05 March 2023

Halo - Many Words to Express Love for a Ring-Shaped World

I purchased the original Halo: Combat Evolved at a Blockbuster Video down the street from my home, shortly after buying an Xbox for the purpose of playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I first saw the game the night of a Valentine's dance during my Junior year of high school, while waiting for my friends who were playing it before getting ready to leave. On the way to the dance one of them told me the title and said it was like if Dr. Seuss had made the movie Aliens. For some reason that description always stuck with me, and a couple years later, after picking up the console as well as a few Xbox-related magazines and reading more about the game, I decided that I would get Halo and see just what Aliens by Dr. Seuss would actually be like. 

The original Xbox.

That local Blockbuster where I picked it up was my nearest and best way to access movies and games, because I didn't have Internet access at the time, and even if I did, streaming wasn't a thing back then. Usually, I would go there to rent movies after work, before I grabbed a Little Caesar's pizza and headed home. It was part of my regular nightly ritual, and that particular ritual brought me tremendous amounts of joy and comfort. I even met a psycho D&D player there who almost joined my home game, but his conduct and creepiness came out before he got the actual invite to my home, so I dodged that bullet (this story might eventually get a full write-up sometime in the future).

Anyway, Halo wasn't exactly Seuss' spin on Xenomorphs, but it was one hell of a great game. I loved walking around the environments and exploring the alien world. It wasn't my first First-Person Shooter, but it was definitely my second, after playing Doom obsessively on my PC. I was invested in the story, I enjoyed identifying as the Master Chief, I felt horribly creeped out by the Flood and the way the introduction of this enemy completely changed the feel of the game, and I reveled in playing through the levels again and again. 

This cover is still beautiful to me.

I eventually had the chance to try multiplayer by doing something that video game people today would not understand. I packed up my Xbox and carted it to my friend's house, like a knuckle-dragging savage, where, before we launched into our weekly session of Vampire: The Masquerade/Requiem (it was a confusing hybrid mess), we hooked up the system and played several rounds. Everyone from the game group, and a few of his roommates, gathered around to take in the bright, vibrant action of Slayer and Capture the Flag. It was so much fun to both indulge in multiplayer gaming and to share it with my friends. 

Later that year, the Fall of 2004, I attended the midnight release, at the Blockbuster, for Halo 2. I had reserved the steel-book collector's edition. Standing in that store that night I took in the joy exuded by every gamer in line. People were genuinely excited to be there, chatting about the game and anxiously waiting to get their copy. While there we received information pamphlets about the game and were able to watch the store televisions as they played looped Halo 2 promotional videos. Then finally, midnight arrived and we shuffled along, a thrumming queue of giddiness. I got my beautiful steel-book, and with a stupid grin on my face, I ran back to the car to head home.

The Halo 2 steel-book Limited
Collector's Edition

I tossed the disc in as soon as I got back, and while my mother and sister slept, oblivious of the experience that I was having, I played Halo 2 long into the night. At some point, sometime around 3am, I switched over to watching the "Making of" DVD and did my best to drowsily take it in until sleep took me. 

That was one of those special nights. A night when you're young, you're free to completely indulge in something that makes you truly happy, and a night which ends with you falling asleep from exhaustion after being worn out from the pure joy and excitement of having fun. I miss those nights, and I wish that I had valued them more back then and been open to having more of them when I had the chance. Oh, well.

(Quick side-note: that Halo 2 "Making of" DVD played a major part in inspiring me to eventually take an entire semester of computer courses and learn computer programming. It made me want to work with computers and maybe make games of my own some day. Again, this will have to be expanded upon in another post at some later point.)

After my time with Halo 2 years passed, I got Halo: Combat Evolved for PC (why not?), life changed, and hardware upgrades happened. I eventually got an Xbox 360, and with it I was able to get Halo 3, though I wasn't there for the midnight release or even as a first-day buyer. Other priorities got in the way. 

I was at a different Blockbuster, for the midnight release, to get Halo 3: ODST, though. Getting into Halo 3 reminded me of the joy I had felt alone in my room, playing my Xbox. While that wasn't too many years ago, at that time, because of all of the life changes that had occurred, it felt like it had been ages since I was able to play and enjoy Halo. 

ODST was a blast. It was a stripped down Halo with a different tone and a compelling story. My favorite game had spun out into a larger franchise that was growing and developing in interesting ways. I was glad to be back in it, and this time I had Internet access and an Xbox Live account. 

