Halo Wars: Bungie saw it as "whoring out franchise" says Ensemble founder

Tony Goodman looks back on the problems encountered while working on Halo Wars for Microsoft

Halo Wars hit store shelves in March 2009. It was the last hurrah for the talented folks at Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios. It was never meant to be a Halo game, however, and that unfortunately led to all sorts of friction between Ensemble, Bungie and Microsoft. In an interview to be published tomorrow on GamesIndustry International, Ensemble founder Tony Goodman reflected on the studio's last project.

Goodman called Halo Wars a "really fantastic, under-recognized product," but he also lamented how Microsoft forced Master Chief on the project after they were far into development.

"Microsoft was pretty risk averse and they said, 'I don't know if we want to take the risk of creating strategy games on a console. We'd feel better if Halo were attached to it.' The difficult part of that was it took the game back about a year in development, and I think it never quite turned out the same. They just said, 'Why don't you just paint over what you have with Halo stuff?' But things aren't quite that simple," Goodman noted.

The whole situation was made even worse by tension building up between Ensemble and Bungie. While Bungie didn't have the bandwidth to take on the project on their own, the studio, according to Goodman, didn't appreciate the IP being used in another title in a different genre.

Interestingly, this goes against what Bungie AI specialist Damian Isla told Eurogamer back in 2008. "We've done a lot of talking with Ensemble guys, and we're all really excited about Halo Wars, because from everything we've seen so far it's a very cool, faithful adaptation... Everything we've seen has been very, very encouraging - we're very excited about it," Isla said at the time.

That's not how Goodman recalls it, however. "Another problem was that Bungie was never up for it... Bungie was kind of sore about the idea. What they called it was 'the whoring out of our franchise' or something. Yeah, that didn't create a great relationship between us and Bungie; they viewed us as someone infringing [on their franchise]," he noted.

It was a tough period for Goodman and his studio, but in the end, he's happy to be on his own now, having just launched his first game from PeopleFun called Word Chums. We chatted with Goodman about that and much, much more. Stay tuned for the full interview. Update:You can now read the entire interview here.

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Latest comments (11)

Given it was a Console RTS, Halo Wars was in my experience a very good game indeed, well worth a play-through, Bungie disliking it is news to me, given how nicely it turned out, one hopes they changed their mind, and genre-lock in is never a good idea for an IP, there are more than one type of gamer and one type of game, having a good IP should not limit you to a single genre, merely because that's the one you know of, or are most comfortable with, I hope they and other studios are more willing to try different genre games in future, the RTS front has been far to quiet in my opinion as of late.

More than one notable RTS IP's shot themselves in the foot by making their sequels overly simplified killing said IP's, they didn't seem to get a very basic concept, RTS's have a wide audience, if it expands mostly it'll be the young joining in, or in rare cases word of mouth convincing others, your not going to get hardcore fps types swapping their genre, if they didn't already play rts on the side, no matter how simple you make it they aren't going to buy it now, and rts games benefit from well managed complexity, its the complexity itself that lends a great deal of re-play-ability to an rts game, simplification often makes the game notable less fun for rts gamers, you alienate your best audience in the vain attempt to get those who would never buy your game irregardless to purchase it, leading to a failed product and IP, whilst fortunately many RTS developers know better, not all do, alas publishers have drawn the wrong conclusion from all this, that RTS games themselves are risky bets, not that it was they way it was done that lead to the demise of some titles and that a well made rts done right is still a safe bet as long as it appeals to the audience it was meant for.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
"Another problem was that Bungie was never up for it... Bungie was kind of sore about the idea. What they called it was 'the whoring out of our franchise' or something. Yeah, that didn't create a great relationship between us and Bungie; they viewed us as someone infringing [on their franchise]," he noted.
I find that amusing, because I thought Halo Wars was the only decent game in the whole franchise.
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It could be they were too close to the trees to see the global forest of gaming tastes
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Show all comments (11)
Fyzard Brown Sales Associate, VideoGameAdvantage9 years ago
Branching out a franchise is always great, as it diversifies the games from being the same genre over and over. I would love to see a Halo side story using the Mass Effect 3 style of game play. Doesn't even have to be Halo. Could be a Brute Force reboot. Just look at how Nintendo has branched out Mario into other genres.
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers9 years ago
So Ensemble got the Halo franchise foisted on them and then they got the pinkslip before the game released. Nice.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee9 years ago
I thought of diversifying the game into different genres as a good idea.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
im ok with big franchises going into different generes of gaming. It works for Mario.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
Wait a sec. Making a RTS work on a console, introducing a bunch of console-only FPS fans to it (I recall a LOT of "what sort of game is THIS?" Q's all over the internet when the game was announced and even after a demo was released) and generating mostly positive reviews is "whoring" the franchise out? Hmmm. Crazy.

A Halo kart racer, puzzle game or lunchbox? Maybe. But an otherwise solid game like Halo Wars deserves to me much better remembered, I say.

Of course, I wonder what that makes the never-completed Halo movie then?
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange9 years ago
Halo Wars was actually a very good game but I think it could have been better if more time was given to Ensemble. The funny thing about it was as I recalled Halo was originally supposed to some kind of RTS until it evolved into a First Person Shooter. I think that Bungie was a little butthurt it wasn't them who made Halo Wars.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
@Andy: Ah, that's right. It was based off the Myth or Myth II engine I think, was supposed to be third-person and if I recall, had a good deal more Spartans (less than 300, though, ha ha). You may be on to something there...
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 7 years ago
it doesn't say at what point bungie considered it "whoring out", there's a good chance that was during early development (who likes their franchise being used for experiments by somebody else?), then they saw the good end product and were more pleased with it...
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