We'd like to introduce you to Certain Affinity - a new game development studio founded by ex-Bungie elder statesman Max Hoberman. Max and team are currently hard at work on new maps for Halo 2 but their longer term plans likely involve some form of world domination not to dissimilar from the goals of Bungie Studios.
While internet rumors once indicated that Max was operating under the surname "Max Hogan" to develop a line of fashion-forward mens undergarments, in reality he's been building up a brand new business and cranking away on Halo goodness.
ht In this interview, Frankie chats with Max about the new venture and what's been going on down in Austin, Texas.
Hello, Max! Why don't you tell us a bit about yourself, and who you are to Bungie?
Hi Frankie. You know who I am, but I’ll play along. I’m the multiplayer design lead behind Halo 2 and Halo 3. And by multiplayer that pretty much means everything, including the user interface and the entire online system - matchmaking, host migration, parties - you name it. Of course I wasn’t alone doing all of this, I was helped by an amazing team at Bungie. Before Halo 2, I was in charge of the UI for Halo, and before that I founded Bungie’s Community team. In fact, I don’t think you’d have this cushy job if not for me! (ed note: He did in fact hire me, Sketch, who in turn hired Frankie, so we both owe it all to Max). Before that I was with Bungie in Chicago running our Bungie.net online service, designing Bungie web sites, working on marketing materials, you name it. I’m actually one of the longest serving Bungie employees, which is part of what makes leaving so difficult.
LEAVING!? Whaa….? We’ll get back to that in a second. What have you been doing down in Texas all this time?
Not many people know this but my wife and I both grew up in Austin, so we consider it home. It's only when I moved to Bungie in Chicago that I left Austin. Sometimes it’s hard to be far away from family for a long time, and I’ve been gone 10 years now. I got the chance to return earlier this year while still continuing my work on Halo 3. I wrapped that work up fairly recently and since then I’ve been working on Halo 2 multiplayer maps. Yes, these are the same maps announced for release this spring.
What are the new Halo 2 maps like? Is Hang ‘Em High one of them?
I can’t really say much about the new maps. Sorry, that’s Bungie policy. We’ve been playtesting them a ton though and they’re damn fun. My team is still learning the tools, but they’re experienced artists and designers and I’m confident that the maps are going to be hugely popular.
Alright, so what does it mean for Halo 3 if you're leaving Bungie?
I charted the course for Halo 3's online and multiplayer features before I made this decision and I trained a team more than capable of following through on them. I've been playing a Microsoft-only alpha test of Halo 3, and I can tell you that it’s true to my designs and a lot of fun. It's incredible to see it actually playable instead of just in the pages of design docs. Now, will my leaving have any impact on Halo 3? We've been managing the transition process for the better part of a year now, with a view to this happening, and I’m confident that the team that’s in place will do a phenomenal job finishing the game.
If you're leaving Bungie, what's going to happen to those Halo 2 maps you've been working on?
My new company, Certain Affinity , is going to be finishing the maps. The fact that I need to operate as a separate company is really a result of wanting to hire the right staff in Austin. The link between me and Bungie will continue to be strong. Actually Zach and I were just discussing having me fly up to Redmond on a regular basis. I told him as long as it’s first class, and I get two seats, and a stuffed bear, I’ll consider.
So why is Certain Affinity not Bungie? Are you a Microsoft studio?
Bungie doesn't want to operate in two places at once. Microsoft Game Studios left Austin last year when they closed the Digital Anvil studio, so starting another Microsoft studio in Austin isn't going to happen any time soon. I’m interested in making kick-ass games and I’ve discovered an amazing pool of talent in Austin, so I’ve decided to take the leap and start a game company. The group of developers I’ve put together is amazingly experienced and capable, and I’m psyched about where we’re going.
How did you come up with the name Certain Affinity ?
Aha! I knew you were going to ask that.That’s why I didn’t prepare an answer. It’s sort of like that story you told me about Jumbo’s Clown Room.
Who are some of the people working at Certain Affinity ?
There are nine of us to start with, including myself. The line-up is incredible and the AVERAGE experience in the business is 12 years! Another Bungie alumni, David Bowman, is a seasoned game designer and team leader from Turbine Artifact, who created the “Horizons: Empire of Istaria” MMO. Paul Isaac programmed on the original “Wing Commander” game back at Origin, and was lead programmer on "Freelancer." Martin Galway (legendary musician who ranks up there, right above Marty O’Donnell –Edit. Frankie) started in the early eighties on the Commodore 64 and has continued making game audio since. He's our operations manager and audio lead.
Chad Armstrong, AKA Little Lord British, is " Shishka " from your favorite Bungie forums, and is our technical artist. Mike Clopper created levels and environments on "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter" - nuff said. Steve Pietzsch and Dean McCall are artists from Digital Anvil and Origin before that, and Peter Carter is a programmer from Digital Anvil.
Member #10 we call "Art Director X" because, well, we don’t know who they are yet! (We are hiring, check our website for the job posting – www.certainaffinity.com - shameless plug!!!) In a nutshell, the company is talented and experienced, has been working together for months, and oozes online and multiplayer gameplay experience and cinematic and storytelling expertise—a good combination for what we want to work on in the future.
After the Halo 2 maps are finished, is this the last Halo fans will hear from you?
Of course, not! We’ll be heads down for a while, as we’re simultaneously building a game of our own.
We will have more news and updates from Max and team in the near future as we are able to reveal more details of the Halo 2 maps and whatever else they are cooking up. In the meantime, keep your eyes on their website and if you know any art directors, send them their way!