Screenshot: Halo Online

A team of modders working to make the unreleased Halo Online playable have halted work after Microsoft contacted them in an effort to protect its intellectual property.

Developed for the Russian market and based in the Halo 3 engine, Halo Online would have been only the third game in the series to be playable online on PC. However, Microsoft ceased development in 2016. After this, modders began working on “ElDewrito,” a launcher for the incomplete game that added new features and made the game playable outside of Russia.

Last week the team behind the ElDewrito mod announced its 0.6 release was imminent with a new trailer. It got lots of people excited again at the prospect of a polished yet old-school Halo multiplayer experience finally being available again for people on PC. That trailer has since been taken down, followed by a post last night on the official Halo blog of developer 343 Industries explaining why continued development on the project was infringing on Microsoft’s intellectual property rights.

“While we are humbled and inspired to see the amount of passion poured into this project, the fact remains that it’s built upon Microsoft-owned assets that were never lawfully released or authorized for this purpose,” 343 wrote in the post. “As this project reverberated across the community, our team took a step back to assess the materials and explore possible avenues, while Microsoft, like any company, has a responsibility to protect its IP, code and trademarks. It’s not optional in other words.”

The studio sought to distinguish Halo Online and the accompanying ElDewrito mod that requires Microsoft-owned assets and code, some of which remains active in current Halo games, to work, from things like the Halo Custom Edition editing tools and the Halo-inspired but completely fan-made Installation 01 game. Halo Online was never made “open source” or left as “abandonware,” wrote 343. Microsoft issued DMCA takedown notices back when illicit copies of Halo Online first began circulating during and after its development. With interest rising again, the studio reached out to the ElDewrito mod team to notify them the project was not considered kosher and the modders needed to “hit pause.”

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One of the Halo Online maps as it appears when playable using the ElDewrito mod.
Screenshot: ElDewrito

What exactly hitting pause means is somewhat unclear though. In an email to Kotaku, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to provide comment on what “pause” means in this context. In a blog post that went up just a few hours after 343’s, the ElDewrito team was also vague about the situation. “There was no Cease and Desist, no DMCA, just an brief conversation about what they suggest we do,“ wrote team member RabidSquabbit in the post. According to the Eldewrito team, Microsoft is not trying to shut down the mod itself, but rather get Halo Online code removed from any of the places it’s currently be hosted online for new downloads.

While the team has temporarily halted development at 343's request, it says 0.6 is still available and encourages everyone who wants to to resume playing as normal. In the five days since the new version of the mod was released on April 20, the ElDewrito team says there has been a lot of activity, claiming that when their blog post was published last night Halo Online had over 8,000 people playing simultaneously.

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Whether simply halting further development on the project will be enough to satisfy either Microsoft or 343 is unclear. While 343’s blog post didn’t say anything specifically about PC Halo games currently in development, it said it gets the message loud and clear that the PC gaming community wants one.

“Halo has an incredibly passionate community and we’re always excited to see their creativity come to life,” a Microsoft spokesperson elaborated in an email to Kotaku. “Creating quality Halo experiences on Windows 10 PC is important to us and we have ambitions to further empower the Halo content creator community to operate in an official capacity and hope to partner together as we bring these plans to fruition.”