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.
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.
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!