There are many kinds of Halo map. Sprawling, uncluttered Warthog rinks. Tight, winding on-foot affairs. Weird yet wonderful assemblages of jump pads and teleporters. But what common quality distinguishes the best from the worst?
Halo 2's lead multiplayer designer Max Hoberman offers a few answers in OXM's Halo Special, a 145 page, 10 year look at the franchise that defined Xbox. Here are his thoughts on some of the game's most famous (and infamous) multiplayer playpens.
"Lockout has always been really one of my favourite maps, and that's a funny map because when we were working on that map for Halo 2, it almost got cut. It was me and [Bungie multiplayer designer] Chris Carney at the time and it really wasn't working - the whole thing wasn't coming together. And we were ready to throw up our hands and give up on it, and then at one point I took a pass at the paper design of the map and I really just changed a couple of things to do kind of what I was saying - add better circulation, improve the flow.
"And I added the path that allowed you to get behind the base, you know up on the base where you can get on the roof of the building? The whole path of getting up on the building didn't exist, so I added that and then we added that crazy long walkway - the big L-shape walkway hanging out in space. We added those two things and a couple other minor tweaks, but primarily the addition of those two things turned the map from being just really not very fun at all to being really, really enjoyable."
"The biggest disappointment for me, the one that didn't work but still shipped - there were plenty of them that didn't work but we were wise enough to cut... I would say Burial Mounds is probably my least favourite. But Burial Mounds is interesting because I remember when we were working on it, it was one of the first maps that I worked on for Halo 2. We were trying to create a map that would have a lot of vehicle and infantry combat but was a pretty good compact map and and not a giant beast like Blood Gulch.
"And that map just never... it just really failed in many ways. I had a few memorable moments on it, but for the most part, I think at the time I really hadn't learned the value of cover and of sort of alternate paths and stuff, as much as I have since. And it turned out to be this open death-pit."
"That was an example of a map that we really sort of iterated on over and over again to get it right. I had this explicit goal when designing Midship, I had decided I wanted to make a map that was fun for four players. Because at the time we were still kind of mentally living in this world where not everyone could go to a big LAN party, so we were thinking about players who only had one Xbox and just four players and how sucky it was that they didn't get to play Capture the Flag. So I pretty much decided I wanted to make a map where four players can play CTF and have fun."
Hang 'Em High
"That was [designer Peter Marks's] first map and that one was funny - I remember it because the very first thing that he did was a sketch for a map which actually turned out to be Hang 'Em High, and it was like this top-down sketch for the map, and I remember him showing me and I remember just scratching my head. You can imagine a top-down sketch of Hang 'Em High - how crazy and chaotic that would be. I remember just scratching my head and being like, "Yeah yeah sure, looks great..."