It Ain't Over Until The FAT32 Lady Sings - Let's Play The Halo Saga

Let’s be honest. If you’re reading this thread, you’ve heard of Halo. It’s one of Microsoft’s flagship franchises for the Xbox. It has spawned, as of writing this, 7 main games, 5 spin-off games, 31 novels, 15 comics/graphic novels, a handful of short films, and also action figures, Lego sets, and Nerf guns. It helped popularize console online gaming, start the stereotype of the frat bro gamer, and bring esports into the mainstream with Major League Gaming (MLG).

On a personal note, Halo is also one of the things that helped me make some of my closest friends, including my co-commentators Swordfishhh and Cletus. Countless evenings and weekends were spent playing co-op and multiplayer, or searching for secrets and easter eggs. Even as we went to university and moved away to different cities, we could always get together for a few games or send each other messages speculating on what would be coming next in the series.

For this LP, we’re going to be taking a nostalgic look back on almost all of the main games with the exception of Halo: Reach. While Reach is actually one of the better campaigns in the series, I don’t like how it “fits” with the other games. If there’s interest and I still have motivation after all this is done, I may LP it on its own. I’m also going to be gearing these videos towards viewers who aren’t familiar with anything Halo, so I would ask that no one posts spoilers or any deep dives into the extended universe canon (at least until it becomes relevant to what we’re showing).

Also, you can follow me on Twitter for updates if you’re into the bird site.

Previously Played:

Currently Playing:

Halo Wars was first announced at the X06 Xbox show in 2006 and was released in early 2009. It’s the first Halo game not made by Bungie and the first to completely break the FPS mold. Halo Wars is a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game developed by Ensemble Studios, who previously made the Age of Empires games. This game takes many recognizable elements from the main games and presents them in an entirely new way, and it works pretty damn well!

Halo Wars was developed specifically and exclusively for the Xbox 360 and was actually designed to be played with a controller. As such, the controls and gameplay features are simpler and more streamlined compared to other RTS games. It still contains all the base building, resource management, and army commanding that you’d expect, but at a smaller scale and with some restrictions.

Halo Wars is a prequel story in the Halo universe. It takes place a full 20 years before the events of Halo and deals with some of the earliest battles in the Human-Covenant war. We play as the crew of the Spirit of Fire, a fleet support ship tasked with trying to maintain control over the planet Harvest. Harvest is where first contact was made with the Covenant and where the war started. The UNSC concentrated a lot of resources to push back the Covenant and retake the colony, but it remains hotly contested.

01 - Alpha Base
02 - Relic Interior
XX - Arcadia City on Legendary
03 - Arcadia Outskirts
04 - Dome of Light
05 - Scarab
06 - Anders’ Signal

X06 Announce Trailer

Halo: Combat Evolved, also known as Halo 1 or just Halo, was released in 2001 along with the first Xbox console. It was published by the new Microsoft Game Studios and developed by Bungie, who had been acquired by Microsoft just the year before. It was absolutely the Xbox’s killer app, and one of the reasons for the console’s commercial success. A PC version of the game was released in 2003, a remastered and graphically updated version in 2011, and then re-released another 2 times in a collection on separate platforms. The game had a very strange development cycle. It originally started as a Mac exclusive real time strategy game. From there it turned into a third-person shooter, and then eventually into the first-person shooter we know today. We play as the Master Chief, a cyborg supersoldier fighting aliens in the distant future, though I assure you it’s more interesting than that synopsis makes it sound.

01 - The Pillar of Autumn
02 - Halo
03 - Truth and Reconciliation
04 - The Silent Cartographer
05 - Assault on the Control Room
06 - 343 Guilty Spark
07 - The Library
08 - Two Betrayals
XX - Warthog Jumping
09 - Keyes
10 - The Maw
XX - Alternate Warthog Run (April Fools)

Original TV Commercial
Alternate TV Commercial (note the Marathon logo in the bottom right)
Promotional Video
Launch Party Intro Video

02 - Halo

With our feet on solid ground(?) we round up other human survivors so we can keep fighting the Covenant.

03 - Truth and Reconciliation

A dangerous mission, in unfamiliar territory, to rescue the Captain.

04 - The Silent Cartographer

We’re going to need a vacation after this particular day at the beach.

05 - Assault on the Control Room

On our way to the Control Room, let’s take a walk through a winter warzone.

So today I’m not releasing the next level of Halo. Instead I’ve published a handful of videos, and I’m doing a history post to give them some context.

In 1997, after releasing the third Marathon game and the second Myth game, Bungie decided they wanted to do something different. Under Jason Jones, they started a project with the idea to merge the real-time strategy gameplay of Myth with the sci-fi shooter genre of Marathon. Essentially they were thinking Starcraft but without all the resource gathering and base building. This project went through a few different codenames: “Armor”, “Monkey Nuts”, and “Blam!”. We’ve mentioned in the LP that Halo started as a Marathon game, but this a little disingenuous. Bungie has stated that they never intended this new game to be a Marathon sequel, but I don’t know if I believe them exactly since they were using the Marathon logo in their UI partway through development.

There’s not a whole lot of footage available of the early work, but you can see some of it in this video that Bungie showed at their Halofest at E3 the year after Halo launched. Just note that the later parts of this video will overlap with the rest of the history post.

