Twenty Years of Halo: The Cole Protocol

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

It’s time once again for the Halo book club, and it seems that Contact Harvest wasn’t a fluke as this is another Halo book set in the universe but far away from ANY of the games!  Still, Contact Harvest was one of the better books we’ve read so far (and that’s including the comic books they’ve tried to do), so perhaps this one will also prove to be a solid sci-fi adventure despite not having the Master Chief or Cortana’s marketable faces on the cover.  Let’s find out!!

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The Cole Protocol – Novel (2008)

The Cole Protocol is written by Tobias Buckell

So it seems that Contact Harvest being a prequel wasn’t a one off for the book series and that we’ll be spending more time AROUND the Halo games than telling stories between.  Continuity wise it’s SOMEWHERE in that nebulous space between Contact Harvest and The Fall of Reach, though leans much close to the latter since the Spartans are around and doing their thing for the war effort.  This time though things are a lot less IN YOUR FACE BOMBAST as the story feels much closer to a spy thriller with various factions trying to out maneuver everyone else over a colony that shouldn’t even be there.  Frankly it’d be more accurate to call this The Rubble instead of The Cole Protocol, but I guess protocol sounds cooler so they went with that.  In any case, the story takes place in the secret separatist colony known as The Rubble; one big town hidden amongst a whole bunch of asteroids that are held in place by an AI named Juliana who is VERY invested in keeping this hunk of junk livable.   Some of them are Insurrectionists, some are there for the great trading opportunities, and all of them want nothing to do with the UNSC; so much so that they’ve more or less made a peace agreement with the Kig-Yar; the Jackals of The Covenant who are MUCH more interested in finding and trading loot than spreading the world of The Forerunners and blowing up heretics.  Sadly, this state of affairs cannot last forever as there appear to groups within The Rubble trying desperately to get their hands on a data chip that has detailed navigational data to Earth which could spell doom for humanity if The Covenant got their hands on it.  To make matters worse, both a UNSC ship (eventually commanded by a younger Captain Keyes) as well as an Elite ship manage to come across this unauthorized “peace” which only escalates tensions and forces the hands of those who have sinister plans for all involved.  Who is trying to get this data, and what do they plan to do with it?  Are the Kig-Yar sincere in their desire to keep this colony out of the greater war, and what consequences could befall them for taking such a stance?  And on top of all this there’s a small group of Spartans watching all of this and pushing events towards some sort of end goal that may ultimately be in Earth’s best interest, but is The Rubble and the people who built it just collateral damage?  I’m not about to say that the book is evenhanded with its politics as military wisdom and strong leaders tend to fare better than those who follow more democratic ideas, but the fact that we’re bouncing around various stories with characters driven by believable motivation makes this one more genuinely engaging novels in the series so far.

Thanks, Space Obama!!
Continue reading “Twenty Years of Halo: The Cole Protocol”

Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue: Reconstruction

Artwork by Usbaia

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

It’s probably no coincidence that all things Halo peaked for me while I was in high school with not just Halo 3 being an amazing video game but this season of Red Vs Blue feeling like the evolution that the series needed to go in.  I remember finishing my assignments early in some sort of extracurricular drafting class or something and episodes of this season in my free time which in hindsight proved to be a far better use of my time than that class ever was.  I mean it’s not like I used any of those skills in any of the jobs I’ve gotten since then, and here I am today telling you all about a web series from the pre-Obama years!  Perhaps it’s more of an indictment on our education system than anything else, but we’re not exactly in a position to fix America’s problems today.  Instead, let’s see if my favorite season of the show still holds up to this day!  Let’s get started!

