Software simulations are held in contempt by the veteran instructors who run these training facilities.
Software simulations aren’t the only things held in contempt. Looking at some of the visuals that originally informed Halo 3’s multiplayer map, The Pit, Steve Cotton doesn’t seem to be all that impressed.
“First of all, these drawings don’t look like The Pit at all.”
His battle bro, multiplayer lead Chris Carney, knows why the visuals feel so foreign. Originally, he used references from a real world building to buttress The Pit’s aesthetic design elements. And the only thing that clearly remains today from that original idea is the glass and lattice suspended overhead.
“So, that’s Bernard Tschumi, a French architect,” Carney notes, lightly touching a finger to the rim of his gold-rimmed monocle. “That’s a cultural center in France – essentially a collection of buildings that they built a roof or a screen over. The big thing we were talking about early on in The Pit’s design was using light to differentiate the two sides – with one side being shaded and the other being bathed in sunlight.”
Ultimately, The Pit needed more than the gentle play of light and shadow to effectively distinguish the two symmetrical sides from one another, but of course, the glass canopy remains.
“I remember starting with the shade idea,” Cotton recalls, “but after we began building the hangar in the reverse direction, it seemed more interesting to actually rotate the lighting along with it, too. The light side eventually became the opening of the large hangar looking out onto the airfield. We opened that wall up as much as possible and closed the other one up as much as possible.”
“And you put your trees back there,” Carney interjects, breaking Cotton’s concentration.
“Trees are always good,” Cotton responds after a brief pause.
This is a good time to note that these two guys have been working together for a long time. Years. It’s also a good time to note that the rest of this interview goes off the rails on more than one occasion. Hopefully it won’t be too hard to follow when I drop the attributions. Not too worry though, the precious cargo does eventually make it to the station on time. Please bear with us.
“Steve did this cool thing with the glass where it’s kind of translucent,” Carney is picking back up where Cotton left off, “but there’s still some opacity to it…there’s still some diffuse light. Not bright sunlight, but the bright section is definitely the opening and as you get deeper into the hangar, it gets darker. It helps you orient. ‘Oh, the light side is the front, the dark side is the back.’”
“The roof was actually really fun to work on,” Cotton notes. Carney is ready for him.
“Designing some sweet trellises.”
“There’s a network of catwalks up there.” Cotton is laughing. They both are.
“It’s like a rock concert,” Carney’s doing air guitar. I’m thinking of ways to get things back on topic.
I go with: "So, the design doc indicates…," but Carney stops me short. He wants to know if I really read the design sheet. I did! I cement the fact by noting that it says that The Pit, at least at one point in time, was gonna feature some action up on the rooftops.
“That’s because it was originally built on a different scale,” Cotton offers. “The original was more like a town.”
Carney’s got control of himself again. He confirms. Town-sized. So, was The Pit originally meant to be suited for Big Team Battle play? How and why did the scale change? And what about the aesthetic differences? So many questions!
Carney has the answers.
“I think the best way to think about all these maps is that we work from both ways. Where is it set, what’s the overall feel we’re going for, how many players do we need, is it symmetrical, what kind of game types are we supporting? The original idea for The Pit was that length and width wise it’s about the size of Hang ‘Em High. Even some of the scale we were working from were based on Hang ‘Em High.”
Now it’s my turn to interject. This seems to be a common theme. Are all our maps based on Hang ‘Em High?
“Oh, yeah,” Carney says. Cotton agrees.
“We start with Hang ‘Em High every time.”
“That’s what ‘mass out’ really means – import Hang ‘Em High!”
“How could Hang ‘Em High become a valley?”
“Start with Hang ‘Em High, cut it in half…”
“What if we floated Hang ‘Em High in the sky above Hang ‘Em High?”
“Flip it over and it’s Construct!”
Carney is the first to flinch.
“The main idea with The Pit was to support symmetrical CTF. The idea was that it’d be two stories high and that players would have to control a street that went right down the middle. It was based on a town or an intersection where one team owned one half of the town, one team owned the other half, and then there’s this turf to control right smack in the middle. There was lot’s of this.”
For those following along at home, it should be noted that here Carney begins snapping his fingers, West Side Story
“There were very controlled ways you could get up onto the rooftops. The first thing we looked at was Tyson [Green] and Frank’s [Capezzuto] Turf. Once we got up on the rooftops we were like, ‘Whoa, this is so flippin’ cool! Is there any way we could create a level at this scale – not way up in the air, but just one or two stories high?”
Carney goes back to the design document and points to his original top down schematics.
