Halo MMO: The Clues

By Jim Rossignol on July 17th, 2008 at 2:37 pm.


The existence of a Halo MMO is an ongoing rumour, but how likely is it?

It’s a safe bet that if anyone was going to be able to pull off a successful MMOFPS, it would be Bungie and Microsoft with a version of Halo. Of course it might just be on 360, but why wouldn’t MS try to tap into the Blizzard millions with a cross-platform version? This is more than wishful thinking: the clues are out there. No, they really are.

Why do we think there’s going to be a Halo MMO? Well, MS have said that their next game is not going to be a game starring Master Chief, that alone should set some lateral-thinking bells ringing. LOTR director Peter Jackson is, apparently, overseeing a game based in the Halo universe at his Wingnut Interactive studio in New Zealand, and some have tipped his commitment to make “filmic games” to be part of an MMO spearhead. I’m unconvinced by that- filmic says “single player” to me.

But there are some other clues that are littered around the internet. A number of these are rather spurious, and amount to little more than speculation. But the idea that consoles would do MMOs where text-input wasn’t really necessary (ie a shooter where the partying was handle by an augmented FPS interface) is a potent one.

More concretely, however, there’s DonnyBrook. That’s the codename for Microsoft’s MMOFPS research project. This hardcore research paper is what we’ve got from that so far. In short, it’s the maths of how to make an MMO action game work when things start to get really busy. This alone suggests that Microsoft are rather interested in the technology that will found an MMOFPS.

The concept is explained in a little more detail in this video interview with MS’s Jacob Lorch:

So that’s lot of people, fighting like in FPS, but at MMO numbers. Interesting indeed.

Lorch’s research is being done with Quake 3 – free source code makes it a cool toy for this kind of research – but there’s only one studio related to Microsoft that could potentially make full use of this technology. Given the propensity of publishers to rely on proven intellectual properties it’s hard to see that MS would launch an MMOFPS – a currently unproven genre – on anything less than its most solid title. The Halo world is already being massively fictionalised and fleshed with books and comics, ripe for more games set in the same world, especially the content-hungry MMO.

There’s also the degree to which Microsoft has to look at what its peers are doing. Sony announced “Massive Action Game” at E3 – I do hope that’s the final title – which intends to put 256 people into the same combat environment. If nothing else, a game of moderately-massive multiplayer aspirations gives the big publishers reason to be concerned, especially if MAG is a PS3 exclusive, as it’s bound to be.

Not only that, but it’s been a long, long time since Planetside – almost long enough to forget the hurt – and the MMOFPS gauntlet is overdue another shake. This time around, we’d suspect, someone is going to get it right.

Thanks to PC Gamer UK’s Tim Edwards for the heads up on some of these links.

__________________

« | »

, , , , , , .

80 Comments »

  1. cyrenic says:

    Halo is a triumph of accessibility, but it’s actual gameplay is the height of mediocrity. They’d have to change a lot of the fundamental gameplay for me to even consider playing an MMO version.

    Of course the PC version probably won’t come out until 3-4 years after the Xbox version :D.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Have you played World Of Warcraft recently?

  3. cyrenic says:

    Nope, not recently. WotLK’s announcement last year and the focus on arenas as the end all of PvP killed WoW pretty fast for me :P.

  4. Noc says:

    I feel like Jim’s point went completely over your head. So much so that I made that good ‘ole “Whoosh” in real life.

    Still, it’s worth a chuckle.

    [Edit: though it DOES occur to me that if they're doing a multiplayer FPS, then PC players, simply by virtue of having a more accurate control mechanism, would have something of an advantage over their thumbstick-bound counterparts on the console. I'm not sure how one would go about solving this.]

  5. Jigglybean says:

    Star Wars Galaxies is a rather poor MMOFPS after the huge changes made back in 2005. I remember when trying to shoot an NPC. They would just run off into the distance like something from Benny Hill!

  6. Bozzley says:

    I think I see what you did there :)

  7. AbyssUK says:

    Please god I hope your wrong.. the last thing the gaming community needs is MMO teabagging… honestly

  8. cyrenic says:

    Yeah I figured I was falling into a trap by responding to that, but figured I’d be honest :D. Less than 5 hours a sleep resulting from a newborn doesn’t help my already dull wits.

