Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth
Red vs Blue began in 2003 and it swiftly became a phenomenon with mainstream success, DVD releases, and I’m pretty sure they played episodes of it on the G4 network when that was still a thing. With the popularity of this series rising as fast as Halo’s popularity, it may seem like a strange idea for them to close the book on The Blood Gulch Chronicles after five seasons, but it was soon clear that Rooster Teeth wasn’t saying goodbye to the series; just this version of it. So today we’ll be looking at the final season of the show as well as its early attempts to expand the franchise and build on its lore to see the groundwork for future seasons. Does the show end with a bang, or was it clear they need to take things in a new direction sooner rather than later? Let’s get started!!
Season 5 – 2006-2007
The Blood Gulch Chronicles is a perfect parabola of quality as the series reaches its peak at season three and goes downhill at about the same rate. Where season 1 was rather primitive and a bit too mean spirited for me, it at least had the excuse of being a brand new thing from a group of inexperienced creatives so there was naturally going to be a learning curve. Season five on the other hand, despite having four seasons of experience behind it, just feels like a total regression of all the series’ biggest bugbears. The humor in particular is utterly obnoxious as we’re right back to sniping at each other with every offhand comment or very simple statement of clarification followed by someone calling them stupid, fat, girly, etc. Donut as a character thankfully doesn’t regress to his per-season 4 self, but boy does everyone else lay into him a lot more here and it’s never funny. Perhaps the worst addition is Griff’s sister who is a one dimensional “dumb blonde” stereotype only on hand to act ditzy and be a sexual object for everyone to lust after at the expense of Griff. She doesn’t even get a name! She’s just called Sister throughout the season! The whole season is painfully misogynistic with Church in particular throwing out barbs at both Sister and Tex, and the writing for the two women on hand (excluding Sheila the tank) is just lacking in any sort of wit which is a shame because it’s clear that Tex is a HUGE piece of the ongoing story once we finally get out of Blood Gulch.
So with fans having played their way through Halo 2 and chomping at the bit for the next one, Bungie and Microsoft had to find a way to satiate fans until the next console generation and they couldn’t rely on Rooster Teeth to doing it on their own. So like with every other franchise that gets sufficiently popular the world of comics came a calling, and they also have that novel series that churns out entries at a reliable rate, all of which means it’s time once again for the Halo book club! Let’s get started!!
The Halo Graphic Novel – 2006
Published by Marvel Comics
The story of this graphic novel is kind of an interesting one as Microsoft bigwig Eric Trautmann was the one to come up with the idea of expanding the Halo brand into comics, but Bungie jumped in and started stirring the pot pretty much immediately. Sure, you don’t want to IGNORE the company that’s making you successful video games, but when Trautmann brought on industry mainstays John Ney Rieber and Adi Granov to work on a comic, Bungie was not impressed and their art director Lorraine McLees even went so far as to call their pitch “a lump of coal”. Instead, Bungie insisted on getting their OWN team of comic book veterans to work on it and Trautmann relented as long as Bungie was willing to finance it all on their own before submitting it to publishers. Just to get an idea of where their heads were at, two of the names they wanted to get were sixty year industry veteran Joe Kubert, and of all people Alan freaking Moore. Can you imagine a bunch of Bungie execs going to cranky ol’ Alan Moore and ask him to write a comic about their silly space marine nonsense; ESPECIALLY one that’s THIS un-ironically jingoistic? Obviously they didn’t EITHER of them but they managed to snag a few names like Jean “Moebius” Giraud and the book was released in 2006 as a collection of vignettes exploring the Halo universe. Did Bungie’s insistence for creative control and top tier comic book talent lead to a fascinating book that expands our understanding of the franchise? Let’s take find out!!
Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor
Lee Hammock and Simon Bisley
The Covenant are SO much more interesting than the humans as they’re written to be flawed bad guys instead of one dimensional macho bad asses, so the beefiest story in the entire graphic novel is devoted to a Flood outbreak that occurred on one of their ships during the event of the first game. Sadly the Flood does to storylines what they do to everything else, and pretty much ruins it from the inside out because I found this to be rather lackluster and kind of ugly honestly. I like the colors, but the character designs are wonky as heck and the flood is EXTRA disgusting in ways that never came across in the games. It unfortunately reminds me of that westernized Song of Saya comic and while the writing doesn’t revolt me as much I find that it’s not enough to overcome the deeply unpleasant artwork. It’ just another zombie story no matter how many Klingon-lite warrior dudes you through into it, and it frankly plays out more like a level in a video game than anything else; a REALLY gross and tediously structured one on top of that.
