Saturday, September 12, 2015

Audley's Workshop: Lockout Reforged

Lockout is one of the most polarizing maps in terms of fan perception. Some love it, some hate it. Very few neutral opinions exist about the map. Still, it is one of the most played maps in Halo history.

However, just because something is the most played does not make it the best. And in Lockout's case, the map had plenty of design issues that contributed to the hatred it received from those who did not enjoy.

Starting off by speaking of the pure default vanilla slayer settings (SMG starts and everything) on the map, Lockout was problematic.

Games were often extremely snowbally because the strongest point of the map also featured the spawn of one of the two Battle Rifles on the map. Once you had top control, you had little incentive to move. Because you had rifles.

To make matters worse, even if the players down low were equipped with rifles, their sightlines were rather limited in terms of what they potentially could see up top. The only time they had the option to engage a player from below is when the top player chose to expose themselves – there were no sneaky sightlines a player down low could use to combat someone positioned well up top.

Some of this was offset by the multiple jump shortcuts to hasten your ascent of the map, but most of these were in areas that already had strong map flow. Areas such as Shotgun or Sword spawn had extremely limited options in terms of routes you could take to leave. And by extremely limited, I mean one and two respectively. This could lead to situations of helplessness or feeling like the player has no decisions to make when traveling these portions of the map.

Because of the weapon layout and map geometry, there was also no way to balance starting spawns for players. While certain initial spawn layouts could mitigate some of the advantages and create potential tradeoffs for teams, the weightings were never quite even.

Even in the case of BR starts, the map was segmented enough that Slayer could devolve into stalemates with players afraid to even attempt peeking versus an enemy Sniper. The lack of decent flank routes on the map lended no assistance to the issue. Movement incentives were limited pretty harshly (and made worse by Halo 2's weapon spawning system ensuring a weapon did not respawn until it was dropped.)

Overall, Lockout had a number of problems.

  • Impossible to balance initial spawns versus weapon layout + map geometry
  • Weapon Layout gave too much power in the hands of the team in the lead
  • Poor sightlines from the bottom of the map to fight back up high.
  • Poor map flow / lack of decision points for lower areas of the map
  • Standoffish TS gameplay with poor movement incentives.

But before we talk about solving issues, let's also talk about what Lockout did well.

Lockout was a great ball map, with three primary set-ups: Library, Sniper, and the “blue room” strategy. This is owed partially toward how few routes there were on the map, partially to the ability to “reset” the map by throwing the ball off, and partially due to the choke points to approach any of the buildings. A team in control could keep control with a numbers disadvantage (3v4) due to the choke points keeping things straightforward.

None of the power weapons were truly in the best place to use them. So, while I say there weren't very many movement incentives, you were at least encouraged to move with power weapons. Sniper was strong at Sniper tower, but attempting to use it from S3 meant you were heavily exposed from BR tower (and at risk of being barreled).

Sniper tower was able to be controlled by a single player with either of the CQB power weapons (Sword or Shotgun). If that player also had Sniper, he could one man army the entire tower by himself. This created several high points for the player, without being overly uncounterable by opponents, so long as they had Rifles.

In short: the map was good because you were encouraged to move from power weapons, but it struggled because you were not encouraged to move from (or to occupied) power positions.

Finally, before I talk about my solutions for the map, let's talk about what H2A did with Lockdown to make the map a little more tolerable.

  • Elbow was made a bit bigger, with cover, to improve the ability for bottom blue spawners to push Snipe tower.
  • Elbow was given a Carbine to ensure even in SMG start cases low spawners had access to at least one rifle.
  • Icicles were placed above BR tower, top middle, and Snipe tower to allow low spawners to at least put pressure on sightlines they couldn't see by dealing tons of area damage.

The Elbow changes are great and a step in the right direction for the health of the map, while the Icicles are gimmicky and still leave two minute windows where low spawners are virtually helpless.

So let's talk about what we can actually do to improve Lockout.

First, let's fix the Snowballing Rifle problem. I mentioned H2A Lockdown placing a Carbine on Elbow. While this is the right idea, let's make it a Battle Rifle instead. Specifically, remove the Battle Rifle from the top of BR tower. Now let's equip bottom BR spawners. Put a Battle Rifle inside BR1 or somewhere along the Sword room. Maybe even have a Carbine replace the Plasma Rifle at the suicide spot in Snipe tower. Regardless, take rifles out of positions where players WANT to use them, and instead put them in areas where they need to pick them up to fight back against players with power position control. This will encourage (in the case of SMG starts) players who have already picked up Rifles and moved into power positions to leave power positions to refill their ammo reserves, encouraging movement on the map.

With regards to the poor sightlines from the bottom of the map to fight back when players are up high, there is one sightline that's actually pretty close to being good. From Bottom Sword, you can see the ramp along the side of Snipe tower, commonly referred to as “Shortcut” due to the jump from top middle.

