Halo: Reach - The Beta Story
June 25, 2010 Page 2 of 6
Do you think that the longevity issue influences the design, or is it mainly just about doing exactly what you want to do?
CC: Probably the longevity of the game makes us think about it harder because we end up playing it more. There's more pressure not to fuck it up because people are really into it. But a lot of the design goals for Reach multiplayer are based on things that just we wanted out of the game; they're not a response to -- because people have been the game for so long, they're demanding x, y, or z; that's absolutely something we think about, but mainly it's driven by what we want to do with our next game.
That's why it's critical for us that Reach not feel like just the next version of Halo; it needs to be its own unique, exciting multiplayer experience.
BJ: You know, if you look back at Halo 3 specifically, there's two things that come to mind that I think inherently did stem from something internally the team always wished we had that we could do, but also definitely there were discussions around, for example, Forge -- that's kind of our light map editor.
That was really designed as a way to be a great tool for us to be able to stay in the game after launch and go in and, when we find problems with an objective or where the flags are located or where weapons are placed.
In Halo 2, that was a pretty massive undertaking. In fact, I think that might have even required a title update just to make that tweak. So we knew, for a game to be able to live and withstand three-plus years of hardcore play, we needed a tool to be able to do that, but we also thought about, "What would the fans do if they had those tools?"
I think seeing something like Forge is definitely a good example of how we want to be able to empower the audience and our player base to eventually sort of take the reigns of the game.
There comes a point in that life cycle when we kind of go from leading the charge to letting the community dictate what happens to the game. I think Halo 3, over its lifespan, has seen a lot of different gameplay styles that have been formed strictly by things fans have done with tools we've provided. Nowadays, on Xbox Live, some of the more popular playlists and game offerings have actually been created by fans outside of Bungie, so that's pretty awesome.
So that's definitely, again, stuff that I think has a dual purpose: It always originated from a practical or fun desire in the studio, but we very quickly have discussions about what our fans would do if we enabled them to do x, y, and z. I think in Reach you're going to see some similar themes carry forward.
When you saw the response in Halo 3, did it become increasingly relevant to you to empower that fan base?
BJ: Absolutely. Just in the beta alone, we had -- looking at my numbers here -- 1.4 million pieces of user-created content were uploaded. People can't make game types yet, but that's just screenshots. I think through Halo 3 we definitely learned that give people tools, and they will use them and do awesome things.
Then you start to discuss: Well, what additional tools might we be able to make available to them? How can we possibly improve usability? What can we do on our side socially to elevate these things that people are making to make them more accessible or discoverable?
In Reach, we add a really robust system where you can tag all this content now -- in the game and on the website. It almost simultaneously updates in both places. One of the bigger challenges that we learned from Halo 3 was that we almost had too much content to know what to do with, so at the beginning of Reach it was a very conscious decision of: "All right. It's no longer a question of will people use it; we know they will. How can we make the experience better and make sure that content is touching more people?"
I definitely want to ask about the continuity of the experience across the series. It sounds like you're very aware that, on one hand, the fans expect a continuity of play across the multiplayer modes, but at the same time you want to make sure that it's worth their time -- it's not just another iteration, slap another number on it. So how do you balance that from a design perspective?
CC: Again, I think what we're motivated by is: What do we find interesting? How, internally, do we evolve gameplay in a way that we all find satisfying? That's totally where armor abilities and loadouts come from. The initial conversations about loadouts were: You play Halo 3 in The Pit, fighting over the rocket launcher or the invis is fun, but fighting over the needler or the plasma pistol really isn't that fun.
There are certain weapons that control the map and then certain weapons that you just run into when you run around. So what are the ways that we could arm the player at the beginning with a set of simple choices that help guide the way they want to play that next chunk of the game?
And then armor abilities were a way to simplify equipment. Equipment was really cool in Halo 3, but even in the development process it came in very late. There are some great moments with it, and then there are some moments that are kind of terrible -- like you hold onto the armor ability to the perfect, absolute last moment that you can use it, and then you end up dying and watch the thing roll down the hill.
So what are ways that we can use that a little more intelligently or build that a little more intelligently into the gameplay where making these decisions about what piece of equipment you want to use a cool choice? That really helped guide these decisions about loadouts and armor abilities that ended up going into the game.
BJ: It's definitely been a real challenge; I think it's been a creative challenge that's been fun to embrace with the team, but also a slippery slope -- moreso for Reach than even Halo 3. Halo 1, 2, and 3, you have Master Chief all the way through; I think you saw different elements of additions to the game throughout, but you're still playing Master Chief all the way.
Reach, as a prequel -- we don't really have those sort of confines to work in anymore, which I think is empowering to the team and interesting to think about: what might I do in a new, standalone period of time when I don't have to worry about fitting into this really firm framework that, at the same time, still needs to feel like a Halo game?
I know that everyone, working on campaign and multiplayer, has been first and foremost making sure that we retain and really crystallize that essence at the center of what we think makes a Halo game a Halo game; but now we can sort of have creative fun and think about what happened at this point of time in the universe when there's no longer Master Chief involved.
We have a whole team of Spartans, and they're a little bit different; they have a little bit different tactic on the battlefield. Maybe they're a little bit weaker; maybe they run a little bit slower. That's an example right there of the movement speed as something that we actually intentionally changed in Reach to adapt a different style of gameplay, but that's probably one of the main things that we heard the most vocal feedback about in the beta.
A lot of people, after playing three years of Halo 3 and moving at Master Chief's speed and super jumps and floating in the air, now suddenly Reach didn't feel like Halo to them. That's a real discussion that we've had internally. I think I would say before the beta started, if you asked anybody here, "Hey, would you guys consider tweaking run speed and jump height?" I think the answer around would have been "no."
But it was such a dominant, consistent topic throughout the beta that, now, the design team has sat back down, and they're thinking about these things. They're evaluating potential tweaks to still keep the game a little fresh and different, which is the intent, but try to bring it a little bit back to what people expect to have in a Halo game.
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