When you look up at the night sky, there are at any given time thousands of shimmering white dots. Some are distant stars, others entire galaxies. Perhaps some of the stars you see within our own galaxy, harbor planets containing the ingredients for life. Maybe others, intelligent life itself. One thing is for certain though, those little white dots are hundreds, thousands, millions and those you can't see, billions of light years away. Our fastest spacecraft would take thousands of years to reach the nearest one, Alpha Centauri A.
Light travels at 299,792,458 meters per second. For scale, it takes light from our sun eight minutes and twenty seconds to reach us. Because of relativity, the stars you see in the night sky, the galaxies as well, are what you are seeing when their light left their origin point. For all we know, what we are seeing could have disappeared millions of years ago.
But what if we could visit those little specs in the night sky? What if we overcame the speed of light, and found new innovative methods to warp the very fabric of our universe in order to trek the stars?
What of Halo? What of its faster than light technology? Well, it isn't faster than light. It's the slipstream. Let's take a ride.
Halo possesses something far more than deep characters, incredible world building and a vibrant universe. These are all on the macro scale, an expanse of endless possibilities. What Halo does within its narrative besides the macro is often underappreciated and underrepresented. It goes into the little details, the small dealings of day to day life from the various settings of the universe. From rural colonies on Reach, to the largest of mega-cities, the franchise is an exceptional example on how to bring even the most grandiose settings to ground level.
And not just human urban spwals, but alien ones as well. The indigo glow of High Charity's mega-clusters and slums are rich in detail.
It makes me yearn for a game in which depicts civilian life, far away from the conflicts of the franchise. Something in the spirit of Karen Traviss' Morta Dictata or Shirley's Broken Circle. A slice of life viewed from the eyes of a single person, trying to live their life day to day. against the backdrop of neon skylights, an alien city or a small mining colony.
The simplest of narrative ideas, are often times the most appealing and effective
There are some stories, some adventures you never forget. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Star Trek and all the other classic tales woven throughout our culture's imagination. How many of us smile when the title card "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..." appear on the screen? We fell in love with the universe and most importantly the characters.
Halo as a franchise has always been an epic space opera, massive in scale. But it has never, made me cry or shed a tear for any of the characters. That is, until Halo 4. The narrative resonated deeply with something out species has been asking ourselves every since we began writing on caves and rock.
"Why am I here? Where am I going?"
Within the walls of Requiem's Dyson sphere shell, along the broken paths, endless jungles and alien spires awaited an answer to that age old question. Not just for man, but for machine as well. It forced me to look at myself in a way I had never done before and more importantly, made me realize even the strongest heroes hide behind crumbling walls.
Artificial or biological, we are all machines. This is Halo at its most intelligence, and its most thought provoking.
On the evening October 20th of 1917, German and Canadian soldiers rose to peer over their respective trenches. The landscape, devastated for several months before this time, was now a cratered wasteland. The rain, steadily falling pooled in these craters and turned the entire battlefield into a barbed wire and muddy hell. Indeed, as the flare on both sides went up to pierce the darkness...It must have appeared as though you were peering into the very depths of hell itself.
The battle lasted for three days, three days of endless fighting and endless dying. The amount of carnage unimaginable, as soldiers were cut literally in half by machine gun fire and tripped only to drown in the thick muddy slime. Every morning before a charge, each side would again peer over their trench lines. An endless sea of arms and legs protruding from the thick mud. At some points, bubbles would be seen beneath the mud from those who had not yet died.
After the battle, thousands upon thousands who had given their lives for what? For only several hundred yards leading to a Belgium town, known as Passchendaele.
War is romanticize in our culture, the heroes of war, the few who stood up and gloriously rode into battle for flag and country! Even in Halo, glory to the Spartan IIs! To the ODSTs who stood to the last and held the line, and cheers for the UNSC grunts who fought a thousand Covenant and survived! Tell this romanticized version of war we all seem to love so much, to the survivors of Passchenadaele. Those who saw their friends, their brothers, sink into the thick slime never to be seen again. Whose gas mask lenses were distorted by the liquid blood which fell like the rain, and who were forever changed by what they had witnessed.
