When Ensemble studio started working on Halo Wars RTS game, they never intended for it to be a Halo title or to take place in its universe. Ensemble founder Tony Goodman believes that the game was a “really fantastic, under-recognized product,” but he still laments how Microsoft forced the Halo universe upon the game near the end of its development.
"Microsoft was pretty risk averse and they said, 'I don't know if we want to take the risk of creating strategy games on a console. We'd feel better if Halo were attached to it,'” he said. "The difficult part of that was it took the game back about a year in development, and I think it never quite turned out the same. They just said, 'Why don't you just paint over what you have with Halo stuff?' But things aren't quite that simple."
And the situation only got worse when Bungie got wind of the news that the Age of Empires developers were making a Halo RTS. "Bungie was kind of sore about the idea. What they called it was 'the whoring out of our franchise' or something. Yeah, that didn't create a great relationship between us and Bungie; they viewed us as someone infringing [on their franchise]," Tony Goodman reminisced.
Interestingly, Tony’s version of the story contradicts Bungie’s own public statements. A few months before the release of Halo Wars, Bungie AI specialist Damian Isla stated that "We've done a lot of talking with Ensemble guys, and we're all really excited about Halo Wars, because from everything we've seen so far it's a very cool, faithful adaptation... Everything we've seen has been very, very encouraging - we're very excited about it."
It seems that Damian’s statement was more on the diplomatic side than the truth.