The Forerunners, within Halo, were an almost mythical race of hyper-intelligent beings. From their construction of sentient artificial intelligence, the masterful application of quantum particle research, or an affinity for astro- engineering on a grand scale, The Forerunners ruled the Halo-verse with superior technology at their fingertips. Halo:CE-Halo 3 was the golden era of Forerunner supremacy in terms of their interaction with the greater lore of Halo. Mysterious, unfathomably intelligent, and most importantly kept within the id of the franchise. Those dark depths which many a Halo fan became lost within for almost eight years.
When Halo 4 came along, fans knew the curtain would be lifted on The Forerunners. A good portion of the fandom did, and continues to look back fondly on Halo 4's narrative and depiction of The Forerunners. In some regards, I agree that Halo 4's characterization and overall arc were splendidly written and designed. John-117 and Cortana were fleshed out in a meaningful and complex way, while the stakes were raised without sacrificing continuity of canon. That is where my praise ends, however, and where I gaze onto the franchise in a more critical light. For technological supremacy is only as useful as that of tactical supremacy. The method in which one takes catalog of the tools at their disposal, and utilizes them in an intelligent method.
The Forerunners's post Halo 3 are arrogant, genocidal, and above all else incompetent. For all their technology and sway over an entire galaxy, they could not utilize that supremacy in order to negate the factors which endangered their entire civilization. Factors, which would eventually see their entire society commit mass and unnecessary suicide against the galaxies biological life. So now, let us take an unbiased and intricate look at why The Forerunners under 343 Industries are not the beings you want ruling, quite frankly, anything.
"Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven." - Edward de Bono
Imagine you are a general in some far off, foreign war. You have plans, machinations, and set dates that must be adhered to without question or fail. Your nation has planned for a five month conflict, but four years later it continues to drag on. Your old plans are no longer relevant or viable, and the grand design of logistical strategy which worked only years earlier has failed. Hurriedly, you must devise new tactics and spread your military even thinner than it already is. The other generals posses no knowledge of proper tactics, nor how to fight a prolonged conflict. You are on your own. In desperation, you begin to throw tactical plans onto the metaphorical wall to see what sticks, and what doesn't. Men die in the millions, and you begin to stray further and further from victory. Eventually, the quagmire of continually adding unplanned tactics sees the downfall of your empire.
You are a general of the German Empire, 1918. All is lost.
Of course, this isn't 1918, and this isn't the Great War. However, the trend of the Halo franchise throwing more and more unneeded content , which lacks planning and development mirrors the German Empire's struggle to stay relevant in an ever changing world. Indeed, if Germany would have shored up its existing Hindenburg Line it may have held off the Allies well beyond 1918. Just as Halo could have avoided the mess of narrative continuity, content, and poor characterization it finds itself in now. This isn't Flanders Fields, this is the development ground floor. Lives are not at stake, but many countless fans and financial assets are. Let the guns of Spring awaken, with a renewed and tremendous roar. Full Circle returns.
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”
Imagine that you are now apart of a massive war, endless conflict that has continued for hundreds of thousands of years. Not war in the sense of human nature, or our own history being rife with conflict, but one of interstellar travel where time is a far more horrific enemy that the physical forms you fight. Returning home in this war, is far worse than any injury of psychological toll.
Everyone you know will be dead, cities will have fallen and risen in your absence. Perhaps, entire continents have shifted. Maybe by some stretch of luck, the war will have ended when you return. Not likey. It takes you and your army hundreds of thousands of years to reach the battlefields of the war which is being waged There is no faster than light travel, there is no slipspace. Physics dictates that those technologies cannot exist within our perception of quantum mechanics, and the universe. You will be frozen, preserved for untold years until you reach your destination. You fight, you win. Another planet has been freed from enemy hands. It doesn't feel like a victory, however. Because the people you have fought for will be long since dead, or will not remember you when you finally return home.
You are William Mandella, the protagonist of Joe Haldeman's masterpiece work of science fiction, The Forever War.
