Forging Ahead: Whirlwind Tour
I had a general map progression I had in mind when Reach shipped, starting with something simple and working up to more complex designs. My plan was to start with a map constructed entirely from of objects from the Forge palette to test the limits of the budget and to let me go freeform in the design (check). Then, a symmetrical BTB map using some of the Forge World geometry. And finally, an Invasion map, which by definition are the most complex and difficult to design.
But as I mentioned in the last piece, when I started looking for a place to park a symmetrical BTB map, I was surprised to find there wasn’t any open areas to build in. I didn’t like the island due to its inflexibility, and that left the gulch, which is not a very flexible play space.
But without any other options, I decided to try and use the gulch. My main problem with the gulch are the cliffs, which provide players on them too much advantage over the middle, and the undulating terrain, which makes for fun Warthog driving but doesn’t provide the kind of structure the hill in the center of Valhalla did. So, I tried to carve out a symmetrical space in the gulch and then dress it up to address those failings. This was the end result of the carving process, which I dubbed Wallhalla:
And that’s as far as I got, because I realized I was about to make a symmetrical, narrow map in a metal box, with a hill in the middle and ways for infantry around the sides. Sound exciting? I didn’t think so either. RIP, Wallhalla, you took two days to make and five minutes to realize you sucked. I could have taken the approach of boxing off the cliffs and working from there, but the hills that make up the gulch are themselves not symmetrical, and I gave up on that approach quickly and moved on.
So, I needed a new place to build, and it took me a while. My nightly routine was to settle in for a night of Forging, cruise around Forge World, realize I couldn’t find anywhere to build and then play Firefight for the night. This went on for weeks, until I made a realization.
I was looking for a place to locate one of the maps I’d doodled out before Reach shipped, back when I thought Forge World would have an empty canvas space simlar to Sandbox’s basin. I was not adapting my design process to the realities of Forge World’s limitations. What I needed to do was find a space that could be made symmetrical (roughly), and then figure out how to utilize it. Any plans made before Reach came out were worthless.
With that in mind, one night I looked down and saw this:
I noticed that the slice of the island visible was roughly symmetrical. Between that span, the beach and the two sand bars there was enough territory to suffice as a BTB infantry map. But with land comprising a rough oval, I’d need to fill in the middle somewhat in order to make the play space less linear. I briefly debated locating one base on the island and the other on the beach, but the geometry was different enough that I couldn’t find a good way to balance them. The simple solution was to put the bases on the sand bars and leverage the symmetry of the island.
Over the water, I wanted to place a hub of sorts to move players between the beach and island. Which meant I needed to come up with a plan for the overall map flow. I was debating whether the hub in the water would be an island, or a bridge structure spanning the bases. Mulling this over at work one day, I doodled this:
That incomprehensible squiggle of lines is what turned into project Sandybridge, and it’s an example of why I have to do so much iteration in Forge. While I can draw quite a bit better than that, I have trouble conceptualizing depth, and have to spend much of my building time working out elevation issues.
The overarching concept was straight forward: a span connecting the two u-shaped bases, a high point in center with a tunnel below, and a pair of towers mid way between center and base on each side. Players would move across the bridge as a third way across the map.
Now, confession time. I had planned to keep this space a somewhat real time chronicle of my Forging exploits, but I managed to fall behind again: I already built this space. I essentially took this design and built it out quickly, with minimal iteration, and this was the result:
What I found when I hauled it into customs was the map held some potential, but housed some pretty major big-ticket design flaws that I’ve been working to correct.
So, in the interest of both catching up and not wasting time detailing every step in the creation of a map that’s already getting overhauled, I’ll do a somewhat higher level run through of Sandybridge’s construction, and why it didn’t work so well in practice. And then pick up in the next piece with where I am now in trying to correct the flaws.
Using ground geometry was refreshing after making Crossroads, as a big swath of the design work was solved already. To rough out the size of the play space, I roughed in some walls to slice off the island from the tunnel entrance across, with some of the open areas where the bases reside on Paradiso. Any further back and it would push the action away from the beach.
This shaving of the island would leave some open areas alongside each base, and a choke point at the center where the tunnel is located. To alleviate the choke point, I planned to have a man cannon fire players onto the bridge at three points: half way along the approach to center (on both sides) and at the center, outside the tunnel. The tunnel itself would be blocked off, and a teleporter placed inside it to zip players to the center point on the beach. That way, if one team held the island, there were outlets along the way to work around them, and likewise on the beach.
Next, I needed to identify the center of the map. Rather than start with the bases, I needed to figure out where the exact center of the bridge would be, so that the bases would be as symmetrically located as possible when the bridge was built out on ether side.
I parked a platform down to stand in for where the bases would eventually go, and then briefly considered trying to measure out from the middle using Forge objects, before realizing that would be insane. I ended up using a method I picked up from High Impact Halo’s Nokyard, and used a soft kill zone barrier as a giant measuring stick, with the skull marking center point.
Which is where I ran into the first problem with my chosen location: the central peninsulas of the island are not symmetrical. Just measuring from sand bar to sand bar put the center of the map tilted to the right of the bay. To get around this, I extended the ground of the right sand bar with flat blocks, moving the midpoint to the middle of the island bay.
