Halo 2 Q&A - Examining the New District Level

Learn more about the exclusive new urban-combat level that will ship in the PC version of the blockbuster Xbox action game.


When the Windows Vista version of Halo 2 arrives in the coming months, not only will it include all the content that was released for the Xbox version in terms of the original game and the separate multiplayer map pack, but it also will come with some extras. There's a new level editor, along with the ability to earn achievement points over Games for Windows - Live--the Windows Vista version of the popular Xbox Live service--and two new maps built for the PC version. We turned to David Mertz, lead designer of the Windows version; Matt Van Gorder, the content lead; and Kevin Weston, the network developer, for more information on one of these two new levels. Microsoft has said that Halo 2 will ship for Windows Vista before the first half of the year is out.

The PC version of Halo 2 looks a lot sharper than its Xbox predecessor, thanks to the increased resolution.
The PC version of Halo 2 looks a lot sharper than its Xbox predecessor, thanks to the increased resolution.

GameSpot: Halo 2 for Windows Vista will ship with District, a new multiplayer map made for the PC version. What was the thinking and inspiration behind this new map? Where is it set?

David Mertz, Matt Van Gorder, and Kevin Weston: The most memorable aspect of Halo 2's single-player for me was touching down on Earth in New Mombasa and getting to engage the Covenant not only on Master Chief's home turf, but in an urban setting as well. As a player, I always wanted to have that experience in multiplayer of speeding through the streets and alleyways of New Mombasa in a Warthog, having a running gun fight over the rooftops, and sniping at opposing players as they moved in and out of cover and ducked into alleyways on the intervening city streets.

The initial inspiration for District came from the starting areas in the outskirts of New Mombasa in the single-player campaign. I always thought the atrium area had a lot of great multiplayer gameplay potential, and this area served as my anchor point for the design and construction of the level. I am also a fan of the Turf multiplayer level, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics, so my goal was to create a level that combined not only all of these great gameplay elements, but the various aesthetic elements as well.

GS: One thing that we noticed in District is that there seem be multiple layers to it, giving some verticality to the level. What are the key points throughout the level? There appears to be a parking structure, for example.

DM, MVG, and KW: During design and construction, District was broken down into several sections, each with their own aesthetic and gameplay style. These areas served as landmarks for navigation, which is very important in a map with an urban layout. For example, the atrium provides the player with a close-combat experience, with multiple exits and entrances in the form of a three-story building. Players can fight around the atrium, or on top of it and crash through the glass ceiling of the structure in order to reach their objective. It differs greatly from the parking garage area, where the player is offered a much more medium-range fighting environment around parked cars and ramps, and there is the constant threat of vehicles speeding around and between the floors of the structure.

GS: This is a pretty large map, conducive to vehicles and sniping. How will infantry cope in such an environment? Will there be indoor areas where infantry can hunker down safely?

DM, MVG, and KW: The playable area in District is about two-thirds the size of the playable area in Coagulation, or, it offers about four times as much playable area as Turf. While it is a larger map, the urban nature of the level really helps break up the playable space. This keeps the effectiveness of snipers in check and balances the gameplay between players in vehicles and players on foot. Players have plenty of cover to duck behind, as well as doorways and alleyways to dive into. In addition, players on foot have access to routes above street level, such as walkways and rooftops. These upper routes and shortcuts also help balance the level in terms of travel time to objectives. A player on foot can grab the flag and get back to his base just as quickly as a vehicle that takes the street routes. It is when players in vehicles try to follow players on foot through the tight alleyways, or try to cut them off as they emerge from the alleys, that things get really exciting.

The District has a mix of close-quarters and wide-open combat spaces.
The District has a mix of close-quarters and wide-open combat spaces.

During the design and construction of District, one thing we were very mindful of was making sure that the level was not confusing and mazelike. We wanted players to be able to quickly get their bearings, and we also wanted to make sure that players were able to hear and see where the action was in the level. Because of this, we kept areas fairly open, or at least made them seem open. Many of the areas are fairly enclosed but are still open to the sky, allowing players to see the surrounding building tops and cityscape. There are some building interiors that players can hunker down in, such as the atrium and parking garage, but even these structures are fairly open to prevent stalemates during objective-based games and to help give the player a sense of what is going on in the level.

Vehicles Everywhere

GS: What's the vehicle distribution in District? Will there be plenty of Warthogs and Scorpion tanks for everyone to share? Can we expect a lot of vehicular mayhem?

You can create a custom game that has up to 15 vehicles on the District level.
You can create a custom game that has up to 15 vehicles on the District level.

