June 13, 2008

Environments

> — Vociferous @ 11:50 am

The first of the three core elements is the environment, which instinctively begs a number of questions…

  • How does an environment really affect an encounter?
  • How should a player be able to interact with the environment?
  • How should enemies interact with the environment?
  • How does an environment set the mission’s mood?
  • How can an environment make an encounter enjoyable on a player’s first attempt, or, better yet, how can an environment make an encounter enjoyable on a player’s 50th attempt?

At its most basic form, an environment offers a variety of practical things which steer the high-concept direction of a given encounter. It can create cover, it can remove cover; it can allow for mobility or it can stifle it. An environment can isolate combat, it can provide a place for combat to move chaotically free or it can do both, simultaneously and sequentially – depending on the mission’s design.

The beach assault on The Silent Cartographer is one of the most highly-touted encounters in Halo, despite it only lasting a matter of seconds.

In Halo: Combat Evolved, there’s a definite spatial change between launching a Warthog over the verdant fields and foamy rivers of the second level, Halo, and plunging into the dank depths of the parasite containment bunker found in 343 Guilty Spark. One has an open environment with hills and berms giving way to vehicle interplay and large-scale skirmishes, while the other offers close-quarter, physically intensive corridor-to-corridor combat. Both can offer satisfying conclusions, but ultimately, what dictates it being enjoyable is almost always choice.

During Assault on the Control Room, another oft-touted encounter occurs when you approach the first Wraith blockade of the trilogy. It begins with the player marching across a bridge which swings above a sprawling icy cavern. Immediately, a Pelican comes in hot, being pursued by Banshees. You drop the enemy fliers and tear across the bridge platform into the other structure hidden behind the canyon wall. After a brief collection of battles, you once again emerge into the same canyon, but now you’re on its floor looking out over a massive frigid environment.

These Marines will certainly find a shallow grave unless you intervene; thankfully the environment will offer you about half a dozen ways to do this.

To the far left are the Marines amongst a patch of tall evergreens, trying to take potshots at their enemies. Also to your left and only a few meters out of your grasp is a turret with a Grunt, not yet aware of your approach. Directly in front of you, a quarter of a klick away, is an Elite who quickly mounts a nearby Ghost. There’s another Grunt-armed turret on a ridge to the right with two Jackals barreling across the foreground toward the Marines, their plasma pistols brightly primed. And in the distance, a Wraith is blocking the only way out of this place.

Assuredly, if you hide and watch the events play out without intervention, you’ll see the Marines perish and then the Covenant will begin looking for you. From an objective standpoint, we already know what is required of us. We have to protect the Marines and neutralize the Covenant threat. As simple as that sounds, immediately, the player can choose from a variety of actions to begin this encounter:

  • They could attack the nearby turret Grunt.
  • They could make a run for the Marines.
  • They could take out the Jackal pair and move toward the Wraith.
  • They could engage the turret emplacement on the far side ridge with the M6D pistol.
  • Or, my personal favorite, they could launch a single plasma grenade at the location of the Elite, lighting the bastard up before he can grab his Ghost.

The choices here are offered by the environment. If this was a narrow corridor, an empty series of rooms, a structure with a lower ceiling or even a smaller variation of the same design, the entire encounter would completely change – and ultimately, cease to exist. But in this environment, freedom of choice is alive and well. The field, the hills, the rocks, the outlying canyon walls and a number of other factors become the blackboard for this experience. The player can tell the story of this encounter. They can build it the way they see fit.

They are the architect – they design the war.

As a preface to the Flood, you’re inserted into a sinisterly murky swamp which sets the stage for the horrors ahead.

Choice is incredibly important within the environment’s layout and this is often what separates a decent encounter from an amazing one. If an encounter lacks the freedom of choice, then its potential for the player to own and personalize the experience is eliminated – all that is left is the repetitive system we’ve come to expect from many other shooters. With the consistent inclusion of choice, the Halo series has separated the average encounter from being a systematic and predictable procedure to being an elaborate and evolving masterpiece of the player’s own making.

But choice isn’t the only result which comes from an environment’s function or purpose within an encounter.

While in this particular scenario you are being thrown into a battle by simply emerging from a corridor, in others, you’re actually the one picking the fight. Within the first few moments of Truth and Reconciliation, you realize that you’re in complete control. You and your squad of Marines may be marching into Covenant territory, but this time you have the high ground and the weapons to prove it.

The covert sniper insertion is a hallmark of Halo: Combat Evolved; so impressive, in fact, that it was emulated rather closely in Halo 3.

