VVV's blog

Oh Bungie, can I have some decent maps?

I've said it once and I'll say it again. Halo 3's maps plain suck. They're bad in just about every way. With the soon to be released DLC I'm hoping and praying that Bungie can redeem themselves and even get me interested in Halo 3 again. So what do I think is wrong with Halo 3's maps? Well read on.

There has to be some attention given to the make up a Halo game here. It's an interesting thing to consider Halo 1 maps in relation to those that had vehicles. Only the two big maps (Blood Gulch and Sidewinder) had them and the rest of the maps played without vehicles.

What happened in some respects in Halo 2 and 3 is that the addition of vehicles on smaller maps ruined a lot of them. The smaller environment and tendency for these to be more open then the hoard of Halo 1 maps that were indoor room based means that vehicles did one of many bad things.

Maps like Ascension and Snowbound come to mind. One vehicle only that was more then a transporter (like the Mongoose) but rather a killing machine. Coupled with at times one weapon that could take these down that was often in the hands of the team that had the vehicle. It's not so much the vehicle that ruined the maps but rather the fact that Halo weapons for the most part are useless against them.

Anyway I won't go on but rather get back to the map design problems I see. I want to post a little bit about the major shift in Bungie to maps devoid of teleporters and what they can bring to a map.

With Halo 1 most maps had teleporters. HEH comes to mind as one that didn't but I can’t think of any others off hand. What they brought to the game was creative thinking and changed the way in which a game played. When I first started playing Team Fortress 2 I was fascinated with the way they brought teleporters into game play and maps. For those that don't know one of the classes (this being the Engineer) could make a teleporter entrance and then an exit anywhere on the map. All the time giving the players a new way in which to construct a path and different method of map navigation.

I can only think that there was some kind of thinking behind this for Bungie. I'm puzzled that more hasn't been asked of this by the fans. Instead it's not mentioned at all really. Simply ignored altogether.

Perhaps the major problem I have with Halo 3 maps is the size. They're all big and getting from one side to the other seems to take too long. Movement is slower then ever and the terrain of a Halo map now more restrictive then ever. It's as if Bungie wants everyone to stay put in the one place. Even making the one thing that can transport quickly (man cannon) nothing more then a target identifier.

I've always been a big fan of symmetrical maps in Halo. A lot of other FPS games don't tend to use this as a basis of good map creation but with all Halo games I often tend to think that this is the best way to go.

The difference is that Halo is a game with a high focus on objective game types and therefore a symmetrical make up always works well for balance. With Halo 2 and 3 Bungie has moved largely away from this design. Focusing instead on Offense/defense game play on asymmetrical maps (Burial Mounds, High ground etc). The symmetrical maps have remained (Narrows, Isolation and even in most ways The Pit). What has happened however is that making something symmetrical has not always been just an argument that it is balanced. Protection, cover and equal distance for objective movement can be taken away by default map weapons and things like spawn forcing.

Adding asymmetrical elements is great and does help with recognition of different parts of the map. Like the differing bases in Sanctuary. For the most part I think that both maps in Halo 2 and 3 are poor at best. Some are okay while a fair portion of them are terrible so far as design. Having said that the maps in Halo 2 are a great deal better then those in Halo 3. I'll run through a couple of the problems with examples and comparisons.

Firstly I will compare Lockout to Guardian. These two maps are very similar in structure and size and even Bungie has stated that the much loved Lockout will not make a come back to Halo 3 because we have Guardian.

Lockout is a fun map but only really useable for Slayer. Like Guardian it's asymmetrical and therefore the balance doesn't exist to make capture the flag and other objective game types fair and balanced. Both maps are basically made up of a centre area which is largely exposed. Surrounded by four other areas of game play.

On Lockout while in any one area (Sniper Tower, Lift Tower, BR Tower and "Library") you have a view of the other areas with differing amounts. What remains is that you can fire upon all the other areas in some way and this means the game has both a very present close quarter action and mid/long range duels.

