The lights are on
Power Member - Level 6
Several years ago, I found myself unexpectedly sitting at
the bottom of small, icy ravine. I was unsure
of my next move despite being tremendously focused on the task at hand. Normally, a climb like that wouldn't have
bothered me. In truth, the climb itself really
didn't. I've always been in great shape,
never one to panic and I'd made sure to prepare the appropriate gear and
equipment ahead of time. As I'd learned
too often in life, all the preparation in the world couldn't have prepared us
for what lay ahead. The descent was more
taxing than I anticipated and supplies for the excursion were running
dangerously low. Despite the great care
I had taken in preparing for the climb and the natural talents and years of
experience I possessed, the rest of the team was not prepared. I knew that I was going to be fine, but as I
looked at the men around me, their cold, resolute eyes looking to me for direction,
the cold, unfeeling reality weighed in my stomach. I could not keep all these men alive. The Covenant waiting at the top of the ravine
would undo it all.
My first experience
with Halo was... atypical from most. Halo: Combat Evolved released November 15th,
2001 during my Junior year in high school, yet it wasn't until my Sophomore
year in college that I first stepped into the boots of Master Chief. Sure, I heard stories of epic sixteen-player
LAN parties, but I had no time for simple minded shooter games- I was a JRPG
gamer. That mindset has thankfully changed
over the years, largely in part due to Bungie Studio's Sci-fi epic.
In September of 2004, I purchased my first copy of Halo: CE
for a run-of-the-mill Gateway laptop. I
was bored and looking to find a common interest with my Art Major roommate. Before jumping straight into a multiplayer
setting, my very first actually, I decided to familiarize myself with the
controls- a struggle on a laptop with no mouse and no prior experience with PC
gaming. It was 10 PM; the lights were off,
headphones on and a graphics card not quite up to snuff. The Master Chief was grey, the graphics
blocky and textures the consistency of cotton balls. I could not get enough.
I played straight through the campaign that night and into
the early morning hours, enthralled with the game's immersive environments, O'Donnell
and Salvatori's primal soundtrack juxtaposed to the science fiction conceit of
a ring world and intrigued by the tenuous relationship between the Chief and Cortana.
No JRPG had filled this unknown craving for
complete game emersion as the original Halo did that cold September night. There was no choice, I had to save for an XBOX
and play Halo as it was meant to be played.
It was a unique amalgamation of environment, encounters, enemy design,
musical scoring and story that has yet to be recreated for me in any ensuing
I was disappointed in Halo 2, and probably not for the
reasons most would expect. Halo was an
emersion into the solitary world of Master Chief, fighting through a primal,
alien world separated from humanity- both in presence and, in a sense, from equals. Sure, from time to time you would fight alongside
marines, but it was clear none of them would last long without the Chief's
intervention. Most of your time was
spent trekking through secluded environments fighting through the Covenant
horde alone, unable to distinguish their guttural acclamations of rage and
terror. Isolation was the name of the
game and Marty O'Donnell's and Michael Salvatori's score did nothing if not perfect
that feeling of separation, in both open and confined spaces. While the series' musical direction
ultimately moved towards a more "rock-and-roll" approach to storytelling, it's
scores like "Covenant
Gun Pointed At The Head Of The Universe," and the infamous "Opening
Suite" that set the original Halo apart from other First Person Shooters, subsequent
titles and spinoffs in the series. It's
that juxtaposition between science fiction and gothic suspense that I've come
to miss so much these last 7 years.
Of course, we can't
mention Halo without mentioning multiplayer.
While saving up for the XBOX, I had my roommate teach me how to navigate
the PC matchmaking system. I can
remember my first CTF match on Blood Gulch.
Thanks to the underperforming graphics card on the laptop, any and all
Spartans were a dull gray. Without
knowing ally from foe, I set out in an accident prone, yet indestructible, Warthog
for the enemy base. Another Warthog,
apparently driven by friendlies, was causing havoc at the enemy base. Grenades were flying freely, Spartan bodies
littered the grounds and stray fire pinged off the angled window of the
Warthog. Whether it was a well-placed
grenade or my confusion in the chaos, the warthog flipped
violently. My body was rocketed through
the door of the enemy base. Without
knowing any better, I haphazardly grabbed the flag and meandered out the
door. Thankfully the ally warthog was
still mobile and picked me up. I wish I
could say the drive back was as harrowing, but the driver was a pro and the
enemy team had most likely quit by then.
My first online game, my first flag score, my first gaming addiction.
About two months later the XBOX arrived. For some reason, it was 9AM when I checked at
the student desk and was surprised to see it waiting in a non-descript
cardboard box. Classes be damned, we
hooked that sucker up and played through the campaign again. Later that night, we plugged into the
resident hall network. Lucky for us, three other XBOX's were setting up for a
game. Thanks to my roommate, we found
the adjoining rooms, introduced ourselves as noob Halo player and proceeded to
kick some ass.
Floor Halo will
always remain the height of social gaming for me. Intense matches with friends, anguished yells
echoing down the hallway and smack talk in each other's rooms remains some of
my fondest memories of dorm life. You
simply can't replace the running tally of epic matches, alliances and betrayals
with an anonymous online system. We've
all experienced the worst online matchmaking can offer: racism, obscenities, blaring
music... and that's just the children demographic. The viral nature of Halo's LAN parties were
significant, if not the single most important factor, for the series'
success. It will be sorely missed.
We were all looking forward to online play in Halo 2- testing
our combined floor skills against our imagined counterparts around the world. At first, we'd party up, but invariably,
someone was left out due to party restrictions in matchmaking. We learned to play Halo online by
ourselves. Schedules changed,
frustrations grew and floor Halo quietly shriveled away in a forgotten corner. From time to time, we'd get invites for
custom infected games, but the potential for what we once had was gone.
Halo 2 moved the series from its humble roots in the basements
and dorm rooms of its fans to the untamed Wild West of XBOX Live. While the multiplayer was treading new ground
through online capabilities, the single player campaign shifted its narrative
to a more humanized story of Master Chief, taking away the strangeness and
primal soundscapes of the Covenant and replacing them with a more relatable enemy,
both in language and narrative; where once Master Chief was a warrior without
equal, he now had an equivalent counterpart in the Covenant's Arbiter. You
can't fault Bungie Studios for taking their beloved series online. It would have been foolish not to do so and
we've seen amazing improvements to the cooperative campaign through online
While the core elements of what made the original Halo great
have been washed down over the years, the memories of that initial insular journey
through the alien ring world still resonate strongly today. Eight years ago, I could not imagine playing
a mindless shooter. Halo changed my
perspective of what video games could offer, no matter what the genre. Environments, sounds, narrative and gameplay
all coalesce into what makes video games great and unique compared to other
media. I was fascinated by "playing a
book" with JRPG's, but missing the uniqueness of the industry. I still enjoy narrative focused games, but I've
been able to experience a more diverse collection of stories and experiences
thanks to this seemingly simple revelation.
Now that 343 Industries is taking over the franchise, I hope they take
the opportunity to return to the series' original themes and design
elements. Master Chief may have disappeared
into the vastness of space for a time, but with his impending return in the
upcoming Forerunner trilogy and the love for which 343 has for the franchise, a
triumphant return of our man of steel is looking ever more likely.