Wednesday, February 1, 2023

After years of turmoil, Microsoft's Halo studio is facing a reboot

 Due to the cuts, there were rumors that 343 would outsource Halo series development to other game companies. "343 will continue as the internal developer for Halo and as the home of Halo," stated Matt Booty, head of Microsoft's Xbox Game Studios, in an interview.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Microsoft Corp. has stated that it will continue to develop new Halo games at its prized 343 Industries studio. However, the company is practically starting from scratch following a leadership reorganization, numerous layoffs, and a slew of significant modifications.

Halo Infinite, the most recent game from 343 Industries, based in Redmond, Washington, was released in December 2021 to widespread critical acclaim. It was viewed as a story of redemption for a title that had numerous delays, interminable issues during development, and a whirlwind of creative leads. However, in the months that followed, fans turned against the game, expressing displeasure at the game's lack of a roadmap and the sluggish release of features that had been anticipated from the start. At the same time, 343 was losing staff by the week and underwent a significant leadership transition in the fall, prompting some employees to prepare for a reorganization.

When Microsoft announced massive layoffs in the middle of January, 343 Industries was hard hit. A spreadsheet of affected employees reviewed by Bloomberg indicates that at least 95 employees at Microsoft have lost their jobs, despite Microsoft's refusal to provide specific figures. The list included a number of seasoned professionals, including notable directors and contractors, on whom the studio heavily depends. People who were familiar with the procedure but were not authorized to speak publicly claim that those temporary employees were only given a few days' notice before their contracts ended.

Due to the cuts, there were rumors that 343 would outsource Halo series development to other game companies. "343 will continue as the internal developer for Halo and as the home of Halo," stated Matt Booty, head of Microsoft's Xbox Game Studios, in an interview. Booty has assured 343 employees that, despite working with partners and outsourcing companies, they will still be in charge. Despite the studio's hollowing out and significant alterations to its game development process, there are still concerns regarding the Halo franchise's fate.

One of the most important of these is a switch to a new gaming engine, which is a set of tools and technology for making video games. One of the most contentious issues over the past two decades has been the studio's own engine, Slipspace to the public. People who are familiar with the development said that it is largely based on old code from the 1990s and early 2000s, is buggy, difficult to use, and has caused some Halo Infinite developers problems. They claimed that issues with the engine are to blame for the delay in the release of several multiplayer modes that are nearly finished, such as Extraction and Assault, which were both popular multiplayer modes in previous Halo games.

Over the course of the past ten years, management at 343 thought about switching to the well-known Unreal Engine from Epic Games Inc. However, the company didn't make the final decision to switch to Unreal until late last year, when Pierre Hintze took over in place of Bonnie Ross, the previous studio head, and David Berger, the engine lead. According to those with knowledge of the plans, the new switch will begin with a game with the codename Tatanka. People said that this project, which 343 is working on with the game studio Certain Affinity in Austin, Texas, started out as a battle royale game but could go in different directions. Although internal skeptics are concerned that the switch may have a negative impact on the way Halo games feel to play, future games in the series will also explore using the Unreal Engine, which may simplify development. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to discuss engine issues or the company's plans to switch to Unreal.

Fans had assumed that 343 was working on new story content in addition to the new multiplayer modes since Halo Infinite was released. However, according to those who were aware of the situation, this was not the case. Instead of working on new missions for Halo Infinite, developers were creating prototypes in the Unreal Engine and pitching concepts for new Halo games. According to the individuals, the company is not actively working on new story content, and many of those developers were laid off this month. A spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment.

The reorganization was long overdue, according to some observers and former 343 employees. The studio, which was established in 2007 to take over Halo after Bungie, the game's original developer, was acquired by Microsoft, has faced numerous obstacles, including the release of several polarizing games. On Twitter, former 343 designer Patrick Wren stated that during the development of Halo Infinite, "incompetent leadership up top" caused "massive stress on those working hard to make Halo the best it can be," resulting in job cuts and the current state of the Halo franchise as a whole.

Microsoft once stated that Halo Infinite would be "the start of the next ten years for Halo," but its recent actions indicate a more immediate strategy. Following the layoffs, Hintze sent an email to employees outlining the current strategy for 343: "greenlighting our new tech stack" for future Halo games, "bringing Halo to more players through more platforms than ever before," and supporting "a robust live offering" for Halo Infinite and its Forge level creator.

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