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  1. I'm a big fan of Halo. To the point where I even wrote fanfiction as a teenager about it. It's been part of my life for many years now. However, for a myriad of reasons, I have not had an XBox One this generation until a couple of weeks ago. Ultimately, this means that I've played very little Halo in the last few years. But this year I used my birthday money to buy an XBone. It came with a free trial of Game Pass. This led me to download The Master Chief Collection. I began playing Halo: Combat Evolved yesterday. I played through the first three levels. I was really awestruck by Halo. No, not that Halo. I mean, Halo. The game's unfortunately titled second level (seriously, why is it called this?). I'd like to share a few thoughts on why this level is so great. Halo takes place on the titular stellar structure. It's a ring-world hovering above a gas giant. The interior side of the ring is habitable and Earth-like. The first mission sees your ship, the Pillar of Autumn, attacked by the alien Covenant. You make it to an escape pod and crash on to the structure. This level picks up immediately. Everyone in your escape pod has died except you (thanks, no doubt, to your impeccable suit of armor). You get out of the pod, walk around, and orient yourself. If you look at the sky, you'll see the rest of the ring stretch out above you. Before long, an alien dropship comes to investigate the crash. You can stay and fight, or you can cross a bridge and hide. Either way, you'll see your first pilotable vehicles next. Two wailing Banshees soar above you and take pot-shots at you. Incidentally, these Banshees are not actually flyable here, though you'll use them plenty later in the game. See the below video for more info: There is really only way for you to go. You'll climb a gently sloped hill and come to a narrow canyon. You pass through this quickly and happen upon a large structure, surrounded by Marines. Your job is to defend the building. Five dropships will unload troops (not all at once) and you must eliminate them. It's not terribly difficult. There's lots of ammo and health around if you look for it. After this is complete, a human Pelican craft will drop off a Warthog (the greatest Jeep ever made). You climb aboard and take it for a spin. Again, there's really only one place to go. You find yourself driving down a slope into an artificial tunnel. You'll drive through this and come to a gap. You must have the warthog to jump this gap. You can't do it on your own. This means you absolutely must stay to defend this first structure. There's no getting out of it. This is valuable because it forces you to understand the basic conceit of the level: defending buildings from alien dropships. It also forces you to utilize the warthog. Halo: Combat Evolved was truly revolutionary. Every console-based first-person-shooter since this game has taken direct inspiration from it in a number of ways. But the basic elevator pitch of the game is simple: What if you put vehicles in a first-person-shooter? This was the big innovation they were going for and it worked beautifully. Each pilotable vehicle (of which there are 4: Warthog, Ghost, Banshee, and Scorpion) are extremely easy and intuitive to control. Pretty much anyone can figure them out with ease. They each have nuances that will take practice to master (the Banshee, especially). The physics in the first game didn't use the now-ubiquitous Havok engine. The physics were all made in-house. They're very good, but fairly floaty. This means it's very easy to roll a Warthog if you're not careful. You'll use the Warthog multiple times throughout the rest of the game, including in the climax. So it's great to get an introduction to the vehicle now, in a relatively safe environment. You're unlikely to get the vehicle stuck somewhere. There are also very few places where you can drive one off the level and die (though it will be a valuable lesson if you do). But I digress. Let's get back to Halo. When you make it through to the other side of the tunnel, the level opens up quite a bit. You'll find yourself in a sort of Hub area. As you explore, you'll find the occasional patch of enemies. Eventually you'll learn that there are 3 major staging areas that branch off of this hub. Each is a sort of mini-level in which you must try to protect some marines from alien dropships, just as you did before. All 3 play out differently from each other. The real kicker is that you can play them in any order you choose! I consider this freedom to be the pinnacle of Halo level design (and this time I mean the entire franchise, not just this game or this level, gets confusing huh?). Halo is based on the idea of a sandbox. You are plopped into an area filled with objects to interact with (vehicles, weapons, enemies, etc.). It's up to you to deal with these as you see fit. There is not a certain prescribed way of accomplishing your tasks. Contrast this with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. COD4 is a very linear game. It's meant to be like a rollercoaster. You hop on board and ride out the ride. You have very little, if any, choice in how the ride goes. There are certainly advantages to designing a game in this way. It enables you to create very meticlous set-pieces for story telling. It also has some serious drawbacks. For example, in the above screenshot. You are tasked with sniping an enemy target in this story flashback. It's actually fairly challenging because the enemy is at immense range, there is wind, and you're far enough way to have to factor in the coriolis effect. You get one shot (do not miss your chance to blow). If you hit your target successfully, your task is complete. But here's the thing. The story plays out exactly the same way no matter where you hit this guy. If you pierce his heart or his