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 Absolutezerr

Hopefully, this will be released to Xbox gamers... Halo 1's PC version had all those awesome large scale maps that were never in the xbox version. I don't want them to make Halo 2 obsolete as well! The game is so amazing... but I won't buy the PC version just for a couple new maps if Microsoft wants to be cheap. It's a real shame if they don't release these on xbox.

Avatar image for aRE-you-AFraid

Seriously, like sandabs said, I want this map for the 360, along with the new maps coming out.

Avatar image for sandabs

Why can't these maps on on Xbox Live? Are the maps from Halo that will be updated into Halo 2's Xbox/360 version going to be in the PC version also? If they won't, that's gonna be fair.

Avatar image for Aeoxins

not fair i want that map on ecksbawks

Avatar image for Gamundi08

I like the game of Halo 2, but I like Xbox version better than computer version, because I don't like to play on keyboard and even the control for computer. I perfer that Halo 2 for Xbox version are better and the control for Xbox original are better too. But I have the console of Xbox 360, so I like the control of Xbox 360 better than the old one. Halo 2 is still cool game!

Avatar image for Palantas

Okay, I know it's silly to complain about an abundance of content, but here goes... A two-page article of a single level of a game? Jesus, they're really going into detail here.

Avatar image for SuicidalManiac9

"if you don't understand why it's vista only you're pretty slow. it's cross platform so you'll need windows live. a vista function." Halo 2 will not be cross platform actually, the thing is that it will use Games for Windows Live (Not against Xbox players) for acheivments and online play against other pc players.

Avatar image for onthe_dl

you're all pretty stupid. Microsoft doesn't really care because they already broke records with sales of halo 2. they don't expect you to go upgrade for this game. guess what i have vista, i have halo 2, and i might revisit it on pc to get better resolution out of the most enjoyable online experience i've had for any video game. if you don't understand why it's vista only you're pretty slow. it's cross platform so you'll need windows live. a vista function.

Avatar image for razorlution

Gotta love Microsoft, take their biggest game franchise and there new OS. How do you mould them together?? Force everyone who wants Halo 2 to buy Vista, people will be buying Vista for this game, and then will love how easy Vista is, despite what you all say, dont knock it till you try it.

Avatar image for XeroComplex

Halo 2 is good... superior to some new games even though its more than 2 years old. Why do people hate Halo 2 so much. All those bashers probably never played it long enough to even understand why its so good. Anyway, this still wont make me buy VIsta, as much as I love Halo 2. Vista just isnt as good Mac OSX Leopard, which looks sweet already.

Avatar image for neo16161616

looks fun!

Avatar image for Luink

That new map looks a lot like the first level on new mombasa, right after your pelican crashes!

Avatar image for spidey008

This game looks sweet. It's cool that PC gamers finally get to play one of the greatest multiplayer titles ever.

Avatar image for IgGy621985

Nah man. If someone bought Vista for some reason, than it's because Vista: - is a new operating system - supports DirectX 10 - supports Games for Windows Live People don't want Halo 2 because: - Halo 2 is (IMO) a piece of crap from the first Xbox console system - two years old game - looks like crap - does not support DX 10 - does not support cross-platform - but for some reason you need Vista to run it Btw, it's a free world. If I want to bash something, then I'll do it. I (this is just me, okay?) don't want Halo 2. I don't want Halo 3, 4, 5, 6, n. I want something new. If I bought Vista, then I want a blockbuster game which will support all the features Vista offers. I don't want a two years old game just because Xbox community jerks off when they hear a word "Halo".

Avatar image for MJ_2005

I simply don't understand why people feel the need to constantly bash this game. It's almost (but not) as bad as the Bush-bashing that goes on in this country on a constant, daily basis. I don't particularly like this game, I play maybe one or two games a month. Does my dislike of this game cause me to start screaming obseneties about it? No, it doesn't. If you don't like the game, fine.. more power to you. But whether you like it or not, it's still one of the top games played on Xbox Live, even though it was released in the last generation. When you bash on something that popular, with no back up other than, "It sucks!" "Halo 2 Blows" "Halo is for wimps", you do no other action than to make yourself sound stupid in front of millions of people who play the game daily. Bash a game that deserves it, not just because it's not on your system.

Avatar image for IgGy621985

Hey, I have an idea... Why not leave this Halo crap on Xbox and give PC gamers who bought Vista something... new, for instance?

Avatar image for thk123

Finally, a reason to consider looking at the Vista box. Does anyone know if you can play Windows Live Vs. Xbox Live in the same game. I thought I heard that you could somewhere, but I am not sure. It would be cool, and I could prove that mouses are better than joystick! The problem I can see with Windows Live is that there is a high chance that only Microsoft will make games for it. The reason developers made Xbox Live games was because that was the only way to get online play. Whereas with the PC, they might want to integrate their own theme/features and so won't use Live. That could be the downfall of this service.

Avatar image for Makaveli-GR

After 3 years they decide to make a damm port!!!! I mean , they dont even have excuses , the game is based on dtx tools similar to the ones on the pc. Ok folks , lets wait until 2010 FOR HALO 3 on our PCS.

