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Heathen117

What are the tenets of good map design in Halo?

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I've seen a lot of discussion recently (especially in the "Did Forge ruin Halo" thread) about map design and its decline throughout the halo series. Most people on this forum would agree that Reach and 4 had a relatively poor map selection at launch, and some would even say that about Halo 3.

 

Let's try to analyze the change, see where modern maps are going wrong, and where the classics got it right.

 

So my question for discussion is this: what do you consider the founding rules necessary for good map design? What basic rules of thumb, design characteristics, and weapon placement schemes can be found in all 'good' maps (maps almost universally liked, like many CE and H2 maps)? 

 

Assume a no-sprint, descope game. Also, just to limit the scope of the thread a little, try to keep discussion focused on small maps (so vehicle play doesn't need to be in the equation).

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First off, Sprint obviously stagnates map flow by enlarging the map and forcing the creation of long 'sprint-able' areas. These spaces obviously become redundant for standard combat that doesn't involve sprinting. This should go without saying. (Examples include the open side of Complex, Abandon's beach, and maps such as Harvest.) All other maps have also been 'stretched' which leads to the issue of map flow for standard combat.

 

Secondly, clutter was a massive problem in Halo 4. Either the map had no sightlines (Adrift) or too many sightlines (Solace). Solace, as an example, had a wide open field for DMR and Sniper abuse, and it appears as if 343's thought process was – "Let's block these LOS with all these crates" Lines of sight should be built into the map structure, not forced and/or blocked via cluttered aesthetics.

 

The other forgers on the forums can tell you all about map flow and using power weapons as incentive for player movement, but those two things I listed were my main gripes with the Halo 4 map design from my player's perspective.

 

Yes, the question was more about what is GOOD map design, but as we take away the bad the good begins to show.

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I think the question presented leads to the holy Grail of how do we make a map that would be as good to play as midship but be completely unique?

 

Edit: I guess I read the OP differently than everyone else...

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The map should encourage players to move, and reward them for controlling different parts of the map at different times.  Powerups are a great way to do this, and the removal of powerups are a huge reason why recent Halo maps play so bad.  Camo and Overshield provide huge incentive to control parts of the map that players would otherwise have no reason to be at, creating exciting and dynamic gameplay all over the map.  Asymmetrical maps excel at this because you aren't forced to put power items somewhere on the "50 yard line" so to speak.  You can make each area of the map distinct and important at various times, and this also helps big maps feel small (Hang Em High, Damnation, even Powerhouse if it had camo/overshield).

 

Secondly, a map should have a natural power position that players are drawn to when nothing is about to spawn.  Typically this is an elevated position with  good line of sight over the map and decent cover (Blue Tower on Hang Em High, Rocket Arch on Beaver Creek, etc), but not so much cover that it renders the rest of the map useless.  This creates a struggle, a reason to move, and a reward for players during lulls in the game.

 

The map should have at least 3 ways to get to any point on the map, and should allow for creative jumps and shortcuts to allow skilled players to get anywhere quickly.

 

A good map should never spawn the most powerful items in the most powerful positions.  There's a reason Prisoner plays so well.  Players need to go to a disadvantageous position to get rockets, which allows for shifts in map control, and forces teams to demonstrate great skill to maintain control after key spawns.

 

Line of sight needs to strike a delicate balance of "not too open, not too closed".  Powerups, power positions, and line of sight are the three most influential factors in a map's "flow".  It should take great, not mediocre, coordination and control to restrict a team's movement.  But the line of sight should not be so chopped up that it becomes easy to escape death by running away if a player has made a silly mistake.

 

Player spawning should allow safe spawning the majority of the time, but should allow for a bit of manipulation and predictability.  Mindful players should be able to prevent undesirable enemy spawns with individual effort, and be able to force desirable enemy spawns with nothing less than great team coordination. It should be relatively easy and intuitive to spawn your teammates where you would expect to spawn them.

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• Power-ups. These are much better for map flow than weapons because of the decay mechanic. OS goes in favorable positions, Camo in unfavorable positions.

