343 Industries’ and Microsoft’s well-reviewed, but fan-derided and far from chart-topping sci-fi FPS Halo Infinite is experiencing a slight revival, and it’s all thanks to the magic of, er, Pokemon. Pokemon being one of several new custom gametypes knocked together by intrepid Halo players using the Forge map editor’s new AI toolkit, added in the Halo Season 5: Reckoning updates, which allow you to bring campaign AI into Forge maps and tweak its behaviour at length. I choose you, Master Chief!
As reported by IGN, Halo: Infinite’s Steam playercount more than doubled in the wake of the Season 5 update, up from a piffling 7000 or so concurrent players to a… slightly less piffling 18,000. OK, so Counter-Strike 2 can breathe easy for the moment. But there’s the glimmer of something longer-term in the new Forge options, which turn an already robust editor into the basis for some striking PvE experiences – including the aforesaid Pokemon homage, created by Xitter user DanTheBloke.
— Dan The Bloke (@DanTheBloke) October 18, 2023
The new Forge AI Toolkit doesn’t provide access to every bell and/or whistle available to 343’s own campaign designers, but it does cover a lot of ground – from setting zones for patrol routes to scripted triggers, all of it managed by a visual interface of branching nodes which seems, to my uneducated eye, perilously digestible. Perhaps it’s time to dust off my old Carnage Heart instincts and do some Forging myself.
According to 343, the tools lend themselves to a range of genres, with people using them internally to build tower defence games. “Our North Star for the Forge AI Toolkit was wave-based PvE experiences,” Forge lead designer Michael Schorr explained when the new features were announced. “Firefight, Horde – things like that are what we expect players will lean into first when they create stuff, but it also has the capacity to do more linear experiences.” Technical designer Connor Kennelly added in the same post that “we totally expect players to make those campaign scenarios where you’re taking a base or holding out a location.”
So, what else have those incorrigible Forgers been up to besides Pokemon, which I do hereby spell without the accent over “e” in the hope of attracting reproachful comments from the grumps at Eurogamer, who used to get very angry about this stuff when I temped for them? Well, how about this rather convincing-looking single lane MOBA from Resetera moderator Gowans, which was supposedly created in an hour or two using the existing Husky Raid map.
And then there’s xXBarthXx’s homage to The Maw, the final level of Halo: Combat Evolved. Or if you’d prefer to play a strategy game, consider this early prototype for a new unofficial Halo Wars from The Forgers of Awesomeness.
With AI being added to Forge I started working on a Halo Wars inspired game and wanted to share some stuff that I think is cool!
This is a dynamic boundary, I will use it for determining what area the enemy controls, and the pillar show the center of all the bots. pic.twitter.com/Yiy5LsnnuE
— The Forgers Of Awesomeness (@FOAwsomeness) October 14, 2023
Only time will tell whether the new AI Forge tools are as transformative as 343 claim they are. I imagine this week’s player headcount has more to do with Season 5: Reckoning’s new maps, Extraction mode and cosmetics, coupled with a lot of people realising that, hey, Infinite is actually pretty decent, however self-sabotaged at launch by the absence of standard-issue features like co-op and Forge – Kaan wrote about all that at length in April last year. It probably helps that they’ve also streamlined the game’s battle pass system to make obtaining the seasonal content less grindy.
While I vaguely abhor Infinite’s service-game overhaul, I’m always happy to see Halo doing well. With its gravity hammers, sticky grenades, smashable furnishings and kittenish vehicle physics, it’s still the class clown of the older generation of still-active shooters. Even at Halo’s most competitive – and certainly, if I’ve persuaded you to fire it up again this week, you should be wary of those ranked playlists – it feels like messing around in a bubble pit. Stir in the means for creating ‘proper’ campaign levels and well, I’m interested to see how things stand a few months from now.
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