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Immersion Begins

The most fundamental failure of previous forges has been the total collapse of immersion, because every map looked like nothing more than a pile of blocks - just some more than others. This article is an attempt to explain why Forge 2A is the start of turning this around, and how to benefit your maps with the new palettes.

Every Halo map falls into one of five categories of architecture: present day (Ghost Town, Reflection, The Pit, Rats Nest, Long Shore); ancient ruins (Sandtrap, Sanctuary); futuristic space exploration (Anchor 9, Orbital); fantasy (Assembly, Epitaph, Valhalla); and forge (each and every map ever forged). All non forge developer maps tap the first four architectures, but we forgers are left exclusively to the last, which is by far the least immersive. This is paramount to understanding why Forge 2A palettes' stone skins is my first choice above all others to break away out of the forge architecture and help us forge immersive maps that rival developer non forge maps.

Why Stone Textures?

So why were stone textures first on my list? First, we learned from Forge 4 palettes the need to eliminate visual noise from the block's surfaces. Compared to most any other construction material one could imagine, stone skins are the safest bet to eliminating noise. Second, from Forge Reach, we learned that we need to have skins that were not the ubiquitous gray. The textures of stones are typically earth tone colors (off whites, tans, browns) that are easy on our eyes. Third, for present day commercial or industrial buildings, and ancient stone ruins architectures, stone skins would offer the most versatile construction material with the least number of skin variations required. From this analysis, stone textures presented to me the safest bet of a highly useful and immersive palette. Stone textures were the most likely to succeed because they were the least likely to have a developer introduce unnecessary visual noise on them.

Stone textures tend to offer continuous surfaces of any sizes without giving the impression that pieces are off center, scattered, or misaligned with each other. And stone colors (off white, tan, etc.) do not look artificial like the flat bright whites of Impact or rusty off whites of Ravine. Some of the palette pieces do have metallic girders running through the edges and surfaces. The key to working with these is to know when to avoid them and when to leverage them in your architecture.

Take a look at the hanger below. Notice the stone walls in front is what one expects to see in present day commercial and industrial buildings. Now notice the girders interior of the hanger. They are arranged to look like structural support, again what you might see in a present day industrial building like a hangar (as opposed to a commercial interior that would have a finished sheet rock appearance). They work with the industrial building architecture, and help present that architecture to the players.

War Island, early concept

This is what I mean when I say you need to work with the skins of the palette to form an immersive environment. The girders already shout "industrial", so if you intend to use them to create an industrial building feel, then you want to forge an industrial type of architecture across your map. If you intend to use a stone only skins, then you will want to choose an architecture and theme for your entire map that one would find only stone structures with, such as ancient ruins.

No More Forge Look

Notice in this next picture the stone wall with the metallic inserts. Combined with the palm tree in the foreground, this architecture looks retro present day middle eastern fortress. This one perspective of Disciple alone looks like what I would expect to see in a developer made Counter Strike map. This begins to approach the immersion experience of a developer's map. No longer do the blocks look like blocks, but they look much more like stone walls that we would find in a developer map.

Disciple by Blaze, early concept

Imagine if the blocks looked like the Impact bright white with black lines running through them. It would look forged. This map is just steps away from loosing any feel of being forged. And this is why I say Immersion is beginning with Forge 2A.

With previous forges, most forgers didn't give art quality any attention because it was extremely limiting to do so. Previous forges separated the artists from the pack. But with Forge 2A, this new forge will allow each forger to showcase their artistic skills and preferences with much greater ease. The argument that game play is king and art is a side note if at all possible no longer applies to Forge 2A.

Losing Depth with All Stone Construction

Some people have claimed that having stone walls and floors with identical skins would make it difficult to recognize depth of the map's architecture because the vertical and horizontal surfaces would look the same and tend to blend. I have not found this true with Awash as the picture above demonstrates. But I suspect it may be very true with Nebula, as the picture below demonstrates the lighting impacts how the textures don't differentiate in the same way as on Awash.

Echo by logan, early concept

This is concerning. Take a look at how the textures look more cartoonish than on Awash maps. This cartoon feel has huge potential to negatively impact a player's immersion.

A Good Start

I don't want to give the impression that this palette is the end all to creating great looking maps. It is only a good start. It allows forgers to create their high caliber maps while also including quality art that should no longer require trade offs with game play. But there is more to do by 343 Industries as they continue to improve and evolve Halo's forge.

Additional Reading

Level Design - Chapter 2: Art
An introduction to Chapter 2 of my Level Design collection. This article begins my discussion on Art and why Art is critical for maps.

Level Design - Theme
Discussion on leveraging the palette skins to drive your map's theme and build strong immersion.

Level Design - Immersion
A discussion on the importance of immersion and how you can make it or break it on your maps.

Forging the Forerunner
My epiphany during the Reach era on the need to leverage the palette skins to make forging themes easier.