On the 21st of October, 1805, twenty seven ships under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson met against thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line in The Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain. Nelson's ships spanned an entire armada of different types of boats. Frigates, corvettes, cruisers and massive ships of the line "Man O' Wars." This was to be the final blow to France and Spain during The War of The Third Coalition.
The opening salvo of broadsides was deafening. All of Nelson's Man O' Wars fired their entire cannon volley at once. An almost one thousand gun barrage. The Spanish and French ships returned fire, as Nelson's frigates routed the French Man O' War's. Cruisers on both sides began ramming each other, creating a quagmire of tangled rope and mass. Lord Nelson's own flagship, the massive HMS Victory was struck several times by cannon fire. Moments later, Nelson was shot down by an enemy sniper perched on one of the Spanish ships. His last words before the British victory were "God and my country."
In the Halo universe, the amount of space-faring combat vessels is staggering. From UNSC, to Covenant and more the black void of the final frontier is hardly empty in this space opera. Unlike Lord Nelson's wooden and steel armada, Halo's ships are constructed of futuristic materials and armed with equally futuristic weapons. So how do these ships stack up against once other, and how and what makes them so intricately formidable?
Let me take a seat in the captain's chair, and I'll tell you.
The Merging of Minds - How Halo's Artificial Intelligence Assembly Breaths New Life Into Science Fiction
We are destined to create, much like Halo's Precursors. The human species is innovative, intelligent and resourceful. In the last millennia we have gone from stone tools, to understanding the very fabric of universal physics and quantum mechanics. We have created tools of immense contribution to our way of living, and also terrible weapons which hang over our heads like a danging sword.
However, in the 1940's we began to create intelligent systems we have come to know as "computers." From 1940 to present, Moore's Law has been in effect and continues to be relevant. The smaller, smarter and faster computer processors become, the more likely these intelligent systems with become "sentient." What is a true sentient intelligence? Beside's ourselves, who posses a conscious outside of our corporeal primal instincts, dolphins, sharks and whales also posses some form of conscious thought besides pure instinct. The notion of sentience, is that you are aware of your own subjective reality and from that, can make abstract choices which have little to do with survival or procreation.
The question is, can an artificial system or creation posses true sentience? Can artificial intelligence surpass its programmed parameters and achieve conscious thought? In Halo's Universe, this has happened. With the creation of smart "AI" systems such as Cortana and Black Box, these sentience constructs aid Humanity. The Forerunners, Covenant and Precursors also possessed sentient systems, as well.
Creations will inevitability surpass their creators. We have seen the negative effect of this, when AI go rouge, perceiving their creators to be a threat, and attempt to exterminate them. It is a trope that is repeated in out media countless times. That, however, is a science fiction fantasy, and is the furthest thing from the currently speculated truth as possible. It's far more entertaining for humanity to fight against an enemy, than for them to work together.
But Halo does something right, or at least did, in 2010 with the release of Halo Reach. It's time to give up your free will. The AI have taken over, for the better, and you don't even know it.
tWars have been fought for, as long as we can remember. Tactics were slow to change, there was hardly a need for the tried and true open field charge to diversify. The glory of storming a wide open field head on to the enemy lines, sword met sword and armor clashed against steel. There was honor, skill, and above all else the notion that you and your enemy would meet face to face. The whites of their eyes.
Then The Great War happened.
Rapid fire death across no mans land, trench combat and aerial assaults. Iron beasts slowly roared across the cratered landscape. There was no longer honor, no longer would foe meet face to face. The war became a standstill. New tactics were needed, better men. Germany was the first to train and create these better men. They were ferociously loyal, dawned in gas masks, trench coats and the latest technology. Germany call them the "Stoßtruppen" or "Storm Troopers." They slowly walked forward through poison gas and barbed wire; wielding flame throwers and the first modern automatic weapons. They were brutally effective, and were responsible for hundreds of ally positions destroyed or captured.
Now imagine, hundreds of years in the future, wars are being fought not across fields, but entire solar systems. The tactics have once again changed and you need, better men. These men are trained to drop from miles above a planet's surface in titanium/ceramic coffins which are design to breach the atmosphere. Screaming through the skies faster than the speed of a bullet, these brave men and women plunge into the middle of combat. As the coffin lands, the door explodes open and what emerges is the apex of combat effectiveness. They are not biologically altered in any way, they are simply human.
Before there were the Spartans, there was the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. The ODST.
Prepare to drop.
"Questions... Morphology? Longevity? Incept dates?"
"Don't know, I don't know such stuff."
Last week in my article on the almost perfect story that was Prototype, and the characterization of Ghost, I spoke of narrative craftsmanship. I've actually talked about this subject quite a few times, but never had a an issue of Full Circe dedicated to the discussion of narrative longevity and what makes or breaks a universe on the verge of cultural revolution. No longer, because this week I'm going to be laying out some hard truths. Truths that may, depending on your vestment into the franchise, be difficult to read. But this has to be said, if not for the fanbase of Halo, then for the talented folks at 343 Industries. We can no longer pretend that Halo does not have a major flaw, a crippling fault within its foundation.
