This is a reblog from Halo Wayoint:
Welcome back, friends! We’ve still got Blitz on the brain so this week’s update has some pro-tips and insights to hopefully help elevate your game and win percentage as we go into the final weekend of the Halo Wars 2 Beta. We’ve also got quite a bit of Halo 5 news on deck including info on tomorrow’s “Warlords” playlist, new helmets, an ask for feedback and more. Beyond that we’ve also got another 343 Team Spotlight from deep within the Halo Wars 2 team and Uny’s serving up another helping of the Community Spotlight and a Play of the Week.
I know I solicited your feedback and quetions on Twitter this week and while quite a bit is covered below, I know I couldn’t get to everything. I also owe some updates on Forge creations so I’ll revisit those questions and topics next week when we come up for air from the Blitz Beta.
We’ve got a fully loaded deck of legendary updates this week so without further ado…3..2..1..Blitz!
We’ve enterted the final stretch of the Blitz Beta with one last weekend of hands-on time with Halo Wars 2’s newest mode to go before it shuts down on Jan. 30. The beta has gone great overall and we’re grateful to everyone who has taken time to share feedback and various bug reports. The 343 and Creative Assembly teams have been combing through forums on Waypoint and beyond as they continue working to polish and enhance the game before its launch next month.
If you haven’t checked out the Blitz Beta yet, please do give it a shot! You’ve still got a few days left and you can earn yourself two card packs in the final game just for participating. Check out this blog postto know to jump in and get started with the Blitz Beta. Or if you prefer to skip all of the mumbo jumbo, skip straight to the download for your platform of choice:
Note that for the Blitz Beta specifically, you will need to download each platform version individually.
Last week we put together a pretty comprehensive guide to getting started with Halo Wars 2’s Blitz mode. Now after a week of hands-on play it’s time to go back to the classroom for a follow-up course with some more advanced tips and tactics to help you elevate your game. I’ve personally played about 18-ish hours of the Blitz Beta so far, so I’ve amassed quite a bit of personal experience and knowledge through various trials and tribulations on “Proving Grounds.” But time played doesn’t equate to skill so I’ve also asked Max Szlagor, 343 Senior Designer, to share some of his best tips and advice. And, if that isn’t enough, I’ve also borrowed a few tips I’ve seen posted by fans online! Most of these tips are pretty general and can be applied to all game modes but particular focus has been given to 2v2 and 3v3 play. Overall one of the biggest tips I can give is to communicate! A team that’s using their microphones and talking will always have a huge advantage over a team of people silently going about their own business.
We don’t claim to be pro players by any means but yesterday Grim and I played a few games of Blitz with our pal iSpiteful. I’m not one to brag (ok I totally am) but we went undefeated during our afternoon 3v3 run in matchmaking. One of the most important aspects to our success is team communication – something I’ve very rarely encountered when playing solo in the beta. If you’re interested he’s posted two of our games you can check it out inline below:
In Blitz you’re only as good as your deck and cards at your disposal so make sure to careful think about your choices and build out a deck that will support your desired style of play. When playing with a teammate or teammates, there are some powerful synergies to be had by coordinating leaders and units to have a wide array of some of the most powerful units and abilities in the game. As a general rule, go for a mix of cards at different costs so you don’t get stuck with low energy and unable to play. On the same note, don’t go too low overall or risk being underpowered late game as energy becomes more readily available (unless of course this is a strategy developed with a teammate who opts for units to help make up for your deck’s weaknesses). Also as a general rule you’ll want to have at least one or two “Detect” cards or you may find yourself getting crushed by invisible opponents (a “Cloak” rush is a fairly common strategy that can be a near instant-win if you can’t counter). A healer-type unit is also usually required (either in your own deck or that of your teammate(s). Beyond that I also opt for a mix of cards that offer well-rounded defenses spanning infantry as well as ground and air vehicles; though again, this is something you could get interesting with and coordinate specifically with your teammate(s).
HFFL: I heartedly agree here. When playing as Banished, I make sure to have the Engineer card in my deck. I have at least one of the Elite cards in my deck as well to detect cloaked enemies. Beyond that, my deck is varied. I use the Locust and Blisterback mostly. (I”ll have a write-up about that strategy later.
Ok so one of the most critical aspects of Blitz is coordination of units to hold and control key parts of the map. After all, you only score points if you control more zones than your opponent so it’s critical to put the right units in the right places and employ team work to come out on top.
