Forging Ahead: Dead Ends

What really separates BTB from smaller-scale Halo games isn’t the number of players or size of the map, it’s the vehicles. A Warthog cruising around the battlefield changes the entire dynamic of a match, for both teams. But in order for the map to really work, it must be built with vehicles in mind. That meant making sure the map is large and open enough for them to operate, and for this first Forge map, it meant I wanted to to find ways break up the flat terrain so as to capture the graceful, semi-controlled jumps that help make Warthogs so fun to drive.

But as it stood, driving down BTB1’s placeholder ramps had a lot more to do with driving off a cliff than down a graceful embankment. I had made the ramps somewhat steep in the early version, so as to cut down on their length. I didn’t want the ramps to take up too much space, because that would limit the area I could populate with cover and structural elements. Not to mention, bcause a giant, flat ramp isn’t exactly fun territory for infantry to move around on. But doing so meant they were utterly inhospitable to vehicles. My first drive through the newly smoothed out map went something like this:

There were three distinct problems here. First, the ramp slowed down forward momentum too much on the ascent, which is a deal-breaker for vehicles since their ability to escape encounters is one of their key features. Next, it was impossible to see the down ramp as I approached it – aside from the nub of the railing along the side, I had no way to distinguish it from the dropoff right next to it. In order for the ramps to work, people were going to have to be able to see them outstretching into the distance, or otherwise have some sort of sign that one spot was safe to drive down while the areas around it were not.

And finally, given how the Mongoose hurled right down the length of the bridge, it  might as well have been a cliff: at a 30 degree decline, vehicles just leaped right over it. In order for the map to work, it had to be fun to drive on, and right now it was hazard zone. I decided to use the draw bridge in the back of the map as my testing ground to figure out what kind of inclines would hit all three issues. This was a t-shaped bridge, going straight across but also connecting down to the level below. These kind of up-down sections were what I was hoping would break up the map from being a big flat expanse.

I set the ramp to tip in five degree increments and tested each to see how steep was too steep for a Mongoose or Warthog. Turns out, much more than 15 degrees would cause them to sail over the top. At 15 they would still catch some air, but they had a controlled landing part way down the ramp. However, that meant the other ramps would have to be at least twice as long as they were now, yet there wasn’t space currently for them. On the plus side, I could actually see the bridge extending up on the other side, though the actual drop off wasn’t visible when approaching it.

I realized that the reason those undulating hills on campaign and on maps like Valhalla work is because you can see the entire terrain around and ahead of them. When moving along a flat plane, the camera is low enough to the ground that it’s not possible to see a drop off unless it extends out far into the distance. So I would have to use a mix of low, long ramps and some kind of blocking at the top to frame the bridge, messaging to players what spaces were safe to drive down. This had some big implications for the layout of the map, but I didn’t want to deal with them just yet. I wanted to mine the bridge for as much as I could learn from it.

So I set the bridge up accordingly, and then set up railings to prevent vehicles from easily tipping off the sides. At the top, I put down a couple of columns to mark off the entrance, and gave it a quick test drive. Which went like this:

The drive straight across the bridge felt good. A bit of lift on the way over, a nice bounce and then no loss of speed up the other side. Better, the ‘Hog never lost control on the way over. Not so good were the guard railings, which had the side effect of making it impossible to make the turn on the way down or up the side extension; vehicles just weren’t meant to corner like that. I didn’t tip off the sides, but it was also clumsy and unpleasant. And the kicker came when I added up how much the bridge cost: the Column and Rail pieces cost $50 each. So that crummy bridge was nearly a $900 bite  in the budget. Ouch!

There are some odd categorizations of objects in Forge, but this was the oddest. That small, six sided nub cost $50, while the enormous, complex elevated walkway is $10. Using railings and such to block off the border would be expensive – and there wasn’t enough in the category to block off much of the map to begin with. This was the first time I realized I had two other big problems looming: the budget, and having enough objects to block off the borders of the map to make it vehicle-safe.

I sat back and took stock of the design problems.

The approach to the bases were forced, employing man cannons and teleporters because I had parked the bases in a corner. The ramps had to be at least twice as long, which would chew up a lot of space, and there wasn’t enough room between the edge of the top level to the bottom for them to fit. Plus, I needed ample spill over space before and after ramps so vehicles had enough room to maneuver and turn. The map simply had no flow to it, because vehicles couldn’t corner well enough to get around all the hard right turns on the bridge and around the bases. And there was a looming budget and object crunch come time to block off the map.

I didn’t see any way to paper over these problems; they were core to the foundation and nothing short of a rebuild was going to fix them. This layout just wasn’t going to work. Yet I still wanted to preserve some of the core ideas behind the concept.

I decided to abandon the U-structure in favor of a circular (well, rectangular) one, with a smaller lower level below the center, which I dubbed the “donut design”. That would enable vehicles to run the entire map without having to stop and turn around, and it would instantly provide a second big way to approach the base, which would be located at a crossroads of sorts. I mirrored the sniper perch and put a pair of foot bridges across the center, leaving a central chasm as a primary sight line between the two sides. The bottom level would let vehicles take alternate ways down and around, to dodge oncoming traffic and to provide a third way to the base. (Of course, I didn’t know how to get them down there yet, alas.) Those were two of my initial goals, so I was hopeful a differently structured map would still accomplish them.

And it did, sort of. But it also introduced a few problems of its own.


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  1. October 18, 2010

    Running into issues like this and learning how to overcome them is what makes designers great. Sometimes it takes time to find the answer to a problem. But when you do, it is so satisfying. Right now I am running into the issue of not having the right pieces for the job. Some pieces just aren’t the right shape or the right size to fill in a particular gap while keeping it aesthetically pleasing and functional. I’m hoping not to run into a budget problem, but my main concern is running out of objects in a particular category. Didn’t have this problem on my last project… I should have planned better.

    Keep it up. I’m interested in finding out how you rectify the problems you’ve run into.

  2. October 21, 2010

    I’m really enjoying this so far, and it has made me a better forger already. My first map used little pieces, was built into the quarry and the colliseum and had very small, campable, one way corridors. My new map, following your tips is large, using colliseum pieces as floor, has custom bases and a central spire. It is a much better map than my first one. I have however almost run into my budget, while I haven’t overrun the category limit.

    If you’re looking for something to use as a boundary, I used seastack rocks. While it may not work on the top layer (unpretty from underneath) it works wonders to protect vehicles from leaving, while using only a fifth of a railing’s price, 3 times as large width ways, and the category limit is very high. As my map only goes up with the bases, it is great at stopping the ground warthog from flying off.

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