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  1. a Chunk

    Map Feature: MAAR DÚN

    Intro MAAR DÚN was a passion project, and it shows. Two years in the making, the map oozes that special something that you can’t ever quite put your finger on, or put words to. It brings to mind flavors, scents, and maybe a few tingling sensations in forbidden parts of my body (to much information??). I find myself animated into an ancient Wraith City, which is simultaneously dark and beautiful. Set in the gloom of a seemingly floating rock island. There’s the feeling of being abandoned, alone. And then I get shot in the face and come to my senses. There’s a battle at hand, and I want to be on the winning side. But alas, this is a tale for another day. For today, the star of this show is MAAR DÚN. And who better to tell us about it than the man behind the map, Jake Stegmeier (MartianMallCop). The Making of MAAR DÚN Whenever I come across a really well polished map, I invariably have the feeling that it was guided by a strong and clearly defined set of goals. I’ve come to realize that this isn’t always the case though. Did you begin this project with a set of design goals - Were they clear from the beginning, or did they evolve over time? Can you share what they were? I’d actually say that my process is much more iterative than predetermined. It’s not that I didn't have a set of clear goals I wanted to achieve, because I definitely did. It’s just not like a perfect epiphany where I have everything I want to do before I start. I typically develop those goals throughout a level ideation process. Essentially, when I’m coming up with inspiration for what I want to build with reference art and locales, those references then really inspire my goals. Concept Art For Maar Dún, in a lot of the concept art I was viewing, I really saw precariousness; like walking on a knife’s edge. A lot of really perilous locations where I could see players jumping from ledge to ledge mid-battle. If I had a main goal for Maar Dún, it was that I wanted to make it’s combat acrobatic; where players on my level would be able to have a lot of mobility mid combat that was very synergetic with their combat abilities. I get really annoyed with combat in a lot of games being in flat rooms, where the battle starts and finishes with the two players staying in their positions just waiting to out damage each other. I want a fight to be an actual fight; which could be somewhat drawn out, with combatants constantly attempting to one up each other, utilizing the environment around them. Insta-kills or fights with no turnarounds are just less exciting. I made it my goal for fights to not start and end in the same place. Another goal I had was to have the level be ruthlessly efficient. I personally don’t like the idea of having the same type of encounter in multiple locations on the map. I think it is very important to keep encounter types varied in a level to keep the match interesting. Maar Dún from a Distance Like most iconic maps, Maar Dún feels as if it’s a real place, with a history - a story to tell. Was this intentional, and if so, how did you go about bringing it to life? Well first I guess I have to thank you for calling my work iconic. I appreciate that. While Maar Dún doesn’t have like a complete narrative, there is certainly some lore behind it. Maar Dún is a chapel of the wraith kingdom. Maar Dún is a sort of accursed place, filled with ghouls and dark spirituality. Players enter the arena as part of some sort of ritual where only those who are cursed can enter the realm. With Maar Dún I wanted to portray a different side of how people often view the idea of evil though. It is definitely a dark place, with very spiky terrain, chains, acid, etc… but I liked making the chapel look like something that was really mysterious, yet alluring. Often a side of evil that I think is necessary for it to exist is a sort of persuasive nature. Christians often refer to it in the bible as temptation. For instance, when a guy steals your wallet, there is the incentive that comes from the value of the potential cash that you may have had. With Maar Dún I wanted to try to capture that urge in its rawest form. I also like the idea that when the lightning strikes and a power weapon spawns, that it is by the might of a demon, like bestowing gifts of destruction to players to increase the carnage for its own entertainment. I wish so much that forge would let us like record or own voice lines, so we could essentially make our own announcers. Rocket Launcher Spawn - Trap Hall Something I’m always fascinated to hear about on maps that play exceptionally well is gameplay balance. Balance, in the gameplay sense, can be difficult to define, much less attain. What are some imbalances that came to light during the iterative process, and how did you go about addressing them? I actually found that balance for Maar Dún didn’t take what I’d consider to be too much iteration compared to a lot of my previous work. I feel that at a certain level of experience, many designers can see how their map is going to play before running it through tests. That’s not to say that there were no issues however, but most issues in testing came from the technical side, with only a few