Guardian on the other hand fails in this area. The sniper tower has a good view of the Lift Tower (directly opposite) but the other areas are primarily hidden. What happens is the good mix of combat in differing distances is replaced by a map that is largely close quarters. These kind of maps not only limit mid and long range weapon use (and therefore the desire to pick these weapons up) but also encourage players to arm themselves with the huge amount of close quarter weapons and camp.

The idea was still there to make the map like Lockout but a few things were badly designed. For a start the grassy area is sunk very low. Meaning not only is it unrewarding to fire on other areas from it but it has to have a huge amount of cover leaving it secluded. The same goes for the area where the flare spawns. That whole area is a jumbled mess of halls and rooms with extremely limited ability to involve combat with any other area outside of it. In short the general line of sight in Guardian detracts from advanced game play and shooting skill. Making the map a campers paradise where the hunter is in fact the hunted.

Burial Mounds gets much undue criticism. However the map is very good and the problem lies more in spawning. The defensive team needs to have a good line of sight on the offensive base. This means that the offensive team is at the mercy of the defensive team in the area of spawn killing. I'm yet to see a FPS game that has been able to overcome the problems of spawn. Halo 1 had it's fair share and in truth Halo 2 and 3 are no worse then the first game. It's just that the games are played differently and therefore the maps highlight the problems with the spawn system.

Getting back to Halo 3. Probably the two maps that stand out the most are Construct and Epitah. I believe Bungie got carried away with both these maps. It's a good idea to limit the amount of levels in a map but Construct is just oever the top. Another good idea is something that I think HEH did well and maps like Midship. What Midship did was make going from one side of the map to the other a decision based upon various things. The quick route was always the more exposed. While the route with the best cover and vantage points was always around the outside and therefore the slowest. This map shows the simple elements that make a leveled map work and work damn well. In hindsight Midship is proably the best map of all the Halo games. Wizard in Halo 1 (renamed Warlock for Halo 2) also did this well.

This simple idea that works so well makes me extremely puzzled when I consider a map like Construct. Here is a map that is not symmetrical like the last two I mentioned. Therefore making it useful for merely slayer, oddball and things like VIP. However what has become apparent is that "capturing" the top level is basically how to win the game. Not only is the top level a safe haven from a line of sight from bottom up (because it's so far up). But it also makes advancing on this level a very hard thing. Theres a long exposed walk or 3 lifts which can be camped with relative ease. It's a classic example if map making gone wrong. It also makes a majority of the map rather pointless and just a spawning point for the frustrated.

Now I'm not saying that every map has to be the arena style of Midship but rather every map has to offer various things. For starters a vantage point like one that can exist in a leveled map must have it's short comings. Whether that be restrictive movement, or simply limited cover or increased exposure. With Halo 1's maps there was something about this aspect. To a degree there was no real benefit in many of the maps in being in the one area for too long. Yeah okay top of Prisoner and the like are exceptions. However the maps for the most part were much better in terms of navigation, alternative paths and getting the plus and minus thing going that I mentioned about different areas. The power up/power weapon spawn system had something to do with it but in the end Halo 3's maps compare poorly to the first two games. Good luck Bungie.

You can't run but you can hide. Halo 3 is broken.

I was certainly a bit naive to think that Bungie would somehow fix all the glaring problems with Halo 2 and at the same time not add to the problems it’s game play has. On reflection of this I should have realized what we would get simply by the fact that Halo 3 was always going to be a mod of Halo 2.

Three years in the making and I somehow can’t quite fathom what the hell these guys did with all that time, money and resources. Halo 3 looks great. It’s packed with extra features, but what good is the best looking car on the street when it runs like a Yugo.

Weapons.

Like most areas of Halo 3 it’s just Halo 2 with some very basic and ordinary upgrades. Now don’t get me wrong, many changes are very good. However they were so glaring how could they not have been fixed. Take the Shotgun as an example. The weapon failed so miserably in Halo 2 it would have been inconceivable to think that Bungie couldn’t fix this weapon.

There are many weapons that have been made how they should have in Halo 2. The sniper now feels so much better thanks to decreased auto aim and weapon recoil. The Needler is actually useful and feels well balanced with ranges of dominance and uselessness. Looking at these weapons alone makes me smile a bit. Bungie must just need a couple of chances to get it right.

