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Q&A: Bungie's Cotton On Forging Balance In Halo 3 DLC

On the heels of a recently-released Halo 3 map pack, Gamasutra spoke with Bungie lead mission designer Steve Cotton, part of Halo 3's designated downloadable content team, about developing DLC for the hit title, inspiration and balance in th

Aaron Linde, Blogger

December 13, 2007

7 Min Read

Microsoft recently announced the release of the first set in a series of of downloadable Halo 3 content, the Heroic Map Pack, which consists of three new multiplayer maps customizable in Bungie's in-game editor, Forge. Bungie recently demonstrated the map pack to the press, and Gamasutra spoke to lead mission designer Steve Cotton of Halo 3's DLC team, about working with downloadable content and the future of such content in the Halo franchise. You have an entire team dedicated just to the DLC, correct? SC: Yeah. Basically everybody had been -- of course, we're working on other stuff as well, but DLC's a lot of fun because the development is done, so we can work with what we have, so it's like "what now can we make that's way cooler than what we had before?" When you're not shooting for a moving target, it's that much easier. We have a pretty good team of guys just sort of dedicated to trying out new ideas on DLC, that kind of thing. So when you set out to do DLC -- as you said, you're trying new ideas -- is it a goal for you then to capitalize on previous successes with built-in map designs or were you going for something completely unique? SC: We tried to do some unique stuff that we didn't get to do in Halo 3 or just thought they'd be farther along the way. But obviously, it's all using the existing code base, so we're sort of limited in that regard. We definitely look at player-constructed mods and stuff like that for ideas, but for the most part we're designing maps and game types that work well for the maps that we're working on or have been in since shipment. We're also trying to make maps that are different enough or fill a void that we've had with built-in maps that people might want to play. And now we're sort of waiting to see how it's accepted in the community and whether or not it really matters, if people really want to take that map and make all sorts of fun spaces in it, and if it does then we might try to do more of that in the future. The Standoff map seems to fill a void in the Halo 3 map roster -- could you give us a sense of the process of creating a map like that? SC: That's a good one, because actually that one happens to be something that I played around with early on in Halo 3's development. Some comment was made that it was something we had done already, and we were shipping it after the fact, later in DLC. That's not true, but we did actually have a space where Standoff started from, early on in development, where I was trying to make a 2 on 2 map that was fun with vehicles. A small map that would be really fun with a warthog and some of the other rides. That's how it started -- it was a little simpler than it is now, because we realized it worked well for 2 on 2, but when you added more people, it just started sprawling out. So we had to add a couple more routes into the base, a couple more key points to hide and stuff. But that one specifically started off as a test, turned into a map idea, and then became kind of an internal fun break for the devs here to just play in the afternoon, 2 on 2, 3 on 3 against each other. It's got a lot of play, so as far as balance goes, it's one of the most balanced maps we've ever made because we've got so much time with it. So that's pretty much the process. After it got to a point where it was really fun -- we knew it was bunkers, and we knew it was on hills, but we didn't exactly know the setting completely, although it had already started to take some cues from Africa. But with that we had the problem of how to terminate the edges of the map, because for the first time we had this rolling terrain that went on forever. Which is pretty difficult to do without invisible walls. SC: Exactly, and we were trying to figure out ways to avoid that, invisible walls are an easy way to cap a map off and works fine, but it turns an amazing skybox into a bit of a joke. Those satellites in Standoff look like they could be a level in themselves, that you can climb on -- they're just eye candy, but they do contribute to that sort of massive silo research facility feel to the level. It looks epic, but it's really not that big of a map. With both Standoff and Rat's Nest you have a sort of two-tiered combat setup where large- and small-scale warfare tend to localize on inner and outer tracks. It works on a practical level, but was there any difficulty balancing that? SC: With Rat's Nest there's a lot of bleed-through because the vehicle route is more on the outside and with Standoff it weaves in between, but they both connect. It is a tough problem for us, because what we want to do is, for vehicles, they need space to be fun, and they need distance to be useful. But at the same time if you make the level bigger, you add distance, you end up adding run time for players on foot. The paradox is how to make a space that is fun for infantry as well as vehicles and lets the player get around. We played around with all the shapes and dimensions and over time figured out different ways to solve our problem. Standoff and Rat's Nest both solve it sort of the same way where the key infantry points are closer together, infantry combat across the middle. It's shorter, and the battles with the vehicles are on the outside. In Valhalla it's solved with mancannons, and people are welcome to solve it with mancannons in Standoff with Forge. Make another gametype and suddenly you're going from one base to the other instantly -- I don't know how that's going to play, but we can imagine it would be interesting as well. But that's one of the biggest problems, or at least the trickiest things that we do when we're building bigger maps, for sure. We think the vehicles are very important to the way Halo plays as a game in those maps, so we wanted to emphasize how fun vehicles are while keeping infantry combat interesting. The focus of the DLC pack seems evenly distributed -- a forge map, a big battle map, and a small teams map. Will covering your bases in this way serve as a model for future DLC updates? SC: We definitely get feedback from the community, which helps a lot. We also have our own internal desires to get more small maps, more arena style maps, more asymmetrical maps in the game. There are all sorts of holes, and we're shipping three maps, so we're trying to fill those with the DLC. We've got other ideas in the works to fill the others, and we just want to keep building that palette of maps so people still have fun in all the different types of gameplay. There are more of just about every kind coming down the pipe. How long are you intending to keep up with the DLC updates? SC: We want to keep people engaged in Halo for as long as they want to play it, so we're going to support that as much as we can. And right now it's time for us to make DLC content, and we also have other projects that we're trying to do -- Any non-map materials on the way? Game types, armor sets, et cetera? SC: I can't really say what we're planning on doing just yet. On this map there are obviously some new Forge materials that hopefully extend it further, and after that I can't really say.

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