Cross-Contaminated Media: Expanding Universes Outside Games

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Hello and welcome to Cross-Contaminated Media, a short series on video game franchises that have taken their fictional settings and expanded them into books, comics, and film. As the video game industry becomes even more wide-spread, we’re seeing a lot of companies try their hand at developing their intellectual properties by taking them off of a game disk and put them into forms of media that are less graphically intensive, but require more attention on the story and characters.

Of all the companies currently trying their hand at pursuing different avenues of story-telling, Halo is the one that stands out to most people as the current leader of this pack. When we popped Halo: Combat Evolved into our X-Boxes for the first time, we were vaguely aware that there was some history behind this game, at least according to the small preface in the manual. There was some planet named REACH that had been destroyed, Humanity was fighting a losing battle with a genocidal alien hegemony, and the character you were going to be controlling was the last of his kind, a genetically engineered super soldier.

But why had these events come to pass? The story of Halo was preceded by 25 years of brutal warfare and intrigue, and those of us who were engrossed by the game’s universe could only scratch at the surface of the story. Microsoft, perhaps being aware at the great selling power their new IP possessed, had had the foresight to employ Eric Nylund to write The Fall of Reach, which told of the beginnings of Master Chief’s career as a soldier and of the destruction of REACH. The Fall of Reach went on to be a New York Times Bestseller, and the stage was set for a variety of Halo licensed media to continue the story outside of the games.

The plot of Halo was transcribed into novel form by William C. Dietz, and was generally regarded as an entirely unnecessary affair, considering that all it did was retell the story of Combat Evolved and did not add anything significant plot-wise. The Flood did make one important contribution to the canon of Halo: it introduced readers to the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers, who would play an integral part in the series in years to come.

Thus the pattern followed for the rest of the Halo games, with Halo 2 and 3 being preceded by First Strike and The Ghosts of Onyx, respectively. These two novel told the tale of what happened to Chief between Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and where the additional Spartans recovered during First Strike were during the events of Halo 3.

But what had become of the Chief? How did he get from the Forerunner dreadnought at the end of Halo 2 down to Earth in time to finish the fight for Halo 3? Bungie decided to go a different route this time, and approached Marvel to make a short four-part limited series that extrapolated on the Chief’s daring escape from the Covenant ship.

Marvel had previously collaborated with Bungie to release the Halo Graphic Novel, and collection of short storied crafted by renowned writers and artists. The graphic novel had sold well, even if it had been met with tepid critical response. Confident that the Halo Nation would purchase more Halo comics, Marvel employed writer Brain Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev to make Halo: Uprising, hoping to have the series at least close to being finished by the time Halo 3 hit in September 2007.
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This wasn’t to be, however. Due to a change to Halo 3’s plot-line by Bungie, and Bendis working on a large storyline internal to Marvel, Uprising didn’t release its final issue until nearly two years after Halo 3 had been released. Critics and readers panned the series for taking too long to come out and featuring an uninteresting subplot about two survivors trapped in the Covenant invasion of Cleveland. The series had sold well, despite the fans misgivings, proving that Halo enthusiasts would buy nearly anything concerning their favorite franchise.

Bungie would release two more Halo novels: Contact Harvest, written by Bungie luminary Joe Staten, and The Cole Protocol, written by Tobias S. Bucknell. These novels further expanded on the history of Halo, finally illustrating what happened to spark the interstellar war for Humanity’s survival, and showing the history of one of the characters of Combat Evolved, Jacob Keyes. With a collection of short stories and the Forerunner trilogy being written by Greg Bear on their way, it looks like the Halo novel will continue to expand the fiction, much to the joy of Halo readers. Marvel is also publishing two more comic series: Helljumpers, serving as a prequel to Halo 3: ODST, and Spartan Black, a tale of a group of black-ops Spartans.

One medium where Halo has always faltered, however, is film. Ever since the series’ inception, plans for a Halo movie had been bounced around Hollywood, constantly changing directors, producers and studios. At one point, Peter Jackson was attached to produce, and he brought on Neill Blomkamp to direct. Neill had wrapped up Landfall, a trio of short films which depicted the efforts of a group of marines who attempt to target the Chief with a tracking laser on his decent to Earth before Halo 3. Landfall had done extremely well, and had shown the potential for a Halo film.

Unfortunately, the Halo film is caught in development hell, and so far has not made it off the ground. Jackson and Blomkamp have both abandoned the project, with Blomkamp stating that he would not return to Halo. Recently, Steven Spielberg expressed his interest in moving the film forward, but this turned out to be just a rumor.

