Invasion is a 12-player, asymmetrical mode where players compete for a series of objectives in a campaign-brought-to-multiplayer battle. Two teams of six players, Elites versus Spartans, play for two rounds: one team attacks and the other team defends; next round, teams alternate roles and races. Each round has potentially three four-minute phases, where attackers must capture the objective in a phase to progress to the next phase. Failure to progress ends the round. Seizing an objective adds a point to the attacking team’s score, so taking all phases awards three points to the attacking team. Victory is had by the team that earns the most points. One should note that each team may earn all points in a round, but this will result in a draw.
When learning a language, one has to hear words before speaking words. The language is internalized before it is externalized; one masters the transduction of thought into a physical expression. Assuming this truth, then this is similar to creating a map or other products: the creator sees what is before it is. Building and completing a map begins with vision; this keeps the creator focused, so he can steer a map towards a conclusion. It is possible to build a map without vision, or using a vision without detail. But, a strong vision is preserved in mind and the work itself, pushing towards an end that resembles the beginning in a new medium. For map creators or forgers, they use vision to create play spaces in Forge World, a digital realm. A vision can come from references like images or sounds; it can then be drawn or written as words, like a description. This is preservation, which the forger strives to build into his map.
Why bring up vision? Because it is critical when constructing an Invasion map, as the best maps capture a fusion of campaign and multiplayer, which facilitates the party-game atmosphere appreciated by millions stemming from Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001. The best maps have a story through which players are spectators and participants. They begin small and expand: weapons, vehicles, the map itself, and the stakes of combat. The performance of individuals affects the performance of the team, and so each player can contribute to a greater outcome. Combat is decisive, so a player who positions himself wisely will defeat enemies, create openings for forward movement, and hold a spawn point for his companion via fireteam spawning: this is the push-and-pull play at work. So when talking about vision, one must understand that Invasion is a mode built for intense combat and party fun. These are not contradictory; competition carries the experience, and this is true with friends. Invasion is a series of varying objectives, play spaces, and use of space. It also thrives in context, which is why understanding how to construct a storied map and functional design will help one build a great Invasion map. This is the goal of Invasion: storied design. And the goal of this article is to teach the reader the basics of Invasion design.
What is a story? A story is a series of connected events. It can be told via text, sound, and images. Stories are devices for evoking emotion or transferring knowledge. As such, stories manipulate an audience. In context of map design, the purpose of story is to hook players. The design is the mechanism through which the story is told, and this uses the aforementioned methods: text, sound, and images. An example of storied design is the Halo 2 map, Zanzibar. First, the text of the map. The name is exotic, tropical; perhaps, this is an island. In context of Halo 2’s story, one can deduce this is related to the African continent. According to Halopedia.org, the name references a real island off the coast of Tanzania in east-central Africa, also near the fictional New Mombasa. Here is the description players can read about the map: “Wind Power Station 7 sits as a mute reminder of the EAP’s late 25th-century attempt at re-nationalization.” Acronyms aside, this description informs the player about the history of Zanzibar. There lies a past event, the “re-nationalization,” against the current state of “Wind Power Station 7.” A player may also be intrigued by the ambiguous “EAP.” Memorable Halo maps lend themselves to exploration, and Zanzibar’s description is setting expectations by intriguing players through story in text.
Next, the sound of Zanzibar. What sounds are present? Namely, there is the metallic, cycling rattle of an enormous wind turbine; there are the lumbering, echoey, mechanical, electrically hazardous, spinning gears located inside the base and are connected to the turbine, following its tempo; there are distant plooms, rumbles, gunshots, and rippling air; and then there are the soft, rhythmic ocean waves with yelping seagulls and chirping birds. This is ambience alone, and one hears immediately how busy the map feels by only listening. One may also consider the sounds caused by players, such as footsteps. This map has many surfaces: earth, concrete, metal, sand, and water. Considering these sounds, the player can fill in the history: an island once held by nature, taken by humanity for its own design, fortified, then requisitioned for generating power by the EAP, and then abandoned in war. Is that not powerful? Story built by sound, begging players to investigate the playspace.
Lastly, the images of Zanzibar. This is what players see. Again, the wind turbine is so conspicuous, as it towers over the map with its enormous diameter and heavy, rotating blades. This picture alone is the map’s callsign, how one recognizes Zanzibar, which is why this is the map image in the classic Halo 2 menu. Inside the base, the gears rotate in sync with the turbine and discharge electrical sparks, visually connecting the turbine in the player’s mind - even though it is not visible here. It also impresses an unstable or neglected nature. This neglect is visible through grime and rust on the concrete slabs upholding the turbine, the turbine’s blades, and the walkways and walls of the base. It is most noted on the seawall: the disfigured arches, the chipped walls, the crumbled railings, and the mossy exterior, particularly on the tower. This neglected look is portraying the story to the player, the history. Another aspect is anachronism, meaning there are objects or structures present together that belong to different eras or times. For example, the ancient, static, stoney seawall contrasted with the future-tech, dynamic, metallic turbine. There is a mismatch, a conflict of time with both structures in the same space. The anachronism also works at portraying the story, suggesting to the player the age of this place via coinciding yet contradicting structure.
The elements of text, sound, and images are the key three methods of storied design the forger uses.
Now, when talking about Invasion, the perspective changes. Instead of the player being a witness to past glory and making use of enigmatic structure for monkeying and slaughter, the player is directly involved in the history-making of the space. For example, the Halo: Reach map, Boneyard. The name is a place where remains are gathered, which leans into this description of the map: “The once formidable Commonwealth awaits its final destination at one of the UNSC's ship breaking facilities.” This is a place where ships come to die, their parts torn away and recycled. Also, it is a place meeting its end by some looming threat. What is the threat? Like the text of Zanzibar, Boneyard’s description intrigues the player through its story. However, there is a distinction: while Zanzibar gives the player the image of a place lost in time, a place that has ended but is re-discovered, Boneyard has yet to end. The threat lingers, and this is setting expectations for the Invasion mode for which the map’s design is a priority; that the player decides the fate of this place. And considering Halo: Reach’s story and the mention of the UNSC, one understands this to be a human-themed map. This leads one to anticipate the gameplay featured on the map: the Elites are attacking and the Spartans are defending the yard.
Further, Boneyard’s sound is similar to Zanzibar: it is alive. The ambience consists of distant battle: peppering bullets, rumbling explosions, and aircraft searing the skies. Further, there are disturbances of weather: howling wind, bursts of thunder, and ghostly resonances - perhaps the vibrating metal shell of the stranded frigate. The interiors of the map offer electronic hums, noisy vents, reflective response to player-sourced sounds, and the occasional scrambled radio comms. The movement of the player consists of footsteps on loose dirt, grass patches, concrete, and metal. How does the sound reflect the text? The map seems to breathe in a backdrop of battle and a brimming torrent. It is abandoned, left to its demise. There is no life audible; no animals or bugs. Only reminders of what once was a “formidable Commonwealth” against the looming death beyond the map’s precipice.