Twenty Years of Halo: Halo Believe & Iris

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

We’ll be talking about Halo 3 very soon, but while that game was gearing up for its release Bungie released another ARG to hype it up.  Unlike I Love Bees however, this was a VERY scaled down affair as everything seems to have been developed in house with their Franchise Development Director Frank O’Connor writing it himself, and it all took place within Bungie’s forums as opposed to a series of interconnected websites, telephone calls, and a five hour audio drama portioned out in bits and pieces.  On the one hand I am a little bit relieved that I don’t have as much content to work through to try and understand what’s going on, but it does feel a bit odd that the BIGGER AND BETTER Xbox 360 entry in the series didn’t get the same kind of extensive marketing campaign.  Instead, we got one of the most extensive direct marketing campaigns for a video game ever produced at that point which we’ll be talking about it here as well!  Let’s get started!

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Halo: Believe (Marketing Campaign) – 2007

Produced by New Deal Studios

Perhaps it’s a bit gauche to try and put a bunch of ads in the greater context of a series like this, but that trailer with the action figures is definitely one of the strongest memories I have about this franchise and it always stuck with me as something that really captured what made Halo so compelling!  That and the Iris recap was coming up a bit short, so why not take a little detour for the heck of it?  Frankly we could talk about the ENTIRE Halo 3 marketing campaign which ultimately cost Microsoft FORTY MILLION DOLLARS but was ultimately worth it as Halo 3 sold over three million copies in its first week.  We’re going to limit it to this campaign though as I found it to be the most interesting to talk about and frankly I don’t want to try and track down every can of Halo 3 branded soda or figure out what the heck ActionClix are. 

Harvested right from the furrowed brows and pit stained graphic tees of true gamers then mixed with ten pounds of sugar and trademark RED MYSTERY FLAVOR! Nothing tastes sweeter than victory, but we sure as heck tried with this!

For most people, I’m sure if they remember anything about this campaign it was the aforementioned action figure trailer with the artful sweeping shots around the diorama depicting the final battle of the Covenant War only to end with the Master Chief’s head looking up with a plasma grenade in his hand.  It’s definitely one of the more striking game commercials that I’ve seen and sticks around in my head for a reason, but what I’ve since learned is just how extensive this campaign was. See, they didn’t just build a big set of toys and make one VERY cool commercial out of it; it’s part of a bigger (arguably canon) story that takes place DECADES after the end of Halo 3!  The entire Believe campaign is a memorial to the UNSC and The Master Chief with the diorama being the John 117 memorial that was created for the Museum of Humanity.  I’m not exactly sure what order the commercials aired in, but what I’ll call the first one is a narrated overview of the museum itself and the process of creating this memorial for one of Earth’s most important historical events, and the remaining commercials are interviews with UNSC soldiers who were there for the battle being depicted.  One takes place in front of the memorial, another takes place in the museum’s Weapons Hall, and the last two take place on the battlefield itself. 

“Hey Roland, you uh… you sure you know what you’re doing there?” “of course I know what I’m-” *BANG* “Whoopsies…”

I said in my recap of Halo: Uprising that the books and novels do a poor job of giving us a reason to care about winning the war instead of just constantly focusing on fighting it as they alternate between valorizing war atrocities and taking clumsy swipes at pop culture they don’t like.  This campaign however REALLY gets it by giving us a genuine glimpse into the future that Master Chief was fighting for.  Master Chief didn’t defeat The Covenant and finish the fight because doing war stuff is cool; it’s so that people can LIVE and that things such as museums, documentaries, even niche crafts like dioramas, can still flourish and survive.  Because of the sacrifices of these people, everyone else can be happy and live full lives outside of the mere pursuit of survival and conquest, and they can take comfort that people still remember and treasure what they had to give up in order to give us this gift.  It’s SO much more engaging and haunting on a narrative level to see these actors reminisce about the war than any number of pages about justifying the use of child soldiers, and the actors performances are darn good for what are, at the end of the day, just commercials to sell you on a video game.  In fact if there’s one thing that’s a LITTLE bit off about these it’s just how overwrought the imagery is as it takes a lot of its cues from similar projects with soldiers from ACTUAL wars, so perhaps it’s a bit much to try and co-opt that sense of gravitas and genuine pain for a BANG SHOOTY FIRST PERSON SHOOTER; on sale soon at your local GameStop!

“And with that, the firing ceased.  I may have walked out of this place that day, but a piece of me will always be here…”     …     “What’s that?”     …     “Oh, and uh… Do The Dew.  I guess.”

There are a few other pieces of media connected to the Believe campaign aside from the commercials.  For a while, the diorama was viewable from multiple angles on Bungie’s website via a flash program, but sadly that is no longer available and all we have left are some of the screenshots.  To lend further credence to the whole documentary feel, there were art galleries in the UK that displayed “war pictures” from the Covenant War and a separate commercial filmed at one of these locations.  There was also an orchestral performance at the Project Revolution music festival playing a Master Chief memorial song and while I can’t find any footage of it, there were pamphlets handed out that we still have copies of.  There was also a magazine ad that had similar verbiage to it and we also have copies of that still floating around.