I have said it before, and I will say it again. If Halo as a franchise wants to move forward in a positive and narrative driven direction, as the developers have stated time and time again. Then let us, if only for a game or two, see this universe's own "Great War" as it really was.
Glass to glass.
James Cameron's Aliens is a science fiction masterpiece, a perfect blend of suspense, horror and action all rolled into a seamless tour de' force. Now, the title of the article is probably making some of you wonder why I'm talking about a film involving xenomorphs. Remember William Hudson in the film, played by Bill Paxton? GAME OVER MAN, GAME OVER! Yeah, that guy. He beat his chest the entire first half of the film, bragging and boasting about his skill in combat. But when the shit hit the fan, he reverted into a crying child. The point being, is that those who speak the loudest are often the most inexperienced.
Our bodies are fragile machines. Once you truly ponder the various ways our bodies can shut down, become injured, contract diseases or even turn against itself you come to realize we are imperfect biological machines with so many shortcomings. On average we live about eighty years. Some longer, some shorter. It all depends on genetic factors, lifestyle and a plethora of other variables. We are destine to live, pass on our genes (sometimes not) and then prepare for our own great journey.
But, what if we could live indefinitely? Not just longer, but as stronger more enhanced biological machines? What if we could transcend our own flawed biology and become almost perfect organisms? To negate our weaknesses, and live for perhaps eternity. We are the only creatures on this planet, or solar system, and possibly even our own galaxy to achieve sentience on the scale of being able to do exactly that. Transcend. In the past century we have gone from wooden airplanes to the SR-71 Blackbird, which flew at incredible speeds and heights. From horse drawn carriages to electric cars. We now have more computational power in one smartphone that was the combined processing power of all the machines in the 1950s. And soon, sooner than people would like to think, we will have created the first true artificial intelligence.
With all of our technology, we have the ability now to augment ourselves to become what is known as "transhuman." Transhumanism (or just H+) is the notion that we can transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Ever seen Star Trek the Next Generation's Borg? In essence, that. Just with more free will and less ugly. It's coming, you better believe it is. Fairly soon we are going to be more machine than man. We are already augmenting ourselves with technology. Your smartphone is a device that can connect you to a virtual world at anytime, your computer an extension of your body to enhance its work/creativity. Google Glass, prosthetic technology, artificial organs, carbon fiber bones, self driving cars and heads up displays. The Borg has already assimilated us.
Now there are plenty of games our there that explore this notion, better than Halo in fact. Deus Ex is possibly the most well known and well received. Other's include Mass Effect, DOOM, Remember Me, Cyberpunk 2077, Syndicate, Satellite Rein...The list goes on. But since this is a series on Halo lets delve into the transhuman themes and technology of the franchise.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
A lot of Science Fiction these days blends hard concepts (I'll get to what that entails shortly) and a certain flair of magic mumbo-jumbo without really taking effort into explaining the technology within their respected franchises'. There are a few egregious examples I can pull off the top of my head, "Destiny," developed by Bungie, is one of the more unforgivable franchises which fall into this trap.
Now, I'll never come right out and say franchises which blend Science Fiction and Fantasy are an evil tome of unholy fiction. In fact, franchises that blend the two genres well are unique and a joy to experience. "Starcraft," Developed by Blizzard Entertainment is a franchise that does this extremely well and the writers should be commended. They take the time to earnestly make their fictional setting, characters, technology and worlds blend seamlessly with the more fanciful aspects of the lore. But in general, the blending usually results in a smoothie concocted of broken promises and shoddy storytelling.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY OFFEND THOSE WITH RELIGIOUS FAITH. WHILE I BELIEVE THAT RELIGION IS A BEAUTIFUL THING INDIVIDUALIZED, THIS POST WILL TOUCH ON ORGANIZED RELIGION WITHIN HALO AND THE DANGERS OF RADICALIZATION WITHIN OUR OWN SOCIETY
The Covenant is very intriguing to me, it always has been since Halo 2's narrative. Admittedly, when Halo 2 came out I was just a young teenager and wasn't really educated enough to truly see the subtleties behind Halo 2's core themes. Now that I am more wise, shall we say, I am able to really appreciate the brilliant writing of Joseph Staten. I say brilliant because Mr. Staten wrote The Covenant to be something of a tragic failed state, one that I think I can empathize with while at the same time looking down upon their actions.