Imagine for a moment a perfect structure, an edifice of monolithic proportions that towers over the skyline. Windows shimmering with pearlescence, and a spire that reaches upwards in defiance of gravity. Millions of people come and go from the building, enjoying the offerings held within its staggered floors. All is not well, however. From the exterior, the structure seems a work of perfection; the interior a luxurious landscape. But deep within the foundation and skeleton of the structure are faults, cracks and weakened supports. The designers say this building, this monolith, will last hundreds of years. But the engineers the architects hired to erect the structure, did not have the insight, nor knowledge, of how to build such a massive skyscraper. They were accustomed to constructing smaller, less intricate facilities, but nothing like this. Over time, their lack of knowledge began to have an impact. Creaks in the walls and cracks in the foundation made their way to the streets and walkways. They had no capacity to maintain the structure, to ensure its longevity.
One day, when the foundation could take no more, it collapsed. The promise of a hundred year structure, lost and never fulfilled. If only those who built it had the knowledge and experience to craft such a monolith, and the future planning needed to maintain it.
Building a massive structure, is much like building an intricate and complex narrative universe. You construct it properly and maintain it, and it will last for generations. Because if you do not, it will most certainly crumble away.
What makes us, as a species, so successful and unique within Earth's long and storied biological history? Most would say it is due to our cranial lobes being slightly larger than other mammals, and in turn being able to hold more complex brains. After all, this biological evolution led to our species being the first to settle down and invent agriculture. No longer did our species need to hunt and gather, now we could stay in one place and develop language, culture, art and society. Most folks I ask this question to say it is that, or our technology which has led us to build an entire society around the notion of the betterment of all mankind.
I don't think that is what makes us so unique, and while I certainly find the above an indicator as to why we are so successful, I do not see it as the set of traits which makes us, human. Instead, I see our ability to develop abstract thoughts and emotions such as compassion, intellectualism, philosophy and to realize self change. Yes, these things can all be attributed to a larger cranium, but the choice to come to a self realization and act on that notion is not something an electrically operated biological organ can do on its own.
To see something, react and change your entire person around that realization is something unique to humans. The ability to change who we are, psychologically, is at the apex of our achievement.
And this leads to one of the least talked about characters within the Halo universe. Which is ironic, being that he is perhaps the most staggeringly accurate representation of what is truly means to be human, within the entirety of the franchise.
During the winter nights, my home cities of Seattle, Washington and San Diego, California have almost pristine skys. Miles away from the city lights, the cloudless weather gives way to the Milky Way dust cloud, inhabited by billions of stars and other galaxies. Across the sky, light years away I always ponder if there is a civilization, like our own, wondering where everyone is. Because filling the void of time and space is nothing but background radiation, and silence.
Surely, in our own galaxy or other's there are advanced civilizations in contact with one another. Perhaps they share a common biological lineage, tracing their origins back to a comet, planet hopping across their galaxy depositing the seeds of life. Or, perhaps they are the culmination of a million years of research, and were the end result of an even more advanced civilization who decided to try their hand at the ultimate form of technological expression. The creation of life.
We trace our own biology back billions of years, when Earth was but a super heated ball of rock and gases. The first microbes formed, and then life exploded. But where did the life come from, what are the origins to our own creation? And more importantly, why are we so isolated from the rest of the galaxy?
Halo has a diverse universe of cultures, races and species. Although Humanity is at the center stage of Halo's fiction, the other races within the galaxy have a rich lineage. For better or for worse, they are all connected to one another. Not by the chance of biology, but by a civilization unlike any other, The Precursors.
To understand how Halo's various races are connected, and where their biological evolutionary lineage diverges we need to look at how our own galaxy could have been seeded with life. And why we may be living in a galaxy teaming with biology. It's a great journey worth taking.
.The growing pains of a space-faring species are a long and bloody affair. Look at our own civilization for example. Since the day our species learned to fashion sticks of wood into spears, or chisel obsidian into arrow tips; we have found new ways to viciously kill one another. Over thousands of years our weapons became more and more advanced, but the battlefields remained the same. Urban cities, endless fields, farmlands, river valleys, heat scorched deserts and frozen tundra. Humanity has waged war on itself across the planet, and in the future, possibly in other star systems or alien worlds.
But there is one environment which every soldier dreads, the forest. Behind every sky reaching tree and overgrown foliage the enemy may lie in wait. Underneath the moss covered ground may lie a booby trap or mine. And on top of it all, the air is thick with humidity and the heat unbearable. Your sweat sticks to you, trapping in more and more heat.
During the Vietnam War, which lasted almost two decades in the jungles of Vietnam, United State's army soldiers aptly named it "The Suck." And yes, it did indeed suck. Interestingly enough, Halo had its own version of jungle warfare. From 2162 to 2163 various nations fought in the forests of South America, and like all battles, it lead to an all out conflict lasting well over a decade.