Forty years later, and they STILL couldn’t find his last name?  What, did Halsey burn all the files and shoot everyone involved!?

For whatever faults it may have, the campaign was quite ambitions with a lot of resources behind it and they managed to hit just the right tone for it to stay in people’s minds.  As for the diorama, most of it was taken apart and sold at auctions with the remaining pieces split between Microsoft and Bungie.  The creators of the campaign, New Deal Studios, didn’t exactly light the world on fire after this despite the positive reception for Believe, but they are still around making commercials and even producing the occasional movie.  My favorite discovery about them though is that they ALSO made that parody commercial for Bulletstorm; meaning that they were hired to make fun of their own work!  Hey, that commercial was pretty great to, so I don’t knock them for taking the paycheck, and they’re working on some VR stuff these days that looks pretty cool so no pity party here!

“One moment please…”     *BLAAAAAARRGGHHH*     “Thank you…”

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Iris (Augmented Reality Game) – 2007

The ARG for Halo 3 was SIGNIFICANTLY scaled back and rather small in scale, especially compared to the rest of the Halo 3 marketing blitz.  Where I Love Bees was a HUGE web of interconnected bits and pieces of media, this was essentially five web pages and a mini comic; all done in house and with no involvement from 4orty2wo Entertainment.  The story begins with a rogue AI called AdjutantReflex that started posting cryptic threads on the Bungie Forums which was the clue to fans to start looking around for stuff, and someone eventually found a mini-comic on the Bungie website that gave a bit of background about the Forerunners while also hiding a secret IP Address.  The IP address would lead people to a site for the Society Of The Ancients, and that had a link to the first of five “episodes” that contain the majority of the content for this ARG.

And yet it somehow makes more sense than Prometheus…

Each episode was a web page with a Forerunner glyph that had hidden spots to click on to access cryptic text, strange pictures, and a video that looks like a cross between the opening of The X-Files and the video from The Ring.  It’s nothing particularly substantive as there’s no real characters to this; instead it’s a snapshot of Forerunner AIs essentially talking amongst themselves about the strange occurrences happening.  What story there is pertains to the discovery of the flood and the desperate attempts to contain it before the Forerunners decided that the Halo rings were the only way to salvage the galaxy.  Despite its brevity (The videos in total clock in at just under six minutes), I actually enjoyed what they getting at.  Halo as a franchise is not bereft of thematic weight and you can look at each game to find some interesting questions that are worth thinking about in its extensive universe.  Not the kind of questions like “how many dead children does it take to justify their recruitment”, but the fact is that the first game introduced us to these Halo rings, and they were made for a reason!  I think some of the later books that I’ll be getting to soon enough will focus on the Forerunners, but for this entire trilogy they’re motives are rather obscure; seemingly acting out of desperation to end a Space Zombie apocalypse.  They felt it necessary to wipe out all life in the galaxy in order to stop The Flood, and it seems like they had better weapons than the Earthlings do in the games, so for the survival of some (the Forerunners created some sort of safe areas that the Rings wouldn’t affect), were the rings a necessary evil and will they be a necessary evil that will need to be used again?  The Flood are almost a secondary fixture in the second game and honestly I remember very little of their presence in the third one (aside from whatever the heck was going on in the final mission), so something like this that gives us a snapshot of the universe at the time when the rings were deemed the best option, well it kind of brings some gravity back to The Flood as a genuine threat.  Heck, the Believe campaign which did such a good job at putting the war in a human context didn’t even mention The Flood; possibly due to the fact that they weren’t working from the full game script, but even the rest of the marketing barely even covers them as they opt to focus on The Covenant.  It’s not exactly a THRILLING experience to go through these bits of information and I still enjoyed learning about the Believe campaign than dissecting the ARG, but I appreciate what it was trying to accomplish.

“If everything else fails, we have Grown Ups 3 ready to go!”

I looked over the wikis and asked a few question in the Halo Reddit pages, but I never got much of an answer as to why the Iris campaign was so scaled back.  If you’re looking for my opinion though, I think the rest of the marketing push really did make such a niche form of marketing more or less obsolete.  They still wanted to do it because I Love Bees was such a big deal for the fans, and while IRIS definitely serves a purpose and gives us some fascinating insights, I found the rest of the marketing campaign to be much more interesting on closer inspection.  That diorama alone just seems to stick in my brain and I’m glad that there was much more to the story than just a bunch of action figures on a set.

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And with that we have cleared the way and set the stage for the next game in the series; Halo 3! Join me next time as I dive head first into the game itself and see if it holds up all these years after its massive marketing push and sky high expectations!

Next: Halo 3
Previous: Halo Uprising & Contact Harvest

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