Former Ensemble Studios programmer and unrepentant optimist Dusty Monk says the Halo MMOG it was developing "was absolutely going to compete against WoW," if only it hadn't been canceled.
Monk joined Ensemble in 2000 and worked on the Age of Empires and Age of Mythology series as well as Halo Wars, the studio's last project before it was closed down by Microsoft. He also spent three years, from 2004 to 2007, working on a project codenamed Titan, which has since been revealed to be the Halo-based MMOG that was canceled in mid-2007, before its existence became public knowledge.
And, he said, it was going to be big. "It was going to be the Halo MMO, and it was absolutely going to compete against WoW [World of Warcraft]," he claimed in a recent interview.
"You have to remember that Ensemble came from a standpoint of being really good at competing against Blizzard Entertainment," he continued, putting his finger on the fact that both the Warcraft and Age of Empires RTS franchises had met with considerable success. "We had a pretty good history of knowing the types of stuff that Blizzard put into their games to make them really successful, and the kinds of things we'd need to put into an MMO to compete against Blizzard."
Some of the ideas Ensemble was working on for the Halo MMOG are turning up now in Star Wars: The Old Republic, currently being developed by BioWare, and Mythic's Warhammer Online. Unfortunately, despite being ahead of the curve, Monk said Ensemble and the game were caught in a "changing of the guard" at Microsoft. "They were looking really hard at the Nintendo Wii and they were really excited by the numbers that the Wii was turning," he explained. "This was about the time that Microsoft decided that its Xbox platform and XBLA really needed to go more in the direction of appealing to a more casual, broader audience."
But if not for that fateful intervention, Monk is certain that today's MMOG landscape would look a lot different than it does. "Even though a lot of people talk about how you just can't build a WoW killer, I absolutely believe that we could have built an MMO, if Microsoft had maintained their commitment, that if it hadn't been a WoW killer, it certainly would've competed," he said. Too bad we'll never know.