After a month-long break, I have returned! I apologize for my uncalled absence, especially after my proclamation that I wanted to take this blog to new heights. I still believe its foundation can be built upon to create a glorious way for me to express thoughts and opinions on what I love in terms of storytelling. As an audience, I encourage you to express what you want to see on the blog, and I will attempt to compensate for your requests. Regardless, let us see what the end of September brings us!
As many of you can tell from previous posts, there is a certain video game franchise that I happen to be in love with. It is certainly not my favourite game, shooter, or story in all of gaming, yet can we all agree that nostalgia outweighs such qualities?
If you guessed Halo, I cannot say that subtlety is my strong suit in that aspect.
As the focus of this post, I can talk about this franchise and its universe for all of eternity. From the crash-landing on Installation 04 in the first game to the deadlock on the galaxy in the latest, (I’ll save Halo 5 for another time…) I can speak highly to many elements of fantasy, military sci-fi, and futurism that all blend together to create a cohesive storyline over the course of 100,000 years. The novels and comics all connect and reflect upon the games, yet they all feel like the part of a larger world where characters and settings may not be in an intertwined relationship with each other. The franchise also does not ignore its expanded universe, (*cough* Star Wars…) and meaningful characters and actions may not even be found in the games. There is certainly a lot to be found in such a trove, but what is the point of this post if the intent is to highlight all that is good with Halo?
I believe the negative points I bring up may not be an issue to the canon devout, so be aware of that. As I like to do on this blog, however, the points here should also transcend to storytelling on a much larger scale, as I do not want to alienate those who may not be fans of Halo. I also do not plan to delve into the lore under an analytical eye.
Of course, there will be spoilers ahead. But you already knew that.
As I stated before, Halo‘s universe is very interconnected. While I did state the positive side to this earlier, there is a negative side as well. As you can see in the flowchart above, the peripheral media surrounding Halo 5 was used as a means to introduce and explore characters. This may be a way to set the wheels of hype into motion where all these stories culminate in the next chapter of an epic saga, but what if I want to go directly from Halo 4 to Halo 5? While the developer tried to make an effort to explain enough in the game’s story to make this an option, such an approach still leaves the player with more questions than answers and one particular query that is dangerous for a storyteller to hear: Why should I care?
Let us take one example from Halo 5: Holly Tanaka. Established in the comic series Halo: Escalation, Tanaka has a two-issue arc to explain the backstory of her character, as well as a look into her personality, motives, and what led her to become a Spartan super-soldier. While the writer for this arc did a tremendous job with what little room he had, is such a character-driven story the best for a two-issue comic arc? The most important thing for a comic is to be to the point; action drives the plot forward, and characters are developed alongside it. Exposition is also limited to what needs to be told, rather than paragraphs explaining why some tower is so significant and beautiful. A character-driven story that makes us feel for the character and shows us their experiences and (in the case of Tanaka) trauma to create a sympathetic aurora around them should be reserved for a fully fleshed novella, which can achieve so much more.
That back-rides onto another problem: playing Halo 5 without this introduction to her character. If the game rides heavily upon the assumption that you are familiar with Tanaka’s character, what are you left with if you are not? This is where the connections that hold Halo’s universe begin to falter, as in order to fully appreciate character arcs and development, you may need the greater picture to understand why these characters are so significant to telling a story. Halo 5 cannot portray the emotion of growing up in a ravaged world plunged into a nuclear winter, and the struggles and conflict that may erupt between the survivors. Tanaka telling the player (for the sake of exposition) that she grew up on a glassed planet does not hold any emotional weight if you go into the game without previous knowledge of her character.
Moving on, I now want to shift focus on another aspect of the comic series Halo: Escalation that is an even bigger sin in not on the build up to Halo 5, but something that no story should ever do: have a story that bridges two main entries together, but wraps up many loose ends and leaves them out of the following major installment.
In Halo 4, players are given a second campaign/story of sorts that follows about eight months after the games main storyline called Spartan Ops. The cooperative mode introduces its own cast of characters, brings in more elements of the expanded universe, and ends off with a cliffhanger ending with many implications for the future of the series. One, in particular, is the Janus Key, holding the power to unlock the record of all Forerunner artifacts in the galaxy. Such a plot element is a game-changer to the landscape of Halo’s universe and should be resolved in a major entry due to its impact on the series as a whole.
However, this is not the case, and the Janus Key and its story arc are not even mentioned in Halo 5.
You may have noticed how I mentioned a story arc surrounding the Janus Key, and that is because Halo: Escalation continues the story left off by Spartan Ops in the second half of its run. The latter story ends with the UNSC and Jul’s Covenant each having one-half of the key, but in Escalation the entire key is later obtained by the Covenant as they move in on the Record. Events then transpire at the Absolute Record, however, both sides are not deemed worthy and the location is presumably destroyed afterwards. While my summary may not showcase it, the plot development in this particular story arc is extremely rushed and abrupt, and it contains an ending that returns the universe to a status quo and is forgotten thereafter.
While the addition of an ex Machina device is not exactly great storytelling, the removal of one before the payoff of a story that ran for three years in unacceptable storytelling for fans. Even worse is that if you go directly to Halo 5, the characters present from Spartan Ops are completely absent or dealt with in unsatisfactory ways (sigh) and the question of where these previous story threads went to is left unanswered to casual fans. If two stories must be bridged by another story, it should not be essential for the understanding of said stories, but should rather enrich the experience of the reader/gamer/viewer.
While there are many problems such as different interpretations, inconsistencies, and tones that are inevitable with such an array of different authors and storytelling mediums, they pale in comparison to the two points above and can impact the experience of the casual story fan in an extremely negative way. Such mistakes can appear in other franchises as well; however, it is very apparent for Halo.
One last thing is to acknowledge the original trilogy of games, and how they mostly existed within their own bubble with the books and comics rippling off of them but remaining separate. In an ideal canon, all stories have significance and bearing on a franchise, but they are not essential to understanding the stories. Both the faithful and casual fans should enjoy the stories set out in front of them, both with a surface and deeper level of understanding that simply makes sense on both ends.
Well, that brings us to a close for now. In the future, I hope that such a long hiatus does not impact my posting habits, but I hope you enjoyed what I have provided for you today and that you may have learned something new about storytelling. Of course, I encourage you to apply this subject to other stories and franchises and extrapolate on my surface explanation. Dream on!
P.S. I also do recognize that the subject is similar to the first blog post I did. I hope I delved into a bit more specific details than last time, though!