 

• A powerful utility weapon. If players cannot kill across the map effectively, then obviously the match will be slow to progress. None of that "spread forces map movement" garbage. It is better to have an overpowered utility than an underpowered one; just look at the difference between Halo 1 and 3. The weapon's power, however, should be balanced with skill in order to preserve counterplay. A strong utility will increase the number and strength of power positions greatly, which leads into the next point.

 

• Strong power positions. Sprint weakens these positions, and weak nades render them imbalanced. This is the most important factor of a map.

Even in other games, the most popular maps are the ones with powerful, almost unfair positions. They add strategy and purpose to a map. They add character. They make it easier for new players to understand how to dominate.

And as always, the advantages of power positions must be countered with strong nades and Active Camo.

 

But none of this can happen with Sprint.

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Here is an uneducated statement but I dislike tight hall way like on Countdown and Adrift they make me feel cramped: They are also easily nadeable 

 

 

And as always, the advantages of power positions must be countered with strong nades and Active Camo.

 

Yes! 

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what do you consider the founding rules necessary for good map design? What basic rules of thumb, design characteristics, and weapon placement schemes can be found in all 'good' maps (maps almost universally liked, like many CE and H2 maps)?

To answer your question, in my opinion there are no rules. Rules are made to be broken. Generally speaking there definitely are basic rules of thumb about Halo map design that are synonymous with qualities of a good map, however, exceptions can always be made for the sake of originality and experimentation.

 

I would say a few general rules of thumb (and few examples of rule breakers) are...

-A mix of different types of engagements; long sight lines and CQC, chokepoints, open areas, verticality, etc.

-2 or 3 ways in and out of an area. Lockout and Guardians' shotgun spawn breaks this rule.

-Power weapons not placed in power positions. PLENTY of maps break this rule; Lockout and Guardian's Snipers, Sanc's Sword/Camo, Pit's Snipes right underneath the towers, etc...

-Asymmetrical maps tend to play asymmetrical gametypes better (Slayer, KotH, Oddball, etc) and vice versa.

-The map should FUNCTION well. As in you don't bump into shit all the time, the man cannons and lifts work every time, can't be exploited or broken etc... Plenty of maps in MM, both dev/community made maps are broken out of easily...

-Spawning should be safe and somewhat predictable.

-A decent palette of weapons, rifles, automatics, niche weapons placed in complimentary positions.

 

Also, why not include vehicle play in this discussion? Vehicles have been a part of Halo since the beginning.

-Vehicles need LOTS OF SPACE for moving around. Generally this leans towards bigger maps, with longer sight lines and higher player counts.

-Anti-vehicular weapons are needed in complimentary areas.

-Plasma pistols and plasma grenades are the bread and butter against land vehicles.

-Anti-vehicular power weapons should be sparse and FINE TUNED. Spartan Lasers are game changers against vehicles, it's almost not fair.

-VEHICLES AGAINST VEHICLES. A good Warthog driver and gunner can WRECK SHIT if played smart. Best way, imo, to take out vehicles is to use your own vehicles.

-Tanks and Banshees can be HEAVILY EXPLOITED. Easy way to counter tanks and Banshees are limiting sight lines and Lasers.

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My views on what we've been missing.

 

- Height Variation: Maps should have 3-4 floors (or "tiers) to help establish power positions and have better ideas for weapon placement. It is also important that the upper floors cover the near-perimeter without actually overlapping the floors below it (for the pure sake of promoting up-and-down combat)

 

- More Restricted Flow: You should not be able to move anywhere from anywhere. You should NOT. Making the flow more strict means the higher areas are more powerful. But of course, you don't want to make it too strict to make games really unbalanced and/or takes 5 years to find a ramp to the top.

 

- Complex Layout, but Simple Geometry / Movement options: I bring this up because I see the exact opposite on maps like Adrift, Abandon, and Solace. The layouts are not only boring (well, Abandon's okay), but there is just shit absolutely everywhere. It empowers sprint (which is already frowned upon) and makes for billions of chopped up lines of sight that sometimes aren't worth the time.

