This is a repost from r/leveldesign. I was disapointed with the activity on the forum, so here i am hoping this community is more engaging. So first off, you might be wondering why the map looks so un-optimized and scrappy. This was actually developed in Halo 5's forge mode, and while it may not look so, it's one of the best looking forge maps in the game since launch. Yes forge has a long way to go as a development "tool", but if you are at all aware of Forge's history, you'l also know it's come along way since it's humble beginnings in Halo 3. It is a full fledged level design tool just as capable of throwing together rudimentary play spaces as any other LD tool out there (which is all one needs in order to test their designs and grow intellectually as a level designer). Point being, don't scoff at the idea of cultivated talent being found in unlikely places. I know multiple people who have taken what they've learned from forge and gone straight to AAA studios.
Moving on... i'm not going to break down each and every aspect of my design, but instead i'm going to focus on the underlining philosophy it was built off of. I'll list specific examples of where this can be found therein. Generalizing so that the lessons applied and learned here can then be carried over into any project you may be working on.
Whenever I begin the concept stages of a map, I start with a shape that I can work with on the macro level (also known as a player flow chart). This shape is more a general starting point that I will then go on to flesh out. Soon enough the shape should be less clear than when I started, and before you know it, I have an organic network of weighty decisions for players to make. "Decisions" being the focus of each and every one of my designs.
Because of the inflation of technical skill (player controller input) in the industry, I feel like the good old fashioned chess-like approach to level design (and games mechanically speaking) has been left in the dust. All the while hitscan cross-map head shots stand at the center of everyone's attention. In a way i'm compensating for the lack of effort required to use your brain and decide "which path to take" when in contrast you can literately gun your way out of most bad situations you put yourself in. Following this situation, how can we re-introduce and emphasis thoughtful decision making into our designs?
Method #1: Punish situational unaware players by providing counters to their seemingly advantageous positions (aka balance)
I call this the "Torture Room" because of the guy hanging in the cage from the ceiling... Hey they're vampires, what else would they do for fun? This segment is directly connected to the Throne Room referenced in the thumbnail, and gives an advantageous position across the center of the throne room and down the following hallway. Also take notice of the pit lying just below the elevated catwalk, you may not be able to notice; but there is just one way out of that pit... Up and out of the torture room straight into the throne room. If player A on the narrow catwalk starts losing the gunfight with player B and decides to retreat down for relief, he will now be forced back into the fight but this time the tables have turned on him. Not only does this help balance one of the most influential lines of sight of the map, but it also creates more excited follow up engagements! Best of both worlds!
Now, lets say that player A decides to be cheeky and just barely peaks around the corner, avoiding any potential risk of having to fall for relief. First of all this would be the less desirable position to be had, as player A can only have that sweet sweet LOS across the hallway if they fully commit. Furthermore, there is a window flanking the torture room that overlooks the narrow catwalk and counters any potential players who want to set up camp! So lets say you've got a 2v2 fight going on from torture room to throneroom/ hallway, if the players are having trouble getting a leg up on the opposite team in the advantageous position, one team mate can sneak away and set up a pinch counter play. Overcoming difficult odds just by being aware of the current situation and their available options! And this is what it's all about: Balancing all segments of your map with advantages and disadvantages. It's okay to have exaggerated verticality and hard-counters on your map as long as you balance accordingly.
Method #2: Punish mindless rushing and otherwise recklessness with choke points and sharp turns
But don't we want to encourage aggressive, more risky play styles? Yes, but not mindless aggression. We should strive to promote mind-full and intentional plays, where the player has to consider the best available option before execution. Mindless aggression looks like this: Reckless player A Makes a B-line between him and his opponent, relentlessly closing in on his target until he gets the kill. Now one of the nice things about Halo is the ability to strategically place grenades with the press of a button. How this specific method will carry over into the bags of tricks your working with will vary. In my map Bloodlet Throne, i intentionally placed a few defensive choke points around the map, this allows a mind-full player to defend against unaware enemies even if they are in a 1v2 situation. Players A and his teamate push player B while he is a man down... player B retreats to a choke point and plants a grenade in anticipation of a reckless move... Player B gets the prediction and is rewarded with a double kill.
The all important catch to this method is to make sure you aren't favoring the defensive player too much. We want to reward players who make risky aggressive plays because they require more skill to pull off. So lets say player B gets away by running through a choke point, are players A and his teamate supposed to just give up the kill and not get rewarded for following up after getting 1 down? No. Instead, reduce the amount of lanes you have on your map so that coordinated team mates (team of 2 in this instance) can successfully set up traps.
While there is sooo much more i could talk about just in this map alone, i want to also talk about some of the flaws of the design i have noticed in retrospect.
Too many choke points, and i'm not talking about the kinds that allow for defensive play. Almost all of my doorways are the same size, narrow and restrictive to what could be some very fun and flexible sight lines.
Notice how all the exterior towers are connected by essentially the same prefabricated doorway. Looking back on why i did this, i realize it was a combination of tool restriction, and unwillingness to compromise. I couldn't widen the doorways that i wanted to widen simply because it would offset the perfect alignment of the blocks i used to craft the signature towers. I could have compromised on this fact and forced myself to get creative with the restricted options available, or simply leave the towers intact and lookin' purty... at this point in the design i was nearing the end of a loooong development process and really i just started making compromises everywhere. To make things worse, it was also around this point i realized that the opposite towers needed to be scaled back towards the center mass slightly, but again, compromise. A lot of my jumps where unnecessarily difficult, some scrappy piece usage here and there, and some other little things that no one has probably noticed sit in the back of my mind.
All that said, these issues pale in comparison to the massive success this map has been. One of the best community made maps since launch, one of the best looking, Best performance while also retaining AAA piece density. If it's not obvious i am a remarkably self assured person. This is because i build and judge my work based off of objective standards. Standards that can be found and demonstrated in reality: the golden ratio, divine proportions and the like. All of which i give glory to the creator who has crafted such a beautiful world we live in today and whom we all derive our artistic and logistical inspiration from. It is by these standards i am able to remain intellectually honest with myself, and continue to improve and critique my own work independent of the uneducated players so eager to give their subjective 2 cents in the heat of the moment falling into a death pit....
I suppose i will turn this over to you, dear audience... ask me anything. And thank you for reading!