The inner sanctum of Citadel explored, it's time to step outside and have a look at the lengthy shores of Old Mombasa. Though Longshore has some inspirations you'll undoubtedly find yourself quite familiar with, it's not a straight remake as some fans have suspected. To help flesh out the process by which Longshore was built, we've recruited designer, Lars Bakken, and artists, Matt Bennier and Ken Taya.
Gently Lapping, Longshore Style
Q. Tell us what work you did on Longshore?
Ken Taya. I did the mass out, architecting, and finishing of Longshore alongside Matt and Lars.
I take full blame or praise for the following:
- Essentially cutting the level in half with the middle building
- The setting of the docks as a fish processing plant
- Setting the two-toned color palette to be maroon (more like sienna) and white. (Mercer Island High School colors also happened to be maroon and white. Go Islanders!)
- I came up with the Fronk's Fish Forms character. Is he a fish, is he a whale? You'll never know. :)
But in the end it definitely was a huge collaboration of efforts of many of the talented people I work with.
[Editor’s Note: Matt and Lars, right on cue. -urk]
Matt Bennier. Alongside Ken, I was responsible for architecting many of the structures and environment geometry. Additionally, I undertook a great deal of finishing work such as adding trims and structural detail, creating machinery, adding industrial components, and working on shaders (that’s textures for those who are still familiar with old school terminology). Specifically, I worked on Building M and Building K, the two primary bases for each team. I also created the telescoping bridge, which plays a critical role in objective game types. One of my largest contributions isn’t immediately apparent, which was managing line of sight via portals and visibility blockers. This allows us to cut out unseen sections of the level. On a level as big as Longshore with so much industrial detail, frame rate was a huge concern so it became necessary to create a visibility plan in order to maintain good performance.
Lars Bakken. I was the Designer on Longshore.
Center of Attention
Q. What was the concept that shaped Longshore and did it ever radically deviate from the original designs?
LB. Longshore started out as a little level we called Docks back in the day. It was a super early and rough idea that Steve Cotton and I batted around early on in Halo 3's production cycle. As happens too often in game development we started to run out of time, the idea was shelved for the time being. It was pretty much started over from scratch when we brought it back for DLC. The final level still has some of the same ideas (a large asymmetric map down by the water), but it's become its own beast.
MB. I came onto the project after some initial groundwork (mass out, as we call it) was already underway. Even so, from the time I began working on Longshore it did experience significant changes in concept and layout from time to time. From the get go, Longshore was always fun to play, but Ken and I had the task of making it feel like a real place and bringing it to life. At one point we thought that Longshore would simply be an industrial port that the marines had converted into a makeshift base of operations. There were also discussions that Longshore could be some type of desalinization or water treatment plant. We concluded that many of the ideas that had been floating around didn’t give Longshore the character it deserved to set it apart, which is what led us to consider the idea of it being a fish cannery. This allowed us to give the level a unique identity that felt familiar to the real world while at the same time allowing us to be a little more whimsical as exemplified with Fronk the Fish.
KT. It was a much different map in the beginning. It was way more open, you could see from one side to the other. And like any other piece of geometry Cotton hands me, I have to go and change the box like it's my job. Because it is.
But seriously, to finish a space with that much detail I needed to make some important decisions. In the end Cotton and I hugged it out and now we're a thing.
Up and Over
Q. It’s odd to say, but the feel of this map reminds me a little of Hang ‘Em High if Hang ‘Em High had no walkways and was perched over the top of two Turfs. Was Longshore influenced by any other maps, or was it its own thing from word go?
KT. In the beginning was Cotton, and Cotton was with box, and Cotton was the box (Cotton 1:1). He actually took the geometry of Hang 'Em High and overlaid it on top of it the geometry of Longshore. For the record Hang 'Em High was my favorite map...until Longshore. Bam, said the Lady!
LB. Longshore is very much influenced by Hang 'Em High. That's easily one of my favorite Halo MP maps, and it was something Cotton and I discussed in its first incarnation. Some of those ideas returned for round 2. I would say any of the big asymmetric maps were also fodder. There's some Zanzibar in there, as well as a bit of High Ground.
MB. In my opinion I always thought we were creating a new experience with just a small dash of familiarity. For Hang ‘Em High fans Longshore is akin to comfort food, albeit probably not whipped up the way Grandma used to make it.
Brace for Impact
Q. What makes Old Mombasa different than New Mombasa in terms of design? Are there more opportunities to add unique visual elements due to the atypical palette?
LB. I'll let the artists talk about this, because I'd just sound stupid.
KT. I'll let Lars talk about that, because I'd just sound stupid.
