1. The Helix Design

      written by Ray Benefield
      First of all welcome to all of those who are visiting from Bungie. Special thanks to urk and the rest of the Bungie crew for taking notice in the lessons. Thanks for the two front pages so far and hopefully the lessons stay worthy enough to continue getting on the comm chatter. I love the company and I fully support everything you guys do. Did I mention I was hoping to get a job with you guys as a designer in the hopefully near future? ;) lol... anyways, no more brown nosing. Off to today's post. As I said monday late night, I was going to show you guys the progression of my forgetacular map and it's progression as a design I came up with in Halo 3. Sit back and relax, because this is going to be a LONG post. The hardcore designers may enjoy how this design came to be. Consider this a true blog post due to it's length. Dive in... there are pictures as well as videos.

      Some of you have heard of my Helix design. It isn't exactly representative of an actual helix. A helix is a smooth curve that goes around an axis like the picture to the right (taken from wikipedia); at least that's what it is from my understanding. The helix design is named from its resemblance to a flat representation of a double helix (like a strand of DNA seen below). I didn't like having the phrase double helix, so I just shortened it to Helix.

      Birth of the design

      So how did this design come to be? It started with four towers at four corners, each connected to each other with paths (creating a square with an 'x' in it). I wanted the map to be high in the air so I duplicated the paths so that they existed at 3 heights. I then thought that this felt a little boring so I wanted to spice it up a bit so I first rotated it so that I could see the shape as a diamond, setting two of the "towers" as bases. On the top set of paths I removed the center and right connections, on the mid set of paths I removed the right and left connections, and on the bottom set of paths I removed the left and center connections. What was left was something that reminded me of a double helix. So I removed the concept of the two side towers and made them the arch of curves instead and moved them so that they would represent a double helix rather than a box with an 'x' inside of it from the top view. From their I just needed a way to connect each of the levels to one another so I decided to do it at the intersection of all three paths in the center. What resulted was a spiral staircase effect to connect each of the paths through the center column. And the bases would just be multi-leveled and connect via stairs/ramps.

      Iteration One: Halo 3's Helix

      Once I had a general idea drawn out in my head I went straight to sketchup and started using the sandbox components to create my base layout to represent the image in my head. All I created was the paths, the center column with the spiral staircase, and the bases. There was no cover at all, just the layout. Now the problem was that I wasn't much of a Halo 3 forger anymore, since the huge fascination with interlocking, geomerging, and other glitches. So instead of building it myself, I hunted for a forger. Gunnergrunt (yes the guy that made Vanilla in Halo: Reach, we are good friends), was the forger that I decided to work with for this design.

      Once he got the base layout finished a couple of weeks later (he had to restart once and kinda had to take a break from it), we went into deciding how to place cover and what not. That is how the arches of the top path were born... from Gunnergrunt's genius aesthetic mind. These arches became a permanent addition to the design in future iterations. After that we went into testing, tweaking, then publishing. After all the testing was done, I decided to leave the forging community and I left the rights of the map to GunnerGrunt who went to post it on Forgehub and XForgery. A HUGE special thanks for all the work you put into that map GunnerGrunt. The map could not be what it is today without you. He built it, helped me tweak the design, posted it, and made videos for it. Below are two videos, the first is just a little show off video, and the second consists of a montage of awesome gameplay events that really shows off the gameplay of the map.

      What we learned

      So after all of that we learned quite a few things. First of all Halo 3 did not have the objects and budget that we needed to truly make the map a masterpiece. It is very very empty in Halo 3 and I was not very happy with the gameplay that resulted from it. The gameplay could have been better. The first thing we learned from the design was that the bottom needed railings and it needed railings bad... especially with how narrow it was. So in the future I was going to keep that in mind. Next thing we learned was that the turret was dominating. Mainly because it could be pulled off and it had such a HUGE threat zone. We also learned that the sniper rifle spawning at the bottom level of the base was kind of counter intuitive. The major thing we learned though that on capture the flag someone could take the quick center route, then drop down from the top center to re-take the quick center route. It was pretty much the only path to take in CTF and that was something that I was looking to eliminate in the next iteration. So I redesigned the map on sketchup thinking about how to make it better. Here is the video commentary of the redesign that I did that covered some of the major flaws that the design had in Halo 3 and what I was looking to fix in Reach.

      Iteration Two: Reach's Double Helix

      Now we move into the more modern stuff. So as soon as Reach came out I started working on the new version of Helix for Reach. I had always planned on building it on the Pillar to utilize the top of it as the base grassy area for the center pillar. I worked on it for a month and a half, off and on between my gametype projects. After it was finished we jumped right into slayer testing. Then I added CTF and started testing that. Something I learned was that people didn't like how big the bases were and I had constant problems adjusting the killzones to work well with Jetpacks. But we all learn from our mistakes. I rebuilt the bases and re-adjusted a lot of the things on the map. Went back into testing over and over again, tweaking things here and there. Wanna see what resulted after all of this testing and stuff? Below you will find some screenshots of it as well as a video preview of gameplay. You will also find a download link for Double Helix so that you can play on it. I highly recommend playing slayer pro on it. Armor abilities just seem to overcomplicate things. ;)

      Map Analysis

      After the redesign of the bases a major design flaw popped out at me. I had no good alternative spawn hive to spawn a team when the opposing team was in their base. So what ended up happening is that when a team would grab the flag, the team they were stealing from kept spawning too close to them and made it hard to get the flag out. Another major flaw was that there was no natural reason to take the bottom path. Out of the fresh 16 players that played on it, I was the only one that went to the bottom. Also a lot of people said that they didn't like that when they chose a path they were pretty much stuck on that path. They wanted to be able to traverse between paths easier. Another flaw that was pointed out was that the center spiral "staircase" was too cramped and easy to grenade and control. Just problem after problem starting pouring out of the design. At this point I just threw my hands into the air feeling hopeless. Almost thinking I wasn't cut out for this level design thing.