  9. Lukasz says:

    One of my wishes is too see FPS with hundreds of players fighting on the same map.
    I’ll buy xbox just to see that shit.

  10. Koopa says:

    Anyone know if MAG has a commander, like Battlefield games? 128 players per team running without proper leadership could be rather chaotic.

  11. propanol says:

    MMOs are about giving you an immersive, deep experience that keeps you coming back for more. Seeing as Halo has about the depth of a spoon, I don’t think it would be very suited for an MMO conversion.

  12. Noc says:

    Koopa: the beginning of the MAG trailer talked about a “Chain of Command,” so I assume so. But then it launched into a generic pre-rendered scene of future-war that looked more like a benchmark test than gameplay, so I don’t know how seriously to take it.

    And Propanol: Like the Warcraft universe, for example. There was all sorts of depth there before WoW came out, wasn’t there?

  13. Tak says:

    Good god. I know they could polish it up and make it smooth, but Halo just isn’t good enough to put hours and hours into like an MMO would call for. It’s good, but not that good when you stack it next to the other shooters out there. It would be a fanboy sell through and through. Also, why isn’t my spell-checker picking up ‘fanboy’, it’s a real word now!

    They’d be better off dumping Halo’s conventions and just sticking to the world (which is great as far as shooter worlds go), and doing it properly on the PC first. Thumbsticks are no substitute for a mouse.

  14. Kestrel says:

    COD4 has no backstory to speak of and very effectively balanced RPG lite elements. If Halo devs could take that and apply it as is to a persistent world they’d make a mint. Your standard FPS player doesn’t need lore.

  15. Gap Gen says:

    The hardcore research paper link doesn’t work for us serfs unendowed with Microsoft secure access, by the way.

  16. spd from Russia says:

    Halo on a pc? – crap

  17. CrashT says:

    Is it just me or did they get those videos of Quake 3 in the wrong order, the second one is much more jerky than the first.

  18. Mattress says:

    Halo, depth of spoons?
    I thought that both Combat Evolved and Halo3 contained some of the most engaging and engrossing experiences I’ve ever encountered in an action game, especially when playing co-op with a friend. I’d still hold Halo as an example of how adaptive AI can lead to emergent gameplay in otherwise mostly linear environments.

    As for MMOFPS’s; Massive Action Game despite it’s title looks a bit bland from the trailer, but you never know… 256 people on a server could be entertaining as long as it doesn’t suffer from battlefield 2 syndrome – an experience I had where I was lost, both in a map and in a steeEP learning curve whilst being hampered by lag…

    A Halo MMO though could be interesting as long as it sticks to it’s parent game’s principles of letting the entertainment come from within the players actions and not a constrained environment (which is why I don’t like Halo3 online).

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    Just to underline this entire discussion: MMO is a technology, not a genre. Don’t get confused about that.

  20. Alex says:

    Imagine that.. a constant chorus of 256 14-year-old American boys squeaking “FAG!!” at the top of their little lungs.. this is the stuff dreams are made of!

  21. Gap Gen says:

    FIX: The paper link works if you remove the ‘s’ from ‘https’. Fixed link:

    http://research.microsoft.com/~lorch/papers/iptps2007.pdf

  22. iainl says:

    Now, I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m doing most of my gaming on a 360 these days, as my PC has been left behind in the dark ages (every time I think about upgrading to play some fancy game, for instance last time Oblivion, it works out cheaper to just grab a console that can handle it).

    But anyone who claims Halo lacks either depth or long-term appeal needs to look at the stats for how popular 3 remains on Live, and play through the campaign on the higher difficulties (where actual tactics are needed to get through). The amount of depth achieved through the use of the shield to avoid HL2′s health-management boredom and the ways the different weapon combinations balance out different gameplay styles is phenomenal.

    Also, Halo Wars is looking rather spiffy. A version of that with each troop a real person would be great.

