Why going to Unreal Engine is the best step for 343 and Halo
343 is moving away from the internal Slipspace game engine to Unreal Engine
Changes to the technology within 343 came after layoffs at Microsoft and a tightening up of 343's internal divisions.
Unreal Engine has made incredible strides in support and features in the last 2 full stage updates of the game engine.
While I initially began posting about the change for 343's upcoming Halo titles, switching to Unreal Engine in September and October of 2022. In tweets and in our Patreon discord.
@seanmcdubs on twitter was the one who originally started discussing it openly in videos and his info confirmed my own. While the initial leaks for the last year were confusing especially due to Halo Infinite's future plans, the story has become more clear.
The confirmation and story really started to finally get traction at the end of January, With 343 laying off a number of their staff, and prior to that some Slipspace engineers leaving, the plans for the Halo franchise to move forward were all but assured.
The question remains, why is the Unreal Engine a better choice for 343 moving forward?
First, like most custom engines, Slipspace was created at a time when specific requirements, desires, and future hopes held by a game's developers could not always be met by an off-the-shelf game creation engine.
Slipspace had to handle Halo gameplay, its unique physics and environments and a custom engine created from the ground up fit the requirements better than other options.
Games and gamers' expectations of features have changed. More games play like the original Halo than ever before. From open-world shooters to more large hub-based PVP and PVEPVP group matches, Slipstream's developers had to keep an engine updated, its tech changing for new hardware, and the expectations of their developers all in alignment.
Lastly, switching engines mid-project is a nightmare switching between projects is incredibly difficult, so why are some companies making that decision, but more importantly 343?
Decades have passed since the original decision was made and Unreal Engine, in particular, has seen incredible growth, not only in its handling of customer requirements but also in Epic's contracting and continued technical advancement in supporting the creation of games of all types.
While rumors started more than 2 years ago that some developers within 343 had been impressed by Unreal Engine and with the last couple of updates it seemed to be spreading. Coincidentally, 343 isn't the only company looking at using one of the major engines for creating titles. More on that at a later time.
Here are just a few of the reasons why making this change made sense in the current gaming market.
Support from a massive company(Epic) with the focus being on the engine itself.
A much larger user base for community support. I.E. real users using the engine for years who have had the same problems, encountered the same issues, and have experience with the idiosyncracies of the editor.
Internal requirements to have a full engine creation development team are massive. Though custom made engines also have a number of positives t them as well. We see this demonstrated by companies like Insomniac and Spiderman.
Unreal Engine's continued support of any developer adjustments that a company wants to make. Even their Blueprint system, a system that helps save time by offering a huge number of built-in actions and commands that are somewhat common, allows for editing in normal programming code and doesn't lock off developers from doing what they want with any blueprint.
New staff is always difficult and hiring a new developer unaware of your games engine requires intensive training, far more so than one of the most well-known game creation engines available.
Plugin support for other facets of a game like audio is built into Unreal Engine. Custom engines require custom support, plugin syncing as well as continued developer time that is now pushed onto Epic and their Unreal Engine staff.
Now all games will look the same right?
Unreal Engine has its detractors, including myself and others who don't want all games to have the same strengths and weaknesses due to identical underlying technology. Nevertheless, I feel like this is an old complaint and doesn't reflect the engine anymore. Unreal Engine has thousands of titles already published with many different looks, gameplay aspects, elements of experimental tech, with plugins for literally hundreds of newer experimental features. Flexibility and group-sourced plugin support means that new tech can be integrated by EPIC with no requirement from any other company in adding it.
While there are a number of reasons creatively and business-focused that point to weaknesses if all game makers use the same engine, the industry isn't close to that point yet.
Lastly, while 343 is moving to Unreal Engine, it doesn't mean they can't do a different engine for different titles. We have seen that demonstrated with companies such as Ubisoft, EA and others.
While this will take years to see results, the ex-staff and some current folks still working, see these switches as a positive step forward.
Time will tell. Follow me on @jeremypenter on twitter or on the ACG youtube channel. If you like gaming podcasts we do our Friday "The Best Gaming Podcast" that posts to all podcast platforms.