• Cizlin

Inside Infinite February 2021 - Halo Waypoint News Article

Updated: Feb 9

https://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/news/inside-infinite-february-2021


As 2021 progresses, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re going to be hearing a ton about Halo Infinite over the next several months leading up to release. With a major information drop every month followed by a smaller-scale Q&A session two weeks later, we’ve already learned so much more than we had at this time last year, and we’re just getting started. Last month, we didn’t get to see very many new screenshots, but we still got a ton of insight into the Sandbox Team’s design goals and some of the new toys we’ll get to use when the game launches this Fall. This month, we got to hear about the design goals of the team working to bring Zeta Halo to life, but they didn’t just tell us; they showed us. Big time.


Of course, if you have any questions about the stuff discussed in this article, don’t forget to ask them on Twitter with #Ask343 before March 11, 2021.


“Next month, we’re looking forward to shining the spotlight on our Audio Team and then in April we’ll sit down with our PC Team and talk more about what you can expect when Halo Infinite lands this Fall.”

We already knew that we would be hearing from the Audio Team in March, but now we know that we can expect to hear from the PC Team in April. Halo Infinite is the first mainline title in the Halo franchise to be released on PC on launch day, so it is good to know that they’re focusing on making sure it lands in good condition for those of us on PC.


“As far as our artistic goals for the campaign goes, we have focused on two key themes, ‘Legacy’ and ‘Simplicity’, when it comes to the visual experience we are building. For ‘Legacy’ we really want players to feel like they are experiencing a game that they remember fondly (Halo: Combat Evolved), but with modernized graphics of course. As far as ‘Simplicity’ is concerned, we wanted to ensure that we steer away from overly noisy designs and details which is a key takeaway for the team coming off Halo 5.” - Justin Dinges

The Campaign environments in this game are designed to evoke similar feelings to the environments originally found in Halo: Combat Evolved. As someone with a lot of nostalgia for that game, I am very excited to be able to experience new yet familiar locations on Zeta Halo. Also of interest here is the mention of “Simplicity” as another key artistic pillar. One of the features of much of the Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians art style was highly complex, detailed, and, in some cases, noisy design. Halo Infinite’s artstyle is an attempt not to completely move away from details or complexity, but rather to give more meaning to the details that are present by aiming for greater simplicity overall, something seen in Halo: Combat Evolved through Halo 3. We can see this in the weaponry, armor, vehicles, and environments we’ve seen so far.


“At a project-wide level, we use terms like “Super Soldier”, “Story Driven”, and “Spiritual Reboot” to help describe the experiences we want to deliver. These are used like filters to determine if a particular feature belongs in the game. Things like “Super Soldier” sound like a no-brainer but it’s used frequently to call out when something isn’t supporting the super soldier goal. “Story Driven” also sounds obvious but it’s a great reminder that we are here to tell Chief’s story. And “Spiritual Reboot” …well more on that below.” - Troy Mashburn

From a Campaign Gameplay perspective, there are a few different design goals. The player should feel like a super soldier when they’re playing Campaign. That’s a fairly open-ended term, but to me, it seems like that is used to avoid situations where the player feels underpowered not due to being overwhelmed but due to shortcomings they feel like a super soldier shouldn’t have. As one would hope, the Campaign is designed to be story-driven, focusing on the Master Chief’s story as the game progresses, even with additional exploration opportunities. We’ll look more at the spiritual reboot goal in a moment.


“For instance, it is not enough that there are roads connecting various points of interest, we want to make sure there are opportunities for ‘Sick JumpsTM’ the player can hit when racing along on a Mongoose with a Marine on the back. We make sure there are opportunities that allow certain weapon choices to shine, opportunities for really satisfying use of equipment options, and opportunities for a well-placed Plasma Coil to really put a smile across your face.” - John Mulkey

One of the areas that makes Halo stand out is how the levels and combat spaces are frequently designed around certain areas of the sandbox. There might be a large, open area with tall sand dunes obscuring a Wraith while it fires mortars on your Scorpion, or there could be narrow cliffside pathways with a few Jackals and Elites patrolling in the distance, encouraging you to use your Sniper Rifle. Whatever the case, this element of design is carrying forward to Halo Infinite, and given the renewed, diversified sandbox that this game is expected to have, the opportunity for unique, engaging combat arenas is ever present.


“Rescue Marines, jump in a Warthog, and discover everything Zeta Halo has to offer.”

