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How Halo: The Master Chief Collection Rebounded To Become A Fan-Favorite Compilation



When Halo: The Master Chief Collection was announced in 2014, fans were excited about the prospects of bringing the Halo main series to the all-new Xbox One with a myriad of enhancements and ways to engage with multiplayer. Unfortunately, the launch of the compilation, which originally included Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4, presented several issues surrounding the multiplayer sequel and The Master Chief Collection seemed to be on track to. to be one of the warning stories of the unrealized potential within the games industry.

The disappointing launch, the disappointing feature set, and broken matchmaking might have been the way we’re looking at Halo: The Master Chief Collection in 2021, but developer 343 Industries wasn’t happy with the release of an unsatisfactory product intended for to celebrate Xbox’s flagship franchise. We chatted with several key members of the Master Chief Collection team to learn how 343 Industries turned the ship around and elevated the compilation to industry role models for how to listen and act on player feedback.

Before launch

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Wake me up when you need me

In 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was introduced as a way to celebrate not only the 10th anniversary of the beloved Halo 2, but the Master Chief saga as a whole at this point. 343 Industries, which was founded to take over the Halo franchise from Bungie after Bungie split from Microsoft in 2007, was currently working on Halo 5: Guardians, but a separate team within the studio has started exploring ways to celebrate it. anniversary of Halo 2 in the same way did in 2011 with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

The core idea for Halo 2 Anniversary, which includes revamped visuals and sound, all-new cutscenes from popular visual effects company Blur Studios, and terminals that connect the story to that of future games, developed this that the team did with their inaugural project with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. 343 even remade some fan-favorite Halo 2 multiplayer maps from the ground up, giving players modern, high-fidelity versions. In addition to all of these elements, 343 Industries wanted to reduce the friction experienced by players in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary when switching between the classic campaign and multiplayer, which was based on the Halo: Reach engine.

However, the team has started looking for what they could do to further celebrate the Xbox One launch as well as the Master Chief story at this point. “The team was really excited to think about some sort of bigger project that would encompass this larger story of all of these games,” said Design Director Max Szlagor. “Then it became a design challenge to think about if we were looking at a collection of Halo titles, how to put them together in a way that seems very transparent, which makes it easier to jump and move between titles, making sure that the controls, the user interface, the networking, the ability to switch between games was as smooth as it gets? “

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Halo: The focus of the Master Chief Collection wasn’t on providing a completely faithful experience of how Halo: Combat Evolved via Halo 4 was playing at the time of their respective releases. Instead, 343 Industries looked for ways to enhance the modern experience of playing these classic games. “We were trying to provide the experience of these games as people remember it, which doesn’t necessarily represent what the game is,” Szlagor said. “It was an evaluation of ‘How do I rebuild this mode or this map?’ Which tweaks make sense when it comes to the cards themselves because the cards got a few changes: weapons, game modes, just a variety of different things in terms of how to deliver that extra value, extra options. with that, fill that sandbox and make yourself feel good. “

The developers at MCC looked at things like the user interface, matchmaking systems, and more to see what elements the disparate games all had in common. The idea the team settled on was to have all the games connected, with matchmaking designed to allow players to bounce between the different titles in the compilation. Not only that, but the Master Chief Collection’s unified control patterns and leaderboards added to the campaign, along with special features and achievements to give additional replay value to campaigns that many have played multiple times before.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2 Anniversary were clearly the biggest steps forward from the original versions, but Halo 3 and 4 also received improvements, with performance of 60 fps and cleaned up user interfaces. While the last two games did not receive the visual and functional upgrades from Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Halo 2 Anniversary, Szlagor does not want to take a look at the scale of the business of improvements from Halo 3 and 4. “It’s a big deal for these games,” he says. “They were really optimized for the hardware when these games were released.”

As the compilation neared its launch on November 11, 2014, 343 Industries felt confident in what it had created. The team were thrilled that new and returning Halo players were getting their hands on the game and getting to grips with the story of Master Chief ahead of the imminent release of Halo 5: Guardians in 2015. Unfortunately, the launch didn’t go through. didn’t go as planned and The Master Chief Collection quickly became synonymous with disastrous game launches.

