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343 Industries Talks Halo 5: Guardians Beta: Player Abilities, Feedback, Aussie Servers, Heritage and More
Post by Naren @ 12:10pm 12/12/14 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with 343 Industries' studios head Josh Holmes, and creative director Tim Longo to talk about the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians beta. Read on for what they had to say...

AusGamers: Thanks for joining us. What were you looking to achieve with the multiplayer considering the heritage there, and the state of a lot of other multiplayer experiences that are out there? What was your aim?

Josh Holmes: I think first of all it’s important to frame this in, right now we’re presenting the 4v4 arena experience. That’s kind of our focus for the beta that will launch this year and that’s one part of a larger experience that we’ll have in Halo 5: Guardians. So we’re sort of only focusing on that one part. Within that framework.

AusGamers: So basically you mean you can only talk about that?

Tim Longo: Yeah, exactly! But for Beta and for arena specifically the core pillar there is competitive play. Hence, as we talked a lot about -- [an] even playing field. Everyone has the same abilities, everyone has access to weapon pads with power weapons and stuff, so you have to fight over that stuff. Just making sure everything is balanced so that we can retain that competitive spirit across the board and it all just comes down to skill.

So as an overall goal we want skill to matter and we want that depth there. With the abilities, you know, ‘easy to pick and play but hard to master’ kind of thing and for everyone to delve in deeply into that.

Josh: I think that return to the competitive core of Halo is something we are really excited about for this project. And then when we looked at the release of Halo 2 Anniversary and the Master Chief Collection on the 10 year anniversary of Halo 2, with that title being such a definitive, competitive multiplayer shooter and, specifically, I think being a definitive arena shooter, that was something we kind of wanted to celebrate. So I know the team drew a lot of inspiration from that.

AusGamers: So considering the abilities that you’ve announced, are they unlockable or are they all given to you? How does that work when you say it’s balanced?

Josh: Everybody has access to the same set of abilities, there’s no unlocking of abilities.

AusGamers: So there’s no levelling in the multiplayer essentially?

Tim: We have, within the beta specifically, XP progression but you’re unlocking cosmetic stuff like armour, helmets and visors. The weapons are all even playing field and everyone has access to those weapons. Same loadouts for everyone upfront and then you can find weapons on the map and in the power weapon pads. Just cosmetic armour and stuff.

Josh: I think it really takes you back to that classic Halo map control, you know? Map control being so important to the flow of combat and the flow on the maps and that was really important to us.

Tim: Separate to the XP though we do have CSR which is the Competitive Skill Rating, which is separate from your level and that’s your rating at any given time of what your skill level is on a seven-tier system. Our tiers actually go all the way up to semi-pro and pro so the top 200 people in the world will achieve pro status and that’s anyone in the world, from your home. You don’t have to be part of a league or anything like that. So that’s integrated into the game.

AusGamers: How did you guys decide on those abilities that you’re introducing? Considering they’re all quite new, there’s still elements of the heritage obviously, retaining that history, but there’s a lot of really cool new stuff. How did you guys get to that?

Tim: We always kind of start with the fantasy of the Spartan and what it means to be a Spartan, obviously influenced by Chief. Stuff like the Ground Pound’s a perfect example -- that’s just something you expect a Spartan to be able to do. And obviously the legacy of armour abilities in the past were influences for things like thrusters. But making it one cohesive system that everyone has, rather than the randomisation of who has what armour ability. Well everyone gets these things and some of them are harder to do than others and there’s counters and risks and rewards for doing each of them. But it all comes back to the Spartan for us. The Charge, that’s Spartans moving around the map like freight trains, you expect them to be able to bash into one another and do major damage. So we usually just come from that fantasy of what makes sense and then tune the hell out of it.

Josh: I mean if you start with that spark then it’s trying different things. And then we went through a lot of experimentation as a team. We tried different abilities that played on that Spartan fantasy and kind of honed it down to this core set and then from there it was just constant iteration around these abilities. We’ve seen them evolve over time as we’ve played them at the studio and gone through different iterations and spent a lot of time carefully balancing them so that they’re is that move, counter move that Tim’s talking about.

AusGamers: Was there anything you weren’t able to fit in there, that didn’t quite work? Anything cool that wasn’t able to be used?

Tim: It’s all variations on a theme. Definitely influences from past armour abilities and stuff like that. Even the ones that we have in the game have been tuned all up and the spectrum.

