Part of the fun with level design is in trying to find solutions to simple gameplay problems. That’s why, in the absence of anything better to do, I find myself considering very simplistic scenario and attempting to work out the best way of solving them such that gameplay is fairest and most fun. Counter-Strike is a great game to exercise this on, due to its simple mechanic (oversimplified: two teams, one target).
A favourite scenario of mine is The Hill. It’s almost as simple as it gets. The two teams are on opposite sides of a hill; the only way to get from one side to the other is by going over the top. Importantly, as soon as you reach the peak, the other team can see you (and shoot at you). Observe my Oscar-nominated diagramming skills:
In any normal team-deathmatch game, this would be perfectly balanced. To win you must kill the other team. It’s simple and you can’t reach a draw condition - one team always wins.
In Counter-Strike too, there is no draw condition. However in CS, a game can be won without a single shot being fired. Since it is objective based (save a hostage or detonate a bomb), your team loses if you fail to complete the objective and you fail to wipe out the other team. So, consider the hill as a defusal scenario:
Remember, as soon as a player reaches the peak (the bomb spot), they can be shot at by the other side. What’s the best strategy for each team? To win, the Terrorists must stay alive and either detonate the bomb or kill all the CTs. The CTs simply need to stay alive and stop the bomb being detonated.
The Counter-Terrorists have it easy. They just need to avoid any grenades that are thrown over whilst also shooting at any Terrorist that dares pop up the hill and try planting a bomb. A couple of snipers is all they need to win.
Terrorists, on the other hand, can’t do much. As soon as they reach the top of the hill and the bomb spot, they can be sniped. They rely entirely on lobbing grenades and/or getting lucky running over the top and killing the CTs.
Hence I would argue the map is inbalanced - CTs appear to have the advantage, and the bomb spot is essentially useless. The map looks fair but it isn’t.
de_hill, Take 2
To fix the map, we could alter the landscape, add tunnels, bridges, vehicles… all sorts of things to balance it out. But that’s not the point. We have a hill. We like it. We want to keep it that way.
The only real alternative is to move the bomb spot. We can essentially do two things: move it closer to the Terrorists or move it closer to the CTs.
Moving the spot closer to the CTs (the yellow spot) would not help at all. However moving it towards the Terrorist side (the pink spot) seems ideal: the Terrorist side now has a chance to plant the bomb without immediately being sniped, and the CTs must now earn victory.
In a real game, with a real map, I expect the bomb spot would be half way up the hill. The CTs could stay safely on their side and lob grenades over attempting to kill any Terrorist who tries to plant the bomb. Of course, the Terrorists could do the same back, whilst also having the advantage that they are playing defensively and don’t need to go to the CT side of the hill. Hence, the CTs are essentially in the same situation the Terrorists were before: they can’t actively defend the spot without being sniped as they pop over.
The advantage has really only been switched to the Terrorists… hasn’t it?
Fairness and Fun
This scenario is actually better for the simple reason that any Terrorist wanting to plant the bomb would need to endanger themselves by getting closer to the top of the hill, and hence face a higher chance of being killed by the CTs. Similarly, the CTs can’t sit safe and they too must put themselves at risk in order to win.
Compare this to the original situation and it this would certainly be more exciting since both teams will need to put themselves at risk in order to win. If the Terrorists try to camp out and snipe any CTs over the hill, they’ll lose if the bomb isn’t planted and not all the CTs go over. If the CTs camp, they’ll lose if the bomb is planted.
That is to say, moving the bomb spot closer to the Terrorists requires much more thought and strategy than simply waiting for a head to peer over the peak.
You can also consider The Hill as a hostage scenario, bearing in mind that hostage rescue requires two points - the location of the hostages and the location of the hostage rescue point. You can also consider how gameplay would be affected if you could go not only over the top of the hill, but round it as well. Or even just forget the hill entirely and consider a long tunnel separating the two teams.
I’m now off to tick off the “Makes hills marginally more exciting” entry on my to-do list.