A report from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this week claims that Bungie is gearing up for development of a third instalment in the Halo first-person shooter series with a serious recruitment drive.
Drawing attention to job adverts on the developer's website - including openings for an AI engineer, art production manager and lead character animator - the Seattle P-I claims that the Redmond-based studio is actually seeking to nearly double its staff, recruiting for a total of 60 positions.
Microsoft today declined to comment, sticking to the company line that it does not comment on "rumours or speculation", but Halo.Bungie.Org this week says that two Bungie community team members have independently contacted the fan site to pour cold water on the "doubling" claims.
In the absence of an official denial, however, the Seattle P-I report is certainly still plausible - and given that Halo is Microsoft's most successful and coveted franchise by far it doesn't take a genius to realise that a third title is more or less inevitable. The question is when and for which platform.
The widespread assumption, based on the Seattle P-I report, is that such a radical recruitment drive reflects the need for greater project sizes in developing products for next-generation formats - of which Microsoft's Xbox 2 is expected to be first to market in late 2005.
But Halo's importance to the platform holder means that it's highly unlikely that anything at all will be confirmed ahead of a Microsoft-scripted unveiling - most likely at a trade show or Microsoft-run press launch - and until then the truth about the "doubling" claims is unlikely to be made clear.