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Red vs Blue: Reconstruction (2008)

Reconstruction was definitely a turning point in the Red Vs Blue franchise even if the next season or two that I saw did go more towards the Blood Gulch Chronicle style of wacky sitcom setups, there was still a stronger emphasis on story and characters that was started here.  We pick up about a year after Recovery One and Season 5 where Agent Washington is sitting in on a soldier’s debrief as they describe a harrowing situation at their base.  It seems that Tex’s ship didn’t just blow up at the end of Season 5, but was heavily damaged and ended up crashing on another Red Vs Blue training area where the Omega AI (AKA O’Malley) ran roughshod over the troops there; taking over their minds and forcing them to destroy their own equipment so they couldn’t even call for help.  Eventually, the monster that attacked Washington in Recovery One, the thing that was stealing Freelancer AIs, arrived and left only one survivor after taking Omega.  It’s clear that this monster, which they refer to as The Meta, must be stopped and will no doubt be going after South Dakota for the Delta AI which puts Washington in a unique position to get his revenge on her for betraying him back in Recovery One while doing the Freelancer organization a solid that’ll perhaps put him back in their good graces.  Still, before he can effectively track this thing, he needs to learn about the Omega AI that the Meta now has, and there are only a few people in the galaxy who know much about it.  Sad to say for Washington, he bites off more than he can chew as the two people he manages to recruit for this operation are Caboose and Church; long separated after Blood Gulch was disbanded and at least one of them is far from happy to be here, but at long as the trail might lead to Tex, then perhaps it’s a journey worth taking.

“And I would walk five-hundred miles-”     “Caboose…”     And I would walk five-hundred more-”     “Caboose, shut up.”     “Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles-”     “CABOOSE!!”
Continue reading “Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue: Reconstruction”

Twenty Years of Halo: Halo 3 Essentials & Halo Landfall

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

Like with the bonus and behind the scenes content with Halo 2 this was planned to be an interim episodes instead of taking up its own cozy spot on the weekly schedule, but the more I dove into the two disc Essentials and everything involved, yeah there was no way I could get this done as a mere aside.  There are A LOT of features on these discs and plenty to talk about, so let’s not waste any more time and dive right in!

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Halo 3 Essentials (Bonus Features) – 2007

We’ll start things off with how they were released.  The first disc which was released in both the Collector’s and Legendary editions of Halo 3 is something I SOMEHOW managed to get a copy of many years ago (I’m still baffled that this thing wound its way in my collection) and only works on an Xbox 360 console.  I can’t even find information confirming that it works on Xbox One or Series S/X, so unless you’re like me and can’t throw away anything this disc and its content are going to be hard to get ahold of going forward.  The second disc on the other hand which was only available on the Legendary Edition is a simple DVD and will work in anything that plays those.  Considering the massive marketing campaign around this game it’s no surprise that something like this was added to the game to entice people to spend a little more, and I’m not sure how many games even bother with this kind of stuff anymore.  I remember the PS2 having a few games that had some pretty cool bonus features like God of War having a ton of Making Of videos and even something like Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am having an episode of the show on it, but I guess with YouTube being so accessible that companies will just post stuff on there if they even feel like bothering with it; and even then a lot of it is pre-release so there’s always the sense of it still trying to sell you on something whereas these kind of features are more of a celebration after the fact.  In any case, there’s a lot to talk about here so we’ll group them together into loose categories to try and cover a little bit of everything.

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Making Of Features

Now this includes the VERY extensive Making Of feature on disc 1, Seven Steps to World Domination on disc 2, and the unfortunately yet still appropriately named Git Tur Wurk back on disc 1. The Making Of document is the pick of the litter here as it’s a full hour but is filled with some VERY cool stuff about how the game was developed.  It’s well produced, we get insights into many of the interesting tools used, and the enthusiasm of those being interviewed is infectious.  Just hearing Xi Wang, one of the Graphics Engineers, talking in depth about the water engine is engaging and I learned about things you could do with the water in Halo 3 that I would have never even thought about!  There’s stuff like that, the in depth showcase of the damage system, the way the tested the online servers with teams in Japan, but my favorite bit was their play testing process!  There’s this really nifty tool they had where they would have play testers play the game and be able to report issues while in game.  Then, the developers not only get a list of these issues, they know exactly where in the level it occurred and can even watch a replay of the player playing the game at that time!  That is just really cool to me and I’m now wondering if this kind of software is standard in the industry!

