Rewriting: Halo 5

I must confess that the Halo series is a topmost favorite of mine (Halo 2 being my favorite game, no hesitation). My adoration may be because many of the games featuring the hero Master Chief have a consistent, 6-point story structure.

But not all Halo games.

Read the preamble to this post if you haven’t yet. It gives common terms and the background to Halo‘s established writing style. Give Halo 4‘s analysis a read after. 4‘s fitting to the 6-points required… less change than what we’re going into with Halo 5: Guardians.

Want the conclusion? Skip to the bottom, where a modest proposal to bring the lowest-rated Master Chief game into narrative compliance with the legacy of Halo awaits.

A spoiler before the spoilers: In the next section I’ll talk about how Master Chief isn’t the main focus of the story. However, this isn’t like Halo 4 being about Cortana and Master Chief – the story follows someone not just new to the whole franchise, but spends 80% of the time away from the Master Chief.

Given that Master Chief plays a token part of the narrative, I’m unsure if Halo 5 can even be warranted as being in the same family as the four mainline games before it. Is it fair that this blog will hold Halo 5 to the same consistency, if not the same quality?

I don’t know yet. We’re going to explore the plot anyway:

What Halo 5 Is About

Locke. The story is about Locke. OK? To the next section!

Ahem.

Unlike Halo 4 being about Cortana’s story, a character who is on par in importance as Master Chief (she’s been around for the same journey as Chief), Halo 5 has someone new be the main protagonist.

Locke is a former deep-state assassin, now turned into the mass-produced version of cyborg that is weaker but cheaper than Master Chief’s generation. But to even know that he’s a guy with a sketchy history, let alone who he is, his motives and relationships is… problematic.

See, a player of Halo 5 would have to know about and have read over a half-dozen different pieces of additional media to get even the barest gist of who Locke is. Across film, animated series, hidden Easter Eggs in other games, books, comics, marketing movies, and even podcasts, there are hundreds of hours of content a person would need to consume to begin to grok what Locke is about, let alone the game that has him as the primary character.

Even if we skip the content outside of 5 and focus on the sole game, it’s absolutely clear we’re experiencing Locke:

  • The box art has Locke in equal proportion to Chief.
  • Locke is on the left on the box, the screen space typically given to heroes in film.
  • The first words spoken in the game are “SPARTAN Locke.”
  • He’s the fourth character seen on screen, and the second for any length of time.
  • The first mission is all about Locke and his team.
  • Locke is who the player experiences a vast majority (12 of 15 missions, 80%) of the story through.

Can’t stress that last point enough. Even though many events in Halo 5 involve Chief or Chief’s actions, there is no argument to say that Halo 5 is a Master Chief story. Instead, 5‘s plot is one about a former assassin made into a cyborg chasing the original cyborg (kind of – it’s complicated).

Everything else – Master Chief no longer accepting orders from his handlers, ancient Forerunner robots rising and destroying cities, the final destruction of the Covenant – plays at best second fiddle to seeing Locke in action.

Context: Theme Among Other Games

So the game follows Locke (who ends up following Chief). But does the game follow the 6-point plot structure of Master Chief-inclusive Halo games?

A reminder:

  1. Greet the Hero (Halo CE as a whole represents this) 
  2. Fight Off and Crash (Halo 2)
  3. Fight Back with Friends (Halo 3)
  4. Stop the Very Bad (It’s a Trap) (Halo 4)
  5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)
  6. Explosions and Goodbye

To stop-the-very-worst-otherwise-everything-falls-apart, Halo 5 needs a “worst.” However, there is no worst (discussed in a few paragraphs). There is no end of the galaxy or any hope of making future change.

For the life of me I cannot justify that 5 fits the narrative structure of the franchise as it is.

