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Halo jazz: How 343 Industries and Certain Affinity collaborated to create the Majestic Map Pack

Next Monday, Feb. 25, Halo 4 players will be able to purchase the Majestic Map Pack. It will bring three new maps, a new game type and two new playlists to the game's multiplayer arena.

Majestic is a collaboration between Halo 4 developer 343 Industries and Austin, Texas-based studio Certain Affinity. Majestic is the latest Certain Affinity product for 343, a working relationship that began with the Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach. For Majestic, the two companies worked together to develop the maps, which are designed to be smaller and foster a quicker pace of combat. Polygon spoke with developers from both companies recently about the maps, how collaboration works and what their overall goals were.

"We do collaborative development," Kynan Pearson, lead multiplayer level designer at 343, told Polygon in a recent interview. "We work on certain parts, and they work on certain parts. With this map pack in particular, [Certain Infinity] did the level layouts. We would playtest together, we'd give feedback and ask for certain refinements ... and they did the majority of the layouts and figuring out the concept work for what the visual language of the levels was going to be and what their themes are."

What players will see in Majestic is the distilled essence of "six or seven loose ideas" that Certain Affinity had when it began to think about the maps, according to Mike Clopper, lead level designer at Certain Affinity. Working with 343, the two developers winnowed the ideas down to a theme of diversity, both in terms of map layout and visual styles. Those ideas bounced back and forth between the two developers until levels started to emerge.

"Early on, I look at it like we're playing jazz and bouncing off of each other."

"It was very collaborative early on and continued to be," Clopper told Polygon in a recent interview. "Once you start getting into rigorous user testing, it starts to become a lot more on rails and a lot more locked in. Early on, I look at it like we're playing jazz and bouncing off of each other."

For Majestic, that visual language focuses on "very intense, infantry-focused" maps, according to Mike Ellis, design director at 343 Industries.

"One thing that ties Majestic all together is that it's very intense ... the maps are a little bit smaller and we have this intense, close-quarters combat feel," Ellis said.

The first map, Landfall, is a medium-sized asymmetrical battleground. The inside portions offer close quarters with sparse cover in the form of crates and vehicles, while the outside portions have long lines of sight designed for ranged combat. Fictionally, it takes place on a world called Tribute, which Spartans defended before eventually ceding it to the Covenant.

A map called Monolith is the first of two smaller, symmetrical maps. Unlike Landfall, it lacks cover, which the developers hope will give players incentive to fight quickly in the open spaces, which lends itself to objective-based modes like capture the flag. A Forerunner location, Monolith was built as a monument to celebrate an ancient victory.

The final map, Skyline, is small, symmetrical, based on a rooftop and designed for close-quarters combat. There's cover here like in Landfall, but the map is littered with fuel cells, which enemies can pick off and explode to damage those who think they may be safe.

343 and Certain Affinity will also ship a new game type called Infinity Rumble. A timed exclusive to buyers of the Majestic Map Pack, the free-for-all lets players earn ordnance through performance. Players will earn ordnance faster by executing stylish kills and medals on the battlefield. Two new playlists, Majestic Team DLC and Majestic FFA DLC, round out the package. Team DLC is a 4 vs. 4 playlist with a mixture of objective and free-for-all game types, while Majestic FFA is an every-Spartan-for-himself free-for-all skirmish.

On the cusp of shipping its latest map pack for a Halo game, Certain Affinity's Clopper frames the new maps as a community-driven effort because Majestic's maps are a something of a counterbalance to the larger maps unveiled so far.

"I think it's a nice counter to some of the larger maps where things are a little more leisurely," he said. "In these maps, the intensity level that some of the people are experiencing is right were the community needs it to be."

The Majestic Map Pack will be available through Xbox Live next Monday, Feb. 25, for 800 Microsoft Points ($10). You can check out Landfall, Monolith and Skyline in the gallery above.

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