When the Master Chief Collection dropped in late 2014, responses were…mixed. And that was putting it lightly. While many praised the convenience of a ‘one and done’ package of Halo greats, not to mention the ambitious nature of the project, (110 Multiplayer maps!) equally apparent were those who saw the release as nothing short of a disaster – particularly on the technical front. I can’t admit to ever having played the game myself (3, ODST and Reach were my Halos) but even a quick bit of research reveals that some people are still having problems with the game as recent as April of this year. It stands to reason that a fair number remain displeased with the overall release, too.
Including, as it happens, Microsoft itself.
Franchise Director Frank O’Connor admitted back in May that the Master Chief Collection debacle was a ‘black eye’ for the team, as well as including the usual spiel about a refusal to rest upon their laurels. In this instance, however, that spiel may turn out to contain a surprising degree of truth. A series of lengthy forum posts on Halo Waypoint last Friday revealed that plans are indeed in motion to fix the Master Chief Collection as best as possible with new updates, as well as refining it for the Xbox One X. There’s a lot to go through, and a lot of retrospective of what exactly went wrong for the project. Graphical and frame-rate issues aside, it seems one of the biggest problems faced by the Master Chief Collection was mistakes made in the way its matchmaking networks were handled;
“One of the main matchmaking issues was related to the way that the games gathered players – each title had some differences in how it sought out players, then connected them into sessions.” O’Connor explains. “In an attempt to unify that method, we actually introduced a bunch of (with the benefit of hindsight) several avoidable problems and some unavoidable ones. It gets really technical, and this is as much metaphor as technical explanation, but each potential player was assigned a kind of “ticket” which would then grant them entry into a match or session – picture a virtual waiting room at a train station – when the train arrives (a match) – everyone has to board – or the train can’t leave. Issues arose when folks left sessions before games had started that would cause the initial ticket distributions to fail, and that sometimes meant very long wait times for matches as tickets were issued and reissued – especially in countries with lower populations.”
“At the time we made tons of changes to the backend server configurations to try and reduce those wait times, but ultimately it was a self-fulfilling prophecy – players understandably would leave sessions because they got tired of waiting for a match to begin, and that would amplify the issue across the board.”
There’s more to the story of course, but you don’t need me to parrot it verbatim to you – suffice to say the quick rundown covers how the team had initially been highly excited for the game as fans as well as employees, and later on their regret at the decision to stop tinkering with the system and risk damaging it even more as player numbers dropped. That’s all well and good, and it’s up to the individual whether they decide to accept the ‘apology’ offered. What’s more important is what 343 intends to do about the problem.
O’Connor has promised a more comprehensive and technical post next year explaining precisely what went wrong with the game, presumably at multiple levels – something that’s nice to have, but ultimately does not fix any of the problems themselves and may be inaccessible to most if it gets too technical. Why exactly there’s such a delay is anyone’s guess; let’s hope that it’s because the teams hard at work on Halo 6 or the promised updates for the Master Chief Collection, and not just to give the team time to get their stories straight.
More telling will be those coming updates, particularly the Xbox One X enhanced edition. A game should only get a single first impression, and I’ll be more than a little shock if the Master Chief Collection gets more than a brief surge of sales as a result of moving to a new console. Then again, there does seem to be awareness of what went wrong last time – with any luck, that can be used to fix the problems and ensure a game that actually works this time around.
Maybe that’s too much to hope for in the current market; O’Connor already admitted that they had used a faulty method to test Matchmaking before release initially, (which led to its error-prone existence in the final product) and tunnel-vision concerning the most publicised issues always presents the danger of inadvertently breaking something else. But as someone who enjoyed the Halo games he played in the past, I hope for both 343 and the fans’ sake they get it right this time – that, and there’s always something grudgingly respectable about any public face in the industry who can admit to a mistake in honest depth.
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.