brain, it matters not. The story doesn't care. The man lives on to fight another day. Halo isn't like this. For most of the games (at least the ones made by Bungie), you are given the freedom to kill enemies however you see fit (and they typically stay dead when you do so). I absolutely adore the freedom in Halo, and this level does it best of any in the series. To get back on track, you have three areas to clear out/defend. In fact, the order in which your perform these tasks will cause slight variation in the enemies you encounter in the hub area. At any rate, I like to start here: This section has marines take refuge in hills above the building. One of them is even equipped with a sniper rifle. You can take the high ground with them and snipe from afar. Or, you can get up close and personal with the enemy. I then go to an area filled with boulders. Marines hide among the rocks. They use them for cover and for a high-ground advantage. Enemy dropships will leave enemies in an open, flat area below and they'll work their way towards the marines. Again, you can climb all over the rocks and use them to your advantage. You can also just hang out in the flat area and work on them with your Warthog. It's even possible to drive your Warthog up on top of the largest boulder, which I find amusing for some reason. I like to end with the last remaining area. It is a series of 3 buildings. The twist here is that the Marines are hiding underground. You can take out all of the enemies on the surface before you go in after them. Or you can run in there as fast as you can and have them follow you out for backup as you fight the enemies above. I really like to snipe as many foes as I can from far away, then go in and grab the marines to have them mop up the stragglers. This is just one approach. There are 6 different orders in which you can tackle these objectives. And there are varying tactics you can use through each of them. Halo (the level) has peerless freedom in the franchise. I would rank it as the very best level the series has to offer. I am very early in my first playthrough of Halo 5, but it has yet to offer anything approaching this level of autonomy. I hope that Halo Infinite takes inspiration from this Halo in its level design. What is your favorite Halo level? Also, what do you think is the best Halo level, as those 2 don't have to be the same thing? - Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto *Note: This article is republished unchanged from the original, in accordance with Creative Commons Guidelines. Source: https://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Boxman214/the-genius-level-design-of-halo-546004.phtml Follow Boxman214 Twitter: https://twitter.com/Boxman214 Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  2. Recently through the mysterious and tenuous connections of social media, I was asked a few questions about the game design of Halo multiplayer. Yes, the first Halo. Combat Evolved. Yes, I know that game came out when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, but there are still a few things about the development process that might be interesting to designers. One question in particular caught my attention: “Was quick-camo intentional?” Paraphrased, I read the question this way: "When the player picks up the Active Camo powerup, they turn invisible. If they shoot while they're invisible, they become visible for a while. But some weapons seem to make the player fade in and then back out of view faster than others. Was that intentional?" The answer is related to one of my Universal Truths of Game Design. The Universal Truths are rules that I have figured out throughout my career in game development. I know they're true, because I have followed these rules and succeeded, and I've ignored them (or just been ignorant of them) and failed. In this case, the answer comes from; UNIVERSAL TRUTH #3: You must create a mental model That means that, as a designer you must create a theoretical model that describes how the systems in the game should act with each other. Game data design and balancing is an incredibly complex task. As anyone who has ever opened up a set of modern game tools knows, there are an overwhelming number of places where a designer can change numbers that can affect how the in-game systems behave. Here’s an example picture of an open game toolset that I grabbed off the web: It’s a pretty typical screenshot of a set of development tools. There are windows that allow the designer to place objects in 3D space, and along the right side of the screen there are a bunch of folders that hold different types of data that you can fiddle with. And adjusting any of the numbers will change what happens in the game. I’ve seen it happen many times, a good game designer is tasked with making the game more fun and, faced with the complexity of that job, gets overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to change to make the gameplay better. At best, a designer stuck in that situation is ineffective. At worst, the game sucks because of them. In my process, I make a mental model of how I think the system should work. It gives me a place to start figuring out what numbers to change, and in what ways I need to change them. From there, I adjust the data values to suit that model. And the more rigorous I am with my mental model, the more confidence I have when I'm adjusting the sea of numbers in front of me. Let me give you an example. As we were working on Halo, the team lead’s first choice was to make the guns work the exact same way in single player and multiplayer. The responsibility for balancing all those numbers had been given to a senior designer on the project, but the general feeling was that his changes were not making the game more fun (see above). I talked things over with Jason Jones (the creative genius at the core of Bungie) and