Let’s start off by talking about the landscape. Particularly a little slice of land we’ve come to lovingly refer to as “OP Ridge” (and I totally agree with Grim, that’s a sweet band name!). If you’ve played a few games you know what I’m talking about – it’s the elevated stretch that sits conveniently between control points B and C in the southern half of the map.
That little red star is perhaps the most valuable chunk of land on “Proving Grounds,” at least in the current beta meta. While it’s true that more energy cells generally drop in the ridge above A, this elevated perch provides a seriously powerful means of locking down points B & C and harassing the heck out of your opponent via long range units. In the games where I’ve had the most success, my teammates and I immediately rush for B & C at the start of the match and once we can establish control, quickly start building out Locusts, Blisterbacks and Kodiaks to deploy on that ridgeline, bolstered with Engineers or Nightengales to heal. Watch what your opponent does – most teams employ a similar strategy which can leave them open to a quick sneak capture of A right at the start (something Grim has excelled at!).
HFFL: heh heh, well, seems ske7ch already explained what I was going to say, but in fewer words…
This of course means you’ll want those types of cards in your starting deck – ideally coordinating with your teammates to have a good variety of both UNSC and Banished units. A Blisterback setup in stationary mode (Y) has a devastating range and will pummel opposing units clear across the map. Coupled with Locusts (also massive range) and Kodiaks (big damage when in stationary siege mode) you’ve got yourself a formidable force to reckon with, more so if a healer or two is supporting.
If you can’t establish initial control on “OP Ridge” then all is not lost. The main consideration here is to try and continue poking at your enemy and don’t let them amass a huge army there because the more entrenched they get, the harder it will be to take point B.
If you’re forced to concede the ridge, definitely make sure you’re controlling A and work to build up some ranged units just south of that point so it’s well clear of the Ridge range but can lay down heavy fire on control point B when the battle ensues. The upside to controlling A is that you’re generally closer to a majority of energy drops – so make sure you’ve got a quick unit like a Warthog, Ghost or Chopper to run out and get the energy.
HFFL: I definitely agree here. Though my approach is the B/C combo, holding A for energy can be key later in the match. Stationing Blisterbacks between A and B and having other troops between the Blisterbacks and B makes for a good defense for A as well as a long-range offense of B. (Blisterbacks can attack enemies, so long as your units are in range of the enemy and have them lit up on screen. As opposed to the area being darkened by your non-presence.)
RETAKING THE RIDGE
If your opponent gets setup and entrenched it can feel like there’s no chance of winning. Don’t give up! There are a few effective ways to disrupt and either wipe or retake the ridge. “Blast” keyword units are devastating with a massive AOE (Area of Effect) explosion that deals significant damage to any enemy units caught in its radius. Drop in some Suicide Grunts or a Wild Jackrabbit or Wild Hellbringers and if you can get in the middle of a dense unit formation it’s lights out for your opponent. Leader ultra abilities can also make short work of a ridgeline defense including the Scarab, Condor and Eradication. Hero units can also do some serious damage if deployed at the right time, I’ve had a cloaked Honor Guard utterly wreck my stationary ranged units because I didn’t have a “Detect” unit in the vicinity.
HFFL: A word of caution for using the Condor or Scarab, don’t just bring them into a battle zone alone. They can be quickly taken down by an amassed army. You want to have support troops going with them to also attack. Let me further add that when you are attacking a base, move your troops INSIDE of the circle! That will at least make the base contested, which will stop the enemy from gaining points. Keeping your troops outside of the circle while attacking is NOT effective as the enemy can still gain a lot of points in a skirmish, even if you have the overwhelming army.
343 Senior Designer Max Szlagor knows a thing or two about Blitz. Here are some helpful tips he passed along:
- Understand how Deployment Fatigue works and avoid dropping units into the middle of important battles you are likely to lose.
- You can take advantage of opposing unit’s deployment fatigue with long range units such as Locusts and Snipers – get them in position to poke newly spawned opposing units as soon as they enter the battlefield.
- Use air units for quick captures and to pre-soften energy drops (but be wary of an enemy steal, air units can’t actually capture the energy themselves).
- Use fast units to quickly harvest and steal energy. If you can engage the enemy while energy drops are coming in, sometimes you can grab them from right under their nose.
- In close games where you are ahead, constantly contest any scoring points and don’t hesitate to drop cheap units in to die to stall time if needed. Consider saving up an energy load for this purpose.
