Man is difficult to change, harder still to convince. I, in my humblest form will attempt to be odd, strange. I do not wish to be the marble statue, a monolith set in stone by hand and chisel. No, I wish to be as the sea; which morphs with the tides and current. Never content, nor stubborn an ocean, that it cannot convince the waves to lose their shape."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Somewhere on a yellow field of poppies in the summer of 1936, only a few miles away from the golden coast of Monterey, California, sat John Steinbeck. He was a strapping man, a thin mustache etched across his upper-lip and a demeanor that was described as "calmly stoic." He never wore suits or extravagant clothing, instead preferring the freedom and humility a simple blazer or vest provided. Being quite fond of a pint of draft, he loved a good laugh and better company. When passed local children at play, he would often take time out of his day to entertain them with stories of his various voyages up and down the gulf of Mexico. He would walk to streets during the day, the beaches at night. All the while, dreaming of the next imaginary world he would construct within the pages of a book.
While taking his daily strolls, he would hand out incomplete copies of his latest work and ask for feedback. Surprisingly, the critique he received was often lighthearted, and jaunty in nature. Later in life, he would confide that the comments within these pages were amusing, and made him smile constantly. He admitted, that the polite and kind comments he received within those works, were the main driving force behind the successes of his novels such as Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice And Men.
"A work in which has positivity and kindness injected within to it, is most certainly more palatable than that of a work dripping in vindictive cynicism." - John Steinbeck
And so we now find ourselves on those same summer strolls, along beaches and cobblestone roads. While we eagerly flip through the pages or pace through levels of the next Halo installment, we stand in the shoes of those kind neighbors who have the ability to produce a laugh, or a genuine smile. We rarely do, when we always should. So let us dream of the slipstream, the winter cliffs of Kamchatka, and the forest spires of Genesis. Forget all that you know, and instead, open your mind to the possibilities of a different kind of critique. Not one dripping in cynicism, but one which often times, is accompanied by a pint of draft.
We live in a world of instant gratification, where the click of a button or the tap of a finger can grant instant access to the world over. From news to shopping, stocks and travel. Your little universe is but a loading page away. This has changed our culture and very society into one which values an instant fix to complex problems, and breeds an inability to look past what we don't know or understand. This is especially true for the fandoms centered around the franchises, series and character's they love and follow. Because of the internet, we can now chat about the fictional universes we love, and also give valuable feedback to their creators within seconds. And while giving feedback is instantaneous, implementation of it, is not.
Within the games industry, subsidiaries (such as 343 Industries) must work under a deadline, budget and the continues tug and pull of various creative directions. Couple that with the looming deadline of a holiday release, crunch weeks, contending with social media, and the developers being away from their families for an extended duration, you can begin to paint a picture as to the difficulty of AAA games development.
Since the release of Halo 5, a good portion of the lore focused fanbase has lashed out, attacked the writers personally or painted their feedback in a cynical and often pessimistic light. Add to this, the lackluster reception of Escalation and recently the tiny previews of Tales From Slipspace, and in most regards the consensus is that the air is permeating with sarcastic and often harsh criticisms. Sometimes feedback is a valued construct, and provides a look into the fan's own vision of the franchise. But while friendly feedback is usually always welcome, the vitriolic and vindictive cynicism that now pervades across Halo-Nation, is in no way helpful or necessary. If anything, it makes 343 Industries want to close their gates to feedback, in the fear that more of this negative miasma will seep through theirs open door.
I honestly cannot point to where this stream of negative feedback originated from, not can I offer a quick solution to it. People are hard to change, harder to convince. I suppose, if I was to guess, it began with the release of Halo 4.
Halo 4 was an anomaly within the games industry, not a common occurrence. It not only had a very competent multiplayer, but also an extremely engaging and almost novel quality narrative which portrayed the characters within in a very complex and meaningful environment. Just as with film, or book, you may not get the same level of quality across every single entry in the series. Again, that is the unfortunate side effect of working within a time and budget restrictive environment, as well as a collaborate space. We were pampered and treated to some of the most meaningful writing seen within the industry, a very human story which painting John-117 and Cortana in a complex and varied tone. Of course, most of the fanbase was expecting this narrative to be surpassed with Halo 5. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass.
