General Level Design Information

The following section includes various standards, conventions and guidelines used in Halo Level Design. This section also contains editing information such as polygon counts for level models or meshes, per scene triangle counts and guidelines, and performance guidelines and suggestions.

Style Guidelines

The following are some aesthetic or stylistic suggestions and guidelines when creating new content or levels for Halo multiplayer:

1) Halo multiplayer levels tend to be stylistically part of the universe from a design and aesthetics point of view, borrowing geometry or architectural elements from the single player game environments.  However, the multiplayer levels tend to be removed from the narrative portion of the Halo universe.  This allows a Halo multiplayer level to look and feel like Halo while offering a great degree of freedom.

2) Human structures, ships, vehicles, weapons and other related elements are military themed.  The human technology style is relatively near future with obvious advanced technology but it is all recognizable and functional without being overly complex or "gadgety".   The color palette tends to follow the aforementioned military theme with darker greens (olive drab), various metallic colors (gun metal, burnished aluminum), dark grays or blacks, as well as various browns.  The construction style tends to be angular with 30 degree and 45 degree angles being standard.

3) Covenant structures, vehicles, ships, weapons and other related elements are heavily sci-fi themed.  The Covenant technology is far more advanced than comparative human technology but not as advanced as the Forerunner technology.  The color palette for the Covenant tend to be various metallic reds, blues and purples.  These same colors are also used for their energy fields or shields and other luminous elements found on Covenant objects.  The construction style tends to be organic utilizing smooth curves and rounded surfaces.

4) The Halo structures or Forerunner structures and the technology they contain are far more advanced than either Human or Covenant technology.  These structures tend to be massive and distinctly "alien" yet elegant when compared to the Human or Covenant objects and structures.   External covenant structures tend to have smooth metallic surfaces with large or bold architectural features.  Interior structures tend to be larger (compared to Human-sized rooms or hallways) almost cathedral-like in many instances with some common elements such as pillars, illuminated control panels and wall panels, as well as various alien machinations.  The color palette for Forerunner structures tends to stick to metallic colors such silver with blues, purples, and yellows being common for the luminous elements found in the Forerunner structures. The inner surface of the Halo ring and its terrain and thus associated colors tend to vary.  Even though many of the environments do not appear in the game it is assumed that Halo has all the environments found on Earth (except geological formations and features related to geothermal or volcanic activity such as volcanoes or geysers).  These environments include rolling plains and grasslands, deserts, oceans, lakes, beaches, islands, forests, snow and ice covered canyons, etc...

Multiplayer Level Design Technical Rules and Guidelines

Here are some technical rules, guidelines and tips that apply to creating Halo multiplayer levels:

1) Halo levels currently HAVE to support ALL 5 game types (Capture the Flag (CTF), Race, Slayer (Deathmatch), King of the Hill (KOTH), Oddball) in order to function properly within the game engine.  Missing the netgame flags or necessary elements (the netgame flags for the objectives, player spawns, etc...) for these game modes can cause the game or server to crash or have problems. 

Supporting all the game modes in the level also insures consistency with the design of Halo multiplayer and cuts down on the confusion that having game mode specific levels would create.

2)  Adequate player spawns.  It is suggested that a minimum of 16 player spawns per TEAM (red or blue) for each game mode.  Player spawns can actually be set up to be used for more than 1 game type.

A multiplayer level should have 16 player spawns per game type for the level regardless of what the level description says or what the level was designed for.  There is a very high chance that a server operator will  run the level with 16 players, having adequate spawns will keep the game and player spawning behaving properly.

3) Minimum distance between player spawns.  The distance between player spawns should be 20 units apart or greater for non-team game modes and 2.5 units apart or greater for team based game modes.  The Halo spawning code is unique.  For Capture the Flag, the spawns do have the concept of team or side so players should never spawn in the enemy base or on the enemy side of the level.  For other game types, either team or non-team, the spawning code will try and spawn the player near friendly players and avoid spawning the player if an enemy player is within a certain distance of the spawn point.  If two or more spawn points are within the minimum distance stated above, then it is possible that a player will not be allowed to spawn at one of the neighboring spawn points if an enemy player spawns or has spawned at another neighboring spawn point (at least until they move out of the minimum safe distance).  Understanding how Halo spawns players in the various game modes and team settings is very important in the design of the level and placement of spawns.

