Building the Ultimate Halo Game

TECHNICAL ASPECTS & MISC. FEATURES

Graphics
Sound & Music
User Interface
Physics
Saved Films
Stat Tracking
Achievements
Downloadable Content
Testing
Instruction Manual

The following sections deal with issues regarding the game engine as well as non-gameplay elements that affect both Campaign and multiplayer.

Graphics

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have demonstrated that they are capable of producing some absolutely gorgeous games. We’ve been treated to superb lighting, more realistic animations, excellent real-time reflections, and all sorts of other graphical wizardry. Yet despite the power of the XBO, Halo 5 doesn’t seem to really push the system’s graphical capabilities much and doesn’t seem like a huge leap over Halo 4 (likely to maintain a perfectly steady 60 fps; more on this in a bit). For this game, I would push the graphics to where they’d look just as good as some of the best-looking games of this generation. I wouldn’t want it pushed to the limit if doing so meant the possibility of glaring flaws like obvious “popping”/”LOD-ing” when approaching or moving away from various objects, but considering that in previous generations Halo games were often at the forefront of awesome graphics, I would want this game to look as nice as practically possible, and with the upcoming Project Scorpio, an upgraded Xbox One with six times the GPU power, it would be possible to make the best-looking Halo game ever. I think Sabre and Blur both did a good job with Halo 2 Anniversary’s graphics, and I’d like to have them work on this game.

Textures, lighting &  shadows, animation, and other aspects of the graphics would be of quality befitting a major eighth-generation AAA game. The draw distance for objects would also be greatly increased from 360-era Halo games, and aforementioned pop-in/phase-in/LOD-ing of things like textures, bodies, certain foliage, and other objects would be subtle enough that the player would not notice. Particle effects would be impressive, including weapons creating showers of sparks like they do in Halo 1 (and Halo Anniversary). Decals such as bullet holes would take longer to fade and do so more gradually, more like they did in Halo 1. Some visual effects would not be used in certain situations, however. For example, depth-of-field would not be used in regular gameplay and would remain restricted to cinema scenes.

In terms of art design, this game would remain faithful to Bungie-era Halo, and it would have a crisp, clear aesthetic and a wide, vibrant color palette. Instead of creating brand new character, vehicle, and weapon models from scratch and thus creating yet more visual inconsistency in the series, models from prior games would form the basis of the new assets, tending to look as reasonable close to the originals as possible yet refined and improved to modern graphical standards (e.g., much better textures and higher polygon counts than the originals). Some art assets might incorporate certain design aspects from models other than the one they are primarily based on, forming a fusion of sorts (e.g., I like the chest plate of the Brute Captain’s armor in Reach, so I’d incorporate that into their design while keeping their overall design more along the lines of the Halo 3 Brute Captains). As for new assets such as any new weapons, vehicles, or armor permutations, they’d be made to conform as closely as possible to Bungie-era aesthetics. Except for maybe one or two “wacky” non-standard permutations, new Spartan armor types would be made to have a very practical, functional, militaristic aesthetic instead of the gaudy “form over function” aesthetic exemplified by the majority of the permutations seen in Halo 4 & 5, most of which look less like Mjolnir and more like something a Japanese tokusatsu hero might wear.

Finally, as for frame rate, I would likely have the campaign locked at 30 frames per second like every Halo games from the original to Halo 4, while multiplayer will likely get locked at 60 fps. While some may find 60 fps a must-have for any game and that 30 fps is always absolutely unacceptable (an opinion that’s very new in the realm of console gaming), I don’t think it is necessary for a Halo game, at least not in Campaign, and I don’t think high frame rate should come at the cost of having to take shortcuts in other areas of the visuals or of having to remove certain parts of the game, which is what happened in Halo 5 (due to the way the game was engineered, it could not support both a locked 60 fps frame rate and split-screen play, plus the game’s visuals don’t really look all that great for an eighth-gen game).

For Campaign I’d rather more effort go into things like lighting, shadows, textures, level-of-detail improvements, full 1080p resolution, AI, physics, and level design, and if it requires locking it in at 30 fps to make it look as good as possible, that’s what I’d do. As it’s not a high-paced competitive environment, Campaign need not run at 60fps. If I could get it run at 60fps without sacrificing anything in terms of visuals and gameplay, I’d do so (and there are indeed some games running at 60fps that look much better than Halo 5, and the upcoming Scorpio, an upgraded XBO with a GPU six times as powerful as the base model, could likely push very high-quality visuals at 1080p60 no problem), but visuals and other aspects would take priority over frame rate in Campaign. But since multiplayer doesn’t need to push graphics to the limits and should have a clean, simple aesthetic with minimal visual clutter, running at 60 fps would be fine. “30fps for campaign, 60 fps for multiplayer” is a paradigm used by notable games like Gears of War 4 and Uncharted 4.


