Huntress. Is there a voice clip that I've heard more in my life than Halo's gritty announcer that prepares me for the fight? Maybe one of his other captions: Double kill. Triple killing. Overkill! (Okay, now I'm just trying to brag). If Halo is real and absolutely timeless, it is this voice that plays over the warm blue sky and dusty fields of Blood Gulch. Halo: Combat Evolved, which was added to the Master Chief Collection on PC in March, looks just like it always does in my eyes today: just like on chunky CRT TVs at split-screen LAN parties, just like the PCs in mine High school 3D modeling class.
My memory is wrong, of course.
Halo could not run at 144 fps on the Xbox and gaming PC and CRTs that I played on in the early 2000s certainly couldn't do it at 4K. If I went back to them now, I would be forgiven for the low resolution and the sluggishness of jumping over Blood Gulch. But the new version of an almost 20-year-old game is hellishly sharp and responsive than ever, even if its polygons are almost old enough to drink.
Making a game look and sound the way it is in your memory, but not new, is the delicate balancing act of the Master Chief Collection, which developers 343 Industries are bringing to the PC each year for a halo game. Halo 2 arrives on May 12th.
There is no detail too small for fans to notice. A typical example: Another classic halo sound, the respawn beep, was a little different in the original PC port from Gearbox from 2003. When 343 created Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for Xbox, this PC port served as the basis. But a few things just weren't quite right, and you now have the opportunity to fix them.
"This respawn beep is so iconic, you know what I mean?" says Sean Swidersky, Associate Producer of the Master Chief Collection. "There is a difference in tone between the two versions … I think our pillar here is to align ourselves as much as possible with the legacy games."
"It is going to be very complicated," adds senior producer Mike Fahrny. "Just because we have source resources and code and all that stuff, most of the time it's not a panacea. It takes a lot of digging. There are a lot of rabbit holes that we go down. And then add the fact that MCC is all of these things in one , right? It gets very, very complicated. "
During a long day at 343 Industries in Redmond, Washington in February, I spoke to the team that ended Master Chief's PC losing streak about Halo Reach's great success in December, the intricacies of retrofitting 20 years of game history for the Modern hardware and what we can hope to see in the Master Chief Collection when every game runs live on PC.
When Mike Fahrny started on the MCC team in 2019, the first thing he bought was an Ultrawide monitor. They had none and he knew that ultrawide support would be one of the features that PC fans were asking for. "I'm a PC enthusiast. That's one of the reasons they brought me in," he says. "We set up a lab that could make various hardware settings, and then flying was the key to getting us off to a successful start. I think one of the big mistakes that studios that are developing for the PC today is that they are do it." We decided very early on that we didn't want that. The community comes with us. "
This "flying" ideology – essentially beta testing – started at 343 Industries before the Master Chief Collection hit PC, but it's hard to overstate how transformative it was for Halo. Already in 2014, the release of MCC on Xbox One was near a disaster. The online game just didn't work for many players, and for other big and small problems, the whole thing hardly felt held together with tape from brand manufacturers. It was a black eye for 343 that didn't fade until 2018 when a new dedicated team started to rebuild Master Chief.
"I think that was the beginning of the first time that the studio ever had a flight program where we started working on this system of alpha builds to continue with players who give us feedback," says the longtime Community director Brian & # 39; Ske7ch & # 39; Jarrard.
Jarrard writes many of the massive community updates that have defined 343s new era of transparency in rebuilding the Master Chief Collection. In early 2019, he announced in an Inside Xbox stream that Halo would finally come to the PC. Inspired by a viral Reddit joke, enthusiastic PC fans sent pizzas to the 343 office. As more cakes piled up, Jarrard had to ask fans not to send any more.
"They expect a lot and the bar is very high. I suspect there is a lot of pent-up feeling that PC gamers often feel like they have the remnants of consoles and bad ports. So it was important for us not just a port. We had to figure out how it felt like it was a native PC product. "
The exciting news is that every game is currently running on the PC in various stages of completion. The list of expected features for everyone is easy to rattle: unlocked frame rates, 4K support, dedicated servers, mod support.
Actually implementing them is not that easy.