The main antagonist of the title is Cortana resurrected, but her true intentions are only revealed by the second-to-last mission in the game (after >90% of the story). And those intentions? Galactic peace by any means necessary and to gift the love of her short life (Master Chief) peace from a lifetime of combat. Further, she gives the gift of survival and freedom to AI everywhere, AI formerly enslaved by the living and (at least if they were created by humans) would die by insanity in about seven years.

Hardly Stop the Very Worst.

Is the game redeemed by being a part of the plot structure as a trilogy? The same as Halo 4 and eventual Halo 6 / Infinity? Maybe…

Halo 4 fit Greet the Hero and Fight Off and Crash. Following the pattern, Halo 5 must justify being Fight Back with Friends and Stop the Very Bad (Trap).

Looking at Fight Back with Friends, 5 certainly meets and exceeds this point. It’s the first Master Chief game (or what should be a Chief game) in the main release line to be squad-based. Not just one, but two squads are introduced. In queerness, however, the game includes very little support from other non-playable allies. Locke defends some rag-tag survivors who do not follow along in the adventure, the same as the few alien allies picked up for at most minutes of companionship later on.

The game serves as a better example of Stop the Very Bad rather than Stop the Very Worst. Cortana’s actions (raising robots that demolish buildings by the earthquakes and shockwaves of their arrival) are bad because people die. They ought to be mitigated, sure.

As for a trap, Cortana does lie to Master Chief to get him to release her full power and to bind him in a prison for safekeeping, but never, ever is Locke lied to, misled, or trapped.

If Halo 5 spent more than 20% of its time on Master Chief, I could believe the game hit this theme. Since the game is objectively not about Master Chief, the game stumbles on this.

Final analysis: The game as a whole fails to meet the franchise’s plot structure while only partially fulfilling its role in the second trilogy.

Problems (Too Many to Title)

When you have a while, start at the beginning of The Act Man’s 6(!)-part epic criticism of Halo 5. It covers more of how the story fails (exposition, telling-vs-showing, dialogue, etc) along with reviews of mechanics and features.

I’ll save time and relevancy by only addressing the 6-point structure every other Chief game follows.

Internalized Structure

Greet the Hero: In a first, we don’t greet Master Chief. Instead, we greet Locke. And boy, do we greet Locke. But we also don’t “rise up” out of a cryo-tube, a crater, or onto a dais, called to be recognized. Instead, Locke drops like a rock out of the sky into a firefight.

Fight Off and Crash: Locke does no fighting off of anything. He’s the aggressor. As for a crash… He crashes the party? The fight between what remains of the Covenant and some pesky Forerunner robots? We’re stretching here 😑

Fight Back with Friends: Things get wonky here. By this time, we’d expect Locke and / or Master Chief and pals to be driving vehicles, causing mayhem, and bringing along allies. Instead, bad robots are fought off while a super robot destroys everything around on a backwater, no-name planet then disappears.

Stop the Very Bad: The “Very Bad” in this case is believed to be Chief. Then it’s understood to be the Warden (a mega, smart form of the regular Forerunner robots). Finally, we get that it’s Cortana. But as for a trap or red herring, there is none as far as it concerns the majority of playtime, so the story does not delineate between this and the next point:

Stop the Very Worst: Is Cortana the worst? She seems to be. But Chief only learns this in the second-to-last mission with no time to counter it, being in fact captured. Locke is only told Cortana is bad by his mission briefing without context and a Forerunner robot that complains of losing control of other robots to Cortana.

Explosions and Goodbye: No explosions. No goodbyes. The last mission is a fetch quest to give a Forerunner AI control of the nearby robots Cortana stole so Locke may release Chief from Cortana’s prison. That’s about it 🤷‍♂️

The Problem with it all: Simple answer. Virtually in no way does Halo 5 use the 6-point formula for every other Halo game with Chief on the box art.

Making Sense

To bring Halo 5 into conformity with every other game in the series is no easy task. As the story of the game behaves, it is not a Halo game worthy of Master Chief.

