We're one week closer to the release of the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack which means it's time to take another sneak peek at one of the maps you'll be able to play starting July 5th. Last week, we gave you an inside look at
, a remake of the classic Halo 1 map, Longest. This week we explore the fog filled mysteries of Backwash!
The first time you set foot on the murky banks of Backwash, you may feel a strange sense of déjà vu. This familiarity isn't exactly by accident, as Backwash draws some loose inspiration from the swamp level from the Halo 1 campaign.
Designer Rob Stokes explains how the initial idea came about:
"We were interested in doing a very small scale, 4-player map that would work well for Slayer. In talking about possible environments, our design group (Justin, Eamon, Shiek, Luis, Barrett, Vic, C Paul, Jay, and I) came up with the idea of the swamp from Halo 1. We were hoping we could use the fog and general murky atmosphere to make an intimate map where people could hunt each other. Some of the visual (and aural) inspirations were stalking enemies through swampy water like Rambo, seeing gunfire in the distance through the fog, and listening for footsteps slogging through the muck."
Take a look at these screenshots and you can see exactly what Rob is talking about when he says things like "murky", "muck" and "fog." The mood and aesthetic components of Backwash are unlike anything else in the Halo 2 lineup and it offers a totally different experience from some of the other like-sized maps.
How would we describe Backwash in
word? Here's what a few Bungie folks had to say:
Rob Stokes, Designer:
Frankie, MP Whipping Boy:
Shishka, Art Monkey:
The map itself is essentially a symmetrical circular layout, with a large two story Forerunner structure in the center and bases at either end. The textures have been stripped away in this image to reveal the wireframe structure that Backwash is built upon. A variety of trees, roots and hills are spread around the outer portions of the map, adding ample opportunities for cover and sneakiness. A slight trench outlines the outer perimeter of the map, creating a nice pathway for Ghosts to run down unsuspecting foes while making laps.
From end to end, Backwash is actually a rather small map. However, when you add in the dense fog, it feels even smaller. The screenshots below illustrate just how much difference the fog can make. In the left shot, with the fog turned off (an option only available in our special debug versions), you can see from one end of the map to the other. The camera position is literally right above the red base and at the far side you can see the lights that make up the blue base. Now, with fog enabled (right image) you can barely even see midway across the map. Add this fog to a dense array of trees and you can begin to imagine the intimate hide-n-seek gameplay that ensues.
Even though Backwash is a fairly open and small environment, it wasn't without its share of design challenges. Here, Rob explains a few of the considerations that had to be made while developing this new map:
"The design of Backwash isn’t enormously complex. We were going for a simple arena, and that’s what we ended up with. But of course, that did result in some problems. For instance, the openness and ease of seeing distant conflicts make it really easy to hunt down and capitalize on someone else’s fight. You could even toss grenades from across the map and soften up (or kill) those targets before even reaching them. Framerate was also a problem, with the openness of the map making it hard to get much visibility blocking. In the end, we had to make some concessions, both on the design side and the art side, to get the sucker to run."
Lucky for us, these concerns were ironed out and the final map that is shipping in the Map Pack plays great. My personal favorite aspect has to be the overall atmosphere on this map. It's literally so thick you could cut it with an energy sword. A little thing like fog adds a whole new dimension to the game as you can't see more than a few feet in front of you at any given time. What you can see, however, are the bright flashes of muzzle fire in the distance, a great indicator of which direction the action is.
What is Rob's favorite aspect of Backwash? Here's what he had to say:
"I love the trees. I can’t think of any other map where I can better retreat from combat and avoid taking fire. The trees are especially useful for avoiding rockets, swords, or the occasional Ghost. And they sure look better than a bunch of space crates littered around for no good reason."
What does Frankie like the most about Backwash?...
"I like the fact that Backwash is almost perfectly circular. That means it’s both big and small. Some Gametypes call for straight shots across the radius of the map, and some call for long, protracted chases around the circumference. Either way, you can’t really be sure what’s ahead of you, and there’s usually a nasty surprise lurking in the mist."
And what about Shishka. What's his favorite aspect of Backwash?...
"The murky fog. There are levels in Halo 2 that have fog in them, but I think Backwash is the only level where the fog is a major element that actually affects the way you play the map. Moving through the plant life and the fog makes you difficult to track visually, which really adds to your opponents’ tension. Further, it’s gorgeous; the way the fog catches light is breathtaking."
Backwash differentiates itself from the lineup of Halo 2 maps in the area of weapons as well as atmosphere. For starters, players will immediately notice that by default, you don't start the game with any grenades (they can be added via a custom variant though). While there are grenades to be found lying around, not starting with any in your arsenal at the beginning of a match does change the gameplay a bit. What's the reasoning for the lack of starting grenades? Designer Rob Stokes offers this explanation:
"The official “design” answer is that it became too easy to spawn and launch grenades across the map at a distant fight. This was especially bad in objective games and King of the Hill. So while there are grenades available, you have to go find them and pick them up. Now, the full truth is, we had performance considerations to keep in mind. KotH was the worst case for this, where people would spawn and throw all their grenades at the hill immediately. It made the game unfun and the framerate crawled. Incidentally, the original starting weapons were Plasma Rifles and Plasma Grenades, since they both looked so cool blazing through the fog."
