Forge Q&A: EazyB
EazyB is known for his out-spoken and often critical commentary of Halo’s post release support and community. Despite going against the grain on several issues with the community at large, EazyB’s articulated arguments are usually difficult to dispute. EazyB’s Ber Ber Creek is one of the community’s favourite Forge remake maps.
1)What were your initial impressions of (H3) Forge?
Halo 3 was my first experience with a map editor. I came in with no expectations and only the customization options in Halo 2 to compare it with. It wasn’t until Foundry’s release that I every bothered jumping into Forge. Despite having never tried a map editor I was instantly determined to create something my friends and I would be able to play on, envisioning the canvas as a melting pot in which I could mix pieces of all my favorite maps into one. And then I tried to use it.
It felt unnecessarily hard. As anyone who’s dabble in Forge knows, basic functions like setting up an object straight, on a slopped surface, or in mid-air were frustrating. Despite these hurdles, the prospect of designing and creating my very own Halo map to play in kept me going. By the time I started creating my second map I wanted to do things in forge that the basic tools simple didn’t allow – merging objects for instance. Luckily, the forging community was a more developed at this point and techniques around these limitations were available. Merging objects added an extra step to the process of map creation but adjusting spawn settings and jumping in and out of matches grew routine, the benefits really opened up what was possible in Forge. I created a few maps in Foundry but eventually decided there wasn’t much left for me to do within the limitations of that canvas. I now expected to create maps to play with the NeoGAF community and I just wasn’t quite able to create maps worth playing alongside Bungie’s shipped maps.
Sandbox’s reveal reignited my interest in Forge. It solved the issue that made my stop creating maps, it was bigger – bigger canvas, bigger budget, and bigger object palette. Custom games were frequent and Sandbox map variants were a significant draw. Anyone on GAF who created a map would be able to test it out within the week, if you managed to finish one, it’d be played numerously and in a way your efforts would be justified. Bungie’s Shishka had created the group, Atlas, which was a community dedicated to getting custom map variants into matchmaking for millions to play on. I’d say this was the peak of the Forge buzz and the future with Atlas looked bright.
Atlas was getting slammed with new submissions for the first few month, the community was extremely active despite the minimal feedback we were getting from Bungie. Eventually, the Bungie vs. the World, was announced and with it a good selection of maps (I want to say around 25). It appeared that although we hadn’t been hearing much from Bungie, they were putting the effort in and we’d see plenty of community content integration in the future. Sadly, that was not the case, eventually the community maps were placed in a double exp weekend (currently called Maption Sack) and trotted out every other month. If its frequency wasn’t bad enough, the list has only been updated three times in over a year; new maps and new versions of maps seemingly ignored. Bungie simply did not dedicate enough resources to tap even a fraction of what Atlas could have become, Shishka and others had a responsibility to work on Reach which left no one to tend to the group. Now Atlas is all but dead, many months ago new users were blocked from joining (due to a single instance of spammers) and only on the rarest occasions is new/updated content submitted.
Now for my personal experience with Atlas and final impressions of Halo 3’s Forge. Due to an unyielding desire to play Beaver Creek in Halo 3 I set about recreating this map in the crypt level of Sandbox. It was a rough ride but I’m pretty satisfied with the results. The budget, although seemingly huge, was a big issue. Due to the limitations of the canvas and object palette, much of the budget was spent creating flooring and walls for the map. There were no large objects so a vast number of smaller objects had to be used which added up quickly. In many cases scenery had to be merged or geomerged an upwards of 10 times just to make sure they were level, didn’t create texture glitches, or actually lined up once you saved and exited. The monotony of seeing the simplest of things through was definitely the biggest hurdle and frustration to Forge. If I had to guess, I have spent at least 20 hours creating or updating Ber Ber Creek.