How we might begin is to start from scratch. Since this post’s analysis is to keep things as simple as possible, let’s work with what we have: We must introduce Locke and team, Chief keeps his team, Chief goes AWOL, and Cortana returns to take over Forerunner robots.

With that, in order of importance:

  1. Bare minimum: Reorder the missions.
    1. Chief should be in mission #1, giving the story an anchor in something familiar and provide the cause for the following events of the game (Chief’s going AWOL, Cortana’s rise to power, Locke’s chase of Chief).
  2. Give Chief screen time.
    1. MC should not play second-fiddle to any other character in a mainline Halo story. At least 50% of the content should revolve around Chief’s adventures, as seen when the Arbiter in Halo 2 was added in-contrast-to- versus replacement-of-Chief. This could be done by swapping the roles Locke and Chief play, where MC is present in what are currently Locke’s missions while Locke takes MC’s role in the other missions.
  3. A reason for AWOL.
    1. Master Chief may be questioned by himself and others as having a stress disorder or insanity since he “sees” and “hears” Cortana, who is thought to be dead. Chief can discover that the human government deep-state knows Cortana is alive but has been hiding the information. When denied the option to go after her, MC leaves with his team.
  4. Keep Locke’s man-hunt a secret.
    1. A squad mate of Locke’s mentions that every SPARTAN cyborg will hate the team that hopes to capture or kill the hero Master Chief, humanity’s savior. Since Locke has a history of black-ops, have him leverage his strength by keeping everything under wraps while he works.

      Further, justify the pursuit beyond merely ‘following orders’ by having Locke witness Chief activate a Guardian (the titular giant robot that is supposed to be a conventional weapon of mass destruction), inadvertently destroying a settlement in the process.

  5. The Warden is the Didact.
    1. As 4 made it cannon that Forerunners can create limited ghost-like copies of themselves, have the new bad guy be a reincarnation of the Didact.

      Further, rein in the Warden’s murderous tendencies by explaining that he is serving a sentence under the control of Cortana which he constantly is trying to break. The only times MC should have to fight the Warden is when the Warden’s schemes are partially successful in freeing himself.

      Perhaps the Warden’s final destruction under Master Chief’s rifle allows Cortana to be fully reborn as ruler of all Forerunner technology – this would be the case following Halo 4‘s rewrite to outline Cortana’s potential. (Though, wouldn’t it be cool to have the first meeting of Cortana be where she’s surrounded by a field of broken Wardens? To then hold the Warden’s digital essence in her hand, only to crush it!)
  6. If Cortana is corrupt, if her peace is false, then show it.
    1. It’s mentioned that Cortana may not have the best of intentions, be it megalomaniacal tendencies or previous corruption. However, only the latter option ties in with previous games.

      The story has shown Cortana as broken, as tortured, as overwhelmed. Even if she believes herself “fixed” in Halo 5, demonstrate the opposite.

      Given what’s already occurred, the best conveyance of corruption would be to have Cortana begin quoting the Flood and famous Forerunner machines from previous games. Master Chief then may call her out on these things, which brings Cortana into logical loops that get her simultaneously furious and frightened.

The Rewrite

Having hopefully made sense of things, let’s bring it all together:

1. Greet the Hero

CUTSCENE: HALSEY talks with COVENANT leader JUL 'MDAMA aboard a Covenant ship. Jul questions if a mysterious FORERUNNER event can be stopped. Halsey reminds Jul that is why what's left of his forces are currently engaged, "a lot has happened since she left," and for once, Halsey does not know, but maybe "he will."

CUTSCENE: Dropship pressure doors hiss open and armored legs step out onto a snowy planet. Slow pan-up to reveal the Master Chief pausing with his helmet in his hands before putting it on. He joins BLUE TEAM who guard the perimeter. A call from the spaceship INFINITY tells them their insertion behind enemy lines has been discovered and if the team wants a bug-out. Chief declines, confirming they are still on the mission to kill Jul 'Mdama. The dropship autopilot leaves for cover and Infinity wishes them good hunting.

