areas made it difficult for Bots to compete with their standard loadout against an enemy team using all the power weapons on the map.
"I was excited to validate that our backend for calculating Bot skills relative to players was operating as intended. We did notice the Spartans did feel a little easier than the ODSTs, and it was awesome to have both that quantitative data along with all the qualitative data we got from the community." - Brie Chin-Deyerle
When playing the Technical Preview, many players felt that the Spartan difficulty Bots were a little easier than the ODST difficulty Bots, and this was even apparent in the backend skill calculations for the Bot players. This quantitative data will be particularly useful to the Bot team as they continue to refine Bots leading to and beyond launch.
"For Campaign, that means putting maximum effort into ensuring the wide-open, adventure-filled experience you’ll all get to play on December 8th is a great as it can possibly be. And gameplay demos and trailers not only take a huge amount of effort to do well, they also take cycles away from bugs and other shutdown tasks." - Joseph Staten
Here, Joseph Staten explains why we didn't see any new Campaign footage at the Gamescom Opening Night Live showcase. To put it simply, recording the footage and getting it ready for primetime would have pulled people away from the game that could otherwise be working on bug fixes and other work that will finalize the Campaign prior to its launch on December 8.
"I hope all of you take comfort from the fact that, honestly, I can’t wait to get back home, fire up the build, and hit 'Continue' on the Campaign. No matter how many times I play, Halo Infinite remains, fundamentally, super fun to play—and we’re very eager to share all the fun with you through captured gameplay, trailers, and other content once we get this plane safely on the ground." - Joseph Staten
Prior to this quote, Joseph Staten gives some examples of fun moments he has experienced in the Campaign. In his current run, he is trying to achieve 100% completion of everything in the Campaign, and he keeps finding new secrets and special scripted encounters that surprise him. Although we won't be seeing the Campaign for a little while longer, once it's just about ready, we'll get tons of gameplay, trailers, and more showing some of what we can expect on December 8.
In this Inside Infinite, we got to hear some feedback responses from the first Technical Preview, discover the design goals behind Arena multiplayer, and learn about how the Bots play so much like human players.
The Battle Pass will not offer free rewards at every tier, but it will offer free rewards throughout the entirety of the Pass.
The Challenge system in the final game will not feature Challenges that cannot be completed or stop the rotation of Daily Challenges after only four have been completed.
The Challenge system will be the only way to earn XP in-game. Weekly Challenges will offer rewards and XP for performing special actions each week, and Daily Challenges will award XP just for playing and winning matches each day.
Multiplayer is designed such that the player's Spartan is a part of Halo's Canon, the Multiplayer can be expanded upon and tweaked easily and quickly, and new players can easily jump into Multiplayer at any point in the game's lifespan.
Arena is designed to use fair and equal starts, emphasize team play, reward smart plays and skillful use of the map and sandbox, clearly communicate important game mode information, and make power items achievable but impermanent.
Each Personal AI introduces the goal of each game mode with a unique voice line.
The scoreboard is designed differently for each game mode to communicate the most important information for the mode.
The Personal AI will call out Power item spawns and appear in modes with zones, such as Strongholds, while capturing them.
Spectating a teammate in a vehicle will attach the camera to the vehicle, much like some of the shots in Halo: Reach's Campaign cutscenes.
The Combat Sensor, or Radar, has been modified from how it worked in the Technical Preview. The next Tech Preview will allow players to experience the updates to the Combat Sensor.
Medal animations were not working in the Tech Preview, but will be at launch.
Medal visual designs are being improved based on player feedback from the Tech Preview.
Common Spartan and Personal AI voicelines in the Tech Preview are being reduced in frequency.
Players will be able to preview Personal AI voices from the menus in the future.
Weapon Drills have been generally improved to better suit their associated weapons, and target readability and behaviors have also been improved or expanded upon.
Spartan and ODST Bots were hardly different in the Tech Preview, which was not the desired result. Spartan Bots should be noticeably more difficult than ODST Bots.
Work is being done to prevent all four Bots from rushing the same location at the start of every match.
The Mangler is a three-shot kill weapon, based on a description from Alex Bean.
Bots are designed to act as much like players as possible, so they do not have information or abilities that a human player would not.
Bots function by weighting a set of high-level actions based on the state of the game, their health, their inventory, and their proximity to various items. The most heavily weighted action is the one taken by the Bot.
Spartan Bots may be able to communicate information, such as enemy location, between one another in the future.
Additional Bot difficulties may be added in the future based on player interest.
Bots can crouch, strafe, and jump depending on their difficulty level. They can also use equipment aggressively or, at higher difficulties, back smack players when given the opportunity.
Bot behaviors are tuned from the top down. The Bots start out highly skilled and are made less skilled through various tuning passes. These passes were not performed enough for grenade throwing in the Tech Preview, leading to some very accurately thrown grenades at all Bot difficulties.
Bots in the Tech Preview tended to ignore important map pickups, leaving them for players to steamroll with. This is an issue that the Bot team is working to address.
The backend skill rankings for the Bots indicated that Spartan Bots were a little easier than ODST Bots in the Tech Preview, further validating the experience that players had.
Campaign gameplay, trailers, and more will come prior to its release on December 8, but for now, the team is focused on polishing the experience and eliminating as many bugs as possible before the game reaches the launch state.