significant geometry changes. Some of the biggest issues were with scale. Some of the areas were a bit too small. and some wall layering was little bit too extruded. In initial matches this led to players snagging edges, and some excessive clambering where jumps were a little too high. That led to traversal around the map being a bit too cumbersome during combat. So, I took that build and stretched out the middle of the level by double buttress, making those less steep, and extended Trap hall significantly. Also there was a little bit of an excess segmentation issue between outside the front of the chapel, and the rest of the map. Adding in the triple wraith windows and the double doors gave other areas of the map the utility and interaction required to make that outside area a more viable location to use in combat. Double Buttress So one thing that really stands out in Maar Dun’s favor relative to the vast majority of Halo 5 forge maps is the tremendously polished art and lighting. How the heck did you do it? Well I can’t take credit for all of that. Christian (@MultiLockOn) did almost all the lighting of the level. I showed him the concept art and the color scheme I was going for, and he put together the skybox fog and most of the lighting, and taught me a lot about lighting in the process. I think that one of the biggest things that makes Maar Dún stand is the soft hues that are used. Forge has very harsh lights by default when placed on map, so to get those soft hues, in some cases you have to turn the brightness almost down to zero. Christian even came up with a new lighting technique for the bright windows in Chapel, using light rays at a higher brightness. We could’ve just used emissive objects behind the windows, but they were bright, and really messed with perception for players in that room. Structurally, however, I could give some more in depth answers. For Maar Dún’s art I ended up using an established architectural style, and then put a fantasy spin on it. I used a lot of gothic romanesque architecture features, such as the pointed arch, the flying buttress, pinnacles, nave, and vault. But then I played with things like the buttress pinnacles, and had them inverted pointing downward. I also played a bit fast and loose with where flying buttresses were pointing to allow for more unique routes and cover. It’s tricky with forge, you have to keep certain details simple because adding a lot of details can eat up budget quickly. A technique I used was a lot of repetition and layering, to give walls and structures a bit of depth. Adding a simple dark black rail trim on the center catwalks gives them a bit of outline that is much more appealing than without. Also on the walls of the secondary building by trap hall you can see some layering, with a bit of a triforium being layered on the wall to give it more depth. With forge though, you really have to let your lighting do a lot of the heavy lifting, because otherwise you direct players eyes to areas that are lacking in detail. Chapel Floor Can you tell us more about the testing process? Here’s a good one for you - can you tell us about some of the funniest or most entertaining things you remember from your testing sessions? For sure. Maar Dún had quite a few funny, technical bugs during initial testing. Some things were just totally obvious that I had forgotten about. Others were less obvious, but had some bizarre results. In the first test, I had forgotten to put in the death barrier under the map. So in the very first match, Westin (@Westin) fell all the way down to the chromabox, and it was just ridiculous. I believe he had thrown his grenades too, so he couldn’t get a spawn in to get up there. Easily the funniest was that in some cases the wind stream by the main door of chapel would throw you off into the void and just kill you. Also, if you jumped from high enough above, you’d go through fast enough that you’d just fly right through the wind stream and into the death pit. I eventually ended up fixing that with strategic invisible barriers, but I think I just hadn’t updated it until our fifth session. By that time people were getting mad at me, so I finally went in and fixed it. This was when I was still finalizing art and lighting so the tests were just in the meantime. Wind Gate Also, I guess a last fun fact is that I scripted lightning strikes to fire off every time a power weapon spawns in on the map. It’s a really useful way of figuring out which item is up for those who have mastery of the level, because you can just listen for which item spawned. I felt that this was important because I had done something very similar on Oblivion for Christian, but at the time I messed it up by not making the lightning spawn dependent on the spawn of the weapon. So the lightning would just fire, and no weapons would appear sometimes on Oblivion. It’s fully functional on Maar Dún, so it feels good fixing that. Outro Maar Dún is an incredibly polished map, bringing stellar gameplay in a convincing setting. It hits all the right notes. Here’s a look at the Trailer video: You can view a full allotment of images in the Map Thread. Also included is a podcast style video on the making of the Maar Dún with @Jake Stegmeier | MartianMallCop, @MultiLockOn, and @Westin, which is well worth a listen. Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/275-maar-dún-unleash-the-demon/ There’s a great breakdown of the level on Jacob’s Portfolio as well, which includes a more detailed breakdown of specific aspects of the level. Plus of course, there’s a link to download Maar Dún, which you should do right now. Portfolio: https://jakestegmeier.wixsite.com/portfolio/maar-dun Follow Jake Portfolio: https://jakestegmeier.wixsite.com/portfolio Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-stegmeier Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2yVZLe8VBuotU8SIdP0q_Q? 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. a Chunk