With the map boundary and center point defined, I could finally star building. I wanted the center of the map to be important, but not designed so that owning it meant a team could control the map from it, taking out players from beach or island and choking off the flow of combat. That meant it needed to be advantageous, but not with so much cover that it was difficult to dislodge players from it. In concept, it needed to have the funtion of Valhalla’s hill, which allowed some degree of map control while still allowing opposing players to flank around the outside. I settled in on a low bridge/platform shape utilizing two pyramid pieces, and started building out from there.
I went through several quick iterations before extending the platform out a ways. My design philosophy here was to focus on forward movement. I wanted to avoid making the central area complex and easily camp-able. The first iteration was trying to layer in a second level under the center, as an alternate way around, but I quickly realized I was trying to make a small space too complicated, stacking three levels onto the center of the map. That necessitated lots of ramps and grav lifts, and was making what was intended to be an open combat space too busy. ‘Ramp World’ was creeping in.
I removed the bottom level to simplify the area, and lowered the entire structure so it wouldn’t have as dominating view of the island. That way there was a hierarchy established: the middle had the advantage of being centrally located and above the beach, but the island had more cover and the high ground.
With the middle simplified I built outward toward the bases pretty quickly. The tower platforms function was to serve as alternate routes along the bridge. When assaulting a base, they would be a suppression firing point, and when attacking center, it was a point lay down suppressing fire on an entrenched team. To make the towers a touch more assault-able, they could be accessed from two sides: across a narrow bridge linking them to the center, and up a double-wide ramp from the lower wings.
I spent the most time building the simplest part of the map: the area between the towers and the bases. I originally used a pretty complex layout, involving tunnels and hard corners, and decided that left the space to cluttered. So I peeled it back to a slightly elevated platform, where one could take limited cover on top and more so from any side of it. The idea being, if that didn’t work I could build it out somewhat. I blocked off the island facing side to narrow the number of directions that area of the bridge could take fire from.
With that section defined, I just built outward toward the stand-in bases, with a bunch of platforms standing for the size and shape of the bases. I had to find a balance in the size of the pieces used: too wide, and one side of the bridge would touch the island, but not the other (thanks to the asymmetry), but too narrow and there wouldn’t be enough play space. I settled on 5×5 blocks two wide for the first rough pass.
When it came time for base construction, I did a three-part iteration. The first was the above size/shape mass out using the platforms to identify how much space the base could take up while still leaving enough room around the outside of it for a vehicles to maneuver. The second phase was to swap out the platforms with some more detailed objects and start blocking out player movement. This was the result of the second iteration pass:
I built this placeholder base on both sides to make sure it would fit, given the different shape of the cliffs on the beach side on the sand bars. I ended up having to compress one side due to the cliff.
The problem with this second iteration was that it was all suspended in the air, meaning players below were in a no mans land of sorts:
Phase three of the base build process was to replicate the size, shape and flow with a more coherent and detailed design. But before I did the detailed build, I needed to test whether the bases were located symmetrically. When measuring out their location with the kill zone yard stick, I found to hit the mid point on the beaches required the bridge and bases to be built along a 10 degree angle. With the precise base location now in place, needed to test whether it was actually symmetrical. I used a stopwatch to test whether players from each base could reach the center of the island at the same time.
The tunnel side base was a full five seconds closer than the other, a big enough difference that it would have a material impact on weapon and flag rushes. It probably wasn’t big enough that players in customs would notice – but I would. And given Forge’s tool set for adjusting object placement quickly, I didn’t have much excuse for not making the corrections. After a full day of denial, I spent an evening rotating every piece of Forge geometry one degree – to a nine degree angle – and re-assembling the entire map along the new axis. Total time spent was about five hours.
After the rebuild, the two sides were almost identical – within about one second. Which was close enough!
With the structure set to the proper angle, I went about the third iteration of the base design. I settled on using the tunnel pieces to double as base surface and to help block off the area below it. Players could enter the bottom level from any side and move through to any other side, where ramps up to the top level were located. There were some smaller ramps inside the U to make player movement under the base less predictable.
The surface area I blocked off by evaluating where players would be fired upon from, and tried to carve out a handful of open points with cover on the corners. The tunnels would add some texture to close quarters play on top and below, as well as safely housing spawns.
When that was done, I layered in the weapons. The power weapons were: rockets in center, concussion rifles on the towers, sword at center on the island. Then a mix of the usual secondary on the bases and along the spawn points. For vehicles, each side got a part of Mongoose and a Revenant. There wasn’t enough land mass for big vehicle battles, but there was enough beach area for the Revenant to roam, and the Mongoose could traverse all three major structures.
Here’s the end result again, this time with the intended infantry flow from one side subtly marked out:
I’ve put this version of Sandybridge in my file share here, for those who want to dabble with it.
But that’s not how it ended up playing. It played like this:
I suspect most people will have spotted the problem by this point, but I think I fell into the trap of not thinking of my own design critically enough. In play test, most of the map was ignored, due to one simple, big design flaw, which I’ll dive into in the next piece.