The fog-filled claustrophobic nature of Backwash means that short range weapons have a much greater impact. Luckily, there are two such weapons that you'll want to grab as soon as possible.
A Covenant Energy Sword is there for the taking, perched atop a tree branch near the center of the map. Seeing the glowing blade of death slice and dice through the fog is a really cool site to behold. As always, the sword can easily turn the tide of battle when used properly. However, players on the receiving end will find that the trees provide a nice means of dodging sword lunges. If you do manage to get the sword, keep it under wraps until you're ready to strike. The bright blue blade stands out from across the map and waving it around needlessly is a great way to draw attention.
Another must-have weapon on Backwash is the Shotgun. Like the Sword, the Shotgun is great for up close and personal encounters. Try to grab one of the longer ranged weapons, like a Carbine for your alternate, and then switch to the Shottie once you're within range. Use the tress and fog to hide yourself and close in on your opponent.
On the second story of the central Forerunner structure lies an Active Camo power-up. If you thought it was hard to see your opponents through the fog, imagine what it's like trying to track someone who's nearly completely invisible. The AC, in conjunction with the Shotgun or Sword, can have devastating results on Backwash. It's always a good idea to keep an eye out for this power-up and grab it whenever you can.
Aside from the variety of normal weapons you'd expect to find on Backwash (Plasma Rifles, SMGs, Carbines, etc...), there is one weapon that makes its Halo 2 multiplayer debut on Backwash. For the first time the Sentinel Beam is actually placed on the map by default. Why is Backwash the first map to include this new weapon? Designer Rob Stokes explains:
"We do include the Sentinel Beam as a weapon you can grab (inside the dead-end hallways at either end of the map) because it fits so well in the fiction of the location. After all, this is the home of Penitent Tangent, the monitor of Delta Halo. He’s probably got some Sentinel buddies waiting in the wings. Also, as Justin points out, the beams look sweet cutting through the fog."
Adding to the overall atmosphere on Backwash are a few small touches like ambient life and a cameo appearance by everyone's second favorite Monitor.
"Glow Bugs", as artist Justin Hayward calls them, flutter around tree trunks and glow oh so nicely amidst the creepy fog. Contrary to internet rumors, you can NOT capture them and put them inside a jar to use as a lighting device. As you're running around dealing out death you may also notice a familiar face flying around the battlefield. 2401 Penitent Tangent spends his Summers in the swamps of Backwash and can often be seen enjoying an evening flight through the treetops.
Backwash works great for any of the Halo 2 gametypes but it does lend itself a little bit more to some over others. Ideally, Backwash plays great in games of 8 or less people (though you can certainly fill it up to 16 if you're so inclined). What gametypes do some of the Bungie guys enjoy the most on Backwash? Here's what they had to say.
"Don’t make me choose just one! Personally, I love Swords or Swordball. The open layout, tree density, and rolling terrain make sword dashes very interesting. For the hardcore, Ninjanaut feels like something out of Predator. It can be very cool, especially if you’re it. I’ll also throw out Justin’s two suggestions, which are an all Sentinel Beam game (looks hilarious) and Snipers. Even though sniper rifles aren’t on the map by default, it’s pretty cool when everyone has one."
"Ninjanaut! Imagine if you will, several players hunting down a single, cloaked destroyer. Through the fog. In the dark. And as soon as he fires a shot, the entire level is suddenly lit up as everyone starts shooting at the now revealed juggernaut."
" I love one flag CTF. It’s fast, it’s noisy and surprisingly suspenseful at times. For weirdos, try sniper games. The thick fog adds a really bizarre element to the normally tense Snipers match type."
I have to concur that Ninjanaut games on Backwash are just plain awesome. Also, at a recent LAN party I discovered that "Dawn of the Dead" or "Zombies" games works fantastic on this map and the setting is absolutely perfect.
Tips & Tactics
To prepare you for the upcoming battles on Backwash, here are a few tips from some of the Bungie "
"In games where it appears, try to control the active camo power-up in the top of the middle structure. It’s especially handy in the murky environment of Backwash. Likewise, the sword on the fallen tree is a huge asset to control. Just don’t run around in the open with it out, since people have plenty of room to backpedal away from you and pepper you with bullets."
"If you’re playing Slayer, use the fog. Stay still, watch your motion tracker, and attack from behind. If you’re playing CTF, go through the middle. It’s a deathtrap, but it the fastest way to make progress."
"Learn the weapon spawns. You’re going to find yourself and your opponents clamoring for any grenades they can find, so it’s good to learn where they caches are located and run straight for them. Also learn the location of the shotgun, as many battles will be close encounters and you’ll want a short range weapon to keep alive. Keep in mind that the fog won’t conceal you at all if you’re wielding plasma weaponry."
This concludes our tour of Backwash, but don't worry – the map will be in your hands in just a few more weeks. The Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack will be released in retail stores on July 5th and includes NINE multiplayer maps, a bonus documentary, a short cinematic and all of the Halo 2 auto updates. Alternatively, all five new maps will be available as an Xbox Live premium download starting July 5th. Check back with us next week for a sneak peek at
L, another of the awesome new maps coming soon to a console near you.
If you missed last week's preview of Elongation, go
to check it out!