- Micro matters – drop newly spawned units into the back line so they can fully heal before being hurt by the enemy, maximize where keywords and powers do most damage (blast and large leader powers). Also, if the enemy forces are split across multiple fronts, blast units are much more likely to go unnoticed versus a single point.
- Cheap units are almost like cycling, but better because you get some combat or energy harvesting value from them.
- Be sure to cycle expensive cards at the right time – like when you are at a capture point close to an energy drop and can get line of sight near it but you don’t have a ground unit ready. Cycle that expensive card to get a cheap ground unit like a Marine or Chopper that can easily grab energy cores.
- Remember to use Y abilities as often as you can. Vulture blasts, Banshee bombs, Marine grenades, Warthog and Chopper rams all do significantly more damage than regular attacks.
- Pick off stray units or small armies as they move around the map. In Blitz, relatively small numbers of units are played and destroying a few units here and there has a massive effect on the final game, especially if you can pick off a lone expensive unit like a Scorpion or Blisterback.
- Understand the value of controlling different points on the map at different times – Point A can yield more energy drops and is valuable early on while point C becomes much harder to assault as players start lining it up with long range units due to the cliff wall.
- Use the LB button on Xbox to fast scroll around the map regularly to see what your opponent has, starting with their initial army. If you see an early advantage or an opportunity to hard counter them, engage them as soon as you can.
HFFL: Let me add to those tips above.
- Deployment Fatigue: Choose at least 2 cards that ignore fatigue. This allows them to get right into the battle at FULL health and firepower. On that note though, you do NOT need to spawn all of your forces at your base. When the enemy is far enough away, you should spawn forces within a base or on one of the ridges overlooking a base.I bring in Locusts/Marauders to teh base, along with an Engineer to help heal them. Then I may reposition the Locust to a ridge.
- Air Units: While a good foe against ground based troops, typically, they are not good for collecting energy. Yes, they can destroy the energy drop pod, but can NOT collect it. So be sure to have a fast moving vehicle to grab that energy. Note also that even if you destroy an energy pod, youre enemy can steal it by bringing in troops quickly. In this case I use either Ghosts or Jackrabbits, depending on which force I’m using.
- Close game points: As mentioned, dropping in small units can be a VERY effective way to hold or at least contest a base until your/your team can bring in the big guns. This is why I also include Jump Pack Brutes and Grunts as cards in my Banished deck.
- Cycling Cards: Again a GREAT point here. I fill the rest of my deck with small value cards. Not just for the harvesting value, but also, if I screw up and bring them into battle by accident, I don’t use up a lot of that precious energy!
Here are some pro-tips plucked from the depths of the Halo community:
- Nightingale Smoke ability: This is a hidden gem! Triggered with the Y button (gamepad) or the R key (PC keyboard). It cloaks any unit that enters the smoke (friend or foe), but also disables their weapons. Very handy for temporarily pausing fire from scary enemy units. (via OriginalBigDan)
- In case anyone else didn’t understand this at first either, the “guard” ability means that enemy units will always target that unit first before being able to attack your other nearby units. (via noossab)
- Mobility and Energy drops: You need to have Warthogs/Ghosts/Choppers/etc. fast moving ground units that can capitalize on energy drops. These drops really make the difference in Blitz. Being able to quickly nab a drop in enemy territory or get to a drop at the far end of the map can really push the scales in your favor. (via CoralReefs)
- The Nightingale’s ability is OP against Condor/Scarab especially if you have two. If the enemy drops Scarab/Condor on you, instantly use the Nightingale’s ability on it and move your troops under it. Then when it wears off use your second. Scarab or Condor will disappear before or right after it wears off and rendered useless. Also it continues healing your units while cloaked. (via BoboTheBurner)
- If you want all your units to move to a spot at their own pace, select your units then quickly press RT followed by X to individually scroll through each unit type and manually get them to move via their own separate commands. (via EDGE515)
HFFL: The smokescreen effect of the Nightingale is an ability that isn’t much known or utilized. Be sure to try it and get used to when it’s best to use that ability. It could be a game saver!
