Monday, September 7, 2015

Audley's Workshop: Rat's Nest Reforged

I'm going to be ramping up the production of Audley's Workshop pieces for a bit, with three different categories for subjects. I'll still cover reworking or speaking about weapon/vehicle sandboxes from games (mostly Halo, with some inclusion of Perfect Dark, PlanetSide, and the Unreal Tournament series)...but I'm adding two other subjects: Halo map design and some diving into League of Legends design.

Today will mark the launch of the Halo Map design Audley's Workshop series: Reforged. There are tons of maps in the Halo series people remember fondly. Some, they think are great maps. Some, they enjoyed playing and tilted their head when Forgers or other players called shit design. Others were just god-awful maps.

For the Reforged series, I'll stick mostly to the ones people enjoyed but became confused when the design of the map was attacked by the more analytical or cynical crowds.

Coming from primarily a BTB background, the first map I'm going to talk about is quite possibly the best Neutral Assault map I ever played, but a map that I felt played every other gametype subpar or poorly.

Rat's Nest

Before we get into talking about how to make things better, we have to talk about what they did well and what they did poorly.

As I said above, Rat's Nest was a fantastic Neutral Assault map. No Halo 3 map felt more balanced for Bomb than Rat's Nest.

A large part of this is the focus on the inner areas of gameplay for moving the bomb – map control is obtained by controlling the respective Kitchens (labeled “red base” and “blue base” on the overhead picture above...they got the name Kitchens from me in H3 BTB customs, which was a leftover callout from PlanetSide for “the room behind the spawn room – where players are cooked”).

However, if a team took control of your kitchen but lost bomb control, you could simply take the bomb out the back of your base, hop into a vehicle, and speed run it along the outside of the base, offsetting map control entirely and resetting the map.

If a team scored, the bomb respawned at Rockets – an area with zero high ground, limited cover, and only three routes out – toward windows (Plat in picture) or toward the middle of the map. Often, teams who had just been scored against would either spawn at their Windows (Plat) or near the entrance to Mauler / at Sniper spawn. Either way, they were spawning in position to contest the reset bomb, meaning a team that had just scored needed to fight to retake map control, rather than easily snowballing into multiple scores in a row (unless the matches were extremely one-sided.)

Although vehicles were fairly dominant in many of the Halo 3 BTB options, Rat's Nest kept them under control. A large portion of this was the geometry separating the streets from the kitchens and bases, leaving vehicles with very poor options for sightlines or extremely risky routes if they wanted to be aggressive for kills. Any player with a Plasma Grenade or good timing on a highjack could end a vehicle run on their own.

In short,
  • Map control could be reset any time the aggressor lost control of the bomb, whether arm attempt was successful or failed.
  • A “back” route to the bomb plant which was actually faster than the inner route, but sacrificed map control.
  • Bomb reset point is in the weakest point of the map, far away from any power positions and with very limited route options to move the bomb out.
  • Strong central arena portion of the map dominated by infantry battles.
  • Vehicles were fairly limited in power by map geometry separating outer ring from inner arena.

So what were the map's problems that arose on other gametypes?

An overabundance of 90 degree angles and CQB weapon choices (shotguns, Gravity Hammer, Bubble Shields, automatics, Dual Maulers) meant that attempting to push through a corner was a truly dangerous task. Additionally, the doors protruded a bit meaning players could camp above the doors and surprise pushers with SURPRISE DEATH FROM ABOVE as they ventured into a new room. The only true counter to door campers was to use the Brute Shot to fire barely around the corner, killing them or weakening them with splash damage.

The aforementioned separation of the streets and inner sanctum meant attempting to run vehicles to look for kills in Slayer was useless unless the enemy Kitchen and base were under your control, in which case players would spawn by Sniper, at the elbow, and at windows, ripe for picking off by a Warthog or Ghost patrolling the streets.

Unlike Assault, Capture the Flag tended to be extremely snowbally at the top level, where once one team managed to get control long enough to pull the flag past middle, that control stuck long enough for back to back caps. Since map control wasn't forcibly reset by the movement of the objective to a neutral location, and spawning Windows would mean getting slain from players on your balcony (seen as “Garage” on the picture), it was hard to get back into a position to retake map control.