On the day of its release, Halo 2 solve over five hundred thousand copies and would go on to sell over eight million copies by the end of 2008; making it the biggest game to ever get released on the original Xbox. If it wasn’t clear already by the swaths of dedicated nerds sitting by payphones to get cryptic clues only tangentially related to the franchise, this cemented Halo as a HUGE franchise with a powerful presence in the video game industry. We already talked about Red vs Blue season 3 which was the first to use the Halo 2 engine and today we’ll be looking at the fourth season as well as another noticeable fan made project that came out in the wake of the sequels’ overwhelming success. Let’s get started!!
Red vs Blue Season 4 – 2005-2006
Red vs Blue is owned by Rooster Teeth
Going into this season I had a few ideas about it based on my half-remembered recent viewing; at least the show is going on an adventure for part of it, but it’s disappointing that we’re back at Blood Gulch with the Reds. Watching it again, I kind of felt the opposite as the Reds are pretty darn funny despite having no direction and literally going back to where they started, and the Blue team is honestly kind of dreadful despite the attempts to do something new. The addition of Andy the Bomb in particular just drags all the humor down to the gutter where we’re back to pointlessly sniping at each other and throwing off lazy offensive barbs. It’s such a shame because the status quo change in the third season could have really led this series into a new direction, but it’s just more of the same and frankly a bit backwards on top of it. Thankfully the Reds don’t rely as much on that and they have some genuinely fun and silly story arcs; the big one being Simmons who got driven out of Red Team and joins up with Sheila at the abandoned Blue Base to mount a panicked revenge scheme against his former allies. They have a lot of fun with Simmons’s sense of confidence and emotional security getting shattered by Sarge firing him, and Sheila makes a great foil as she’s a constant threat throughout the season; just one bad comment or one ill-timed scheme away from ending this conflict in a bloody blaze of glory. It’s definitely going back to the series’ roots after taking such a long detour and for the most part they succeed even if it all feels a bit too familiar. They at least have GENUINELY good material to work with instead of the Blues who are just getting on each other’s nerves Even Donut’s character is somewhere better as he’s a bit toned down. It’s far less innuendo and girly behavior than it is naiveté and exuberance which I found much funnier, though they can’t help themselves from pushing it a bit too far and knocking you over the head with his sexuality in a mocking manner.
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!
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.
Halo 2 was developed by Bungie and ported by Gearbox and 343 Studios
To this day I have never owned an Xbox so Halo 2 was always out of reach for me. Oh, what’s that? A Windows Vista port? Yeah, this was back in the Stone Age when all I had was a Windows XP, so no I never got around to playing it on PC or on Xbox until they FINALLY released The Master Chief collection and I bought it a few months ago on Steam. The game has pretty universal acclaim, and introduced a lot of features that would be refined in the sequel Halo 3, so getting my hands on this gem after all this time will certainly be an interesting experience; no nostalgia to cloud my judgement, and not the next gen experience I enjoyed when I got the Xbox 360. Does it hold up is this a classic better left in the past? Let’s find out!!
I like to start these with discussing the narrative first, and if I were to give this game one GIANT thumbs up, it’s that the story is actually pretty darn good. Not PERFECT as the ending left me rather unsatisfied and I had to look up a few details on the wiki when all was said and done, but it definitely soars above the original in this regard. Following the events of the first game (and also the novel First Strike, though I don’t think there are any overt references to that in here), Master Chief is back with the UNSC and chilling out on the Cairo space station. While we see him getting commendations and trading witty barbs with Sergeant Johnson, we also see The Covenant having a decidedly less celebratory congregation as Thel Vadamee, an Elite solider who was in charge of the operation to reclaim Halo and use its weapon (we all know how THAT ended up), is getting jeered and condemned by the leaders of The Covenant; known as The Prophets. He’s stripped of his armor, burned with a symbol of shame, and with nothing else to live for… agrees to be the top solider of The Prophets. Yeah, apparently if you screw up SO badly that you’re effectively convicted of treason then you can qualify for the position of Arbiter which Vadamee agrees to since he doesn’t really have anything better to do. I joke, but Thel Vadamee is the reason to play this game, as he’s not just an interesting character filled with conflict and contradiction, the voice work for this character (done by none other than Keith David) is top notch and he gets across all the mixed feelings that this character has to embody. He’s part of a proud warrior race so he speaks like a Klingon with twice as much acting range but the story puts him through his paces as he goes on one suicidal quest after another only to find more questions and challenges to his faith at the end of each path.
Alright, I’m gonna be honest here. We’re one game, three books, and a fan made web series into this retrospective, so I thought I had a good handle on things… but then I started researching this I Love Bees thing, and I’m in WAY over my head. I’ve never participated in an ARG and simply trying to find out what happened after everything has already has been solved has proved to be more than my patience can normally sustain, so I’m not going to be able to give you a full breakdown of this experience or will fully appreciate it the way that many people still do to this day. I can only try and come in here as the layman trying to get a complete picture of the Halo Universe and what makes this series tick, but trying to unravel this mystery and extract the relevant details kind of reminds me why I even felt the need to do this retrospective in the first place. The Halo narrative always washed over me even when I was enjoying the games and some of the other content around it, and in trying to fix that problem I just end up feeling that way all over again with this ARG game that took place prior to the release of Halo 2. I put in the time though and I have what I think is a reasonable approximation of what this was, so let’s take a look and see what this whole I LOVE BEES thing is all about!
