Avalanche (AKA Cotton Ball), the second map from next month’s Legendary Map pack – due April 15th for 800 marketplace points (remember, we just make the maps, we don't get to price them) – is a lovingly crafted reimagination of Halo: Combat Evolved classic Sidewinder. It wouldn’t be wholly accurate to call it a “remake,” but elements of Avalanche are certainly culled from Sidewinder – it has the same familiar U-shape, multiple ways from base-to-base, and a whole sandbox full o’ vehicles to play with. But there are many, many changes too.
Designers Niles Sankey and Lars Bakken along with artists Mike Buelterman and Jason Sussman have answered a bunch of questions about Avalanche and hopefully between their answers and the accompanying pictures, what Avalanche is will begin to crystallize.
Check out significantly larger versions of these four images here.
Q: What did each of you do on Avalanche?
Lars Bakken: I did the initial map set-up work (weapons, game types, vehicles, etc) and then handed it off to Niles so he could make it better. Towards the end, I oversaw any bug fixes that impacted design.
Mike Buelterman: I somehow got slapped with the ownership of the map but we all did our part to help pull the map together to really let the soul of Sidewinder shine through with Avalanche. I started with the unwieldy geometry straight from the original Sidewinder file and then worked to beat it into submission in the architecting stage. I worked with design to help fix the issues that occurred on Sidewinder when it came to stalemating and infantry fatigue while on foot. After which I was tasked with the large forerunner structures and bases. Jason Sussman worked on the center hallways, ice cave, and forge placeable objects. Sam Jones ended up owning the terrain, and Harold Lamb did some great work on the mancannons and glowing probes in the back of the bases.
Jason Sussman: I worked on the Forerunner center pass section (Shotty area) and the outer portions of the bases. Along with a few twigs here and there.
Niles Sankey: Designer. This generally entails guiding environment artists in developing the spaces, although Buelterman and Sussman are both very talented artists and a lot of the spatial design was handled by them. As a designer I also work on objective and object placement and weapon/vehicles types.
Q: What’s the fictional setting for Avalanche?
NS: Snow… duh.
LB: (Spoilarz) Hopefully I’m not ruining it for anyone that hasn’t finished Halo 3 yet, but I believe it’s on the new “under-construction” Installation 04, yes?
JS: I think we all had this idea of it being some sort of power plant type of structure where the power was being drawn from within the ice. This idea was started from Harold Lamb who made the man cannons that poke out from the cliffs and the snow covered ground. He mentioned it one day and it just kinda stuck. That’s mainly why I made the middle section look like some kind of carving/power storage machine thingy ma bob.
MB: Avalanche is a large forerunner power station set on the front of a huge glacial shelf on an under construction Halo installation. The structure is pulling its power out of the densely compacted ice that constantly builds up behind the station before it falls into the ocean below.
Q: What’s different about Avalanche in terms of actual structural changes?
NS: Buelterman knows best. NO LADDERS!
LB: The basics are the same, but you’ll notice some new additions (man cannons), and some things missing (the interior tunnel between the bases). We also haven’t had any ladders in Halo multiplayer maps since Halo 1, so we had to re-design the interiors of the bases to accommodate that. There are a lot more quick ways to get around the level now, that’s probably the biggest change.
JS: Well the first thing that folks will notice is that the rear hallways that connected the bases have been removed. This was mainly due to the fact that people had a tendency to use them over taking vehicles. Being that sidewinder is all about the vehicles traversing this huge snowy plane, having folks mainly fight in a hallway just made the whole experience not as fun.
The other change that people will notice is that there is a new cavern area that connects the central section to the front of the map via mancannon. That route is very handy for when you’re getting pummeled from either entrance. It can be a fast way out of a hot zone.
One of the other great things that makes Avalanche different from Sidewinder is the addition of mancannons. Having the mancannons definitely changes up the on-foot aspect of Sidewinder. And they are great for launching the flag from one area to another when you’re in a jam.
MB: Most of the higher level changes from Sidewinder to Avalanche came about from the fact that the original map was just too huge for someone on foot, and objective games stalemated pretty frequently. The main structural changes included the additions of the mancannons placed at key areas to help the player on foot get from point A to point B as fast as possible. With those mancannons we were able to remove the back infantry hallways to move more of the action out into the main play area, which is what this map is all about. Another important change was the large increase of vehicles at your disposal. As a big team battle map we really needed to make it feel like the -blam!- was hitting the fan, and the best way to make that happen is to give the player a nice supply of vehicles. Let’s just say you won’t need to wait around long for a nice new set of wheels. We also opened up a few more attack routes into the bases to try and ease the stalemate issues that we saw on Sidewinder.
Q: Why can’t I throw the flag through the gates old school style now?
LB: Ahem. Well, that area doesn’t exist in the new version. We had it in there for a long time, but since that old flag trick didn’t work anymore that area became used less and less. Eventually that whole section of the level became completely unused, and not only that but a death trap for someone on foot. On top of that, we kept coming back to this idea that if someone was in there, by themselves, on foot… they weren’t taking part in what makes this level unique, all the vehicles. So, with much hand-wringing we axed that section. The map plays better for it too, because the action is so much more focused now.
