Bungie Weekly Update: 03.19.10
Posted by urk at 3/19/2010 3:38 PM PDT
We got some ‘splainin’ to do.

First things first, if you’re struggling to grasp a lot of the shiny new information Shacknews just dropped on your awestruck and bewildered face, don’t freak out. Stay with me. We’re gonna get through this. I promise.

It’ll help if you can briefly divorce yourself from the context of Halo 3’s existing matchmaking experience. For the purposes of this discussion, all that baggage is just gonna slow us down. Stow those preconceived personal items in the overhead compartment, bring your chair to the upright position, and fasten your safety belt. We’re about to make some abrupt altitude adjustments.

For example: Ranked vs. Social? Doesn’t exist in Reach. It’s gone. We’ve got something better on tap.
The New Standard
Note: for this portion of the update we’re gonna be working from a purely hypothetical standpoint. To properly explain Reach’s matchmaking options without giving away too many secretz and without cementing any ideas permanently into your impressionable noggins, we gotta play a little bit fast and loose. Details, as always, are subject to change. Don’t form any lasting attachments.

Ready?

Let’s say you want to play some Team Objective with three of your friends. Neat-o! You can do that. From the title screen, select Main Menu, then Matchmaking, and use your Active Roster to form or join your squad (more on that later).

Once you’ve tinkered with all the options, select a Playlist and then choose Team Objective from the list of awesome options. Matchmaking will then begin its search for a suitable party to pair you with. Since you’re operating in a 4v4 list, you don’t need to worry about being split and since you’re in a preformed party, matchmaking is gonna do its very best to pair you up with another party of four in the interest of fair play.

That bit you read over at Shacknews about parties being ravenously torn apart would only pertain here if you had a party larger than this particular Playlist’s team size allows. (Because you can’t have like six dudes on a four man team, dig?) You don’t worry to sweat the calculations though – complex algorithms ensure that these maths don’t ever get fuzzy.

If you’re going it alone, or going in with a party smaller than the max team size, matchmaking will initially try to find players and parties of similar constitution to pair you with. Oh, and through ALL of these scenarios, we’re using an updated version of Trueskill to ensure fair and competitive matches even though it’s not being displayed or being used to inform your “rank” anymore. Trust us, it’s there.

We’ve also got a brand new system in place that’ll give you an idea of each player’s overall, game wide experience at a glance. Something completely divorced from your Arena rating altogether. The concept of per-playlist EXP/Military Rank is going bye bye. So long, sucker. In its place, something we’ll talk more about next week. (Yup, it has to do with both the Rank and cR designations you spy in the recent batch of screenshots.)
Are You Not Entertained?
Since Arena seems to be the source of much gnashing of teeth and general confusion, we figure we should pay it some extra special mind and clear up a few of the common misconceptions and concerns we’ve been seeing as well. Easy stuff first. As we’ve explained above, Arena is NOT the only set of Playlists on offer in Halo: Reach. It’s not even Option A. And it’s not the only competitive offering, either.

Now that we know what Arena isn’t, let’s talk about what it is.

Arena is designed to foster ultra competitive matches focused on skill, individual performance, and personal bragging rights. If you don’t have a single competitive bone in your body, you should probably steer clear. Most of the players in this list will be looking to break those bones and then beat you over the head with ‘em.

Okay, so it’s not that serious, but yeah, the Arena is all about providing a level playing field for players looking to put their skills to the ultimate test. It’s about finding out who really is the best slayer when many of the more “random” external factors have been stripped away and the underlying ability to put bullet on pixel is all that’s left. That also means the primary experience will likely be primarily Spartan vs. Spartan, will sometimes feature Elite vs. Elite, and seldom (or never) will it intertwine the two. The differences between the two species character models and unique health, shield, and speed attributes are significant enough to call into question whether or not the mixture could ever be considered fair.

But the Arena isn’t rigid and monolithic. We can change and tweak the settings as we roll from season to season, which will help ensure the experience remains both fresh and fair. And yeah, right now it’s Slayer only. Objective includes too many intangibles that make rating a player’s performance problematic.
The Short & Sweet
The Arena is ongoing, it’s seasonal, and you’ll be ranked amongst your peers according to your individual performance.