This, of course, is the infamous nighttime sniper insertion; the player is being set loose to rain down death from above on the unsuspecting enemies below the ridge line. They outnumber you, out-power you and it is a certainty that there are more of them to deal with when you’re finished here. That being said, there’s something elegant and exciting about being dropped into a stealth operation, moving silently in the darkness while keeping the enemy in one corner of your eye and your allies in the other.

This element is mood, and the gnarled hillside of this particular mission has it in spades. The trees are alien and bare, the rocks are pale, and looming ominously above you is a Covenant battlecruiser, your eventual destination in the mission. In this encounter, you feel like a blood-hungry predator eyeing your oblivious prey amongst the brambles. With the sniper rifle you can surgically remove the Covenant infantry, one punctured skull at a time – weeding through the enemies in whichever manner suits your plan.

Easily one of the most popular and iconic environments in all of Halo fiction, the site of the first major encounter on Installation 04.

Throughout the Halo series, you’ll notice a large range of emotive environments, all of which transmit very interesting and distinct moods. These, in turn, drive the direction and the emotional experience of an encounter – and over the course of the game, each environment contributes to the emotional experience of the entire story.

One of the most popular examples of this concept has the player staring out of a Pelican’s cargo hold, while the dropship soars above a vast ocean. The UNSC craft spins about, revealing the beach of an island which is crawling with Covenant infantry. You emerge from the hold alongside a squad of Marines and sprint headlong into the entrenched enemy encampment, weapons firing from both sides. And for a reward, once the violence has subsided and the Marines prove victorious, you receive a Warthog with the entire island to explore.

Although the battle may last for only a minute or so, an assault of a beach, almost always carries the iconic feeling of invading a foreign place for a greater purpose. The beach of The Silent Cartographer is no different. In many ways, this one encounter is a window into the soul of not only Halo: Combat Evolved but the entire trilogy – in its heart of hearts, hasn’t Halo always been about good people invading an alien environment in search of salvation?

While on paper it may sound a bit campy, the reality for every gamer is that if an environment can convince you of the experience, then it has succeeded in telling a story. While Halo is categorically not realistic in art style, the emotional impact which the trilogy’s environments can generate is absolutely palpable. From vividly colored Covenant vessels to ethereal Forerunner landscapes, from parasite-infested lairs to a forsaken Earth City – Bungie has championed the methodology of making an environment evocative.

The final and possibly most significant part of an environment’s role in an encounter is proper compartmentalization.

We’ve talked about having choice give you control of an encounter. We’ve talked about mood driving the emotional experience of an encounter. But really, those two items are vital only in as much as the battleground has been compartmentalized for warfare. If an environment is not conducive for the type of combat being offered, then it doesn’t matter what choices are at your fingertips, nor does it matter how intriguing the terrain is – the environment would be inherently broken.

What is compartmentalization then?

In this sense, it is the division and placement of enemies throughout an encounter or series of encounters which determine flow of the battle.

A tangible example of this concept is Halo, the second level of Halo: Combat Evolved. Even before the player climbs into that first Warthog, he is already dealing with dropship after dropship as they unload Covenant infantry in waves. The dropships don’t simply release all of the enemies into a pile at once, but rather sequentially place them at key locations and in widely differing terrain. By creating this separation and diversity, the player gets a chance to recover and carefully consider strategic options, while taking a short jaunt to the next batch of enemies.

Spirit dropships were used frequently in Halo: Combat Evolved to help with the pacing and compartmentalization of combat.

After acquiring a Warthog, the player has a very specific objective: search three specific zones in the adjacent ravine for Marine survivors and defend their locations until support arrives. Once again, it’s the player’s turn to choose where to go, how to get there and what to do when they arrive.

Upon eliminating the embedded enemies in any one of these three zones, the player then awaits Covenant reinforcements. In waves and in different locations, Spirit dropships lower the alien infantry onto the battlefield, forcing the player to respond to those specific changes in real-time. And once you’ve succeeded in protecting the Marines in the first encounter, you proceed to whichever of the two remaining zones you wish to engage in next.

Acquiring your first Warthog in the series and using it to retrieve the Marines from the adjacent valley is a genuine example of the environment facilitating an enjoyable series of encounters.

The entire level is perfectly compartmentalized and works with both choice and mood to provide an extremely authentic series of encounters; all interlocked, all exciting and all completely replayable. When something like compartmentalization of enemy placement is complimented by both choice and mood, an environment becomes a crucial dynamic in the creation of an encounter.