4) Physics.  Halo has physics, keep this in mind at all times.  Physics is fun, but can also be crazy to design for.

5) Collision.  Be aware of Halo physics when constructing geometry.  Thin geometry that is part of the world mesh is very likely to cause collision problems, typically the player or a vehicle will go straight through it.  Larger and thicker geometry is better for collision.  For trees and other objects such as rocks, use scenery models when possible and even with these make their manually created collision models simple and robust.

Multiplayer Level Design Suggestions and Guidelines

Here are some basic game design or level design guidelines and tips that directly apply to Halo multiplayer levels: 

1) Keep the level simple.  A level can have a simple layout yet still offer a great depth of game play for all the Halo game types (Bloodgulch, Timberland and Danger Canyon are good examples of this).

2) Try to support all the Halo game types well.  Most Halo multiplayer levels support some game modes extremely well while the other game modes in the level are not as fun or offer as good of a game play experience. This is the most challenging aspect of Halo multiplayer level design.  Some level ideas or concepts may not work well with some game types, but its still possible to support the game types and not only make them playable, but enjoyable.  Maps that support all the game modes well tend to be the more popular and

3) The more popular Halo levels tend to be symmetric in layout but with balanced asymmetrical features that add variety without giving one side a distinct advantage over the other (in team games).  Asymmetrical features can be anything including terrain features, cover such as trees and rocks, even items such as power ups and weapons.

4) Bases or base areas.  The more balanced and well rounded levels have 2 distinct team areas or team bases.  Bases should have multiple entrances and exits to facilitate movement into and out of the base and to prevent bottlenecks.  Keep in mind the fact that vehicles can be driven and\or "tweaked" into just about any area.  Vehicles are very effective at blocking off travel routes, design the base area and entrances, exits, and access ramps and areas accordingly.

5) A Halo multiplayer level does not have to have every vehicle in it to be fun, do not force a level to have a certain vehicle in it if its not designed for it.  Timberland was designed for ground based combat and vehicles and contains no Banshees, where as Infinity was designed for the Banshee and Banshees work very well in that level.

6)  Balancing the level for the player on foot versus the player in a vehicle is crucial.  This applies to the travel times and distances for a player on foot versus a player in a vehicle and the combat between a player on foot or a player in a vehicle (give the player on foot terrain features and cover against vehicles).

7) Teleporters are a very good tool, but are very easy to abuse.  Remember that the player can take the flag through a teleporter.  Keep in mind that teleporters can be made one way.  Only players can go through teleporters, no matter how big the size of the teleporter, therefore teleporters are good ways to balance the travel distances and times between players on foot and players in vehicles.

8) Balance the weapons and item placement.  Use these items to create or control traffic or game flow in certain areas of the level.  More powerful weapons should be towards the middle of the level or require the player to travel a farther distance to get.  This also holds true also for items and powerups. 

9) Halo has physics!  As was mentioned above in the technical section, keep this fact in mind at all times.  Take advantage of it (ramps and jumps are fun with vehicles) and try not to abuse it or allow it to be abused\exploited by the player.

10) Make sure to keep the player (and vehicles) out of places where they should not be!  Use obstacles, sky, and player clipping to keep players from cheating or exploiting the level.

11) Keep in mind that vehicles (especially Warthogs and Ghosts) can be tweaked or manipulated into areas that they should probably not be.  Players will always try to block important level paths or objectives with vehicles.  While these can be valid tactics, make sure that such tactics do not "break" the level or limit the game play in the level.

12) Most importantly, be creative!

Polygon Count Guidelines for Construction

The following lists the suggested maximum amount of polygons that should be used to construct a level of the indicated type for Halo.