he and I agreed that somebody with more experience in game balance needed to take over the job. Initially, Jason volunteered to handle it all himself. As the man behind the game balance of Myth, and the Marathon series of shooters he was more than capable of the job. But I pointed out that multiplayer would have very different needs for the guns than the single player team. Weapons in the hands of dumb AI bad guys need to provide fun challenges for the player to overcome, but weapons in the hands of a player are a different matter. As a quick demonstration, think about the gunfights in Halo. In most cases, encounters have multiple bad guys shooting at you at one time. Each gun can be adjusted to be a little bit weaker in enemy hands so that player (the hero of the story) doesn't get overwhelmed. But in multiplayer, most decisive fights are one on one. Guns needed to be unique and powerful. I also pointed out that if we just used one set of data, as I was changing the gun data for multiplayer I might be damaging the overall balance of the single player game. Jason agreed, and we decided to "branch" the data and create two versions of the numbers, one for single player and the other for multiplayer. So starting out, I had a handful of guns with some data already attached to them based on the single player game. I had the freedom to change whatever I wanted. All I needed to do was figure out how to make the fighting fun. I needed a roadmap to follow. A mental model. But where to start? Follow this link to read this section of the article: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150105/233483/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt1.php But just making the Halo multiplayer weapons respect their roles in the matrix really wasn’t enough. That’s kind of “first-person shooter design 101.” In a first-person shooter, weapons are the stars of the show. They need to look good, and sound good. They need awesome animations. They need to be effective in their roles and they have to make the player feel powerful and competent. But perhaps most importantly, they need to reward player mastery. To accomplish that, the design needed depth. Universal Truth Number Three (Part 2) I characterize depth as game systems or balance details that are included to enrich the experience of the player, but that are not necessarily explained or documented. They’re meant to be discovered and exploited as players’ expertise with the game grows. There are lots of great examples of what I’m talking about in all types of games, but I will offer up a couple of made-up examples for illustration: Example Game 1 is Wizard Warts, a fantasy role-playing game about a cabal of magical toads set deep in a haunted swamp. Pollywogs evolve into acolytes - able to hop, swim, wear armor and use weapons. But once they grow strong enough in the shallow waters around their home, they can quest deep into the swamp to find and eat one of the legendary magic Dragon-Flies. Four different types of Dragon-Fly swarms live in the swamp: Fire, Ice, Poison/Acid and Love. Once a toad gobbles one of them up, the acolyte evolves into a Toadzard, and can thereafter belch spells powered by the type of bug-dragon they gobbled. It’s important to note that an acolyte toad can only gobble one type of magic Dragon-Fly in their life, and the choice (and the evolution into Toadzard) is irreversible. The swamp is filled with a variety of magical monsters. They are all dangerous and hostile, but we can use the data of the game to add more depth to the gameplay. For example there are Plant type monsters are more vulnerable to Fire magic and take x3 damage from any source with that description, while Undead creatures are immune to Poison spells. Notice that one of the Dragon-Flies has two “type” descriptions – Poison/Acid. I chose to include the "acid" description as part of that spell group because of the depth that I wanted to include in the design. Acquiring spell powers and evolving into a Toadzard would be a big part of the fun in the game. But if the player chooses "poison" spells and finds that they are literally useless against undead monsters, and "poison" was the only type of damage in that spell category, it could leave an entire class of Toadzard useless in some situations. That’s a very un-fun outcome to players who chose to build that type of character, and it might make the game unexpectedly difficult. Consider the example of player who decided to make their Toadzard Poison/Acid and then had to take on a tough mission against Undead bad guys. A player running into that situation might have so much difficulty that they abandon the game, and who could blame them? Dropping some "acid" in helps solve these problems. "Acid" spells could still damage undead, leaving us the freedom to make "poison" spells useless against them. At this point you might reasonably ask; "Why fight so hard to preserve that part of the design at all?" The answer is that there is a lot of potential drama in the design that occasionally makes spells useless. It aggressively forces the player to adapt their comfortable play patterns, and it might encourage players to explore more of the content in the game. Imagine the player who finds themselves in a scary predicament when the spells and strategies that they've previously counted on suddenly stop working entirely. But, as they dig into the fullness of the spell systems they find that there is a way for them to adapt to the game situation without having to start over from the beginning. A less aggressive way to achieve a similar effect would be to extend the Fire example above, and only give the monsters vulnerability to some types of spells. So for example we could include Hate type monsters that were vulnerable to Love magic and Lava type monsters that were vulnerable to Ice magic. Anyone familiar with the