One of the things I didn’t want to do when trying to understand this series is to troll the Halo wiki and just get my information there, but I spent about ten minutes perusing the I Love Bees website and just threw my hands up as it’s just a collection of nonsense obscuring tiny fragments of things that may or may not be relevant to the upcoming game, and the Summary on Wikipedia does a good job of telling me what the point of this is. I Love Bees is an ARG game developed by 42 Entertainment as a promotional device for Halo 2 and to expand on the lore of the franchise. The story is that back in the novel First Strike, the big inciting incident to kick off the third act is that The Covenant somehow managed to find out where Earth is and The Masterchief along with the rag tag crew of soldiers who survived both Halo and Reach have to stop them. What I love Bees reveals is HOW The Covenant found Earth via strange messages on the site, cryptic data, and eventually an audio drama which has been collected into a twelve episode series that I listened to from beginning to end. Right around the time of the Fall of Reach, a UNSC shipped called the Apocalypso found an alien artifact and was taking it back to Earth. The artifact is some sort of lost Forerunner tech that the Covenant wanted (from the sound of it, it was a mini-Halo?) and so they sent an EVIL AI called The Seeker to infiltrate the Apocalypso and corrupt it’s AI called Melissa. It seems to have worked because Melissa caused the ship to explode just outside of Earth’s orbit, and Melissa was broken more or less in half; one half found its way to some teenager’s computer named Jersey in New York City who named this fragmented AI Durga, and the other half was sent back in time to the year 2004 along with the remnants of The Seeker. This is where the AR Game comes into play; the part of Melissa in the past (itself getting split into The Sleeping Princess and The Operator) as well as The Seeker are the entities who were running the game and took over the I Love Bees website. Everything we learned from I Love Bees and its related stuff (including phone calls to payphones that players had to be at during specific times on specific dates) are supposedly fragments provided by these two corrupted and fragmented AIs.
Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth
The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios
We’re back with our Halo retrospective, and once again we’re talking about something that isn’t technically part of the series! After the success of season one, the folks over at Rooster Teeth knew they had something big on their hands and started right away on Season two. The second and third seasons both released in 2004 (season 3 finished up in early 2005) so we’ll be looking at both back to back as the Blood Gulch Chronicles grows from a bunch of people bickering in a canyon to those same people bickering in different places! Let’s get started!
Red vs Blue Season 2 – 2004
By season two they had a better grasp on the concept and the characters which leads to some fun and unexpected story beats, but for every place that they manage to improve it just shines a spotlight on the places they don’t budge an inch. I wasn’t keeping count, but they did lessen their overall use of the R-word and the more mean-spirited bickering is less omnipresent. However, there are still some issues throughout the season that hold this series back; particularly the way they pumped the gay jokes up to eleven. Donut is not without his fun moments, but the joke being that he embodies what the writers think is funny about gay people (the pink armor, jokes about girly things, etc) is a constant thorn in this series’ side throughout its first five seasons.
Today we’ll be taking our first detour into non-official fan works as opposed to licensed material, though Red vs Blue is definitely something that fits in the gray area of which we’ll see more of the further we get into this retrospective. In any case, it’s no surprise that Halo generated a lot of fan made content considering how successful it was at release and how much Microsoft and Bungie pushed it as THE NEXT BIG THING, and Red vs Blue in particular is inalterably tied into the franchise and I’d say is more than a little responsible for having such an enduring presence in the industry. Its place in entertainment history is definitely secured, but does the show itself still hold up to this day? Let’s find out as we look at the first season!!
Red vs Blue and all the images you see in this retrospective are owned by Rooster Teeth
Red vs Blue is a Machinima series (i.e. a narrative show using gameplay footage) created by Rooster Teeth depicting two teams who are fighting for control of a dirt canyon of no particular significance and was created using the Halo games. On Red Team we have the delusional yet slightly competent Sarge, the lazy yet somewhat sensible Griff, the genuinely smart Simmons who’s also a total brown nose for Sarge, and the new recruit Donut who ends up getting pink armor because this was made back when something like that was considered hilarious. On Blue Team we have interim team leader Church who’s a HUGE jerk but kind of the main character of the series, the fun yet ALSO lazy Tucker, and the very ignorant Caboose who’d be like if Ed from Ed, Edd, n Eddy grew up to join Space Force. Throughout the first season we learn more about the teams as well as get introduced to secondary characters like Lopez the Red team’s robot mechanic, Sheila the Blue Team’s talking tank, and Tex the freelancer hired by the Blue Team with a checkered past that ties directly to Church’s. Compared to where the series will end up going on later seasons, the first is fairly self-contained and can be broken down into three primary arcs; Donut getting the Blue Team’s flag, Tex getting Blue Team’s flag back, and Tex going after Red Team’s flag, but for the most part the actual plot is secondary to the characters’ personalities bouncing off of each other in a ludicrous combat situation; kind of like what Archer would eventually do with the spy genre a decade later. Needless to say that with all the silly situations, potty mouths, and it being a cool VIDEO GAME thing, I was pretty obsessed with this show when I was a teenager, but there were a lot of things I liked when I was a teenager that don’t hold up now, so is this one of them?