DM, MVG, and KW: You can definitely expect a lot of vehicular mayhem! District was designed from the very start to focus heavily on vehicles and on creating fun and interesting gameplay situations between vehicles and infantry. The Old Mombasa urban setting of District really lent itself well to achieving this goal. The streets provide natural routes for the vehicles to travel and patrol around, and there are many tighter alleyways that are able to be maneuvered by skilled drivers. Besides streets and alleys, there are other distinct areas, such as the parking garage, that lead to some really fun and crazy situations with vehicles. We have had a lot of great vehicle chases happen in District, as well as some very daring escapes as players have taken vehicles and jumped them off the third floor of the parking garage.

In terms of vehicle count and distribution, we wanted to make sure there were plenty of vehicles in all the standard game modes without things getting too crowded. We also built in expandability and flexibility that gave players control over the heavier vehicles. In standard team game modes such as capture the flag, players are going to have eight total vehicles cruising around--two Warthogs and two Ghosts on each side. So right at the start, players are able to put their entire team in vehicles. For game modes other than CTF, we added even more vehicles in the form of four additional Ghosts. Heavy vehicles such as the Scorpion tank and Wraith are not available by default, but we have put in three optional spawns for them in District, and players can add them into their games as they normally would through the settings menu. One of the more popular setups with the development team was to have urban tank battles by disabling all other vehicles and spawning three Scorpion tanks. By using the custom game settings, it's possible to get up to 15 vehicles in District, and that is not counting the two standard and two optional turrets we have included as well!

GS: Halo 2 will be one of the first games to support Games for Windows - Live, the PC version of the Xbox Live service. So this means friends lists and what else? Is there in-game voice chat in Halo 2?

DM, MVG, and KW: Being a Games for Windows - Live title brings with it a bevy of cool online features, including friends lists, achievements for the first time in Halo and on the PC, auto-updates, matchmaking, game invites, messaging (text and voice), presence, family settings, gamer scores, and gamer reputation. If you've already got an Xbox Live account, all you need to do is sign in and you will be good to go. The game supports in-game voice and text chat, so you can communicate with your team or rub it in someone's face.

GS: The party system of Halo 2 was one of the best party systems implemented in any game on any platform. Will the Vista version have the same party system, or has it been modified in any way for the PC? How does it work?

DM, MVG, and KW: Because of all the changes to the matchmaking system, the party system isn't nearly as important in Halo 2 for Windows Vista as it was in the original version. Now, you can join any game you want (and exactly the game you want), so you no longer have to form a party to ensure that you can play with your friends.

That said, we tried to maintain as much of the party system as possible. Of course, with all the general changes to how you find games in Halo 2 for Windows Vista, we had to make a few changes. You can still meet up with a group of friends in your own lobby before playing together. From there, the party leader can start a new game, matchmake the party into an existing game, or pick a specific game from the game browser. Once everyone is in the game, though, the party dissolves and each player is just part of the game.

GS: How powerful is the level editor in the game? How large a map can you make with it? For instance, could you create a gigantic battlefield that's on par with something like the Battlefield games?

DM, MVG, and KW: The level editor is powerful, as it is an adapted version of the internal tools we use to make the games. We don't place any restrictions on the scale of the map you can create. However, with the auto custom map downloading from the lobby, we expect the more popular custom maps will be small on disc to facilitate fast distribution. Also, the most popular Halo 2 multiplayer maps tend to be smallish.

Halo 2 for Windows Vista should ship in the next month or two.
Halo 2 for Windows Vista should ship in the next month or two.

GS: Mods are very popular with PC multiplayer games. How mod-friendly is the Vista version of Halo 2? Will you support the mod-making community with other tools?

DM, MVG, and KW: The level editor will allow users to create new geometry and textures and create playable multiplayer map types for the game. The format is not completely open, but it's still very powerful.

GS: Finally, has multiplayer been balanced so that everyone is on equal footing, regardless of the type of controller that they're using? Or will mouse-and-keyboard players have a distinct advantage versus gamepad players?

DM, MVG, and KW: We did some balancing to make the keyboard-and-mouse experience on par with the controller. Overall, we believe that the controller will prove to be a popular and competitive option for those that prefer it. When our team plays large multiplayer games, controller players regularly school the keyboard/mouse players, and vice versa.

GS: Thank you, gentlemen.

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Avatar image for TheUndyingOne

Achievements will be just rewards that can be unlocked during campaign or multiplayer, but have no other purpose than to just show off. They are not linked in any way to the 360, so the Achievements won't be able to go on your Live Account thingy (i don't own a 360). This could change, but this is what is going to happen as of now.

Avatar image for Esteban011487

I wish it will work on all windows, Vista sucks for the moment for games!.

Avatar image for shade1978x

I'm thinking Duck_Watson had to scrape together lawn-mowing monies to get an Xbox to play the first Halo. Playing Crysis on a 32" HDTV with the 8800GTX will show how consoles are for people who can't afford gaming PCs.