Promotional artwork for Halo 3: ODST

Unfortunately, life distracted me away from the Halo series again. Well, life and other games. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim took over my life for a long time. That and working at a soul-killing job that irreparably changed who I was as a person and blunted the receptors in my brain which allowed me to experience joy. It was more difficult to achieve happiness then, and the things that gave me joy seemed exhausting, because I had to struggle to make time to fit them in. Life was beating me, and the things I loved couldn't do a damned thing to save me. Skyrim was helpful, but it was really just there to numb the pain more than heal or restore me.

A bit more time passed, and I heard some news that Bungie, the developer of Halo, was going to leave their franchise behind and go off to make other games. They had one more Halo title that they planned to make, and having been a Halo fan and having read the first three novels, which I neglected to mention above (and this will also be fodder for another eventual separate post, I guess), I was familiar with the story that they wanted to tell. It was a story covered in the first Halo novel; the story of the fall of the planet Reach. Needless to say, I was more than intrigued and impressed that they wanted to go out with a tragic prequel. 

However, by the time I heard the details of this game it was already out. Shortly after the launch, I watched it being played at a friend's house, and he gave me a chance to pick up a controller and do some co-op with him. That experience really sealed the deal, so to speak, and later that week I purchased my copy of Halo Reach. 

Reach is a game which should have mattered greatly to fans of both the Halo franchise and fans of Bungie, especially those who had loved both up to that point. It was about the experience of the Spartans, the genetically and technologically altered experimental soldiers of the future. It was the story of the last days of all of the Spartans but one. 

The Spartans of Halo Reach

My first time playing Halo Reach was fast and intense. I played through in what seemed like no time, taking in the story and loving the way that everything flowed and how the systems worked. For the game that would be their final statement on the Halo formula, Bungie had seriously delivered.

Halo Reach felt like it was the ultimate expression of what was originally set down with the first Halo. It was all about being a super-soldier fighting against a strange invading force. The game gave its players an incredible blend of science fiction and war across a familiar yet gorgeously alien planet. I loved gazing at the stunning backgrounds and vistas between the moments of intense action. It's a gaming experience I continue to appreciate and revisit to this day. 

It didn't feel long enough, though. When I first reached the end of Halo Reach it seemed to come very quickly, and even though it was seemingly abrupt and I knew how it was going to end, I did ultimately feel pretty emotional about how it got there. I really treasured that experience and still do. It was such a great and meaningful one to me that I, along with Bungie, decided to leave the franchise at that point.  I mean, to this day I continue to play Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, and Halo Reach, but as far as I am concerned, the series ended really there. When Bungie was done so was Halo. 

Like I stated, these days I stick with the games I love in the Halo franchise, and gladly so. I still access multiplayer matches, though I do so through the Master Chief Collection, released by 343 Studios, a development group made up of both Microsoft people and a few of the Bungie folks who wanted to stay behind to be custodians to the future of the series. 

It's still fun for me to be a fan of what I regard as Classic Halo. I still have the original three novels and the first few seasons of Red vs. Blue, a comedy machinima series made with elements from the games. I still think back on the fun times and what all of that meant to me. Halo was a big part of my early adult life and because of that I will always treasure it.

Thank you, Bungie and Master Chief. Thank you for everything!

My Spartan avatar, standing proudly
after a victory in a
multiplayer match.

Thundarr the Barbarian - The Best of Future Dystopian Sword & Sorcery

Thundarr the Barbarian was one of the greatest cartoon series ever made, and that's saying something, because it came from an era of amazing tv animation. With the combination of Sword & Sorcery, the post-apocalypse, strange vista, and mutant beast men it gave audiences a glimpse into an incredible world both familiar and fantastically mysterious. It also greatly benefited from having the influence of Jack Kirby.

I could go on and on about how it's one of the perfect inspirational sources for tabletop roleplaying games. When I think about what kind of game would be the most fun to me I can't help but immediately think of Thundarr. Actually, something between Thundarr and Army of Darkness would be perfect.
As much as I love this show, I hope they never remake it. They should just keep it in print as it was for future audiences to enjoy and let fans go off and make their unofficial creations. It ended as a classic, and as a classic it should remain.
Thus far it has been luckier than Star Wars, which was much better off as just three movies with a roleplaying game, toys and a universe of novels and comics for the fans who wanted more. In fact, Star Wars was once the perfect example of how great something could be if it was left alone and allowed to just be loved and honored by its fans.
A note to all creators, make something and finish it, appreciate the people who love what you've done, but for god's sake move on. Do not become George Lucas. Also, do not surrender your creation to a corporation that will be more focused on marketing, money, and quotas than creativity.