The exception to this rule was when your team managed to spawn near Sniper, but even then you were left with only a handful of options: 1) Push over Sniper area into the main central area (where you have to overextend to get back into the kitchens) 2) Push into the massive choke point known as the Mauler to retake your kitchen. Or 3) Push over Sniper area into the enemy Mauler, and either attempt to solo retake control of the enemy Kitchen or push behind their base to their Balcony/vehicle spawn area to attempt a sneak cap as they move back toward the center of the map.

Laundry list:
  • Everything is a 90 degree angle, which increases the potency of camping. (Reduced movement incentive.)
  • Door geometry allowing players to hide on top of doors increases potency of camping. (Reduced movement incentive.)
  • Combined with above two, a heavy focus on CQB weaponry leads to almost mandatory camping / lack of reasons to move in a stalemate unless Rockets are going to spawn soon.
  • Vehicles have few options on how to break a stalemate, due to massive segmentation of the map.
  • CTF is snowbally, due to never losing map control upon scoring and ease of spawn killing from major spawn areas during a scoring run.
  • Retaking central control after losing is is extremely difficult due to required passing through choke points in order to do so.

So how do we fix it?

In Rat's Nest case, a majority of the problems (90 degree angles, too many choke points, too many CQB weapons, door camping) have really obvious solutions.

Open up the angles. Remove some CQB weapons. Widen some choke points. Flatten the doors.

Fixing the potency of vehicles and reducing the occurrence of multicapping in Flag will require a more deliberate approach.

But before we get into fixing the two major issues, let's do a little more focused discussion on where to open angles, and which CQB weapons need to stay.

The biggest offender is the entrance/exit to the Turret area of the map from the Kitchen. Turret is the primary flanking area into the opposing Kitchen, and thus the most important place to push (pushing across bridge is a death trap due to being open to crossfire sightlines from turret + Sniper with limited options to break both sightlines simultaneously.)

In order to improve the incentive to actually push from turret, rather than stalemate camp the area, We can bust open that door and stretch the entrance further toward the Brute Shot spawn, which will give the pushing player more vision toward the back side of the kitchen as they push. This encourages a team with confidence by giving them more information as they push (more field of vision) and reducing the amount of space a CQB wielder has to hide and use for an ambush.

The second offender is also the primary choke point of the map, the Mauler->Kitchen door, directly across from the aforementioned turret door. This is an area I feel should be greatly widened for a couple of reasons.

With one of the “safety spawn” areas occurring just behind the pictured player, outside in the streets, this route is one of the primary routes in order to attempt to retake your Kitchen, or reenter the fray after being slain. Widening this area reduces the chances you'll be cut off by grenades and further increases your ability to see the CQB wielders who have taken refuge in your Kitchen.

Finally, the entrances to the Kitchen from your own base are also choke point doors with areas to hide around the corner. Sure, you can bank a grenade off the door frame to peg a player around the corner, but he still has plenty of room to dodge and be prepared to take you down with whatever weapon he and his teammates have primed.

In order to fix this particular area, you could widen the bottom doorway in order to increase the sightlines for players looking to push out or peek into the Kitchen, or trim the frame and round off the square edges, giving a bit more visibility around the corners as you prepare to push, increasing the potential reaction time and increasing counterplay for a camping Shotgun or Hammer played just inside the door.

So now let's talk CQB weaponry.

Per side, Rat's Nest has 2 SMGs, 2 Spikers, a Brute Shot, a Shotgun, and 2 Maulers (both right next to each other). Each team also has access to a Bubble Shield and a Regenerator in their Kitchen. On top of that, the map features a neutral Hammer.

In total, the map has 6 Shotgun-type weapons, 4 high RoF automatics, and 2 splash damage explosives (not counting the power weapon of Rockets).

Personally, I would remove all 4 Maulers and move the Shotgun from its place near the center of the map into the Maulers' home. This would better equip players coming off Snipe Street spawn into the Kitchen to fight off players inside their kitchen, assuming the Shotgun was available.

The Hammer needs to stay, as it serves a unique purpose of being an anti-vehicle weapon inside Rocket street with its high physics impact carrying the potential to launch vehicles off the cliff – countering bomb runs or flag runs that took the risky road. It's also a viscerally powerful weapon in general with a ton of satisfaction when used.

The SMGs and Spikers on the map are somewhat superfluous with every player spawning with ARs as their secondary weapon. SMGs' primary role in the case of BTB use cases were as a counter to Banshees, while Spikers saw almost no use for any reason. Either or both of these could be cut without having any significant effect on the gameplay of the map.