While some things have been improved beyond doubt it’s the simple addition of new weapons into the fold that has meant for every step forwards Bungie takes they seem to take a step back.

An underlying problem with game play for Halo 2 was the “spray” weapon component. Duel wielding and an over abundance of automatic spray weaponry meant a change in game play from Halo 1. This change caused a decrease in the diversity of most encounters between players. The distance between fights decreased for the most part. Well, certainly when playing the game as Bungie intended.

Bungie tried hard to overcome this obvious problem. Duel wielding was weakened. The sword was balanced better and a new and improved starting weapon in the Assault Rifle was brought back and improved on from Halo 1.

It was about this time that Bungie started making some negative steps in weapons for Halo 3. Of all the weapons they added and could have tried out they made one decision which undid every right decision they made up to this point in time. Enter the Mauler.

On its own the Mauler is bad enough. Added liberally around default map set ups and coupled with a melee system that is broken it’s really just another Shotgun with a different skin.

Other weapons add something to the game play at times and take away at others. To couple with the Sword we now have a giant hammer all the more increasing this close counter fighting and camping style that Bungie seems to like. All the more decreasing the skill level of a game already lacking in creative game play.

One thing that makes me want to get on a plane and visit these guys is the new pistol. Trying to appeal to the disgruntled fans of Halo 1 is something. Adding a completely useless weapon into the game is another. Shame Bungie, shame.

Melee

The rule of three was something that I now firmly believe Bungie stumbled upon with Halo 1. After all just look at Halo 2 as it was released originally (pre update 1.1). This just confirmed that Bungie had no idea how this supposed “rule” worked.

The melee system is wrong in Halo 3. Too many kills are being achieved by melee and too many weapons are being over powered by it like the Mauler. A randomness which a game like Halo 3 doesn’t need has now been added.

How can anyone really believe it works? It’s now to powerful and means kill times with many combinations of weapons and melee is too small.

Maps

From the transition of Halo 1 to Halo 2 I was disappointed. Now I’m just furious. Halo 3’s maps are boring. There’s no other word to describe them. They lack any sort of creativeness that Bungie once had and it’s sad to say they are much worse then Halo 2.

Problems exist in many areas but in the end they just aren’t diverse enough as a whole and don’t offer diverse enough game play individually.

I found it amazing that Bungie could now fully do away with teleporters. Restricting game play options and board travel considerably. Halo 2 was already butchered in this area but Halo 3 has been killed completely. Not one teleporter in any map and at the same time they add this feature to Forge. It’s like my wife wearing lingerie and then telling me not to touch her. It’s the biggest gaming tease I’ve ever witnessed.

What has happened is most maps have been repetitive to travel over and lost so much in terms of game play options that it’s enough to make me cry. The maps are dull and like most things Bungie they get obsessed with something so much they think its better then anything else. How on earth can they kill of the teleporter and then think Shield doors add to game play. All they do is scream CAMP. A word that I would have thought Bungie would try hard to get rid of when people think of Halo 3.

Bungie also shows that they don’t know how to properly incorporate multi leveled maps in Halo 3. Construct is so big that the game play becomes painful. Getting from top to bottom is either a long walk or a death defying grav lift. It just doesn’t work.

You can’t run, but you can hide.

Finally here it is. Perhaps the most frustrating problem with Halo 3. It’s strange that you moved fast in Halo 1 but jumper low. Then moved about the same speed in Halo 2 but jumped high. Now you move slowest of all but jump like you’re on the moon. What is up with this crap? How on earth did they think this would improve game play?

It’s too late to fix the jumping aspect. Many of the maps it’s quite necessary to navigate. However the speed in which you move is quite obviously broken. It restricts game play in terms of evasion for a start. It also makes camping an even more attractive alternative way to much of the time.

I think Bungie might have done this as something to compensate for the decreased AA. They seem to be hell bent on keeping the game easy when it would have still been easy enough and much more enjoyable had speed be at about 120%. Again Bungie gives us this option in custom games like a tease.