The Arena ranking is only applicable to the Arena, which means your Daily Rating, current Division standing, and historical Seasonal performance will have no impact on non-Arena Playlists.
Indian Ocean. Present Day.
Luke’s not so subtle tease from earlier in the year makes a little more sense now, eh? The internal analogy for the Arena comes from Top Gun and, more specifically, from the “Greenie Board” employed by Naval pilots. In the real world, no matter your military rank, the only thing that matters on the Greenie Board is the execution of each individual landing. In the case of Arena, that’s your individual play.

Does that mean team play isn’t important? Nope. It’s intrinsic. If you want to hole up all by your lonesome or go totally Rambo, you’re not utilizing your resources effectively. And your rating will certainly reflect your poor judgment if the other team capitalizes on your selfish play. It’s not just your kills-per-death ratio that informs where your game rating ends up; we’re able to weed through a wealth of relevant statistical information to make the right call.

We plan on digging in and exposing all the under the hood mechanics that make it work properly soon. The formula that calculates your rating WILL be made publicly available so you can see exactly what actions increase or decrease your rating calculation. In fact, in the current Alpha version, it’s displaying right in your HUD as the mysterious numerical oddity I previously described in not-so-rich detail. When you’re playing well, you watch your rating increase in real time. When you do something inadvisable (say, maybe betray Luke with an errant grenade), you see the negative impact immediately. Whether or not the HUD itself is the final resting place is something we’re sorting out internally. Likely, it’ll be shown on the scoreboard. No matter where it ends up though, you will be able to see where you stand, in game and on the fly.

For now, all you need to know is that yes, Arena is the ultra competitive experience on tap for Halo: Reach and that we want you to rip it apart in the Beta come May. If you think you can break it, boost it, or otherwise find a way to game it in your favor, we want you to expose those weak spots and hit ‘em hard for massive damage. As with everything we’re discussing here today, everything is subject to change and we have the resources and bandwidth to respond and adjust as needed.

That’s why we’re running an Alpha right now. That’s why we’re planning an internal Beta. And that’s why we’re inviting millions of players to pounce on our public multiplayer Beta in May.

And again, keep in mind that while Arena is tuned to appeal to the darkest and deadliest corners of your competitive side, Reach will make full use of all the tricks of the trade to give you good reason to step into other Playlists with tons of options to explore and plenty of game types to dig into. In fact, we expect all flavors of matchmaking to be equally tasty. You’ll get to experience plenty of ‘em in the Beta as well, including delicious new stuff like Invasion.

If you want more info about the Arena experience, you should dive into this thread in our Halo: Reach forum. Rex has been systematically answering pertinent questions all day long.
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Do you like winning or do you want to have fun? Make your decision right now. You can’t have both!



Actually, you can. Along with a whole host of under the hood improvements to our netcode, Trueskill, and Matchmaking algorithms, we’re also dialing up the Connection Options and Social Settings you can play with in order to fill out your squad with like-minded players.

One big misconception that we’ve seen is that these options are filtering players out of the selection pool, drawing lines in the sand and bifurcating players along already cantankerous lines (Do you enjoy the AR or the DMR more?). That’s not the case. These settings inform which players our matchmaking system will prefer to team you up with should you have open slots in your party when you go searching in any given playlist.

They don’t guide which types of games you’ll play. You’re still at the helm of that ship. Want to play Team Slayer? Your Social Settings and Connection Options won’t prevent you from making that call (though in certain, special cases, such as the Arena, the playlist may override your personal settings to ensure fair play).

And of course, if your personal preference encapsulates more than one simple option, you can choose to leave the lever in the default position and we’ll assume that you either have no preference at all or prefer to play with the full spectrum of player types on your squad. Think winning and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive? Us too! You can consider that outlook the default option. You don’t need to touch this control panel. Hugs and kisses for everyone!

What preferences won’t do is affect anyone on the other team. You’ll be matched based on skill alone. Hear that? It’s the sound of a bunch of jerks that were going to use these preferences to troll matchmaking collectively slamming their bedroom doors in anger. And while we’re on that sour note, Rex wants us to mention that the muting options you’ll have at your fingertips for Reach are all much easier to deploy and much more effective at rooting out the blathering idiots you’ll undoubtedly come across.