This article is not to say that Halo: Combat Evolved, or any other Halo game, is devoid of problematic environments or is absolutely perfect in this respect. That is obviously not the case. It is to say, that when an environment in Halo does what it should do during a battle, it will often be an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience – regardless of whether the player survives it or not.

Enjoyable enough, in fact, to play it over and over again…

/vociferous

The Architecture of War  /  Comments  /  Forum

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

download autodesk navisworks manage 2009 download activestate komodo ide 4.4 aglare dvd ripper platinum 6 partition magic 8 quarkxpress 6.0 download microsoft office enterprise 2003 runtime revolution enterprise 2.9 download ashampoo cover studio download acala divx to ipod microsoft mappoint 2006 europe download altova stylevision enterprise 2009 corel dvd copy 6 plus download adobe photoshop cs4 extended download ad aware 2009 download adobe creative suite cs3 download altova umodel 2008 powerarchiver 2009 download autodesk 3d studio max 2008 download altova stylevision 2005 propellerhead reason 4 download acala dvdcopy download xilisoft cd ripper download acdsee photo editor 2008 download ashampoo winoptimizer 5 download download pantaray q-setup pro 9 microsoft encarta 2008 download 4 media dvd to ipod converter microsoft sharepoint designer 2007 download transmagic expert microsoft frontpage 2002 adobe flex 2 download adobe acrobat 9 pro extended adobe creative suite 3 design premium download 3d home architect design suite deluxe 8 download efreesky magictweak 4.11 download adobe presenter 6 autodesk navisworks review 2009 download acdsee pro 2 adobe photoshop 10 ad aware download microsoft encarta 2007 download acala dvd ipod ripper download cakewalk sonar 5 download download microsoft visual studio 2008 professional boris fx 8 download download adobe photoshop 12 acala dvd audio ripper ashampoo office 2008 download native instruments traktor dj studio 3.4 corel painter x download onenote 2007 download smartftp 2.5 symantec winfax pro 10.02 fix-it utilities professional 9 download smith micro poser 7 canvas 11 with gis+ download paragon partition manager 8.5 enterprise server download codegear delphi for php 1.0 adobe creative suite 4 web premium download altova mapforce enterprise 2009 download autodesk autocad architecture 2009 download download canvas 10 autodesk autocad civil 3d land desktop companion 2009 aurora media workshop download download cakewalk sonar 4 adobe presenter 7 download novosoft handy backup 6.1 pro boris blue 2.0.1 download microsoft encarta premium 2008 corel painter x mac download corel photoimpact x3 daz bryce 6.1 mac microsoft office visio professional 2003 autodesk autocad revit structure suite 2009 adobe contribute cs4 download autodesk inventor professional 2009 download adobe photoshop 7.0 download crystalidea uninstall tool 2.5 imsi turbofloorplan landscape and deck 12 microsoft autoroute 2007 europe download futuremark 3dmark vantage professional download download zonealarm internet security suite 8 adobe photoshop cs4 extended mac autodesk 3d studio max design 2009 download ashampoo photo optimizer 2 download download acala dvd to pocket pc nuance omnipage professional 16 download corel draw 11 download adobe illustrator cs4 futuremark 3dmark 05 pro efreesky magic utilities 2008 download parallels desktop 4.0 for mac microsoft encarta premium 2007 download download steinberg nuendo 3 adobe incopy cs4 download paragon hard disk manager 2008 professional download download fl studio 8 xxl altova databasespy 2009 download adobe photoshop 8 download nero 9 download acdsee download corel video studio pro x2 download adobe after effects adobe contribute cs3 download download vmware workstation 5 mylogomaker professional 2 microsoft streets and trips 2005 download smartsound sonicfire pro 5 scoring download download adobe captivate 2 autodesk toxik 2008 download acala dvd ripper professional 5 adobe premiere pro cs3 download vmware workstation 6.5 ace download conceptdraw office 8 acronis true image 8.0 download abbyy finereader download download steinberg nuendo 3.0 norton partitionmagic 2008 guitar pro 4 acronis true image 10 download adobe illustrator cs i.r.i.s. readiris pro 11 mac download download modelright professional 3.0 neobyte titan backup microsoft streets and trips 2006 download adobe flash cs4 professional mac download ashampoo uninstaller 3 deskshare videoeditmagic 4.3 pixologic zbrush 3 mac download sony cd architect 5.2 download boris graffiti 5.2 pc washer 2 mcafee total protection 2007 ashampoo magical snap 2 download adobe photoshop cs3 