Halo has the oppertunity to become a narrative for all time, for all people. Often times, for this to come to pass, a story needs many threads. Even more so, roads which lead to both interesting, and terryfying realms of thought.
We are a species comprised of various cultures, ideologies, political affiliations and many other factors. We draw borders to segregate ourselves from those who do not share our values, or identity. Often times, these borders are tested, and conflict becomes an inevitable reality. For thousands of years war has been ingrained into our DNA, our very civilization. When armed conflict breaks out, the brave men and women who fight under their identity's flags make the ultimate sacrifice so that their way of life can live on in perpetuity. As the years advance, so does technology. What was once rocks and spears are now magnetically accelerated munitions, what were once fur coats, now hardened battle fatigues.
One aspect of war will never change, however. The people who wage it. The chain of command, the footsloggers and the spotters. The elite operatives and the pilots, high above the clouds. War is an evil act, but soldiers are not. You may not respect their leaders, or their government. But you must at least respect those on the front lines. For they fight for you, for all of humanity. The hardest hit are often times not the soldiers themselves, but their commanders. Who know they possibly sent their most loyal friends, to die. This respect is often times transmuted into our popular media, for better or for worse. Many films such as Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridely Scott, do an admirable job at portraying the brutality and valor that is associated with war. Mr. Scott, as always, did his research and the cast was placed in SOCOM boot camp for weeks to prepare for their roles. Film has grown from a fringe aspect of literature, to a well respected and mature form of art. The games industry, is a mixed bag in this aspect. Some games go above and beyond, while others border on disrespectful and offensive.
Halo is a game which I see falling in-between those two descriptors. It attempts to portray military realism as well as it can, but for the most part the franchise rarely ever gives the player a chance to take in what it truly means to be a war-fighter. To give command of personnel, whom you care for. In Halo, you are never the one to command, but are commanded. There is a detachment from what is expected, and what you know is morally correct. It's time for Halo to give us, the players, the conn.
Somewhere along the water soaked streets of Chiba City, Japan, walks a tall yet lanky American man. Each successive neon sign he passes reflects off his leather coat and jet black hair. Turning into an alleyway, he reaches the door to his apartment and fumbles, attempting to find the key. His hands, his damn hands. Made of meat, flesh and bone. That's what he was, a bag of meat wrapped in organic tissue. He lamented every moment, every second he was outside of cyberspace. Why couldn't he live there, eternally?
His name is Case, the main character of William Gibson's pioneering novel Neuromancer. The novel which coined the term "cyberspace," and dared us all to believe in a reality beyond what is tangible. Gibson foresaw the internet, human augmentation and virtual reality before those terms were even invented. In true visionary form, he gave us a glimpse at a world without boundaries, borders, or laws. Where information was free, and accessible to anyone, from anywhere. Where the escape of your own desired reality was but a "sync" away, and life was not what it was but instead what you created it to be.
Neuromancer gave rise to books like Ender's Game, films like The Matrix, and anime such as Akira. Within the games industry, cyberpunk is alive and well. Deus Ex, System Shock, Syndicate, and Remember Me are all examples of games which not only define the genre, but also re-define it.
There is one game however which is not a re-definition of cyberpunk, but rather a revolution. Halo takes the themes, motifs and environments of cyberpunk and expands upon them in incredible detail. Within Halo, it is not about escape, improvement or access. It is the carrying of information that is far more important than just pure knowledge. The passing of culture, identity and the very individuality which we all hold so dear.
It's time to plug into Halo's digital splitstream. One hex at a time.
There is something to be said for a personal narrative. One which is crafted from the heart of the writer, in which their entire being is placed onto the page. The sum of all experiences, the joy and the pain is written in word. These stories have a certain genuine style, of which is difficult to replicate. Many of the most prolific science fiction authors such as Phillip K. Dick, wrote not because they were paid to, but because they had to. In Dick's case, it was because of his drug induced paranoia and the hallucinations that accompanied. His novels did not sell well, and even though many of his most popular books such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man In The High Castle received critical acclaim, the public was mostly unaware of his brilliance.