Sound & Music

This game would utilize many of the same sound effects that exist in the original trilogy. For example, plasma weapons and the Needler would sound like they do in Halo Anniversary, and the Warthog would retain its classic engine sounds. The various human weapons would be made to sound more like real world weapons. H2A does a remarkably good job of this with the pistol, BR, sniper rifle, shotgun, and SMG. In fact, I’d probably just reuse those sounds for this game. The DMR, AR, and other human weapons would likewise be given sounds with a more realistic punch to them. In other words, think weapon sounds more in line with H2A and even Battlefield: Bad Company for UNSC firearms. Weapons would also once again be made to sound differently at long range just like they did in Halo 3, with more realistic acoustics overall.

The music would stay faithful to Marty O’Donnell’s style (though it would also have a dash of Neil Davidge and Kazuma Jinnouchi in there), and would contain many familiar themes, with any tracks from previous games being reworked to current standards of audio quality, including usage of live orchestras when applicable. In fact, since Marty is no longer with Bungie, I’d try to get him to make the music.


User Interface

One cannot forget that it’s important to make sure the menus are easy to use and navigate through. Because Halo: Reach had an intuitive and all-around great user interface, I would emulate it as closely as possible in terms of functionality and general layout. In terms of appearance, though, I would go for the traditional simple blue & black color scheme from the original trilogy.


Physics

This game would likely use the Havok engine for the physics just as every other Halo game has. While Havok does well as a physics engine, there are some elements from prior Halo games that I would change. Most notably, bullets would not be capable of moving any heavy objects, especially vehicles. I thought it was ridiculous that a single DMR round can apply enough force to flip a 3-½ ton Warthog, especially considering it can’t do the same to an object that is much lighter. Likewise, all other attack forms would have consistency regarding conservation of momentum and application of force on objects in the game world. If an attack can’t send a half-ton Spartan flying long distances through the air, then they shouldn’t be able to do so for objects several times more massive. Realism is generally pretty far down on my “Important Things in Games” list, but these physical inconsistencies, especially the flipping of Warthogs with regular old bullets, strain credulity, and more importantly are downright annoying from a gameplay perspective.


Saved Films

While the Xbox One has a built-in “game DVR,” I would still have a dedicated Theater Mode for this game to provide for more options and greater flexibility. Players would once again be able to record and share saved films of their exploits in Campaign, multiplayer, and Firefight. Films would have improved functionality from Halo: Reach, including more refined navigation such as rewinding without skipping backwards or even skipping forward quickly in addition to normal fast-forwarding, if those things are possible. Other than that, I can’t really think of anything that needs improving from saved films as they work in Reach. Well, except for the ability to watch films with friends, which was available in Halo 3 but removed in subsequent games; I’d try to add that back if at all possible.


Stat Tracking

Players would of course still be able to look up detailed stats online just as they did with every Halo game from Halo 2 onward, and like in some more recent games in the series (most notably Reach and the MCC) they would also be able to look up some more basic stuff from their in-game service record. It would track all the same stats as it has before, perhaps even including certain stats that weren’t recorded previously. The player’s online service record should have an easily navigated layout, and would more close resemble Bungie’s setup for Reach stats rather than the current setup present on Waypoint. Players could also view certain basic stats (e.g., wins, losses, kills, deaths, medals) in-game like in The Master Chief Collection.


Achievements

Achievements have been a popular aspect modern games and are effectively mandatory for any game released on an Xbox platform. Making sure the achievements provide unique challenges with varied levels of difficulty and appropriate point values is of course paramount in designing a good list of achievements. While I don’t have any solid ideas at the present time — the achievements from ODST and Halo Anniversary provide good points of reference, though —, there is one thing I’m set on, and that is restricting achievements to Campaign. If multiplayer achievements are present, they would be like the on-disc ones from Reach and the ones from Halo 3’s DLC.