With a Bubble Shield and a Regenerator both spawning in the Kitchen on short timers, players carrying CQB weaponry were empowered further, as their fast kill times could slay players within the field created by the equipment. The Bubble Shield is good for defensive purposes in Bomb, but in terms of pushing potential doesn't really enable anything, especially in the case that you're pushing against other CQB weaponry, as you're just giving them opportunity to get into range by throwing down the shield on yourself. The Regenerator, however, is much better for pushing, as it allows you to survive BR fire as you move into position.

Pulling the Bubble Shield back from the Kitchen can reduce some of the power teams taking over Kitchens carry, whether they have CQB weaponry or not. The Bubble Shield could be moved into the bases, at the old SMG spawn location (upstairs along the wall), further encouraging its use as a defensive tool for Bomb disarming or as a tool to protect from choke point grenades as you push into your Kitchen.

Or, the Bubbles could be placed in a location that helps alleviate one of the problems I mentioned with CTF, where post-capture spawning typically left players spawning at the Windows were susceptible to fire from their balcony as they attempted to push back toward their base. Place the Bubble Shield near the Windows (opposite from the Plasma Grenades) to improve the chances for players to get back to their base with a bit more safety.

And that segues us into talking about how to improve the map's snowball situation for CTF.

One major issue of the Window spawn is that players only have two options upon spawning there: Move toward your base (where enemy players are killing you) or Move toward Rocket spawn (the weakest position on the map).

The ramps leading down to rockets are a complete dead zone. You can only move forward or backward when passing through. Adding an additional route from here into either the Kitchen or the Base would drastically improve map flow in this area, in addition to enabling players an option to avoid the Balcony spawn campers.

Between the two options, giving the route into the Base is probably the wiser option – it avoids creating too much funneling into the Kitchen, and also creates a new flag route option for a trailing team. While a leading team will almost always want to run the flag through the Kitchens due to the speed / safety of the route, a trailing team usually wants to run the flag a back way, typically into a vehicle behind the base. In this case, if a player is managing the sneak grab alone, he may elect to take this path and look for reinforcements at Rockets, an area of the map few are likely to venture to when the weapon is not due to be up. If an enemy team groups to stop the capture from this route, they are left out of position for map control and the trailing team may set up to stop the bleeding.

With the Mauler entrance to Kitchen also opened up, the snowballing in Flag matches is alleviated as players have better options to retake their side of the map, as the team with control of the interior is more exposed in general.

But they're still safe from the final problem I highlighted, which is the low amount of options for vehicles on the map.

I don't necessarily think this is a major issue existing on Rat's Nest, and more a bit that gives the map a unique flavor. After all, once a spawn trap is set up, the Warthog can dominate. And when a spawn trap isn't set up, a lone wolf Ghost can score kill after kill patrolling the outer ring for players picked off in the center of the map.

However, for players who find their BTB fun primarily when utilizing the motorized portion of the Halo sandbox, Rat's Nest can be a frustrating experience.

Minor improvements could be made in order to help out a driver's life. For instance, the “cliff” below Ghost spawn could be moderately reworked into a ramp, improving vehicle flow through the center of the map and giving players driving past rockets an opportunity to drive by or do gun runs past the Kitchens, without the enormous risk of being forced to stop, turn around, and reverse back to Rockets with ample time to end up stuck by plasma grenades, flipped by other explosives, or highjacked.

Although the doors of the map are big enough for a Warthog to fit through, they could be made just a bit bigger to encourage the true offroad terror driving surprise of WHY THE FUCK IS THERE A WARTHOG RIGHT HERE?

Although not NECESSARY, introducing a low route or open window into the Kitchen or Base from Snipe street to give a Warthog gunner sightlines into the area could improve harassment or route options for the wandering tusked beast.

Regardless of the flaws discussed here, Rat's Nest was a map that played quite well in the context of Halo 3 at a competitive level. Despite accusations of passive play, it was a Slayer map that rarely failed to reach the 100 kill marker, and CTF matches were always fast paced and exciting. The map was just far superior for Bomb and failed to reach its potential for other gametypes. The changes detailed herein could've made the map a Classic, rather than just a “Oh I remember that one.”

This concludes the inaugural Audley's Workshop: Reforged.  Hope you enjoyed!  Next visit to the Forge Workshop, we'll be talking about Lockout.  (But I'll probably revisit the Armory next and talk about Armor Abilities.)

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