    But I’m going to go out on a speculative limb, and wonder if the response-sensitive MMO work might be for Bizarre and the PGR series…

  23. Gap Gen says:

    Alex: I dunno, Planetside kinda worked, but I guess it wasn’t Halo branded and so the legions of voice-com teens were less legion.

  24. Homunculus says:

    If we’re talking mumorpeger speculation crystallising around recently emerging factoids…Lucasfilm recently filed patents for something entitled The Old Republic and another for Star Wars The Old Republic, the wording for which describes “Entertainment services provided on-line…interactive computer game software”.

    Which may be construed as evidence of development of a Knights of the Old Republic mmo title.

  25. Dan says:

    It could be interesting. It would need both PvE and PvP environments though, and a way of playing one without the other. For me Capture the Flag gets boring regardless of how many people are playing it at the same time (probably gets less interesting as the numbers go up, in fact), although other people seem to be able to play it endlessly. But the idea of an FPS dungeon-style instance is intriguing, and the grind of “kill 10 (whatever-monsters-they-have-in-halo)” would, I imagine, be less dull if you were in first person, playing co-op, against mobs with decent AI.

  26. Hmm-hmm. says:

    Or perhaps: making a certain type of game work in an MMO-type environment requires different technology than that same type of game without the MMO part.

    Personally I see MMO as a form of game (if it’s a game at all) which can fit many genres.

  27. Ian says:

    @Noc: With Shadowrun didn’t they have to handicap the PC players so the poor pad-ites could keep up?

  28. Cooper says:

    “why wouldn’t MS try to tap into the Blizzard millions with a cross-platform version?”

    I think allusions to MMO games needing to ‘win over’ WoW players need to be banned.

    You later point out that MMOs are not a genre, which is exactly my gripe with these kinds of statements. I would happily consider playing a well designed MMOFPS, but you would have to pay me to play WoW.

    There are people out there who don’t play MMOs, (or – and whisper this quietly – play something other than WoW (I used to play EVE a bit, and still pine for what SeeD could have been)) who don’t necessarily have any particular aversion to the premise of an MMO. They in themselves represent a potential market.

    Unless a game is an obvious direct contender for WoW in genre and setting (Warhammer?), it’s a little bit specious to claim that any potential MMO should, or needs, to try and poach WoW players. Not to say that WoW isn’t hegemonic, but to refer to it – just because it is – seems a bit ingenious, and compunds this idea that Blizzard somehow have the MMO market cornered? (Whereas, I hope you’d agree, it’s still very young and underdetermined?)

    Anyway, I’m reading to much into it and having a rant into the wind – but the constant referal-back (without any attempt to make the reference relevant) to WoW whenever the MMO acronym comes out gets a bit tedious.

    EDIT: Also – on topic – despite looking forward to the possibility of a well-balanced MMOFPS – I don’t think a Halo MMO would convince me, not only because of the voice chat I’ve overheard on my mate’s XBox (and – let’s be honest now – the PC is hardly immune from this) but because It’s not a universe that has ever intrigued me. But, if Bungie get the balance right – make it a game where my piss-poor deathmatch skills don’t matter so much (support roles plskthx)- and don’t fiddle with FPS mechanics too much (anyone else hate the way bullets came out of your shoulder in Stalker because of the RPG ‘accuracy’ element?) I’ll probably give it a go.

  29. Alex Taldren says:

    I’d disagree and consider the MMO to be a genre. An example of “technology” would be a game engine, like the Unreal III or Source engine.

    And, even if MMOs weren’t a genre originally, they’ve definitely turned into one by all sharing certain characteristics that games from other genres lack–things like questing, dungeon raids, persistent enviornments that change while the player is offline, etc.

  30. Alec Meer says:

    I think (understandable) objections to Halo’s bunkum plot and characters should be pushed aside – it’s actually a ridiculously suitable setup for a Planetsidelike. Eternal war between man and alien – as simple and as appealing as that.

  31. The_B says:

    Eternal war between man and alien – as simple and as appealing as that.

    So, interplantery racism, eh?

  32. Cooper says:

    Alex:
    Yes, but they don’t need to be all like that – that’s the hegemony of WoW that I hate – it’s like Blizzard built the box and developers are scared to wander outisde it.