With the Halo film stalled, Microsoft decided to use the newly created 343 Industries, a marketing group working on the Halo franchise alongside Bungie, to make an animated feature known as Halo: Legends. 343 Industries approached renowned anime filmmakers, and set the ball in motion for Halo’s first feature length title.
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So with Halo leading the charge in encompassing media outside games, what have they done right and where have they gone wrong? Perhaps the greatest success of the Halo endeavors have been the novels, almost all of them being critically acclaimed and selling extremely well. More than that, they provided Halo’s founding as a legitimate sci-fi franchise, one that could go beyond the bang-bang shoot ‘em up of the video game series.

The achievemnts of the novels is off-set by the relative failures of the comics and the constant struggles of bringing Halo to film. The comics suffer from being compressed story-telling in a franchise that had been used to spreading its wings in the novels. Also a problem was the fact that the Chief couldn’t be a major player in any of the series; Bungie had their own plans for him, and Marvel had had to fall back on ancillary characters, none of whom the fans were entirely interested in. With Helljumpers focusing on two of the main characters of the upcoming ODST game, and Spartan Black examining other members of Master Chief’s cadre, perhaps the bad fortune Halo has suffered with comics can be reversed, but that remains to be seen.

With the imminent release of Halo Legends, we have the perfect testing grounds as to whether or not Halo can ever break into film, be it animated or live action. Sure, live action shorts like Landfall and We Are ODST have done well, but whether or not Halo can stand on its own outside of a short battle sequence remains to be seen. The fans remain hopeful, but the future of the Halo film may rest on the success of Legends.

One thing is certain, though: with Halo 3: ODST just around the corner, and Halo: Reach poised for release for next fall; we can be sure that the Halo franchise isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Whether or not you’re a fan of the games and their related materials is a deciding factor, but one has to give due credit to Bungie for bringing their tiny studios into the limelight and forming the type media juggernaut that that the industry hadn’t seen in a long time.

Thanks for joining me as I examined the history of Halo and its various expenditures outside of games. Join me next time, when I’ll be looking at Blizzard and its three famous properties: StarCraft, WarCraft and Diablo.

As a final part of this feature, I propose a few questions to you guys: Do you think that they’re overdoing it with the Halo universe? What games would you like to see expand into novels and comics? What are some of your favorite fictional settings? Fire away!

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

13 thoughts on “Cross-Contaminated Media: Expanding Universes Outside Games”

  1. I’m a fan of Halo mainly because of Halo 1 which I played on PC, Fall of Reach, Contact Harvest, and Ghosts of Onyx, which were my three favorite books in the Halo series. Halo 1 obviously introduced me to the at-that-time greatest game evarrr, and the books expanded the mythos and adventure of the Chief and the other characters in the Halo series. I found myself not caring about the Chief and more on the other characters, like Sgt. Johnson for example.
    I liked Halo 2 because of its intriguing storyline and because it was the first Xbox game I owned and I played it thoroughly until Halo 3 came out (and the rest is history unrelated to Halo). I liked Halo 2’s story plot and writing better than the relatively shallow and almost rushed feeling I got from Halo 3’s attempt to tie up all the lose ends. None of the events felt as powerful or were as much a turn in Halo 3 as they were in Halo 2. It was basically the Chief’s and Arbiter’s bukkitlist. I still enjoyed the gameplay and other content, but the story wasn’t as engrossing as Halo 2’s because Halo 2 felt like it was one of the novels the way the characters were developed, the dialogue was laid out – so that it wasn’t just said to be said, but rather was engaging and necessary – and the plot was well designed.
    Honestly, I can’t pin-point why Halo 2 had a better story than Halo 3 IMO, but I will admit that Halo 3 had more refined gameplay, so 3 wins in that department.

    As for movies, it’s a real shame to hear that Spielburg’s involvement was just a rumor. I would have loved to see Fall of Reach on the Silver-Screen (is that what they call it these days?) since it was my favorite of the books and just an awesome story which solidified it as a classic Sci-Fi story. I’m looking forward to the Halo Anime, but just like with Metroid Other M, I’m a little…anxious to see if the series becomes too Anime-ish. I don’t hate the Animanga style, but Halo and Metroid weren’t that style, so it might detract from the story. It’s just a vague feeling, though, and I’m sure the stories will expand the story and audience well.

  2. Hey, if people care that much about Halo and there products are selling, you could say that they cant over do it.
    Id draw the line at anime though. Seriously.
    The universe i want to see expand most is Mass Effect. There was already one novel, but id like to see more. There could be a lot of backstory, and there already is, if you do side quests and explore. My favorite fictional setting is probably the Fallout Universe.