Avatar image for sadikovic

this game doesnt stand a chance beacause the graphics are dated and well CSS BF2 COD and quake are already great and imo much more better than HALO

Avatar image for PredatorRules

for last comment - WOW you hate mouse/keyboard but you love the PC? why don't you just buy Xbox Live?

Avatar image for tbolt_88

i really wish i had VIsta cuz i soo want the achievments for Halo 2! Id so play with my 360 controller since i hate mouse/keybaord just cuz its not my thing...and this multiplayer map here looks pretty sweet.

Avatar image for spindler01

Yeah, what he said

Avatar image for Makhdoom82

Vista Shmista, Halo Welo, Multiplayer Shumultiplayer, :-o

Avatar image for luke_717

I don't like HALO...there are better games out there: Half Life 2, Far Cry, FEAR, even Quake4 and Prey.

Avatar image for PredatorRules

wow upgrading great OS for currently lame 1 just because of game doesn't make sense at all WOW - 2 new maps & a level editor - amazing + 1 effect - AMAZING,this PC version is soooo different than the Xboxs' i MUST get it............NOT!!!

Avatar image for masterchief375

I love Vista!!!

Avatar image for wildsnipe

Man, gotta go buy a PC w/Vista darn...

Avatar image for madaseyer

gonna get it,gonna get it,GONNA GET IT!!

Avatar image for gbakid

that makes me want to play it bad.

Avatar image for balrog_360

Shweet. Yet another reason for me to upgrade my PC.

Avatar image for quickshad3

Wow that map looks sweet. Halo 3 maybe???

Avatar image for blazethe1

...it looks like turf. what happened?! the level designs for halo 1 were so good and now halo 2 has only suck mp maps.

Avatar image for DoctorFu

Halo 2 achievements! Whoohoo!

Avatar image for rockerode

and ill be able to play online, its going to be awesome

Avatar image for rockerode

cant wait, it is going to be so good, but so not as good as halo 3 or halo wars

Avatar image for Ibitmyeyeoff

Personally, I like the fact that it's on Vista. It'll get people to quit hating on Vista and be prepared for CRYSIS! This looks like it has potential for a decent bonus...much like an expansion pack rather than another game. But, it's worth a buy if you're a Bungie follower.

Avatar image for PS3_3DO

This isn't using the Halo 3 engine. I don't know where you got the idea from!

Avatar image for BikerPunk

Meej, go play a game that cant be played by button mashing. KKTHXLOLLERSK8S! Halo 2 for PC looks good. its a shame its for Vista, i dont run that O/S and dont plan on running it anytime soon. As for people calling MS stupid for releasing it like that, its called marketing. Its a push for people to get Vista that want that game, and dont have a 360. Personally, i wont get the Halo for PC, cause i plan on buying the Elite at the end of this month. Meej, fighting games are old news. go play a game that requires some skillz. *i was a fighter game fan, till they all started being the same crap, with different models....bah to them now.

Avatar image for The_Fell_One

If I had Vista, I would buy Halo 2 again.

Avatar image for AnalogOdyssey

looks ok but I already have it for xbox and xbox live pretty much everyone does already and there is only 1 new map give me a break pc version... On april 17th 2 new maps come out out so not really alot to bother if you already have it for xbox.....

Avatar image for wdave92

this is gonna turn out awsome

Avatar image for BR0M

you Meej_Xyooj, my gangsta', ..... leave homie!!! get out of hur!!! gangsta'!

Avatar image for phoenixan_akrau

Actually, this PC version does use the Halo 3 engine. However, that doesn't mean that they bothered to update the polygon models or textures. Just because it's a new engine doesn't mean it's going to make it look better with no changes done. Take Half-Life: Source for example. The only thing they had changed in that game was the water. And we post here because we're voicing our opinions. Oooh... Ooh.. a new map. Omgomgomgomg. This game needs more selling points if I'm going to buy it. Sure, this is interesting news and all since it's something kind of new, but it's not new enough.

Avatar image for Luis612

if you dont like it why post here?

Avatar image for The_Tay-Man

phoenixan_akrau your right but your wrong, this is Halo 2, it still uses a crappy old engine and the Halo 3 engine looks alot better. << LINK REMOVED >>

Avatar image for headcrab

I find it really pathetic that Microsoft has to FORCE us to buy Vista, and then attempts to do so by offering dated, lukewarm titles like Halo 2. It's not a terribly difficult decision, I mean every new game that comes out is riddled with Vista-related bugs or just plain incompatible. Someone in the marketing department should be smart enough to realize that people don't want Halo 2, we want Gears of War or Mass Effect, and not two years after release either.

Avatar image for Grinder86

Yes why would this be needing windows vista, if vista came out now, and halo 2 came out years ago, come on guyz, alot of people dont want to buy a whole $100 upgrade, for a $30 game. People would mine as well buy Halo 3, for as much as that.

Avatar image for phoenixan_akrau

Half-Life 2 looks better than this. Doom 3 looks better than this. Heck, I'll even go as far as saying something like Rayman 3 looks better than this. This is supposed to be the Halo 3 engine? It's a rip-off. Why does it require Vista in the first place? This isn't a demonstration of what DX10 can do at all. It's just bad. Now, if it wasn't for Vista only, I wouldn't be complaining so much... but because it is Vista exclusive, and they're forcing people to buy a new OS just for an old game, I'm saying it's a rip-off. A complete rip-off.