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le blog de channie.

Deconstructing Favela (Part II)

(Amis visiteurs francophones, retrouvez cet article en français ici)

Splash Screen

Splash Screen

It’s been a while since the first installment in the Deconstructing Favela series was published. The article has been hugely popular with more than 6,600 unique visits to date, and I’m glad it did well. Lots of events happened between these two articles. A day after publishing I received positive feedbacks from the original designer of Favela, and he was kind enough to start digging through his files to see if he could find some never before seen work in progress of the level. Unfortunately, 3 days later, Vince Zampella and Jason West were fired by Activision. You all know what ensued, and this designer was one of the many to join the newly found Respawn Entertainment. I guess at this point we won’t ever be able to see what the early works of Favela looked like. But anyway, what is started must be finished, so here’s Deconstructing Favela Part II!

In this second and last part, we’ll look into the process of balancing the A & C flags as well as the bomb sites for Demolition, Sabotage and S&D game modes.

About A & C Flags (and their CTF counterparts)

So what about the A and C flags I left over from the first article? There’s actually not much to say about them, because the balancing tricks used here are quite common. Still, they are radically different from one another. The A flag is located in a more open yet significantly flat topology compared to the C flag which is much more confined and more vertically oriented. Here are a few pictures to highlight the key level design balancing points for each one of them:

A Flag

So here’s the A Flag, in its open field splendor:

The open field

The open field

3 main routes to reach A

3 main routes to reach A

There are 3 main accesses to the flag.  The stairs from the north and middle routes, and the slope from the south route. They are largely spread so a sniper from one end could easily “lock” the assault team as long as he has a buddy or two covering flanks. The whole point of balancing here will come down to softening the camping potential by adding counter sniping angles. Here are a few of them:

Counter Sniping positions

Counter Sniping positions

Defense point

Defense point

This last one is not particularly well balanced, it would have been better if it was offset’d so the routes wouldn’t be aligned, but still, as a sniper you may have some trouble controlling the top part and the stairs, as the opponents can show up from the left or right wings, especially if they throw flash or stun grenades beforehand, but it’s not an impossible job. IW guys may have thought it would be OK to let this side “as is” since there are more accesses to the right of our sniper screenshot, but just look at these shortcuts they did to help balancing this side:

Shortcuts

Shortcuts

Players can mantle over the tiny walls from those two points, allowing them to reach the flag without risking being targeted by a potential sniper. Those walls are thin enough to fire some rounds through (as long as you have FMJ equipped), allowing assaulting players to “gauge” whether a prone’d enemy is just behind, as the hit marker would show up on the HUD if it was the case. As a side note, these walls allow for a quick flag defend in domination game type as you don’t have to be exposed to enemy fire to prevent the capture. Since any flag has a capture radius, players would concentrate their bullets into a small area and have a good chance to kill the enemy before losing the flag. It’s difficult to assess whether or not those walls were here before playtesting the map. I think the reason they were added was because the A flag was a too easy to defend since you can otherwise pick enemies off coming from B as you have a clear line of sight.

The A flag in CTF has been nudged a bit from the location of its Domination Game Mode counterpart; it’s now more centered between the left and right routes, and the flight of stairs has a more direct access to it. And it’s OK since the stairs are actually facing outwards the flag forcing the player to either jump/mantle over the mid wall or do a 180 once on top of the stairs. Both takes some time to perform and leaves him vulnerable during this tiny timeframe.

FMJ weak walls

FMJ weak walls

The only secondary access is from the window in the building at the center. It’s not really a secondary route per se, since you can’t directly reach the flag unless you take the stairs or mantle over the midwall, but it offers quite a good overview of the area and a fairly large line of sight so you can clear most of the area before making a move. Looks a bit too powerful doesn’t it? That’s why the designer adjusted the thickness of the walls so bullets could easily go through. For instance, an LMG such as the MG4 can pierce through this wall even without equipping it with FMJ bullets.

C Flag

The C Flag is located in a place much more confined than the A one, with a large amount of accesses and lines of sight, spread along a 180° range. To be honest, I think the first layouts were quite spot on and this area hasn’t changed much over time.

The C flag

The C flag

The only change I noticed is the laundromat backroom. This room has probably been added very late in the process of Favela (possibly weeks before submission), because the amount of propsing (i.e. decorating with 3d models, decals and particles) is very low compared to the other rooms, especially the stairs-connected one on the second floor. There’s also no light source inside.

This room looks quite poor...

This room looks quite poor...

...compared to this one

...compared to this one

This connection might have been added at the expense of the removal of some other thing. My guess is the removal of a possible ladder here:

There was a ladder here

There was a ladder here

What tipped me off was the absence of junction, so to speak, between the 2 sides of the wall. Usually such a “void” is covered with props and decals to mask the harsh transition between the two kinds of walls. Also the patch needed to be quickly done (and likely without the help of the environment artist, busy debugging other maps!), so I looked nearby to see if something could have been easily changed. The side of the laundromat building was the most suitable place. The overhang has only to be shifted to the right so what’s remaining of the ladder would fit into the world. Quick fix, no propsing required, done.