Launch reception

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Give the Covenant back his bomb

When Halo: The Master Chief Collection launched, it received a lot of critical acclaim, receiving a 9.25 out of 10 Game Informer and praise from most of the other outlets to which access was granted prior to launch. Unfortunately, as the servers opened up to the public and players tried to jump into the robust multiplayer package, the cracks surrounding the game’s PVP sequel showed up in obvious ways.

Immediately, players complained about a wide range of issues largely centered around the online modes of the game. These issues ranged from inaccurate in-game stats and uneven team lineups to player ranks reset to random and matchmaking. that just didn’t work. On top of that, players couldn’t join their friends, in-game chat was spotty at best, and players were subjected to absurdly long load times. The campaigns were largely solid, but under the weight of audiences trying to play the highly anticipated compilation, Halo’s competitive multiplayer: The Master Chief Collection fell apart.

Due to the post-launch issues, 343 Industries and Xbox received backlash from fans and critics. Halo: The Master Chief Collection has acquired a long-standing infamy for the poor quality of its launch. While players were shocked at the collection’s poor performance, 343 Industries seemed equally surprised. “It wasn’t the feeling we expected,” Szlagor said. “It was a learning experience for us in terms of a large project without the infrastructure to test online services at the scale needed for something as large as this. “

On launch day, the developer and Xbox reps recommended quitting and re-entering matchmaking if it didn’t work within the first few minutes, but despite the studio’s statement that it was “actively working on a fix” for the issue, widespread problems would plague the compilation for many months. The day after The Master Chief Collection launched, executive producer Dan Ayoub apologized, calling the complaints “well deserved”. Ayoub also told the community, “You deserve better,” before presenting a server side patch plan to try and improve the state of the game.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

“A game as big as Halo: The Master Chief Collection has a huge surface area, and while we have done everything we can to have the best possible launch for our fans, issues have arisen with the launch and we are committed to it. improve as fast as possible and get you all in matches, ”Ayoub’s statement read on November 12, 2014.“ We are committed to making things better as quickly as possible so you can experience it. Halo you’ve been waiting for. “

As problems persisted nearly two weeks after launch, 343 Industries director Bonnie Ross issued a fresh apology, largely echoing Ayoub’s sentiments that the community deserved better and that the team s ‘will work to make things right with the fan base. “I personally apologize for this on behalf of all of us at 343 Industries,” read its statement on November 24, 2014. “Our team is working tirelessly until these issues are resolved.”

The problems persisted beyond the launch window. In December 2014, 343 Industries and Microsoft called for a delay in Halo: Spartan Strike, a Windows exclusive, in order to focus on fixing the game’s matchmaking. Later in the month, 343 Industries presented a roadmap showing how it planned to get to the players. “It was really a good point for us to look at things like building the Halo Insider program and directing our communication to be more transparent,” Szlagor said. “To have this greater dialogue and honesty with our community.”

With community trust at an all-time low, 343 Industries needed to regain player trust and work to make Halo: The Master Chief Collection not only the product the company originally envisioned, but improving every facet. to create the compilation fans deserved.

CM extension

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

I think we’re just getting started

At launch, the Master Chief Collection featured Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2 Anniversary, Halo 3, and Halo 4 from 2011, with all multiplayer maps and additional features. However, once the state of the game was apparent, 343 Industries began to look for ways to catch up with gamers. At the end of 2014, 343 Industries published a blog post detailing the first steps in the rectification. The company announced that every Master Chief Collection player will receive a free month of Xbox Live Gold, an exclusive in-game nameplate, and an exclusive in-game avatar. Not only that, but 343 Industries has added an additional remake of a Halo 2 card, as well as the Halo 3: ODST campaign at the Master Chief Collection at no additional cost.