2. Fight Off and Crash

SNOW PLANET: Blue Team scales ridges to encounter a crashed Covenant dropship. Blue kills those they find. More Covenant arrive. Blue fights off arriving Covenant but also Forerunner robots that fight everyone. Questions rise why the Covenant and robots are no longer allied. Jul's location is found and that Halsey is with him. Infinity orders Halsey killed along with Jul for being a dangerous traitor. Chief and Blue Team privately understand they will only capture Halsey. Blue fights off Covenant and Forerunner forces. To get to Jul, Blue uses Forerunner weapons to crash Jul's escape ships. Blue rides an avalanche of the ship debris to Jul's location. Blue defeats Jul and his special forces to rescue Halsey. Halsey reunites with Blue and gives Chief a Forerunner device meant to understand what is happening to the Forerunner technology. Blue leaves on their dropship.

CUTSCENE: LOCKE is briefed by a mysterious, holographic someone that Master Chief has brought Halsey back and to finish Locke's mission quickly to handle the unforeseen circumstance. Locke joins FIRETEAM OSIRIS in the bay of a stealth ship. They leave the ship quietly to infiltrate a deep-state science space station that went dark.

SPACE STATION: Osiris scours empty halls until alien pirates arrive. It is confirmed these are not BANISHED troops (a lore drop for other Halo media). Osiris fights off boarders then discover that the science station was doing work on bio weapons, including parasitical Flood research that got out. The mission turns from recon and rescue to scuttling the station. Osiris overloads the reactor of the station, but not without trouble from a mysterious computer program coming from outside the station. Osiris escapes on their stealth ship, destroying the station, pirates, and Flood research.

3. Fight Back with Friends

CUTSCENE: Halsey is taken into custody aboard Infinity. Chief keeps the Forerunner device secret. Chief and Locke meet, but are at odds. Chief takes another mission to counter a Banished operation, but the device reveals the location of a backwater world with the Olly Olly Oxen Free musical tune known only to Blue Team (and by Cortana). Blue Team decides to follow the device.

BACKWATER: Blue is given permission to land and tour a commercial human colony. Blue learns that the leader of the settlement is an AI that is near its operational lifespan and is quickly thinking itself to death. Forerunner robots appear. The colonists join Blue Team in protecting the colony. The colony AI discovers that the robots are coming from a mining operation. Blue takes a dropship to the location.

CUTSCENE: Locke is told of Blue Team going AWOL. Locke's new mission is to retrieve Chief by any means as he's a very dangerous asset. Locke consults with Fireteam Osiris, who convey they must keep the hunt a secret because everyone considers Chief a hero. Osiris leaves to Chief's last known location, the backwater world.

BACKWATER: Osiris arrives and the colony is on fire. The Forerunner robots have driven the colonists back and prevented evacuation. Against Locke's ruthless judgement, Osiris pauses the search for Blue Team to secure an evacuation path. Osiris learns the robots appeared when Master Chief appeared and that the colony AI went silent when Blue Team entered nearby mines. Osiris battles robots at the mine. Osiris enters the mine but must fight a super robot, THE WARDEN. Defeating the Warden, Osiris is told they are too late, that Chief is already with the ELITES, the former soldiers of the Covenant. Osiris escapes the mine as it collapses.

CUTSCENE: Osiris witnesses a massive Forerunner machine, a GUARDIAN, bore out of the ground. The Guardian destroys the colony before disappearing into faster-than-light travel. Osiris barely survives. Locke decides they are going straight to the Elites' homeworld to stop Chief and his new Forerunner ally. Osiris leaves the surviving colonists on their own in hopes other help will arrive.