Conclusion

Bungie referred to the problems with Halo 2 as lack of a “polishing” period. In all honesty I still see none of it here. All I see is a lot of work done on graphic (which are amazing) and a huge amount of work on features like Forge, Theater and web site stats etc. I would like to see the beak up of Bungie staff and exactly how many people are in which basket. Because quite simply the game play and multi player team either is under staffed or a bunch of bad Halo players who think getting a kill with the Spartan Laser means you’re good. The only polishing I can tell happened at Bungie involved their dominate hands down each others pants.

Many things should have been different. A health bar added to the shield like Halo 1. Or at least an increased shield with only the BR, Carbine and Snipers damage increased. These changes would have made a difference in the melee and weapon set and decreased the effectiveness of things like the AR six shot and melee kill which is a real problem.

What can be changed? Not a lot now. Some of it’s right there in game options and Forge but becomes irrelevant because of Bungies obsession with making us play the game their way. We were once baited with promises of “XBL Public” a way in which we could play the setting we liked publicly with others outside of our friends list. However like most great Bungie promises this fell though.

We can increase the speed, decrease gravity. We can nurf Maulers and hammers from the map. We can even change respawns and add teleporters. We just can’t play like this outside of our friends list.

Shame!

Low expectations justified

I Need A Weapon

I remember the months leading up to the release of Halo 2 still clearly. The date of release was firmly entrenched in my mind. After playing the Halo 1 campaign for three years all I could think about was that date. To be frank I was sadly disappointed. Thankfully for the third installment I had low expectations and now I am very glad of that.

When it comes to Halo 3 I don’t really know how to explain my feelings about the campaign so first I will just explain the way I feel the story was constructed. I can see the creative team sitting at the round table at Bungie. Each member asked to brainstorm for ideas. One by one they recount what was good and what was bad about the last two games. What worked and what didn’t. New ideas are floated and a general feel of the content is established.

Let’s put in some scarabs, they were cool. It would be great if we could take down drop ships. New and unique vehicles are a must and so forth. My problem with this is that I really believe the story was negatively affected by Bungies willingness to try and appeal to YOU. Yes you, the Halo fanatic, you know who you are. Bungie did what they thought you wanted and most probably did. With each mission they added what you want. Not original content just reprocessed content and story elements that mimicked the first two games.

Now this isn’t all bad. After all it’s Halo 3. Bring back Guilty Spark. Throw the flood at us in greater numbers. Do all that and more. However in the end the game is to full of plot twists or rather villains that change sides and come and go as they please. I can see clearly why the casual or first time Halo players are so confused.

My second run through the campaign I played co-op with a friend who played both Halo 1 and 2. He almost gave up playing because of this. I almost gave up playing because of his questions and the lack of my ability to answer them. The cut scenes needed to be three times as long to explain the story in all honesty.

One thing I was looking forward to was the way the new AI affected game play. I saw the interviews with the Bungie team. All that talk about Brute behaviour. If one throws a grenade the other do etc. The only intelligence I saw were Grunts retreating when they were alone. The rest of the Covenant brings nothing new. Brutes might as well be entrenched in concrete. They move only when devoid of their armor. The encounters seem scripted with pockets of enemy scattered here and there. More often then not watching on as their Covenant brothers get killed from the safety of the next rock.

In the end the icing on the cake was the last mission titled Halo. The final Hog run was simply too much for me. I don’t know if I was more offended by the mimicking of the original or the falling tiles that looked like place holders. For a moment there I thought I accidentally got an unfinished French beta version of the game.

I've decided I need time to play more multiplayer and access the balances and features before judging anything but the campaign. Perhaps there I will find what I'm looking for or rather what I have lost in terms of fun from this series.

I’ve probably given you the impression that I didn’t like the game. I’m sorry if that’s the case. For you see I did enjoy it. Much more then Halo 2 and more then a lot of games I hand over hard earned cash for. Perhaps that’s my problem, I’m a harsh judge. I almost always expect more then I get. Even when I have little to no expectation.

Syndicate content