Dick passed away in 1982, never knowing that only months later, his works would be passed around into lucrative hands and made into blockbuster films. The Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, The Man In The High Castle and many, many more were all transformed into film or TV adaptations to great acclaim. But, as with any mass market media, they were watered down and appealed to a much larger audience than he originally intended.
One of Dick's works was an anomaly, an outsider. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was adapted by director Ridely Scott, under the title Blade Runner. Perhaps it was dumb luck, or the fact that Mr. Scott himself was an anomaly, that Blade Runner not only captured the novel before it, but surpassed it in every way. Before Dick's death, he saw a screening of the film and called it "surreal & intoxicating." Blade Runner went on to be, what is considered by many, the most significant work of science fiction ever crafted. A legacy in which we all ask ourselves, who is the replicant, and who is the human being.
But this is not the rule, it is the exception. Unless someone has the ability and vision to craft a narrative masterpiece, a mass consumed story will always be straight forward and withing complexity. Not everyone, is a Phillip K. Dick, not everyone is a Ridely Scott. And that, is more than ok. As Rachael said...
"I'm not in the business Mr. Deckard, I am the business..."
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.
A weapon is a tool, wielded by those who intend to take the breath of life. No matter how many lives are taken due to the weapon, or the individual, the collective knowledge of those lost is continued and echoed throughout history. Memorials, cemeteries and the voices of historical prose preach their names so their sacrifices may never be forgotten. Even one hundred years later, we honor those who died in the blasted craters of The Somme, who drowned in mud and poison at Passchandele and the men who stood their ground as the machines of war trampled them. We have not forgotten.
But what is to be remembered, when your enemy holds no weapon and no tool. When the weapon is not aimed at you, but encircles you. The enemy is not content in taking away only life, it must consume everything. Your heritage, culture, essence, memories and even your very thoughts? To wipe away your very existence, leaving not a single echo of your past within the halls of time. The beast is coming, as it has before, as it always will. A hundred thousand years ago it came unto the galaxy, and when it finally receded, left no trace of either itself, or those it had consumed. Only a precious few relics remain from that era, the memory of those who built them, lost to the stretches of time. An enemy like no other, the history of which is as complex as it is frightening.
The Flood cometh, and with it, silence.
Halo 4, is thus-far the narrative masterpiece within the universe's extensive collection of stories. There are many reasons for this assertion, many of which I have already gone over in great detail. However, there is one motif which towers above the rest in terms of meaningful characterization within the Halo universe. The surprisingly deep and meaningful connection between the Didact and John-117.
Imagine, for a moment, you are gazing outwards into the galactic plain from the Forerunner capital city of Meathrillian. A trillion souls rest in your hands, in your ability to protect every last one of them from an enemy which has no discernible weakness. You know it will end, you just refuse to believe the future which now lays before you. And in a single moment, time slowly closes around you. Your memories stripped, your civilization, your culture and all which you have loved are forgotten, washed away on the shores of infinity. You are the Didact, the last Forerunner. Awoken a hundred thousands years later, and all is lost.
Now imagine you are John-117. You have no recollection of your childhood, did you even have one to begin with? You were trained for endless combat before even reaching the age of ten. The few comrades you did find within the prison of war, have long since perished. Your closest friends, only a memory now. Your only companion, sacrificed herself so that you may live on. A burden which weighs heavily on you. And now those sacrifices seem meaningless, for a new war rises from the ashes of victory. You wonder if it will ever end. You ask yourself, are you but a machine of war, is there a shred of humanity left within your cracked and blasted armor? Or are you hardware, a tool?
Two souls, separated by a hundred thousand years. At odds against one another, but fighting for the exact same outcome. Salvation. Take the hand of destiny, let go, and find yourself within the waters of restitution.
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?
In part two, I delve into the massive and almost unstoppable Covenant fleet. What are the different ships in their inventory? What are their capabilities, and most importantly what are the sub-classes?
Once again, let me take a seat in the captain's chair, and I'll tell you.
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