What’s a Mute Ban? Hopefully you’re not the type of player who’s gonna find out. If you are, we won’t be able to hear you anyway. La la la. Can’t hear you! La la la.

To help put a finer point on these newfangled options, we asked our residence Crazy Sausage King, Luke Timmins, to step up to the plate and drive all these new ideas home. We’ve broken them out so we can tackle them one by one and Froman filled in the gaps where our info was a lacking or just plain wrong.
Connection Options
Connection options were available in Halo 3, but they’ve now been improved and expanded on to be more effective in Reach. Instead of only being able to choose one, players can now pick and choose from all of the available options. So, it’s not really a prioritization, but more of a granular choice.

By default the game will always look for the “Fastest” search result, but players can then decide how much importance should be given to things like “Good Connection” (I only want to be in a game with people who have low latency), “Language” (I only want to play with people who share the same language as me), and “Skill” (I only want to play with people of a similar skill). The degree to which these factors influence your matchmaking searches are dependent on which playlist you’re in. For example, we would not allow “Language” to filter out opponents.

But be warned:

Connection Options CAN and WILL have a large impact on matching times.


It’s the nuclear option. By setting your Connection Options to be more restrictive, you’re not adding a layer of preferences to the search – you’re informing matchmaking that you refuse to participate in anything but a game that does not meet your chosen criteria. So, in a perfect world nobody should set Connection Options and everybody should set up their Social Preferences.

If you’re worried about regional networking, rest easy. Matchmaking will now take into account your locale and match you up accordingly.
Social Settings
In addition to defining your overall preferred matching criteria, you can also toggle social settings that can add an additional layer of logic when it comes time to finding teammates you want to be paired with. Just like “Connection Options,” the degree to which these factors will influence your matchmaking results are dependent on the specific playlist parameters and it’s important to note that a Social Setting will never override the underlying core matchmaking that takes place (i.e. a “chatty” level 20 won’t get matched with a “chatty” level 50).

One very important thing we want to drive home here is that social preferences will never “slow down” your match. They don’t even change the matching pool; they just help us try to build better matches.
I Choo Choo Choose You (Voting)
In Halo 3, we’d throw a map and game variant your way and if you didn’t like it, you had to shout “Veto!” repeatedly at the top of your lungs and then lament the fact that nobody else mashed the X button with you or that the secondary option wasn’t really something you wanted to play either. That’s lame.

In Reach, you’ll have a greater degree of control over what games and maps you’re playing. Once you’re matched into a squad, the game will provide a default map and game variant, but also provide up to three other alternatives. Majority rules, but if a playlist demands special treatment, we can configure blind or no vote options as well. We’re flexible like that.


Arts & Crafts
In the Beta, players will be able to create Saved Films and upload them to their File Shares and create screenshots that can be posted to their gallery on Bungie.net. In Halo 3, players were limited to a total of around 100 custom content items (maps, game types, films, screens, etc.), but in Reach, you’ll be able to have THOUSANDS of custom content items. Better yet, you’ll be able to upload, tag, and search for content right from the in game menus, utilizing the massive database previously found only through Bungie.net to tag and query our vast community collection for kick ass content.

Sounds awesome, eh? It is.
Invite Me, Plz
A lot of folks were wondering why we called out Active Roster as a major feature in the multiplayer trailer. At first blush, it does seem like a minor enhancement to the already robust party and friend features bundled with Halo 3. To get the full effect of just how much more elegant, easy to use, and powerful Active Roster is, you really need to experience it for yourself, which you will in May. But since we seem to have done a less than stellar job teeing it up for you in our own words, we brought in Active Roster’s architect, Tyson Green to ‘splain it better for us.



Q. Briefly ‘splain what Active Roster is and why I should care about it. (Yes, technically this is not a question.)

A. The Active Roster is the result of our lobby and Party system getting together with the Friends List, with Player Details getting on the action too.

Basically, the familiar list of players on the right side of the lobby now displays more than just your own Party. If you have it set to Xbox LIVE Friends, then it displays your Friends right there in the Roster. You can select them, see what they're doing, see if there's room in their Party, and join them. If a couple of Friends are in the same Party, you can see that right there. If you didn't like digging through the Guide to see who was doing what, you're going to appreciate how much easier this is.

