On April 8th the Castle Map Pack will be released for Halo 4. The pack is being developed by Certain Affinity, and we sat down with producer Tom Potter and Senior Environmental Artist Ryan Mansfield to talk about the process of making Halo multiplayer maps, the challenges in balancing them and their all-time favourite Halo maps.
Was there any particular goal you had in mind when you started making the Castle Map Pack?
Tom – Certain Affinity also worked on the Majestic Map Pack which consisted of smaller maps and was very focused on infantry combat. The natural progression for us was to go back to vehicle style play, so these new maps are much larger and have a bigger variety of vehicles, including the power vehicles.
One example is Outcast, the largest of the three maps, which has the Mantis, a Wraith and, in some modes, the Scorpion, so I think we’re definitely moving back to vehicle-based play. A lot of this spawned from Certain Affinity, as a group, playing Halo 4 and paying attention to what people are saying in the community what they’re looking for in new maps.
We’re trying to respond to that as quickly as we can, so a lot of the designers here with Majestic were saying “Hey, people in the community are we looking for smaller maps.” There was a great opportunity to capitalise on that. I think it comes full circle now that Castle is coming out and people want vehicle-based maps.
How difficult is to implement vehicles into a map so they are most effective?
Ryan – The vehicles used to change at random. We do a lot of play-testing here, because we’re fans, so we’re constantly switching up the vehicles to find what’s best. A good example is Daybreak, a medium size map coming with the Castle pack. We had the traditional Warthogs in there and the Ghost but it was just missing something, so we ended up adding the Banshee half way through, which ended up changing the whole feel of the map.
It was the product of constant play-testing and knowing what to look for. Then the minute we put the Ghost in it changed again and we started playing around with even how we built parts of the map.
Do you envision how players will play your maps – what they’ll do, where they’ll go, what they’ll pick up, etc – and do they ever play differently to how you expected?
Tom – The nature of map design is that things often go a way that you wouldn’t expect them to go. So one of the pillars with us at CA is to play-test and play-test and play-test so we get as much feedback as possible.
We try to imagine how people will play but one of the more important things we have to consider is that, especially in something like Halo, that the infantry versus infantry works well, that the vehicles versus vehicles works well and then also that vehicle versus infantry works well. So we have to set up our spaces based on those parameters and make sure no one of those pillars has a tactical advantage.
It can be really tricky to work out, which is why we play-test so much, we gather groups three times a day to do so and then receive feedback which is a great help to the designers.
When it comes to making a map unique, what aspect of the design do you consider first?
Tom – I don’t think there’s always one thing. From a design perspective where ideas come from depends on what we’re doing, so with the Majestic pack we wanted to do arena-style maps like Monolith. Now with the Castle pack it’s a return to more organic shapes and a focus on vehicular play dictated that these were larger maps. A designer will have an idea for the overall flow of a map but a visual lead may have an idea like “Oh, let’s make this underground reactor” so we work together to make both work as best they can. It’s never a generalisation that comes from one area.
Some Halo fans feel there is a shortage of really small, dense maps. Is that something you wanted to address?
Tom – That was really the inspiration for the Majestic Pack. With our designers and artists as part of the community for Halo 4 we knew that there was a desire for smaller maps and more intimate combat. That was the genesis of that map pack.
Now having done that, and we consider those maps really successful, the natural evolution for us was to go to larger maps. Let’s give people a new Dominion map and support some of the new modes on offer. So we emphasised that.
We’re always listening to the community so we know what we can do to give people what they’re looking for.
Finally, what are your favourite Halo maps from any of the games?
Ryan – That’s a tough question, there are so many!
Tom – I can give this a shameless plug actually, and I mean this, the last few map packs that CA have been involved in have had some of the best maps we’ve ever done. Obviously I’m biased though. My favourite is probably Daybreak in the Castle Pack, and the reason I say that is that we’ve had some absolutely epic matches during our play-tests here.
Usually we just play through certain game-types a few times but there have been some serious rivalries recently and games going down the tiebreaks. We sometimes end up playing again and again and again which actually interferes with why we do the play-testing in the first place!
The Castle Map Pack is due to be released for Halo 4 in April, be sure to check back for more information about the DLC and a review nearer the time.