If only they had this for the first game!  The Library level would just be one big sea of red!
Continue reading “Twenty Years of Halo: Halo 3 Essentials & Halo Landfall”

Twenty Years of Halo: Halo 3

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios.  Halo 3 was developed by Bungie and ported by Gearbox and 343 Studios.

I’ll be honest here; half the reason I wanted to do this retrospective is for an excuse to play this game again.  Halo 3, along with one of those Naruto games, was the first game me and my brother got for the Xbox 360 and it was one of the most memorable experiences I ever had with a game; right up there with playing Super Mario Bros for the first time and getting my mind COMPLETELY blown by No More Heroes.  No other first person shooter felt as pitch perfect and brilliantly executed as this one, and the shiny new graphics of the next generation of consoles make it feel like a new era of games had started.  We all know how the seventh generation went however with military shooters supplanting more fanciful fare like this, but looking back on it fourteen years after its release, does it hold up?  Does it FINISH THE FIGHT as the marketing proclaimed, and do we get some closure on the storylines that have all been building to this finale to the trilogy?  Let’s find out!!

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Following the events of Halo 2, The Master Chief finds himself back on Earth with what remains of the UNSC and an unlikely ally in The Arbiter.  The Covenant haven’t destroyed the planet yet as it appears they are digging for some sort of Forerunner artifact that was APPARENTLY on Earth this whole time and will lead them to The Ark; essentially the control station for ALL of the Halo rings which will allow The Prophet of Truth (the last remaining prophet) to fire them all off and start The Great Journey which is the end goal their doomsday cult.  Making matters more difficult is that Cortana is still on High Charity (the Covenant city that was infected with The Flood at the end of the last game) instead of with The Chief and also that the UNSC are on their last legs, but another unlikely ally from Chief’s past, 343 Guilty Spark, has decided to help him, the UNSC, and the Elite defectors in stopping The Prophet of Truth and hopefully destroying The Flood (along with its leader Gravemind) without having to wipe out the entire galaxy to do it.  Narrative wise, which is the part that ALWAYS flew right over my head whenever I played this game, it’s a mixed bag of give and take.  The story has been stripped down to its barest elements which is GREAT in so many places throughout this game; focusing on the moment to moment pulse pounding action and stakes instead of drowning us in lore and backstory.  There’s hardly a single level like say The Library which drags on forever as it rambles on to give us some world building, and The Chief definitely feels more engaged here than he did in Halo 2.  However, the drawback to this approach is that it’s all sizzle with very little meat to chew on.  The Arbiter is easily the best character in this entire franchise, and yet because he’s tagging along with you the whole time he doesn’t get his own missions anymore so he feels like something of an afterthought throughout too much of the game.  There are also a WHOLE lot of conveniences here just to give us more set pieces like when a Halo ring just ALL OF A SUDDEN appears out of nowhere to set up the final confrontation (and to justify calling this a Halo game I guess), but the two things that just didn’t fit well with me were The Flood and Guilty Spark.  Honestly, I don’t know what Guilty Spark’s game here is or what they’re trying to accomplish.  It seems like a turn to the good guys for flimsy reasons, and then the final straw for it to go back to being a bad guy feels even flimsier.  Did we NOT just spend the entire game working our way to DESTROYING all this stuff and the Flood along with it?  The metal jerk has a problem with it NOW!?

“You promised me cake back on the first Halo ring!  If ANYONE should be mad, it’s ME!”
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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!
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Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue Season 5, Out of Mind, and Recovery One

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

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!!

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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.

“GIRLY THINGS!”     “Hey, we’ve already got Donut for that!”     “Yeah, but that joke ran its course two seasons ago.”     “Clearly you haven’t learned the finer points of beating a dead horse!”
Continue reading “Twenty Years of Halo: Red Vs Blue Season 5, Out of Mind, and Recovery One”

Twenty Years of Halo: The Halo Graphic Novel & Ghost of Onyx

Artwork by Usbaia

The Halo franchise is owned by Xbox Game Studios

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!!

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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!!

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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.

It’s like looking through H R Giger’s septic tank…
Continue reading “Twenty Years of Halo: The Halo Graphic Novel & Ghost of Onyx”