Pokemon series of games will recognize this precise design. It doesn't penalize players as harshly as the proposed design above, but it's also not as dramatic in the player's experience. Follow this link to read this section of the article: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150112/233956/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt2.php The interesting, and sometimes wildly frustrating thing about depth in a design is that some players never become aware of the underlying nuances. In fact there are countless examples where depth is built into games, but players don’t understand it or take advantage of it. Multiplayer games suffer the most from this kind of mismatch in player expertise, because the parts of their community that grasp the deeper elements of the design and use them often have a significant advantage over the less-knowledgeable. This can lead to all sorts of hard feelings. (if you’re a League of Legends fan, last hitting creeps should spring immediately to mind) As I mentioned earlier, depth in the game balance can exist without being documented anywhere else. Players will feel the effects as they play and hopefully they’ll pick up on the subtleties and learn how to exploit the design. But for that to work well the design needs to make some kind of intuitive sense to the player. In the Wizard Warts example, the player would glean that Fire is extra dangerous to plants. That's a common trope in games and of course; wood burns. But the underlying logic that "poison" wouldn’t have an effect on the Undead since they don’t have a working nervous system or circulatory system is less obvious, and so might never make sense to the player base. If the game is popular enough, the players will learn how the numbers work and "play around" them, but they're liable to think there's some kind of a bug in the game. So to recap: We need a mental model with an underlying design for depth which is (hopefully) intuitive to the player. Which brings me back to the multiplayer weapons design process for Halo. I’ll explain how it all connects in my next post! Universal Truth Number Three (Part 3) I wanted the Halo weapons to have depth, so I began thinking about all the guns that were in the matrix. I needed to understand what they were, and how they fit into the design. The Human weapons were easy to understand. I’m a Human, and I know what we use guns for. But the weapons used by the aliens of the Covenant were another matter. The easiest place to start would be to simply say that the alien guns were simply analogs to the Human weapons on the matrix. The pistols, assault rifles etc. could be basically the same, only with different visual presentation. Easy, yes. But that seemed like a huge missed opportunity to add depth and richness to the game. So I started thinking why would the Covenant choose these particular weapons in the first place? We (Humans) have guns. And once guns were developed, Humans developed systems to protect people from bullets (bullet proof vests, riot shields etc.) And then in the relentless march of progress, people invented ways to kill other people inside of their body armor (armor piercing bullets etc.) Remember that at the time there wasn't a lot of settled "lore" about the game story. I decided that in my model, Human Spartan armor was created as a desperate response to the Covenant attacks. It had similar functions, like a personal shield, but was based on different technology. So how about the Covenant? There were some notes about the bad guys and their guns, but the honest truth was that the aliens shot light-up bolts of energy because they looked a lot more visually impressive coming towards the player on screen. If the bad guys shot nearly invisible bullets and you couldn't see them coming at you, it would be a total drag every time you died. But just knowing that they were colored lights wasn't going to help me balance my combat data. Clearly they had guns. And they had an equivalent to our body armor – personal energy shields. I could imagine Covenant warriors facing off against enemies across the universe with their plasma weapons blazing. Or more specifically, their Plasma Rifles. As an poor man's analog to the Human pistol, the Plasma Pistol was a pretty dull thing, only useful as a desperation choice for one of the two gun slots you were limited to. I stared at the various data fields in the Halo toolset for quite a while, trying to imagine what to do with the Plasma Pistol to make it cool. And then a question occurred to me: What if the Covenant had to fight an enemy with shields like their own? Or what if they had to fight themselves? They’d need their own armor-piercing capability. In the Halo tools, every projectile had a “shield damage” value. Most were set so that they would damage shields at a rate that matched the damage that their bullets would do to the player's health bar. None of the projectiles were really aggressively balanced against shields. And you know how I feel about data balance in a matrix! I started to experiment with making Plasma Pistol bullets designed to specifically shred shields. It was a snap to make a projectile that blew them off quickly, but then it seemed overpowered to also make those bullets do good levels of “body” damage as well. Then it occurred to me: maybe the shield-shredding effect could be assigned to a different bullet. The one assigned to the secondary fire-mode for the gun – the overcharge. This proved to be very fun. In my early playtests, I'd grab the Plasma Pistol and use the overcharge specifically to blow up the shields on enemies that I ran across. But it was frustrating when I missed the overcharged shot (full disclosure: I am a much better designer than I am a player) So to compensate, I gave the shield-busting projectile a terrifying amount of magnetism so that it would track towards