Community maps are the worst thing to happen to Halo since Armour lock. They are the reason I avoid the Team Slayer playlist, and the reason I grow weary of Reach in a much shorter period of time compared to other Halo games. Let's face the facts here, Reach is by far the worst game in the Halo franchise. Now before you jump to your keyboards with flames in your eyes remember: We are talking about the HALO franchise here, Reach is still head and shoulders above most games out there but compared to Halo 1-3 and ODST it doesn't stand up. It's kind of like having 5 beautiful women in front of you, sure they are all beautiful but one of them probably looks a little worse than the other 4. So what made Reach turn out worse than its predecessors? Well I think it is a combination of factors:
Reach was pushed out on a tight development cycle
It was made in order to meet the demands of a contractual obligation Bungie had to Microsoft
It was never planned
So my first point is that Reach was rushed, this is evident in a number of places the most obvious being the choice to use in game environments as multiplayer maps. Sure Reach has some solid multiplayer maps (sword base, anyone?) but using them in the game was done to cut corners, plain and simple. I think a lot of things in Reach were done (or half done) so that it could be pushed out quick, which brings me to my next point: Reach was the end of a contract, created to satisfy the demands of Microsoft and not much else.
If the Halo games were a work week then Halo:CE would be Monday, the day where you are most rested from the weekend and you do your best work. Halo 2 is Tuesday, you might be a little tired but the week is young and you are having a good time. Halo 3 is Wednesday, hump day, you might not want to be there but darn it you will still put in your best effort. ODST is Thursday, you probably don’t feel like working to hard because Friday is right around the corner, you do some quick work but you head home early. Finally Friday roles around, all you want to do is go home so you lazily through something together and drop it on your bosses desk as you head out the door towards the weekend! Now hold on sailor, I know Bungie is the creator, the lord, and the holy spirit but we all know they were getting pretty sick of the big donut by year 10. Most of the studio wanted to move on to bigger, and....better? No different, that is a better word, different things. Who could blame them, working on the same series for 10 years has to be draining, I know that. This is not me bashing Bungie, I am just looking at things realistically, not saying what they did is good or bad, I am just saying I understand the motivation.
Finally lets get to the Elephant in the room: to a certain extent Reach was not planned. Now I know what you are going to say “but minoooolta, the Halo trilogy wasn’t planned either!” and that is true, kind of. Halo was an unexpected hit but after the first one was so huge the trilogy was planned out as best as it could be. However the plans stopped after Halo 3, Reach was a nice little prologue but it wasn’t meant to be much more than that. So you mix all these ingredients together and what do you get? A studio that is rushing out a game the majority of its employees do not care about in order to meet a contractual agreement with a partner it is divorcing in the near future. If your ex-wife asked you to clean up the house after you move all your stuff out, would you do a good job? I didn’t think so.
Alright so what does all this have to do with custom maps? Well remember up there when I said that Reach was full of cut corners, well custom maps are the biggest corner of them all! On the surface it is a great idea, have community members create maps and put them into the rotation for everyone to enjoy, what could be better? Plus that means Bungie doesn’t have to create nearly as many maps to satisfy the communities thirst for variety. This seems like a good idea but there are two major problems with this:
The community does not consist of professional map makers
Forge world pieces are boring
The main problem with most community maps is that they just do not play like ones created by Bungie or Certain Affinity. Sure they go through play testing and get revised and improved but at the end of the day they are still not the same. They play poorly and they do not stand the test of time, they might be fun once or twice when you first get on them but the thrill wains pretty quickly. The only forge maps I have seen that stand up even remotely well compared to the official maps are Uncaged and Asylum, and they are Bungie made forge maps!
My second issue is with the forge itself, Bungie made leaps and bounds with the Forge and Forge World in Reach, but it isn’t quiet enough. There is zero variation visually in community made forge maps because every forge map is made with the same pieces. Occasionally a map comes along that looks interesting or unique, but it doesn't take long to see past that to the same boring blue and grey pieces from every other map. Plus every forge map is on Forge World so every outdoor environment looks exactly the same! Here is what 343 has to add to the forge in Halo 4 so community maps wont be so terrible in the future:
MULTIPLE FORGE WORLDS - This is the most obvious thing, we need at least 4 forge worlds: desert, mountains, city, forest (ideally I would like to see some alien/forerunner stuff too, but I am going basic here). On top of that we need 5 variation options for each world: snow, rain, dusk, day, night. This would create 20 unique outdoor environments for people to use. The difference between playing a map in the mountains at dusk, and playing a map in the mountains during a blizzard would be HUGE.
DIFFERENT PIECE SETS - Each of the worlds needs interesting and unique piece sets that adapt and change based on the variation of the world. Mountain pieces during the blizzard are coated in snow and ice, during the rain they are wet and shiny. On top of that each piece should have at least 5 different selectable textures with a variety of colors to choose from. My biggest problem with forge maps is they are so freaking grey!
EXPANDED ENVIRONMENT EDITING - Need a mountain? Build one! Want to make a map with sections that have no gravity? Use this field. How about animating certain objects to move at set intervals? No problem. Everything about the forge needs to grow and advance from the way we interact with the map itself to the different effects and options we have for pieces. You want the community to really get creative with that Godzilla monster they built? Give them the ability to make it walk around the map!
Adding just a few of my suggestions would really make the forge shine, and give community maps the edge they need to take over match making. We already know that 343 is not rushing out Halo 4 they have been working on it for awhile. Plus they are planning a whole new trilogy of games that is going to be incredible. The staff are all loyal Halo fans who love the games and want to keep making them. They aren’t going to cut corners or let stuff fall through the cracks. I just hope that they add a few of the suggestions I talked about here to the forge so that Halo 4s community maps aren’t as awful as Reachs.
Should probably say this is obviously all my opinion and should be taken as such, if I got some stuff wrong let me know.