I fulfilled the submission requirements for Atlas and put my map up there. Weeks later I found out via a Bungie Weekly Update that my map was one of the 10 chosen to be added to the community playlist in its first update. Since then it’s been updated once and that what one would play if they stumbled across in Maption Sack. I have honestly never received a single negative message about my map and plenty of positive ones. I had it easy though, I was simply emulating an already outstanding experience from Halo 2. Although a lot of work was put into two other maps, I never bothered submitting them because Atlas was dead at that point and actually stopped working on two partially finished maps due to a lack of motivation.
In the end, Forge went from an object placer to a tool which you could really see almost anything created. The only hard limit was the budget limit, stopping players from getting too ambitious with the size of the maps. You could really contort Forge’s barbaric tools to do almost anything you needed, it just took an unreasonable amount of time and many, understandably, couldn’t put up with it. Again, the monotony of the simple tasks were Forge’s biggest weakness.
2)How smoothly were you able to transition your ideas from concept to playable map and what were the hurdles?
3)You are one of the lucky folks to have one of your maps played by thousands of users in Halo’s matchmaking. How was your map recieved?
4)What is your impression of the selection process used by Bungie to put user made maps into matchmaking?
5)Was there anything in particular you wanted to do in (H3) Forge but found yourself unable to do so?
6)In your opinion, what did Forge do best and what did it do badly?
7)Now that Forge 2.0 has been revealed, does it live up to your expectations?
11)What dropped (or not implemented) feature would you have liked most to see in Forge 2.0?
12)Forge 2.0 seems to simplify some of the more complicated original features, tricks and glitches from the original Forge. The intent seems to be to cut down on the time spent to achieve the same results and thus making it “easier”. How do you think this will impact the map making community and how big of a role do you think tagging content will play?
At this point have tooled around in the 360 version of Far Cry 2’s level editor released in 2008. Quickly learning its tools and recreating Valhalla with relatively great success. This raised my expectations of what a map editor could be on a console. Most recently I’ve been using Crytec’s Crysis Sandbox 2 Editor from 2007 on the PC so I’ve tasted the glory that is PC map creation and sort of the highest bar Bungie could shoot for. The reveal of Forge 2.0 really has me extremely excited. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what I was expecting, maybe because I didn’t want to think about it too much and set myself up for disappointment, but right now I’m feeling pretty good about Forge 2.0.
They didn’t add anything new to Forge 2.0, only tweaking the previous tools to perform more efficiently. That sounds like a pretty negative evaluation of Forge 2.0 but I think it speaks more to what H3’s Forge needed improved because I’m excited nonetheless. They didn’t really raise that hard-limit I talked about earlier, but made the barrier of entry much lower, removed almost all of the monotony that plagued Halo 3’s Forge. They certainly listened to what frustrated the forging community and/or used H3’s Forge and experienced this frustration themselves because the tweaked system addresses irritating aspect of the old Forge.
Nevertheless it is disappointing that Forge 2.0 doesn’t really touch that hard-limit. It will depend on how large the budget is (as I currently understand it, 5x as many objects will be placeable) to see if those given infinite amount of time and patience could create something significantly better than H3’s Forge allowed them to. With enough building blocks, merged to the user’s content, any size or shape of an object can be created which, just as in H3, allows for nearly anything to be created. Forge is still missing a lot of valuable tools though:
A solid editor/creator
Time of Day
Expanded lighting objects
AI in user-generated environments (Firefight or Campaign)
There’s plenty of things they could’ve added to Forge but it’s not a matter of ignoring these features, it’s that Bungie’s engine they’ve been using for Halo would require too much resources to work such features into an editor. An engine designed with community editors in mind would allow them to implement these tools with a fraction of the effort.
I’d like to get back to the improvements to Forge’s usability though. I won’t pretend to know exactly how the community will receive it but I have high hopes. Forge 2.0 is infinitely more accessible than H3’s iteration which will automatically result in more people creating maps. No longer will the quality of the map be based on how well versed you are with the latest glitches and exploits, but a much bigger influence will be on how well designed the user’s creation is. It will still require a substantial attention to detail and some patience but nothing like H3’s forge. With the previous tools, only a fraction of the Halo community bothered putting up with the tools, even then only a smaller sliver of the community knew the tricks to making Forge work to its greatest potential. What we were left with is a miniscule amount of players willing to produce a functional map, and that’s without taking into account whether or not they’re actually good map designers. Even then, there are quite a bit of extraordinarily good maps out there that can easily stand up to Bungie’s offerings.