The unlocked frame rate challenge
Let's start with the frame rate. Suppose you just take a game that was originally limited to 30 fps and run it at 60 fps. When game code is written, technical director Andrew Schnickel explains, some things will happen every 1/30 second, while others will be programmed for a "game tick". At the original frame rate, these would be equivalent. But if you double the frame rate, suddenly they are no longer. This can cause weapons to fire too quickly or effects to be animated at the wrong speed.
It can even damage parts of the campaign because scripts don't fire properly. It varies from game to game.
"It's difficult to go through all of the mission scripts line by line and say," Oh, that's going to be a problem, "says Schnickel." It's easy to miss things and sometimes it shows up in strange ways. I think there was one in the Halo 4 Spartan Ops – there was a jackal somewhere on a cliff and you couldn't kill him. That would be you. "Shoot him and he just wouldn't die. It was a problem with script timing, so it only takes a lot of careful debugging to find that."
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhxJ2m_2iB4 (/ embed)
Uncapped frame rates are even more difficult for old games because the dependency of the original programming on frame timing is completely out of the window. Animations are difficult. If they were created for 30 fps, adapting to a frame rate of 144 fps requires a lot of interpolation – the path that the animation takes between defined keyframes. This can have some strange side effects, such as B. cutting graphics.
Fahrny says that her first animations for Halo Reach even caused motion sickness in some players. The brain can say that there is something strange going on with this type of interpolation. Even if we don't know why, we can say that it only looks like this not correct. Creating entirely new animations for these old games isn't possible – too contemporary, expensive, and difficult to implement in a port or remaster project – so a lot of iteration is required to look as good as possible.
Fix the little things
When you convert a game from one platform to another, let alone half a dozen games, there are little quirks everywhere, from the netcode to the controls. 343 was open to talk about.
Halo Reach mostly plays like a dream on dedicated servers, but strangely, the AI Grunts in Firefight mode have lost the ability to jump on boxes.
Sean Swidersky, who comes from a pro-gaming environment, mentions that grenade throws by European players seemed strangely delayed on early test flights. After upgrading some Microsoft Azure servers hosting games and making some changes to the routing of network traffic, they behaved as desired.
At launch, the most widespread criticism of Reach was that it sounded muffled and just … outfrom the original. It was not a quick fix. "It made us go back and say: & # 39; Hey, we should just look at the audio for all the tracks," explains Mike Fahrny. "Reachs (digital signal processors) weren't great for some reason, so let's go back to a partner who has the sources for them and rebuild them for modern platforms while letting an actual audio engineer go through to make sure that everything is done is balanced and properly leveled. It takes a long time. "
This process is ongoing. In an MCC update post at the end of April, Fahrny wrote: "We are still reviewing these fixes for reach and other titles. We hope to be able to achieve this soon and get feedback."
While fans consider 343 the monolithic studio responsible for Halo, the truth is that the team behind the Master Chief Collection is small. Most of the work is outsourced, with Fahrny and his team steering the ship.
"Sometimes things just take time, and it's difficult to tell the fan base," he says. "This is a modern game development. We don't have to be afraid to say: & # 39; Yes, we encountered some problems. This is our plan, let's talk about it, let's work on it, we'll fly it. Please give it Give us feedback on that. What you say is important to us. We will adapt. It is going pretty well. I think people will be happy with the end result, even though they had to wait longer. "
Halo: fight evolves
The Master Chief Collection started on PC with Bungie's last halo game. It followed with his first. Halo: Combat Evolved is an interesting case for 343, as the original PC port, which was released in 2003, is still actively played today with a lively server browser and years of experience Custom output Maps and mods. The "Anniversary" change from Halo 1 applies only to the campaign and enables seamless switching between new and old graphics. It's a cool effect and given the still active legacy multiplayer community, it's probably the best thing that multiplayer has never gotten the same revision.
Halo 1s Multiplayer has a purity that I love, even though Halo 3, like many other players, is who I am Really Waiting on the PC. But with more detailed graphics, the simple geometry of classic cards like Blood Gulch and Hang & # 39; Em High would look out of place. Adding objects to the cards would dramatically change their way of playing and violate the customer center's preservation mission. Of all the games, Combat Evolved is the one that 343 developers should least care about balance for.
"You know the story behind the gun, right? That was actually a mistake and was sent out that way," Jarrard recalls. He worked at Bungie for years before joining the Halo team at Microsoft. The almighty Halo 1 pistol and its deadly power have been the subject of endless debate over the years, especially when a successive Halo comes out with an inevitably weaker magnum. But today it's part of Halo's legacy. "If we had flown back then, we would probably have received overwhelming feedback that would have led the team to put the whole thing in the ground. But in retrospect, the studio decided to just leave it."