A few factors limit the potential of this sightline.
  • The ramp is the same width as the rest of the balcony and the back of Snipe tower, ensuring the bottom of the ramp blocks any and all potential to shoot someone standing up there unless they intentionally jump onto the rail. If the ramp were made thinner, it would slightly expose players standing around S2.
  • The Library building overhead is too thick-walled, ensuring that the players down low cannot get a proper grenade angle to grenade the top of Sniper tower without stopping movement for a substantial period of time. Widening the “roof” of Snipe tower and shrinking the thickness of Library walls could empower good grenade-chuckers to enable a push. (Additionally, having the outer mountain wall hug the Sniper tower more tightly could improve grenade angles from down low.)
  • This area cannot see the main portion of S2, no matter how the player maneuvers. Widening the dance floor around Sword could increase the vision players at Sword are able to get, allowing some low position support fire and team shooting.

Another area where sightlines could be improved is from bottom blue's door / bridge to under glass. Some problems:
  • The enormous top middle corner toward Elbow blocks any possible sightlines of top Snipe, though it does enable sightlines to S2. This prevents a team who wants to push Snipe and double spawned Blue from having one player take pressure off an S3 Sniper from Bottom Blue while the other pushes Elbow. This portion of top middle never sees relevant gameplay and could be thinned out to improve sightlines and the ability for bottom blue players to grenade S2.
  • The railings on the bridge are not actually tall enough to use for cover unless a player is on the “wrong” side of them. Opening up the flat portion as an entrance to the danger rails could improve flow to these “wrong” sides and enable players to use the rails to BREAK sightlines as they push for a flank opposite of where the opponents are positioned, using the shortcut jumps toward S1 or BR1.
  • There is no way to break the sightline from Library Window as you push out of Bottom Blue, meaning if a player is positioned back BR and another in Window, you're likely going to die before you can make it halfway up the bridge. In this instance, this may be a “deal with it” sort of situation, though increasing the railing height at open ramp near BR2 could cut off enough of the back BR sightline to allow this to become a 1v1 situation.

The final area of Lockout needing sightline improvements is at Elbow, but H2A Lockdown handled this quite nicely by offering cover and more dance floor. If the above change to elbow top mid corner was made, shrinking that area, it's possible that combined with the H2A changes, this portion of the map could have a sightline to Library front door or Window, combined with jump shotting. This could encourage Sniper movement or simply encourage BR players to move to this otherwise suboptimal area to trade shots in stalemates.

But we still have an issue of map flow at Shotgun and Sword spawns specifically. As a general rule of thumb, players should have 3 directions from which they can leave a position once there. For both of these positions, this is not the case.

Surprisingly, the issue can be alleviated in a manner that barely requires any additional geometry on the map. By extending the Sword bridge area out toward bottom middle and creating an entrance slightly above the back of Shotgun which can drop down into Shotgun (but also allow a person at Shotgun to jump out the back and move to Sword, you've increased Sword exit options to 3 (Shotgun, Under Glass, or BR1) and Shotgun exits to 2 (Bottom Blue, Sword). You've also increased the counterplay options to the infamous Blue room strategy, as now Shotgun has two entrances, one of which is substantially safer to approach than the other. This method has yet another advantage, in that it will allow players moving from Sword to be able to see S2 as they push, giving another Low->High sightline option that was not previously available.

While this doesn't quite get Shotgun to satisfy the Rule of 3, we can mark that off as a valid tradeoff for one of the map's strongest weapons being placed in its weakest position.

This new route can also enable new flank opportunities for players not keeping a close watch on bottom middle, increasing movement incentives or potential for Slayer gameplay.

These changes to bottom middle, Sword, and Bottom Blue alleviate many of the issues that plague Lockout TS, but still don't fix the issue of the impossible to balance initial spawns versus the weapon layout and map geometry.

H2A Lockdown gave us the Library versus S2 initial spawns, but in this case, Library has the advantage opening, due to the ability to deny Sniper, get Sword, and equally contest Shotgun, while also having access to the strongest position on the map and the most important early spawns for KotH.

Moving the Library team to BR2 would give them even better chances of getting the Sniper off the start at the cost of delaying Sword (and preventing the fast Sword boost back to Library)

Moving them to BR1 would deny any chance for them to contest the initial Sniper. Moving them to Blue would deny them access to any power weapon other than Shotgun.

The best available solution in Lockout's case (and in any Asymmetrical map where balanced initial spawns are not an option) is to delay the initial power weapon spawns – leave only the neutral one (Shotgun) up for grabs at the start, and place teams away from power positions (Spawn them at Sword / Elbow or something of the sort.) This lets them vie for whichever positions they value most and prepare for a delayed spawn of power weapons once the match has gotten underway and initial battles where neither team had a distinct weapon advantage have resolved.

With these changes, Lockout would be in a much healthier state for gametypes that aren't Oddball, enabling the map to feel less like having teeth pulled when selected for Slayer or other options.

And with that, this visit to Audley's Workshop is finished.

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