    Mythic Map Pack

    Intro With the recent implementation of the Mythic Arena Playlist into Halo 5 matchmaking (see announcement here), 6 maps made specifically for the Mythic Arena Gametype were also officially released in the Next Level Design Projects section. They're each designed for 4v4 play, with aesthetics inspired by Bungie's legacy. The Mythic Map Pack Map List Abyss - Map Thread Cryptic - Map Thread Frontier - Map Thread Goliath - Map Thread Oracle - Map Thread Vengeance - Map Thread We recently met up with @Sgt Slaphead to discuss the just released Mythic Arena playlist, which pays tribute to the Classic gameplay style of the original Trilogy. He shared background information on each of the six maps, talking about some of the goals and challenges faced in their making. What follows is shared in his own words. *Note: Additional images, gameplay video, and Download Links can be found in the individual map threads. Abyss During the initial blockout, this map went by the placeholder name ‘Hallway of Death’. The reason for such a blunt approach being that its original design was intended for the Extermination forge contest back in 2017. Extermination is a 4v4 elimination mode where the goal is to wipe out the enemy team in a short space of time, so maps designed for it must be compact and straightforward enough to keep fights fast and minimize hiding. Because of Abyss’ linear nature and deadly middle hallway intended for fast paced action, it later provided the perfect conditions for Neutral Bomb Assault as both the map and mode work well with tug of war style gameplay. Almost every match on this map in testing has been incredibly intense because Abyss leaves little room for flanking and avoiding fights, placing emphasis on team pushes. Forerunner architecture lends itself well to creating a striking hallway with its angular arches, so I stole the shape of the large doorways from Halo CE’s Assault the Control Room and used them as the basis for the map’s geometry. Such a simple layout needed an interesting setting so placing the map underwater with a Halo 2 Delta Halo theme brought a lot more to the space. Abyss is a symmetrical Map forged by Sgt x Slaphead. It plays Assault, Capture the Flag, and Slayer. Abyss Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/251-abyss/ Cryptic Cryptic was built out of an appreciation for the interior forerunner architecture seen in The Silent Cartographer from Halo CE and The Ark from Halo 3. Because I’d just joined the community at the time and was learning so much from others, Cryptic evolved a lot throughout its building process with seven drastically different iterations. It was largely a process of trial and error, testing different room designs and experimenting with how they would fit together. The map finally came together once I decided on the maps defining long sightline framed by its procession of arches. This focal point is what unites the rooms around it, and keeps fights easy to find. The original version was first released in late 2013 for Halo 4 making the design around 6 years old now. I wanted to remake it since it always proved to be a strong King of the Hill map as each room offers a unique hill location and setup. With KotH returning as our ‘new’ standout gamemode for Mythic, I felt this map would highlight the mode well. Cryptic is an asymmetrical Map forged by Sgt x Slaphead, which plays King of the Hill, Oddball, and Slayer. Cryptic Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/250-cryptic/ Frontier Halo CE Hang ‘Em High meets Halo 2 Lockout is the easiest way to describe Frontier. Frontier is based heavily on my previous map Final Frontier, which used architecture inspired by Hang ‘Em High set in a space environment, influenced by the Halo CE 1.5 map Imminent. Anyone who has played Lockout will know that matches on it often result in a standoff between the two main towers. I wanted a map of a similar style except with far less camping by adding more danger to the higher levels to keep players moving. The big difference from Lockout is that Frontier uses a third main tower as a neutral power position which encourages movement away from the other two towers. Two teleporters also allow players to quickly cross from one side of the map to the other. All these factors combined make for a free-flowing map where recreating the sometimes stagnant situations found on Lockout become near impossible. Risk and reward is very clearly applied as a method of encouraging this flow but nowhere is this more apparent than with the maps central ladder. Climbing