download microsoft works 2000 download download altova xmlspy 2009 download microsoft office 2003 professional acala dvd zune ripper download download ad-aware 2008 propellerhead reason 5 download corel draw graphics suite x4 autodesk toxik 2009 imsi turbofloorplan home and landscape pro 12 microsoft mappoint 2004 download corel draw 12 futuremark pcmark vantage advanced download download web page maker 3 adobe fireworks cs4 download microsoft windows vista business (64bit) microsoft autoroute 2008 microsoft office project professinal 2003 autodesk combustion 2008 download adobe creative suite 4 master collection adobe contribute 3 download adobe after effects 7.0 dvd ripper standard 5 autodesk autocad 2005 download roxio copy & convert 3 adobe director 11 download microsoft windows vista ultimate (32bit) download corel painter 10 autodesk combustion 4 download autodesk mapguide studio 2009 download altova diffdog 2009 originlab originpro 8 download futuremark 3dmark '05 pro mathworks matlab r2008a download download activestate komodo ide 5 chemtable reg organizer 4.21 download adobe illustrator cs3 abbyy finereader 9.0 professional quarkxpress 8 mac download corel painter 9 download microsoft works 7 microsoft works 8 download smartftp 2.0 download acdsee 10 photo manager download adobe after effects cs3 professional microsoft money 2005 lavasoft ad-aware 2008 pro download download microsoft streets and trips 2008 download mcafee total protection 2008 download kingsoft office 2009 download norton partitionmagic 8.05 i.r.i.s. readiris pro 11 vmware workstation 7 download download iexpert registry clean expert 4.58 pctools spyware doctor 5.5 adobe flash cs3 professional microsoft autoroute 2006 microsoft office onenote 2003 download 4media dvd to mp4 converter 5 microsoft mappoint 2006 adobe flex builder daz bryce 6.1 download microsoft works 9 acala dvd creator 3 intuit turbotax deluxe download intuit turbotax premier 2008 download download zonealarm pro 8 adobe photoshop 6 download microsoft money 2008 download download adobe director mx adobe incopy cs download download cyberlink powerproducer 5 ultra download microsoft frontpage 2000 cyberlink powercinema 5 adobe soundbooth cs4 download roxio creator 2009 ultimate download adobe indesign cs3 autodesk autocad 2008 adobe creative suite 4 design premium download autodesk autocad mechanical 2009 download hd tune professional quarkxpress 7.3 mac download cakewalk sonar 6 download microsoft expresion web 2 nero 6 download xilisoft video converter ultimate 5.1 download download boris final effect complete multilangual 5.0 autodesk autocad revit architecture 2009 download download symantec winfax pro 10.03 ashampoo winoptimizer 4 download adobe premiere elements download cyberlink powerdvd 8 ultra thegrideon access password professional 2.0 download microsoft autoroute 2005 adobe incopy cs2 faronics deep freeze enterprise 6 adobe presenter for mac download download adobe illustrator cs2 download adobe illustrator 10 altova xmlspy 2008 download download futuremark 3dmark 03 pro download tamosoft commview 6 full steinberg nuendo 4 download autodesk autocad map 3d 2009 download pixarra twistedbrush pro studio 15 download download smartsoft smartftp home 3.0 download ashampoo clipfisher download corel painter 8 adobe flash cs4 professional openpim download systemssuite professional 8 adobe dreamweaver 8 download futuremark 3dmark '06 advanced adobe creative suite 3 web premium quarkxpress 5.0 download download elcomsoft advanced archive password recovery 4 professional download imsi turbocad pro 15 download nuance paperport professional 11.1 cyberlink powerdirector 7 ultra download 4media dvd to ps3 converter 5 microsoft windows vista business (32bit) native instruments traktor dj studio 3.4 mac download corel video studio 11 download download native instruments reaktor 5 ashampoo firewall pro download xilisoft 1click dv to dvd apple final cut express 4 mac download steinberg nuendo 3.2 download download autodesk autocad revit mep suite 2009 futuremark 3dmark '03 pro download acd see intuit quicken rental property manager 2.0 daz carrara 6 pro mac autodesk combustion 5 download vmware workstation 6.5 download symantec winfax pro 10.0 download boris fx 9.2 download nero 7 download adobe premiere pro cs4 installshield x express edition download ashampoo core tuner download download corel photoimpact 12 download dzsoft perl editor 5.8.3 download kingsoft office 2007 adobe dreamweaver cs4 mac download intuit turbotax 2005 microsoft money 2004 download ashampoo movie shrink and burn 3 adobe after effects cs4 mac download adobe photoshop cs3 extended download adobe illustrator cs4 mac download download xilisoft dvd ripper platinum 5 adobe