Home Technology The Microsoft Studio Behind Halo Franchise Is All But Starting From Scratch

The Microsoft Studio Behind Halo Franchise Is All But Starting From Scratch

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(Bloomberg) — Microsoft Corp. says it will continue to make new games in the popular Halo franchise at the company’s prized studio, 343 Industries — despite rumors to the contrary. But after a leadership overhaul, massive layoffs, and many big changes, the outfit is all starting from scratch. Redmond, Washington-based 343 Industries released its latest game Halo Infinite in December 2021 to widespread critical acclaim. It was seen as a redemption story for a title that suffered from multiple delays, never-ending development problems, and a merry-go-round of creative leads. At the same time, 343 seemed to be losing staff week by week, with a major leadership turnover last fall. and some employees are preparing for the reorganization.

In mid-January, the ax fell when Microsoft announced mass layoffs, hitting 343 Industries hard. Microsoft declined to provide specific numbers, but at least 95 of his people at the company have lost their jobs, according to a spreadsheet of affected employees reviewed by Bloomberg. The list features dozens of veterans, including top directors and contractors, on whom the studio relies heavily. The temporary workers, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly, were warned days before their contracts ended, according to people familiar with the matter.

The cut has sparked rumors that 343 will outsource development of the Halo series to another game company. “343 will continue to be Halo’s internal developer and home to Halo,” said Matt Booty, Microsoft’s head of Xbox Game Studios, in an interview. Internally, Booty ensures that his 343 staff remain accountable even when working with outside partners and outsourcing companies. But with studios hollowed out and the way games are developed drastically changed, questions remain about the fate of the Halo franchise.

Chief among these is the shift to new game engines, the set of tools and technologies used to create video games. The studio’s own engine, publicly known as Slipspace, has been one of the biggest points of contention in the last two decades. Primarily based on his old code from the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s buggy and hard to use, causing headaches for some Halo Infinite developers, according to sources familiar with the development. said. Several popular multiplayer modes in previous Halo games, such as Extraction and Assault, have yet to be released due to engine-related issues, they said.

At some point over the past decade, management at 343 has discussed switching to Epic Games Inc.’s popular Unreal Engine. But it wasn’t until late last year, when former studio head Bonnie Ross and Engine leader David Berger retired and Pierre Hintze took over, that the company finally decided on his pivot to Unreal. The switch will begin with a new game codenamed Tatanka, according to people familiar with the plans. The project, which 343 is developing in conjunction with Austin, Texas-based game studio Certain Affinity, started as a battle royale but could take a different direction, sources said. . Future games in the series will also consider using his Unreal Engine. This could make development easier, but internal skeptics fear the switch will negatively affect the feel of the Halo game. and declined to comment on plans to move to Unreal.

Since Halo Infinite was released, fans assumed 343 was working on new content for the story, in addition to a new multiplayer mode. But that wasn’t the case, according to people familiar with the matter. Rather than working on new missions for Halo Infinite, developers were prototyping in Unreal Engine and pitching ideas for new Halo games. Many of those developers were laid off this month, and the company isn’t actively working on content for new stories, officials said. A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to comment. In the eyes of some observers and his 343 former employees, restructuring seemed to be taking a long time. The studio, which he founded in 2007 to inherit Halo after Microsoft parted ways with its original developer, Bungie, has faced many challenges, including the release of several polarizing games. I have suffered. Patrick Wren, former designer of 343, said on his Twitter that the job cuts and the state of the Halo franchise as a whole were the result of “incompetent leadership at the top” during Halo Infinite’s development and that “they are working hard to make Halo. “It put a lot of stress on the people I work with,” he said. the best it can do.

Microsoft once promised Halo Infinite would be “the start of the next Halo decade,” but recent moves point to a more short-term vision. In an email to staff after the layoffs, Hintze said the 343’s current plans will support a “strong live service” for Halo Infinite and its Forge level creators, as well as a “new tech stack for future Halo games.” It writes that it is to give a green light. Bringing Halo to more players across more platforms than ever before. “

©2023 Bloomberg LP

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