Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hephaestus, Spartan God of the Forge.

Okay, so the title's a bit of a stretch this time to get a really horrible pun in. But this episode of Audley Enough will focus on helping you take advantage of one of Reach's biggest improvements from Halo 3: Forge 2.0 and ForgeWorld.

Map design is a tricky business. The smallest hitch in an otherwise well-designed map can ruin its ability to be played effectively, but today I'm going to be ranting on a few of the missteps map makers may have in their attempt to assemble an awesome map. You won't become a master forger by reading this, but it may offer a few thoughts that help you rethink your design and improve your map.

First, let's talk about Lines of Sight, and breaking them. There are four basic degrees through which you can break lines of sight. The first is through the main geometry of your map. Walls, partitions, blocks, and the like will always serve to separate your players' abilities to shoot at one another. Every map you'll ever make will establish its main lines of sight through the design you give your walls, bridges, floors, ceilings, walkways, and caves. Once you get those established, it's time for the less prominent, but even more important ways to block lines of sight.

Up next is natural cover, or geometrical cover. This is still a part of your map's intended geometry, but rather than being intended as just a wall to establish your map's form, these are intended to be used by the player as a form of significant cover. The best example I can give of these are the rocks on Standoff. They block large amounts of sightlines from your opponents, and provide safety from grenades and enemy fire, while allowing you to still fire upon your opponents when you choose to peek out. They are a perfect example of cover that is intentional from a design standpoint.

This leaves us with two more methods of blocking lines of sight. Both of these are pretty similar from the standpoint of appearance, but the functionality given by them is what separates them. The first is often called "lazy cover," but I prefer to simply call it CLUTTER. Clutter are pieces of your map that block lines of sight for very short periods of time, but cannot be used to hide behind, move around your map effectively, or offer any sort of control for the person present there. The latter, although it may be an identical piece of map geometry, are what I call Micro-Breakers. A Micro-Breaker is a very small break in your line of sight (or a very small opening in an otherwise blocked line of sight) that allows higher skilled players to micromanage the sightline in order to use effectively.

Clutter is very rarely a good thing to have on your map. It should never be added prior to play-testing your map -- if you end up needing it, don't fret. Sometimes areas of your map ARE too open and need some form of brief respite such as a small rock you can fit behind. But when it comes to clutter, remember that LESS is MORE. If you've got an area of your map that needed clutter to be safe, chances are you're not really expecting your players to be going there often anyway. A map with an example of excessive clutter is the BTB map/Sandbox variant Vindictive. The Brute Towers, the tunnels, the Crow's Nest, and the pillars on top of the base are all examples of clutter. They block lines of sight, but offer very little safety for players trying to pass through that area of the map.

On the other hand, Micro-Breakers are a great thing to have on your map. The Pit and Narrows are two maps that show a great amount of Micro-Breakers, from the yellow padding, to the holes in the partition walls, to the slots on the ceiling of sword room in the Pit, and the different holes and openings littered all around Narrows that allow highly aware players to see positions newer or less-skilled players wouldn't bother to use. Micro-Breakers help your map to establish a skill gap, which is absolutely great if you wish your map to garner competitive merit.

Our next topic is elevation. We all know map flow is important. That's a given. One way to improve your map's flow is to improve the variation of elevation. Especially as we move into Halo Reach, where you'll have to keep the Jetpack in mind (assuming you allow default loadouts), elevation is key.

One mistake newer forgers tend to make is to follow a three-tiered elevation scheme: "Floor, One Block, Two Block." While this can work out for a very basic design, it's not creative and eventually the gameplay becomes very predictable.

There are a few ways to alleviate this. The most elementary of these, throw in a height of half-block! Ha! That'll show those critics...right? Well, maybe.

Another way to improve your height variations is to offer alternate passages between areas where "2 Block" meets "1 Block." For example, you could have a slow grade (slope) leading up behind 2 Block, while you have a series of jumps, or a lift on the other side (more exposed), that allows the player to scale straight up. (See: Pit Sniper Tower)

Keep in mind that your entire map doesn't have to be flat. I'm not saying go crazy and make nothing flat, because that would be a profoundly annoying map to play on, but remember that slopes are a way to offer varied elevation, and with Halo Reach's "Fixed" and "Phased" options of placement geometry as well as the ability to turn things one degree of one unit at a time, being able to make hills and ramps out of pieces that aren't hills and ramps will be much easier. Take advantage of this. Angle your tunnel so it comes out in a way that puts the person coming out of it slightly higher than those who came into it. Now you've got a map of Floor, One Block, 1.15 Block, and 2 Block! It's variety, it's depth. It's a start.

