It’s a big day for Halo, as Halo: The Master Chief Collection’s long-awaited Season 6 update is finally here on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. The free update adds 100 tiers of new content in its battle pass-style system, along with perhaps the most exciting new addition to the compilation package in years–a new map for Halo 3.
The Waterfall map, which originally debuted in the short-lived free-to-play Halo Online game for Russia, is now available in MCC through Custom Games. It’s the first new DLC map for Halo 3 in more than a decade, and it won’t be the last, either. Microsoft is testing another Halo Online map, Edge, but it needed more work so it didn’t make it in for Season 6.
In a new interview, developers from 343 Industries spoke to GameSpot about releasing new maps for Halo 3 and shed some light on the development and design process. “Our goal is to give players more things to look forward to as well as new ways to play the game. Maps are one of the more complex pieces of content to bring into Halo: MCC,” design director Max Szlagor said.
Halo Online features sprinting, but Halo 3 vanilla doesn’t, so the developers at 343 had to make some gameplay design changes to accommodate this. Further changes were required due to the fact that Halo Online doesn’t have equipment. “Altering the maps to accommodate for these led to some changes in spawns or having to add blockers to areas that in Halo Online would not have been accessible before,” Szlagor said.
Bringing maps from Halo Online to Halo 3 in MCC was “a bit smoother” due in part to how Halo Online ran on a modified version of the Halo 3 engine. Szlagor teased that 343 is planning to release additional maps for MCC in future seasons, and they might not be limited to Halo 3 alone, which is exciting to think about. “We are investigating what is possible for each game and what additional maps we can bring in,” he said.
Read on to check out our full interview, which also touches on things like the Custom Game Browser, which is coming sometime later, along with how the developer responds and reacts to feedback. The team also shared some thoughts on why being transparent and open with fans is so vitally important to the studio.
In addition to MCC, 343 is working on the Halo Infinite. After a delay, the game is slated for release this fall on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Halo 3 is getting new maps after more than a decade. Can you walk us through the decision to turn your attention back to a game that hadn’t seen new maps in so long?
Max Szlagor (Design Director): We are always on the lookout for ways to make each season fresh and to bring in new types of content. We also look for opportunities to bring out unreleased content or items that were teased but not released, such as the GRD helmet. Our goal is to give players more things to look forward to as well as new ways to play the game. Maps are one of the more complex pieces of content to bring into Halo: MCC. Fortunately, the Halo Online technology base made the process of bringing these maps over to Halo 3 a bit smoother than trying to bring content across games with larger engine differences.
What kind of design changes were required in order to move the maps from Halo Online to Halo 3?
Matt Jordan (Designer) + Dana Jerpbak (Designer): Some gameplay design changes were needed while working on the maps due to things like Halo Online having sprint and not having equipment. Altering the maps to accommodate for these led to some changes in spawns or having to add blockers to areas that in Halo Online would not have been accessible before.
Halo 3’s sandbox differs quite a bit from Halo Online’s, so ensuring that the right weapons and equipment were present to complement and counter one another was important. We took inspiration from the Halo Online power weapon placement, but ultimately took steps to make things fit Halo 3, both in “feel” and in function. Of course, players can create their own variants of these maps in Forge which presented another fun design space to explore. For Forge, we wanted to take advantage of some of the updates we made to other Halo 3 maps with its PC launch and empower players to create unique experiences of their own. These maps won’t offer quite the same Forge flexibility as Sandbox or Foundry (Halo 3’s dedicated Forge canvases), but they each offer lots of structure items and gadgets to build with. We also wanted these items to fit into each map’s visual theme and setting.
Another challenge to tackle was sound design as these maps hadn’t received full audio passes in their original development cycle. Setting the right effects and ambiance really helped these maps come alive and digging through Halo 3’s legacy sounds library to support this was really exciting. Taking the man cannon through the waterfall sounds really cool.
Was there a temptation to make any specific design changes to the maps to update them based on your modern thoughts about design? How did you go about ensuring the maps still feel good and play appropriately to the Halo 3 experience of years ago?