    Alec: Actually, you’re probably right about the setup. I’ve always wished that Enemy Territory QW was somehow persistent – for similar reasons – pretty simplistic backstory, but certainly effective.
    EDIT: Actually, that might be it – Halo always seemed to be trying too hard, but never quite pulling it off. At least with the Strogg it was simple. They want to eat people (ok, biomechanically engineer our bodies to add to their army). People didn’t want to be eaten. Gritty, messy war ensued

  33. The Shed says:

    This is really weird; about a year or two ago I remember saying that one of the few big franchises/ FPS’ that would make a good MMO action game would be Halo. And here we are.

  34. Andrew Wills says:

    “There are people out there who don’t play MMOs, who don’t necessarily have any particular aversion to the premise of an MMO.”

    You can include me in that statement. I *desperately* want to get involved in a good MMO, but not a single one of the current titles out there appeal to me on any level.

    I’m holding out hope for either a Fallout MMO, a Mass Effect MMO, or a decent slighty-in-the-future-MMO-with-a-great-central-plot… erm, MMO.

    I even attempted to make an MMO on the HL2 engine once, as nothing appealed to me, so I figured “sod it… I’ll make my own!”.

  35. Derek K. says:

    You guys be nice to Planetside, dammit!

    Since the server merge, it’s been hellaciously fun. I kill you all!

  36. RichPowers says:

    PlanetSide died with the BFRs, Derek :(

    Why should MMOFPS games exist?

    The only answers I can come up with are large-scale teamwork and combined arms warfare. How can you actually make those things happen, since they rarely do on 64-person Battlefield servers? You need a command structure. Okay, so how do you implement a command structure that facilitates teamwork without alienating the 98% of players who inevitably won’t be a part of it? How do you get virtual soldiers to follow orders? Have virtual commissars and courts martial?

    So without large-scale teamwork and combined arms warfare (interestingly, few RTS games have mastered the latter, at least in terms of coordinated attacks), why should I play a Halo MMO or MAG instead of a regular 32-person FPS? Oh, right, so I can grind for weapons and stuff I can get instantly in other FPS’s :)

  37. Jamie says:

    Replace everything in Planetside with Halo assets and i’ll play it. Non-stop

    *get rid of those stupid ass robots though

  38. The Shed says:

    Sorry for the DP. Unless someone has posted before I get this done. (Ok I should have predicted that would happen)

    People seem to be assuming here that if it is in fact a Halo MMOFPS, that the gameplay would be exactly the same as the O.G. Halo Trilogy. Seriously. It probably won’t have any similarities. Maybe the old classic grenade system or movement/ vehicle entering system, but it probably won’t have the much of the same actual gameplay. If it does, I’ll be pretty amazed.

    @Ian- Yeah, they had to do that. I love both the board and the pad, but both work to totally different ends. Kboard/ mouse gives you responsive, accurate, rapid movement capabilities; where the pad is better for slow, consistent, heavy movement, if done right becoming so much more satisfying (what made the original Halo: CE so damn great, a thing which the sequels lost rapidly). Both are great when apart, but cross-platforming something like that is just not a good call, for the Shadowrun handicap reason.

    EDIT: Considering the ‘MAG’ trailer had a bit where it showed a large command screen, that pretty strongly suggests there’s gonna be some kind of command system. At least for one person. If it was for a group of people- that would be sweet.

  39. Meat Circus says:

    Hmmm.

    Will it be as shit as Halo 3? I’m not sure I could take that.

  40. iainl says:

    “support roles plskthx”

    Halo multiplayer doesn’t have these currently (well, to a large extent, anyway – obviously you’ve got the different weapons to balance) because everyone in the game is running around in that big stonking Mjolnir armour. Everyone is the Master Chief, because he’s the superhero that the single-player campaign requires.

    I can only hope that any massive Halo instance won’t be full of them, or it would just be silly – you’ll need some other classes just to make it interesting, if nothing else. Make all human-side players basic Marines, give the grunts better respawn times than the heavy classes to reflect their cannon-fodder nature; there are all sorts of stuff they could do fairly easily.

