Anyone who has spent a few minutes trying to think up a perfect multiplayer shooter map knows just how complex and difficult a challenge it is. Balancing open spaces, tight quarters, weapon drops, spawn points and vehicle locations is a science, and nobody has done it better than Bungie. Halo's multiplayer has long been hailed as one of the best-designed of its type, so 343 Industries and Certain Affinity have some mighty big shoes to fill with their latest expansion to Halo: Reach.
With Halo:Reach's Defiant Map Pack releasing on March 15, the new stewards of all things Halo will be adding three brand new maps to be judged by the online community. Now, the developers have released an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the development of the maps, and the decisions they faced along the way.
We already have a fairly good idea of what to expect, thanks to the batch of Defiant Map Pack screenshots that were released ahead of the launch, but actually hearing a developer explain why certain maps look certain ways is eye-opening to say the least.
Witnessing the carnage that takes place in reach's online arenas must look like complete chaos to an outside observer, and oftentimes to the participants as well. But those who know game design know that every nook and cranny of a Halo map is exactly the way the developers intended it to be.
Seeing the Map Pack's trailer and their descriptions can give a broad idea of the moment-to-moment action on each stage, but the real genius of the design is in the dozens and dozens of small choices that led to the finished product.
Luckily, 343 has given a look into the development process with the designers at Certain Affinity themselves, and an even better idea of what fans can expect from Unearthed, Highlands, and Condemned. Take a look:
The levels themselves were designed with the game's overall plot in mind, so that each stage and its surroundings would reflect the greater story in some way. From that point, it was a matter of design, trial and error to find out what worked and what didn't. the result was two multiplayer maps and one firefight map that will be bringing some serious changes to a familiar formula.
Condemned takes place on a space station orbiting Reach, with open windows that allow players to see the Covenant in the process of glassing the planet's surface. This tragic and somber tone will be carried over to the gameplay as well, manifested in beat-downs and kill frenzies. The map was designed as a spiritual successor to the Halo 2 map Lockout, combining close-quarters insanity with medium-range marksmanship.
Condemned is shaped as a ring, with a low-gravity chamber in the very middle, adding some interesting new dynamics to combat. Cutting through the center of the map will allow you to move around much faster, but at the cost of being a sitting duck in the process. Players will also need to watch out for the new deceptive shield doors, posing a unique threat to those who expect them to behave like the impervious forcefields in other games.
Highlands is yet another return to Halo's roots, with a wide-open outdoor expanse populated with various structures and buildings to give players some cover. Vehicles are the name of the game, with a wide range of open corridors, tight caves and passages to navigate. If you still long for Blood Gulch, then Highlands should be a good mixture of classic and modern.
Unearthed lets players take on waves of Covenant with their friends amidst an abandoned mining site. The map is accessible for many different playing styles, whether you prefer to use your jetpacks and armor locks to navigate and control the flow enemies, or jump behind the wheel of a warthog and introduce your enemies to its business end.
The map is actually shaped as a giant oval race track, so if you and your friends prefer to dispatch Covenant at a brisk pace, then you have the opportunity to run lap after lap around the entire area until a Hunter gets the better of you.
By now the Halo: Reach community is likely starving for some DLC, so you have to hand it to 343 and CA for really putting the effort into making these maps play a role in the greater world of Halo. The maps themselves tell a story all their own, and the developers know just how much fans are counting on them to deliver the best content possible.
You can see for yourself if they've risen to the task, when Halo: Reach's Defiant Map Pack is released for 800 MS Points on March 15, exclusively for the Xbox 360.