 

There's obviously more things to consider, but these are huge issues I see with modern maps (from devs and forgers alike). A map like countdown has multiple floors, but the upper floors strongly overlap and there are at least 7 different ways to the top. Maps like Haven have simple geometry, but there is no 3rd floor that could be useful, and the 2nd floor completely overlaps the 1st. It is basically a large warm-up map with nothing special to offer.

 

Maps that actually fulfill those points above include Damnation and Prisoner, and many maps (custom or not) that can be found on Quake. Those maps are truly special.

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This is probably off topic, but I would like to see another forest type map like Ridgeline from Reach, but on a smaller scale like the size of Highground.

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- Height Variation: Maps should have 3-4 floors (or "tiers) to help establish power positions and have better ideas for weapon placement. It is also important that the upper floors cover the near-perimeter without actually overlapping the floors below it (for the pure sake of promoting up-and-down combat)

 

- More Restricted Flow: You should not be able to move anywhere from anywhere. You should NOT. Making the flow more strict means the higher areas are more powerful. But of course, you don't want to make it too strict to make games really unbalanced and/or takes 5 years to find a ramp to the top.

 

- Complex Layout, but Simple Geometry / Movement options: I bring this up because I see the exact opposite on maps like Adrift, Abandon, and Solace. The layouts are not only boring (well, Abandon's okay), but there is just shit absolutely everywhere. It empowers sprint (which is already frowned upon) and makes for billions of chopped up lines of sight that sometimes aren't worth the time.

 

There's obviously more things to consider, but these are huge issues I see with modern maps (from devs and forgers alike). A map like countdown has multiple floors, but the upper floors strongly overlap and there are at least 7 different ways to the top. Maps like Haven have simple geometry, but there is no 3rd floor that could be useful, and the 2nd floor completely overlaps the 1st. It is basically a large warm-up map with nothing special to offer.

 

Maps that actually fulfill those points above include Damnation and Prisoner, and many maps (custom or not) that can be found on Quake. Those maps are truly special.

I think you could throw Construct in there as well, couldn't you? I mean it fulfills those points.

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I think you could throw Construct in there as well, couldn't you? I mean it fulfills those points.

Well, yeah. But not entirely.

 

The top floor was way too OP. Also, it's not one of those maps where you work your way to the top (considering the second floor just was a long pathway exposed in the middle of the map. It's just one where you pick a lift and hope you make a timely engagement. But loosely speaking, your right. And for the record, I think it's a more entertaining map than Countdown.

 

KotH was pretty solid on it since players weren't fully concentrated on holding the top.

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Another thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is good, contrasting colors. The ideal map should be designed so that it enemies will "pop out" if they haven't picked up the on-map Camo. No team should have an advantage due to "blending in" with the map, and it shouldn't be stressful on your eyes after long play sessions.

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Another thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is good, contrasting colors. The ideal map should be designed so that it enemies will "pop out" if they haven't picked up the on-map Camo. No team should have an advantage due to "blending in" with the map, and it shouldn't be stressful on your eyes after long play sessions.

This goes hand in hand with all the recent junk in Halo maps... 

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A good map should have a pretentious sounding name and a lengthy description to contextualize it within the universe. Bonus points if the name is pulled from the thesaurus.  

 

 

:kappa:

 

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Don't forget about the portals, the bad ass gravity lifts like they had on Guardian or the power ups/ weapons on map.

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Good map design punishes foolish, impulsive players, in my opinion... Like it's your own fault for dying, getting caught out in Top-Mid... but maybe there was that risk/reward factor of getting across the map a lot faster, if you were able to survive, or maybe there was a power item that you could have acquired by jumping out in the open.

 

There's a right mix of wide open spaces, and more closed off areas, and a good mix of opportunities to utilize Halo's "triad gameplay" of gun/grenades/melee in combination, as well as opportunities to get a good team-shot going.

 

Halo 4, even a lot of Reach maps, were so segregated, with dividing walls and cover blocking all sorts of potential sight-lines, coordinated team play and set-ups ended up being significantly less effective, and with sprint, players could run away so much easier. Getting caught out in the open wasn't nearly as punishing anymore.

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Also, why not include vehicle play in this discussion? Vehicles have been a part of Halo since the beginning.