With Forge 2.0 no longer will it be a question of whether or not you’ve invested the time to learn the tools, all that will matter is if you can design a good map. With the monotony gone, exponentially more players will bring decent offerings to the table and creating a list of say, Top 100 must play community maps will be possible sometime during Reach’s lifespan. No longer will forgers slave over the map creation and not bother making sweeping changes to improve its play because now, changes can be made swiftly and with much less effort.
Having evaluated the tools Forge 2.0 is providing the community pretty thoroughly already, I’ve yet to talk about the aspect where Bungie could improve upon the last iteration or undercut all their effort in delivering an awesome Forge feature set. The success of Forge in Reach depends completely on Bungie’s handling of the content created; how they plan to integrate it into matchmaking. The benefits of Halo 3’s Forge were barely felt by most of the playerbase because lackluster integration and no matter how great Reach’s tools are, it could just as easily create an impact as insignificant as H3’s Forge.
Bungie must dedicate the resources on their end to playing what will undoubtedly be an overwhelming amount of community maps and even then I fail to see how they’ll keep up. What I believe they need to do is hand off most of the burden to the community. Have a quick weeding out process to sort functionally sound content from the rift-raft. Then introduce these maps into a persistent, admittedly experimental playlist where heavily vetoed for maps can be considered for implementation into the rest of matchmaking. At the same time, if certain maps are often ignored, remove them from the playlist until the creator maps sweeping changes to the maps. The success of such a system will hinge on the frequency at which this playlist is update, limiting it to once a month to coincide with the rest of MM’s updates is not sufficient. The quality of players’ experiences in such a experimental playlist will be inconsistent but at the same time always fresh and varied so I believe a “Community Playlist” is vital. Substantial implementation of community maps in MM is also a huge motivator for map creators which will bring in more content, and if good feedback is given to the creators that don’t get their maps into MM they will be motivated to improve and try again.
8)Do you forsee any potential issues with the new feature feature set?
9)Do you think Bungie understands the wants and needs of it’s huge, vibrant community?
10)Do you think that the majority of Halo player population can appreciate a well designed map – what you makes you think that way?
It’s hard for me to say whether or not the community is a great judge of a quality map, but it’s not really about delivering the clinically best designed map, it’s about whether the community wants to play it again and again. I want to believe that what the general community wants to play, which would be directly reflected in veto data, corresponds absolutely with the quality of the map but I have my doubts. Let me be elitist for just a while. I believe only the most experienced Halo players can gauge the qualities of a map accurately. And even then, a player’s skill plays a big role in their ability to evaluate things such as balanced lines of sight, good use of play space, healthy map flow, and the use of power weapons to best compliment a map’s design. One would quickly turn to Bungie as a shining counterexample but they have plenty of experience with Halo and even then they release a lot of relatively poor maps. I say all this assuming there is one definition for a well-designed map but that’s not likely the case. That’s why it’s futile to make such a vague attribute a condition for integration into MM and a simple majority rules best way to go about it.
The community in the past has failed me with instances such as vetoing BR starts on Standoff more than AR starts and vetoing great maps while vetoing quality gametypes such as CTF and letting Heavies go through; two things I would almost say go against their respective design quality, but it’s all a matter of preference. The community is varied and no one is going to enjoy everything. So aside from placing special qualifications for maps considered for Arena (more attention to balance and competition) and any other playlist geared towards specific populations, the veto data is the best route.
All said and done, Forge could be Bungie’s greatest asset in Reach’s MP component. Shipping quality tools is only half of the work though and it’ll be up to post-release support to see forge live up to its potential. Although I don’t know their plans, their emphasis on forge thus far, with at least 5 shipping map variants, leaves me very hopeful.