Halo is in a league of its own right now in terms of the subject matters it covers. This exclusive club as it were really only encompasses (on the macro scale at least) Halo and the Bioware developed Mass Effect franchise.
I'm not necessarily discussing the overarching narrative that is character driven, or the genre Halo finds itself within greater science fiction. I'm talking about more subtle themes, ones that are hidden away behind the curtains and every so often peek out. Those brief moments, within Halo 4's narrative, were trying to tell us something very important. That what is lost can be reclaimed; and that the Forerunners if nothing else were long term tacticians.
BELIEVE. Does anyone remember the marketing campaign for Halo 3? And more importantly, do you all remember how impactful it was? At the time I was just starting university, and while it was emotionally deep and beautiful to me at the same time I never really appreciated the tactfulness the marketing team executed that campaign until much later. The diorama was breathtaking; all leading up to John-117 in the clutches of a Brute Chieftain, defiant to the very end. That what caught 2007 me's eyes back then, the Master Chief rallying the whole of humanity to finish the fight. Ironically enough, that's what the marketing team was trying to invoke as it turns out. With the shorts of future soldiers reflecting on how it was John-117 who saved the human race, and who never gave up. Present day me, however, recently watching the trailer again doesn't see the John-117 as the centerpiece of that diorama, or even the marketing campaign itself.
I see UNSC soldiers dying in the mud, bodies half buried in spent cartridges and those who are alive clutching each other in fear. You have to wonder, how long each of these Marines bore witness to the war since the beginning. Decades gone by, glassed planet after glassed planet. Billions dead, and here they are on Earth as it burns around them. I think it's something that is criminally underdeveloped and swept under the rug when it comes to Halo's lore. The novels never properly convey these soldiers emotional response to the war, the entire war. You get bits and pieces, but then it always swings back to The Spartans or some massive battle being waged. Never enough time it seems, to really live the war through the eyes of the average boots on the ground soldier who fought in the most horrific battles of the war. The closest I think we ever came to truly seeing this, was in the Halo Legends shorts "Prototype" and"Homecoming."
That is until last year's novel "New Blood" by the talented Matt Forebeck; truly he's an amazing writer who is passionate about games/fiction. The novel follows up on Edward Buck and Alpha-Nine post war. It's an incredibly gritty, "Heart of Darkness" style read that for once truly portrays how the average soldier dealt with and continues to deal with the effects of the war. Buck has always been my second favorite character in Halo lore after John-117, and even now Buck is beginning to oust the Chief in my eyes in terms of characterization. I see Buck as the "face' of the average Joe, the side of the war that we rarely ever got to or get to see. More than that, he's possibly the most diverse and engaging character in the series. Hell, if he was any better, and he is, he'd deserve his own spin-off series.
A Halo fan since the beginning, 2001. Also a games industry consultant, writer, and educator. These are my thoughts, praise and advice concerning the past, present and future narrative of the Halo franchise.
Halo, all assets within, characters and merchandise are property of the Microsoft Corporation and is developed by its subsidiary 343 Industries.
I do not own, claim to own or retain any rights to the Halo franchise. This is a fan based work, and is strictly non-profit.
All other images, articles linked, materials and franchises that are not strictly specified as my own are property of their respective owners.
A More Complete Look At The Halo Franchise
Written, Researched, Produced And Published By Halo-Nation member "Synth Samurai"
Always A Stranger, In A Strange Land