Josh: There’s a point where Charge was like an instant kill from any direction, then of course everybody was just running around the map.

AusGamers: It’s cool having it just from behind because then people are aware, they’re always looking behind. So it creates that different sort of risk-reward like you mentioned. Were you guys watching anyone else? Like you look at a release like Destiny and there’s obviously going to be the comparisons.

Josh: I think from a development standpoint and creative standpoint our focus is always just on ourselves and on what it means to be a Spartan, taking from that rich fiction and universe that we have to draw from with Halo but obviously as gamers we play other games. We went through our Destiny phase when it launched and enjoyed getting online and playing together.

Tim: I think they have different goals though. People compare them but there’s different goals.

AusGamers: You guys mentioned dedicated servers, do you know what the deal is in Australia with that? Cause we have an issue with servers in Australia. Do you guys know anything about that?

Josh: It’s something that we’re aware of and we’re looking at and we’re working with the Xbox Live team to try and improve the server support that we have in the region because we know it’s been an issue historically. And hopefully as we get through the beta we’ll be able to gather more data from that experience and use that to improve things. I know it’s a goal for platform as well.

AusGamers: Did you guys use the Azure cloud and did you do anything with that?

Josh: Yeah we plug into the Xbox Live compute layer that’s on the platform side. There’s a lot of specific development and services that we’ve done on our end to support the experience but that is then also hosted in Azure so that gives us the ability to scale and powers Xbox Live.

AusGamers: Do you guys feel that now you’ve been able to put your own stamp on things. Now you’re progressing with the game, has this given you that avenue to do that do you think? Put your own feel on it all?

Josh: I think it’s always... it’s like a careful balance right?

Tim: We talk a lot about the old and new thing. And because Halo is such a tried and true franchise we take it super seriously and try to approach it from a place of being humble and honoured to work at that. And we don’t want to break Halo at the same time. So every new thing, like the Spartan abilities, that we put on there we really pay close attention to what influence it’s going to have. On what people recognise and remember about Halo. Something like descope is an interesting example because it’s something that we are bringing back from the old but integrating into the new at the same time with Smart Scope or something like that. It’s costly balancing all that stuff. It’s a challenge but there’s things we wanted to evolve at the same time and people want some new things. So if you can have your new with your old and they work together well, that’s the sweet spot.

Josh: I think that’s part of having a beta this early is really being able to then put a lot of those new mechanics and that new gameplay evolution in the hands of the fans and get their feedback and see how do they feel playing? How are things balancing against each other? To make sure that by the time we do come out with the final game it’s the most polished experience possible.

AusGamers: You did actually mention the feedback system for the beta. How is that going to work?

Josh: So we have a couple of ways that people can feedback. We’ll have online feedback on the Halo Waypoint while people just give us anecdotal feedback. We’ll also be taking a lot of data out of the play experience to see how people are using different abilities, how weapons balance against one another. We also have the ability for people to vote within Halo Channel on specific elements of the beta that are coming up. So within the first week we’ll be showcasing some of the things that will come up. In week two we’ll have players be able to vote, I think in week two they’ll be able to vote on power weapons that will appear in the beta, like an A or B decision between two different weapons on one of the maps. And then the third week we’ll actually have two different maps that they’ll be able to vote between and all that will be done I believe through the Halo channel.

AusGamers: That will be eliminating things like those weapons that aren’t chosen and maps?

Josh: For the beta, so basically, it’s giving fans the option to have a voice in what they want to play within the beta. And so, would they want to play this map with this power weapon placed here versus the other power weapon. And we may use that as one of the inputs to making the decision about what finally is placed on that map.

AusGamers: More like combinations that work better than others, that sort of thing?

Josh: Exactly!

AusGamers: Alright, sounds great. The game looks awesome, I can’t wait to get into it more.

Josh: Awesome, glad to hear it.

AusGamers: Thanks for your time.
Read more about Halo 5: Guardians on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

Latest Comments
Posted 01:00pm 12/12/14
Got my beta pass already. I'll be sure to give them feedback on how things play out here for us Aussies. At the moment I am playing the Master Chief collection and the multiplayer is yet to run on azure. Looking forward to when the cloud comes online.
Posted 11:07am 16/12/14
Dont hold your breathe Jeff.
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