Star Wars: A Universe Best Left Alone

Star Wars was once the greatest trilogy of movies to ever come out of Hollywood. It was created by a man who drew inspiration from science fiction and fantasy serials of the 1930's and 40's, Frank Herbert's Dune, and World War II films. He collaborated with some of the best crafts folk to ever work in film, and together they truly made movie magic.

Those movies took us on the hero's journey across a galaxy of different peoples, worlds, environments, monsters, and technologies. They gave us space wizards in the Jedi, fantastical weapons like the lightsaber, fast and memorable spaceships, lovable robots, and aliens both endearing and horrifying. They gave us heroes to adore and idolize for the rest of our lives, and they taught us that hard work, perseverance, hope, and redemption are priceless and powerful.
In the decade and half after the release of that trilogy there was a period in which the fans were able to buy toys so that they could, in a way, own pieces of that universe. They were also given one of the greatest tabletop roleplaying games to ever exist, and from that roleplaying game came the Expanded Universe which gave the fans novels, comic books, and computer games that would grow Star Wars into an even grander mythology. No matter how much of this material was created, it all belonged to the fans and allowed them to create their own adventures in the universe or to follow a chosen path through whichever product they wished to collect. It was a nebula of joy and endless exploration, and Lucasfilm was content to let the fans celebrate the core movies and go about their way with the various products they licensed and had produced.
Then came the rerelease of the trilogy, with slight modifications. This was used as a way to gauge interest in Lucasfilm's possible return to making Star Wars movies, though at the time many, including myself, didn't realize it. There were rumors and hopes, but no one could have anticipated how much the reality of such things would forever alter the Star Wars universe that we loved.
When the Special Edition Trilogy was released it was all hype and spectacle. Old cut scenes were reworked or updated and added to the films, computer generated embellishments were littered across the screen, and unfortunate changes were made to the beloved foundational trilogy. It all seemed great at first, especially to younger fans, but then a feeling crept over people that all of the changes were unnecessary and excessive. What seemed cool and new came to be regarded as garish and shallow. Little did we know that these new offerings from Lucasfilm were to be the beginning of one of the ultimate betrayals in science fiction and fantasy culture.
Shortly after the Special Edition it was announced that George Lucas was getting ready to finally make a prequel trilogy, films which would complete the six-film plan he had previously discussed and would flesh out the history of the trilogy we had all loved and with which we had grown. This seemed exciting, and there was an intense swell of hope. Why wouldn't the fans want more Star Wars, right?
Then the prequels were released. With each film the hope shriveled and the joy waned. These were not good movies, and it was clear that George Lucas had made some terrible mistakes. He surrounded himself with, "Yes men"; he became obsessed with his special effects toys to the point where they failed to serve the story but completely took over chunks of the film; he demonstrated that he was not a good director; he cast poorly; and he seemed intent to not-so-subtly inform the fans that the heroes they grew up loving were not the important central characters after all. Apparently everything was about a whiny, pissy kid who would go on to become the bad guy we all had believed to be the best film villain ever created. It was a massive mess, and what's worse, it was a heartbreaking disappointment.
The once healthy and happy relationship between Lucasfilm and Star Wars fans was in ruins. Trust was broken, Star Wars felt tainted, and apparently the original trilogy we all cherished was lost to us forever. That underwhelming Special Edition we believed to be a fun little bonus instead became Lucasfilm's replacement for the original trilogy. They were also further altered to reinforce their connection to the new, terrible Prequel Trilogy.
Star Wars was in flames, and it was clear that the happy days prior to the meddling of mad George were gone. Every product or production following that period felt cynical and spiteful to those of us who were happier before and without the new material. For many, this period was a wakeup call and a reason to abandon the thing they loved. It destroyed fan culture and made way for the shallow fad nerd wave which began swelling in the early 2000's.
Then, as if things couldn't get any worse, George Lucas sold everything off to Disney, and the remaining original fans were treated to an even bolder display of corporate contempt, inept creation, general betrayal, and confirmation that not only was Star Wars no longer what they loved it was no longer meant for them. The Expanded Universe, created by and for fans, was delegitimized and thrown away. They were told to either like the garbage, skin-suit that Star Wars had become or to take a hike. Worse, some of them were even attacked personally by people within Disney who decided that Star Wars was no longer a beloved space fantasy but a social and political platform for fringe cultures and ideologies trying to control everything for their own satisfaction.
And now we come to today. Disney continues to own Star Wars, and their output continues to be substandard, shoddy, and ineptly crafted. The old days are long gone, and hope no longer exists in modern Star Wars for those who loved it as it was.
However, there is a fact that many have realized, and people have been trying to point it out since the Prequel Trilogy began disappointing fans. It cuts through George Lucas' indifference and Disney's authoritarian attempt to warp and politicize a space fantasy franchise. It is simply this, everything that made Star Wars great and allowed for the wonderful times before George began his meddling still exists. There are ways to get copies of the original, unaltered movies. The original roleplaying game, the books, comics, toys, and video games still exist. It is possible to live the saying, "Ignorance is bliss" and only indulge in what came before. It is also possible to continue to create fan material and ways to enjoy the old stuff without ever having to acknowledge anything created for or after the prequels.
Star Wars made movie history and it changed the world. It gave so many people so much joy, and it provided a way for its fans to celebrate it by exploring and creating with the endless possibilities it offered. It deserved better treatment from its creator. It didn't deserve to get sold off to a massive and revolting corporation. It deserves to be preserved and maintained by people who actually care about it, and thankfully there are ways for them to do so without ever having to support or acknowledge the dark days.
Star Wars, true Star Wars, lives on.

