Inside Infinite March 2021 - Halo Waypoint News Article
Updated: Feb 9
This month, we didn’t get any new screenshots from Halo Infinite, but that doesn’t mean we had a shortage of new information. The March Inside Infinite article focused on the audio team, including such things as sound effects, ambience, and music, and they gave us some wonderful stuff to hear.
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 April 8, 2021. As a note, the last Thursday of April occurs on April 29, 2021, which is five weeks after this article. We will likely have a slightly longer wait before we get the next article, focusing on bringing Halo Infinite to PC on day one, and the #Ask343 video for April may be postponed by one week to compensate for this change.
“Concept art of a Forerunner interior”
The Forerunner interiors on Zeta Halo are known to have fallen into a state of disrepair, even before the destruction of part of the ring prior to Halo Infinite. This concept art shows how the structures have begun to disintegrate, creating a very interesting space for combat and exploration.
“[O]ur key goals for Halo Infinite, are ‘re-capturing the legacy essence of Halo’ and ‘strengthening the excitement and impact of Halo’s combat.’” - Sotaro Tojima
From an audio perspective, the team is focused on returning to the “legacy essence of Halo,” or what made the original games sound like Halo, and making sound effects complement the combat that players experience. It’s important that weapons sound familiar but powerful when wielded by the players, and these goals help the audio team accomplish this task.
“The Master Chief and Halo players have never been overwhelmed by challenging situations, even facing the potential end of humanity or the end of the universe. There is always a sense of hope, heroism, and confidence. So, when it comes to the music in Halo Infinite, we believe we should focus more on these brighter, positive themes to support Chief’s story and the player’s experience.” - Sotaro Tojima
From a design philosophy perspective, the music team has been trying to return to the more positive, hopeful sense conveyed by the original trilogy of games. Even though those games had darker moments, there was still a sense of hope and confidence that the Chief would be able to prevail in the end. This is the tone that Halo Infinite’s music team hopes to achieve.
“An important aspect we identified for the composers (and factored into how we selected them) was having a level of comfort writing in major keys, not being shy to end with a major chord or inserting one where it might not be expected.” - Joel Yarger
Due to the more hopeful nature of Halo Infinite’s music, much of it will be written in major keys, which tend to sound more positive and uplifting. However, part of the design philosophy behind Halo Infinite is an element of surprise, not surprise as in something wholly unfamiliar but something that fits without being expected.
“Our ultimate goal with the music has been to say to those who have never played Halo, ‘Welcome.’ And to those who have played and love Halo like we do, ‘Welcome Home.’” - Joel Yarger
This summary of the music for Halo Infinite shows that they are building upon the foundation laid by the original games. It is meant to be open and inviting to new players while familiar and comfortable to veterans.
“With the scope of Halo Infinite (name says it all?) being larger than any previous Halo game, we established early on that we would need between 3 and 4 hours of written music. This only covers the campaign and does not include our multiplayer experience, which will be fun to discuss more in the future.” - Joel Yarger
For context here, the original trilogy of games had 1-2 hours of music for the entire game. Even Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians had only 2-3 hours of music, and some of that was made for multiplayer or Spartan Ops modes. If Halo Infinite has 3-4 hours of music for Campaign only, its Campaign is likely massive, even more so than we originally thought. It’s also interesting that the multiplayer experience is mentioned as something that will be getting its own musical suite.
“Our overall approach to land this concept was delivering the key combat sounds in a clear and impactful way. To achieve that, we had to reduce sound density dramatically in a natural way. Of course, this isn’t really as simple as it sounds. As I mentioned above, our audio contents and systems were designed for detailed and rich audio for Halo 4 and 5, so this new direction was pretty much the opposite approach compared to our last two games.” - Sotaro Tojima
In Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the goal was to provide as much audio detail as possible. Everything needed to have a detailed sound effect associated with it. While this meant that individual sound effects were very interesting and engaging, merging them together made it into a bit of a cacophony, where players had a difficult time discerning the most important sounds from the rest of the noise, namely gunfire directed toward them. The goal with Halo Infinite was to move away from a high density of sound and bring the focus to those important audio tells.