  3. Very good idea man, this has potential!

    Well, as I’ve said before I’m not much of a fan of Halo. I feel like Microsoft is really kicking a dead horse; but only from an artistic point of view. OBVIOUSLY there are a tonne of people who will in fact “buy nearly anything concerning their favorite franchise” as you said. So aslong as people are paying, I’m sure they’ll keep beating away.

    To be honest, I thought the novels came BEFORE the game, so thanks for the update! And if a movie did come out, I would definitely see it, just because I like video-game movies… Even Uwe Boll ones. (hey, Postal was good!)

    Max Payne and Silent Hill were actually pretty good. Especially comparing them to the Resident Evil or Doom Movie[s].

    Half-Life 2 the movie would make me ‘scream and cream’. Or if Valve took the “meet the…” series from TF2 and made a line of shorts, that would make my year. L4D doesnt have a storyline at all… other media could be a chance to slip one in? Zombies are over-done.. but who knows!

  4. @Glebe:

    There’s actually actually a second Mass Effect book, called Ascension, and there’s a comic book series coming from Dark Horse in 2010.

    @Julez

    “scream and cream” made my lol in the worst way possible. I also thought of Half-Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 for an expansion into something other than games. Valve have talked about a TF2 short series or a comic. Did you see the HL2 short by the Purchase Brothers? It’s all sorts of awesome.

  5. Couple notes: I thought Fall of Reach came out before Halo 1, and that Halo Legends pic still looks damn ridiculous, with that top part extending over the visor too much. What did one person describe it as? A baseball cap? I forgot.

    Anyway, after a couple playthroughs of Halo 3, I agree that it certainly didn’t have the impart Halo 2 did. Even if people say 2’s campaign was terrible (well, I could say the Arbiter levels could do with less copy pasted rooms…) it did have the better story.

    The problem I just have with it is that if you want to know what happened between games or backstory of this and that, you have to buy all the books and stuff, because none of it is in the games. I find that weird, considering the books are based on the games, not the other way around. But if it gets people buying, I guess, i’m not going to argue that point. Halo is a massive cash cow and they’d be idiots not to capitalize on it.

  6. @ Mitch

    Of COURSE I saw the HL2 Short!! :D. It was posted either here or on the Smooth Few Films site months ago. Great great stuff. Was really hoping to see more…

  7. (Sorry for double post)

    Also if any of you have never been to http://www.atomfilms.com you should seriously do yourself a favour and check out the short series called “Legend of Neil”. Do a search for it, its currently 4 episodes into the 2nd season. And don’t worry if you find the first season a little slow/dry, the second season really picks it up.

    Warning though, It’s definetly NSFW. The premise is Neil finds the Fairy in Legend of Zelda hot and asphyxiates himself while “abusing his rights” and is magically transported into the game…

    If you’re of age, give it a gander. Hilarious.

  8. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AFTER GHOSTS OF ONYX!!!!!!
    Freedom Fighters was a game I wanted its universe expanded on. Russians winning the Cold War and invading America? What’s not to love from THAT concept?! Hitman also. The movie was a good action flick but did nothing to expand on the universe.
    And no I don’t think they’ve over-done the Halo universe. If anything there’s room for plenty more stories considering Halo 3 had none worth mentioning.
    Also, for those who’ve read The Cole Protocol, is it good for Halo mythology and a good read?

  9. Yeah, I really do wonder if we’re ever going to get to see what happened after Ghosts of Onyx ended. It seemed rather important in the scale of the universe, so I’m surprised that it’s been left unattended as a major plot thread. And yes, I’m echoing Skuba’s question about Cole Protocol- haven’t read it yet, is it worth it?

  10. In my opinion, the Cole Protocol doesn`t stack up to the previous Halo novels, especially Contact Harvest, which is my personal favorite. It tried to give some back-story to Keyes and the Arbiter, but it just wasn`t that good.

    Again, that`s just my viewpoint.

  11. Freedom Fighters, Breakdown, Mass Effect, Assassins Creed and Bio Shock could use some expanding on and would probably have an the animated comic book and animated movie like Dead Space.

  12. Freedom Fighters, while I haven’t played it, sounds awesome! And an Assassin’s Creed comic book or novel would be incredible.
    My career goal is that I will be a movie director, author, video game designer, and Mangaka, and when I’m making movies, if it hasn’t already come out, I’m making Fall of Reach a movie!

  13. To me you cant really appreciate the world of Halo or even the games until you read the books. Fall of Reach, First Strike, and Ghosts of Onyx are my three favorites in the series (reading contact harvest and havent started Cole Protocol) Reading the fall of reach explained so much for the game and made it way more enjoyable. I prefer the books reality over the game though (i.e. in the book Spartans really are Spartans, where in the games you run as fast as a human, ect..)

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