Tony Goodman, the founder of the sadly-closed Ensemble Studios, reckons that Xbox 360 RTS Halo Wars was a "fantastic, under-recognized product," but that development proved challenging to say the least. Not only were the Halo trappings forced onto the project by Microsoft, which was originally in development as a distinct IP, but Bungie wasn't exactly enthusiastic about another developer entering their universe.
During an interview with GI.biz, Goodman explained that Ensemble were working on a console RTS before Microsoft attached the Halo license to make the product more marketable, setting the project back by several months and completely changing its tone.
“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.’ 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.”
Though relationships between Bungie and Ensemble were seemingly cordial in the public spotlight, Goodman suggested that there was a great deal of friction behind the scenes.
“Another problem was that Bungie was never up for it… 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].”
As things turned out, Halo Wars ended up being fairly entertaining; especially as "pure fan service." You can read our take on it in the 7/10 review.