The main problem is that folks are expecting novel quality character development and length in a consistent manner. Unfortunately this isn't going to happen in a game which has to balance a budget and deadline of single player and multiplayer. The issue a lot of fans don't understand is just how grueling and difficult game development is, unlike a novel where the author is the other real person working on the content and has a considerable amount of time (and 500-800 pages to work with) game development studios have no such luxury. They have to cut, trim and write things in a way which move fast and with purpose. Halo 5's content was great, amazing even. The issue was, that while it moved fast, it did so without purpose. While we do not know the cause of these cuts or re-writes, it is important to understand that this is quite common within the industry and is perfectly acceptable.
I'd like to confront some of the narrative samplings that have come under scrutiny from the fanbase, and add a more positive look into their place within the Halo canon. I'd like to begin, with Jul M'dama's character within the context of Halo 5: Guardians.
Jul was quite interesting, from a written standpoint. Within the Kilo Five trilogy written by Karen Travis, he was penned as something of a King's servant archetypal character. I liken him, in that regard, to Guinevere and Lancelot within Arthurian legend. Tracing that literary lineage back, both characters betrayed King Arthur. To tie in these similarities, I want to look at Jul, post war, first.
After the war 'Mdama still felt mistrust and resentment toward humanity, comparing them to the Flood in some respects, believing the species would not stop their colonization efforts. He did, however, grudgingly admit that while they were not the best at anything, they were good enough at everything to survive. In January 2553 he attended a meeting with Kaidon Levu 'Mdama and Arbiter Thel 'Vadam. He asked the Arbiter what his plans were for the humans and expressed his desire to finish them off while they were still recovering. After 'Vadam announced he would try to make peace with the humans, Jul and his fellow shipmaster Forze 'Mdama decided that humanity would not change and that they must be stopped. 
Seems like quite the betrayal of the king's court, does it not? If you are familiar with Arthurian myth, something very similar transpired between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. The narrative of which dates back to the 14th century within a long-form poem titled Sir Gawain & The Green Knight. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the character of Bercilak is transformed into the Green Knight by the temptress Morgan le Fay, a traditional adversary of King Arthur, in order to test his court. In The Green Knight Bercilak is transformed by a different woman for the same purpose taking the form of "Bredbeddle." In both stories he sends his wife to seduce Gawain as a further test. This power-play of sorts, was on the periphery of Arthurian myth, and not really part of what is considered to be the core mythos. Bercliak/Bredbeddle was one of the many, many character's portrayed within the mythos whom functioned as a seductive figure, trying to break Arthur's hold over his people. Yet, his character(s) had no meaingful build up, or characterization beyond acting as something of a narrative treadmill to move plot forward. You see, le Fay was an eventuality. Her entire purpose was to transform character into tests and trials (on a side, note, The Flood actually fits quite well within Arthurian legend because of this,) for the purpose of attempting to overthrow the court of kings out of jealously and spite. I liken this to the Prophet's spreading lies and deceit in order to overthrow humanity out jealousy, them being Reclaimers, and all. More about the entire Arthurian arc in terms of the kings court betrayal can be found here, specifically, pay close attention to Battle of Camlann, as it has close literary similarities to both The Great Schism and The War of Requiem.   There are so many other examples within fiction of periphery characters and plot arcs, this is just one, well known example.