Here we have an in-game screenshot of Halo Infinite’s Campaign as it currently appears on PC. The improvements from the July demo are immediately noticeable, and the flora is extremely detailed. We can see some Marines in the Warthog, one with a BR75 Battle Rifle and one on the Chaingun, and they’re overshadowed by a large, curved Forerunner structure. In the distance on the left, we can see another Forerunner structure, one bearing some similarities to the rotating pillars on the Halo 2 map Ascension. One key feature that may be worth noting is what appears to be a ship hovering in between broken segments of the ring in the distance on the left side of the image. There is some debate of what kind of ship this is, but it seems likely that it is Banished.


“So as an example, you can see in many of our media pieces we have introduced the idea that just below Zeta Ring’s organic surface is a forerunner framework of millions of vertical hexagons that make up the ring’s structure. And, due to the extreme damage that Zeta has endured, these hexes are exposed and displaced creating a dynamic landscape that gives us a unique visual and allows for some really fun gameplay. This is our way of mixing a beautiful real-life biome (the PNW) with something fantastic and sci-fi (the hexagonal structure) as the experience aims to be the best of both worlds.” - Justin Dinges

In much of the concept art and gameplay we’ve seen so far, metallic hexagons have been a big part of the ring’s environment near the destroyed section. In canon, this is because Zeta Halo’s organic environments are built upon a vast framework of these hexagons, and the partial destruction of the ring exposed many of them in a variety of ways. As for the organic sections of the environment, much of the design is inspired by environments available in the Pacific Northwest, a key inspiration for the original Halo environments in Halo: Combat Evolved.


“Banished installations, as shown in this concept painting, offer a stark contrast to the lush PNW-inspired exteriors of Zeta Halo.”

Although I don’t always include concept art in these summaries, in this case, we get to see Banished interior design, which looks very metallic and foreboding. The contrast between interior and exterior is not only reflected in gameplay but in artstyle.


“As a prime example, we have specifically chosen to begin Chief’s journey in Halo Infinite within the Pacific Northwest forest biome on a new Halo ring, a deliberate ode to the past. Another good example is how we have taken the visual design of the Jackals and Grunts back closer to their appearance in Halo 3 and previous titles. We want players to feel a nostalgic familiarity with these designs, like meeting up with an old friend, as they experience all that Halo Infinite has to offer.” - Justin Dinges

The notion of “Spiritual Reboot,” from an art perspective, largely means a return to the familiar, taking inspiration from treasured moments and designs in the older games and giving them new life in Halo Infinite. Beginning Halo Infinite in the PNW-inspired forest biome on a Halo ring harkens back to the mission Halo in Halo: Combat Evolved. The Grunts and Jackals look more like they did in the original trilogy, with exceptions and differences, of course. All these decisions go towards making Halo Infinite feel like it acknowledges and recognizes these older titles.


“‘Spiritual Reboot’ is a term we use to describe our approach to introducing new ideas while staying true to what it felt like to play the classic games. ‘Feeling’ is the key word here because we want to evolve, by creating new experiences and new opportunities, but still maintain the original essence.” - Troy Mashburn

From a gameplay perspective, Spiritual Reboot doesn’t mean rehashing exactly the same experience as the original trilogy of games but rather taking those experiences and allowing them to inform the design of new encounters. Troy gives the example of the Grappleshot as a new item that enhances the existing gameplay loops, particularly melee and, for fans of Halo 5: Guardians, clamber.


“Zeta Halo invites exploration and discovery, the stories to be found, and player agency in how you utilize a robust sandbox of tools to overcome a mission or encounter.” - John Mulkey

Part of the environment and level design goals are opening up the opportunities for different parts of the sandbox and providing more avenues for telling stories that require the player to seek out and engage with them. But, speaking of finding stories, there may have been a bit of an Easter Egg in this quote, one that certainly seems like something we might end up finding in the game when we start exploring Zeta Halo ourselves.


In this little audiolog, we can hear three people: Dr. Halsey, Master Chief, and a man who may or may not be Captain Lasky. Based on their discussions, it seems like this audiolog takes place in 2558, shortly after Master Chief is reunited with Dr. Halsey at the end of Halo 5: Guardians. Dr. Halsey seems to think there’s a chance that, although Cortana is rallying AI against humanity, she may not be acting against the Chief himself. Dr. Halsey suggests that there was significance in Cortana’s parting words to the Chief: “Goodbye.” Whatever the case, those who were concerned that Halo 5’s plotlines would be dropped so that they could move on to a different storyline will be happy to know that this does not seem to be the case. Halo Infinite is very much still a sequel to Halo 5: Guardians.


“Banished strongholds, as shown in this concept painting, can be approached from nearly any direction with more tactical options than prior Halo games.”

One of the things we’ll be doing in Halo Infinite is attacking Banished strongholds. These structures seem quite menacing and difficult to infiltrate, but they also open up plenty of opportunities for fun gameplay.