As a final note on this subject, remember what I said about Micro-Breakers? They can be applied to elevations as well. As I mentioned the Pit's yellow pads, little subtle ledges that can be jumped on for slight advantages are a great way to add temporary elevation to higher-level play on your map. Little columns that can be jumped off of to traverse from one elevated portion of your map to another are also great, and can add even more of a skill gap to competitive play on your map.

To avoid writing a novel on general map design, I'm going to limit myself to one last topic before I wrap this entry up: Symmetry versus Asymmetry.

Symmetrical maps are ALMOST ALWAYS better for establishing balance from the start to the finish of your map. That doesn't mean you cannot make an asymmetrical map that is fair to both teams. There are four general types of maps, in regards to symmetry:

1) Totally Symmetrical: One side of the map is either a copy of the other side, or a mirrored image of the other side. Narrows, Pit, Midship, Warlock...all of these maps are symmetrical maps all the way to their core. Whether your map is symmetrical four-ways, two-ways, or flipped-symmetry (like Citadel), a totally symmetrical map offers the exact same opportunities to both sides starting the game.

2) Functionally Symmetrical: The two sides are...almost...the same. They work out pretty the same for both teams under most circumstances, but they're not EXACTLY identical. Standoff is an example of a map like this. The differences between the sides aren't enough to affect the two teams' playstyles. The only real differences in a Functionally Symmetrical map are aesthetics.

3) Mostly Symmetrical: The two sides have the same general features, but the different geometry forces teams to have to play their side differently. Valhalla in Halo 3 is the prime example of this type of map. Beach side needs Pelican to retake the hill, while Waterfall side needs Turret to retake the hill. Mostly Symmetrical maps tend to have equal opportunities for the START of the map, but begin to differ once the initial rushes have played out. MLG's Construct also falls in this category.

4) Totally Asymmetrical: No form of symmetry at all in terms of geometry or starting positioning. It is almost NEVER okay to have two-sided objective gametypes on these maps, but properly designed asymmetrical maps can work beautifully for Slayer, Oddball, or King of the Hill, as well as one-sided objective gametypes.

The important thing to keep in mind when making an Asymmetrical Map (for anything except One-Sided objectives) is to offer relatively balanced opportunities off the opening of the game, as well as equal opportunities for control and safe spawning throughout the game.

This doesn't mean "Red Player A" and "Blue Player B" both have to have perfectly equal travel times to the power positions or power weapons. In fact, that's not a requirement at all. What IS a requirement, however, is that if Player A can get to a power position faster than Player B, that Player B has at least one potential counter to player A rushing that position, whether it be a good sightline on the exposed pathway leading there, or an easier way to obtain a power weapon such as Sniper to attempt to Snipe Player A out of the power position. Likewise, since Player B is given easy access to a Sniper, Player A would have to have some way to harass Player B (such as an accessible DMR from the power position) in order to keep the two positions balanced, and allow the better player to come out on top.

It's important to remember on asymmetrical maps that power positions and power weapons should never be contiguous unless being in that power position is highly exposed and dangerous. Don't place your Sniper Rifle at the top of a tower at the highest point of the map with a ton of cover. Don't place your Rockets on a top middle platform with clear sightlines on everyone on the bottom of the map.

Make sure that there's not only one area of interest on the map when forging an Asymmetrical map. You don't want both teams sending everyone they have to a single location, leading to a clusterfuck off the start. The more paths and choices that can be made from the start, the more that players who display intelligent decision making can shine.

That should wrap up today's entry. I tried to keep it short, because as I said, a novel could be written on Map Design that still wouldn't cover enough to ensure every map ever designed was good. But hopefully, you've read the topics I've covered today and thought, "Audley Enough, he's right! Clutter DOES suck...and I need to add more areas that skilled players can take advantage of, even if casual players would just ignore them!"

Be sure to tune in next time, where I'll talk about [insert future subject here.] That's right, Audley Enough, I still don't know what I'm doing here.

Oh, P.S., if you wish this had pictures to go with it, too bad. I'm a writer. If you want someone to spruce these articles up with illustrations, send all hate messages to Anubis x MT.


  1. Well done Audley. An enjoyable and enlightening read :)

  2. Good read, I'm a really bad forger so this will help tons, especially with Reach on the way.