Twenty Years of Halo: Conversations From The Universe & The Art of Halo

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

You know, despite all the effort that goes into all this supplemental material, whether it’s I Love Bees, the canonical novels, and what we’ll be discussing today, the games themselves still pretty much stand on their own and I probably could have saved myself a lot of trouble by just doing a retrospective on them instead of on everything Halo related I can get my hands on.  For completions sake though, we might as well talk about these which were released alongside Halo 2 and gave us more context for the series; not just in terms of the ongoing narrative, but the story behind the scenes as the games were being developed.  Let’s take a look!

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Conversations from the Universe – 2004

Halo 2 got a Limited Collector’s edition release which came with a making of disk that I’m not going to try and track down, and a booklet called Conversations from the Universe that had a bunch of letters from characters within the Halo universe.

A bunch of them are rather pointless.  There’s some musings from 343 Guilty Spark during the events of Halo that just reiterate what they already said out loud in those games, and there’s an entire spaceship battle that as far as I can tell means absolutely nothing to the overall story.

The ones that are interesting are about characters questioning things such as Cortana questioning0 whether Spartans or AIs are the better tools for the UNSC, and a conversation between two members of The Covenant as they try to figure out why The Prophets have decided to destroy the humans rather than have them join their Covenant.  They ARE a religious cult after all and I for one would LOVE to see a couple of Elites go door to door asking humans if they’ve hear the good news about the Great Journey.

“I didn’t want to say anything, but those Scientologists jerks have been killing it in this section of the galaxy!” “Freaking Xenu. Why doesn’t the green demon go after THAT guy?”

It’s mostly fluff and I can’t help but get a BIT annoyed that the books despite ostensibly being canon are still kept at arms-length from the rest of the series.  Its fine when you’re in the game itself, but this supplemental stuff could have bridged a few gaps.  Instead, all of these letters are more or less self-contained focusing on characters that will not exist outside of these conversations.  Frankly I’m not sure why they even bothered not including these in the standard version of Halo 2 (perhaps even at the end of the manual) and instead only included it in the SPECIAL EDITIONS, but I guess that’s the nature of these things.

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The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World – 2004

Wrriten by Eric S Trautmann

The book is a hundred and fifty pages of artwork, sketches, and quotes from the Bungie team; all of which is interesting if you really want to get into the minutia of design or are looking for quotes to add to the Wikipedia page.  In particular, I remember a quote about Master Chief’s original design being too “slender” and low and behold here it is on page five!

He’s honestly not THAT much bulkier in the game, though I guess they added extra layers of plastic to his action figure-esque armored suit.

Since it’s not a continuation of the narrative itself nor does it provide THAT many insights into the larger universe (in the entire book you get maybe half as much information as you got in the Conversations from the Universe pamphlet), there’s not much to discuss here for the purposes of my retrospective, though we do get some insights into Bungie itself and I can’t say that all of it is PARTICULARLY flattering.  I had to cringe a bit when I someone described the atmosphere as a frat house with really talented students, and honestly if you look up any of the promotional videos Bungie released with these games (we’ll be talking about the Halo 3 Essentials special features when we get to it) it definitely has a party atmosphere.  I don’t exactly buy that that is TRULY how they comport themselves on a day to day basis and that any quotes or videos are there for marketing purposes, but it does show how much things have changed where the perception of frat houses have gone from Animal House tomfoolery to… well what we know about them today.

It’s like Revenge of the Nerds, and who doesn’t love THAT movie, right?

Self-congratulations aside, I do think this book is a very fun resource for those aspiring to be game designers; not for a proper education of course but to see what goes into the development of a game like this with the countless hand drawn sketches and the anecdotes about going to place and meeting with people just to understand ideas and object that would be going into the game.  I do wish they had gone into a bit more detail about a lot of things as we don’t get much of a development history outside of artistic designs, and I’d really had liked to learn more about the influences behind certain concepts or where certain ideas came from.  The Flood in particular are something I was interesting in understanding more, why they were created for this games series, where the idea came from, etc, but the section on them just reiterates what we already know about its life cycle and has a few sketches of earlier designs.  There’s an encyclopedia they released a few years later so maybe I’ll get more information on story development instead of just the game development there, but if you’re a fan of this franchise and want to get a behind the scenes look at how certain pieces were put together than its definitely worth your time; just know that it’s only as behind the scenes as they thought would be marketable.

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And with that we’ll be moving on from official Halo content to some more fan works; and not just Red vs Blue this time!  Join me next time as we take a look at season 4 of Red vs Blue and the fan game Halo Zero!

Next: Red vs Blue Season 4 & Halo Zero
Previous: Halo 2

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