Last week Microsoft announced Halo Online, an all-new, free-to-play online multiplayer experience on PC.
While the upcoming late spring release generated excitement, that was tempered somewhat by the revelation that the game will be restricted to players in Russia only, at least for the foreseeable future.
The news was met with predictable resistance from the ‘modding community’, the hardcore few who prefer to play Halo on their own terms. After a leaked copy of Halo Online was obtained, a tool enabling exploration of the game was uploaded to Github. It didn’t stay there long.
Microsoft hit Github with a DMCA takedown notice and the code platform responded by disabling access to the tool, titled ‘ElDorito’.
Just before the weekend TorrentFreak caught up with the loose-knit ElDorito team who gave us the background to the leak and subsequent interest from Microsoft.
“Microsoft is probably quite bothered by what we’ve done already as these files were leaked. We obtained the files from a user on 4chan’s /v/ board,” team member ‘Woovie’ told TF.
Sure enough, even now a post by the 4chan user in question contains a still-live link to a file hosted by Microsoft partner Innova, helpfully titled ‘halo_setup-ru.exe’. No takedowns in this instance.
“From there, user Emoose proceeded to create a hack that would allow the client to load files and thus get in game,” Woovie adds. “He has in the past done the same for Halo 2 and Halo 3 betas so he had experience with this. The files we have are definitely an early internal alpha. A lot of left over code from other Halo games.”
The big question is whether the copyright move from Microsoft has put the team off continuing. Initially TF was told that might be the case, but subsequent discussion painted a very different picture.
“In terms of DMCA/C&D mitigation, we have made redundant git backups on private and public git servers. This is to ensure we will always have one working copy. These are being synchronized so that data is always the same,” Woovie explains.
“Further DMCAs may happen potentially, it’s not really known at the moment. Our backups will always exist though and we will continue until we’re happy.”
So what is motivating the ElDorito team to carry on? Aside from a passion for Halo itself, the team seems perplexed by the Russian geo-restrictions and also what they believe could turn into a free-to-play game requiring in-game purchases for players to succeed.
“We of course still don’t know 100% what items are purchasable with real money, but it would appear at first glance to have pay-to-win potential. We also of course want to play this game, which as far as we see, is a Russian market only game,” Woovie adds.
Of course, all this could mean more action from Microsoft, but team member Neoshadow42 sees the modding of leaked files as more of a service.
“As someone involved in game development, I’m sympathetic with some developers when it comes to copyright issues. This is different though, in my opinion,” the dev explains.
“The game was going to be free in the first place. The PC audience has been screaming for Halo 3 for years and years, and we saw the chance with this leak. The fact that we could, in theory, bring the game that everyone wants, without the added on stuff that would ruin the game, that’s something we’d be proud of.”
Refuting claims by some that the team’s actions might be damaging, Neoshadow42 says this case is different.
“I don’t particularly see this as damaging, as some people have said. I don’t believe it for a moment, honestly. We’re working to improve people’s experience, bring it to those who wouldn’t have been able to play it anyway. I’d see that as a noble cause.”
But isn’t this just the same as pirating any other game and making it free to play?
“This whole project would be completely different in an ethical way if we had taken a paid game and reversed it for everyone to access for free,” Neoshadow42 insists.
“At the end of the day, El Dorito aims to deliver exactly what everyone wants. The closest thing to a Halo 3 experience as possible, but on PC. If we can manage that, I’ll be more than happy.”