“Let me share one example to explain how our team tried to achieve that. There are many gun sounds in our game - multiple enemies, teammates, and players are constantly firing weapons. In our past Halo titles, we handled each gun-fire’s listening-volume purely by distance. So, all gun sound volumes were exactly the same if they’re originating from the same distance. As a result, we had too many loud gun sounds constantly overwhelming a player which made it very difficult to detect true threat position.
The new Halo Infinite audio system detects all gun sounds frame by frame, and prioritizes them in a threat order to decide output sound volume for each gun. With this mechanic, if a gunshot is aimed at player, the sound will be louder and if it’s not aimed at player or if it’s a teammate’s gunfire, the sound is still audible but quieter. then you could hear only threat sounds clear. With the cleaner audio feedback, player can ascertain the appropriate threat to make the right action quicker and more accurately, which results in a more immersive and exciting combat experience in Halo Infinite.” - Sotaro Tojima
This example is a rather significant development and may have a huge impact on the way Halo Infinite plays. Previously in Halo games, the loudness of gunfire depended only on its distance from the player, regardless of whether it was aimed at the player or fired by a teammate. Now, in Halo Infinite, the sound system prioritizes the sound of gunfire by its threat level. Higher priority threats, namely those fired by enemies toward the player, are louder than other gunfire sound effects.
“In previous games our assets were relatively longer, incredibly compressed, and over saturated. This, in turn, would cause other sounds to compete with each other and lead to a very fatiguing experience over time. The solution to this is to be strict about the overall dynamics with keeping the assets short and compact. Previously, assets would have a long decay time which would be at the same amplitude as the initial start of the sound, that would carry on for too long… For Infinite, we now author the content to have shorter duration at which it is at its peak loudness... The new approach has a dramatically shorter time in which it stays at its peak amplitude, it has a sharp attack and begins to decay quickly. This creates a greater sense of dynamics and helps carve out some space in the overall mix.” - Kyle Fraser
In Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, due to the focus on individual sounds, each sound effect was highly detailed but often oversaturated. When you combine a ton of these sound effects together, it can be difficult to pull meaning out of the cacophony. In Halo Infinite, the individual sounds are now being designed as part of a larger whole. Instead of focusing on the detail of an individual sound effect, sound effects are instead designed to be simple, short, and to the point, with a loud beginning that tapers off quickly. The sound effects should punctuate the actions being taken, but they shouldn’t blend into one another, ironically allowing individual sound effects to be identified and heard out of the dynamic mix.
Halo 5: Guardians BR (3rd Person) (Shown above)
Halo Infinite BR (3rd Person) (Shown above)
The first image here shows the sound profile of the Battle Rifle heard in 3rd person in Halo 5: Guardians. Notice the amount of time the sound effect spends at the same high amplitude. The shots bleed together, making it hard to tell that a 3-round burst was fired. The second image shows the sound profile of the Battle Rifle heard in 3rd person, but this time in Halo Infinite. The maximum amplitude occurs for a split-second with each shot, tapering off quickly afterward. This creates a clear, albeit lower-detail, sound effect that is easily identified as a 3-shot burst from a Battle Rifle.
“One of the most exciting is our custom-built Acoustic Simulation system, developed exclusively for Halo Infinite. This was one of the first new systems we worked on for this game, and certainly the one we’ve spent the most development time perfecting, tuning, and optimizing. This system simulates the way sound travels through the environment, reflecting off the walls and filtering through doors and windows.” - Chase Thompson
In addition to different design goals, Halo Infinite has had numerous custom-built systems built to bring new features to players. One such system is the Acoustic Simulation system, which provides players with more realistic sound propagation from a source. It takes into account the geometry of the environment around them and performs numerous simulation tasks needed to generate a more immersive soundscape. The technology behind this system involves voxelization and room-and-portal pathfinding, and if you are interested in understanding some of the details of this complex system, you can find them in the article. For the purposes of this summary, suffice it to say that directional audio and reverberation will be more realistic than ever before in a Halo game.