This value corresponds to the construction limit for the world mesh or model for the level, the basic core geometry for the level.

Additional scenery objects that are placed as models are handled in the following section for Triangle Counts (per scene).

These suggested maximum values are guidelines to insure proper exporting and compilation by the tools as well as reasonable polygon amounts for various other technical aspects of the game.

Multiplayer Levels: 10,000 polygons

Triangle Counts (per scene)

The following lists the suggested maximum amount of triangles that should be allowed to draw per scene.

Multiplayer Levels: 50,000 triangles

The values listed are a general guideline due to the fact that performance is affected by many factors other than triangle counts such as the number and type of materials (shaders) in the scene, sounds, dynamic lights, lens flares, and other game objects.

As can be expected, the fewer triangles being drawn the better.  When creating a level, the level designer should always take into the account additional triangle counts added by vehicles, players, weapons, items, and effects and prepare for any worst case scenarios in terms of triangle counts and rendering.

When creating a level, its always a good idea to view a similar level that exists in the original game and see what kind of triangle counts exist per scene at various areas of the level.  Checking the triangle counts and other rendering information as well as the frame rate and performance in those areas should give a good baseline during the development of your own multiplayer environment.

The level designer should also realize that the triangle counts for a scene compared to the polygon counts for a scene when constructed or viewed in 3DSMax may vary greatly depending on the material used and how that material is rendered in the game. Often, the surface has to be rendered multiple times for the applied material and associated rendering effects and properties set for that material or shader. 

A simple example, a ladder is constructed with 2 polygons in 3DSMax and a ladder shader is applied to it with the 2-sided property flag checked in the shader due to the fact that the ladder can be viewed from all angles.  In game, this 2 polygon ladder will show a triangle count of 4 since BOTH sides are rendered, the back side or back face is not being culled and must be drawn.

Overall Performance Guidelines and Suggestions

As was mentioned above, the performance of a multiplayer level is dependant upon many factors, not just the pure number of triangles being drawn.

Below is a simple list of things to keep in mind when creating a level for Halo:

1) The 50,000 maximum triangle value listed for multiplayer levels is a rough average, keeping the triangle count to around 30,000 triangles per scene or less is a great range to insure smoother performance on a wider variety of machines.

9) Performance is a balancing act.  Knowing the general rules and knowing the technology will allow you to exceed some limits or boundaries by decreasing or limiting others.  For example, making a scene that is higher in triangle counts than normal but lower in overall material or shaders types that are also of a lower complexity is a common trade off.

2) Avoid using a lot of lens flares in general or lens flares per scene, such as the colored beacons used for marking team areas of the level.

3) Dynamic lights are very, very expensive performance-wise.  Limit your use of them or eliminate your use of them all together.

4) The number of different materials or shader types per scene can greatly affect performance.  Having a room with all the vehicles, weapons, and items (each has its own unique material or shader for the most part) as well as different materials all over the room can be very costly.  Try to limit the unique number of materials per scene.

5) Avoid using or creating a lot of shaders that have a lot of effects or settings or that require multiple rendering passes, this can greatly decrease performance.  Shaders with a base map, primary detail map, secondary detail map, micro detail map, bump map, scrolling texture settings, specular properties, and reflection cube map all set decreases rendering performance and uses up more memory.

7) Certain shader effects such as the "dynamic mirror" flag under Reflection Properties for .shader_environments are extremely expensive, do not use these shaders or use these shader properties.

6) Watch the amount of overdraw created by having successive layers of transparent or partially transparent geometry (e.g. several layers of glass, looking through several waterfalls or other similar transparent particle effects)

8) Be careful of the number of ambient sounds placed in the level using .sound_scenery tags.

9) Take into account the triangles rendered in the sky or sky box model you have chosen for the level.  Also take into account the model materials and shaders and number of shaders chosen for the sky box model or used in the sky box model.  The triangles for the skybox do not get culled or not drawn the same as for world geometry that has a visibility solution in place (portals).  If possible, simplify the skybox by making a custom skybox model.