Monday, June 6, 2011

Spoiler Alert for ... a video game? Halo.

Some people may have noticed that I'm a little wierd. I'm also a bit of a nerd, as my DragonCon reports and my JMS blog of today might tell you.

However, I want to discuss a little bit about one of the most epic bits of science fiction storytelling I've seen outside of Baen publishing.

The Halo video game franchise.

Yup. Video games can have epic writing.

If most of you are thinking "Thanks. We've seen Super Mario Brothers, there is no writing," I respectfully suggest you get your head out of the 80s. And parts of the 90s.

I've only recently been brought back into the world of video games by my friend Jason. He started by giving me a video game called Halo. It was a "first person shooter," which I always figured was short for "a game with no plot, but you get to shoot up anyhthing that gets in your way, or blow them up if you have grenades."

Then I started playing it.

It had a story. It had supporting characters with personalities. It had witty chapter titles and sarcastic one-liners. It was a space-sprawling epic played out on something that resembled Larry Niven's Ringworld -- an artificially designed planet called Halo.

The premise was simple enough: alien jihadists called the Covenant have discovered humans, and they really, really don't like us. The game starts with the player's ship on the run from an alien armada, and runs into Halo, a world that turns out to be a sacred artifact to the jihadists. The player's character is a bioengineered super soldier called a Spartan-II, and wears a Mjolnir battle suit (yes, it's named after the hammer of Thor). The humans get the bright idea to take over Halo before the Covenant do -- this artificial ring world is a moon-sized weapon, after all.

And then, the humans wake something up. Not quite an eldritch horror from beyond time and space, but good enough for government work. Let's just say that they're called The Flood and leave it there. They have a tendency to devour, well, everything.

After waking up said horror, another side to this little war comes up. The artificial intelligence of the Halo ring discovers that, "Hmm, the Flood creatures have been let loose. We have to stop them."

It turns out that the eldritch horror isn't from beyond time and space, but from one hundred million years ago. The Halo rings were built to stop them. But, the people fighting the flood back then decided to hold on to a few samples for research, and so the species wouldn't die out (I always knew rabid environmentalists would be the ruin of us).

All goes perfectly well until the player discovers how the Halo rings kill the flood-- by erradicating all life bigger than a microbe. The flood starve. End of problem. When the Spartan-II and his sidekick object to this plan, the AI that has been chattering at you for a whole level of the game turns nasty.

Did I mention that the AI is insane?

Soon, the game becomes a four-sided battle. Alien jihadists are still trying to kill you. The flood are trying to kill everyone. And the AI that you've pissed off has his own army of flying, laser-wielding drones who are also out to kill you, the flood, the jihadists, and everything else in its way.

And that's just the first game.

The Halo universe is so dense in background and in story, they've written at least half a dozen novels worth of material, and they're making more.  Comic book and Star Trek favorite Peter David has written a comic book volume from the Halo-verse, as has William C. Dietz, another author with his own writing credits -- though the first author to be offered the job was Timothy Zahn.


There might be one or two people upset by the end of Halo 3.  The third game sought to wipe out the Flood, end the war with the alien jihadists, and  finally end the threat of the Halo rings.   By and large, they succeeded.

However, the character you play, the Spartan-II, is last seen drifting in space in half a starship -- bad things happen when a wormhole closes and the ship is only halfway through it.
Since Halo 3, several Halo games have been released -- prequels, side-stories, and tales that never answered the simple question: Whatever happened to Master Chief, Spartan 117

Halo Fans will be happy to know that the trail for Halo 4 starts where Halo 3 leaves off.

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