With Halo 4 having released yesterday, I'm sure many of you are soaking up the gameplay. Reviews are steadily pouring in revealing impressive scores for the latest installment in Microsoft's popular franchise. While many are speaking glowingly of 343 Industries' work on Halo 4, there's another studio that may be flying a little under the radar.
Certain Affinity, an Austin-based studio, has had quite a heavy role in the development of Halo 4 — particularly the multiplayer aspect of the game. In fact, Certain Affinity has quietly amassed quite an impressive resume of games they've worked on over the years. Past titles under the studio's belt, to name a few, include Halo 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and, of course, the most recent Halo 4.
Now Certain Affinity has been credited with their work on Halo 4's map editor, the Forge. A few months ago there was a video released in which the studio highlighted many of the improvements that expand the popular map editor. Aside from having three maps with different types of environments to choose from, the Forge has undergone a tremendous overhaul, resulting in an improved system that lets you duplicate objects, lock objects in place, and even magnetize objects to snap objects onto others for smoother surfaces. Of course, the big feature is the addition of Trait zones which, upon entering, alter the player's traits (increased jump height, faster speeds, improved shields or health, invisibility, etc.).
The Forge in Halo 4 certainly is a feature to be proud of, but Certain Affinity has played a much larger role in Halo 4's multiplayer aspect. And unfortunately, much of it has gone unrecognized.
"We did a whole lot of stuff," Certain Affinity President and Creative Director Max Hoberman told us. "We were on Halo 4 for 18 months or so. We actually had all hands on deck for the majority of that time so kind of full blown engagement on the multiplayer side of things."
"We were full blown co-development for multiplayer in Halo 4. We did a whole bunch of multiplayer maps for the game, all of the Forge maps, the Forge feature maps, and a bunch of game modes including Dominion," he explained. For those who haven't yet played this mode, Dominion places three areas around the map that need to be captured. Once a point is captured, that team and its players can choose to reinforce it with unlockable defensive features. Once every point has been captured by a team, a sudden death round begins in which the leading team can win by eliminating every player on the opposing team.
Certain Affinity's work on the Halo franchise spreads far beyond Halo 4 though. In fact, dating all the way back to Halo 2, the studio has created just a little less than 30-or so maps for the franchise. Now that's dedication. And their dedication to the franchise definitely shows in Halo 4.
"It was a big undertaking for us," VP of Product Development Phil Wattenbarger, "two out of the three map packs."
Would such a big undertaking place pressure on the studio? After all, Halo 4 was one of the most highly-anticipated titles and easily Microsoft's most expensive game to date.
"We're super excited, but I would say 'cautiously optimistic'," Hoberman said. "That's about as optimistic as you can ever be, if you've been in the game industry for a while."
Hoberman went on to say that it was such a huge responsibility to "not screw it up."
"When we're working on this multiplayer content — whether its the maps or the game modes — it's such a huge responsibility because, whatever we create, there's people that are going to be playing this content thousands upon thousands of times."
To solve the problem of "not screwing up" the multiplayer, Certain Affinity made sure to spend plenty of time playtesting the game. While in the development phase, they playtested the game "multiple times a day, ever single day" equating to over a "year-plus' of playtesting in one form of another.
At the end of the day, nobody really knows how Halo 4 will be received until it's released to the public. Sure, we have reviews (ours coming tomorrow), but ultimately it comes down to how fans perceive the game. And with a game as big as Halo 4, fans are going to be extra critical, especially of the multiplayer mode which is where the primary replay value is found.
It's interested, that from a development standpoint, Certain Affinity recognizes this. They acknowledged that "no review will sort of pass judgment on multiplayer. The community will pass judgment."
So I asked them, how do they feel Halo 4's multiplayer stacks up to its predecessors.
"Personally, I love Halo 2 multiplayer; but I also love Halo 4 multiplayer," Hoberman said, leading me to believe he was dodging the question. "Their so different, especially with Forge in there and with the sort of loadout system introduced. They are almost like different games."
"But there's enough of that core Halo there, so that it still feels like Halo. Which I think is fantastic," he concluded. "It's something we cared about and we were very adamant about also. My personal opinion is that Halo 4 multiplayer is going to stack up alongside people's favorite, greatest Halo multiplayer game, and it's going to hold up really well."