Matt J + Dana: The goal was to keep the feel of the maps in line with the legacy Halo 3 experience so that these maps would feel at home in multiplayer and not like suddenly you have to rethink how you’re playing. Another exciting part of this process is that we’ve expanded Halo 3’s sandbox from its original release, most notably with the addition of weapons ported from Halo 3: ODST and refined for Halo 3’s multiplayer sandbox. This gave us a few cool new toys to play with and, while there wasn’t a conscious effort to include new weapons on these maps, the Silenced SMG and Brute Plasma Rifle just happened to fit nicely. We also took advantage of some new Forge goodies, like the Wrecked Warthog, in our Infection variant. All of this gives players some new experiences and keep the maps unique while also keeping to the spirit of the other maps.
“The goal was to keep the feel of the maps in line with the legacy Halo 3 experience so that these maps would feel at home in multiplayer and not like suddenly you have to rethink how you’re playing.” — 343
What are you hearing from fans already who have gotten to try out the new Halo 3 maps from the Halo Insider flights?
Max: Players are excited to see new maps in Halo 3 and gave us great feedback when testing these out. Players enjoyed the visuals, combat flow, and the overall size and layout. Between the flighting feedback and our own playtests, we went through several revisions to iron out weapon placement, player spawns, and areas of the map that are not meant to be accessible during gameplay. We also can’t wait to see what the community does with these maps in Forge.
Would you consider bringing additional new DLC maps to Halo 3, or any of the other games in MCC, down the road?
Max: We have plans to bring more maps into MCC in future seasons. We are investigating what is possible for each game and what additional maps we can bring in.
The Custom Games Browser is an exciting new feature coming to MCC. Can you talk about the work that went into developing this and how you believe it will further enhance MCC and give players more choices?
Max: The Custom Games Browser is a massive feature that we feel bridges an important gap between custom games and matchmade games. For matchmaking, it is important to curate a selection of maps and modes that appeal to a large enough audience who can easily find games to join. For ranked in particular, we also need to be mindful of the types of modes and maps that competitive players enjoy and that we can match players into appropriately difficult matches.
Custom Game Browser allows creators to experiment with a variety of their own custom maps and modes that they may want to get feedback on as well as providing a place they can discover potential up and coming maps and modes from other creators. Custom Game Browser is also a place where game modes and maps that have passionate but smaller fan bases can ideally be available for players on a much more frequent basis. Another focus for us with the Custom Games Browser is making the experience of playing from one match to another as seamless as possible. The goal is that players can stay in game for as many matches as they would like without having to drop back into a game lobby, UI screen, or matchmaking search.
MCC is in great shape today across Xbox and PC, but you aren’t finished adding new features and content. What more can players look forward to in the future?
Max: We will continue posting updates on upcoming content and features to Halo Waypoint as well as the Halo social channels. We have a lot of things in various stages of planning or development and can’t wait to share more information in the future.
As a franchise with a surface area like Halo’s, I imagine your comms teams are inundated with feedback and requests from fans about new content/features/support for MCC. How do you go about responding to this feedback and prioritizing new updates?
“Game development is full of ups and downs, and we think sharing that journey is important. Thanks to all the fans for supporting our games.”
Max: From a design standpoint, our goal is to deliver exciting updates that rotate through features and games that appeal to the different players in Halo: MCC on both PC and console. Many of us are active in player community discussions and we keep an active list of requested features and discuss what is possible and when an ideal time would be to roll features or content out. We also have a lot of internal discussions about what excites the team and how we can bundle up internal goals with player requested features and our seasonal releases.
Something that has struck me about MCC and 343 in general is how open, honest, and transparent the team is with whatever news it has to share, good or bad. Can you speak about this commitment to transparency and honesty and why it’s so important to you?
Max: We are passionate about making great games and we love Halo and the people who play it. We play a lot of other games ourselves and look forward to understanding the what and why of what makes other development teams tick. Game development is full of ups and downs, and we think sharing that journey is important. Thanks to all the fans for supporting our games.