Multiplayer achievements often have the inevitable and undesirable effect of disrupting the normal flow of combat. We’ve seen this in the first Gears of War game where the intensive grinding and lack of party support discouraged teamwork, and in Halo 3 where the original MP achievements ironically encouraged teamwork in a ranked free-for-all setting — the only place they could be unlocked — due to the extreme difficulty of unlocking most of them legitimately. Gears of War 2 and the second batch of Halo 3 achievements made several improvements to make their acquisition less disruptive, such as by making many of them unlockable in any play mode in the case of Gears 2 or making them unlockable in any playlist and gametype (but not on any map, unfortunately) in the case of Halo 3. The few MP-only on-disc achievements for Reach were quite easy, and, except for two that were specific to the Invasion gametype, could be unlocked in any gametype and playlist (as for DLC achievements for Reach, except for the first batch of them they were largely a step in the wrong direction as they often required playing in highly specific ways in order to produce very unusual occurrences).

If this game were to include achievements in multiplayer, they would take a cue from the example of Gears 2, latter-day Halo 3, and the on-disc Halo: Reach achievements. They would relatively simple in nature, would not involve grinding, they could be unlocked in any MP match regardless of gametype or playlist, and, if their nature allows for it, they could also be unlocked in Campaign. However, I’d simply prefer there to be no multiplayer achievements at all. Even the best-designed ones will still affect the normal flow of gameplay to some degree, and besides, not everyone has access to Xbox Live. Campaign-only achievements don’t require XBL, and since they are on their own time fighting against AI opponents, the player won’t be disrupting the intended flow of multiplayer competition. Furthermore, restricting achievements to Campaign allows for them to be devoted to a wider variety of interesting challenges for the player to accomplish. After all, there’s more to do — and more sheer potential for things to do — and more to explore in Campaign.


Downloadable Content

As with previous Halo titles, this game would offer DLC at various points after the game launches. As per series norm, most of this content would be new maps. For at least the first year, every month or two there would be a couple of Arena-style maps and a Big Team/Invasion map. As in Halo 5, all maps will be free downloads. The problem with having to pay for map packs is that one of two things can happen: either the map packs are made mandatory for select playlists like in Halo 3, or the map packs aren’t mandatory like in Reach and Halo 4 and the game can match players with and without the maps with each other, the DLC maps only showing up when everyone the player gets matched up with also has the maps. In both cases, someone gets screwed.

In the first scenario non-paying players are limited in the number of playlists they can play in; basically, they end up “sitting in the nosebleeds” as it were. This could drive some players away, as not everyone wants to buy map packs, yet many will be forced to if they want access to all core playlists (data suggests that mandatory DLC does have a detrimental effect on playlist population). In the second scenario the paying players will rarely see DLC maps in regular playlists (this gets worse the larger the number of players a playlist supports; DLC maps show up far less frequently in BTB than in Team Slayer). With DLC being optional, there’s always going to be the simple fact that unless someone really wants the maps, they’re not going to get them, and many if not most players will simply save themselves the $10 and forgo buying the maps. This isn’t fair to the people who paid the premium for extra content who then find that, unless they stick to a single dedicated DLC playlist that will probably only be around for a few months at best, they might see those maps they paid for only once in a blue moon. Simply cutting the price of a map pack and/or making it free only after a certain amount of time (say, a few months) won’t solve the issue, at least not entirely. The problem with this is that we still have to decide whether DLC will be made mandatory for select playlists, in which case we’ll still be dealing with one of the two problems mentioned above, albeit only for a few months.

That’s why I suggest making the map packs free (and mandatory) right when they’re released. It’s the most fair solution for every player, and everyone gets to play on a larger selection of maps. Even 343i has realized this, and Halo 5 is now the first Halo game to offer free DLC maps. However, free map packs present their own problem. DLC of this nature presumably costs a decent amount of money to create, and by giving it away for free there needs to be another way of generating revenue to cover the costs.

So, how do we do this, and in way that doesn’t affect gameplay in any way? The most obvious way would be to charge for aesthetic items. On a regular basis would be new batches of armor permutations, armor and weapon skins, and emblems released, and the player could be charged, say, $5 for a batch of ten skins or three armor sets (note that this is the same pricing as the armor and skin packs in Halo 4). If someone only wants to buy a single item instead of a whole set, microtransactions could be offered (say 50 cents for a skin or emblem or $1 for an armor set). Also, all pre-order bonuses would be available for everyone to purchase concurrent with the first DLC batch. Such simple items wouldn’t cost a lot to make (relative to the maps, anyway), there would be definite demand for them (because everyone likes tricking out their Spartan), and best of all it won’t affect anybody’s game experience with a “pay to win” situation. As in Halo 5, the game would be designed to where all DLC armors, skins, and emblems are compatible with all game modes and all maps.

In addition to the above, I would also consider the possibility of Campaign DLC. I’ve always wanted to see actual additional Campaign content in the form of side missions and whatnot (e.g., Arbiter missions for Halo 3). However, creating entire Campaign levels for an expansion pack-style DLC would be a serious and involved undertaking, which could make producing such content unfeasible. In any case, unlike the map packs, any kind of Campaign DLC would be paid DLC, and given the size and scale could run as high as $20 or more.