      A NEW Work in Progress

      A day or so later I started flying around later and decided to rebuild it from scratch in a new area of Forgeworld. This redesign is what I will be submitting to Bungie's Forgetacular Contest for the Big Team Battle [BTB] category. So what are the changes I have incorporated into the design?

      Well the first MAJOR change is that the design is now being built to incorporate vehicle combat, which will be the new incentive of the bottom path. To do that the bottom path is changing from a bottom "path" to a full terrain area for vehicles to roam. The new Helix map is being built in the canyon of Forgeworld. There is a huge advantage to replacing the bottom path with a full terrain base. I am able to use the full ground as an alternate spawn hive outside of the bases. And because I am incorporating vehicle combat a team that has their flag taken can now jump into a vehicle and race across the bottom path in order to intercept the opposing team and get their flag back. Another major change was that I doubled the width of the center spiral staircase to remove spamming and allow more room for movement and combat. The map is larger and has more of a natural feeling to it. Another major advantage of having a terrain base is that players may now traverse from any of the paths down to the terrain base. This will help improve movement problems that people had in the first version. Below you will find screenshots of my work in progress.

      Wrap up

      This version will be called Helix. While that may seem weird that the first version is "Double Helix" and the second version is "Helix" this is appropriate since the bottom path is no longer a helix, leaving only one left. So that is the WHOLE story behind the Helix design, one of my favorite designs that I have come up with over the years. The new Helix will be done fairly soon and ready for testing. Keep an eye out for it in the coming weeks. I will write up a post about testing it for the Forgetacular competition. It is crunch time my friends. The deadline for the competition is coming soon. So if you want to see this map in matchmaking then join in on the testing and help Helix reach perfection. I hope that this long post has shown you how much can truly go into a map design and how passionate I am about level design. I hope you enjoyed this long post and I'll see you guys around. ;)

      EDIT: Helix has officially been released and submitted to the forgetacular contest. Check it out and enjoy my friends!


      Trousered said...

      The games we've played on it were a lot of fun, although I spent most of my time on the terrain down the bottom. The only flaw in the new Helix is that it's not incredibly self-explanatory. You don't look at it from the base and think "Right, I know the shape of the map now, I'ma go kill me some Spartans!" It took me a while to get my bearings. I think this might have something to do with the height of the Helix structure, but don't change that, it's amazing.

      ImI METAL ImI said...

      Wow, dude. I remember Downloading the Halo 3 version when GunnerGrunt had posted it on FH. I never played on it but I hopped around on it for a long time because it was so pretty lol. I read this whole post and man, I'm pretty impressed. It seems like your problems with the Reach version may have come from rushing yourself, creating it as soon as you got the game and all. It was fun to read this post. It was inspiring to learn that you decided to rebuild the entire thing after feeling so down, and what you came up with to remedy the earlier issues seemed pretty ingenious to me. Best of luck with this, the screens sure look great and really have me yearning to see how this good ol' design will work in the Canyon and with vehicles thrashing about. I'd be glad to help out and to test this, gamertag is ImI METAL ImI (The I's are i's). Again, awesome post and good luck to you in the Forgetacular contest!

      Zackj191 said...

      This looks great! I remember the Halo 3 version was restricted purely because of the item palette available to use, but with all of the new Reach objects you really made this stand out even more! Great job AZN, it seems your maps always impress!

      BadCompany Brik said...

      I thought that first pic of a helix was a hair on my screen -.-

      I really love Helix, all of its iterations are simply amazing. It was my favorite map in H3, and I really liked Double Helix too, despite the flaws. I look forward to testing out your new and (hopefully) final iteration. One thing that nagged me about your description: "And because I am incorporating vehicle combat a team that has their flag taken can now jump into a vehicle and race across the bottom path in order to intercept the opposing team and get their flag back." This is true, but the team with the flag can also just load the carrier into a vehicle and match that speed.

      Jonzorz_124 said...

      Eevr since I first joined your game when you were working on this new Helix, I was blown away. I never was exposed to Double Helix prior to seeing Helix so that may have had an effect on how I felt, but when you showed me Double Helix, I could "feel" the problems that arose with the map. Not that it wasn't sweet, but the layouts problems were definitely visible. So yeah, props to you for accepting Double Helix as a failure (that word sounds so harsh, I'm sorry) and having the perseverance to start from scratch. I'm really excited to play test it. :)

      Blake Pryor said...

      Looks great

      Osl112 said...

      Woah... That did look epic from the inside and out, though kudos on spotting that design flaw. I can't wait to see what happens with this new helix.

      SmartAlec13 said...

      The 1st Reach version was cool, but the problems were obvious. I camped at the enemy base and got a Frenzy from standing in the same corner above the stairs. I havent played the new version, but looked through it. Its pretty cool. I like the vehicle combat idea below.

      A 2.5 Legged Goat said...

      To me, Helix has always been a beautiful and interesting map. If you can really make it flow well it'll be one of the best BTB maps I"ve seen. It reminds me a lot of Containment, albeit in a more linear fashion.

      SmartAlec13 said...

      The one comment I had when I first saw Helix was "shit, there goes me winning the forgetacular"