News of the Halo: Master Chief Collection already leaked a few weeks ago, but Microsoft and developer 343 Industries officially announced its existence today. It will be out on November 11 this year, in tandem with Halo 2's 10-year anniversary, and it will come with access to the beta for Halo 5: Guardians.
In a single disc, 343 has managed to package Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 all rendered in 60 frames per second and running at 1080p resolution on Xbox One. Each game will run on its own engine, meaning you'll get to play all those multiplayer experiences pretty much as they were when they released, but under a higher fidelity and optimization. This includes some of those loved exploits, button combinations (like the BXR) and other glitches as they were when their respective games came out.
During a presentation in Los Angeles last month, 343's Frank O'Conner touched on this topic. "Any quirks or tricks that you had learned over the years, they're still going to be in there," he said. "It should feel almost verbatim. There'll be some tiny little changes, render changes or some weird jump bug. But we're trying to really recapture the exact verbatim experience."
Since it is Halo 2's anniversary, that campaign is the focus of the HD collection. Part of that anniversary treatment includes six complete remakes of maps from Halo 2, built from scratch for the Xbox One. In that case, it will not run on the original Halo 2 engine. It's considered a bonus experience. Similar to Halo: Combat Evolved's anniversary edition, you'll be able to switch between New and Classic modes in Halo 2's HD campaign. That means that with the click of a button, you can instantaneously see what Halo 2 used to look like ten years ago. And then with another click, you can switch right back. The team showed this feature off in the Cairo Station in Halo 2. Doing so showed off more lighting effects and reflections, more detail on enemies' armour -- all the things you'd expect out of an HD edition.
At this point the 343 team flashed a rebuilt Ascension map on screen as an example.
As for the rest, rather than slapping all four campaigns and their multiplayers onto one disc and letting you have at it, 343 has created a master UI system that will let you sort through each mission and mode in each campaign and multiplayer, respectively, as you wish. You can select specific campaign missions, or hop into matchmaking (supported by dedicated servers) to vote on which map you want to play out of the one hundred options (including all original DLC maps) spanning all four games.
You can also opt to sort through 343's curated playlists, which are known as mission setlists. There are playlists for each Halo game that's in the HD collection, as well as cross-title playlists that mix and match missions from different titles. O'Connor explained the reasoning behind this: "A lot of people simply aren't going to play 70 hours of legendary gameplay, but they wanna sample it and relive whatever experience they want."
Some examples the team provided included things like "Me and My Hog," which gathers all campaign missions across all four games that include warthog missions. Or there's "Final Four," which runs you through the four last missions of each game. These playlists are currently being curated by 343, but they're considering opening it up to users to create their own.
The HD collection will also include more story elements than the original games included. They're doing this in three forms: terminals in Halo 2's campaign, bookend cinematics with a new epilogue and prologue, and an episodic digital series called Nightfall that will release weekly, starting with the November 11 release of the collection. Some of this information will contextualize and set the course of Halo 5: Guardians, so we're sure to see some teasers for what's to come in that future storyline. Altogether, the Nightfall series should add up to about the length of a standard feature film, though they haven't determined how many episodes there will be.
This digital series, Halo: Nightfall, is in collaboration with executive producer Ridley Scott and director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. It will introduce some new characters that will supposedly play interesting roles in the next chapter of the Halo universe.
As part of the "extras" menu in the master UI, which includes these cinematics, the HD collection will also come with access to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta that will run for a limited time.
343 executive producer Dan Ayoub followed up the presentation to showcase Halo 2's shiny new campaign in this HD package. "We can do more than just give you four Halo games," he said, "We can give you a brand new way to play it." He referenced "Netflix binging," which seems like an incredibly accurate way to describe it. While flipping through the master UI, he explains that everything -- campaign and multiplayer -- is unlocked from the start, giving you the ability to skip around as you see fit. "You can set your difficulty level, you can activate skulls, it lets you customise your gameplay quite a bit before you just jump into it and start going," Ayoub said.
Multiplayer in this master UI is broken down by gameplay type. They showed Team Slayer up on the screen, and how you can choose from a variety of Team Slayer options from here. On this selection, there are a couple from Halo 2 and one from Halo 3. When you, or your lobby of fellow players, makes a decision, the game will launch the original engine of whichever one you picked.
Though you can't pick your own mission setlists, you can still set up custom multiplayer matches for any of the Halo titles available.
The Halo: Master Chief Collection will be out for Xbox One on November 11 for $US60.
But you may still have questions. So here are some miscellaneous answers:
- 343 still plans to support Halo 4 on the Xbox 360, but they are not planning any new Halo first-person shooter for that platform.
- Though the team considered ODST and Reach for the HD collection, they both wanted to ensure they could meet the scale of fitting all of these games on one disc as well as stick to Master Chief's main storyline.
- Blur Studios is doing all of the cinematics -- including those bookend epilogue and prologue clips -- and redoing the cinematics on Halo 2.
- 343 is still working on what the backend and web support for the collection will look like.
- The team is currently constructing a stats/levelling system to match across all four games that will be similar to Halo 2.
- Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary's Kinect voice commands will be supported on the Xbox One.
- There will be 4,000 total achievements -- 1,000 per game -- most of which are being redone for the HD collection.
- The current plan is to launch with a set of curated playlists, and they will probably create new ones post-launch.
- 343 is still evaluating certain features from the original games -- like the Forge map editor and Saved Films -- and if/how they will incorporate them.
- There are playlists for online co-op, but they work through invites, not matchmaking. Halo 2 will support online co-op, as well, for two people.
- Saber Interactive and Certain Affinity -- the two studios that helped with Halo: Combat Evolved's Anniversary edition -- are both involved in this HD collection.