The Evolution of Halo

A few of the big features that Bungie was focusing on were 3D level geometry, major vehicle integration, and a physics engine so that the vehicles would interact properly with that geometry. Things were going well, but during testing they kept coming back to a little “game” where they would put some marines in the Warthog, attach a chase-cam to it, and then drive it around jumping it off hills and cliffs. They realized they needed to make the game more like that instead of the strategy and tactics game they had envisioned, and Project Blam! tranisitioned into a third-person action/adventure game instead. At this point they didn’t have a whole lot of the details nailed down, but they did know there was a ringworld, aliens, space marines, and supersoldiers. They managed to get an audience with Steve Jobs and convinced him to let them present at Macworld 1999, where they showed this:

Macworld 1999 Presentation

It’s very interesting how you can see so many elements of Halo in that presentation. The green-armored, gold-visored supersoldiers and their Warthog, and the Elites and their Banshees. Even the flag at the end (or similar) shows up as a multiplayer asset in the final game. The vehicle physics make a big impact, but the seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor environments was revolutionary at the time. This was around the time of Half-Life and I’m sure everyone knows how awful the loading times were in that game. Bungie was saying they were working on an entirely open-world map for the game, as well as native flora and fauna and day/night and weather cycles. Unfortunately, none of that ended up in the final game, but the impressive environments and vehicle physics remained. I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere but the soldier’s gestures in the presentation make me wonder if the game still had some strategy elements in it at this point; something more like the squad-based tactics of the Ghost Recon games. In any case, they continued to improve and refine the game and almost a year later they presented at E3 2000:

E3 2000 Presentation

This build looks a lot more like the Halo we ended up with, so many of the characters and assets look almost final. Despite that it’s probably worth noting that they really didn’t have much of an actual game at this point. The E3 presentation (and the Macworld one for that matter) weren’t actually finished and ready to go until the day of the presentation, and they had to rely on some tricks and band-aids in order to get the demo working correctly. And even though they clearly had a lot of concepts and assets realized, they had no idea what story they were even going to tell. Bungie was also dealing with some money troubles. They had made an agreement with Take-Two to license their older games for console release, and even at the time of the E3 presentation where they advertised Halo for PC and Mac, they were pretty deep in negotiations to be acquired by Microsoft. Obviously the acquisition went forward and Halo was eventually turned into a first-person shooter, completed, and released as a launch title for the Xbox and the rest, as they say, is history.

I want to leave you with one last video, from when Bungie still planned on releasing a PC game. Enjoy!

Halo Surprise!

06 - 343 Guilty Spark

We investigate a spooky swamp, the last known location of Captain Keyes.

07 - The Library

There’s a whole lot of Flood between us and the Index, the key to controlling Halo.

08 - Two Betrayals

Things are not as they seem, and the battle for control of Halo is getting messy.

XX - Warthog Jumping

A whole bunch of shenanigans based on a literal blast from the past.

09 - Keyes

Once again we have to rescue Captain Keyes, but things are a little different this time.

10 - The Maw

Time for the big finish. Let’s go out with a bang!

XX - Alternate Warthog Run

Did you know about this alternate Warthog Run in Halo?

Halo 2 is pretty obviously the sequel to the breakout hit Halo: Combat Evolved. Developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Halo 2 was released on November 9, 2004. The sequel seeks to continue the story of the Master Chief and humanity at war with the alien Covenant, as well as the new complications from the existence of a nearly unstoppable parasitic plague, The Flood, and ancient doomsday ringworlds, the Halos.

Halo 2 is an excellent sequel in a lot of ways. Bungie managed to improve the graphics and mechanics of the original Halo, and added new characters and game elements while keeping the general formula and feel that made the first game great. With the addition of online multiplayer, Halo’s popularity further exploded and it was the most played game on Xbox Live for a full two years, and remains the best-selling game released on the first generation Xbox. However in other ways it’s a little bit of a sophmore slump, what in hockey would be called a Stanley Cup hangover. Brimming with confidence from the success of Halo 1, Bungie was maybe not as focused or disciplined as they should have been. During development a lot of work had to be scrapped and restarted from scratch, sometimes even after having been shown to the public. Several levels and the original planned ending to the game were cut in order to save time. Deadlines and release dates had to be repeatedly pushed back, to the point that eventually a Microsoft executive, Peter Moore, had “November 9” tattooed on his arm to prove that was the real release date. Still, what we ended up getting was a great game that slots very fittingly as the middle entry in a trilogy.

00 - Sgt. Johnson and the Journey Home
01 - Cairo Station
02 - Outskirts
03 - Metropolis
04 - The Arbiter
05 - Oracle
XX - Screwing Around on Earth
06 - Delta Halo
07 - Regret
XX - Humanity, the UNSC, and Spartans
08 - Sacred Icon
09 - Quarantine Zone
XX - The Covenant and Arbiters
10 - Gravemind
11 - Uprising
12 - High Charity
13 - The Great Journey
XX - Bonus Content

Announce Trailer
Theatrical Trailer
TV Commercial
E3 2003 In-Game Demonstration

00 - Sgt. Johnson and the Journey Home

Ok, let’s get Halo 2 kicked off here, although there’s no actual gameplay yet. This video is an explainer to fill in the gap story-wise between the end of Halo 1 and the start of Halo 2. We’ll be back at it with the first actual level next week.

01 - Cairo Station

In the aftermath of Halo, the Chief is honored at an awards ceremony, but the Covenant show up to crash the party.

02 - Outskirts

Time to head to the surface, repel the Covenant invaders, and figure out what it is they want on Earth.

03 - Metropolis

With the help of some heavy armor and heavy weapons, the Chief continues to push through obstacles on his way to the Prophet of Regret.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Halo when it came out. I didn’t have an Xbox, but my friends down the street did, and that was basically the only thing we played when I visited. I can appreciate its influence today, though.

I’m only about halfway through Halo 1 right now, both playing the levels myself then watching the videos, but I’m really enjoying the LP so far.