“One other way we’re increasing spatial awareness in Halo Infinite is through Virtual Surround Sound. Halo Infinite will be the first Halo title to support the Virtual Surround Sound technologies Dolby Atmos, Windows Sonic, and DTS Headphone:X. These spatial audio technologies allow us to make sounds feel like they’re playing from behind or above you, when you’re only wearing stereo headphones. We’ve created a custom setup for our in-game sounds so that you get a clear separation between spatial and non-spatial content. This way, whether playing over headphones or on a surround sound system, you can very clearly tell exactly where your enemies are when you’re in combat.” - Chase Thompson
For the first time ever, Virtual Surround Sound will be supported in Halo Infinite. As with the other aspects of Halo Infinite’s audio, care has been taken to ensure that the location of the most important sound effects is clear and easily discerned. You’ll be able to hear exactly where opponents are located amidst the entire soundscape.
“In past Halo games we’ve had to manually place every ambient sound in the entire game, including things like birds, wind, rivers, trees rustling, etc. We knew that this approach wouldn’t be feasible for Infinite, so we partnered with the graphics team to utilize the technology they built for populating the environment with visual decorators like grass, bushes, and flowers. We use this system to procedurally place hundreds of thousands of audio emitters across the ring.” - Chase Thompson
Due to the scope of Halo Infinite’s Campaign, manually placing all the audio emitters on the map would have been a tremendous, nearly impossible feat. However, they were able to use methods created by the graphics team to automatically place many of the emitters in various locations on the ring.
“This image displays a top-down view within our editing tools of an environment featured in last year’s campaign demo. The color coordinated dots are actually wireframe spheres, indicating the location of various audio emitters which have been procedurally placed by this system.”
This area is a top-down view of the start of the Campaign demo from July 2020. We can see the sheer density of audio emitters placed in various locations around the map. However, we can also see an interesting detail that wasn’t immediately noticeable in the demo: the crashed ship in the bottom of the screenshot is similar in design to the Bungie-era UNSC Frigates, such as In Amber Clad and Forward Unto Dawn. The top ship, on the other hand, looks like a 343i-era UNSC Frigate, suggesting that both are still in service and will be seen in various forms in the Campaign.
This 1:36 video allows us to listen to some of the sound effects we’ll hear while walking through the mysterious, degrading interiors of Zeta Halo. The eerie, alien machinery in the walls is both intriguing and unsettling, and it hearkens back to the sounds of walking through the metallic corridors of Alpha Halo in Halo: Combat Evolved.
“Whenever starting on a redesign of a classic Halo item we always start by asking ourselves how this should be evolved. A lot of times we change content so that it matches the direction and overall sonic quality of the new assets we are creating. The first thing we begin with a redesign is listening to the original files and start dissecting it to try and find the essence of it.” - Kyle Fraser
The goal with redesigning the sound effects of a legacy Halo item is not to stray too far from the original material but to capture the essence of the old sounds in a new way, allowing it to fit in with the other sound effects in Halo Infinite without deviating too far from the source material.
“Concept art for the ‘Skewer’, a new Banished weapon in Halo Infinite”
The Skewer is not a new weapon to Halo lore, as it was seen in the novel Halo: Shadows of Reach. The weapon is described as firing a large spike at a high velocity, quite literally skewering anything it impacts. It will serve as a power weapon in Halo Infinite. The article goes into significant detail on the components of the Skewer’s first-person firing sound effect, and I highly recommend reading through and listening to the individual parts of the sound effect to gain a greater appreciation for the work the audio team does to make unique sounding weapons.
The Skewer, firing a large metallic spear, goes against the notion of clear, quick sound effects because it is a slow-firing power weapon. It needs to sound extremely beefy and lethal, and it does.
“We also design unique content for the 3rd person/ non-player version. It is derived from the player assets but is not just a copy, the content is authored so that it has slightly less punch and detail and a bit snappier so that it has nice contrast against the player version. For the 3rd person content, we create close, mid and far versions that help simulate the perspective of hearing this sound from different distances.” - Kyle Fraser
The idea of having different sound effects for a weapon depending on whether it is fired by the user (1st person) or by someone else (3rd person) is not new and has been done in Halo possibly since Halo: Combat Evolved. Still, it is good to know that this element of Halo’s audio will be carried forward, especially in having different versions of the 3rd person audio depending on the player’s distance from the source.