“One of my favorite features in the game is our Time-of-Day lighting system that is active while you are playing the game. This has been one of, if not THE largest graphical feature implemented into our engine over the past few years. It allows us to create artistic scenes and settings that have vastly different visual tones and moods depending on which time during the cycle you encounter something.” - Justin Dinges

The Time-of-Day lighting system that was slightly shown in the July demo is still in the game and is a huge part of the artistic design of the environments, with major impacts to the look and feel of a structure or area depending on the time of day.


“Enemy strongholds can be approached from any direction and there are so many options available for how you take on the challenges at hand. Do I blaze through the front gate in a Warthog full of Marines and just light the place up with zero subtlety? Do I scout the perimeter and discover a subterranean entrance that allows me to enter through one of the interior structures? Do I Grappleshot to a sniper tower, take out the inhabitant and begin picking off enemies from my raised vantage point?...there are so many options available that allows everyone to approach the game the way they want and have their own unique experiences.” - John Mulkey

Here, John Mulkey goes into detail on some of the ways players can take on a Banished stronghold, whether by charging in guns ablazing, sneaking in through a secret underground entrance, or tactically taking control of a sniper tower. The player experience and opportunities are immense and exciting in Halo Infinite’s Campaign.


“Halo Infinite's time-of-day lighting system dynamically changes the mood and atmosphere on Zeta Halo.”

If I’m to be completely honest, the time-of-day lighting system is by far one of the most exciting new features of Halo Infinite’s Campaign for me. This series of screenshots shows the same view at different times and with different time-of-day lighting. The feeling evoked by the large Forerunner pulse emitter changes with the light, giving each vista a dynamic nature not seen in previous games. If we look closely at the images, we can also see some wildlife roaming around and even see some of the pine trees losing needles. In the distance around the Forerunner structure, there are also a few Banished troops patrolling.


“So, from an artist’s perspective, we have had two main goals with bringing Zeta to life: First, to visually show what is happening in current times with the violent occupation of the Banished forces and how it has shaped the landscape of the ring. And second, to create mystery and intrigue around Zeta’s past and ultimate purpose. Intertwining these two major story characteristics of Zeta has been an awesome and rewarding challenge. Players will not only experience the immediate story of Chief’s reawakening to confront the Banished and Cortana but if they look around, they may find glimpses of the future as well.” - Justin Dinges

Zeta Halo is a ring with quite a lot of history in the larger canon. Although there will be a focus on the here-and-now story of Chief fighting the Banished in the aftermath of a large battle, the ancient and sinister events that occurred on this ring have also influenced the art design. What’s interesting is that not only is the ring’s past mentioned but also “glimpses of the future.” We may learn of plot threads that will carry forward beyond just the main Campaign story.


“What is that odd tower in the distance, I see a smoke signal over that ridge, what is the source of the odd hum? Go find out. There are entire stories to be discovered. I often describe the experience offered by Zeta Halo as "Halo unleashed" because it is all the experiences and stories you love from Halo presented in a world where you have so much more freedom to explore and discover unexpected adventures.” - John Mulkey

If there’s one thing to takeaway from this entire article, it’s that exploration in Halo Infinite is encouraged and rewarded. Take the main story at your own pace and don’t be afraid to look for clues and details on the ringworld. Figure things out and just enjoy the freedom of large-scale, open environments, linked by a linearly progressing story.


“The art team has had the added challenge of ensuring that we do allow for players to get to spots and areas that in previous titles we may have prevented them from getting to. The good news is that not only is the gameplay that much more fun because of it, but we can also expect players to get to some really awesome locations and vantage points that will further show off the beauty of the world we have created.” - Justin Dinges

In previous Halo games, there was a very clear playspace with well-defined edges usually marked by tall walls or deep valleys, both natural and artificial. Sometimes you could try to leave the combat arena and climb outside of the intended zone, but there wasn’t much there besides missing geometry or killzones. With the Grappleshot, the art team had to deal with the reality that players would be leaving those “intended areas” much more readily and easily, and this required them to drastically open up the world and make it look beautiful from a large variety of perspectives. The result is that players can go just about anywhere they look, no matter how high, and know that the game has been designed to allow that.


“This caused some challenges early on because designers couldn’t just place the final objective at the far end of a base assuming players will have to fight their way through. With the Grappleshot, players can go wherever they want whenever they want. From a development standpoint, this was both terrifying and completely liberating at the same time.” - Troy Mashburn

The Grappleshot provides so much freedom to the player that the linear nature of previous Halo games couldn’t be readily used in Halo Infinite. The designers have been designing their objectives and missions so that they complement the existence of the Grappleshot, rather than ignore it or work in spite of it.