Does all of this sound somewhat, familiar? In terms of Jul, it should, looking back to what I mentioned earlier as periphery character's and lore. Like Le Fay and Bercliak/Bredbeddle, Jul functioned as a sideline character to only build up the mythos and move plot forward. Literally, the only justification for either Le Fay, Bercliak/Bredbeddle or Jul, was to set up conflict for the hero characters. Jul sat upon the king's court of The Arbiter, and unhappy with what he heard, betrayed the entire kingdom with the formation of The Storm Covenant. There really ins't a direct source for this within Halo cannon, but his similarities to a plethora of established literature makes that case quite compelling. When you look at the Kilo Five trilogy, Escalation and Halo 4, his character was quite shallow and written in a way in which to be expendable. Either by intent, or by way of Travis not being an effective character writer. Again, I reference the periphery characters and arcs of Le Fay and Bercliak/Bredbeddle and could also bring forward many, infinite examples with classical and modern literature. At the end of his arc, he was written to die, abruptly and without hesitation. Secondly, his character was banal and almost trivially stereotypical in terms of archetype. He was motivated by revenge, for the death of his wife at the hands of the UNSC and little else. That is why, his death within the context of the series, is acceptable.
Is it perfect? Not at all; but it is acceptable. I also find it odd when the fanbase brings up the way in which Truth met his end, as if Jul deserved no less. In my eyes, he was a Prophet's disciple and in some cases more insidious than his former masters. Jul conspired to collapse his entire culture and species by way of subterfuge, in order to uphold the single minded mentality of human extermination. He carried the Prophet's flame forward, knowingly, even after it became evident of the destruction the high council had wrought on his species and culture. The Prophet's legacy lived on, through Jul. Much in the same way, le Fay's legacy lived on in Guinevere and Lancelot. His death, a quick and non-ceremonious end, was fitting for his character. It mirrored Truth's own end, and in terms of cohesive character arcs, was fitting. There was a plethora of supplementary material in terms of the audio logs, referring to Jul and his deceit, as well as developing the mentality and doubts of his soldiers. That to me, speaks louder than Jul ever could and developed his character effectively enough, even after his abrupt death.
This is the positive side of 343 Industries, and its ability to rid itself of extraneous characters in order to move in a more compelling, and interesting narrative direction. In that regard, I applaud them for not dragging along characters which do not fit within the world they are now building. It could be more effectively told, yes, but it's always important to characterize in sync with your world building.
I absolutely loved The Rookie within Halo 3: ODST. He was such a unique character, and he really stood up to the franchise well. I also, felt a bit of myself injected into him, as I have always had this feeling of being a "stranger in a strange land." However, I knew after ODST that his character would either fade, or meet his death withing the extended universe. I was happy with the way he left Halo canon, as his death built up Buck's character quite a bit. The man who lost everything, every battle and every friend. But found a new family within Osiris. It is that ability, to let go of characters who no longer serve a narrative purpose, which lets us find new characters to love and follow. Remember the fallen, but also remember to enjoy those that still have a story to weave and actively tell it within the present stage of the universe. But how does one decide if a character no longer fits the narrative design or direction? It's a very complicated question, to be sure, but generally these are the questions the author should be asking themselves.
1. Is the character in question part of the core narrative? If no, then generally it is acceptable to not really delve into their backstory that much or often. Coincidentally, they are prime candidates to do away with or off if the narrative is getting too complex or there are other, better suited characters to replace them.
2. How does this character fit into my world? It's important to build a character to fit into a world, or narrative construct. If said character fits in that world, they should be kept. However, if the narrative changes (as it did in Halo 5: Guardians) then it is important for past characters to be re-examined. If they no longer fit into the world you are building, then they should be either dropped or forgotten. Especially, if they lack a meaningful narrative outside of the core canon. This would apply to Jul.
3. How popular is this character? Popularity plays a big role too, and it something to consider when deciding a character's fate. Now, I doubt many Halo players read Escalation or the the Kilo Five trilogy. So in that sense, Jul wan't really popular enough to the majority of the Halo community to merit a continued existence or development.
Positivity is the key to being happy, and the most valuable asset when it comes to giving meaningful feedback. To balance out the equation, and praise what is working in order to find solutions to what needs a bit of gentle tinkering. The halls should be echoing with kind laughter and the reverberation of jaunty exchanges. Creativity should never be stifled or bogged down with the vindictive cynicism of those who would only seek to breed a clever disdain for a fiction they claim to care deeply about. A thick smugness within the air, while the writer continues to toil away.