“So, at the time I made this original cheesy drawing, there were two ways upstairs to the roofs in the middle. But you could spawn up on the roofs, too. Once the flag got out of your base, you’d be like Spider-Man – you’d jump up and run along the roof to see where the flag was so you could cut the returner off. The rooftops all connected back to the bases, so it was cool a way to approach how the defensive team could catch up with the attackers after they pulled the flag. On Zanz it sucks – once the flag is past the wheel…”
For those not intimately familiar with Halo 2’s stable of maps (or with Carney’s street lingo), “Zanz” is Zanzibar and the suckage he’s referring to relates to the layout of the map for Capture the Flag. Once the attacking team successfully moves the Flag beyond the sea wall, things don’t look too good anymore for the defender's prospects. Often, there’s not much to do much about it besides wait for the inevitable cap and get ready for the next round to begin.
“So how can we control the return?” Carney asks. “Part of our solution was to put the flag on the base level of the map, and spawn the players up top so the defenders have quick routes they can use to cut off the Flag and return it.”
Even though The Pit eventually underwent some significant changes from this point on, players who find themselves fond of the multi-layered space still note how well suited it is for Capture the Flag.
And speaking of significant changes…
“Originally The Pit was supposed to be a Forerunner factory,” offers Carney. “It was Cyberdyne Systems.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Cotton remarks, reiterating The Pit’s code name during development – “Cyberdyne. It was gonna be filled with all of these cool Forerunner machines. It was gonna have a cool Forerunner theme and be built into a cliff side or something like that. It was gonna be awesome. And then we massed that out and played it and the street was a disaster. You couldn’t control the street.”
Carney remembers the same problems.
“It was so wide of an area to cover that you couldn’t tell if someone had run through the street or not, they would be gone and there wasn’t a way to get a high view of who was running past that space. The street was a failure. So we said, let’s not use a street. Let’s make it a wall.”
Looking at the top down drawings, you can still see some of The Pit’s bones, but there were clearly some significant revisions that needed to happen to bring the space into its finished form. Luckily, Carney and Cotton weren’t so married to their original ideas that they couldn’t admit that things weren’t exactly going to plan.
“Every once in a while, we go back to the drawing board,” remarks Cotton.
“Some of the concepts are still there, you can still see the elements and intent of the map, but when you start replacing streets with walls, that’s a pretty fundamental difference. Carney did a redesign at this point.”
Carney breaks it down.
“I took the big negative space in the center and made it into a positive space. Imagine deleting this street and putting in a wall.”
He’s striping his finger across the center of his blueprint. I still don’t see it.
“The bridge is still there, but now it’s where the Active Camo is.”
Now it clicks. The bridge is green box.
“If you look at just the masses, though, it’s still pretty similar.”
Indeed it is. With a little bit of expert guidance, I can now make out the Rocket hall, the Sword room, the Sniper towers…though each has been repositioned and made all the more concrete by the big changes Carney made to the main body of the map’s central space.
“It just evolves,” Cotton offers. But the sweeping change to the “street” required many smaller revisions elsewhere.
Carney has his finger back on the map.
“Once we started playing with it and looking at all the relative distances and heights, some pieces just weren’t working. We were able to refine these parts and start implementing what would become the hangar. We did this thing where The Pit tiers up all the way to the back. The front, open part became the low point and then it stair-steps to the back where the shotguns are. That helps with orientation. And at that point, it’s still crappy boxes and we’re like, yeah, now we gotta make a real level out of this.”
“That’s when I ended up inheriting it,” Cotton notes, “after the wall was put in place. Some of the bigger decisions had been made about how to adjust the new space for game play, so it was already pretty solid.”
“By solid, Cotton means loose.”
“Well yeah, by solid I mean very malleable.”
“There were two problems I remember having to wrestle with when we started finishing The Pit. One, I had to do it quickly, so we needed a palette that was modular. We didn’t want it to be visually noisy – we wanted it to have some fidelity, but still retain this kind of clean sort of training facility feel.”
“Oh, that was that your idea,” Carney asks.
“You know, I don’t remember when that happened and these don’t really imply training facility.”
The two men are trained back on the design documents. There’s a slight pause where you can almost hear something struggling to click. I feel a story coming on. Cotton kicks it off.
“At one point, Issac [Hannaford] did a concept of a really hardcore realistic current day training facility with plywood and metal and spray paint and I think that got my creative juices flowing, although in the implementation he envisioned, we weren’t crazy about the color schemes.”
“Do you remember Russel’s take? It was a human pumping station for a bit, in the crater?”
I take the opportunity to note that Paul Russel loves him some pumping stations. Carney and Cotton ignore me.