whatever I shot it at. I loved it – I could overcharge the Plasma Pistol and let the shot fly, and it would whip around corners and blast targets, stripping off their shields just as I came running in behind and mowed 'em down! In the short term, I won a lot of playtest games. Unfortunately, once this tactic became known to other players, battles essentially started with “overcharged salvos” of tracking shots whipping across the battlefield. The only thing you could do was hunker down in cover and wait as the first round of supercharged shots came whipping overhead before you started moving. It was interesting to see how these data adjustments changed player behavior during our playtests, but a bunch of auto-tracking missiles wasn’t very true to the spirit of the Halo combat model which rewards player skill, fire and movement. So alas, the “super tracker” overcharged shots had to go. But I did keep some tracking, to help reduce the frustration of a player using the overcharge trick but missing the shot entirely. So my mental model of bullets/armor/armor piercing was working to create fun combat. But what else could it do for the game? Follow this link to read this section of the article: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150120/234625/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt3.php I made one other change under the hood of the Human weapons, which many people don't even realize exists at all. Jason Jones had designed the Human pistol to be the weapon of choice for players at medium/long range. The accuracy, high damage and the limited sniper zoom on the pistol made it a powerful choice for dropping enemies right at the edge of their "AI awareness" bubble, enabling players to pick off one or two targets as the enemies startled into their alert state and then came charging into battle. But it was strong. Damn strong. Frankly, it was too strong for multiplayer. I toyed with damage settings that made the multiplayer pistol weaker than it's single player counterpart. But to be honest, once it was "nerfed" it became a pale shadow of it's single player cousin and using the pistol became a lot less fun. Still, I felt that turning the full power of the pistol loose on the Halo multiplayer "sandbox" unaltered would be opening the door to endless criticism, so I decided to made a subtle change. The single player version of the pistol is "autofire" - meaning that if you hold the trigger down the weapon will repeatedly fire at the precise point you're aiming at. But... that's not true with the multiplayer version of the pistol. I wanted to at least challenge the skill level of players a little more. So the multiplayer version of the Pistol has shot spread. What that means is that, if you simply hold the trigger down and let the pistol automatically fire over and over, each bullet will deviate from the point that you're aiming at. And the amount of deviation will increase with every bullet. I wanted to make it so that players could still use the badass pistol, and it could retain the fun feeling that it had in single the single player game, but only if the player could master the technique of actually pulling the trigger with each individual shot. I still believe that this was a "righteous fix" - meaning that it was justified and the solution was (in my humble opinion) elegant within the restrictions of the established game play. Unfortunately, I lost my nerve a little bit. After all, this was a huge change from the behavior of the single player version of the Pistol. I was worried that players might have to re-train themselves to use the multiplayer version of the gun, which again might lead to huge volumes of outrage from players. So I didn't make the pistol deviate enough while auto-firing. Oh, the shots will spread if you hold the trigger down, but not so much so that you might not still get the head shot that you were aiming at. To this day, not adjusting the spread rate of auto-fire on the multiplayer pistol is one of my regrets. I wasn't aggressive enough! But hey, people still seemed to like the game. One of the things that I’m proudest of is how my mental model for Human and Covenant technologies had profound impacts on the single-player game. For example, the high camouflage ping rate of the Human weapons meant that, even late in the campaign, Human guns were ideal for exposing Covenant bad guys that were cloaked in Active Camouflage shields. A second impact was on the AI development of the game. When the mighty Chris Butcher (AI programmer for Oni and Halo) saw the changes to the Plasma Pistol, it gave him the idea to have the Jackals use the Plasma Pistol in it’s overcharged mode, along with their shields, to greatly differentiate them from the Grunts wielding Plasma Pistols and grenades. I’d like to take a moment here to talk about why I keep using the term “mental model”. You might ask “Shouldn’t the design document cover all of this?” And my answer would be that my design documents have never captured all the details of the game. I find documents valuable in helping me codify my own thinking, and they can occasionally be good tools for communicating a design to the people that are responsible for implementing it. But I've never encountered a game development team that religiously read every document produced by the game designers. And when you're actually knee-deep in making the game, you rarely have the time to fiddle around with keeping all your design documents up-to-date. So my own process has evolved to be very fluid and organic. I start with some clearly stated intentions as to what I want to accomplish with a design, and then start to build it. But along the way, I watch the design evolve and continually evaluate that process. As things happen I’m constantly deciding, “How is thing coming together? Are we going in the right direction, or should we be going