Thursday, March 1, 2012

Halo Reach: Those Maps

Before I start this large, hopefully enlightening rant, I'd like everyone to know that I love Halo.  I was a huge fan of Halo 3, putting thousands of hours into that game, and even playing a few Grifball tournaments with the big leagues.  To put it simply, I love Halo 3.  So you can guess how excited I was to get Halo Reach.  I was ready for new weapons, cool abilities, different map types, the list goes on.  I got the game, started it up, and played for a few days, trying to grasp my opinion on the game.  There was something about it I absolutely couldn't stand, and it was ruining the game for me.

Map design.

I dislike a vast majority of the maps in Halo Reach.  For the sake of this rant, I'm only going to use a few maps and compare them to one of the greatest maps from Halo 3, Valhalla.

Let's start with my least favorite map from Reach to get all a majority of my anger out of the way.

Reflection.  For those of you who don't do maps by names, Reflection is the level where everything is orange and oriental and clean.  This is the first point I'll address: visuals.  Everything looks the same.  There aren't any visual cues or landmarks that I can use to help navigate the space.  Sure, they have a center area with a pond full of koi fish, but running through hallways and different levels can get confusing fast.  Also, from a visual standpoint, the area doesn't seem to have a function or purpose.  Purely by looking at it, I can assume its some fancy executive building, or maybe a hotel, or maybe an art gallery since it's so EMPTY.  From a gameplay aspect, yeah, leaving narrow hallways empty during fast-paced combat is good for the gamer, but, for immersion's sake, I just can't find the space I'm running around in believable, and it leaves me with too many questions.  I don't stand for all gamers (or even a majority), but I get distracted and slightly frustrated when the space I'm playing in doesn't make even the smallest bit of logical sense.  Alright, enough about visuals.  I'm going into layout and design.

Here is a heatmap of Reflection.

The warm colors indicated lots of kills in that area, the cooler colors representing less so, and the grey space meaning that nothing really happens over here.  In a map for gameplay such as Halo's, there should NEVER be any grey space.  As you can see, in this map, there's quite a lot and only the lower half of the level seems to be where the most action is going down.  All in all, this map is not being used to its full potential.  Also, the area of most action is not at a central place, which is probably why I found myself running around with nothing to do, hoping to happen upon an enemy.

Now let's take a look a Halo 3's Valhalla.

Compared to Reflection, Valhalla is a lovely mess of color.  There is literally no grey space in playable areas.  It also has multiple points of high combat that covers a majority of the playable space with two at either end of the map and one giant glob of red in the middle.  With all of the areas of high interaction in this map, I'm told that I can be anywhere and still be in an area of combat.  Also, visually, I'm able to understand the map.  In each corner of the map, there's a visual landmark that not only helps players work their way around the map, but they also work as a combat motivator. At each end of the map is a base (friendly and enemy), to the right is the crashed Pelican, which can provide cover, allow players to be sneaky, and is a great sniper spot, and to the left is the cliff with the turret, which is another good sneaking spot as well as a nice wide space for vehicles to drive through (plus there's the turret, that's always cool).  Such a beautiful map.

I'm going to hit one more point before I close this post up.  Another thing that irked me about the Reach maps was this "King of the Hill" design.  One team spawns SUPER FAR AWAY from any action and spends most of their time trying to make their way back to any point of combat.  Two maps guilty of this crime?  The Spire and Boneyard, respectively.

I remember playing these maps and being extremely frustrated that I would have to run a long distance just to finally get to someone, where most of the time I would die anyway because I was on the low ground.  It's like those games that keep giving the better players more and more advantages over the less skilled players (I'm looking at you, Call of Duty).  And in this case, it might not even be the more skilled players, it's just the team that happens to spawn there.  I know this design is meant for the "defend territories!" style of gameplay, but it's just not fun for those at the disadvantage.  I already have to run halfway across the map, infiltrate their large defensive structure that's on higher ground, and somehow manage to stay alive as I capture their defense points.  I just want to cut these maps in half and get rid of all that pointless extra space.

Alright, I'm done hating on Halo Reach for now.  Any comments or other opinions are always welcomed!

(heatmaps from


  1. played Reach with the kids, I agree with your analysis, took me forever to hunt them down.

    Did you try editing a map?

  2. Hi author, I'm an indy game developer and my programmer and I found your insight VERY USEFULl, thank you. Bookmarked :)