On Ridley Scott's Legend

I once defended Warcraft, the movie, to Vin Diesel when we ended up watching it in the same theater as him and his family/entourage. I told him what he already knew, we fantasy fans had to take what we could get because, with the exception of The Lord of the Rings, there had been so few quality fantasy films released.

A movie that I wouldn't have to defend, from a period when we got some of the greatest fantasy movies of all time, is Legend. I first saw this when I was a young teenager, in the years after I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and became obsessed with finding all of the fantasy movies I could. I wasn't sure what I was going to see when I was able to acquire a copy, but what I experienced was surprisingly outstanding.
Like many things fantasy back then, I wanted it to be either like Tolkien's work or similar to my experiences with D&D. Legend was more of a dark fairy tale, though, but I'm glad it defied my expectations. I loved it. It had goblins, a hag, and an incredible demonic figure in Tim Curry's Darkness.
I'm revisiting the movie tonight and being reminded of the first time I saw it. Thankfully now I have the director's cut, which is better edited and fills in scenes which were sort of confusing in the theatrical cut. I still love this movie. It's all craft, style, beauty, and imagination. Hollywood does not, and apparently cannot, make movies like this anymore.

My Appreciation for 90's CG Animation

I miss the days when CG animation was respected for having its own style and was able to exist alongside traditional cel animation without replacing it. Growing up I had three CG animated series that I loved dearly, and I appreciated the way they were stylistically different from the traditional stuff that I also loved. I didn't believe that these series were better because they were computer animated. I just enjoyed the look and feel they offered.

Those series were Reboot, Beast Wars: Transformers, and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. These shows had such charm and a sort of clunkiness to them, but I found them endearing. I still watch them to this day, as they are both enjoyable and also a form of time travel for me as I indulge in nostalgia seeking whenever things feel rough in life.

Reboot - a tale of guardians and the world inside the computer

There was just something special about early CG animation that has been lost as CG has been developed to be overly and obsessively used by Hollywood, mostly as a crutch or a cost-cutting option. Instead of standing on its own as another form of animation, it has been made to replace traditional work and effects. Its misuse, I feel, has really robbed movies of the craft and realism they used to possess.

Beast Wars - a beloved Transformers spin-off

We'll never see animation or an appreciation for animation like that displayed through these series again, and that makes me very sad. I'm glad that they're accessible, though, because I can at least revisit them whenever I'm looking for the joys of yesterday.

Roughnecks - science fiction military action, based on Heinlein

My Favorite Movies (in no particular order)

My Favorite Movies (in no particular order):