Avatar image for MrAnderson582

Forget this game (considering that there is a better one coming out soon) not only that, but Vist is alot i mean in the hundreds, i honestly do not think that its worth it.

Avatar image for Jayzee994

If an American game costs $50, that game here in Australia(where I live) would cost $100. Halo 2 for the PC costs $50 in America and only costs $70 in Australia because I just saw the preview box on shelf in Eb Games!! I'm so happy. If I get Vista (or when) I will buy Halo 2 =D

Avatar image for Big_Boss11

he said there are achievements I wonder what they are

Avatar image for Inuyasha_kam

When I upgrade to Vista I will be shure to get Halo 2 pc. OO ya Halo 2 pc looks no were close to halo 3. Its not even supposed to compete with halo 3 what would be the point of that?

Avatar image for bigelf72

duck_watson obviously doesn't own a gaming computer :)

Avatar image for SageAnomie

Wow. It looks like 2 does on the 360.

Avatar image for ChocoKat

Geekhippie, Vista will not have service packs.

Avatar image for MartinRiggs15

It's better on xbox for sure.

Avatar image for Blood_Shot

Got that right mastertransfer.. better later than never. Finally I'll be able to play the 2nd game of one of my favorite game series

Avatar image for Geekhippie

I will be waiting to get Vista when service pack 1 comes out, buying Halo 2 from the bargain bin, and paying full price for Halo 3 because it looks awsome.

Avatar image for mastertransfer

Nice, good to see that they're doing something a little different for the PC users, I mean it did release for xbox what like 2-3 years ago? Haha, better later than never... www.PlugComputers.com - Custom gaming computers.

Avatar image for ldavidtw2000

Haha, Vista exclusive is just gonna kill more sell. More people will buy this game than Vista, don't believe me? go to HardOCP.com they will tell you how slow Vista can ridiculously be when playing SupCom.

Avatar image for Taker0003

Well of course its not going to be high sales (right when it comes out) but when eventually Vista works most of its bugs out and retailers start selling prebuilt computers with Vista in it more then people are going to go buy those computers (if not too pricey) and get this game on the side cuz I really do want this but Vista is gonna be waiting a long time for me to use it and get this game.

Avatar image for revamparts

Haha tomoki, stick your pinky in the air why don't you.

Avatar image for uberjannie

sharper ? this game is way too old. who is gonna buy this piece of rumble? Go for R6-Vegas or Graw2 instead, they look sharper, no matter how much they boost the texture details for this game, it still looks sh*t.

Avatar image for protossdragoon

sharper? hmm... actually looks more pc-like than sharper. colors seemed to be reduced too.

Avatar image for gamerTag-shank

Remember - the whole LIVE on PC features also require vista, it makes since that HALO 2 would be vista only if they plan on allowing PC and xbox players in the same game. Personally though, HALO 2 is not enough of a reason to upgrade your OS. The game is already pretty dated.

Avatar image for TomokiHimi175

Vista exclusiveness is Microsoft's way of marketing and making extra sales, and unfortunately, it's already working; I have friends (fanatics) who're planning to buy Vista just for Halo 2. Half of them own the Xbox version already. The strength of the brand alone is what makes people splurge just to get the damn game in every way, shape, or form available, regardless of its actual quality (they're still stuck on the stage where they think Halo is a great series, and hell, it was until Halo 2 got released). Somini, best you plop yourself in front of a dictionary and start reading for a couple hours. No one's threatening to destroy your reputation if you don't get the game. But yeah, I agree with you. I'm actually thinking that the Vista exclusivity is gonna prevent the game from making sales in the long run. There's no way Halo 2 Vista is going to experience even nearly the same commercial success as the Xbox version.

Avatar image for CodeNamePlasma

Blackmailed? Wow. Way to exaggerate. Are console developers blackmailing you when they release a new console and start bringing out more games for it, instead of putting those games on the old console? Sheesh, dude. You either buy into something or you don't, but no one is blackmailing you.

Avatar image for jsambeckwith

Except Somini, when you Upgrade like the rest of us you will get it. Because Vista's fundamentally better...

Avatar image for Spartan1017

totally agree raven

Avatar image for RAVEN2599

maybe you people who are complaining that Halo 2 for the pc is a windows vista exclusive need to get a job and stop complaining

Avatar image for Somini

I will never get my hands on this game, out of protest. I don't respond well to blackmailing, because that's exactly what MS is trying to do. I've never played Halo 2 on the Xbox, so I've been looking forward to a PC-version (and by that I mean XP-VERSION). So, when MS instead want's to screw me over for being a loyal windows-gamer, but not a Xbox-gamer, the I get mad....Really mad.

Avatar image for draak3000

Those that doubt it is a Vista exclusive please stop doubting! It is exclusive to Vista. that is FACT not rumour.