MB. Well Longshore feels more familiar to a modern setting than perhaps any of our other maps. It’s an eclectic combination of old (in Halo terms) industrial architecture with a slight hint of sci-fi motifs that ground it in the Halo universe. Initially, Longshore’s theme and visual style was inspired by Voi but ultimately we were able to instill more character into Longshore by presenting it with a more retro flavor. Obviously, we were able to add some unique visual elements to Longshore that you typically wouldn’t expect to find in a Halo multiplayer map. By now, everyone knows that Fronk the Fish is one such example, but there are other things as well such as a fish frying conveyor belt in a broiler room and a fish shack that offers a menu of fishy goodness and even pie!
Any Range Will Do
Q. Were there any sticking issues that needed to be sorted out?
LB. Well, it's a big map. There was a time when that big wall in the center wasn't there. We realized our engine just wasn't going to support the amount of things we wanted to do on that map without having some visibility blockers, but in the end it really made the map more interesting. We now have multiple routes through and around the wall, which makes the game play different every time, and cool new strategies are always emerging.
KT. In the development of any map there are many areas that need to be ironed out. I'd say giving each area an easily identifiable definition was challenging. We wanted to sell the middle building to be an actual processing plant. From the Hopper, to the Freezer, to the Heater. I also wanted people to know exactly where they were on any point in the map at any time, so making all spaces look very unique was challenging.
MB. The visibility plan was one of the largest issues that we had to address. Initial mass-outs offered a more open layout, but being able to see so much of the level at once was hurting performance. So the large center structure was added to divide up the space and I experimented with moving buildings, sliding doors, bending halls, etc. to make sure that people don’t cry when they’re trying to headshot someone with the Battle Rifle or Sniper Rifle from across the map.
Bridging the Gap
Q. Where does Longshore fit inside the Halo 3 multiplayer stable and what game types are best suited for this space?
LB. It's a big map and it's very good for one-sided games. It shines with One Flag and One Bomb. Protect the switch!
KT. I personally love objective maps, and this definitely plays well. Protecting the switch definitely is the number one priority for defense.
MB. Longshore provides Halo 3 with a large asymmetrical map. It’s certainly not as big as Sandtrap or Avalanche but provides perhaps the largest architectural environment to play in, ideal for close and medium range combat with opportunities for long range encounters as well. One-way objective game types tend to be my favorite on this map but you also can’t go wrong with Team Slayer. Infection is also a blast on this map with enough people.
Q. What roles do vehicles and equipment play on Longshore?
LB. By default there is a Ghost on the map. It's powerful, but you have to be careful you don't fly right over the edge into the water while you're trying to splatter the flag carrier. There are some pretty valuable pieces of equipment as well. The Grav Lift, for example, comes in very handy if you know how to use it properly.
MB. Because there are so many structures that offer cover vehicles seem to work best as an instrument of suppression. However, many of the buildings have large warehouse doors that easily allow a boosting Ghost to pass through so refuge isn’t always a sure thing. Equipment plays a pivotal role in Longshore, especially in one-way objective game types. As the offensive team it’s often a good idea to grab the Power Drain so that you can cast it down upon your opponents from the telescoping bridge once it’s been extended. Also, a well placed Grav Lift can turn the telescoping bridge from a strategic entry point into a quick exit point in game types such as CTF.
KT. Vehicles don't play a huge role, but they can be a game changer. When testing this level out, I loved riding around in the Mongoose to see if I could improve my “track times.”
Equipment is very crucial in its applications for both defense and offense. The placements of these were well thought out can change the tide in your favor.
Q. Final question: what’s something you think players would be surprised to learn about Longshore?
LB. It's very difficult balancing a big asymmetric map. Making sure all the weapons, grenades, vehicles, and equipment feel fair is tough. Hopefully we got a good balance going. The Bridge is a really cool feature too that we haven't talked about much. It really changes the game once the attackers are able to extend it.
MB. At one time it was going to be [redacted]. Am I allowed to reveal that?
[Editor’s Note: No! Arggggggg! -urk]
KT. There are many secrets in Longshore. Many
[Editor’s Note: Ahhhrrrraggagggghhh! – urk]
Q. Okay, I lied. I have one more question for you guys. Ever think you’d be on a boat?
- Lars, Matt, and myself each put [redacted].
- There are [redacted] hidden [redacted] throughout the level. Gotta find them all.
- The [redacted] on the [redacted] changes...but when?
- The [redacted] on both of the [redacted] change over time.
- Matt and I have very different play styles. I'm known to go for the Shotgun and Matt is known to hog the Battle Rifle. Hence the [redacted] next to the [redacted] and [redacted] next to the [redacted]. You have to find where [redacted] is in the game.
LB. My buddy Eric has a boat, and occasionally we'll tool around Lake Washington on it. It's sweet. HEY! Hold on. I see what you did there. I do like climbing buoys.
MB. I’m on a BOAT!
KT. You can all get on a boat in Longshore. There are some dingies you can jump on below the docks.
Well, that takes care of Longshore. Since we already covered Citadel I can't imagine that there are any other maps we need to take a closer look at. Seems like we're all wrapped up here.