BLITZ BETA MYTHBUSTERS
Over the course of the Beta it’s been awesome seeing so much conversation and engagement across Halo forums as players share their impressions, tell stories of their experiences and pass on battle-proven tips and tactics. However, I’ve also noticed a few areas of confusion, or “alternative facts” as we now seem to call these bits of misinformation. Here’s a few common “myths” I’ve seen thus far that I’d like to officially bust:
- “Blitz is the only game mode in Halo Wars 2.” BUSTED! Blitz is just one of many modes, including a robust campaign and classic-style RTS multiplayer offerings such as Deathmatch, Strongholds and Domination.
- “Blitz cards cost more to play as you level them up.” BUSTED! A card will always have the same energy cost, regardless of what level it is.
- “Blitz cards can only be obtained by spending real money.” BUSTED! Players will have the option to purchase packs from the store but you’ll have many ways to earn packs in the final game such as completing the tutorials, finishing campaign missions, completing daily and weekly challenges, ranking up and more!
- “Blitz won’t let me choose my leader/deck!” BUSTED! If you select “Quick Play” it will default to your current “Favorite” deck but if you choose “Play” and then select your game type you’ll have an opportunity to select your leader and deck before the match begins.
- “Blitz isn’t matching me with teammates or opponents of the same level.” BUSTED! The rank displayed next to a player is an indication of their XP gained but not their actual skill. The Halo Wars 2 matchmaking system is working behind the scenes to put players into fairly matched, competitive games based on their skill rating, not necessarily their rank.
HFFL: Hmm, that last one I think isn’t quite busted. I’ve been matched up against some sweaty competitors. LIkewise, I’ve been matched up against noobs that I crush under heal… So take that particular mythbuster with a grain of salt. I imagine as the full game progresses, the skill gap will become better defined. In the Beta however, most people are relatively close in rank and games played that the skill factor doesnt’ seem to have kicked in as much. Just my personal observation though.
Hopefully some of these tips and tactics will help you improve your win-rate during this final Blitz Beta weekend. Jump in, give it a shot and please be sure to share your to be closer and more competitive.
Now let’s pivot and shift focus to Halo 5 for a few updates.
HALO 5 “WARLORDS” WARZONE PLAYLIST
Last Friday we announced the upcoming “Warlords” playlist test for Warzone which is set to go live tomorrow afternoon, Jan. 27, at approx. 2 p.m. PST. This new weekend-only update is a test designed to accommodate larger Fireteams that were negatively impacted by last month’s change for maximum 6-man Fireteams in the standard Warzone playlists. This is being viewed as a test internally because frankly it may not be a great experience, especially if the popluation of pre-made 12-man Fireteams is low, resulting in longer-than-desired wait times for matchmaking. Still, we’re looking forward to rolling this out and seeing how larger teams respond and what the experience is like!
Mark your calendars, rally your teammates and get ready for all-out 12-man Fireteam mayhem kicking off tomorrow. Join the “Halo” club on Xbox One and use the built-in “Looking for Group” feature to help fill out your roster – you can only enter matchmaking as a 12-man team. As a special bonus for participating in this “Warlords” playlist, the XP rewards earned during a match will be increased!
The 343 team has a 12-man roster standing by and will be jumping into “Warlords” tomorrow afternoon at approx. 3 p.m.! Keep an eye out for our 343 emblems in-game and we look forward to seeing you on the battlefield!
HFFL: Ugh…the bane of many in Warzone… Going against a full 12 man team of the same party can be downright exhausting and can make you mad at the game. Often, those teams of 12 spawn kill the hell out of another team. Those matches I absolutely hate. That’s also one of the big reasons why the change was made from 12 down to 6 previously. I can say that I will NOT be participating in the 12-man version of Warzone any time soon. Personally, I do NOT want to contribute to a larger Spartan company amassing commendations at mine and my company’s expense. I really hope H6 does NOT have an armor set like Achilles, with regards to it being tied to group commendations. That really has a negative effect on the community as a whole. It DOES change gameplay style as people are more concerned with attaining specific commendations, rather than just having fun and playing the game at leisure. When gaming starts to become work-like, (unless you’re a Pro), its’ time to reconsider how you’re gaming.
Here are some additional details addressing quesitons many of you have raised (special thanks to 343 Design Director David Fifield for sharing some insights with us!):
What type of Warzone is being offered? Is there anything different with the game itself?
“Warlords” will be the same experience as the current Warzone playlist except it is restricted to and requires a 12-man Fireteam to join.
Is Warzone Assasult included?
No, this is regular Warzone.
How long will “Warlords” be available?