  41. James says:

    Add me into the “Waiting and wishing for a decent MMO” pile, too. I’ve been peeking into trials and tests of a handful of MMO’s of the last twelve months and have yet to find something that I would be happy to sit down and play for any real space of time, let alone subscribe to.

    On the thought of MMOFPS’s, though, isn’t Battlefield Heroes of a similar concept? I mean, I could be reading the previews wrong, but most of the ideas we’re talking about here seem to be present in some form or another there. Feel free to let me know if I’m mistaken, which I more than likely am.

  42. aiusepsi says:

    Some of my fondest gaming memories involve dropships or bombers in Planetside. Massed, planned assaults lifting off from base, the marshalled ranks of troop and tank carriers, orders cascading down from the generals on the command-channels, battles rolling across continents…

    The Halo fiction really would work excellently for that sort of thing.

  43. spirit7 says:

    Planetside was genius.

  44. Duoae says:

    @aiusepsi :

    Yeah, there was this one continent push were we had a load of tanks, Gals and Reavers. It was great – and we coordinated really well by cutting off vehicle supplies to linked bases and similar stuff.

    I actually preferred it closer to launch – where bases were more independent and taking a base seemed harder.

  45. spirit7 says:

    A mate of mine was the first CR5 on his server. It’s astonishing that you could command thousands of people, and they’d obey!

  46. Subjective Effect says:

    A new Planetside has been too long coming. I’ve been grumbling about this for ages now. Why set it in a Halo world? I’d hate that. Something fresh would be much better. There is Huxley of course, and now this MAG for PS3… who needs the XBox?

  47. bobphile says:

    This isn’t a well kept secret but one I haven’t seen reported on.

    MS is working on a Halo MMO with Ensemble and Bungie for at least the last 3 years.

    http://kotaku.com/gaming/ensemble-studios/ensemble-mmo-167789.php

    http://www.edge-online.com/features/ensemble-talks-mmo-plans?page=0,2

  48. GeorgeR says:

    Hrn, then I only wonder what it was that caused them to push back the announcement? If this was actually it…

  49. wb says:

    Not a huge Halo fan. HUGE Marathon fan, though, so I invoke the right of “back in the day” to weigh in here.

    Back in the day, Bungie managed to balance the fiction *and* the ludology: the ‘thon series has an insanely intricate backstory, all of which had to be read on a series of in-game terminals, teased out of the binary padding in the software and art assets, and pieced together from various willfully obscure Usenet messages. And their gameplay design was hardly limited to “console FPS,” veering as it did from Marathon to Myth to Oni to the original demos of a Mac-based third-person tactical action title called Halo. So I do believe that if anyone can pull this off, it would be Bungie.

    Hell, it might even get back to Bungie’s original vision for Halo. (Though I’d have even more faith if they’d hired me back in ’98. Bastards.*)

    * I don’t mean that. Really. I love you all. Return my phone call? Please?

    The MS paper referenced is pretty interesting, though I’ve only skimmed it: it basically proposes a series of low-bandwidth methods of reducing latency in a many-object shared world. The key insight is a set of heuristics to determine which objects a given player is paying attention to (basically: are they close? Are they in the player’s view cone? Did they interact with the player recently?); a series of interaction types that can be rapidly agreed upon within a peer protocol (which brings up some potential security issues); and hooking objects outside a focus set into a local AI that seeks to create a reasonable set of behaviors between position and activity updates. Obviously, the really interesting stuff is in their source code, but their projections at the end of the paper suggest that an average DSL connection could probably support 250-300 players per area of interest.

    However, Microsoft does a lot of interesting research that doesn’t directly tie into their business operations — they’ve become a lot more like the old *nix companies in publishing their research. I wouldn’t take this paper as particularly dispositive of anything, especially given how much trouble game companies have getting over the NIH syndrome.

  50. Jonathan says:

    There really is nothing stand out about the Halo universe. The gameplay is slick, the AI is still one of the best around and they did a fantastic job of streamlining controls for a controller. But I just don’t think there’s enough lore to make anything but a 1000 man death match. Which given the Halo fanbase could be like the inner most circle of hell.