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.

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