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.