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
As the title of this article suggests, I became enthralled with the idea of civilian life within the franchise after spending a great deal of time exploring the cities of New Mombasa, Africa and New Mindoro, Cascade.
As soon as my drop pod crashed within the city of New Mombasa during Halo:ODST, I immediately began exploring. I no longer cared about my current objective, I was too memorized by the dimly lit streets and the towering skyscrapers. I spent perhaps, thirty minutes just taking in all in before even contacting the Superintendent to begin the main story. Being a fan of the cyberpunk genre, I felt more or less right at home beneath the towering cityscape and neon lights. The atmosphere was immense, and I felt as though I was a detective in the spirit of Blade Runner's Deckard, hunting for clues while evading Covenant patrol parties. Ducking into a building to avoid detection, or exploring a small grassy park situated in a quad between buildings. It was moody, and had me thinking of what life must have been like before the invasion. "Who was driving that abandoned police cruiser? Who worked within the halls of this building?" As the rain continued to fall upon the streets of New Mombasa, the more and more I began to construct the memories of those who once lived in this immense city.
The city was rich with unspoken lore, corporations and company logos brightly lit on signs and banners. Vyrant Telecom, New Mombasa Transportation Services, Sinoviet Arms. Here were entities lighting the night sky with their presence, within a once busy city. These little touches, seemingly lost in the background of gameplay create a living and breathing world. The rain trickling down an edifices' sleek architecture, pooling on the ground below underneath a plethora of flickering lights. It has character, and presents a location in which you want to both explore and react to.
This is what makes Halo: ODST my personal favorite title within the franchise. It was a slice of life, a slow moving narrative in which you could take your time and breath in its atmosphere. Sure, you saw it from the eyes of several ODST soldiers, but the empty streets talked to you in a way actual dialogue couldn't.
Likewise, I spent hours in forge within Halo 4 on the map "Skyline." I didn't construct anything, I would just watch the lights flicker in the distance and enjoy the city's atmosphere. It was, like New Mombasa, a glimpse of something much more. As the cars sped down the streets in the far distant you could hear the sound of people talking and machinery lurching. Pings from the orbital elevator alerting people of departing and arriving lifts; put on a pair of surround sound headphones and you are immediately taken away. Delve deeper into the lore and you find that New Mindoro was home to Cascade Stronghold Technologies, which ported the ODST armor to the MJOLNIR [GEN2]. 
It's such a shame that the games developed by 343i have none of this within their story components in game. You only get to glimpse the possibilities within multiplayer maps, an overt tease if there ever was one.
Bungie knew how to write subtle nuances within a larger narrative. Think of the abandoned streets of New Mombasa, the bungalows in the rural areas of Reach or Club Errera in New Alexandria, again on Reach. The club must have been once bustling with vibrant life, people dancing and drinks being served. Attempting to forget the war that was about to finally envelope them. It's something that really hints at a much more intimate setting, far away from the Halo we know. The possibility for a title with the franchise that is much more grounded and slower paced is already there, the foundation is strong and has been set.
Halo: Reach gave us a very small look at what that may entail, as players (Noble 6) went from home to home in the opening levels of the campaign questioning local residents. Imagine that being fleshed out into a proper experience, not constrained by the linear "quickly go here" game design. The detail within the homes was striking, with small datpads littering the flood, and cooking materials strew about, hinting at some sort of hasty exit.
Imagine you are a district detective in New Mindoro on the Planet Cascade. Stronghold Technologies has contracted you shadow one of their employees who they suspect of selling their patents to another company. You begin to walk the rainy streets at night, bathed under the glow of neon lights. The fellow you are supposed to follow walks out of a bar, perhaps a satellite of Club Errera located on the planet Reach. You keep your distance, and huge the shadowed walls. The fellow, a women, walks into the immense skyscraper owned by Sinoviet Arms. You follow her in. Inside the building is packed with employees, a large fountain in the middle of the lobby loons over everyone.
You've lost her in the crowd. You take out your holographic PDA, the artificial intelligence keyes you into her location. Normal civilians don't have access to this kind of technology, but being a detective you have access to cutting edge location technologies.
There she is, taking one of the lifts up, scaling the building. You briskly walk past what seems like a hundred people, some of them talking about the post war reconstruction. You wonder how we were ever able to defeat The Covenant, oblivious about the events that transpired on The Ark. You press the lift button, same floor as your target, 107. The lift arrives and you enter, you begin your ascent. The city below is covered in rainy mist refracted by the neon signs and city lights.
You reach your destination, and there she is. She has on an ONI uniform now, you begin to feel a pang of anxiety. Maybe this is bigger than you initially thought. You casually sit down in one of the floors lobby chairs, trying to avoid suspicion. Your target sits in a chair, to the right of you and looks in your direction.
"I know why you're here." She quietly mutters. "I'm not your target, but I have one for you. Ready to join the big leagues?"
And it's not just human life I wish I could become lost in, but alien too.
High Charity is a place within the Halo universe I would love to explore at a more slower, and deliberate pace. Its indigo structures towering over the slums of the city, where the Unggoy and Jackals live. Imagine playing as an Sangheili, investigating the slums and larger cities during the midst of the Grunt Rebellion. Having to use all of your skills to slowly walk through the jury-rigged structures of the Unggoy dwellings, while reporting back to your superiors deep within the city center.
What is even more tantalizing is the notion of seeing The Covenant's inner politics in greater detail, in a proper game format. I loved Shirley's Broken Circle but as we can all attest, experiencing a narrative interactively is far more engaging than turning the pages of a book. Just think about walking the halls of High Charity's inner sanctum, listening to the rabble. Having a game set during the Grunt Rebellion would be a fantastic way to explore both the entire city, and the politics of The Covenant.
And it doesn't have to be a shooter, it could be something like the game SOMA. Where you are just an explorer, learning more about the environment around you and unraveling the city's mysterious.
We glimpsed the possibility within Halo 2 Anniversary's terminals, and I would love to see this side of the lore fleshed out in a proper game setting.
I long for in a Halo game in which I can just, explore. Imagine the amount of lore and narrative structuring that could be used, and the subtle style in which it could be told. Maybe a story about a New Mombasa police officer during the post war re-construction, or a farmer on Reach pre-invasion trying to deal with the threat of The Covenant looming over him and his family as he makes a living. It's all just, so enticing.
I want to know more about these unknown people, both human and alien. Those who were not soldiers but ordinary civilians, or at least politicians. To explore the indigo cities, the rural pastures and the gritty bars/nightclubs.
An every-man narrative, not a hero's journey but a still life slow paced slice of life. 343i has the talent, they have the lore and foundation. Lets all take a walk down the streets of a colony world far, far away from what we know. Step into the shoes of the unknown, and get lost in a sea of urban sprawl.
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.
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