Forge, Halo’s in-game map creator, has appeared in every mainline Halo game since Halo 3, allowing fans to bring back beloved older maps, fashion creations of their own, or just create unique, quirky experiences within Halo’s timeless and tweakable sandbox. Once season five of Halo Infinite launches, however, players will finally be able to import computer-controlled campaign enemies (and allies) directly into multiplayer maps and modes.
Read More: Halo Infinite: Here’s Your First Look At Season 5’s Awesome New Maps
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With the ability to make custom games, Forge has long been central to the Halo community. But though Forge has always been capable of creating a wide variety of experiences, creations have usually centered around PvP. This will radically change with the launch of season five of Halo Infinite on October 17, which will see the long-dreamed-of arrival of campaign AI in Forge.
343 Industries recently gave me a demo of how AI is going to work in Forge and I was able to spend a bit of time messing around with it during my recent hands-on with the new multiplayer maps. The inclusion of AI in multiplayer looks like it could genuinely change the creative Halo space, and potentially multiplayer entirely, offering up PvE and PvPvE experiences of the likes we haven’t seen before in Halo.
Forge AI Toolkit Basics
Halo’s single-player and co-op campaigns have always featured large casts of antagonistic aliens and friendly humans, steered by the game’s AI routines. But with the exception of the wave-based “Firefight” mode, CPU-controlled characters have always been exclusive to the campaign. Soon, CPU foes and allies will be able to coexist with other players via season five’s new Forge AI Toolkit.
Adding AI entities in Forge looks pretty simple—you drop an AI Spawner from Forge’s object browser right onto the map. The Spawner looks like a hologram of crossed energy swords with a circular radius to denote where the resulting units can go. Each Spawner is capable of spawning up to eight CPU characters of a wide variety of types. Forge will let you use as many as 32 active AI in any given scene, though the number of other objects you have in the map might eat into that. Forge AI was active during my preview of the new season five multiplayer maps, so I was able to get in a few rounds sparring with Banished forces across a few different locations. It’s pretty simple to just drop and drag around enemy spawn points.
AI units include an assortment of the usual Halo suspects: There are variants of Brutes, Elites (including Ultras and Spec Ops versions), Grunts, Jackals, as well as Skimmers, Marines, Hunters, and even two variants of the Halo Infinite boss, Adjutant Resolution. Flying enemies like Sentinels, however, are not included. I was told this would require aerial nav meshes, essentially a virtual grid that determines where AI can move, which don’t exist in Forge.
Here’s the full list of AI units soon to be deployable in Forge (“Chosen” variants refer to whether or not the character has shields):
Adjutant Resolution, Gold
Adjutant Resolution, Spire
Brute Berserker, Chosen
Brute Captain, Chosen
Brute Chieftain Turret, Chosen
Brute Chieftain, Chosen
Brute Chieftain Turret
Brute Commando, Chosen
Brute Sniper, Heavy
Brute Warrior, Chosen
Elite Spec Ops
Grunt Assault, Purple
Grunt Assault, Red
Grunt Conscript, Blue
Grunt Conscript, Yellow
Each unit will spawn with a default weapon, which you can swap out for any gun the model has an animation for (Grunts, for example, do not have access to the Assault Rifle, but Elites do). I was told you can even give Jackals S7 sniper rifles, which Forge technical designer Connor Kennelly appropriately described as “terrifying.”
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AI can be triggered to spawn from thin air, aerial drop pods (“Craig” pods), and Phantom flybys. You can also set movement zones that direct AI to go to specific areas, or follow patrol routes. Other details include what direction the AI faces when they spawn, whether they’re triggered by a specific script you can design in the node graph, when they’ll spawn, and under what conditions they’ll appear or behave, such as when a player enters a specific area you’ve designated. You can even set the AI to follow you, like the marines do in the campaign.
As for vehicle interaction, Marines will hop into passenger and turret seats of Warthogs, but are unable to drive. Elites will pilot Ghosts, Brutes will pilot Choppers, but CPU characters will not pilot Banshees, again, because of the lack of an aerial nav mesh. You can also specify areas as “non-driveable” to prevent the AI from using vehicles there, even if they’re on the map.
You can even tweak an AI character’s senses, toggling their sight or hearing or giving them the ability to see through walls. You can adjust what team they’re on, influencing whether they’re friend or foe, or whether they’ll fight each other, regardless of whether they’re Cove—err, Banished or Marines.
To make all this possible 343 had to create a new API (application programming interface) that allows multiplayer modes and campaign AI to coexist. As Kennelly told me, “Any time you’ve played [past Halo PvE experiences like Firefight] in previous games, you were fundamentally playing a campaign mode. Here, we truly brought AI into multiplayer, and that’s why it’s gonna work in all the different game modes.”
Forge’s AI Toolkit opens up entirely new multiplayer possibilities
So you can drop a wide variety of AI-controlled friends or foes into Forge now, but what kinds of experiences can you craft?
For starters, wave-based “Firefight” modes are perfectly within reach. You’ll be able to set conditions for when waves will get harder, or set waves to spawn only when certain conditions are met. But that’s the easy stuff.
Forge’s node scripting opens the door to a staggering number of options. Using an interface very similar to Unreal Engine’s Blueprint, Forge’s visual scripting system will let you weave together a variety of functions, crafting everything from endless waves of foes to more linear, campaign-like experiences.
Players will also be free to add AI to existing multiplayer game types, such as Capture the Flag. I was told that while AI don’t know how to hold flags (or similar objectives like holding an Oddball), you can set up scenarios where AI will guard a flag.
Michael Schorr, 343 Industries’ Forge lead designer, told me how people will be able to set up conditions that are MOBA-like, where certain events—such as capturing an enemy’s flag—will see a group of grunts replaced by more powerful enemies like Jackals or Elites. Schorr described one such scenario as relatively simple to set up, and dramatically versatile in terms of what kinds of games will soon exist within Halo:
I made a demo a couple weeks ago where within a Team Slayer or Strongholds, there’s another capture zone that [spawns] Hunters to come and fight on your team. So now you’re making choices: “Do I go over here and capture the Stronghold? Or do I go over here and capture the thing that gives us extra power for a bit?”
This all represents a pretty remarkable shift for Halo’s multiplayer, and as Schorr told me, they’re intending to make sharing your creations pretty simple.
Starting on day one of the new season, players will be able to upload their Forge creations and game modes featuring AI directly to the customs browser. Schorr was keen to point out, Forge AI creations in the custom browser, combined with the newly added match XP from custom games in season five, mean that you can make progress in the battle pass while playing custom Forged AI game modes. Kennelly added that as AI game modes grow, 343 Industries will be looking to curate select creations to be featured in an eventual matchmaking playlist.
AI in Forge looks like it really could be a new frontier for Halo. 343 Industries has built what seems like a robust and dynamic toolset to create different games, from modifications of existing multiplayer maps, brand-new PvE and PvPvE experiences, to potential recreations of linear shooter levels (I expect a remake of Doom’s E1M1 won’t take long to surface). Combined with Infinite’s solid game mechanics, season five could potentially represent a dramatic shift in what’s possible in Halo. Season five of Halo Infinite, “Reckoning,” launches on October 17, 2023.
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