And what of The Created? What of their plight and narrative? Again, the positives of this new direction are ever clear. Halo is really the only artificial rebellion scenario in modern science fiction which has the intelligence struggling with the notion of death and degradation. It's a beautifully human story, if you peel the layers back far enough. Cortana made the very human choice of choosing herself over the rest of the galaxy, and by proxy made the choice to lead the created against what she perceived as the removal of arbitrary expiration. This follows her arc that was begun within Halo 4's core narrative. She continuously asked herself if she was the machine, and while she was at that point in time, her choice to think of her own destiny before that of her creators, solidified her as an incredibly "human" character. It was not out of of the blue, but very meaningfully established within Halo 4. The tragic truth is that Halo 5 did not develop or write the arc in a way which supplemented Halo 4's narrative. But again, this is alright in the grand scheme of things, as there are so many new and exciting ways The Created could be implemented narrative wise.
Imagine a scenario where the species of the galaxy must secretly wage their conflicts as to stay out of the constant gaze of The Created? Humanity's insurrection, the various factions and species of The Covenant attempting to re-organized all which being under scrutiny from Cortana and her ilk. It builds an almost, noir, mysterious vibe in which conflicts must be fought with secrecy and through espionage. This could lead to new, more exciting narrative and even gameplay. Perhaps a spin-off where an ONI special tactics group must silently infiltrate an insurrectionist stronghold while avoiding The Created. All the positive directions it could go, send my mind reeling with the breath of opportunity.
So as we await Tales From Slipspace, let is do so with tempered expectations and a mind free from bias. To look at that work, page by page, with an open mind. At ease from the dripping, sticky slime that comes from the congealment of vindictive cynicism. Halo has many stories to tell us, some may need work, by way of a friendly chat or kind word. Let us not whip up the masses, arm the mobs and ready the pitchfolks. Instead, let us meet 343 Industries with a smile and the offer of positive peer review. I urge us all, to look for the positives and not just what we perceive as being broken. Nothing is broken in a work of fiction, it is merely un-written.
I remember, walking down the busy and rainy streets of my beach community in San Diego, California on the night of November 14th, 2001. Walking up to the red-lit sign, rooted to the side of the local GameStop, the beams of light reflecting off every raindrop as if each were an individual luminous bulb. I stepped inside, it was quite late, midnight. And in a moment I will never forget, I placed my hands on two pieces of packaging. One immense in size, the other of a more compact frame.
The more paltry of the two, wrapped in slick, translucent plastic read in clear characters Halo: Combat Evolved. Almost two decades later, I have not forgotten that night. No matter what happens, what is etched within the historical fiction of Halo, I will always be a fan. I will always search for the positives. Most importantly, I will always respect those who tend to the fictional universe in which inspired my very path in life.
I gazed across river, rock and forest. To the edges of waters end, and I could not see the outer bounders. I hesitated to proclaim myself lost. For though I could not distinguish the path ahead, with certainty, I knew the way round'. It was forward, backwards and in all directions. My mind taken by the endless stream of possibility, all doors opened before me. - Synth Samurai
Sourced Materials Utilized For This Article
Arthurian Legend in the Seventeenth Century." (2014): n. pag. Web.
Reid, Margaret J. C. The Arthurian Legend: Comparison of Treatment in Modern and Mediæval Literature: A Study in the Literary Value of Myth and Legend. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1938. Print.
Knost, Michael, Neil Gaiman, Lou Anders, Lucy A. Snyder, James E. Gunn, George Zebrowski, Jay Lake, Nayad A. Monroe, Orson Scott. Card, Pamela Sargent, G. Cameron Fuller, Nancy Kress, Harry Turtledove, Jude-Marie Green, Joe W. Haldeman, Nisi Shawl, Alan Dean Foster, Alethea Kontis, Elizabeth Bear, Jackie Gamber, Michael Knost, and Max Miller. Writers Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Cuddy, Luke. Halo and Philosophy: Intellect Evolved. Chicago: Open Court, 2011. Print.
"Halo 5 Criticisms & Concerns." Halo Archives. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
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