Forging Ahead: Home Sweet Home
The new, circular layout of BTB1, donut design version, solved some problems and introduced others. The good news was, with the level wrapping around both sides I had two distinct approaches to the bases. The bad news was I still had no idea how to connect the bottom level to the top, other than the t-shaped bridges in back. And beyond that, I wasn’t sure how to make the center of the bottom level useful: a low point surrounded by high ground was a recipe for a death pit. (See: Hemorrhage.) So for now, I turned away from figuring that one out to configuring the bases themselves. I thought, if I could set up the bases and make some decisions on how to approach them, that might give me some ideas on how to shape the layout further to incorporate the second level around them. In other words, I was stalling and hoping I came up with something.
For the base design, I had two buckets of criteria. First up were the things that any base needed to do. It needed to be defensible, but perforated enough that attackers had several ways in. The base needed to provide cover for when it was under vehicular or sniper attack, but be open enough that it wasn’t easy to camp. And it had to have room for respawns, as well as a central location for the flag and bomb plant zone.
Then there was the list of things the base needed to accomplish that were specific to the map and location. It had to be compact enough that it didn’t block off the entire road way, as well as allowing vehicles to dive all the way around it (I didn’t want to back it into a corner as I did with the first iteration of the layout, or I’d have the same problems it caused all over again). The foundation needed to be structured so it could connect to the bottom level and let infantry move up and down. And it had to provide space for the the vehicles to spawn in, and shelter infantry from the sniper tower so respawning or defending players didn’t appear exposed to that sight line.
Back when I was testing how big of a map I could make with purely Forge objects, I also spent some time shuffling through the array of objects on hand to get a sense for what kind of spaces could be built with them. There’s a very good mix of sizes and shapes, but beyond that many of them are multi-purpose, designed so they were functional both upside down and right side up. The bridges and ramps with rails on one side and without on the other, for instance. What really surprised me was how that carried over to some of the larger objects, such as the Building pieces. In particular, I liked how the Double Room looked when flipped over and sunk into the ground a touch – it looked like an open parking garage. I had made a mental note at the time to try and work that in somewhere, so that was the first thing I started with now that I was working on the bases.
My planned base vehicle load out was a pair of Mongoose (on rapid respawns), a standard Warthog and a Revenant. With so much space on the map, I liked that mix as every vehicle could take a passenger or two. The map was closer in scale to Valhalla than Standoff, including the bottom level, so I didn’t think four attack vehicles (two per base) would get too chaotic. I could always pare it back later if it proved too to be. And besides, I really wanted to work the Revenant into the map, because they are awesome.
I should probably make a confession at this point: Historically, I haven’t’ been very good at building bases. My Halo 3 bases tended to be simple forts, or even not exist, having been folded into the structure of the map itself. So one of my personal goals for this map was to come up with a decent base for once.
I put the parking garages and vehicles down in back for now (placing the vehicles was important, so that I didn’t blow through the budget they needed), so I could work on the ground of the base. I removed one of the enormous Coliseum pieces, and filled in the sides with the 5×5 flat blocks, leaving the center open to work with. I decided to try out a window in the floor so defenders could glimpse players coming up from below, similar to the Valhalla base. Below, I put down a platform and a pair of ramps splitting off to the sides, and then closed off the rest of the floor. Above, I parked an elevated platform for the flag spawn. The windown pieces had side bars that stuck up, which I would have to find a way around down the road so no one got stuck on them. (I”d used up all the pieces in the object category that held the flat windows.)
After setting this up, I made a few adjustments. First, I added an open slot in front of the platform so someone on top could drop straight down the chute with the flag, rather than taking the ramps. (Or, jetpack up to grab the flag, jack-in-the-box style.) And then I decided to peel back the windows in the floor from three to just one; a friend suggested such a wide viewing area would be unfairly tilted toward the defense, and I think he was right. Below, the ramps were clumsy but functional. I knew I’d have to tidy that up eventually, but for now function was taking priority over form.
So I now had the main routes into the base: vehicles could approach from either side of the map, while infantry could enter from below, up ramps that ended up on either side of the base, or jetpack up the chute in front. They could snag a flag and get down below quickly to a waiting vehicle for a quick flag cap. Now I just needed to put the garages and the flag base together somehow.
Or did I? What if instead of driving around the base, players could drive through it? I was toying with the idea of leaving the garages in back, and building a sheltered platform of sorts extending from the roof to the flag platform. That way the base would sort of be on stilts; defenders could stay up top for shelter from vehicle attacks, but the number of ways in might make it hard to defend. Maybe. So rather than move the garages forward to the main platform, I built the ground out behind them to allow for spawns and vehicle traffic. I planned to add the bridging section of the base later when I was sure it could work. (Preview of the next blog entry: no.)
As the picture indicates, I was also starting to add the first objects along the edges to seal the borders from accidental vehicle spills. Because I didn’t think there would be enough budget or objects to cover every inch of the sides, I was trying out spacing them. I thought, if I marked off the outside corners with a tall object of sorts, and put a series of spaced barricades along the sides between them, that should be a strong enough visual signal to demark the play space. For now I was using the larges objects I could find to maximize the bang for buck factor, which meant the giant strut pieces with the wrap-around end.
