Yesterday Bungie formally bade goodbye to the Halo franchise, handing over all data-tracking services to Halo 4 outfit 343 Studios. It's the culmination of a shift away from Microsoft and Master Chief that began with Bungie's decision to go independent in 2007. The company partied up with Activision in April 2010 to develop a new action IP - right slapbang in the middle of a high profile catfight 'twixt the publisher and Infinity Ward - but has otherwise kept schtum on what its future holds.
Something space-flavoured with guns seems a safe bet, though there's always room for a mind-bending, Rockstar Table Tennis style departure from genre. And what more brain-pummelling a departure than a massively multiplayer online game? In today's bout of modestly corroborated beard-stroking, we stack persistent rumours as to Bungie's "Tiger"/"Destiny" project against broad thoughts about Activision's strategy and the studio's creative aspirations. Here's the short version: the hard evidence is inconclusive, the publisher's stance difficult to gauge, but this makes a lot more sense than Bungie's pedigree as a campaign designer may suggest.
What we know for sure
We can thank Bungie's creative director Joe Staten for the inception of the MMO rumour. "Wouldn't it be great if we could make a world that was always there for you?" he thought aloud in October 2010, some six months after the announcement of the Activision deal. "Wow. That would be great." We're all in favour of developers being able to think aloud without fear of reachy headlines, but when somebody's doing it in front of a Game Developer Conference Online audience, in response to queries about upcoming projects, it's hard not to make deductions.
The following February, an alleged former Bungie contractor tossed the words "WoW in Space" at Kotaku, like a sticky grenade at an unsuspecting Brute posterior. According to this illustrious personage, Bungie's new game is titled "Destiny" but goes by the codename "Tiger", runs on a proprietary graphics engine and offers "unique online connectivity".
Tickled by the ensuing uproar, lead network engineer David Altridge made jocular reference to a "massively... awesome multiplayer action game" during a presentation at Game Developer Conference 2011. Somewhat contrary to Altridge's intention, the remark became the basis for "Bungie MMO confirmed" style stories across the internet. (Shame-faced admission: that's the way we reported it too.) The studio issued a clarification a few days later, and the hubbub grudgingly subsided.
Bungie's collective lips remained mostly sealed throughout 2011, though the studio did confirm and discuss the creation of an in-house graphics engine: "selling a dynamic world" is one of the coding team's "top priorities", according to senior graphics engineer Hao Chen. The engine will employ Umbra 3.1, a middleware solution explicitly designed to allow efficient manipulation of vast play environments - pitch-perfect for MMO world design. Kudos to Edge for putting two and two together.