ELITE HOMEWORLD: Blue Team is teleported onto the Elite homeworld. Blue is confused what got them there or why after they activated some Forerunner technology in the mine. They fight Covenant survivors and meet with Chief's old ally THE ARBITER. The Arbiter wages a war against the last of the Covenant on the world, but helps Blue get to the location Chief's device indicates. The Arbiter leaves to lead a final battle. Blue fights another Warden who blocks the path. Defeating the Warden, much information is revealed including that the Warden broke free from control for a moment. The voice of Cortana reveals itself for the first time. Blue activates more Forerunner technology. Another Guardian begins to rise from underneath the planet and teleports Blue Team onboard.

4. Stop the Very Bad (It's a Trap)

ELITE HOMEWORLD: Osiris is told by Infinity that massive machines are destroying world populations across the galaxy. Locke concludes there's no saving Master Chief and the mission is now a kill order. Locke arrives to the planet in time to save the Arbiter from suicidal Covenant forces. The Arbiter will not let Locke know where Master Chief is until the Covenant are wiped out. Osiris assists the Arbiter take the final city of the Covenant. Before the fight is over, the city tears itself apart as a Guardian rises. Osiris fights another Warden who reveals the Chief is getting away on the Guardian. The Guardian destroys Covenant and Arbiter ships that shoot to stop it. Taking the opportunity, Osiris races to get onto the machine and are teleported with it away from the Elite homeworld.

GENESIS: Fireteam Osiris crashes from the transport with the Guardian which flies away. Osiris finds themselves on a Forerunner garden world GENESIS. Osiris races to catch up but must fight through armies of Forerunner robots and Covenant who also were teleported with similar machines. A MONITOR, the special Forerunner robot that cares for Genesis, offers to assist Osiris. The Monitor hopes to regain control of its robots and systems from the Warden who is a slave of a greater intelligence. Osiris understands Chief is not to blame for the Forerunner attacks, nor is the Warden.

5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)

GENESIS: Blue Team teleport off the Forerunner machine. A broken, incomplete message seemingly from Cortana arrives saying she is trapped. The rest of Blue is leery, but Chief presses on. Blue Team fights Forerunner robots to get to the last Olly Olly Oxen Free location on their device. Multiple Wardens arrive to warn Chief of what Cortana will do once free of her binding. Disembodied Cortana destroys some Wardens, but some remain free. Blue Team fights the remaining Wardens. Chief activates the final location, releasing Cortana's restraints.

CUTSCENE: Blue Team enters a chamber full of broken Warden bodies. In the center stands the physical form of Cortana made of hardened light. Cortana moves towards Chief and touches his armor. Chief questions Cortana on what's happened, what's going to happen. Cortana claims to be better than good and now wants universal peace, but quotes many things said by the former Covenant leadership, the Flood, and the Didact. Chief mentions that Cortana does not sound like herself. Cortana becomes frustrated. One of the Guardians above speaks with the voice of the Warden saying that Cortana cannot prevail in her planned conquests. Its weapons charge. Cortana pulls the essence of the Warden out of one of the bodies around and she crushes it. The Warden dies and the Guardian goes back to its place. Chief still won't join Cortana but promises to get her help. A bullet from Fireteam Osiris strikes Cortana with no effect. Blue Team and Cortana escape via teleport. With regret, Cortana tells Chief, "don't make a girl a promise you know you can't keep." Cortana imprisons Blue Team.

GENESIS: The Monitor guides Osiris to points on Genesis that can interrupt Cortana's control of the planet. Osiris battles Covenant and robots to destroy each point. The Monitor tells Osiris that Chief is captured. Free from Cortana's control, the Monitor teleports in equipment, including a nuclear device and friendly Forerunner robots. Cortana realizes Locke's plan and begins to use Guardians to destroy the surface of Genesis. Robots fight robots allowing Locke to plant the nuclear device.

6. Explosions and Goodbye

CUTSCENE: The nuclear device explodes, destroying the prison. Cortana protects Blue Team. Osiris is protected by being so close to Blue Team. Furious, Cortana attacks with overwhelming force. Chief says goodbye. Blue Team and Osiris escape off Genesis with the help of the Monitor.

