In July 2005, evidence surfaced that Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios was working on a Halo-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Two weeks after Microsoft closed Ensemble in September 2008, reports surfaced that the project in question had been set in the Halo universe. Apparent art assets from the game surfaced, showing a sci-fi world that bore a resemblance to the wildly popular fantasy MMORPG World of Warcraft.
Two years later, a former Ensemble developer has pulled back the curtain on the stillborn Halo MMORPG to IncGamers. Ex-Ensemble Studios member Dusty Monk, who founded indie shop Windstorm Studios last March, told the game site that Microsoft had planned for the Halo MMORPG to be a full-on competitor to WOW.
What made Ensemble think it could take on the biggest MMORPG in the world? Money, for one. Microsoft allocated $90 million to develop the project and, given its deep pockets, would have likely given more. Secondly, its tight-knit team had confidence. Ensemble had success taking on Blizzard's real-time strategy games and had studied its opponent enough to think it could compete against WOW. Third and foremost, it had Halo, unquestionably one of the most popular brands in gaming.
Unfortunately, after more than three years in development, the project was undone by one little white box--and a lot of office politics. "There was a bit of a changing of the guard at Microsoft at this time," Monk explained to IncGamers. "Microsoft, from its gaming division, was really changing directions. They were looking really hard at the Nintendo Wii and they were really excited by the numbers that the Wii was turning. This was about the time that Microsoft decided that its Xbox platform and Xbox Live Arcade really needed to go more in the direction of appealing to a more casual, broader audience."
As a result, the Halo MMORPG--code-named "Titan"--was quietly canceled in 2007, and eventually Ensemble itself was closed down. Ironically, some of the game's former developers found jobs at WOW developer Blizzard Entertainment, and Monk feels that many of the game's concepts can be found in the DNA of other MMORPGs.
"We were developing a cover system. This cover system is in Star Wars: The Old Republic," explained Monk. "We had the idea of quests…between 2004 and 2007, before Warhammer Online had been released…where you could participate and pull [characters] together without having to be on the same team. This would be a public quest that everyone in a particular area could work on. That idea went into Warhammer Online."