343 Reportedly Switching to Unreal Engine and is 'All But Starting From Scratch' - NewsWilliam D'Angelo , posted on 01 February 2023 / 2,964 Views
Microsoft this month announced it will lay off 10,000 employees and Halo developer, 343 Industries, was hit the hardest out of all first-party Xbox studios. Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer recently stated 343 Industries and the Halo franchise is "critically important" to Xbox.
Bloomberg's Jason Schreier is reporting following the mass layoffs and an overhaul of leadership the studio "is all but starting from scratch."
The report claims at 95 people have been laid off at 343 Industries. This includes dozens of veterans, including top directors and contractors. These employees were only given a few days notice before their contracts were ended.
The Halo franchise has been using the Slipspace engine that has a large amount of old code from the 1990s and early 2000s. With Pierre Hintze taking over as lead at 343 Industries, the studio has decided to shift away from Slipspace to Unreal Engine, according to the report.
This switch to Unreal Engine will start with a new game codenamed Tatanka, according to people familiar with plans from 343 Industries. This game is being developed alongside Certain Affinity. It started off a battle royale game, but it may evolve into something different, according to the sources.
Other future games in the Halo franchise might also explore using Unreal Engine. This in theory will make development easier. However, some people internally are worried this shift "may have a negative impact on the way Halo games feel to play."
The sources also claims 343 Industries was not working on new content for the story. Developers were focused on making prototypes in Unreal Engine and pitching ideas for new Halo games rather than working on new content for the Halo Infinite campaign.
A life-long and avid gamer, William D'Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012 and taking over the hardware estimates in 2017. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel. You can contact the author on Twitter @TrunksWD.
Building, maintaining and upgrading game engines is actually hard.
Slipspace was a good engine, it was just being held back by older platforms rather than embracing RT Global Illumination.
The fact it was using "old" code from the 90's is not important.
Many games today still use engines which have roots in technology from the 90's, Call of Duty is one such example with it's roots back to Quake 2.
Why throw out the whole wheel if you don't need to?
I think the idea is that by using unreal engine, it's a whole lot easier to find people that are qualified to develop games for you without having to spend a bunch of time and money training them up on a new engine. Then the usual ebbs and flows of studio head count aren't as big of a deal, at least in terms of staffing up at crunch time.
That is the other flip side.
In saying that, we have reached a level of maturity in the game development industry where it's not super difficult for a competent individual to be proficient at the use of multiple different types of development tools anyway, even ones built-in house.
There are only a finite amount of ways to approach the same problem in the end.
However... It's hard to argue that EPIC has done an absolutely brilliant job building, maintaining and supporting it's development ecosystem around Unreal, which does make it attractive for many developers.
But... It also has the caveat (And this is what we saw in the 7th gen) when everyone uses the same game engine, visually games can start to feel "samey" as the rendering pipelines are all identical... And developers who are less inclined to adjust smaller and more intricate details/settings like FOV can result in games that feel the similar to play.
I think I actually (ironically) prefer EA's approach to it's engine development... That is, one engine for all it's games in-house, every game that gets released tends to 'add' something new and unique to the engine, improving it over time, making it more powerful, more flexible.
Microsoft is reaching a stage where it actually has a crap-ton of technology... They have iD Tech, they have NetImmerse turned Gamebryo turned Creation Engine, Havok, Slipspace and more. They should build a developer who only develops engine technology for all it's studios... That way they can also optimize at a low-level for Microsoft's platforms and leverage their platforms strengths and weaknesses.
That's why I want to see Microsoft develop a graphics engine to compete with Unreal and Unity. A business model like Unreal would be perfect, as in addition to being free to download and learn how to use the graphics engine, the developer only pays a 5% royalty when the game earns more than US$1 million.
I believe that Microsoft wastes the chance to have total control from start to finish in game production, even more so when it can generate more resources with the popularization of the engine.
Unity has 5000 employees, so I believe that the number does not go beyond that to develop an engine for Windows, OS, Linux and Android, as they are the main operating systems.
Keep in mind Unity has 5,000 employees that do more than just develop the engine...
They have testers, marketing, human resources, developers/engineers, researchers, support and more all trying to sell and improve that product.
They also need to build support tools to streamline and "dumb down" development so to speak.
Where-as id software with it's id Tech game engine has 200 employees... But they are also building games.
It would take Microsoft several years to get a new engine off the ground, and then several more years before it became so widespread that there would be tons of people familiar with developing for it. Unreal has been on the market for 25 years, which is why everyone knows how to use it. MS doesn't want to wait 15 years to solve their problem.
Sweeney was developing the first Unreal Game at the same time as the Engine. - Which took about 3 years.
EA with Frostbite... Released Frosbite 1 in 2008 with Battlefield: Bad Company.
3 years later, we got Frostbite 2 in 2011 with Battlefield 3.
2 years later, we got Frosbite 3 in 2013 with Battlefield 4.
Then EA moved Frostbite to a different kind of development schedule/naming scheme.
They redeveloped Frostbite for Battlefield 2042 in about 12-18 months... Which Need for Speed ended up also using.
Bethesda started work on building the creation engine (Essentially a fork of Gamebryo, which in turn was a fork of NetImmerse) in just 3 years by basing it on Fallout 3's engine code, whist building the game Skyrim at the same time.
It doesn't take as long as you think.
Microsoft also has the resources to pull it off. They have id tech, they have creation engine, they have slipspace, they have thousands of software engineers.
They have industry leading middleware and API's.
Microsoft has all the ingredients to make something that leads the industry.
I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying. It isn't about creating an engine. It is about creating a giant pool of developers experienced with that engine. MS cannot match or even get close to the pool of people that have worked with Unreal in any reasonable amount of time. So, if they care about that, which I'm sure they do, building a new engine is not helpful (in terms of reaching that particular goal).
Well, if it does change the feel of Halo, this will prove to be a critical error. I don't know enough about engines to understand how this will impact halo in that regard. But I definitely can say that Halo does have a distinctive feel, and if it loses that it will just be another in a sea of shooters.
Halo definitely is not in the same position that it was 10 or 15 years ago. But, it is still a big, important franchise. 343 has not been able to reach the Bungie standard with Halo. But they're not making bad games. They're just not as good as the all time greats put out by Bungie. I worry that they may be overreacting, and that the real problem is unrealistically high expectations for the franchise.
I just hope they're not throwing the baby out with the bath water here.
Microsoft has so many game studios these days, so it would make sense to open a studio dedicated to creating and always keeping Microsoft's own engine up to date. I believe that standardizing an engine can:
- increase productivity
- increase the quality
- facilitate employee training
- Benchmarking between studios
- Revenue generation with models similar to Unreal or Unity
- Feedback from game studios to engine developer studio
job rotation when a studio needs more manpower for relatively quick stages of development.
One of the factors that most hindered 343 was the engine, and this problem affects other studios, so there should be a team focused only on the engine.
A complete reboot of the studio has been needed for a long time. Now that Pierre is head of studio and focusing soley on game development rather than what Bonnie Ross was doing with 3 completely different jobs, including game development, this should move everything into the right place. Hopefully Pierre is able to put a proper team together that loves Halo as much as he does.
I understand the Engine has caused nightmares which explains the lack of content, but it was a good engine. Its a shame but i guess for development reasons, it has to be done.