As I tinkered on the base design, I would occasionally swing over the t-shaped bridge and try tweaking it. Because the barriers made it too hard to drive on, I tried removing them, which helped me plunge to my death a few times. At one point I rebuilt the entire bridge out of stone – chunky, uneven, undulating stone – and the result was grotesque yet unfuntional. So I tried a flat layout, with stones along the sides, which was both cumbersome and ugly. I was starting to worry about this little bridge.
As I was touching up the bases, a friend hopped into the game to check out what I was working on. And as is often the case, that extra set of eyes saw something I didn’t. He took one look at the facing sniper towers and said, “There needs to be man cannons up here.” Hot damn. He was right, and I still can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself. (You’re an evil genius, Dani.)
I had man cannons parked up there inside of a minute. They served two big purposes: launching over them was exhilarating and fun, and captured that sense of epic whimsy that the huge cannons on Avalanche had, which my rather stoic map needed; it gave it character. And they provided an essential way for infantry to cross the vast space in the center of the map quickly.
It took a few attempts at launching over the cannons before the problems began to emerge, and there were a lot of them. First, the cannons needed to be close enough together that players could land on the other side, and they weren’t yet, even with the strongest flavor of cannon. But moving the towers closer together mean the ramps on the bottom moved right to the edge of the hole in the top level – which wouldn’t work. The towers had to be spaced not only so players made it to the other side, but so they didn’t land on the man cannon facing it. And finally, I had to figure out how to deal with fall damage, which didn’t play well with man cannons launching players halfway across a map. Worse, some of the issues overlapped: in order for players to clear the man cannon on the other side, they had to launch high enough that fall damage was inevitable.
But regardless, the concept was too fantastic not to keep at it, and so we tested the hell out of them. With every painful or fatal launch, I nudged the cannons a bit, or tipped them, or moved the tower forward or backward, toggling every variable involved in the jump. The big breakthrough came by happenstance. On one jump, I landed on the other side and then jumped up again without taking fall damage. My forward momentum carried through, and the jump was akin to the double jump off the front man cannon on Valhalla. At first I didn’t know why it had happened, but then it hit me: I had landed right on the tiny down sloped section of the y-platform the man cannon was on, and that was enough to break my fall. To increase my margin for error, I extended the slope with the addition of some down ramps.
I left a gap on either side of the ramp to add some manuvering room for a sniper to step into the nooks for a touch of cover. Now the man cannon trip was successful, without fall damage, about 80% of the time. Most jumps ended with a gentle, painless landing on the slope. If I jumped up again upon landing, the momentum carried me right to the downramps in the center, something so perfect it could only have happened by accident. But the other 20% of the time I (or Dani or whoever else hopped into Forge) would overshoot the ramp and take some damage. Or even better, not launch far enough and meet their demise with a wince-inducing face plant onto the edge of the ramp. But for now, it was good enough – I was anxious to get back to working on the base area.
Before I did, I added one quick tweak that the man cannons inspired: in the center of the donut layout was a hole. What if vehicles could jump over it? The lower trek vehicles could take would mirror the higher, longer one infantry would use on the man cannon, and it would provide a third (somewhat dangerous) way for vehicles to come across the map. I parked some ramps down, not yet functional, as a reminder to work them in, and went back to looking at the base.
Specically, I wanted to test out ways to provide cover for infantry as they neared the base. With such a long stretch of road joining the sides, right now infantry didn’t stand a chance as defenders could see them coming a mile away. I knew I was going to have to line the sides of the map with objects to keep vehicles from spilling over, but ideally some of those would double as ways to both break up the long sight lines and provide cover for infantry as they approached the base.
Just as I didn’t know how good an area was to drive through until I’d driven on it, I spent a lot of time traversing the map on foot as I worked on cover ideas. What looked sparse from above was often surprisingly compartmentalized from a ground-level perspective. (Which is very much the case on the maps I’d been referencing, such as Valhalla and Standoff.) I decided that some kind of cover should be available for infantry at least as frequently as the player can sprint between. If someone could be in cover, hit sprint and still be wide out in the open when it runs out, then the area was too open. As a rule of thumb it seemed to work pretty well.
While I could add cover so players could streak from point to point along the roadways, I was hesitant to add any objects to the middle of the roads. Because I couldn’t seal off the edges entirely I didn’t want to push vehicles away from the center of the road toward the edge. But that also meant the roads were wide open, so any cover for infantry was going to have to be along the edges.
And then, an epiphany: instead of using just objects for cover along the edges, what if I could use the road itself to break the sight lines? I quickly tipped the two pieces that comprised the outside border of the map approaching the base into a peak, set to a 10 degree tilt. And what I found was exactly what I was hoping for: a gentle hill that was none the less steep enough to break the sight line cleanly halfway across. The Coliseum pieces were so long that even a slight tip elevated the ends significantly.
I realized I’d been thinking about the core layout all wrong: rather than have flat levels joined by ramps, I should vary the angles of the foundation itself as well. The sloped bridge instantly provided a needed sight line break in the center of the map, on both sides. On the bottom level below, I mirrored the tilt, but instead lowered the center down, so the top and bottom reflected away from each other. I liked how it looked visually, but it mean the two levels were even further apart along the sides.
With the tipped layout working for infantry, I gave it the first test drive to see what it did for vehicles. And while somewhat rough and chunky (not to mention, dangerous), for the first time it had some semblance of flow to it. It felt like I was getting closer to getting the layout right.