Halo: Reach's Matchmaking and Active Roster In-Depth

The matchmaking system in Halo: Reach will be getting a significant amount of improvements along with tweaks to the overall social experience. I spoke with the following group at Bungie to find out more about Active Roster, matchmaking, playlists, Xbox Live integration, and even clan support.

  • Luke Timmins - Lead Multiplayer/UI Engineer
  • Tyson Green - Systems Designer
  • Lars Bakken - Multiplayer Design Lead
  • Brian Jarrard - Community Director
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Active Roster - A list of your friends in Reach, showing their status in real-time.

Luke Timmins: If you remember from Halo 2, there was a really easy way to get to my friends list. In Halo 2, it's right there. My friends and what they're doing. When Halo 3 came out, we had this big thing about trying to integrate with the Xbox 360 Guide. We had a lot of deep-thinking after that and decided we really wanted [Halo 2's system] back. We want easy access to friends. We want to see what they're doing and who they're partied up with.

[In Halo 3], we lost something there.

The active roster really is the tip of the spear for getting people this quick access to "what are my friends doing?" Oh, they're in a game? How much time is remaining? What's the score?

Lars Bakken: Active Roster is, by definition, always on. When you log into Reach at the Main Menu, the whole right half of the screen is going to be your Active Roster. You're going to see what all your friends are doing in real-time in Reach. No going to the Guide. You click the left stick to the right and you are in the Active Roster.

It has all the information what all your friends are doing, whether they're partied up or not, who they're partied up with, what gametype they're in whether they're searching in matchmaking [or in a lobby]. That is fed to you, real-time, in the menu at all times. It's always there.

Luke Timmins: We actually made a substantial investment in engineering tech in our user-interface architecture. We basically rebuilt huge swaths of the UI [and players] will be really impressed by the quality of the UI. It's sexy as hell and our UI guys have done an amazing job. The most important button - if there's one button that matters - in the Active Roster, it's the "join" button.

This brings us to the next-big thing that we have wanted this since Halo 2. We couldn't get it in to Halo 2 or Halo 3, but Reach will have: Queued Join. We built this sytem where you can queue a join to a friend that's not in an immediately joinable state (in the middle of matchmaking or watching a film). When he becomes available, it will automatically put you guys together in a lobby.

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Shack: Since Active Roster is entirely in game, will players be able list friends beyond their Xbox Live friends lists? Something like Bungie.net friends?

Tyson Green: Right now, we're using just the Live [friends] list because that's the only list of players that's supplied to us by the platform. Active Roster will be used for System Link games, replacing our old browser, which was hidden. It's not impossible to think that if we got more lists of players from the platform, we would be able to do more, but we're just planning on shipping right now with the Live friend list.

Luke Timmins: We also have Xbox Live party integration [for Active Roster]. So, if you join a party we also show that to you. You can basically flip between System Link, Live Friends, and the Xbox Live party that you're in.

Shack: Will the party chat options be what we saw in Halo 3 or are you guys dealing with muting and party chat in a different way?

Tyson Green: The party chat trumps anything the game does because it's a platform level thing. We have to roll with it.

Lars Bakken: We don't have push-to-talk (PTT) anymore. It's open-voice all the time. The party chat is still cool at the platform level, but in Reach, there's no PTT anywhere. If you're in a large party in the game, you can talk to all your friends without having to do anything. That, in some ways, negates the need for party chat through the Guide.

Tyson Green: We have really good options. To mute someone that is being irritating, we have really good tools for that already. We don't want people to use Xbox Live parties to because they don't want to talk to other people.

Shack: Will clans make a return from Halo 2?

Tyson Green: With clans in Halo 2, what we found was that most people just used it a second, extended friends list. This was cool, but our clan match playlists were around 1 to 2% of our total matchmaking volume. It didn't go over well so we haven't been supporting [clans].

Brian Jarrard: If Microsoft decided to add clan support on the platform level, we would look and see if it made sense to add into Halo: Reach, but we've heard nothing about clans from Microsoft.

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Matchmaking Changes - Combining Ranked and Social playlists into one area.

Since the hardcore players will hopefully be putting all of their time into the Arena, other players will be playing in the regular matchmaking system. In Halo 3, players were split between Ranked and Social playlists. No more.

Tyson Green: Halo 3 had this sort of unfortunate division between ranked and social playlists. Ranked playlists got a good reputation for being the place to get good matches. Social playlists gave you good game options and variety and let you take your full party in, but they had poor match quality.

Both of those, on their own, suck. We're trying the best parts of both and make it all work together. Now, if we have a Team Slayer playlist [outside of the Arena], you can bring a full party in or you can bring a team of four and it will do the right thing. It will split you up into the correct teams if you have more than the team limit, but if you have less than the limit, it will try and find a good competitive match for you. We don't need to split our population in half anymore.

We're going to have better match times across the board just because there will be more people in each playlist.

Luke Timmins: Instead of just putting a bunch of people together based on skill, we can do smart things like build a team based on skill, locality, and language. We really want to find people that you'll like playing with so we'll build all that into finding a team. For opponents, we'll make that a good skill match, but we don't really care about social preferences. We can do much smarter things to try and find you people that you'd like to play with. It allows us to do some really cool things.

We don't want to beat players over the head with this. We won't be strictly putting players together based upon this, so much as feed it into the matchmaking algorithm to find a better social match without being blunt.

Shack: Do you think players will exploit the system by lying about their social settings to exploit matchmaking.

Luke Timmins: We built this system with huge amounts of griefing protection. That's why it is very much a preference and not a guarantee. Halo 3 had this thing where you could set your language to Portuguese to meet up with other people to grief. We've tried to improve upon this. With this, give us some data about yourself that we can use to get you better quality matches. It's something that's new and experimental, but comes back to a priority for us: improve the social experience. If you're chatty, we want to put you with other people that talk.

Lars Bakken: The key is to be subtle about it. We want to do it in a way so that the user doesn't know we're doing anything, but they just get a better experience out of it in the long run.