This 3-minute collection of sound effects is both intriguing and satisfying to listen to. There’s a ton of interesting sound effects varying from machinery and weapons to ambience and unnerving creature sounds. When I listened to this audio clip, I clearly heard bullet ricochets, what sounded like the firing of a Sniper Rifle, the firing sound of a Pulse Carbine, what may have been a Halo Wars 2 Banished Scarab, a ferocious creature sound (perhaps a Jackal?), and other interesting sounds. What do you hear?
“We focus on really emphasizing the combat sounds in multiplayer to help deliver a more immersive game experience. We also have very cool new music direction in multiplayer, which Joel can surely speak to more in the future. Players can enjoy it in many places like searching matchmaking or intro and outro screens, but we’re keeping the music minimal in the match itself to focus on clear and impactful combat audio. Of course, we didn’t forget about the fans’ favorite Halo MP Announcer voice in there as well!” - Sotaro Tojima
While players can expect minimal music within multiplayer matches, due to a focus on clear combat sounds, there will be something interesting about multiplayer music that seems to set it apart from Campaign music. It will be exciting to see what they mean by this new music direction. It is also good to see that Jeff Steitzer will be reprising his role as the Halo announcer, which I’m sure everyone is happy to hear.
“On the other hand, we’re focusing more on supporting story elements and event sounds in campaign. We have the improved combat sounds in campaign of course, but we’re cleaning up the audio mix a bit so that players can really enjoy the story elements such as voiceover and music.
We’re also trying to make each campaign event impactful, satisfying, and even surprising as we have many exciting design elements for actions such as defeating certain characters, destroying objects, or surprise enemy reinforcements showing up. For campaign we really want to deliver on the feeling that combat itself is much more exciting but also really emphasize when special moments occur.” - Sotaro Tojima
One of my complaints about Halo 4 is that music is sometimes very difficult to hear over all the combat sounds and voice lines. This concern is addressed here, as the focus seems to be placed more clearly on the things that Campaign uniquely offers: voiceover and music. It will be interesting to see how the Campaign audio enhances the player’s experience during play.
“I also like the new [REDACTED] sounds that Stefan Rutherford designed, I feel like the sound makes you want to use this weapon as it feels so powerful and fulfilling to use. Lastly, the new vehicle designs that Jomo Kangethe did have been a great upgrade to the experience, especially love the new [REDACTED] sounds.” - Kyle Fraser
It wouldn’t be an Inside Infinite article if they didn’t tease some new sandbox item. Here, Kyle Fraser mentions a new weapon whose sound is so powerful and satisfying that he finds it draws him to using it. There is also a new vehicle of some kind, although there aren’t many details to suggest what it could be.
“There’s been a lot of talk about using the Grappleshot to hijack vehicles lately, and the announcer may have something to say about that…” - Alex Bean
It sounds like there may be a medal associated with using the Grappleshot to hijack a vehicle, and this suggests the presence of numerous new medals that involve the equipment that is debuting with this game. It will be exciting to see what new medals arise.
“Early in the process, I jokingly used the comparison of car manufacturers to their models; each with a distinct look & feel but all part of the larger umbrella of their manufacturer. This actually turned out to be the process we used to ‘brand’ the weapons with unique flavors, but still have an underlying thread that connects them to their respective manufacturer.” - Omer Younas
One thing that many fans will notice about Halo Infinite’s UNSC armory is that there are more weapon manufacturers than in previous games. Previously Misriah Armory made nearly all of the UNSC weapons that players used, but we now know the VK78 Commando and MK50 Sidekick are made by different manufacturers with their own design languages, which helps explain why some of the new weapons may not look quite as much like the classic Halo arsenal as their Misriah Armory counterparts.
“The rest of the world grew quiet, clearing the soundscape for a roar that erupted stereo right; the same roar that had been drilled into my brain’s fear center since Halo: CE. That’s a SPNKR! I recognized, a split-second before its familiar smoky contrail tore across the Warthog’s hood and exploded against a tree to my left. And where there’s one SPNKR rocket, a second isn’t far behind.” - Joseph Staten
Here, Joseph Staten describes an experience he had with the dynamic audio threat detection system. As he drives along and listens to the ambience, he suddenly notices everything get a little quieter as the sound of a SPNKr Rocket Launcher cuts in from the right. Not only is the auditory focus on this new threat, it suggests something far more frightening: the Banished can and will use any UNSC weapon, including a Rocket Launcher.
