As Ensemble Studios closes its doors, Gamasutra's final visit to the studio
has unearthed information and pictures on the studio's prototypes and pitches, from Nova
, the Halo
MMO and beyond.
As the full feature notes, the games that the Dallas-based, Microsoft-owned Ensemble has developed are very well-known, including the seminal Age Of Empires
RTS series and their final project, Halo Wars
But what most people don't know about is the company's undeveloped history of games that never saw the light of day.
Internally, the studio would prototype new game ideas. After that stage, the best results would be developed, then pitched to Microsoft, according to studio members.
They included: a fantasy-adventure RPG called Sorcerer
, a "Diablo
in space" game; a pirate-themed take on Diablo
; a game called Wrench
; a Ratchet & Clank
-style platformer called Bam
Most detailed was a game called Agent
, with an art style and universe inspired by Pixar's The Incredibles, and using gameplay elements from Tomb Raider
. As the concept art shows, the game was instantly iconic and unique.
Another title was Graeme Devine's Phoenix
-- an RTS game featuring earthlings versus Martians in a War of the Worlds-style conflict. The game changed over time, and would eventually become something different entirely: Halo Wars
But the company was moving in a single direction: the Halo
MMO. It started in 1998, soon after Ultima Online
came out, when a designer named Ian Fischer started pitching a sci-fi MMO. He loved the genre, and felt it was underserved -- so development started on Titan
There were many iterations of the design, and then the relationship with Bungie began, and the license was incorporated in the game, subsequently codenamed Orion
The full Gamasutra feature on the subject
includes many previously unseen pieces of concept art from some of these projects. It also acts as a tribute to the veteran Dallas-based developer, which was closed
by parent company Microsoft, and has just shut its doors for the final time.