The Warlords playlist will launch Jan. 27 at approximately 2 p.m. PST and will come down on Monday morning, Jan. 30. This is being launched as a weekend playlist to help focus the population and hopefully alleviate lower-population issues. The team will monitor feedback and matchmaking data to help inform what shape “Warlords” may take in the future. Depending on feedback we may look to expand it to other days or even leave it up all the time if we find that helps teams coordinate better.
Will the Warlords playlist offer bonus XP?
Can we join the playlist if we’re not in a party of 12?
No, you’ll need a pre-made Fireteam of 12 players before you can enter matchmaking.
HFFL: Well, thats GOOD to know then. Let those larger Spartan Copmanies battle it out amongst themselves and leave us wee little companies alone. LOL (BTW, HFFL’s Spartan Company isn’t so small. We have 53 members as of this writing. Not all are very active though, so it feels smaller than it is.)
What happens if a player gets disconnected during the match?
If a Fireteam member gets disconnected they can “join in progress” onto someone from their friends list.
Did the team give thought to loosening the restrictions to perhaps something like “8 to 12″ max-Fireteam size to make it easier to match?
We did, but 8 vs. 12 doesn’t sound good and there wouldn’t be any groups of 4 to bolster those groups to 12. We likewise considered groups of 6 or 12 to broaden participation, but there is some tricky elements to that “or” condition when trying to validate the teams in matchmaking. As with all our lists, Warlords will be an evolving experience as we see what works and what doesn’t.
This is an interesting experiment but is the team working on a more systemic solution to solve for party-size disparities in matchmaking overall?
We are constantly evaluating and experimenting with how teams and singles are matched. Sometimes these changes are apparent to everyone, sometimes they are subtle and under the hood. As always it’s our goal to create the best experiences for the most people possible. It’s always a balancing act to define what is good matchmaking. Look for a lot more dialog, surveys and new playlists as the team here continues to adjust in the seasons to come.
How has the 6-man Fireteam limit test been going? What has the team found?
The change to 6-person Fireteams has had a positive effect on Warzone results for a large majority of matches played and our current plan is to keep it in place and monitor as we do with every list we run. There is a very obvious problem with the limit of 6 though and that relates to the passionate fans in large clubs and companies who truly enjoy the coordinated tactics and team efforts that unfold when 12 Spartans blitz a goal together. Many of us here in the studio love and miss this as well. Hence Warlords. We don’t want to set back the improvements made with 6-person teams, nor do we want to lose the 12-person spectacle either.
HFFL: I’d be okay with havign both as gametypes in Warzone. Maybe call the 12 player team “BTB Warzone”? Or “BTW” Wait, no, that’s “By the Way”…LOL
WARZONE EASTER EGG
Two weeks ago I teased you all with the revelation that there was a hidden Easter Egg within Warzone Firefight that had yet to be found. While many of you have spent time egg hunting, thus far nobody has found it. In fact some folks on Twitter have been asking for an additional hint and seeing as it’s a pretty tricky egg to uncover I totally agree and asked David Ellis if he’d be willing to drop us a clue. Here’s what he sent:
On the holy place
In the verdant oasis
Away from attack
You’ll find a lost foe
But show them mercy
And witness their bond
Vier their return
When foe becomes friend(s)
HFFL: At present, I am currently deceminating this bit of info and trying to figure out where/when the Easter egg is. I’ll cover this in another blog post.
WARZONE FIREFIGHT MYTHIC WEEKEND
Speaking of Warzone Firefight, this weekend your team will do battle against hordes of Mythic-difficulty enemies on the battleground of “Urban.” Take up arms and venture forth to reap the sweet XP and RP rewards – or die trying.
HFFL: I’m game for that! Urban being smaller makes it easier to find the enemies. Those larger maps can be a hinderance to time per round. Sometimes you’re spending too much time just trying to find enemies.
CLASSIC HELMET REQ PACK
Remember this little bit we teased you with back in December? Of course you do! Well, we’re getting closer to release. Normally the team really doesn’t like publicly revealing dates and timelines because it can inevitably create hardships if a technical issue arises causing a schedule to slip. There is always a chance that a best laid plan doesn’t work out as intended so take what I’m about to tell you with a big grain of salt. Pencil it in with an asterisk because it is always subject to change. Ok, we on the same page? Cool, because I really want to tell you that the Classic Helmet REQ pack will be released on Feb. 9 [Happy birthday to me! – Grim] Now don’t get upset if something changes (in the unlikely event that it does change I’ll let you know), but I wanted you to have proper expectations because there’s a lot of excitement in the community for this (internally too!).