•The Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI)
•The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
•Star Trek I-VI
•The Indiana Jones Trilogy
•Max Headroom: 20 Minutes into the Future
•The Last Starfighter
•American Movie
•Six Days In Roswell
•Robot Jox
•The Back to the Future Trilogy
•The Evil Dead Trilogy, chiefly Army of Darkness
•Monty Python and the Holy Grail
•Time Bandits
•Heavy Metal
•The Rocketeer
•Monster Camp
•Conan the Barbarian
•Conan the Destroyer
•Peewee's Big Adventure
•Blade Runner
•The Hobbit (Rankin Bass animated movie)
•Hawk the Slayer
•The Gamers
•The Gamers II: Dorkness Rising
•Young Frankenstein
•The Phantom
•Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Movie
•Near Dark
•Paris, Texas
•Shin Godzilla
•The Night Stalker
•Total Recall
•The 13th Warrior
•The Dark Crystal
•The Fifth Element
•The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
•Planet of the Apes
•Islands In the Stream
•Jurassic Park
•The Prestige
•Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
•Short Circuit
•Teen Wolf
•Waiting for Guffman
•Cast a Deadly Spell
•Akira Kurosawa's Dreams
•Drunken Angel
•The Road Warrior
•Silent Running
•The Big Lebowski
•Encino Man
•Enemy Mine
•Yokai Monsters Trilogy
•Bicentennial Man
•The Neverending Story
•Minority Report
•Mystery Science Theater 3000 the Movie
•Repo Man
•Until the End of the World
•Dark Star
•Flight of the Navigator
•Monster Squad
•Pulp Fiction
•Office Space
•Space Truckers
•Terminator 2
•Night of the Creeps
•Starship Troopers
•Real Genius
•Event Horizon
•You Can't Take It With You
•Pocket Full of Miracles
•It's A Wonderful Life
•Harry and the Hendersons
•Nightbreed (Director's Cut)
•Ferris Bueller's Day Off
•The Great Outdoors
•Black Angel
•Close Encounters of the Third Kind
•Drop Dead Fred
•John Carter
•True Lies
•The Black Caldron
•The Pirates of Silicon Valley
•The Matrix (just the first one)

Star Wars and Life: An Observation

This morning I was thinking about the end of Return of the Jedi, and it occurred to me that in the story of that film one can not only find comparisons to people today but also derive lessons on how to be better people in general.

When Luke defies the Emperor and tosses aside his lightsaber, Palpatine begins to punish him by blasting him with Force Lightning. He is punishing Luke for not accepting his terms and principles. He's attempting to destroy a person who didn't agree with him and who defied his evil attempt to dominate and control.
This is comparable to the mobs of today going after people to cancel them for thinking differently or trying to end their livelihoods for doing something displeasing to the mob's standards. Whenever someone acknowledges a mistake but doesn't conform to the demands of the persecutors they are blasted and punished. The mob is a horrible tyrant bent on destroying everything that won't give in to its demands and designs. It goes beyond addressing a wrong to enacting a petty and cruel exercise in unjustly eradicating the person behind the wrong.
The mob, like Palpatine, in committing its tyranny, demonstrates that it is a great evil.
Another thing we can find in Return of the Jedi is the beauty of humility and the glorious power of redemption.
The end of Darth Vader, the powerful and dangerous Sith Lord who slayed and destroyed many and cruelly furthered the plans of the evil Empire, is the revelation that he is actually a ruined and meek old man. An old man who is dying from his failings, and who, at the end, is humbly allowing his facade of strength and power to be stripped away so that he can free himself of the wicked burden he fashioned; one which ultimately destroyed his life.
As the diminished piano plays out the Imperial theme we see our hero, Luke, trying to save his enemy, his dad. Vader, Anakin Skywalker, is laying there, impotent and gasping for life. He tells Luke that it is too late for him, accepting the end he earned through his misdeeds, and he surrenders the only thing keeping him alive so that he can see the son he wronged with his true eyes and use his own voice to convey a beautiful message. He tells Luke that he has saved him and that he was right about him. In spite of all of the horror and violence, the cruelty and the evil, inside was a good man who became lost. There at his end, looking with failing eyes upon the son who couldn't abandon hope for his fallen father, he achieved redemption and powerfully, quietly passed away.
Humility is not only necessary, it is powerful. To humble one's self is to demonstrate a strength very few seem to possess anymore. It communicates a control of one's emotions and a willingness to value things other than dominance, defense, or even the presumption of equivalency. It is the ability to surrender to objective truth and reality. It is also an expression of hope.
Redemption is sorely lacking in the world today. It is a gift that is absolutely necessary, and it is a challenge more people need to undertake. The ability to forgive and the opportunity to be forgiven are heavenly. By forgiving someone you are not losing or surrendering ground, but you are acknowledging the humanity you share and placing the value of ideals above the predictable failings of mankind. To be forgiven requires ultimate humility and sincerity, and when you receive it you can feel renewed. You may still have to pay for your misdeeds or make things right in some way, which is vital, but the gift of forgiveness can restore you in ways beyond imagining. Forgiveness heals both the forgiver and the one who is forgiven, and it can be an outstanding way to conclude an interaction, relationship, or dark period of one's life.
Personally, as I get older, whenever I watch the end of Return of the Jedi and see Luke holding his dying father, forgiving him and witnessing his redemption, I tear up. I get emotional because I have looked into the eyes of my dying father and felt similarly. I didn't realize how close to death he was at the time, but I know that in that final interaction he was truly sorry for things he had done and I was more than willing to forgive him. I relate to that scene so hard it almost destroys me.