Kicking off the series, we're going to start at the very beginning. The pre-planning stage is a vital one, and also one that is often overlooked. The main questions surrounding the pre-planning stage are:
1. How do I generate ideas?
2. How do I translate my idea into Forge?
Generating ideas can be a mysterious process. Sometimes an idea will come through a dream. Sometimes they will simply appear in your mind without any apparent trigger. There's really not much to say about ideas that come in those ways. So, let's talk about how to create an environment in which ideas can begin to bubble to the surface.
First, there is the logical suggestion of looking at lots of maps. Download and walk through lots of Forge maps (Halo Evolved Archives). Look at maps from games other than Halo. You can even look to developer made maps for inspiration. A good technique is to take a portion of a map that intrigues you, and design something completely different around it. Looking at buildings or at nature can often spark ideas. Take a walk outside. Something as simple as the front of a building or the curve of a road may be the beginning of a great map. If you can't go outside, use the World Wide Web. Search through images of different styles of architecture. Maybe even a tattoo or a mandala may lead to a moment of inspiration.
In my experience, there is a very strong correlation between how well developed an idea is prior to building, and the quality of the final product. Any time spent fleshing out your idea will be well worth it. The best way to flesh out a design is to know what it will look like ahead of time, in as much detail as possible. There are various ways to do that. Some people can visualize an entire map in their mind. Others require something physical to look at. If you're one of the former, well...lucky you. If you're one of the latter, then there are a few tools you can utilize to help bring your map to life without placing a single block.
Utilizing graph paper to draw up a map is a common practice for many Forgers. Freehand drawing can work well also. If you really want to understand the ins and outs of what you're going to build, you should try a 3D modeling program like Sketchup, which is free to use. There are all kinds of guides online to help you learn how to use the program if you're unfamiliar with it.
As a last resort, you can always just go into Forge and start building. There's both a good side and a bad side of building your maps that way. The good side of it is that it's much easier to judge things like scaling and lines of sight. One of the downsides is that it takes much longer to build a wall than it takes to draw a line which represents a wall. The major downside of it, though, is that we often become attached to what we build, and become reluctant to change it. I recommend you don't just jump right into Forge and start building unless you're certain you can do so without becoming attached to what you build. Regardless of which method you use to develop your idea, there some things you should keep in mind throughout the development process.
An important one that can go a long way in determining what your map will look like is what gametypes and player count you want your map to focus on. Another area that should always be in the back of your mind is spawning; it's often a good idea to build spawning areas into the geometry of your map. As you go along, you should look for flaws in the design, whether that means scaling problems, poor lines of sight, too much or not enough cover. Any number of things that you may not have otherwise been aware of can become plainly obvious when looking at a sketch or a 3D model. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. Use the tools at your disposal to ferret out problems ahead of time. Do a thorough assessment of your map and make any necessary adjustments, testing out various solutions.
This brings us to the final subject for this article, and it's something which any serious Forger should be serious about. You must always be open to criticism, and be willing to look at your own map with a discerning eye. Seeing your map through rose colored glasses is almost a guarantee of mediocrity. Spend more time analyzing what's wrong with your map than searching for what's good about your map, and always strive to improve any project you're working on. Approaching Forge with the right attitude can make all the difference in the world. A beginner with an open mind can quickly attain the knowledge and talent necessary to build a better map than an experienced person that is resistant to feedback. View your map as a flexible piece of clay, rather than a solidified brick. This is an essential attribute to have during the preplanning and developmental stage of your project.
Check back next week, when we'll discuss the finer points of spawn placement!