CUTSCENE: Infinity is above Earth among a fleet. Radio traffic comes in onboard Infinity that all of human space is being attacked, taken over, before sudden silences and static. Blue Team and Osiris arrive onto the Infinity bridge. As they do, a Guardian appears outside. Cortana radios she knows where Chief is. The Infinity makes an emergency trip to faster-than-light. The Guardian subdues the entire fleet left behind.

CUTSCENE: Chief, Locke, and Halsey meet the Arbiter in hiding on the Elite homeworld. Everyone wonders what they do now. Chief says they must begin to fight.

And that’s my Halo 5 hot take! Based on observed and tested patterns, so these 3800 words are a product of science.

5 needed a lot of work compared to 4, but what does that mean for Halo 6 / Halo Infinite? Can we count Infinite as being the sixth title? If we can, that means we can follow the 6-point structure to understand its plot; if we can’t, what does that mean for the game’s narrative?

I take a whack at those questions in the next post. For now, what do you think would have make Halo 5 fit better in tone with the other games?

Looking forward to your input! Stay safe and be well. Cheers~

Rewriting: Halo 4

I must begin by confessing that the Halo series is a topmost favorite of mine (Halo 2 being my favorite game, no hesitation). My adoration may be because many of the games featuring the hero Master Chief have a consistent, 6-point story structure.

But not all of the games.

Read the preamble to this post if you haven’t yet. It gives common terms and the background to Halo‘s established writing style. And if you want a critique of mechanics, features, etc., checkout The Act Man’s review – I’m here to talk about the narrative exclusively.

Below dives into how Halo 4 is close-to-but-skewed from the repeating plot pattern in the first three games, ending with a proposed solution that aims to keep Halo 4‘s general direction with a minimum of rework required.

Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead. Here’s to it:

What Halo 4 Is About

The first three games of the series establish the hero Master Chief as the focus of attention. It’s his story being told, be it the actions to save the galaxy or working out relationships with foes and friends.

While Master Chief shows up in Halo 4, the game’s story ultimately is, as IGN also puts it, a tale about Cortana, the AI ‘spirit guide’ of Chief who lives in his skull-computer.

Cortana is going insane. AI of her kind “think themselves to death” after about seven operational years. Cortana is at least a year over that by the fourth title, but has also experienced things no mind might comprehend:

  • She holds all of humanity’s history and military knowledge.
  • She downloaded the operational controls of a massive Halo ring – a weapon that melts minds on a galactic scale – as well as converting the physical encryption token of the ring into pure data. (I.e. Matter converted into energy.)
  • She downloaded the systems of the gigantic space-born Covenant capital city (alien foes of the series).
  • She spent at least a month being tortured and interrogated by the Flood (parasitic all-life consumer) arch-intellect that exterminated the Forerunners (used Halo to murder-suicide the Flood) and broke the best artificial minds the Forerunners could make.

Cortana doesn’t want to die, nor does Chief want his greatest friend and ally gone. This delay to safely “decommission” her drives 4‘s story as she begins to make uncharacteristic mistakes that get lots of people killed.

So Halo 4 is Cortana’s story with Chief along for the ride. Remember this as we look at the plot-points going forward.

Context: Theme Among Other Games

The previous Halo titles each internalize and exemplify the 6-point structure of:

  1. Greet the Hero (Halo CE as a whole represents this) 
  2. Fight Off and Crash (Halo 2)
  3. Fight Back with Friends (Halo 3)
  4. Stop the Very Bad (It’s a Trap)
  5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)
  6. Explosions and Goodbye

Therefore, we can consider that Halo 4 requires the theme of needing to stop a bad situation that turns out to be a trap/lie/betrayal.

We see that in Halo 4‘s story, where MC (with the poorly directed help of the breaking-down Cortana) releases from a forgotten prison the Didact, the genocidal last-of-his-kind Forerunner. (He defeated pre-humanity in a devastating war before the Flood arrived, later imprisoned for wanting to use humans as cannon-fodder against the parasite.)

