Construct: to build or form by putting together parts.
The small snippet of narrative attributed to Halo 3’s multiplayer map Construct informs players that “vast quantities of water and other raw materials are consumed in creating even the smallest orbital installations." Like most constructs of Forerunner origin, there's just not that much to go on. But hidden beneath the alien-alloyed surface and silently lurking behind every blind corner lives the narrative of Construct’s creation – the iterative process that turned vast quantities of time, raw conceptualization, and play testing into the finished multiplayer map millions of Spartans and Elites have waged war on.
And while Bungie multiplayer designers Chris Carney and Tyson Green might not be willing to dig too deeply into the fictional aspects surrounding Construct's Forerunner origins, they were both instrumental in guiding the multiplayer arena from original vision to its final, finished state. We asked them to deconstruct the iterative process...to take an honest look at how the map began, reveal what changes it underwent throughout its development, and discuss whether or not they're satisfied with it in its current form. And what do you know, even though they’re both hard at work on something new, they obliged.
In the beginning, Construct was slated to become a massive "Stratosentinel" perched high above a severely damaged, and of course, mysteriously unexplained Forerunner structure. If you’re the type that operates in the comparative space, the design documents inform you to think of the multiplayer map Ascension with a floating repair station looming overhead and a series of cannons and lifts to whisk players between both levels at breakneck speed. Oh, and early on, the designers planned on having another curiosity occupy Construct's airspace.
Multiplayer designer Tyson Green kicks things off.
"The earliest iteration of Construct was very vertical, with layers that had enough space between them to fly a Banshee. There was also a visual concept taken from a different map of a looming Forerunner element in the sky above, which was eventually adopted for this map.
Originally, it was more of a visual concept map with more vertical gameplay and support for flying vehicles. As other maps evolved or were cut, we saw a need for more maps on the smaller end of the spectrum, and Construct was redesigned a few times to fit into that role. It never quite got small enough to be a contemporary of Guardian or Lockout, but it plays well with smaller groups of players, so it got close to filling that hole.”
Some players may lament the loss of the aerial combat on Construct (though they may not have known it was ever missing until now), but the designers had good reason to keep the combat grounded.
“As we learned with Ascension in Halo 2,” recalls Carney, “the Banshee can be very brutal, so we tried to think of better ways for infantry cover, quick vertical movement, and easier moments for sweet, sweet Banshee boarding. This was the original intention, but of course we ended up with something different.”
The brutality Carney refers to concerns the Banshee’s all but unstoppable reign on a map that otherwise focused on cat and mouse infantry play and long range duels. After shipping Ascension for Halo 2 and realizing the players were finding it frustrating to deal with the Banshee in the smaller space, the multiplayer team decided to remove it from the version of the map featured in online play. Obviously, the same fate befell the craft in the context of Construct.
It wasn’t the only idea that failed to make the grade.
“Well the Banshee became a completely different animal during Production,” Carney, reiterates, “so that was cut from the map. Then we tried to work with the Hornet. However, the final version of that vehicle came on rather late, so most Construct games ended up being a vehicle-less experience. But in my opinion, it still plays fine.
In addition, the initial visual direction of Justin’s (Hayward) was that of a massive, floating construction Sentinel hovering over a mobile construction deck on Waypoint. But that too changed as we got into the visual details, and we ended up moving it to another Waypoint location. Initially we also had two arms, one with a Shotgun and the other a Sniper Rifle that stretched out into space beyond the orange lift, similar to a twin pair of diving boards, but those too ended up cut (but were still amusing at the time).”
Green muses over some of Construct's additional conceptual design changes.
“The very large vertical separation was greatly compressed to bring the layers into greater interaction with one another, and to allow more routes between them than just the grav lifts, and the overall size of the map also came down quite a bit, in terms of square footage and complexity.”
Though the visual concept and overall complexity of Construct was ultimately altered to suit the removal of the Banshee and accommodate the changes in the map's scale, the designers still wanted to adhere to their original vision where they could.
“The upper level remained fairly constant,” says Green, “a ring connecting the lifts. The lower level changed a lot, though, becoming simpler with every iteration until it became less of a combat space and more of a respawn zone and transportation hub. So there was ultimately not much desire to draw players back down into that space—the upper ring plays well, and the lower level is kept clear as a safe place to respawn and regroup.”
Carney agrees and explains why he thinks the upper ring is the most compelling of the three combat spaces.
“In my opinion, players always want to stay high on a map because it simply provides the best view and works with Halo’s lower aiming camera. When playing Prisoner in Halo: Combat Evolved, I always loved quickly moving to the upper levels so that I could see what was going on beneath and not worry about fools jumping down on me.
With Construct we tried to make the lifts fast, so that players on the upper levels had to worry about all three entries in addition to the ramps. However, they also had to worry about the Banshee. With its disappearance, the upper floor became very dominant.
If we redid the layout of the map, maybe we would place the majority of weapons on the first two levels and make players earn their perch on level three. But we would definitely need to play it a ton to see what worked.”
“The layers were preserved through the many iterations made, along with the middle ‘deck’ layer being a relatively open and inhospitable place,” Green adds. “The grav lifts were also carried across from the earliest iterations, though the orange lift changed many, many times.”
Those layers go deep. Construct is not a remake, but the design team didn’t shy away from using their past experiences to guide them along as Construct began to take shape. Of course, that didn’t mean they weren’t willing to stretch their boundaries.
“Some of the core ideas were designed to explore the things that worked well on Ivory Tower such as scale, vertical combat, and local asymmetry," Carney notes. "In addition, we wanted to see if we could stretch the combat even further in the Z direction. We even talked about it in completely crazy terms such as ‘what if we hovered Lockout over Ascension?’
Mainly, we were trying to think of ways to have several plains of horizontal combat and then connect these somehow with fast vertical elements. This definitely is still visible in the environment’s shipping state.”
Ah, the shipping state. Now that the map is out the door, our pair of designers can take a good look back and make some honest assessments about how they ultimately feel about their baby, both good and bad.
“The best part of Construct is the upper level,” says Green, accentuating the positive, “it has a nice mix of open views, flanking possibilities, and some blind corners. It’s also asymmetric, so it’s relatively easy to orient yourself. The lower level of the map isn’t nearly as good as this upper level, with relatively poor orientation and flow.”
“In hindsight, we probably could have benefited from some better landmarks between all of those metal plates,” notes Carney.
“Construct is a Forerunner environment which means that its visual language will always be a bit rough to define due to their complex structural systems. However, the two purple lifts and orange lift work well for navigation, as does the center diving board that holds the Sniper Rifle. The thought was that the local bits of asymmetry might also help to define parts of the map better (the lower ramp and ramps around the orange lift).
MikeyB (Mike Buelterman) finished Construct and did an amazing job with all of the Forerunner texture detail. I personally think his blue data wall on the upper floor is one of the best ways for player orientation on the top part of the map.”
Green agrees, but offers up some final thoughts.
“The upper level works well, and the clear choke points at the tops of the lifts give teams a focus (whether defending or storming.)
In the end, I still would have liked to compress and integrate the layers further, to make the ramps and catwalks between them into less of an afterthought, but eventually we had to run with what we had.”
Carney has his own closing thoughts.
“Construct feels good and was actually the last map we finished for ship,” says Carney, “We were just cranked that we got it out the door!”
Next up, Halo: Reach. Halo 3's multiplayer at their backs, both designers are now focused on making Halo: Reach's multiplayer even better by consuming vast quantities of design resources to ensure that it's just right when you set foot onto their latest online battlefields in 2010. Until then, you can sound off on the content's of this postmortem in the discussion thread attached.