In March 2015, 343 Industries released perhaps the most significant patch yet for the Master Chief Collection matchmaking and party systems. However, as the collection approaches six months since its launch, many players and critics have started to wonder if the project is unrecoverable. The dev team wasn’t giving up, however, with 343 Industries and Xbox doubling down, repairing the build remained a top priority.

“At the start of the launch, our internal processes and testing methodologies told us we had a game ready to go,” said Xbox director Phil Spencer. Game Informer at the Game Developers Conference 2015. “Then, when it launched, we learned some things that we didn’t know before launch – what we need to improve; you can’t simulate the real world environment at the inside a sterile and fixed environment. “

To address this issue, the development team continued to build deeper and stronger lines of communication with active and enthusiastic community members. “Reaching out to our communities to engage with them is very important,” said lead producer Michael Fahrny. “If we had one secret sauce to our success for MCC over the past few years, it’s a group we have that we call Reclaimers. They are members of the community; Think of them as ambassadors. We give them access to a lot of ideas, releases, features, content – everything we do for MCC – and we get raw feedback from them. They help us gauge the temperature of our readiness and how the community will react to things. “

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Since the launch of the Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries and the game development scene as a whole have become much more dependent on the gaming community to ensure it stays in touch with the wants and needs of the most fanatic fans. passionate. Community managers, developers integrated into different communities, are now essential members of most game studios. To deepen this connection with its community, 343 implemented a flight program, where developers could interact with Halo Insiders to make sure the game meets certain goals.

Of the many checkpoints the team engages with through this flight program, matchmaking time is one area where developers check in to ensure times are satisfactory and only take 30 or 40 seconds. . “Aviation is like a backbone for us,” says producer Sean Swidersky. “We’ll fly whatever we can if we have the time to do it. It’s an essential part of our development process.”

The studio has worked tirelessly to improve the experience and make The Master Chief Collection the product fans are looking for. After several server side fixes and updates, gamers started to see noticeable performance improvements. Fixes to matchmaking and the overall multiplayer experience continued, and as the product stabilized over the year after launch, 343 Industries once again focused on content. The Halo 3: ODST campaign was released to The Master Chief Collection in 2015, and in 2019, Halo: Reach joined the compilation alongside Seasonal Content following fan feedback.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

“We always think about what the collection includes and that’s certainly a great question mark: what can we add? Szlagor said. “Initially there is a good story to be told in terms of The Master Chief Collection with the story of Master Chief. I think there was a question, thematically, does it make sense to include [ODST and Reach]? From a fan perspective, all Halos are definitely better than all Halos. There was certainly some discussion about it and it was just a matter of what we could do in what time frame and what made sense for the theme. “

Part of the reason new content and upgrades continue to join The Master Chief Collection is that the team is full of people who enjoyed and loved the Halo franchise before their job was to work on it. In addition to long-time developers, 343 Industries includes people who have worked on Halo mods or were active in the Halo esports scene. The result is a constant stream of passionate projects from individual members of the development team, many of whom make them the living product of MCC.

“We constantly surprise ourselves with some of the ideas that we come up with, and then we sit down and talk about it and find out if it makes sense to bring them to the retail MCC,” Fahrny said. “Most of the time we end up doing it because as Halo fans we think it’s going to be cool and then we start the whole process and go through the flight and everyone really loves it. by doing all of these things. That’s how the new Firefight options that came out with Season 8 came to fruition. “

While Halo 5: Guardians will no longer be Halo’s flagship title when Infinite launches on December 8, 343 indicates that there are currently no plans to add it to the Master Chief Collection. With much of the MCC and seasonal content updates coming to an end in the near future, 343 Industries has proven that sticking to a game, even if it launches in a bad state, can to be worthwhile.

“What I’m proud of is how committed the team is to solving this problem – this commitment to delivering what our customers want is great,” said Spencer. Game Informer in that 2015 interview. “Now anybody can throw a stone at me and say, ‘Hey, we shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place. And that’s fair enough, but no one raised their arms and ran away. The team doubled.