flex 3 adobe dreamweaver cs4 download autodesk navisworks simulate 2009 download e-gadgets delete duplicate files download codegear rad studio 2007 architect cyberlink power2go 6 download uniblue speedupmypc 2009 download uniblue registrybooster 2009 download nero 8 ultra edition download autodesk 3ds max onenote 2003 download norton partitionmagic 8.0 guitar pro 5 mac download microsoft office project professional 2007 autodesk autosketch 8 sony vegas pro 8 download download adobe premiere pro cs4 mac download intuit turbotax 2004 download daz bryce 5.5 corel dvd moviefactory 6 plus download lavalys everest ultimate 4.5 adobe photoshop 9 download propellerhead reason 4 mac xilisoft audio converter 2.1 symantec winfax pro 10.4 download microsoft streets and trips 2007 adobe director 10 download paragon drive backup professional 8.5 adobe fireworks cs3 download cakewalk sonar 7 producer edition download zonealarm antivirus 8 nero express download acronis disk director suite 10 download nero burning rom corel draw 10 download nuance pdf converter professional 5 download download algolab photo vector 1.98 native instruments reaktor 5 mac xilisoft dvd ripper ultimate 5 microsoft encarta premium 2006 download adobe indesign cs4 mac download acala divx dvd player assist download adobe creative suite 4 master collection mac download adobe captivate 3 download download quarkxpress 6.5 ashampoo magical defrag 2 download download sony acid pro 6 download microsoft office 2007 altova semanticworks 2009 download quarkxpress 8 corel draw x3 download mcafee security innovative solutions advanced uninstaller pro 9.5 download autodesk autocad electrical 2009 download adobe flex builder professional 3 download cyberlink dvd suite 5 pro download paragon partition manager 9 professional vmware workstation 5.5 download xilisoft video to audio converter 5.1 autodesk autocad 2009 autodesk inventor 10 microsoft encarta premium 2009 autodesk autocad 2006 microsoft works 8.5 adobe after effects cs4 cakewalk sonar 3 download ashampoo photo commander 6 download ashampoo burning studio 7 corel draw 9 download download microsoft mappoint 2005 corel dvd 9 download ca erwin process modeller mcafee antivirus download adobe indesign cs4 download tuneup utilities 2008 autodesk autosketch 9 download microsoft office 2000 download partition magic 8.05 download download adobe contribute 4 autodesk autocad raster design 2009 ashampoo burning studio 8 download adobe after effects 6.5 download dvd ripper platinum 5 download adobe fireworks 8 download altova schemaagent 2009 codegear rad studio 2009 architect zonealarm internet security suite 2009 download download novosoft handy backup 6.1 server microsoft office 2008 mac download intuit quicken rental property manager 2009 download download corel video studio 12 altova diffdog 2008 autodesk inventor 2008 quarkxpress 7.3 passport download burnaware professional download sound forge audio studio 9 download autodesk 3d studio max 2009 download guitar pro 6 microsoft money 2007 deluxe download grahl pdf annotator 2 download microsoft digital image suite 2006 download ms sharepoint download smartftp 3.0 altova umodel enterprise 2009 download download tamosoft commview for wifi 6 full graphisoft archicad 12 download powerdesk pro 7 download microsoft money 2006 adobe dreamweaver cs3 download acronis disk director suite 9.0 download abby fine reader download download microsoft streets and trips 2009 avid media composer 2.8 microsoft frontpage 2003 download microsoft windows vista ultimate (64bit) download download corel painter ix autodesk autocad 2004 download download mcafee total protection 2009 download wincare memory booster gold microsoft encarta 2005 acronis true image 11 home xilisoft iso burner partition magic 7 download download partition commander server edition 10 steinberg nuendo 2 download download microangelo toolset 6 4media dvd to ipod converter 5 download download microsoft money 2007 home & business quarkxpress 7 download corel draw 11 mac adobe creative suite 3 master collection dtsearch desktop 7 microsoft money plus microsoft mappoint 2009 north america download adobe premiere 6.5 download autodesk inventor 11 sony sound forge 9 download download acala avi divx mpeg xvid vob to psp altova stylevision 2008 download download pinnacle studio 12 ultimate microsoft mappoint 2008 download download guitar pro 5 download autodesk autocad 2007 futuremark 3d download adobe creative suite cs2 propellerhead reason 3.0 download acala video mp3 ripper download microsoft office enterprise 2007 download download windows xp professional sp3 futuremark 3dmark 06 advanced download ashampoo powerup 3 microsoft office visio professional 2007 xilisoft audio maker 3