Designing for Carnage
Posted by Sketch at 11/22/2002 7:05 AM PST

Designing for Carnage

By SketchFactor
Friday, November 22nd, 2002, 3:05 PM

Halo has been out for a year, and at this point everyone probably knows the multiplayer maps like the back of his hand. We thought some of you might get some extra mileage out of them if you had a look into the mind of the map designer. Luckily, Mordia was around and graciously provided some insight into three of the levels he put together for Halo.

Hang 'em High
Initial Concept Sketch
Top View
3D Studio Max View
Screenshot 1, Screenshot 2

Named for a classic Clint Eastwood movie about justice and revenge, Hang 'em High was also voted the most popular non-vehicular Halo multiplayer map at and remains a player favorite at Game Spy Arcade.

My idea with Hang 'em High was to give players a fully functional wide open space. In college my roommate and I used to play the Marathon map "Thrud" for hours, just the two of us. It was a large, open map with lots of walkways connected by hallways around the outside, and a whole lot of vertical play. The result was that when the two of us played there was always either the sense that you were being relentlessly hounded or that you were about to drop the hammer on your unsuspecting opponent. It was this feeling of paranoid exuberance that I wanted to recapture.

My initial plan presented a hangar-like area with a deep canyon bisecting it and two areas raised to interesting heights in opposite corners. There was a small series of catwalks and a bunker at each end. The problem with this space was that it was too simple, too open. You were always exposed and always felt that way; there was no sense of, "ha! no one will find me now!" Further, most of the space in the map was not being used. There was floor surface area and open air; this was boring.

To make the open spaces more interesting, I scattered egg-crate-looking tank-traps in the spaces around the bunkers. These were large enough to hide behind, but small enough to jump on top of and scattered in such a way as to give players being pursued the opportunity to lose their pursuer in the "forest" and possibly become the hunter. Open space was left between the forest and the bunkers (and other areas of tactical significance near the forest) so that players hiding out would have to expose themselves if they wanted to move from one secure area to another.

The pervasive sense of openness to the environment was key to attaining the proper paranoid sense. That the opponent was not just necessarily around the next corner, but could possibly be anywhere taking aim was important. With the initial plan, and even with the forest in place, there were still only a few places one player could be above another and there was a clear advantage to being in these places. To address these problems, I added more catwalks of varying heights across the open areas and around the outside. Players on the catwalks were very exposed, but it also allowed them to see players who might otherwise not be exposed. These essentially made every area vulnerable from several locations which addressed my goal of creating a functional open space which engendered a sense of paranoia.

The final step was to eliminate the deep canyon in the middle. While it might be cool to have tunnels and bridges across and through it, ultimately it was going to be frustrating for players who were not comfortable with the controls to navigate without accidentally falling to their deaths. So, that canyon was turned into a trench in which players could hide, similar to the bunkers, but without overhead cover. The tunnels became a series of hallways in one of the raised corner areas with windows overlooking the playing area, again giving the player a trump to some tactical areas and making him a target for others.

Initial Concept Sketch
Top View
3D Studio Max View
Screenshot 1, Screenshot 2

A pair of parallel hallways with a lot of tactical play that let me use lighting to good effect.

For Longest, I needed to create a small map that could be fun for two or three players while still providing enough tactical choices that it would still be fun when six or eight players were playing.

My initial plan for this map was too large and complex for what time and resources would allow, but the basic idea of the map followed through to the final form. Both the initial plan and the final map feature two parallel hallways with enough interconnectivity and obstacles to allow for interesting play. Both also featured a multi-level aspect which would allow players not only to traverse the hallways in a number of ways, but be devious in the manner in which they chose to approach other players. This multi-level aspect included the use of both raised and lowered areas. While the raised areas consisted of platforms which could be climbed onto from several points and traversed by jumping, giving players the opportunity to drop down on their foes, the lowered areas consisted of fox-holes in which a standing player could see, be seen, take and receive fire, but a crouching player was hidden unless his opponent was close at hand.

Pillars and outcroppings provide cover for players taking the low road, while ladders in the middle and ramps on the end provide players access to the high road. Players on the higher platforms have an advantage in that most people don't spend a lot of time looking up, so they tend to be able to move about without a lot of resistance. On the other hand, the players on the platforms are easy targets for grenades, and dropping down would likely put them in the open. Players on the lower path are exposed to players above them, even when they're using pillars, outcroppings or the foxholes for cover, but these players have the option of dodging to the parallel hallway through one of the connecting spaces.

To keep players in larger games from spawning in the midst of combat and quickly dying, all the juicy items were put closer to the middle of the map so that most players head that way upon spawning, and as a result that it where the majority of combat takes place. The other thing that was done to make the map more fun for larger groups was to make it dark. While there are a lot of places to hide and cool little tactical spots, all of those places are made more effective by the dim spooky lighting. Lighting the map from the bottom allowed players to see well enough to get around by illuminating the floor plan, but prevented distant players from seeing clearly. This is especially fun in team games because the light colors (red on one side, blue on the other) correspond to the team colors; players are forced to consider whether the flash of movement they just saw was friend or foe.

Chiron TL34
Initial Concept Sketch
Top View
3D Studio Max View
Screenshot 1, Screenshot 2

A training camp named for the wise and beneficent centaur who was tutor to many of Greece's heroes, including Achilles. In the game fiction, this level served as a hostile but controlled environment in which soldiers trained. In reality, its ten rooms are tightly packed with tactical choices.

The inspiration for Chiron came from miniature golf. [Editor's Note: During development, this level was called "Putt-Putt."] A mini-golf course basically presents a player with a series of related puzzles to solve: get the ball from Point A to Point B, through these obstacles, in this many strokes. Chiron works in much the same way. The map is comprised of a series of rooms connected only by teleporter. Each room presents the player with a number of tactical opportunities and obstacles and the puzzle in each is, "get out of here alive."

Beyond making each room a singular tactical experience, I wanted to make sure that players never felt trapped by the puzzle; that if a fight was going poorly they weren't going to lose because there was no place to go. Thus, the smallness of the rooms and their manner of connectivity provides players with a unique way to escape. In most games, if you are losing a fight chances are that you're not going to be able to get far enough away fast enough. In Chiron, far enough away is never more than around the corner and into the teleporter. While each room is a separate object in virtual space, I put them together in such a manner that the player can see into the adjacent rooms to some extent with his motion tracker. There is, however, no guarantee that the blip one sees on the motion tracker is still going to be there when you jump into the next room. On the other hand, the motion tracker won't detect an enemy who's standing perfectly still with his shotgun trained on the teleporter.

Room design presented an interesting challenge. Because I wanted each room to offer unique tactical situations, there could be no simple variations in box layout. Further, because each room was connected only via teleporter, tactical spaces couldn't overlap to make interesting variations on things. What I wound up doing was sketching a lot of ideas for rooms before settling on nine I felt worked well not only by themselves, but in relation to the rooms around them.

Each of the rooms is different. One room is a maze of low walls that have to be jumped over and high walls that have slits you can shoot through. Another is simply three levels, each with a teleporter and a ramp that leads to the next level, with recesses in the walls for players to step back and hide in. Some of these rooms, however, have areas which can only be accessed by using the right teleporter in an adjoining room. These areas often offer great tactical advantage to the clever player and can change the puzzle presented in the rest of the room for other players. This kind of dynamic ensured that there was no right answer for any given room and provides a sort of predictable flow to play.

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