HFFL: YES! I am STOKED for these helmets!! Out of those above, CQB and Pilot are my faves, with EOD and Operator as tied for second.
The helmets will not be released alongside any other content for Halo 5. They are their own thing and technically part of Monitor’s Bounty. The Halo 5 team has been hard at work squashing a number of bugs and making technical improvements and is working on a maintenance update for sometime in the near future. Sorry, I known we’re having a mature and candid discussion but the nature of the work being done on that update is way more complicated and fluid so I’m not able to give a firm timeline yet. Just know that the team wants to get it out as soon as possible since it’s work that will improve aspects of the Halo 5 experience for everyone. More to come.
HFFL: So the question is then, will these be for real money only? Will they be able to get through Gold/Silver packs? Or will they be more expensive RP packs? Something on the order of 60K for 2 helmets, as a (figurative) example.
And speaking of REQs, the team has asked me to put out an official call for feedback! The team is looking closely at REQs across the board and considering potential changes to the REQ energy level costs. The question we have for you is:
IF YOU COULD CHANGE THE ENERGY LEVEL OF ANY ONE REQ ITEM, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Sound off and let us know what you think to some REQ energy requirements which will be effective in Halo 5 as of approx. 10AM on Jan. 27. Here’s what’s changing:
Vehicles reduced energy cost:
- Oni Gungoose to 3 from 4
- Anti-Air Wraith stays the same REQ energy level but is more common in packs (modified to be Rare).
- Banshee and Mantis to 5 from 6. (Note: should look at Mantis rarity, currently Ultra Rare)
Weapons reduced energy cost:
- River of Light to 5 from 6.
- Base Spartan Laser to 4 from 5.
- All Turrets down by 1 EXCEPT Jorge’s Chaingun and except level 2 turrets (no turrets become level 1).
ARENA XP BOOSTS
Screenshot by Azpekt297
Two weeks ago we kicked off some sweeping changes to boosts in Halo 5, increasing the effects of XP cards across the board. Additionally the team cranked up the XP gains in the “Infection” playlist as a test to see how the community responded. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure the overall sentiment was “YES MORE PLEASE” and good news is that the team is happy with what they’re seeing. This weekend the “Warlords” test playlist will get cranked up to award more XP and going forward the team is going to look at the potential for XP increases in other playlists. What’s your experience been like? Does more XP matter to you? Do you want more? HFFL: Ugh…so in order to earn more REQs, I have to be willing to get REQ’d in Warzone? No thanks…
As of last night, we’ve updated the Free-For-All playlist so that Truth, Mercy, and Regret mirror the weapon layout used in our HCS FFA tournaments. These maps were updated after speaking and working with a wide variety of players, incuding some of the top FFA players, to get their feedback on maps and weapon layouts in an effort to create a more balanced FFA experience. If you’d like to read up on the changes to these three maps, we spoke with Eric “GH057ayame” Hewitt of the Multiplayer team not too long ago, and he outlined all of the updates in this blog. Lastly, if you’d like to just practice on these three maps, you can get the files from the “Official HCS” account via the Content Browser.
Speaking of Halo 5, the 2017 Halo World Championship season is officially underway…
Last weekend marked the kickoff of the Halo World Championship 2017 season with the $50,000 prize pool first qualifier event in St. Louis. A huge congratulations goes out to event winner OpTic Gaming! This opening event saw some fantastic play and action-packed matches from all teams and set a great tone for what’s sure to be a heated and entertaining run up to the World Championship. Check out the full HaloWC 2017 Qualifier: St. Louis recap blog right here.
343 TEAM SPOTLIGHT
Seeing as we’re in the midst of the Halo Wars 2 Blitz Beta it felt apropos to point the team spotlight at Max Szlagor, Senior Game Designer at 343, who among other responsibilites, holds the title of “Godfather of Blitz” (ok, I totally just made that title up). If you’ve ever been curious about a career in game design or wonder what a designer does at 343 or fancy yourself a good Magic: The Gathering player, you’ll enjoy the insights Max shares below!
Hey Max, thanks for stepping into the spotlight this week! First off, can you tell us what your role is here at 343 and what it entails?