-Vehicles need LOTS OF SPACE for moving around. Generally this leans towards bigger maps, with longer sight lines and higher player counts.

-Anti-vehicular weapons are needed in complimentary areas.

-Plasma pistols and plasma grenades are the bread and butter against land vehicles.

-Anti-vehicular power weapons should be sparse and FINE TUNED. Spartan Lasers are game changers against vehicles, it's almost not fair.

-VEHICLES AGAINST VEHICLES. A good Warthog driver and gunner can WRECK SHIT if played smart. Best way, imo, to take out vehicles is to use your own vehicles.

-Tanks and Banshees can be HEAVILY EXPLOITED. Easy way to counter tanks and Banshees are limiting sight lines and Lasers.

 

I agree with your points and it is fine to discuss vehicles: the reason I didn't focus on large vehicular maps in the OP is that I believe there are fundamentally different principles at work in good BTB maps compared to good small team maps, and I wanted to focus on the latter. But I like your post.

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Another thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is good, contrasting colors. The ideal map should be designed so that it enemies will "pop out" if they haven't picked up the on-map Camo. No team should have an advantage due to "blending in" with the map, and it shouldn't be stressful on your eyes after long play sessions.

 

I'm looking at you Complex.... ouch my eyes  :bravo:

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This is just a me thing, but I'm not too fond of maps that require the player to jump as their only means to access a map. Especially with Halo 1's jumping mechanics.

There are certainly exceptions to this rule(Damnation), but I'd really have to see how your map plays out before judging it fully.

 

Great to see that Halo PC still has mapmakers that are doing things that aren't remakes or fuckhuge vehicle maps. Gold star for you.

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I'm working on a legit-as-hell lockout remake (among other things), hope I can still have the gold star :/

 

I totally know where you're coming from, though - too many shitty H2/H3/Reach/H4 remakes with crappy weapons and strange/poorly executed choices.

 

And I'm not sure what you mean, you aren't a fan of areas in maps that are only accessible by jumping? And could you elaborate on the H1's jumping mechanics? I'm under the impression that the only difference is the jump height (shorter jump height in H1 compared to the rest of the series). Unless you're talking about the netcode (a whole other can of worms)?

 

EDIT: to elaborate on my Lockout remake - it will use H1's weapons, but the map itself will look as close to H2 as possible. I've ripped all the shaders (including skybox and weather effects) using Entity, but many adjustments will have to be made to achieve visual fidelity. I have yet to see a well-balanced replication of H2's weapon set, and until that day comes I'll only be creating maps that use the stock weapon set, in order to maintain the competitive nature of the game and my server.

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As a map maker for H1:Custom Edition, I'd like to thank you all for this holy grail of notes on map design. I'm much obliged.

 

Since I am not limited with Forge pieces/budget/FPS issues, I have the freedom to make whatever I want in my map, but sometimes I am at a loss. It is interesting to hear what competitive players like to see in their maps, for these are exactly the maps I constantly strive to create.

 

To add to this:

 

>Though it's not for everyone, I always like a couple of curve-balls. For example, in a map I'm working on, I have an elevated platform over a void that works really well for KOTH (see below). I added a hole in the middle of it after some play testing because it was slightly too easy to hold it down. With the hole, it is harder to land a frag nade on the hill (H1 nades don't explode after bouncing - they must land). Also, while defending, it is important to watch your footing or you will fall through. Players new to the map always call it out - saying they don't like it - but after they get used to it, they always change their minds :-)

 

haloce2013-04-1020-02-53-71.jpg

inb4 "ew ugly map git gud", this is the only pic I had to demonstrate, and it's very old. Looks much more polished now :-)

 

 

>Jumps for the parkour aspect :D Without them, maps can become too linear and boring. Watch out, though, because too many of them can compromise the flow of your map. Perfect example: H2's Lockout. Using simple jumps to cut corners and surprise other players makes all the difference. Bad example: Guardian. Specifically, getting into that damn tree trunk with the Oddball and profiting -_-

 