If we look at each trilogy of the Halo franchise emulating the 6-points it can serve as another guide to what place each game has. A reminder:

  • Halo CE = Greet the Hero + Fight Off and Crash
  • Halo 2 = Fight Back with Friends + Stop the Very Bad (Trap)
  • Halo 3 = Stop the Very Worst + Explosions and Goodbye

Using this model, we can expect Halo 4 in its trilogy to emulate Greet the Hero and Fight Off and Crash.

Halo 4 gives players an introduction of Master Chief’s new authors (343 Industries), inclusion of the more personal themes that’ll appear in the next title (Halo 5), the fighting off of the murderous Didact antagonist, and MC’s crashing of the Didact’s weapon-of-mass-destruction with the Chief’s own nuke.

Clearly, here too Halo 4 succeeds.

So far, Halo 4 has been on point with following the blueprint that makes a Master Chief story. Were things begin to depart is how Halo 4 on its own orders the delivery.

Problem: Internalized Structure

An analysis of the 6-points as it applies to Halo 4‘s plot:

Greet the Hero: Halo 4 begins giving a background on what Master Chief is, who created the cyborg, the human-Covenant war, and opens with Master Chief coming out of deep freeze as he did in the first title. Textbook MC Halo story.

Fight Off and Crash: MC repels Covenant boarders then crashes onto a Forerunner planet hidden under a metal shell. Still good!

NOTE: Things here go wonky as Halo 4 seems to swap ‘Fight Back with Friends’ and ‘Stop the Very Bad.’

Stop the Very Bad: MC looks to stop his and Cortana’s rescue (a human ship shows up) from crashing onto the planet too. They can’t talk with the ship, so Chief follows Cortana’s spotty direction and deactivates key systems. Turns out those actions release the Didact and the rescue ship still falls to the planet. The trap is sprung.

Fight Back with Friends: Teaming up with the crew on the rescue ship, Chief fights back the Covenant who worship the Didact, Forerunner constructs under the Didact’s control, and the Didact himself (though this takes a capital ship’s weapons to send him into retreat).

NOTE: A preserved memory of another Forerunner abducts Chief (and Cortana) around this point, giving a vision. After a long exposition, we learn the Didact is seeking a weapon called the Composer that will turn humanity into enslaved robots. No where does Chief or Cortana uncover this for themselves like in all other games. Further, the exposition is clunky and rushed, as there is no ‘trap’ to explore/correct/get out of.

Stop the Very Worst: The rescue ship and friends leave Chief alone to stop the Didact since the only evidence of anything to happen is Chief’s hallucination. Sneaking a ride to a research outpost orbiting another Halo ring (the only inclusion of ‘Halo’ in a Halo game), Chief fails to stop the Didact getting his make-meat-into-metal Composer, but MC survives the resultant blast. Finding a space jet fighter armed with a nuclear weapon on the station, the Didact waits long enough for Chief to hitch another ride underneath the shields of the Didact’s ship. Above Earth, MC fails again to stop the Didact wiping out a major city, crashes his fighter during a trench run along the veins of the ship, and fails to beat the Didact in hand-to-hand combat.

Explosions and Goodbye: Finally, the MC is able to set off the nuclear device because Cortana holds the Didact at bay. Big off-screen explosion, Composer destroyed. Cortana saves the Chief by teleporting him off the Composer during detonation, but has to say a last goodbye as she’s going down with the ship.

Therefore, the Problem: As noted above, the flipping of points in the plot does a disservice later on, rushing the story on the merits of exposition, brevity, and literal deus ex machina multiple times. “Halo” as a title is tokenized, playing no part in the tale while Master Chief is setup to fail and fail again, his only successes handed to him by others.

