“Masterchef! Abordage!” – Halo’s identity crisis reaches “epic” proportions

Halo_Grunt_by_Moyayuki Halo. Haaa-aaalo… If you’re a die hard fan of Legendary Frog’s cartoons like me, you probably  remember this line from the hilarious “Heretic” flash which came out sometime after Halo 2’s premiere. I always thought that it had done a better job at telling Halo’s story than the in-game cutscenes, and now, having seen the new “Lice Action” Trailer, I strongly second that notion.

If you already haven’t seen it, click here.

A game’s identity is the cornerstone upon which all material relayed to the end-user is built upon. That means not only design (cement) but more so – the basic idea for the universe, character who populate it and the story (the skeleton if you will).

That being said, when the developers for some reason forget what exactly did they want to make in the first place, or as Bungie – get so tangled up in evoking a different feel to their product, it’s a sad sight indeed.

To explain why from what I can observe, Marty O’Donnell and Crew have a hard time keeping their head up while swimming in the Halo ‘verse, let me again paraphrase the book “Raising the Bar” about a little studio known as Valve. By reading through their history from the very begining when Half-Life was not even “Half-Life” and Gordon Freeman was Ivan the Space Biker they knew very well what are they going for: “Event Horizon” – type physics experiment gone wrong – check, slimey, disgusting aliens’ invasion – check, one guy bustin’ their brains out with a crowbar – double check. Everything fell into place.

Now let’s rewind the clocks to year 2001. Bungie is tasked by Microsoft to bring a completely fresh shooter experience to their new console, a title that would mark the birth of a new brand seldom anyone believed in, but what in as little as 7 years would take the market by storm. The task, not a easy one, even for a group with as wide marketing horizons (or rather organically growing in that direction) as the Chicago-based group. There were already some shooter franchises with a clear emphasis on realistic warfare like Medal of Honor and on the Hollywood front Cameron’s sequel to the critically acclaimed “Aliens” set in stone the picture of space marines – with their gritty ballistic weaponry shredding everything that moved in a believable spectacle of gore no Kirk era laser could hope to match. So either “go with the flow” and pray for the best, after all if it flops its MS who’s gonna loose money, and there’s still Sony and Ninny. Or… do like Monty Python and make “something completely different”… that’s hardly different at all.

Thus, Halo’s universe came to life and aimed to combine a story about a great human – alien conflict with ancient space artifacts’ and the “mysteries behind the stars” mythology. All wrapped in a “rated PG-Safe-As-The-Huxtable-Family” package of green blood, little queer aliens that ran around like characters in 70s style cartoons and in a squeaky voice screamed “Masterchef! Abordage!” (that’s a memory from the French version of Halo – the new millennium was a grim time when you just couldn’t get an English copy of a Xbox game in Poland… Legit copy mind you!), and laser weapons going *ping ping* like in Buck Rogers. But like America lost their virginity when the beloved Huxtable senior, Bill Cosby got dragged into court over a kid sexual harassment suit, Bungie would dig their own hole, a niche, from which they would never get out of.

If you’ve played the series and watched the above trailer for ODST, you may be getting a somewhat “face-pant feeling”… How the hell does that movie relate to the actual game presentation?! Let’s face it, it’s already painfully obvious; no matter how long and how much Bungie tries to marriage their design with a “behind the trenches” war back-story, it always falls flat, legs swept by those little grunts, big blue monkeys with staffs, Earthworm Jim-style “Elites” and those *ping ping* lasers. What…?! You brought this on yourselves, guys – that’s what you get for dancing with the devil in pale moonlight.

While I generally have nothing against Halo’s story, and even enjoyed how well O’Donell’s music sets its tone, no – EVEN don’t mind the Gummi Bears with assault rifles aesthetic, I never… ever could swallow all those “humanity’s war heroes fighting a cold blooded war” moments like New Mombasa and such. Every time lame American pathos started pouring out of the screen… and I even admit started to get into the vibe – wiped some tears from my eye… everything went to hell because suddenly I heard “Masterchef! Masterchef! Abordage! Wooooo!” *ping ping ping!*. My room in my parents’ house even has a dent in the wall shaped like my forehead – a tender reminder of those blissful moments.

I mean c’mon Bungie! Enough of the bullshit already! You’re smart, independent (well, sort of… hyhy) people, how can you idly stand by this? Halo, no matter how strong you puff and huff, will not tear down the Hollywood “Saving Private Ryan” war epic. It’s a story about midgets fucking humanity in the ass, topped with a platonic love theme of a machine who probably flopped Voight-Kampff’s test to Robocop! How can this even be qualified as a war story? And no – putting in a voice cast that would topple the budget of three TV series – Nathan Fillion, Tricia Helfer and my soon-to-be-worshiped-as-god Alan Tudyk – will not help because it’s still a *ping ping*…cking circus!

And then it hits me… The sad truth… That Bush-era America will swallow (major site banning moment coming…) even a piece of shit if there’s a star spangled banner sticking out of it.

Does the now semi-free from Redmond’s clutches studio really loves its flagship series? Or maybe they worked on it for so long they puke at the mere vibrations of its theme music and sure as hell don’t care about what they put into those promo flicks as long as it gets another curse/blessing (only Alan can judge which…) bastard child out, that will surely revolutionize the fps multiplier scene… once again… yippy…

Hey, for the good, but also for the bad – this is a business. I used Halo as a example because the opportunity presented itself, not because it’s an isolated case. It has been the same story over and over again – when a big publisher swallows a profitable studio which will just start to come out of the dark in a moment. It’s like Duck Season; what many people don’t know is that a buckshot rarely kills the bird – it loses velocity very fast and thus, force along with it. It “just” mortally wounds it (don’t take my word for it, ask the bird). So for your “two bucks” you not only have a tasty meal on your plate, but also get to screw the damn duck over just because it was desperate to go somewhere it wouldn’t freeze its fucking butt off… and even the dog gets to play (what can I say, loved Aristotle back in school…). In that respect, being someone’s plaything, what you make – and what the publisher will make you market if your company doesn’t stand firmly on its two legs – are sometimes two completely indistinguishable products.

You come in to the office every day feeling creative as Al Gore when he sits down to his Power Point… and then your dreams and expectations get trashed because it turns out the publisher sent an e-mail over the weekend, and some things “crucial to the marketing success” have to be changed. Again. Do you go numb and give up? Or do you try to fuck 20 million people hung up on their misfit of a patriotism for their cash just to have founds for something that doesn’t raise associations with a bad taste in your mouth – maybe… I dunno… something more mature and and not so full of itself – just to sell it to 80 thousand people who “get it” and praise you for the rest of your living days… which you spent making another installment to the previous Frankenstein child, sit down and start a design doc in Word typing:

“Halo 4 desi

<backspace x6>

Halo: Reach design doc v 1.0” *sigh*

We’re human beings. We live in a society we ourselves created and have only us to blame for it. And yet, sometimes every single one of us must answer to himself that one important question… “Do I feel lucky…?”.

Goodnight everybody.

Disclaimer: the grunt pic was taken, and is work and property of user Moyayuki from Deviant Art. http://moyayuki.deviantart.com

All rights, yadda yadda, reserved by that lady.

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~ by Pawel Wyslowski on September 7, 2009.

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