The design decision behind this probably came from the enormous amount of lines of sight looking at the ladder so any player attempting to climb can be shot even from as far as the B point!

Bomb Sites

Bomb sites are generally a nightmare to balance. One of the few golden rules Counter Strike and the likes established regarding placing bomb sites is that the defending team can reach every one of them first, so they have to be placed near the defending team spawn points. Another rule states that each bomb site must be placed afar from one another, so if the defending team chooses the first bomb site to defend wrong, they would be kind of punished by the time lost traveling to the other site. So you don’t have much choice when designing for multi-gametype support but to spread laterally your bomb sites. This is the major constraint when designing your layout because you have to deal with existing geometry if you think about bomb modes afterwards.

Bomb Site A

Bomb Site A

Bomb Site A

This Bomb site is, to me, the easiest to balance. 2 major routes lead to it, and the only secondary route is very much exposed. Of those major routes, one is a sniper alley with the longest line of sight of the whole map:

Snipe range

Snipe range

Balancing this line of sight is quite tricky since the angle is quite narrow. A skilled player can pick up enemies from both long and short ranges. Due to the location of the B site, the majority of the TF141 team may come the south side, but you cannot afford to assume such a statement. This may be true for single-life demolition modes such as Search & Destroy, but way different on multi-life game modes since the spawns are changing dynamically based on alive players location. So how does one balance this long line of sight ? By adding more counter-sniping angles ? Not really. There is one actually, near the roof garden, but it’s still fairly visible from the bomb site and Militia snipers could be left or right in the yard, or up on the rooftop, so that’s extremely dangerous. It’s still an option, though.

The site is particularly vulnerable to grenades, and to me the few tweaks made post playtests (like adding the pile dwellings around) weren’t enough to prevent the grenade festival from harming several games I played. Even if the walls are FMJ unproof as I like to call them, it does not prevent this cheap and effective player behavior.

A few tweaks

A few tweaks

This additional LOS offer a light advantage as well:

Additional Line of Sight

Additional Line of Sight

Bomb Site B

A Site

B Site

B is certainly the most difficult site to defend. There is a 100° horizontal attack range whereas the A side has to deal with less than 90°, not to mention the Z-axis. You can’t lock this site if you have less than 3 people alive when the bomb has been planted. A few cover objects have been added, crates, cars, dumpsters… Most of them are not bullet proof so the best way to defend is to reach for the rooftops and nearby buildings providing a clear line of sight and a lot more cover. These positions have been actually designed to support Headquarters mode so they are de facto balanced with more than 3  accesses each so no place could be locked down:

HQ Location 1

HQ Location 1

HQ Location 2

HQ Location 2

The next picture is particularly interesting since there are only two physical accesses. Forget about the front one because it’s facing the bomb site, it’s only here for HQ and South Route flow and balancing purposes. So, what’s left is the rear access, and the situation may appear a little bit skewed as the TF141 team can only access it safely by taking a long detour, which is quite troublesome as the bomb clock is still ticking. There are not many solutions to improve the balance of this particular location. First thing is to make sure the room has the minimum amount of covers inside so any tossed frag grenade/noobtube/launchers could not be easily avoided. Second thing is to enlarge the windows so those thrown explosives have a better chance to enter the location. Third thing is to make sure the walls are letting through FMJ bullets. A few adjustments like extending the wall right behind the front camp spot allows the splash damage to be more effective.

Balance sheet

Balance sheet

What about the Sabotage Bomb Site A ?

Since we’re dealing with multi-life but timed respawns, this site has not to be as lockable as its S&D/Demo equivalent, but also, it has to be closer from the TF141 original spawn for balancing purposes (Sabotage is like a one flag CTF where you have to plant at the enemy bomb site). The topology is quite similar to the S&D A Site but the amount of routes to defend is now at 2 primary and 4 secondary, evenly spread. This makes it more difficult to hold and it eventually copes with the respawning factor.

Sabotage Bomb Site A Accesses

Sabotage Bomb Site A Accesses

Closing thoughts

This concludes the Deconstructing Favela series. I hope you found some of the things dissected here interesting, but yet, only a portion of the map design and balancing decisions were covered. There would be much more to say about the overall design process for multiple gametypes in mind, and it’s truly a labor of love only a few like Infinity Ward can achieve. Recent interviews about Black Ops were quite enlightening since Treyarch confessed they did design the multiplayer maps TDM first, and it will be interesting to see whether the remaining Infinity Ward staff would be able to pull it off again.

Thanks a lot for reading! You can reach me by e-mail if you want to comment (a software issue is preventing non-registered users to post reactions on my weblog at the moment).

2 commentaires pour “Deconstructing Favela (Part II)”

  1. Radical dit :

    J’ai lu en diagonale mais c’était sympa ;)

  2. channie dit :

    L’article est désormais traduit en langue française. Cette fois j’ai évité d’abuser du style familier pour ne pas déplaire à nos grammar nazis.