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Interview: Certain Affinity gets us ready for Halo 4′s Castle map pack

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Halo 4‘s Castle Map Pack is coming April 8. It is the third and final map pack available from the War Games Pass. It contains three new maps: Daybreak, Outcast and Perdition. These new maps are designed for vehicle use and objective based gameplay. GamerTell talked to two employees from Certain Affinity, designers of the Castle Map Pack.

They have worked on the series since Halo 2. Certain Affinity’s other projects include co-development on Call of Duty: World at War and Left 4 Dead. Shooters aren’t all they do.  They brought us the original titles  Age of Booty, a pirate-themed strategy game and action RPG Crimson Alliance.

Senior Brand and Community Manager Mike McCarthy and Senior Producer Tom Potter gave GamerTell the lowdown on the new maps and the design process behind them.

Neither of these men initially set out to be in game design. Potter majored in biochemistry. When he got a job in the field, he discovered he really didn’t like lab work. He went into game journalism, which transitioned into a career in game design at Iron Lore Entertainment. Their best known project was the THQ RPG Titan Quest. Iron Lore closed down, but the skills Potter developed helped him land at Certain Affinity.

McCarthy began in graphic design, working his way to the famed Leo Burnett Agency. While there, Nielsen Media Research put out what became known as the “missing men” study as it noted serious drops in primetime TV viewing among males aged 18-34.

“It turns out they were playing video games,” he said. McCarthy encouraged Leo Burnett to set up a part of the agency just to do video game marketing, and do it right. At the time, he didn’t realize he was opening up a new career path for himself.

Certain Affinity’s connection with the Halo series is a longstanding one.

“Our founder Max Hoberman worked at Bungie for 10 years,” McCarthy said. “Our first project was the last maps for Halo 2. They were kind of a love letter to the Halo community.”

That’s a group that can be pretty hard to please. According to feedback they got at PAX East, McCarthy thinks they have pulled it off.

“A lot of people played the new maps and said one of them was their favorite,” he said. “I was playing too, and we had so much fun I forgot I was working several times. I’m giving high fives and then I have to stop and remember to work. Oh yes, the Castle Map Pack is coming out April 8.”

Potter said that’s when the team knows it has something.

“It’s rare to look forward to playtesting,” he said. “But we do. It’s Halo, the sandbox is totally there. If we’re dreading playtesting, we know we’ve gone wrong somewhere.”

Map design involves art and storytelling. The most important part of the foundation, according to Certain Affinity, is fun. This often makes it necessary to make huge changes late in the map design process. That happened with the Castle Map Pack. Daybreak was very far along in the process, but in playtesting it was apparent the map was missing something.

“Someone mentioned the Banshee,” Potter said. “The Banshee is notoriously difficult to add late in the process. It’s like, you’re kidding. You want to go back and add this now? But we did, and when we playtested it with those changes, that map was more fun.”

Daybreak is a large, asymmetrical map. The Warthog is an integral part, as you’ll need it to flank the enemy base. The rocket launcher and Banshee spawn diagonal to the starting bases. Thus, some of the first fights will be over who controls them. Everybody loves a good, frantic fight over the power items.

McCarthy even though a multiplayer map doesn’t add cutscenes or dialog to the game, it can still tell a story.

“Outcast, for example, is this beautiful desert map,” he said. “It’s built around a planet never really affected by the Covenant wars. We can build out the Halo fiction.  It’s not just an arena space. We try to show that these are real locations that come alive. ”

Outcast is a map where controlling vehicle paths will be important. Certain Affinity promises Mantis vs. Wraith battles will be a centerpiece of the map.

The final map is Perdition, filled with long lines of sight for you snipers out there. Don’t get too comfy, as the map contains a Gravity Hammer. The Warthog is important here too. Smart drivers will use it to lockdown part of the map and bring in ordinances.

The Castle Map Pack hits Xbox Live April 8 for 800 Microsoft Points. ($10.)  If you purchased the War Games Map Pass or the Halo 4 Limited Edition, you saved 15 percent on them what you would pay buying them individually. Along with the maps is a new Castle DLC playlist. The six-vs-six list focuses on objective based and team gameplay.

 

 

 

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