another way?” So my paper specs get me started, but beyond that my mental model is constantly evolving. I once read a quote from Tim Schaffer, that I'm going to have to paraphrase heavily because I can't seem to find the original quote. He described the process of making a video game as building a puzzle out of pieces falling in slow motion. But the pieces fall at different speeds and the shape of the puzzle changes, depending on which pieces you get, and which fit. That is a very poetic and accurate description of what my process looks like: I like to toss the pieces up, and every day take a look to see what’s coming together, what’s falling behind and what shape the final form is going to take. (I apologize, but I can't find the quote out there on the web. If you find it please add it to the comments section and I'll edit this post!) So that brings us full circle, back to the one-sentence blurb question that I got via Twitter: was quick camo intentional? Yes; entirely intentional. All of the camouflage behaviors are a product of my mental model for Human and Covenant weapons, and my desire to add depth to the gameplay model for players to discover and exploit. Did it work? As I said before: often players will never know all the details included to add depth to a game. The fact that a person on Twitter was asking about that feature proves that, although my mental model was thorough and effective, it wasn’t so intuitive that players completely understood it, even after a decade of playing the game. But here’s the thing: even if an audience doesn’t understand all of the influences that shape their experience with a work of art, those influences still resonate in their mind at some level. That’s called subtext. When I watch a performance of Cirque du Soleil, I don’t know exactly what’s happening in the overall story of the performance. But I know there is a story. And my experience as an audience member is all the richer for it. There are large sections of the above article omitted here. We strongly recommend you read the articles in full via these links: www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150105/233483/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt1.php www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150112/233956/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt2.php www.gamasutra.com/blogs/HardyLeBel/20150120/234625/Universal_Truth_Number_Three_pt3.php Follow Hardy Youtube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCRTexStRSiHNR21y4hdx4Yw/videos Twitter: twitter.com/RazdByBears Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0Dp
  3. I want to talk about some problems with player versus player games. In abstract, these problems are difficult to describe, so I want to talk about them through two matches of Halo multiplayer. These are matches where I played with a group of friends against unknown opponents through Halo’s matchmaking system. The specifics of these matches bring the problems of PvP into focus. Derelict Our first match was on “Derelict,” a two-tier octagonal map with a central tower and walkways connecting to an outer ring. Together, the tower and walkways occlude the lower floor into quadrants. The only routes up are through teleports, which deposit the player 45 degrees offset from their entrance, relative to the center. The teleport entrances and exits are in the open, with the best cover being the teleport itself. Green lines indicate teleport paths In the Team Slayer mode where kills equal points, all of the powerups spawn on the top floor. The overshield in the top center is the most important, and also the easiest to contest since the walls around it allow players on the bottom floor to bank grenades. Players who rush the teleports to the top floor have long sightlines down the walkways and past the overshield to the far side. In a coordinated attack, anyone by the overshield is doomed. View from the top floor Most of the player respawn points are on the bottom floor, and Halo’s respawn system favors being near allies rather than away from enemies. This system means that once a team is all on the top floor, dead allies will respawn on the top floor. However, if anyone on a team is on the bottom floor, dead allies are likely to spawn there. With the combination of the item placement and the respawn mechanics, the dominant strategy of “Derelict” is to control the top floor and kill the enemy players as they rush the teleports. Even in Team Slayer, “Derelict” plays like King of the Hill. View View from the bottom floor A final note before I get into the match’s specifics: in Halo, players spawn with an ineffective assault rifle equipped and have to switch to their secondary weapon, the pistol, to have a chance in a fight. This weapon swap means more than a second of vulnerability where the newly-spawned player can’t pressure an attacker to back off. Altogether, these systems turn Team Slayer on “Derelict” into a grinding slog. Match 1 In this specific match on “Derelict,” two of our four opponents dropped from the game within the first minute. By that time, my friends and I had started to control the top floor and the powerups. With only two opponents remaining, this imbalance guaranteed our map control, but this also slowed my team’s score per minute and drew out our inevitable win. After this match, we looked up our opponents’ stats and saw that they were new players with only a few matches of experience. My team’s attempt to efficiently end the match (and get on to something better) may have spoiled Halo 1 to these players. But because there are no easy systems for communicating across teams in Halo, the entire experience was an anonymous cruelty. When players are outnumbered in these situations, some choose to give up the match or “deny” it by preventing the other team from having fun. These players may set the