The other key to Combat Evolved's legacy, at least on the PC, is modding. I spent a summer as a teenager playing the same card every day. CTF matches drag on all afternoons. For console gamers, the equivalent was probably Blood Gulch or Sidewinder. For me, it was Wartorn Cove, a custom map that dominated community servers in 2004. Since the multiplayer mode in the Master Chief Collection port is largely unchanged, modders can get these types of cards working again. There is already a detailed community guide to convert old Halo: Custom Edition cards for use with the Customer Center, but it's not that easy.
"At the moment it is a bit awkward to do that," Fahrny says about modding in general. "We don't have Steamwork support or anything that I think in the long run, we'd still like to investigate what we're doing." Fahrny even likes the idea of a custom server browser, but the priority is to first publish all the games on the PC and make sure that they are as modifiable as possible, even if they are not yet developing tools.
"One of our engineers on our team came from the Halo 1 mod community, so it's his passion that he consistently does things behind the scenes that we sometimes only realize when he's done," says Fahrny. "It's always great, but surprising for us producers."
When we talk about mods, Swidersky excitedly asks everyone if they saw it Nuke video on Youtube. Someone has already modified a Nuke Launcher in Reach, with some impressive explosion effects and massive damage (it destroyed one scarab, Halo's equivalent to the AT-AT at once). He is thrilled with the idea of developing custom games that continue to follow Halo's rules. Could someone make Call of Duty style kill strips where a riot brings you a Nuke Launcher? Crazier things have happened.
Engineer Sean Cooper was a long-time member of the Halo: CE mod community before moving to Mod Halo Wars and eventually working on the series at 343. He and I talked about his past as a modder and his hopes for future support in MCC. 343 wasn't ready to announce anything, but at this speed, modding tools seem to be more of a 2021 project than we should expect this year. After all, a lot of halo remains in the harbor.
Halo 2 and beyond
Halo 2's online multiplayer mode made Xbox Live almost a single-handed phenomenon in 2004, although the Windows Vista port came in 2007 far too late to really impact the PC. This week there will be a second chance, and when it comes out, existing Master Chief Collection games will also be improved, reminding you that 343 really repeats these releases over time.
The pistol spread in Halo: CE multiplayer becomes less accurate Running the game at an unlocked frame rate is a problem that needs to be uncovered through testing and careful consideration. That will be patched. Fixed some screen tearing issues I encountered playing Halo Reach without vsync.
The developers are still testing a feature to add secondary mouse and keyboard key binding options that are great for actions like switching weapons. And a weapon relocation option in progress is a big help for players with a large field of vision.
When I visited 343's offices, Halo 2 was still too far away to say much, but it brought us back to the core philosophy of the Master Chief Collection – preserving as much as possible from the original experience to funny exploits like Sword falls. This is what Swidersky remembers when he first joined the team when 343 worked to revitalize the customer center and fix its main problems.
"We were working on this console update very early. I took a few tries and then I boomed. I did it and thought," Dude, we have to (keep) this. " Watching Speedrunner and many of the different communities running custom co-op campaigns was a good addition to the quality of life that I hope will be a tip for the old fans. "
Sometimes, ironically, it means making these games better to keep bugs that are anchored as features. Halo 2 is the Halo 2 you remember, right down to the keyboard shortcuts you can work with Shoot and melee at the same timeHowever, we have to see whether mouse and keyboard controls or unlocked frame rates throw a wrench into these classic movements.
With Halo 2, the Master Chief Collection is entering the golden age of serial multiplayer, and this means that the high point, Halo 3, may be only a few months away (343 have posted some screenshots of them in their last update look great).
These two could give the customer center enough leeway to take a constant place in Steam's most played games, even without considering all players who sign up through Xbox Game Pass. It seems like the really exciting times for Halo on PC only start after all the games have been released and the mod scene can really thrive. "The future of the customer center is the community, says Fahrny, "and how we strengthen it."
"It has always been the main vision, it is (our team) to create this amazing foundation and then we give the keys to the community and it works," adds Brian Jarrard. In the first bitter years of Master Chief Collection life, that would have been a tough sale. Now? It seems like Halo fans can believe again.