Halo Infinite will be releasing next Fall with its campaign and free-to-play multiplayer, according to 343 Industries in an overdue December 2020 update.
Their first “Inside Infinite” interview features creative director Joseph Staten, who sat with the team’s multiple departments to talk shop. Specifically, Halo Infinite was revealed to be making progress since its June 2020 campaign demo while improvements such as lighting and level design were greatly overhauled. Much of these decisions led to the anticipated sequel being delayed on August 11, 2020 and missing its Xbox Series X launch title window. More quality changes included weapon details, which would become customizable with SPARTANS across a new multiplayer interface. Breakout star Craig was also addressed with deeper facial animations and other distinctive features for the Banished Brute enemy types.
Arts and graphics were one of 343i’s biggest sticking points since their campaign demo divided audiences. For graphics development manager Ani Shastry, Halo Infinite‘s direct lighting and shadows had to work with high framerates. This was what Shastry described as “focused on achieving high resolution and performance leading up to the demo,” and a complete vision on launch time. The higher resolutions would also warrant deeper bug fixes and optimizations which would work with 4K resolutions at a minimum 60 frames per second, something Shastry added would be a prime target.
“Where the primary difference comes into play is the sheer density of content in the expansive outdoor environment and the challenges that brings in authoring the content at scale, and then at runtime efficiently streaming all that data and rendering it at a smooth 60 frames per second at high resolutions,” he said, adding the engine would be working with a seamless open world. “Another difference that is unique to the exterior environment is the seamless time of day, which requires a more dynamic global illumination approach, along with providing various knobs to control the elements of lighting, sky and atmospherics, and color grading as time progresses.”
The open would would take on heavier performance as every corner of Zeta Halo would be getting a global illumination. While ray tracing is not out of the question for Series X and PC players, the world would also cycle through different times of the day and alter the lighting. For 343, it was the graphics department’s biggest challenge which would extend to its free-to-play Multiplayer aspect. For the first time, Halo Infinite would roll out its iconic online mode for all players at 120 fps. This likely includes classic modes including Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, Capture the Flag and custom community Forge maps. A previously-rumored battle royale mode was recently shot down by 343 following months of speculation by Halo fans.
343’s in-house discussion shifted to Craig, a random Brute who captivated and baffled viewers with an expressionless visage during Halo Infinite‘s demo. According to art management director Neill Harrison, the campaign demo was made “prior to blendshapes & animation being applied.” The final release build would feature full animations for Brutes, including realistic humanoid details to fit their distinctions.
“There’s been further work done on the material fidelity and more variety added for Brute faces, we’re also working to add some hairdos and beards which was something we hadn’t gotten to in July. So, whilst we have come to love our dear old Craig, he’s certainly undergoing a significant makeover,” Harrison said. “Craig isn’t the only model to see improvements though, there have been significant changes to other characters & 3D models as we continue to evolve and polish our content, some of which can be seen in the Spartan and weapon renders being shared today.”
Craig, like many character models, will be featured across Halo Infinite‘s expansive world and multiplayer. For the game’s multiplayer maps, Harrison added the indoor scenes would feature digital construction of “lots of metals, reflections and more curated lighting” to fit the UNSC’s mechanical settings. Of course, similar and complex materials would be used to separate Covenant bases and other Banished checkpoints. Many of these elements would help diversify Halo Infinite‘s different multiplayer maps – some of which directly affect gameplay.
“Obviously with Multiplayer maps, collaboration with designers is key. Layout, sight lines, and player navigation are crucial and are all things that we iterate on constantly as we fine tune the experience,” Harrison said. “There’s something really cool about the juxtaposition between the intimate and expansive spaces in Halo Infinite and whilst they each offer different challenges, they should bring a nice balance and variety to the experience.”
Lead progression designer Chris Biohm shared more details on Halo Infinite‘s revamped multiplayer system, which features a similar pass-based leveling system from The Master Chief Collection. Most of the content, rewards and tiers will also be free with a few premium cosmetics. The free-to-play approach includes a live “service-driven” system with events and limited rewards for players to catch.
“We will always provide value for pure engagement and simply playing the game. We believe that providing value isn’t exclusive to monetary transactions, it’s also about making sure you’re properly rewarded for the time you’re investing into the game,” Biohm said, admitting that Halo 5 Guardians didn’t adequately reward players. “Players that play for free will be able unlock items across a multitude of different customization types to allow them to represent themselves in-game.”
At launch, Halo Infinite would include a load of free “tokens of appreciation” to make up for Halo 5‘s mistakes. Two tokens, including a special Watchdog armor and weapon coating set were unveiled as the first reward.
Armor coatings will be Halo Infinite‘s answer for skins. Each one varies from material, colour and design while players can mix and match with their armor pieces. Like previous Halo installments, players can unlock and equip different pieces of MJOLNIR armor. New and familiar ones can also be used to recreate some classic characters including ODSTs and Noble Team. Biohm stated the customization feature is inspired directly from its introduction in Halo Reach. Players can even customize their SPARTANS, down to the helmet, shoulder pads, visor color and ammo pouches over armor pieces.
“One way to look at inventory systems is to look at their breadth and depth. How many things can I customize and how many choices within it do I have? Reach allowed the player a lot of individual customization types on a single armor suit with each type having many options,” he said. “We knew we had to return to that level, but also do more.”
343 unapologetically remained vague on deeper levels of customization, campaign plot details and other design questions until the next update. Its development will stretch across most of next year, with an unannounced release date tied to Fall 2021. Halo Infinite and its standalone free-to-play multiplayer will launch exclusively on the Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One family with a version for PC being available over Steam and Microsoft Store.