controller down and walk away until the game ends as a passive rejection of the match. Or, in a more active rejection, they may kill their allies, jump off the map, or frag themselves on spawn. This behavior extends the game time, since it slows the rate at which the stronger team can score points, but it is a way for the losing team to control the pace of the game and reject the systems that put them there. Some of the behavior we commonly label toxic play or poor sportsmanship may stem from bad systems design. Even on Halo’s best maps, 4v2 matches are common. In The Master Chief Collection, the queue for Team Slayer lets players vote on a random map from each game in the Halo trilogy, and the original Halo is divisive. Unlike Halo 2 and 3, Halo: CE’s levels are difficult to learn, which adds to the gap between experienced and new players. There are no maps like “Derelict” in Halo’s sequels. As soon as this skill and knowledge difference between the teams becomes apparent, the players on the losing team are stuck in a bad situation. If they leave too many games, they will face an automatic deserter penalty and may also face Xbox Live’s player reporting systems for desertion or bad sportsmanship. As a player, it isn’t clear what many of these systems do. As a designer, it seems to me that the blame should fall on the systems that insisted a 4v2 match play to its end. Even before the match became a 4v2, the blame should fall on the matchmaking instead of the less experienced players. But there’s only so much that matchmaking algorithms can do on a small player population without dividing player parties. In designing these systems, we should ask ourselves who these systems are supposed to serve. Longest After this lopsided victory, our next match went to “Longest”, a small map with two parallel hallways and elevated rooms to either side. There are no rocket launchers or sniper rifles on “Longest”, but the standard grenades and pistols are more effective in the narrow gameplay space. The green lines indicate jump routes between platforms on the second floor At either end of the hallways are a red and blue base, a health pack, and an enclosed ramp up to the second floor. These bases are where the players spawn. Aside from walking the long halls, the only other route is jumping across platforms on the second floor. Up here in the middle there is a powerup on either side, swapping between overshield and active camo after each use. This jump route is outside the lethal range of grenades on the floor below, but Halo’s floaty jump makes these players exposed to pistol fire. A view from blue base down the hall toward red. The overshield is in the top center platform As a result of this structure, the map plays like a teeter-totter of balance swaps. At the start, both teams fight down the long hallways and push toward the far side. The team that wins the fight in the halls can continue the push into the enemy base, and if they kill all of their opponents there, the spawns will swap so that red team now spawns in blue base and blue now spawns in red. This spawn swap resets the fight, giving both teams a chance at a new push. This spawn-swapping property, which emerges as an interaction of the level design and the respawn system, makes “Longest” more forgiving than a map like “Derelict”. Even after a bad start, the losing team on “Longest” has a chance to recover. The limited items also reduce how far ahead the winning team can be. The grenades and health items on the map are only useful to recover to the starting amount. Match 2 Even though “Longest” is a more balanced map, our second match started much like our match on “Derelict”. Within the first minute, two of our opponents left. However, instead of another frustrating victory, I persuaded my teammates to stop shooting and to only use grenades and melee. The grenades are still effective, but players are limited to four, and must then find more grenades in the dangerous midfield, or must charge the enemies in melee combat. There is also friendly-fire, so our over-use of grenades turned the map into a hilarious chaos. Red base, and an exploding grenade, for scale Despite our numbers advantage, by applying our own rule modifier, the opposing team was in the lead until the last few kills at which point we resumed standard play. Our opponents also appeared to join in on our grenade-happy shenanigans, with one of them scoring 10 grenade kills in the match. Most importantly, the opposing players remained active despite the odds, rather than turning to fun-denying strategies. However, across the silent gulf of Xbox Live, I don’t know what our opponents thought, or if they recognized that we had changed the rules of the game to keep it fun. On our side, a few of my teammates saw the rule adaptation as a way to humiliate instead of merely win; perhaps this is how our opponents felt. Without means to communicate across teams, it is unclear whether our rule modification improved the situation. Problems Those with power in a match define its pace. Power here may mean having a numbers advantage, not just being the more skilled group of players. The responsibility falls on the dominant group to adapt their play for everyone’s enjoyment. Reinforcing feedback loops or “snowballing” in level design, where the team that takes the lead can easily maintain it. Rigid PvP systems that don’t match the players’ goals. Rigid multiplayer that lacks communication tools for players to negotiate their goals and restructure the match. Real World PvP With each of these problems, we should compare the situation to real world player versus player games. That is, if we played this matchmade game on the greens of a public park, would we play the game to its end without modification? If not, then this is a case where the rigidity of a digital game’s multiplayer systems does not serve the