“As the debris clattered to ground like rocky rain, a Jackal crowed in the distance: ‘Run, human! Run! Hide!’
‘I’m gonna duct-tape your beak shut!’ one of the Marines barked back.” - Joseph Staten
The dialogue here is an actual example of the game’s in-game dialogue system, which appears to be extremely robust, allowing the Marines to retort to snide comments from an enemy Jackal with an unexpected, humorous quip. This dialogue reminds me of a refined version of old Halo dialogue systems, one that was nearly absent in Halo 5: Guardians, where friendly AI were few and far between.
In this month’s issue of Inside Infinite, we heard about the design goals and systems that make Halo Infinite’s audio solutions possible. Here’s a summary of what we learned in this article.
Forerunner interiors will be crumbling and damaged from recent and ancient conflicts. Terrain will be uneven and more difficult to cross.
The audio goals are to recapture the legacy essence of Halo and strengthen the excitement and impact of Halo combat.
The music in Halo Infinite is based more strongly around the concept of hope, mystery, and wonder, with works written primarily in major keys but with a few surprising musical twists here and there.
Halo Infinite’s music is intended to be inviting to new players and familiar to veterans.
Halo Infinite will have 3-4 hours of Campaign music alone, more than any previous Halo game to date.
The focus for Halo Infinite’s sound effects is to make them simple and clear individually so that they don’t combine into a cluttered cacophony of highly detailed individual sounds.
Halo Infinite has a system that prioritizes the volume of immediate threats over other sound effects. If an enemy fires toward the player, that enemy’s gunfire is louder than other sound effects.
The Battle Rifle sound effect for Halo Infinite sounds beefy, but clearer than it did in Halo 5: Guardians. Each round fired in a burst is clearly audible and discernable from the other rounds.
Halo Infinite will more accurately simulate the way soundwaves move in an environment, making the audio sound more natural in various environments.
Halo Infinite will be the first Halo game to support Virtual Surround Sound technologies with a focus on determining the spatial location of enemies and their firing.
Halo Infinite’s development tools allow the audio team to procedurally place hundreds of thousands of different audio emitters in various locations in the Campaign.
It appears that both 343i-era and Bungie-era Frigates will appear in Halo Infinite, at least in the form of crashed ships for the player to explore.
Forerunner interiors will feature their own ambience, with eerie machinery and tonal sounds that give it an otherworldly, yet intriguing sense.
Sounds for legacy items will be redesigned to improve audio quality and bring the sounds in-line with the other sound effects in Halo Infinite, but the goal is to avoid straying too far from the essence of the legacy sound effects.
There will be a new Banished power weapon called the Skewer which fires a large metal spear at its target. The sound effect for firing this weapon is immensely satisfying, and it sounds like it can decimate most infantry and smaller vehicles with one or two shots.
There are different sound effects for 1st person (firing the weapon) and 3rd person (hearing someone else fire the weapon). There are also three different 3rd person sound effects depending on the listener’s distance from the source.
A 3-minute sound effect reel was provided, containing a large variety of sound effects from Halo Infinite. Although it is hard to tell what most of the sound effects are for sure, we can hear a creature screeching, what sounds like the bellow of a Banished Scarab from Halo Wars 2, several weapon firing sound effects, and more.
There will be minimal music during multiplayer matches, but there will still be a new direction for Multiplayer music in the game, with more to come on this subject in the future.
Jeff Steitzer will be reprising his role as the Multiplayer Announcer.
The soundscape in Multiplayer will be focused around combat sounds, while the Campaign soundscape will focus more around music and voiceover, while still making sure not to neglect the combat sound effects.
A new power weapon was teased as having a very satisfying sound effect for firing.
A new vehicle was also teased, one that may not have been seen in a Halo FPS before.
There may be a new medal for hijacking a vehicle with the Grappleshot.
Different UNSC weapons have different manufacturers, providing greater variety in the design language of the UNSC arsenal than in previous games.
The Banished are willing and able to use any UNSC weapon, including the SPNKr Rocket Launcher.
AI combatant voice lines will interact with one another, even across enemy factions.