Avatar image for chrisdojo

extras are good. i won't be touching vista for another couple years.... so, no halo 2 for me!!!

Avatar image for fifolon

I really doubt they've limited this game to a Windows Vista version only. Microsoft wants as many Halo 2 PC followers as possible and most people will take a while to upgrade to Vista anyway. Looks great though, can't wait.

Avatar image for sehven

It always amazes me that some people still don't get Microsoft's business practices. To answer all the questions here, just think of the most greedy money-grubbing response and that'll be your answer. Is this Vista only? Why isn't there an XP version? Why did it take so long to bring Halo to the PC? It's all about money. If Halo had been available on the pc from the outset, the xbox would've been even more of a flop than it already is. Now that the xbox is dead (and I mean D-E-A-D--killed the instant the 360 came out--another tactic in greed) MS is bringing their cash cow franchise to Vista to once again try to milk it for all it's worth. They're not trying to sell Halo. If they were, they'd have made it for XP. They're trying to sell Vista. Their hope is that suckers are enamored enough with a 3 year old game that they'll buy a whole new operating system just to play it. So for those of you who consider it worthwhile to purchase MS products, please continue to do so and I hope you will be satisfied with your purchase (I own an xbox and I enjoyed it well enough until the support for it was yanked). But I really wish everybody would stop being so surprised when MS screws them. I buy MS products whenever they come out with something I really want, but I don't for a second believe that MS has my best interests in mind.

Avatar image for Swift18

I don't think its a vista exlusive. thatd be dumb considering more people are on XP since they can't seem to work out all the kinks in vista just yet. they may do Xp then a vista port thingy if not DUMBBBBB. lol and i dont get why it wouldnt be able to be backwords compat with XP down to 2000? idk these companies are wierd

Avatar image for jp_sithlord

free online! im in!

Avatar image for rob3nelson

I was playing Halo 2 on the XBox ages ago. It's so yesterday. When are the new games coming out? Please - no more Halo 2s and Far Cries. I get sick of playing the same game over and over again.

Avatar image for Tomdogg

Am I supposed to be impressed?

Avatar image for Tungsten88

Looks nice, but the free online play for Live is bugging me...oh well.

Avatar image for draak3000

For less than the price of vista you can simply buy an original xbox and play halo 2 on there instead...

Avatar image for Borney12

when halo 2 was released, it was a great game. people hadn't discovered any glitches or more importantly, standby. now when u get to the higher levels in halo 2 (around 30ish) it's mass rocket/sniper camping/glitching... not to mention the advantage that the "host of the game" gets (shotguns anyone?). halo 2 was a great game, but for me, it's lost a lot of it's appeal with all this crap.

Avatar image for ajax_on_fire

enough of halo 2, lets get to halo 3!

Avatar image for Shaunsportmaste

Nobody really cares about this. The really story should be about HALO 3!!!

Avatar image for Israfel856

Halo 2 is old news. I extremely doubt anyone except for diehard Halo fans really care about this, especially considering how small the Vista community currently is.

Avatar image for mr17x

Why does it take Halo so long to go on the PC? It makes no sense since it's Microsoft Game Studios and Xbox. And I'm not so crazy about it since it's for vista and I already played it on my xbox which has gone into retirement.

Avatar image for Nosnitsttam

Yeah Vista is required to play from what i'm hearing at work, and not only is Vista not free, depending on what version you want it's not cheap either. Buying the cheapest (home basic) version is a waste unless you JUST want to play Halo 2. But even then i don't think it's worth it to dump $99 on an OS to play a game that's reaching its third year anniversary.

Avatar image for Zigmond1

do we need Vista for this and if we do is Vista free?

Avatar image for Flame_Co

HA! "Because of all the changes to the matchmaking system, the party system isn't nearly as important in Halo 2 for Windows Vista as it was in the original version ... That said, we tried to maintain as much of the party system as possible." I like how they're afraid to scare of people from buying it so they just say opposing stuff.

Avatar image for Seven_Is_Darker

Compared to every, and I mean every level in Multiplayer in Halo 2 for Xbox this honestly looks like crap. Not gameplay wise by the actual look of the level. It looks like a fun map to play on but it lacks a lot of detail that could be there but is not.

Avatar image for ptown58

The ad in "Games For Windows" magazine says and I quote "Halo 2 for the PC is here." so I must ask, WHERE IS IT ? Yes its dumbed down but the game and story are pretty good but why XP cant run it atleast with out the whole "Live" crap is a big rip-off and I have Vista.

Avatar image for kaziechameleon

cool looking level.

Avatar image for jeffreee

Good lord....this game looks like a Quake clone from 1997. Can we keep the kiddie games to the consoles please? Give me Crysis or some worthy game of the PC platform. This is NOT news. No true PC gamer cares about this dumbed-down FPS.