“There was a waterfall.”
“I don’t remember that. Had Russel worked on it before I got to it?”
“No, he did a drawing of it. I put the wall in there, and it was in human base – the second mission. So it was in base, it had these boxes and stairs and ridges and then it had a huge cliff, but it was in a crater and we had a waterfall on the other side.”
I try out another joke. I note that the original concept sounds way better that the real deal! It’s become the running gag with these multiplayer postmortems. No matter what the original concept was, if it didn’t make the cut, the community (that’s you), automatically assumes it would have been way
Ignored. Oh, and for the record, “base” is what you now know as Crow’s Nest from Halo 3.
“There was a pool you could fall off.”
Can we add a pool with a title update, I wonder out loud? Can we go back in and slap in a beautiful, cascading waterfall? Ignored again!
“Maybe I looked at that and thought there was no way I could finish that in time.”
“It was in a cave. And it looked out into this big, tall crater and there was a waterfall and it looked down and there was a pool…”
“Oh, my gosh…now I remember. Yeah!”
“That’s how they got their fresh water!”
So, what happened to the potable water source and the secret underground base?
“Either I didn’t like it, or at some point we just changed direction. Maybe I felt like it looked a lot like another map we had coming along.”
“Like High Ground,” Carney guesses.
“I think I wanted to get a little bit more modern, UNSC look and so at that point – and this is the part I was fuzzy on – we started going down this road of The Pit as a training facility and Lee Wilson looked over my shoulder and he was like, ‘You know what would be really cool there?’"
"Lee had done some concept for this movie Mind Hunters and he went on set in Holland to some special ops facility he called ‘Crime Town.’ He had all of these reference photos, but I can’t find it anywhere online.”
“It’s a secret,” Carney explains. “It’s a secret area.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty low key,” Cotton continues, “but Lee had all of these reference photos and they were fantastic – molded concrete structures. They looked really similar to what’s in The Pit now. I just tried to put in a UNSC flavor – some metal bars, little connectors, and panels. And thus The Pit was born, the UNSC’s own version of Crime Town, really.”
Well, the real Crime Town was a little bit different and Carney wanted to explore it a bit.
“I think Lee was explaining that in Crime Town the concrete panels detached and you could reconfigure the block or the street for different training missions. This is where these guys would train. Lee, because they were doing a movie, got to take all these photos.”
I stop him short. I’m not so sure we should be pimping Mindhunters. Too late
“Oh, Mindhunters? It’s fantastic.”
“I wonder if those concrete panels are in the movie.”
“They gotta be in there, they used Crime Town pretty heavily. Don’t worry. I changed approximately ten percent of the pixels.”
“Is that the legal bar?”
“Lemme do a couple takes. I changed approximately fourteen percent of the pixels. Twenty eight percent of the pixels…”
Thankfully, Carney gets things rolling in the right direction. Again. He’s back on top of the schematic, pointing to the Sword room and asking Cotton a question.
“Do you remember why we did that room? We added for a very specific reason? …because of the camera system.”
“Ah, that was gonna be so cool! We were gonna add these monitors in there. I forgot about that, too!”
“We even had ‘em working!”
“Yeah, texture cameras where you could go into that room and actually see what was going on in the battle.”
“We had it working for a while.”
“Like a lot of stuff, we cut it.”
“Perf. We had four cameras set up. They were actually AI and they would follow whoever was in the area. That’s why that room is so enclosed. You couldn’t let anyone see that and be drawing the level at the same time.”
“I wonder why we pulled it then. We did all that hard work…”
“Because the texture camera and the cameras counted as another player…that’s how expensive they were. We did it for the kids.”
“And the texture camera would flip randomly between the cameras and it was awesome.”
“It was neat to see. You actually got to see everybody else playing while you were safe in your control room. And if there was a button in there, you could push and it would blow up stuff and that would have been cool.”
They’re both laughing again.
I’m diving back into the design document. Looking for a thread to grab hold of while the interview unravels. Carney pokes some fun. Mostly at his own expense.
“I like the weight you attach to that document.”
Cotton piles on.
“What made it in is these numbers right here – a two and an eight. That’s about it.”
“Oh, and CTF.”
“Well, there are no air vehicles. That made it in as well.”
“We're just there to ensure fun at this stage of the process.”
“It is a fun map.”
“I think once Steve really started seriously modeling it to a degree of reality, both of us were like, ‘yeah this feels pretty damn good’ and I don’t think we messed with it anymore.”