players’ needs. With these specific examples from Halo, imagine instead if the 8 of us were playing a game of soccer and two players had to leave. In the real world, the game is a servant to its players and will flex to accommodate their needs. The moment two players leave, the remaining 6 can decide if they want to continue with the game, and how they want to restructure the team if so. Or, if the match was more serious, the players can negotiate a rematch for the future. In digital games, the rules are too often inflexible. There aren’t systems in Halo to negotiate a rule change part way through a match. This negotiation could include a mode change, or a team restructure. In both of the 4v2 matches above, Halo could have prompted a vote to make the game free for all, to scramble the teams, to end the match early, or to seek players to join in progress. Existing Solutions? Match join-in-progress. Depending on how quick the enemy team’s numbers can be refilled, and how much of a lead the winning team can take on the map, this solution may come too late to fix the problem. This approach works best where the server persists across multiple matches. Player-controlled voting. In Counter-Strike’s casual servers, players can vote on a map change, on a team scramble, and on player kicking at any point. Most MOBAs let players vote to surrender. However, players can abuse these systems, whether or not the vote-calls are anonymous. Other Solutions? Discourage competitive motivations through the game mode design? Make the match about the kind of play that emerges in player versus player games instead of about winning. Treat PvP as a kind of cooperative play. (Regardless of how the game communicates this, competition is still a motivation players will bring to the game. There may be only so far we can push this solution.) Matchmake by player intent, rather than skill? If a player signals that they don’t care about winning, prioritize matches with others in that category of play-motivation. (Depending on implementation, some players will find ways to abuse this.) Add systems for nonverbal communication between teams? The first step of a negotiation between teams should be to identify and agree upon the problem. Acting upon that problem, such as a calling a vote, should follow from negotiation. Let players leave casual matches without punishment. If too many games are ruined as a result of players leaving, then there are problems in other systems that we need to fix. As a closing note, there is an experiment I want to run. In a game that is otherwise traditional PvP, I want to create an environment with no explicit goals or teams but provide tools and toys for various forms of play. This environment would have bases and flags, hills to be king over, as well as toys like exploding barrels and jump pads. This environment would allow players to set their character color mid-match to form teams. This environment would share voice chat across the entire group, allow the easy formation and dissolution of “team” communication channels, or use proximity-based communication. Better still, this environment would offer tools for players to communicate without relying on the disclosure of voice chat. My hypothesis around this experiment is that we would see healthier player interaction, and we would see player needs rise in priority above competition. Ideally, this experiment would reduce the toxicity that drives players away from PvP gaming. However, it may also be that denying players’ competitive motivations through these systems reduces player engagement and retention. This is an area I hope to investigate further in the future. Thanks for reading! Source: https://andrewyoderdesign.blog/2017/12/28/inflexible-pvp/ *Note: This article is posted in full on Next Level Design with permission from the author Follow Andrew Website: https://andrewyoderdesign.blog/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/Mclogenog Follow Next Level Design Join the Forum: http://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/register/ Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NextLevelDesig2 Discuss on Discord: https://t.co/hkxwVml0D .galleria, .galleria-container { height:480px !important }
  4. In a wide-spanning and deeply insightful interview held by our friends at ForgeHub, Hardy Lebel discusses the explicit simplicity in the original CE multiplayer levels and answers questions like "why do your maps suck" and "why does the sandbox and mechanics have to carry your maps?"Though humorous in nature, Hardy answers these questions with a serious and respectful discussion of iterative learning and the essential link between level and game design - he had to learn 3ds Max for the multiplayer portion of the game, and having never modelled in the program before, had to very carefully and explicitly lay out levels that would be both feasible for his level of technical skill, and enjoyable for players within the CE sandbox, which he explains was something akin to a "party game with guns". Hardy was able to implement a solid design process in order to accomplish this goal: game design and level design need to reflect and support each other, like a good marriage. The game mechanics have to be securely in mind - a single, minuscule change to the sandbox can profoundly effect the rest of the game's design! The success and reverberation of Halo: CE throughout the industry should speak volumes for the wisdom of such an approach, so we're grateful to be able to have him on record presenting the reasoning behind his design. Please check out some of Hardy's other work, and give him a follow if you enjoyed the interview.- icyhot Follow HardyYoutube: www.youtube.com/channel/UCRTexStRSiHNR21y4hdx4Yw/videosTwitter: https://twitter.com/RazdByBears Follow ForgehubWebsite: www.forgehub.com/Youtube: www.youtube.com/user/ForgeHubOfficial