Halo: Combat Evolved Level Design Case Study

Video Tour of Blood Gulch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3Ua0UbGXfQ

Blood Gulch, first appearing in the original Halo: Combat Evolved, is perhaps the most famous map in FPS games. It has reappeared and been remastered in every Halo game, because of its simple, yet deep gameplay. Blood Gulch supports Slayer, Team Slayer, and Capture the Flag game modes. In this essay, we will be focussing primarily on CTF mode.

 The map is located in a box canyon, surrounding the players on all sides. The map is mostly symmetrical. On opposing sides of the map are two bases, one for each team. The main area on Blood Gulch is the large open “no man’s land” area in the center of the map, where most of the combat generally takes place. To win a CTF match, one player must cross over no man’s land, enter the other team’s base, take their flag, and return to their own base without dying.

The no man’s land, or NML, is a long strip of mostly empty land in between the two bases. The open landscape makes traversing NML a dangerous area, perfect for snipers to pick off travelers and for approaching teams to collide and battle. The geography of NML is not completely flat; it is covered in small hills and ditches, allowing players to dip in and out of view as they zig-zag across the field. There is a dirt path leading between the two bases, but players are usually forced off it by enemy fire. There are also several rocks and trees to take cover behind. Blood Gulch also features several vehicles that can be used to quickly cover NML, trading stealth for speed.

Running along the north side of NML is a narrow cliff. This cliff is an ideal place for snipers to pick off players traversing NML. At the same time, it acts as an alternative path between the two bases. Unlike NML, where players can avoid each other as they traverse the map, players who run into each other on the cliff must fight to get past one another. The addition of the cliff adds another path through the map, one that has a very different game feel.

Running along the south side of NML is a twisting cave through the cliffside. Unlike NML and the Cliff, it is nearly impossible to be killed from a distance while going through the tunnel, making it an ideal path between the bases. But, because it is such an ideal path, it is also commonly used by enemy players, leading to countless battles in its twisting tunnels. The narrow nature of the tunnel pushes players to switch to close-quarters combat, and its turns lead to unexpected ambushes and quick shootouts. Like the cliff, the tunnel gives another way through the map with different gameplay.

The main landmarks in Blood Gulch are the two identical bases belonging to the two different teams. The bases are vertically split into two levels.

The top of the bases is an open roof that gives a good look over NML, making it a good place to pick off approaching intruders. There are several parapets on the roof that can be used for cover. In the center of the roof is a hole dropping into the flag room. Both bases have a green portal that can be used to teleport to the center of NML, allowing respawned players to quickly get back into the fight.

The interiors of the bases contain several corridors that create blindspots, making them ideal chokepoints to ambush intruders. In the center of each base is an open room containing a flag. But, because bases are usually crawling with enemies, getting through is difficult.

Spread around Blood Gulch are various powerups and weapons, including sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and shields. Most interesting is the invisibility power-up, which allows players to sneak into bases undetected. The flag doesn’t turn invisible when you carry it, though, making getting to your base much harder.

Getting across NML, entering the base, and grabbing the flag is difficult, much more so than simply defending the base. But, victory requires boldness, with skilled players breaking into the base and returning over NML. This keeps the gameplay at a moving flow, changing quickly between moments of calm defense and frantic retrieval. The three paths between bases each offer different advantages and disadvantages, and force teams to watch three different approaches. The simple, symmetrical, easy to learn but hard to control nature of Blood Gulch is what makes it, to this day, such an interesting map.

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