Max: I am a Senior Game Designer for the 343 Strategy Team, and the 343 Design Lead for Halo Wars 2 Blitz Mode. All of us on the design team at 343 are involved in multiple parts of the project, with particular areas of focus.
I’m responsible for making sure the Halo Wars 2 user interface, matchmaking and out-of-game multiplayer experience and Blitz mode feel fun, fresh, balanced and in line with Halo and Halo Wars expectations. In addition, I manage the design of other projects such as Halo Wars: Definitive Edition.
How long have you been with 343? What prompted you to want to work here?
Max: Four years. A love for Halo and a respect for the team and the work that 343 has done with the franchise prompted me to work here.
What’s your background prior to joining the team? Where else have you worked / other games have you worked on? Did you go to school or get any special training to kickoff your career as a designer?
Max: I’ve been working in the industry for 15 years at a variety of companies including Nintendo, Sony, THQ and Gas Powered Games.
Games I have worked on:
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time/Master Quest for Nintendo GameCube
- The Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition for Nintendo GameCube
- Mario vs. Donkey Kong (the original one)
- Metroid Prime Hunters
- Destroy All Humans!: Path of the Furon
- Age of Empires Online
- Halo 4
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection
- Halo 5
- Halo Wars: Definitive Edition
I attended DigiPen Institute of Technology before they had a game design program, and started my career as a gameplay programmer (doing a lot of design work) at Nintendo. Over time, I came to realize I wanted to focus more exclusively on game design, and made the switch to full time game design.
I am also a former pro-gamer, before that was even a thing. I am a Magic: the Gathering Junior Pro Tour Champion (Long Beach 1996) as well as a top 64 Magic Pro Tour finisher (the second Pro Tour New York). I also won dozens of local Magic: The Gathering tournaments as well as several console game tournaments.
I’m still quite competitive at games, most recently having achieved Legend rank in Hearthstone multiple times and finishing in multiple top 1000 Diablo 3 seasonal leaderboards.
Did you always know you wanted to be a game designer? Was there a particular game or moment that kicked off your passion and inspiration?
Max: Actually, not directly. Back when I was graduating high school, game design didn’t seem like a real job that I could aspire to (this was a long time ago…).
When I was younger, I engaged in a variety of creative activities including level and character sketches, lego building, playing out my own episodes of Transformers with my toys, programming games on a Commodore 64 in Basic by modifying code I found printed in magazines and building levels for the crude game engine editors that existed back then.
When I found out about DigiPen during my early college years, the possibility of working on games became a real one and I embraced it wholeheartedly.
How does working at 343 compare to some of your past experiences?
Max: Every company has a unique culture and approach to developing games, though some things are common to all successful studios. The team at 343 has a high bar for quality and every person feels accountable for meeting that bar. We are all passionate about our fans and how we can deliver the experiences that delight people day after day and game after game. We have a great deal of respect for what has come before and a desire to move the needle in new ways that fit within the franchise.
What’s a typical “day in the life” consist of for you at 343?
Max: There really isn’t such a thing as a typical day here, so here are examples of various things that happen regularly in each week.
- Team meetings – cross studio via Skype as well as internal discussions around hot design or development topics
- Informal discussions – our games are big, and many times a one-on-one discussion with another developer or artist on the team is more efficient than a team meeting
- Playtesting – in-progress unit and mode prototypes that include Skirmish, traditional MP, Blitz and campaign
- Reading – reviewing updated design documentation, mock ups, analytics reports and forum feedback
- Writing – feedback from playtests, notes on design documents, detailed design specs for various game systems or flows, ideas to address fan feedback and slides for presentations
- Platform and studio collaboration – meeting or chatting with internal cross-disciplinary teams within 343 Industries, Microsoft Studios, Xbox and Windows groups to discuss broader goals for future game titles
- Design modeling – leveraging l33t Excel and database query skills to dig further into game systems, game balance, player behavior and matchmaking health
- Digital drawing – creating wireframes, flows, mock ups and paint overs with design notes on user experience, level design, unit design, etc.
- Prototyping – cracking open development tools from our various game engines to demonstrate how a level or character might play
What do you enjoy the most about your job? What’s the most challenging aspect of being a designer?
Max: What I enjoy most is working with great people to make great games.
The most challenging part of being a designer is twofold – firstly, any game development job requires a fierce dedication to staying ahead of the curve and learning and improving your skills or risk being left behind. You must also keep on top of games and trends across many areas of design across many different types of games on a variety of platforms, and the release pace is relentless.