And if you're already in a party and just want to check people out, the Player Details display right there in the lobby now. Less navigating sub-screens. All of the customized Spartan and Elite models look hot on display, too.

Q. The accessibility angle seems akin to the global “Y” button application seen in Halo 2. Was Active Roster informed by Halo 2’s more ubiquitous access to any given players’ friends list or was it born out of some other dark and nebulous place where secrets dance upon a marvelous ribbon of wishes?

A. We've never forgotten that night that Halo 2's Y menu left us. It still hurts.

But besides that, we've been influenced by other social environments in other games. A lot of games these days always drop you right into contact with your friends, show you what they're doing, and invite you to join them. We wanted that feeling of "opt-out" interaction instead of "opt-in."

Q. What’s a Queue Join, Precious?

A. Queue joins are a stab at solving the thing that was most irritating about trying to get into a game with your friends in Halo 3: waiting in the lobby, sending messages, and hoping they remember to invite you between games.

The way it works now is that you see your friends in the Active Roster, even if they're in a game you can't join (like an Arena Match). Instead of peppering them with pleas for invites, you just select one of them, hit Join*, and we queue you up to join their Party. When they come out of their match, it drops you right into their group, automatically.

*Subject to Party Privacy settings, of course. We're not crazy.

And Precious is a mini-boss in ICC that still hasn't dropped a ribbon for our group. Not sure why you needed to know that, though. Perhaps you're trying to test me?

Q. So, does this mean I’ll be able to stop pestering my friends with a ceaseless stream of truncated messages begging for post game invites?

A. While this eliminates the need, I'm sure it won't always eliminate the desire.

Q. Now that you’ve had a few months to break it in, how do you like your fancy new bucket hat? Do you ever think about the old one that you callously and unceremoniously discarded?

A. My doughty new hat grows more comfortable by the day, while my old one enjoys a stitched and patched retirement on my desk, where I can occasionally reach out and caress it, lovingly. It's a good life.

I'd wear both at the same time if society didn't frown on such things.

Q. How will I live without this newfangled techno-miracle when I play other titles whose rosters are decidedly inactive?

A. I'm not sure I would call that life.



Well played.
I Like Dat UI
Me too. Reach’s menus are lookin’ slick, aren’t they? Candland didn’t think so. He was visibly shaken when he saw the screens we were delivering to Shacknews. He wants you to know that what you’re looking at is all placeholder. Expect significant polish to be liberally applied the aesthetics from now until we ship.

Which may or may not be in September. Seriously, we really don’t have a date lined up, regardless of any rumors you may have heard (or any hypothetical, seasonal Arena scenarios Tyson Green may have presented in his Shacknews interview).

When we zero in on a ship date, we’ll make a whole lot of noise about it.
Campaign, On Approach
Speaking of making noise, Marcus and Joe continue to deliver the tasty development tidbits over at Noble Actual. This week, they’re talking a little bit of campaign. In lieu of stealing their thunder, I’ll just let you stumble on over and read their musings for yourself.
Pair of Podcasts in the Pipe…
…five by five. We recorded the March Podcast on Wednesday of this week. Christopher P. Carney and Sage stopped by and we cut what should be a really interesting show for anyone looking to get learned on both the broad, high level multiplayer approach for Halo: Reach and the nitty gritty stuff like field of view, shield and health mechanics, native run speed, and tons more. We should have it up for you by the end of the month.

Here’s a teaser: The DMR and the Magnum can take down a fully shielded Spartan with the exact same number of trigger pulls.

We also recorded a second, extra special Podcast with Grizzled Ancient, Paul Bertone. We strapped him in a chair, stuck him in front of a microphone, and made him play through the first Halo mission he designed evar, Truth and Reconciliation. The result? Pure, unbridled awesome.

I’ll let you know when both go live. Stay Tuned.
Bungie Store Updated!
Okay, so it's not exactly Spring attire, but still, our new brand of sweatshirts are pretty sweet. Really soft on the inside, too. Check 'em out when you get a chance. At the very least, because the model is so damn sexy.


Blame Stosh
Stosh got wet and wild last week. Today, he’s back on dry land, but way too busy to be playing on B.net. No Blame Stosh. You know who’s responsible for this atrocity.

And that’s it for this week, folks. Don’t wander too far, though. We’re just getting started.
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