NS: We wanted to more focus the map around the vehicles and as a result we limited a lot of the deep interior portions of the map. In addition, the dead end flag exchange section from the original sidewinder didn’t lend itself to a clear environment design. We found that players who were unfamiliar with the layout would often get lost trying to navigate some of the interior connections. The redesigned infantry section in the middle is a lot more fun (it’s downright insane at times) and a lot more of the gameplay condenses there.
MB: Since I didn’t work on the original Sidewinder map I can’t say for certain but my guess is that the gates and back hallways were put in to help with flag caps. The first half of Avalanche’s rough out stage had a very similar feature but we started to realize that those areas pulled a lot of the action away from the heart of the map. We needed to hone the core gameplay of the map down to its essentials and sidewinder is way more about the vehicle combat than corridor shooting. I’m sure most of the players will soon forget about the “old school” and embrace the orgy of vehicle combat that will ensue.
JS: Again this was one of those things that had to go simply because it focused all of the game play in back hallways and defeated the purpose of the map – which was essentially to mount up and fight around the main body of the map. Having all the firefights, and focus of a huge map in a small hallway is definitely not interesting. Directing folks out in the “horseshoe” area of the map is much more fun .
Q: What’s different about Avalanche in terms of sandbox elements?
MB: The number one difference would have to be the amount of new infantry routes and large number of vehicles in the mix all at once. We also have a really cool Covenant vs. Human vehicle setup on objective games that I think folks will enjoy.
LB: Well, we figured that you can’t really have a huge new wintery map and not make the vehicles snow covered! So, yeah, that was the original idea, and it grew into making the UNSC vehicles all wintery. Also the Hornet (in Avalanche only) has been tweaked from the shipping version to make it better suited as an MP vehicle, instead of a floating death platform. So, the Hornet will finally see some action in Matchmaking. There are some unique Forge objects as well that are unique to Avalanche.
NS: The map has a lot more vehicle action now. We’ve included flying vehicle and fast transport vehicles (Ghosts and Mongooses) to the roster. The equipment plays a major role in objective games. In fact, for CTF I would even say that equipment works better in Avalanche than any other MP map.
The Spartan Laser also has a big impact on gameplay. I remember a game where the assaulting team had taken the flag, jumped into a mancannon and landed on a teammate’s hornet in hopes of being flown back to their homebase. Just as the flag carrier lands on the hornet, a Laser shot lances the Hornet in a beautiful explosion of red and orange. The flag carrier somehow lived through the explosion and against all odds scored a flag cap a few minutes later… true story.
Q: Why Avalanche instead of [someone from the Internet’s favorite map, here]?
JS: Honestly there are so many maps I would personally love to see placed within Halo3’s DLC. And for me and others Sidewinder was one of them. I think it’s just one of many we really wanted to do. Not to mention I believe there were allot of folks banging on the door requesting it.
LB: Since the Halo: CE days, Sidewinder has been a fan favorite. Sure it might not be on EVERYONE’S list, but it seemed to be on the short list for a lot of incredibly vocal fans. And hell, it’s HUGE! And we needed more BTB maps.
MB: It just made sense. Looking back at the release maps and DLC1 maps, everyone could see that we needed another Big Team Battle map along the lines of Sandtrap, and with the Community's love of Sidewinder, it was a great fit.
NS: Two reasons: Sidewinder is one the most requested remakes and we also needed another big vehicle map. And maybe this isn’t the only classic we’re remaking. There’s always hope for said Internet Halo fan.
Q: How will objective gametypes play out?
NS: We wanted to try something new with Avalanche. One idea was to include the Scorpion tanks seeing as they are so iconic in the original sidewinder, but in the past felt as though it was too powerful to include it in our big maps. We also wanted to solve the issue of flag capping, or more precisely, the lack of flag capping in sidewinder, especially on asymmetric gametypes like “One Flag CTF”. As we were testing the early versions of the map, we found that it was incredibly difficult for the assaulting team to score flag caps in any reasonable amount of time. One way we solved this problem was to give only the assaulting team a Scorpion. So basically, in the case of an asymmetrical gametype, the overpowered scorpion becomes an asset in solving, for example, the lack of flag caps; and it’s just plain cool to have the Scorpion in the Sidewinder remake.
We then took the Scorpion addition one step further and decided to give the assaulting team all UNSC (human) vehicles and the defending team all Covenant vehicles. It ended up being very fun for asymmetric gametypes (one flag, one bomb, territories) and it’s something that I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Humans vs. the Covenant in a giant vehicle -blam!--o-rama.
Q: What are your favorite gametypes on Avalanche?
JS: My personal favorite is neutral bomb with Multi Flag coming right behind. But honestly having so many vehicles and man cannons on this size of map is great for any game type.
MB: Personally I think CTF (one flag and multi flag) is where the most fun can be had but territories and king of the hill really focus the vehicle mayhem into one big wet spot.
NS: One Flag CTF.
LB: Team Slayer, and Team King are good, but the favorite Friday afternoon playtest has become Multi Flag on Avalanche. It’s definitely brought back memories of Halo CE LAN parties. The games are completely epic, and by adding vehicles into that mix, crazy things are guaranteed to happen. Can you say Capture the Flag with a Hornet?