Halo 4's first DLC map pack Crimson failed to wow the battle-hardened faithful, but the following Majestic pack was aptly titled indeed - a wickedly laid-out trio of small-to-medium infantry engagements, with Promethean shrine Monolith stealing the gold medal spot. Next week 343 and Microsoft will release the Castle pack (on 9th April, to be precise), which comprises three more maps built for vehicle play. Good news indeed, if you find vanilla Halo 4 a little claustrophobic at times.
Making maps for Halo is a bit of a dark art, it seems. Universal design problems like how to make scenarios interesting on repeat visits are heightened, continuity between the multiplayer arenas and single player fiction can be hard to communicate - and since the arrival of Forge Mode, teams have had to reckon with competition from a bustling community of map editors, churning out scores of variations on a daily basis. I spoke to 343's Dan Ayoub and Certain Affinity's Tom Potter and Ryan Mansfield for insights.
With particular reference to the Castle Map Pack, where does map creation begin? Do you write the area's backstory and extrapolate from it, or do you draw a route in the air and start to build terrain around it?
RM: Basically it's kind of an interesting thing where design and art come together. Design will have an idea, and usually art will come in and say they don't like it. So we'll sit down and hash out a theme and story, but the final product is usually not what we dreamed of. Because whilst the designers are creating and people are play-testing, we might end up needing to add a vehicle like a Banshee or something, and then the next thing you know we'll need a blocker.
So now we'll have this huge wall somewhere in the middle of the map, and that wall can actually become the centrepiece of the map, which then becomes the main reason behind the story. It's never one thing, every day is an inch forward towards the end goal, and what we come up with is usually not even close to what we start with - it's all part of a huge collaborative process.
TP: You can think of it as a huge tug of war between art and design, where design will have a pretty good idea of how a map should flow, and art will have a good idea about how a map should look. And those two groups sort of work it out between them, like "hey if you turn that into a crate, things will work out perfectly". So with those two groups or forces, there's an ebb and flow there that goes back and forth, and they sort of work it out between them.
RM: Perdition started out as an outdoor sunny map, but it ended up being a sub-city map with a reactor melting down. That's how it just goes.
Sounds like it can be a pretty crazy process. Have you worked on any other maps that changed as dramatically between concept and production?
RM: Well, much like Perdition going from an outdoor map to a sub-city one, Daybreak was actually a whole other map, but it just wasn't working so we ended up scrapping it. And then we came up with a new version of Daybreak, a smaller map with a different look due to its place in the timeline. And after iterating on that, it changed because again, that map wasn't working perfectly, so somebody suggested adding a Banshee.