the ladder is extremely dangerous however if used successfully players can quickly make it to the top of the map and surprise the enemy team. Players can also fall off the map at any time if not careful, especially on the higher levels where there are less railings. Frontier is a map where nowhere feels safe for too long and players want to stay on their toes, making it best played for intense Oddball matches. Frontier is an asymmetrical Map forged by Sgt x Slaphead, which plays King of the Hill, Oddball, and Slayer. Frontier Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/249-frontier/ Goliath An appropriate name for a map revolving around its large interior atrium. Players familiar with Prisoner from Halo CE will see the inspiration here with Goliath as well as thematic influence from Halo 2’s Colossus. Originally designed by Whos Blaze, my challenge with this latest iteration was to have it ‘slapified’ to fit within the Mythic style. Goliath has been the most challenging map for players to learn during testing due to the complex layout with various levels, plenty of verticality, and not too many ways to the top of the map at first glance. Taking on such a complex busy map and making the space feel intuitive and readable was the main challenge. Cutting away areas which felt unnecessary and using coloured lighting to highlight key areas helped massively in the end. Players who appreciate some of the more abstract and asymmetrical designs of Halo CE (like Prisoner and Damnation) which can come with quite a learning curve, will hopefully have a lot of fun learning the intricacies of Goliath. Players can expect to expect to discover plenty of new jumps too over time. This map will play well for a range of modes including KotH, Oddball and Slayer. Goliath is an asymmetrical Map forged by Whos Blaze and Sgt x Slaphead, which plays King of the Hill, Oddball, and Slayer. Goliath Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/248-goliath/ Oracle 4-way symmetrical arenas filled a special role in Halo CE/2 and have not reappeared much since. With 4v4 arena being the focus for Mythic, it was important to include staple symmetrical arena archetypes from the past to compliment some of the more complex asymmetrical layouts. Halo CE’s Wizard and later Halo 2’s Warlock were fundamental to the competitive experience in each respective game. Derelict/Desolation while not technically a ‘4-way sym’, had a similar arena layout. The goal of Oracle was ultimately to combine elements of both Warlock and Desolation into a new design. Something I miss most about the early Halo games was the use of alternatives to conventional movement options on maps such as gravity lifts, teleporters, and ladders. Like Warlock, Oracle was a good opportunity to take full advantage of teleporters and gravity lifts as a way of keeping players moving. Rotationally symmetrical maps often present the problem of player orientation. Colour coding is one method of assisting here though done carefully to avoid making the map look like a rainbow. The asymmetrical skybox also goes a long way to helping navigation while making for a very classic ancient forerunner environment. Oracle is an asymmetrical Map forged by o S0UL FLAME o (@S0UL FLAME), Sgt x Slaphead, Cheapbox v2, Hairy McClairy and Mags Dies (@Mags), which plays Assault, Capture the Flag, and Slayer. Oracle Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/247-oracle/ Vengeance As mentioned with Oracle, fulfilling staple arena archetypes was important to Mythic and there is perhaps no map more fundamental to the competitive Halo experience than Halo 2’s Midship. It’s seen countless adaptations as well as inspiring Zealot from Halo Reach. Vengeance was the first map made for Mythic as we needed a solid reliable design with which we could test game mode settings and resolve scaling standards. The maps and settings were co-developed and most of that development took place on Vengeance. The layout began with Cheapbox v2 creating a blockout based on the Halo Reach MLG map Nexus. King of the Hill maps were a top priority with it being the returning mode and Nexus was an excellent competitive KotH map for reference. Going off this blockout, Cheap and I adapted the layout into a covenant arena which would pay respects to both Midship and Zealot. Ultimately the map would act as a precedent for all other Mythic maps, setting the standard for quality, gameplay and art style. Vengeance is a highly versatile map supporting essentially all modes. Both CTF and KotH have proved very fun here. It offers something different while hopefully honouring its legacy of competitive style covenant arenas before it. Vengeance is an asymmetrical Map forged by Cheapbox v2, and Sgt x Slaphead, which plays Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Slayer. Vengeance Map Thread: https://www.nextleveldesign.org/index.php?/forums/topic/246-vengeance/ Outro The Mythic Map Pack is the result of years of iteration, and the end result is a testament to the growth in learning and understanding of level design that took place during that time. Give the maps a look and a download, then queue up the Mythic Arena playlist in Halo 5 to play them, or meet up with some friends and load them up in a custom game.