End of the road

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

End this fight

With The Master Chief Collection now one of the benchmark buyout stories in the games industry, 343 Industries has continued to support the compilation, even expanding to new platforms. In addition to receiving improvements to the Xbox Series X / S when these new systems launch in 2020, 343 Industries has made the bold leap to the PC.

For the Master Chief Collection team, bringing the product to PC was an important step in the project’s post-launch lifecycle, but before committing to doing it, they wanted to make sure they could do it right. . “For us as a studio the PC has never been a top priority, but what does being a modern PC game really mean? Can we even bring The Master Chief Collection – all games in the collection – to this level? Said Fahrny. “We sat down and did a lot of competitor product reviews – good and bad things that the competition did – and we built a plan around that and then evaluated it. We said, ‘We think we can do it and we think we can do a really good job. On top of that, let’s go back and learn from those past mistakes. “

This time around 343 Industries were much more methodical in how they approached the introduction of the collection on this new platform, rolling out the games one by one rather than all at once. Over the course of a year (December 2019 to November 2020), PC gamers gained access to each of the six titles in the current version of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The approach deployed allowed 343 Industries to learn its lessons one title at a time rather than all at once. Then when it wanted to fix a problem, it was more manageable and could be implemented at launch for subsequent titles. For example, Reach’s high refresh rate interpolation did not meet the standards the development studio hoped for.

With the transparency the team gained from its difficult early days with the launch of the Xbox One version, as well as the pre-existing lines of communication with the community, the PC version was a success. It showed how much the team has changed their approach to making sure a game is ready for launch and listening to the community to improve the title over the following years. The team even introduced cross-platform play in 2020 – a huge leap forward considering the number of issues the game initially had when only running multiplayer on a single platform – and mod support. on the PC version last summer. To this day, Halo: The Master Chief Collection continues to receive updates across all platforms.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

343 has no plans to discontinue support for Halo: The Master Chief Collection, but the eighth season, which began in October, is the final season of content for the longtime compilation. Going forward, in order to avoid delivering seasonal updates for Master Chief Collection and Infinite simultaneously, 343 will continue to provide new features and fixes in MCC, but will do so through smaller fixes instead of important and seasonal updates.

“At a high level, support for MCC is changing; it doesn’t end, ”says lead producer Matt Hohl. “We still have mod tools to deliver. We have even more games with [Custom Game Browser] deliver. We still see ourselves as the stewards of these classic games. […] We look forward to the complementary relationship between Infinite and MCC next year. “

As 343 Industries focuses on Halo Infinite, you can see the lessons the studio learned from the early stumbles and subsequent success of Halo: The Master Chief Collection paid dividends. In addition to listening to community feedback and delaying Infinite for a full year (even if that meant missing out on the opportunity to be an Xbox Series X / S launch title), the studio hosted several technical tests at the during the summer of 2021. This gave players the opportunity to provide step in the direction of Infinite’s free multiplayer.

Infinite halo

“The community as well as the flight program have helped us, not only for MCC, but have helped us pave the way for the studio as you see now with Infinite and their technical and flight betas,” said Fahrny. “We led the charge and fed it all back into the larger studio teams so that we could continue this great process that has really helped us be successful as well. It’s really good to see.”

During the Xbox 20th Anniversary livestream on November 15, 2021, Xbox and 343 Industries announced a surprise soft launch of Halo Infinite multiplayer, giving all players immediate entry into a beta that grants access to the full sequel before. launch on December 8. Players have already provided feedback on things like the slow progress of the Multiplayer Battle Pass, and members of 343 Industries have already implemented changes.

Now, as the team moves forward in what appears to be a very promising new chapter, they carry with them the valuable and often hard lessons they learned in the wake of the disturbing launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. In doing so, the team is hoping that all subsequent launches avoid having to bounce back like their festive compilation had to. With developers now interacting with the community at such a collaborative level, it’s clear that The Master Chief Collection lifecycle has changed the course of 343 Industries for the better.

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