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:

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

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

Developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, as per usual, Halo 3 was released on September 25, 2007. Halo 3 is the conclusion of the original Halo trilogy, where we finally get to continue the story after Halo 2’s disappointing and somewhat abrupt ending. The Halo array is primed to fire, the Covenant has fractured, and the Master Chief has made his way back to Earth to “finish the fight”. With Cortana in the hands of the Flood Gravemind, and the Arbiter and his fellow Elites now having to find their own path, there are a lot of unknowns to contend with.

Halo 3 had absolutely sky-high expectations. Everyone knew that it would be a conclusion of some sort, and fans had been waiting for years to know how this story would end. Halo was secure at the top of the Xbox’s flagship titles list and despite releasing 2 years after the Xbox 360, Microsoft was still depending on it to sell a lot of consoles and Xbox Live memberships. To further crank up the hype, Halo 3 had a public multiplayer beta and a $40 million advertising blitz that included live-action short films, an alternate reality game, and the birth of Mountain Dew Game Fuel. All of that effort must have worked, since Halo 3 became the best selling game of 2007 and made $170 million just on release day.

The Xbox 360’s improved hardware allowed Bungie to drastically improve graphics and increase the scale of maps and encounters. Like in Halo 2, they were able to add new weapons, vehicles, and game mechanics that fit the existing formula and managed to keep that Halo “feel”. Halo 3 also saw the debut of some other very impressive features. A theatre mode that allowed the player to go back and watch previously played campaign levels or multiplayer games, and dynamically change camera angles and record clips or screenshots (this is how I created my thumbnails for this game). The most important addition was Forge mode, an editor that allowed players to create their own maps and gametypes. People were very creative, creating race tracks, jumping puzzles, escape rooms, and all sorts of other fun gimmicks. Halo 3 is a game that largely met its high expectations, and even found new ways to keep myself and many others coming back for more.

00 - Separate Paths
01 - Sierra 117
02 - Crow’s Nest
03 - Tsavo Highway
04 - The Storm
05 - Floodgate
06 - The Ark (Part 1)
07 - The Ark (Part 2)
08 - The Covenant (Part 1)
09 - The Covenant (Part 2)
10 - Cortana
11 - Halo
XX - Bonus Content

Announce Trailer
Starry Night Trailer
Believe Diorama
Halo: Landfall

Currently Playing:

Halo 3: ODST, released in September 2009, is the first real “departure” from the main Halo formula. While still developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios, this is the first Halo game that does not have the Master Chief as its protagonist, and also [spoiler alert] doesn’t involve any Halos. We play as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) known only as The Rookie, separated from his squad during the Covenant invasion of Earth. We must wander the eerily quiet, occupied city of New Mombasa and try to figure out what happened to the rest of the squad, and the top-secret mission they were supposed to be carrying out. A much more grounded and atmospheric experience than previous Halo games, Halo 3: ODST actually channels a film noir detective story vibe which works really, really well.

The other major difference from previous Halo games is the lack of a PvP multiplayer. Halo 3: ODST actually shipped with a separate disk that contained Halo 3’s multiplayer instead, as well as all of the DLC maps up to that date. That being said, it introduced a new co-operative PvE multiplayer called Firefight. Firefight is a wave defense mode where players must fight against increasingly difficult waves of enemies with a limited number of lives shared between the entire team. The goal of this mode is to survive for as long as possible while racking up high scores using kill streaks, special kills, and difficulty modifiers.

As the titling would suggest, Halo 3: ODST (previously titled Halo 3: Recon) was originally planned as sort of an expansion pack. It was intended to be a smaller project to fill the time before the next major Halo release, but they ended up with enough content that Microsoft insisted on selling it as a stand-alone, full-price game.

01 - Prepare to Drop
02 - Tayari Plaza
03 - Uplift Reserve
04 - Kizingo Boulevard
XX - Norvinsk Region (April Fools)
05 - ONI Alpha Site
06 - NMPD HQ
07 - Kikowani Station
08 - Data Hive
XX - Sadie’s Story (Audio Logs)
09 - Coastal Highway

‘Keep It Clean’ Trailer
‘The Life’ Trailer

01 - The Pillar of Autumn

Let’s get this thing started. Out in deep space, under assault by an alien menace, and above a mysterious ringworld.

Also, make sure you take a look at the videos I have under Links. They are really interesting relics from the past.

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?

Alright, no actual LP content today, but I am posting some old Halo 2 promo videos to start the hype.

Halo 2 - Announce Trailer - The original announce trailer for Halo 2 from late 2002. For an unplanned sequel they were moving pretty quickly considering that’s only a year after Halo 1 came out. Despite being mostly just the MC walking around with radio chatter in the background, there’s a lot of implied plot points and new content in this video. Enough to keep us nerds talking for years when we should have been paying attention in computer class.

Halo 2 - Theatrical Trailer - This is the “theatrical” trailer, that was shown in movie theatres in late 2004 as part of the last big marketing push. Most of the content for this trailer actually comes from an E3 video, which I won’t be posting just yet. Having it be a pre-roll trailer that you had to buy a ticket to see was a little bit of a dick move, since if you’re paying attention, something weird happens to the URL at the end of the trailer…

Halo 2 - TV Commercial - And this is the regular old TV commercial also shown in late 2004. This trailer is mostly made up of actual gameplay clips and dialogue from the final game, which can give you an idea of what to expect. There is actually a minute-long version of this commercial out there, but I didn’t include it because the best original resolution I could find was 180 vertical pixels (!) after removing black bars and my upscaling efforts looked awful.

Hopefully this gets you guys excited for Halo 2, but again, try not to post any “spoilers” for those who don’t know what’s going on. Some of what’s in the trailers should be recognizable if you had read the books up until this point, and that’s safe enough, but these are teasers and you’re supposed to feel teased!

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.