Testing & Online Infrastructure

Making sure the game works properly is obviously important. Before a game goes to market, it should of course be tested to make sure there are no glitches, that the hit detection is functioning correctly, that the weapons are properly balanced, and so on and so forth. There would of course be a public beta in order to gather as much data as possible. One thing that needs a lot of attention is the netcode. A future Halo game needs more stringent testing to make sure it plays as smoothly as possible online, regardless of how many players are in an MP match or how busy and hectic things can get in a Campaign or Firefight co-op session. The netcode should be able to handle anything thrown at it. Dedicated servers would be optimal for matchmaking and co-op, though the game should also support P2P and LAN play as options for local play and custom games (including Forge sessions).


Instruction Manual

Instruction manuals seem to be less common these days (Halo 4 didn’t have one), and when they are included, they are often very bare-bones affairs, often a single slip of paper that shows the controls. Not on my watch. I would make sure a real, full-length, full-color, made-of-dead-trees instruction manual is included, because manuals are awesome as well as useful.

<<< Back to Part 6: Multiplayer

Forward to Part 8: Conclusion >>>

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2 responses to “Building the Ultimate Halo Game

  1. Ok, I was just reading this article, and while I haven’t reviewed all the minutae and every single statistic yet, I have some comments…

    For one, I 100% agree with the idea of making a new game which focuses on the human/covenant war across different planets and colonies, rather than on the rings and the flood. You could really position this at any point in the timeline so as to provide the best battle scenarios.

    I really would like to see the Elites return as the primary enemy. I definitely agree that the Brutes would need some reworking to really contribute to the game, but I can’t even really think of how you would do that…and I wouldn’t miss them if they weren’t there.

    The number one thing I’d like to see in a new Halo campaign would be a serious, more realistic (Blomkampish) tone, and an enhanced focus on combat mechanics and AI. I would try to make the campaign combat match the intensity of a multiplayer match as much as possible. IMO an Elite should have equal health/shields and deal equal damage to the spartan player, and those values should not change across different difficulty levels. Ideally, the difference in the difficulty levels would entirely lie with how smart and aggressive the enemies were.

    Definitely agree about the AR – compress the old AR and old BR into one select fire weapon. With a good spread-bloom system, accuracy would be reduced during sustained auto fire enough to balance it out, while short bursts and rapid semi-auto would grant enough accuracy to go for head damage at mid range.

    I actually think there could be potential to use the fire mode selection as a wider overall game feature. The AR would be the primary reason to implement it, but it could be used in other weapons as well. For example, imagine switching modes on the Plasma Pistol – one mode being the dual function one we’re used to, one charge mode that automatically charges and holds an overcharge bolt until you pull the trigger, and “semi” mode that only fires the mini shots, but does so as soon as you pull the trigger rather than when you release it. You could also use such a command to adjust the rate of fire of the PR (ie 300/450/600 rpm) to manage damage vs overheating rate, or to toggle between magnification levels on the Sniper Rifle (5x/10x) or even the BR and Carbine (2x plus a 5x option).

    On the SMG – I think the way to differenciate it is ammo capacity and accuracy of sustained fire…it could even be changed to a very compact LMG (think mk46 mod 0). Firing a lighter round (even up to 5.56) it could deliver full auto with a tighter spread/less recoil than the AR for up to 70-100 rounds straight, at the cost of lighter per hit damage and no ability to go for pinpoint headshots.

    Of course I also agree with you on most other aspects we’ve dicussed in the past – i.e. semi-auto BR, health packs, fall damage, etc.

    As far as implementing different classes of characters, I can think of a lot of different ways to implement them. For example, when playing the ODST or any other human character, you might experience much more severe recoil effects on weapons like the SMG, AR, and BR…or even more realistic tactical shooter-ish characteristics like (basic/limited) posture/movement based accuracy and aiming only with whatever sighting was available on the weapon (irons, or scope).

    By comparison, playing the spartan you would have the superhuman strenth and coordination to fire the heavy recoil weapons to the performance we’re used to in Halo regardless of movement or posture. Due to the enhancements of the HUD, the spartan might be able to fire towards a projected reticule without actually using the sights of the weapon (due to cpu-managed eye/hand coordination). One thing I did in my last mod was make the 2x magnification universal to all weapons – this could be explained as a magnification feature of the spartan helmet/hud and not the optics of the weapons.

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