“I might have tweaked some heights so that people could or could not jump in certain places – added a ramp or two to connect,” Cotton notes. “In the original, there was a bigger difference between the elevations – you were on the roof or you were on the ground. The Pit sort of squashed that a little bit so that you still couldn’t get to some of the higher places, but you could always have a fight with someone. You can still engage.”
“I think the only thing we changed towards the end,” Carney offers, “was that the Active Camo hallway was a ramp down – for about a month we tried…”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah!”
“Instead of having the hallway go straight across we actually had it go down to a little room where you’d grab the Invisibility and run up the other side.”
“Instead, I put the walls up.”
“Yeah, the green walls which are much better and much cleaner.”
“Then it’s just fictionalizing it in some form of an observation deck as if we meant it all along.”
“And weapon placement, was I think, Lars.”
“The battle for the Rocket Launcher on The Pit is one of the best in the game.” Carney says it with authority. He’s damn sure. Cotton, too.
“I think that Rocket Launcher was there from day one and never moved. That’s what I think. If I remember correctly.”
“Actually, there was a Rocket on the bridge. It just moved at one point moved to the back.”
“But it was there and everybody was like, ‘yup, that’s where it needs to be.’ And obviously the Sniper Rifles and the Shotguns are in the right place. The map almost describes where the weapons needed to go better than any other map right now.”
Sniper Rifles up high. Shotguns in the back corner. Rocket exposed in the open hall. Sword in the control room. Cotton is right. You can look at some of the spaces on The Pit and know exactly which weapon you’ll find there.
Carney’s done with weapons, though. He’s getting antsy. I imagine he can hear Marcus and Reach’s multiplayer calling to him ("Reach, Reach, Reach…").
“I remember some neat treats we added towards the end of development, like the birds.”
“Yeah, they fly around the top of the hangar. Oh, and the voices – the announcements. Lars and C Paul and I did a session where we just tried to do airport sounding dialog which is actually harder than you might think.”
“You did a great job.”
“I got one line in there. 'Loading and unloading.'”
“Yeah, your gate is this way. Lars delivered those lines really well. If we ever have trouble, I think he’s got a career in it.”
Oddly enough, Lars has been recording some snippets for Reach as well. But that’s a story for some later date.
“There’s actually a lot of story behind this map,” Cotton notes.
“Man cannons, the fans – we had those in there and then towards the end we were like, ‘what the -blam!- are these things? Oh, yeah…they’re fans!’”
They’re both laughing again.
“We actually designed a mobile human man lift. An air lift. For men. A manly air lift and I thought we were gonna have it as a Forge object – you could place it anywhere or even have on out decommissioned on the tarmac. I think it was it just cut because it was -blam!-.”
“No, it was a good idea. It wasn’t bad.”
Of course, ultimately Halo 3’s equipment palette did feature a mobile air lift of sorts, the Gravity Lift. I asked the dynamic duo when they went in and how they influenced or impacted The Pit’s design. Cotton kicks off the answers.
“I design spaces for weapons,” he notes. “I don’t think I’ve ever designed a space for equipment. We added them in and if they sucked, we pulled ‘em out. This is gonna be the best Regen room ever!”
“Actually, that’s not true. The cave in High Ground was specifically designed for the Grav Lift. That was intentional.”
The two men agree without much banter. The interview seems to be coming to its inevitable conclusion. After a short pause, Carney decides to straight up reminisce.
“I remember when we laid out all the Pelicans out front so it looked like the scene from Black Hawk Down
…but you can’t get to ‘em.”
“There’s one material that Spartans can’t get through,” Cotton explains, “and that’s chain link.”
“It’s always a struggle.”
“They just can’t. I mean, they can drop from space, but chain link…”
“They also haven’t learned to climb fences.”
“But they got a sweet Rocket Launcher!”
This is my chance. I try one more joke on for size. Why don’t the two teams don’t work together to repair the downed Pelican on Valhalla, I ask. Why don’t they just get the hell out of there instead of fighting over that gorge? There’s nothing there!”
“Well, it is a curious gorge,” Carney offers with a wry, boyish smile. “That was our original name for Valhalla.”
Apparently, Cotton wasn’t too fond of it.
“You and I thought it was hilarious for a day!”
“Yeah, it was funny for one day.”
“Then next day, we were both like, ‘We gotta change that.’”
Back on track, where did the name “The Pit” come from?
“Joe Tung named it,” Carney notes. “It’s from The Wire
. It’s where all the deals went down.”
Cotton leans away from the design docs. Looks like our deal is done.
“I still think the idea of rooftops in a city sounds cool.”
“It’ll happen. One day.”
I tell ‘em both I’m not writing that down.