“Beyond the undeniable fun of the Grappleshot, you can carry around another three pieces of equipment with their own unique roles and utility that you can quickly swap between at any time.” - John Mulkey

In Halo 3, players could only hold one piece of single-use equipment at a time. It sounds like the Halo Infinite Campaign is expanding on this system to allow players to quickly switch between up to four different pieces of equipment, including the Grappleshot. Of course, we know there are some differences between Campaign equipment and multiplayer equipment, so we can’t yet assume that we can hold more than one piece of equipment in multiplayer.


“Explore the mysteries of Zeta Halo the way you want, taking full advantage of an expanded sandbox featuring familiar weapons alongside brand new additions.”

For the first time since July, we have a first-person screenshot of Halo Infinite’s Campaign. The Sniper Rifle scope is shown in its full glory here, and it looks much more like the original Bungie-era scope. It’s hard to see behind the Halo Infinite watermark in the bottom left, but the radar range is 59 meters, as opposed to the 31 meters it was in the Campaign demo. The secondary weapon shown in the bottom right is the Disruptor, a type of Pistol first seen in some of the Wicked Cool Toys figures. The grenade indicator looks new, as does the equipment indicator. There’s even a second, non-highlighted bar under the equipment indicator, suggesting we can switch between equipment items as easily as we do grenades.


“One of the things I worked on was the Out of Bounds HUD warning, and I’d like to think the lore lover in me helped to make it equal parts informative and immersive. Since the world is pretty large, I doubt many people will ever see it, but any that do might get to enjoy some dorky humor if they pay close enough attention.” - Eric Richter

Sounds like there’s a little bonus for folks that manage to somehow find their way out of the map in Campaign. It’ll be interesting to see what this entails when the game releases.


“‘Capture a Banshee and fly to a floating ring fragment across a gap of stars.’” - Joseph Staten

Finally, we get our first look at the Banished Banshee. Not only can we see two Banshees flying through the sky, we also can see that strange ship in the background. Plus, there’s a Banished stronghold near the lower middle of the screenshot, indicating that’s also part of the wide open playspace. The scale of this game is extreme, and if we get to actually fly across an open, sprawling gap in the ring to a fragment, we are all going to be in for quite a treat.


Summary

In this month’s issue of Inside Infinite, we heard about the design goals and intentions behind Halo Infinite’s Campaign environments and level design, including how it respects the legacy of Halo and builds upon that foundation to deliver exciting and refreshing new experiences. Here’s a summary of what we learned in this article.

  • The April Inside Infinite blog will focus on bringing the game to PC.

  • The artistic goals for Campaign are Legacy and Simplicity, aiming to achieve a look that is in the same family as Halo: Combat Evolved through Halo 3.

  • For Campaign gameplay, players can expect to feel like a super soldier in a story-driven experience focused on telling the Master Chief’s story.

  • The Campaign playspaces are being designed to accommodate vehicle jumps and encourage the player to use different items in the sandbox for a given situation.

  • The Campaign itself looks significantly better than it did in the July 2020 demo, with more detailed foliage, equipment, and structures than before.

  • There is a strange ship, likely Banished, hovering in the distance in several screenshots.

  • The vertical Forerunner hexagons are part of the ring’s framework, only visible due to the extensive damage sustained by the ring.

  • The forest environment shown so far has been inspired by the Pacific Northwest, which was also the inspiration for Halo: Combat Evolved.

  • Banished interiors are metallic and menacing, with brutalist features and dim red light illuminating everything.

  • There is an audio log hidden in the article including dialogue between Dr. Halsey, the Master Chief, and a third, unknown man. It seems to occur shortly after the end of Halo 5: Guardians and indicates that there may be some significance to Cortana’s parting words to the Chief.

  • The audio log is suggested to be one of many secrets hidden in Halo Infinite’s Campaign for the player to find.

  • There will be Banished strongholds with numerous options to approach them.

  • The Time-of-Day lighting system has been greatly refined and drastically changes the mood of a location dynamically.

  • Part of the goal with designing Zeta Halo was not just to show how the Banished occupation has affected the ring but also to show some of the profound history of the ring and, intriguingly, some of what is to come after the Campaign.

  • Exploration and discovery are key to experiencing Halo Infinite. The linear Campaign is there as always, but there is much more to discover beyond that.

  • In Campaign, players can hold up to four pieces of equipment, including the Grappleshot. Players can switch between equipment items just as quickly as they switch between grenade types.

  • The Sniper Rifle has a more classic box scope, rather than the scope seen in Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.

  • There was a new grenade type and new equipment type shown in the UI, but we don’t know what they’re called or how they work yet.

  • There is a fun bit of lore on the Out of Bounds warning for those who manage to find their way out of the play environment.

  • The Banshee was shown for the first time, and it apparently can be used to fly to floating ring fragments over gaps in the ring itself.

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