>I also have to agree about sightlines: it's as if the testing process for the maps in H4 wasn't effective. As previously stated, it's like they decided to block certain sightlines after the BSP (core level geometry) was completed, and had to rely on scenery objects to cover up their mistakes (I'm looking at you, Abandon!). This is what happens when I get horny and skin (map the textures to) the map because I'm sick of looking at my crummy alpha texture plastered all over walls. This takes time, and once it's done, I don't want to go back and redo it, so afterwards when someone says that they would change so-and-so, I try to argue away from it, if only out of ignorance and laziness. I've learned a lot from this and it seems clear that the testing team wasn't involved enough in the development process of some of the maps (not all, of course)

 

>Due to the ability to create custom terrain, I have to add something that might not REALLY apply to you Forgers out there: when designing terrain for use with vehicles, ALL vehicles need to be taken into consideration (or at least both the warthog and ghost). A perfect example is the ice in Sidewinder and Icefields (HPC exclusive). Warthogs, which are generally more dominant in most maps, require more focused driving on these maps in order to avoid getting trapped on the ice while a Ghost strafes circles around you, laughing. It's not just a question of the ground material, though. In Danger Canyon (another HPC exclusive), the terrain isn't terrible, but Ghosts have a significant advantage due to the bumpiness of the main path between bases, and can use these bumps to hide and re-position/dodge. It also doesn't help that some of the bumps aren't smoothed out enough, and even skilled drivers can be caught flipping over in the heat of the moment. This is one of the challenging parts of creating a vehicle-focused map.

 

Can't wait to see more, this thread is very informative

Looks good. Will you be making maps for H2A (assuming they include forge) or Halo 5 if those games are good?

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The thing about ce and h2 is that we didn't have forge so we were forced to use the maps and weapon spawns and everything that comes with it because there was limited custom options compared to now especially with forge. I like ce/2 more but even with forge I feel h3 has the best selection and most IMO.

 

The ability to at least made weapons to you from a point is something that is very appealing because you can control a position and a power weapon from a few spots. The opposing team is now in a position to push and move together to take over the power position and weapons.

 

I'm sure other people have posted map movement is key to making it fun and tactical. If you end up taking over the power up/position/weapon it's truly rewarding.

 

Thus why infinity slayer isn't rewarding if you can shoot better than a 5 year old.

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Looks good. Will you be making maps for H2A (assuming they include forge) or Halo 5 if those games are good?

 

After experiencing the freedom of creating maps with an actual 3d modelling program and a robust editing kit, I could never change over to Forge. If they include a terrain editor, I'll try it out, but it's highly unlikely that anything they release with a console game will come close to being able to get the vision in my head out and into the game with 100% fidelity. Hopefully this changes with the improved processing power of the Xbone, but my hopes aren't very high.

 

Maybe I'm just old and bitter :s

 

EDIT:

 

The thing about ce and h2 is that we didn't have forge so we were forced to use the maps and weapon spawns and everything that comes with it because there was limited custom options compared to now especially with forge. I like ce/2 more but even with forge I feel h3 has the best selection and most IMO.

Actually with CE (specifically, Custom Edition on PC) you can rip any .map file with a third party tool. From there you can open the .scenario (the main tag where all the spawn/weapon locations are stored) with the official Halo Editing Kit (by Bungie/Gearbox), and move/remove/create anything placed in the map (even teleporters!). Going deeper, you can use the same method to change spawn times, jump height, running speed, basically everything that Forge and gametype editors in the later games can - and more. When you're done, you can save-as the .scenario as something else (ex: hangemhigh-v2) and recompile it under the new name (so as not to replace the original). Of course, anyone that wants to play the map with you will need to download it and put it into their .maps folder - but if everyone has HAC2 (allows automatic downloading of maps upon joining servers) and you submit your map to the HAC2 map server, then all the dirty work is done for you.

 

Unfortunately the only thing that people use this functionality for is to make shitty H2/H3/Reach/H4 mods on Blood Gulch, but the option is there. I'd love it if the competitive scene would take up the opportunity, but not everyone is able to tolerate H1 after years of newer-gen engines and stats-tracking and all that.

 

On that note, if anyone is willing to try this I would be more than happy to help you learn the ropes. I host a 10-slot dedicated server (Chicago) and would be glad to host competitive scrims using your ideas :D

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