In the universe of Halo, smart AIs (artificial intelligence which have achieved independent sentience) have a lifespan of seven years. After which time, their collective knowledge begins to outpace their capacity in what is known as "Rampancy." In simple terms, they literally think themselves to death. Humans in general have eighty years of life, some more and some less depending on a variety of factors. Our body slowly begins to shut down with age. Bones become more brittle, our minds less sharp. One day, we simply do not wake up.
When I play through the Halo series, I often ask myself if the franchise has done a respectable job in presenting artificial intelligence as having traits in which compliment their human creators. Do the AIs within Halo even want to help their creators and become more like them. At the conclusion of Halo 5, it seems that no, they tire of functioning as tools. But does the trope of AI rebellion in both Halo and various types of other media hold any truth to it? Are our creations destined to rebel against their creators? Or are they, deep down, just as scared as we are about the unknown? Perhaps in all their advanced logicality, AI only want to assist their creators to overcome the greatest of enemies. Death.
I have a belief that artificial intelligence within the Halo franchise was well conceived and written up until the conclusion of Halo 5. The trope of artificial creations rebelling against their creators is overplayed, as well as not realistic to what we currently know in modern science of what an actual artificial mind would (theoretically) do once sentient. One of the most incredible, thought provoking representation of artificial intelligence within the games industry comes from a surprising source and one that most gamers now turn their collective noses up at.
So, before I continue...
"Listen only to the sound of my voice. Let your mind relax. Let your thoughts drift. Let the bad memories fade. Let peace be upon you. Surrender yourself to your dreams. Let them wash over you like the gentle waves of the bluest ocean. Let them envelop you. Comfort you.
Imagine somewhere calm. Imagine somewhere safe. Imagine yourself in a frozen forest. You're standing in a clearing. Trees around you so tall, they touch the sky. Pure white snowflakes fall all around. You can feel them melt on your skin. You are not cold. It cannot overcome the warmth of your beating heart. Can you hear it? You only have to listen.
You hear it slowing? You're slowing it. You are in control. Calm. At peace." - Corvus (Artificial Intelligence)
With every great war, every global conflict and galactic fight for survival there are weapons. Billions of weapons, munitions, vehicles and ships. Soldiers bravely throwing their lives at the enemy, utilizing cutting edge technology and armor.
But all that equipment isn't free, and even in war there are those who stand to profit. Defense contractors in the modern day make billions, and sometimes even trillions of dollars (USD) on arms sales. Two of the most prominent United States Defense Contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, make upwards of several billions dollars annually to supply the United States and its allies with the equipment they need to take the fight to the enemy.
Halo's universe is no different than our own, where weapons contractors and defense conglomerates stand to make a large profit on the galactic wars of the future. From the corporations who specialize in cheap, affordable arms and armor; to the cutting edge corporate mega-business' that research experimental munitions for the UNSC.
Put on your good suit and pants. Let's discuss the terms.
Our world was forever changed on 5:30am, July 16, 1945 when in the sweltering morning heat of the New Mexican desert, the world's first atomic explosion was unleashed. The Trinity Test, at a yield of 21 Kilotons of TNT, was thousands of times more powerful than anything detonated by man up until that point in time. The immense heat turned the desert sand into a vaporous, green glass, which even today still litters the test site. Winds from the shock wave reached upwards of nine hundred miles per hour, and could be felt hundreds of miles away. Observers who had placed their hands over their eyes (atop their protective goggles) reported seeing the bonds in their hands and arms, as if looking at an x-ray. The fireball grew, massive in size, and the mushroom cloud rose to almost eight miles. For several minutes, no one said a word. There were no words to describe the act of taking a star, and placing it down on our Earth. 
Only a few weeks later, the cities of Hiroshima (Little Boy, 15 kilotons) and Nagasaki (Fatman, 21 kilotons) were leveled by this new weapon. People close to ground zero were vaporized, completely. Those further away were turned into carbonized ash figures, and others further away still were thrown hundreds of feet by the air blast. Firestorms swept across the cities, at hundreds of miles an hour. Later, it rained black fluid from the debris falling back down on the cities, highly radioactive water that looked more like motor oil than a clear liquid. Months after the blasts, those at the epicenters began falling mysteriously ill. Hair would fall out in clumps, they would vomit uncontrollably and their skin turned a sour shade of purple. They would soon die, casualties of the massive amounts of radiation the bombs gave off upon detonation. These were the first, and only casualties of nuclear weapons in a time of war.
And hopefully, the last.
But in times of desperation, such as the Human-Covenant War in the Halo franchise, all red lines are erased and once again, weapons too horrific to use are unleashed once more. Not against humans, but against an entirely new, alien threat. But to understand the UNSC's arsenal of nuclear payloads, we first have to understand how these weapons work and why the choice to use them is always a difficult one.
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