Sep 9, 2011

Jet Pack Abuse and Soft Kill Ceilings

Ever since the introduction of armor abilities with Halo: Reach, there has been a steady flow of criticism regarding Bungie's decision to include the jet pack perhaps more than any other armor ability. This article will begin to explore the issues that the jet pack has raised, some exclusively unique among the armor abilities, and what they mean for the forger. We will explore the issues so that you, the forger, can make a more informed decision as to how you want to proceed with your own forge works.

When forging any map, a forger must decide how the game type will interact with the map design decisions they make and how much impact those interactions will effect the game play. For example, for my map Flight Deck, I had to customize each game type to give each player a start with DMR and AR, since a pistol (default weapon start) was pretty useless on a large map like an aircraft carrier. If this map were to be played with standard MM game types, then it would not play as well.

Armor Abilities & Load Outs

So it is with load outs. While a forger can choose not to include an armor ability on the map, armor abilities can make their way onto the map through the game type's load out selections. This means that if a particular armor ability will break the map, then a game type variant can break the map and there is nothing that can be done about it while in the forge. There are no forge settings or tools that will block an armor ability introduced by the game type load outs.

This leads us to discuss the jet pack armor ability. The jet pack has developed the greatest reputation as a hated armor ability added with Halo: Reach. Many players complain that players abuse the map with the help of their jet packs - that they get to places where no one else can get to (because a jet pack is required to get there) and this gives them special - read that "abusive" - positions on the map to exploit. This is called Jet Pack Abuse. They complain that the map allows this abuse, but the abuse is enabled by the jet pack itself.

If a map literally has a ceiling through out and a jet pack is pretty useless, then the forger need not think much about jet pack abuse on his map. But the vast majority of maps have no structural ceiling. The rest of this article will focus on jet pack abuse on maps that are typically open to the sky and have high places that a jet packer would have exclusive access to. These are the extreme situations a forger creates for himself, and can give us a healthy discussion on the topic.

The Purpose Of Armor Abilities

Armor abilities are suppose to enhance game play, not break it or fundamentally alter it. After all, Bungie clearly wanted to make game play better, not worse, when they published Halo: Reach. (I am not arguing that they succeeded.) So with that assumption as our foundation, what can we say about jet packs and their intended role on any map?

We can look at sprint, evade, and armor lock - they enhance a player's running performance, evading performance, and damage resistance performance. We can likewise assume that the intended performance enhancement from a jet pack was the ability to reach a higher path or position on a map without the need to detour and use the stairs like everyone else; and to achieve a tactical advantage with altitude, much as sprint offers a tactical advantage of reaching cover faster, or armor lock buys time for allies to come to one's aid, etc

MrGreen's Rule On Armor Abilities

My rule about any armor ability, but especially jet packs: A player with any armor ability must not be able to access portions of a map that would otherwise be out of reach to the player, lest the armor ability fundamentally alters the playability of the map.

This rule then leads us to the obvious question, What does a forger do if they have a spire like structure with no way up other than a jet pack, because the forger doesn't want anyone to go up to its top? Of course, the answer is that the map must prevent a jet packer from flying up to the top and camp. But how?

The Problem Defined

Typically, a tall structure (a spire is just one example that came to mind) has an element of aesthetics to it that the forger doesn't want to alter just to prevent a jet packer from camping on top. So the only other choice is to create an invisible obstacle. This allows the aesthetics to remain untouched, while preventing a jet packer from reaching the top.

One way to achieve this is to use the already invisible barrier high off the ground. If the spire or tall structure were constructed to extend upward past this barrier, then the forger would rely on this natural invisible ceiling and need not do any more work. But the maps that can actually take advantage of this are slim to none. To actually do this, the ground level of the map must be raised substantially.

The most typical approach is to use the Soft Kill Boundary. Typically the Soft Kill Boundary is used to cover the top of a structure where a jet packer may be able to reach so that they are discouraged or even prevent from reaching. But this approach opens another question altogether about forging maps. Is the use of Soft Kill Boundaries to make camping locations accessible only to jet packers a valid design decision?

Soft Kill Boundary Abuse

Too often, Soft Kill Boundaries are used as cheap band-aide like fixes for maps that were poorly designed to begin with. Instead of going back to the foundation and correcting the design errors, a forger just pulls out a Soft Kill Boundary, and BAM, the problem appears fixed. Unwittingly, they can introduce new, hidden problems.

As a rule, you do not want to just scatter Soft Kill Boundaries everywhere on a map to "close off" those undesirable areas from game play. Consider what would happen in an objective game where a player carrying the objective unwittingly enters a Soft Kill Boundary - when they intuitively are lead to think they are on the playing field. Even if the player has a 10 second warning, the objective resets immediately without warning. This would cause confusion and frustration to the players - not a good thing!

Since using Soft Kill Boundaries over areas that are accessible only to jet packers, this consideration would never apply. A person would not intuitively think they are on a playable area if they require a jet pack to access it. And with very few exceptions (e.g., speedpile), you cannot carry an objective when using a jet pack anyway.

The Ceiling Solution

Another approach would be to create a ceiling that defines the upper limit of the playable area. This curbs jet pack abuse quite a bit, but in many cases it raises confusion by jet packers who don't see any opportunities to abuse the map with their jet packs to begin with.

Let's say your spire's top is 30 meters from the ground. A jet packer could fly up that far. Create a ceiling of 25 meters, and they get the hint before they clear the edge. But this ceiling then becomes an impediment to the jet pack through out the map, which they would argue is unnecessary for most areas of the map.

Let's consider the forger's perspective on this last point. A forger defines the playable area. This includes all borders, even the ceiling. Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with this concept, but others do.


Jet packs are a fact of Reach. As a forger, your ability to avoid them is limited to degrees. For example, even if 343i decides that bubble shields are not in the load out for Team Objective today, tomorrow they may be back in. You need to consider this when you design your map if you have hopes of getting it into match making some day.

There are different approaches to the problem, each with their own draw backs if not carefully thought out. But in the end, a map that prevents abuse is a happy map.

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