With the first Halo game in our rearview mirror, we return to the novels with the first one (The Flood) being a novelization of the game. Okay, by “rearview mirror” I meant “firmly still in the middle of”, but a book is a great chance to expand upon the universe and fill in the cracks of the game’s narrative which certainly has a few spots that could be improved with some character development. Not only that, but we’ll be looking at First Strike which will be the bridge between Combat Evolved and Halo 2; a game I still haven’t played yet am and very much looking forward to experiencing for the first time! Speaking of time, let’s not waste anymore and get started on these books!!
Halo: The Flood (Novel) – 2003
Written by William C Dietz
What makes this book unique in the series is that it’s based on one of the games as opposed to all the other books which are stories taking place in-between them. Because of this, half of the novel is just straight up adapting the campaign which means we go through each of the levels and get to have all of the familiar set pieces described to us; something that would have been fine if these sequences were written with any particular flair, but much like the last book the writing is too utilitarian to add much flavor to the proceedings and it feels like I’m reading the novelization of someone’s Let’s Play. Having just played the game right before picking up the book, it makes all these scenes feel redundant, and I’m not sure who would be buying these books other than those who have already played the campaign. This is most prominent in the Flood containment facility (mission 343 Guilty Spark) where Keyes and his men were overrun by The Flood and where Master Chief encounters them for the first time. That would have been a PERFECT point in the book to keep things quiet and not indulge in action scenes to build the mood, but because there were Covenant troops there in the campaign they HAVE to be there in the novel as well. I understand needing to have some enemies milling about for you to fight in the game, but in the book it undercuts the severity of the Flood and it would have been way more haunting if there were NO Covenant there to kill. Heck, even better you could have a few Covenant there scared out of their minds and not even fighting back to further cement the horror that we’re about to run into; just liked the crazed marine in the game itself. On that note, I will say that the adaptation DOES work in regards to adding story to the already established story bits. Master Chief is mostly silent throughout the game, so adding dialogue to certain scenes like when he meets the terrified marine or during the Library chapter where he’s trying to talk to 343 Guilty Spark (The Monitor) are definitely moments where they added something to the material, but for the most part his story contains rather rote action set pieces.
The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios Halo: Combat Evolved was developed by Bungie and ported by Gearbox and 343 Studios Destiny 2 was developed by Bungie
I don’t remember what year I got this game, but it was the PC version that I played back in the day and I loved every second of it! Well… at least every second that I could remember. The first couple of stages of this game are etched into my memory clear as day, but there’s a general fuzziness around this game outside of the top notch moment to moment action. The whole point of me doing this series is that I clearly remember having a GREAT time with this game and the third one, but so much of it is hazy and without context so now’s the time to really sink my teeth into this game and try to understand I found so engaging about it all those years ago!
We’ll get into how it connects to The Fall of Reach soon enough, but narratively the game does a great job of getting you right into the action and not fussing too much with the details. Without knowing the first thing about the Spartan project, MJOLNIR armor, or even the name of the enemy, it’s almost second nature to put yourself into the main character and start playing the role of the unflappable badass who can fire big guns and punch alien baddies with the force of a jackhammer! Perhaps you may not have seen Aliens or Starship Troopers when you first played this game, but the whole idea of SPACE MARINES and wars with aliens is deeply ingrained in popular culture (at least here in the US) and creates a great foundation to build a franchise off of; allowing the overly familiar setup to do much of the heavy lifting while also providing more than enough context of the much bigger world we’re in and the stakes going forward. Master Chief as well works on this level of rehashing old tropes to build something new. His design is instantly iconic with the metallic green armor and the reflective faceplate who still conveys personality through body language and the performance of Steve Downes without giving us TOO much detail that you can’t easily slip into his character. What do you know about the Chief going into this game? Absolutely nothing, and yet more than enough. He’s the hero who’s there to kick butt and take names. His job is to protect his fellow soldiers and to fight the bad guys which makes him a useful blunt object that the UNSC relies on, but also one that is nearly manipulated into unspeakable evil by the eventual antagonist of the story.