Also, being a designer isn’t about being the “idea person” – it’s very much a collaborative role that requires active communication, listening, processing and gentle guiding. You won’t get far as a designer if you think you just send ideas off to be implemented by other people. You have to get your hands dirty and prove to people that you have important skills to bring to the table, day after day.
What skillsets and experience do you think is most important to succeed in a game design career?
Max: Game designers need to be broad in knowledge and deep in specific domains. Game design requires so many things – creativity, passion, curiosity, a broad foundation in how things work in the world, being “well read,” an understanding of what makes a great story, a long and deep knowledge of many games and their components, basic art skills, understanding how to dig into tools ranging from Excel to Photoshop to engines like Unreal to prototype ideas, being highly proactive, paying attention to the detail and excellent communication and presentation skills. Programming skills are a huge bonus for prototyping ideas as well.
A lot of fans aspire to be a game designer someday. What advice do you have for them? Any tips to break into the industry or get noticed?
Start by making things – write, draw or sculpt digital things, build, program and share what you make. Write about why you like a particular game, in as much detail as you can about the way that game is put together, and share it via a blog or forum post. Grab a level editor such as Forge for a game you enjoy and begin making levels and sharing them with the community. Get feedback and keep making those levels better, and then pushing them back out into the community. Get involved in community discussions and articulate what you like and dislike about your favorite games. Open up a game engine like Unity3d or Unreal and begin making whatever you can – start with levels and remixing things and then move onto programming and/or making art assets. The key thing is to build things and share them with the world – you will get better and better as you keep practicing. Great work gets noticed.
Tell us a little about the partnership and working closely with the CA team on Halo Wars 2… are there particular challenges or opportunities with this kind of model vs. total in-house development? How are decisions made and responsibilities divided up?
Max: Halo Wars 2 is a true studio cross-collaboration. We all play the game and communicate daily about where things are at, what’s good, what needs work and where we are going. We also meet in person fairly regularly and work together as one group.
Decisions are reached through a great deal of playtesting, discussion, analyzing play data and passionate design presentations. Feedback from everyone on the team is encouraged and listened to.
What are some of your all-time favorite games? And/or genres? Why?
Max: Super Mario 64. All the Halos. Ultima Online. Asheron’s Call. Diablo 2 and 3. Hearthstone. Magic the Gathering.
Each of these games either blew me away with an experience unlike anything I had ever played before or consumed hundreds of hours of my life in cooperative or competitive online play.
Do you have a favorite Halo game or level or mode?
Max: I look forward to each and every single Halo game, and I appreciate what each game brings to the table. For the Halo shooters, I prefer playing SWAT. For the strategy games, I love Blitz!
What excites you most about the future of the games medium? Are there any big shifts or challenges you foresee on the horizon?
Max: There are awesome new games and new ways to play every single year. I’m particularly looking forward to how cross-platform play continues to evolve (I love jumping between my PC, Xbox and phone), what great new games come to mobile and what the future of VR and AR hold for games.
Any final thoughts or shout outs you’d like to share with our community?
Max: Thank you so much for being a fan! Your support is what keeps us all going, and there is nothing that makes a developer happy than knowing people are playing and enjoying the games we make.
Thank you, Max! And thank you for sharing your Blitz tips with us earlier as well!
Now over to Uny for this week’s Community Spotlight and a Play of the Week!
When Monitor’s Bounty dropped in December, Sikamikanico decided to test out a bunch of the new additions to Forge… with a 12 hour Forge session. The result of this 12 hour session was Elixir, a beautiful Sanghelios-themed Arena map. Since its creation, Sikamikanico has made various tweaks and changes to make it the map it is today. Enough from me though, here’s a nice Forge feature from Ducain23 that shows off this incredible map!
And now over to the Play of the Week!
I’ve waited 766 days to see this play, and it has finally happened. That’s right, I’ve wanted to see this since I first found out that Halo 5 would have the Combat Evolved medal for launching weapons to yourself. Without giving anything away, enjoy as Benfiala delivers one of the coolest plays I’ve seen in this game.
Thanks, Uny! I know I didn’t get to cover everything our community asked for but I’ll be back in seven short days with another update and we’ll pick up where we left off! We look forward to seeing you in the “Warlords” playlist tomorrow afternoon and hope you’ll jump online for a few games of Halo Wars 2 Blitz this weekend before the beta concludes. Catch you online!