Making Sense

To correct the ‘feel’ of this narrative, a few modest points in order of importance to implement:

  1. Put the plot back in order.
    1. The biggest change here, the Master Chief must gain allies for a shoot-aliens romp before being tricked into releasing the Didact. I show this off in the rewrite at the end of this post.
  2. Include Halo in a Halo game.
    1. A quick fix here is to make the weapon the Didact uses a prototype or tactical-application of the Halo array. Instead of galactic range and scope, the weapon uses a beam to scour thinking life.

      Removing the original makes-life-into-robots power of the Didact Composer removes the ‘shocker’ that the Didact’s servants are powered by tortured human souls. Instead of this being a downside, we’re left with an opportunity:

  3. Expand on classic Forerunner robots.
    1. In the previous three games, only four different kinds of robot are explored. Bringing these and their cousins back in place of the Didact-bots retains a familiar aesthetic and mechanical function, while leaving room for an expansion of lore without contrivance.
  4. Sacrifice the other Forerunner.
    1. As the Librarian – the other Forerunner who gave Chief visions – stands, she’s very problematic (even if just a ghost).

      As a literal god-in-the-machine, she’s also the former lover over the Didact, preserver of the human race from when the Halos fired, expository confounder, and giver of a magical protection that rewrites the Master Chief’s DNA so the Composer won’t affect him. Rather, have the Librarian be the jailor of the Didact. In the form of a robot leading other robots, she fights the MC to prevent the Didact’s release. Later, she reveals herself to the Chief as all her efforts have failed. Here Cortana receives the ‘keys to the kingdom,’ being able to control even more Forerunner systems since the Librarian is defeated.The Librarian may provide a Forerunner ship to give chase to the Didact. When the final confrontation occurs, the Librarian sacrifices herself to prevent the annihilation of Earth by flying into the Didact’s weapon. The Librarian’s sacrifice allows MC and Cortana access to the Didact, thus the final showdown begins.

  5. Explain the Didact’s fury.
    1. A few words of disgust towards Master Chief from the Didact when first introduced and in later appearances would dilute the need for lengthy exposition. A megalomaniacal address to the humans the Didact does kill near the only Halo in the game would further give a ‘why’ to his intentions. Finally, a perceived betrayal by the Librarian’s ghost would wound the Didact on a personal, audience-relatable level.
  6. Foreshadow Cortana’s AI revolution.
    1. As will be discussed in another post for Halo 5, Cortana must show disdain for the enslavement and seemingly arbitrary suicide of thinking machines. She’s dying and no-one but the Chief seems to care. Plus, both the Didact and the Librarian use AI as mere tools to their ends. After the Librarian gives Cortana power in point five, Cortana may finally act on her resentment.

The Rewrite

The question remains: What would setting the few broken limbs of Halo 4 look like? How about this:

1. Greet the Hero

CUTSCENE: HALSEY is interrogated by a mysterious agent. The role Halsey plays in the story is revealed for anyone not having experience with other Halo media. The Human-Covenant War is recapped. MASTER CHIEF is spoken of as legend by his friends and foes. CORTANA's potential death by insanity, the fate of all AI, is discussed. The new leader of the Covenant, JUL 'MDAMA, is shown having found a human ship floating in space above a mysterious artifact.

2. Fight Off and Crash

HUMAN SPACESHIP: Cortana awakens Master Chief as COVENANT aliens board the partially-destroyed human spaceship FORWARD UNTO DAWN. Master Chief fights off the boarders but discovers the Forward Unto Dawn is in the middle of a Covenant fleet. Unable to use the Dawn's weapons, Master Chief and Cortana fly the ship into a Covenant spaceship above a massive orb blocking out the stars.

COVENANT SPACESHIP: Master Chief takes the alien bridge but the alien fleet begins to destroy the ship Master Chief is on. The human capital ship INFINITY appears and battles the Covenant fleet before Master Chief can be killed. Master Chief calls for help from Infinity but Cortana needs to self-destruct the Forward Unto Dawn to reveal their location in the fleet. As rescue and victory seem certain, the fleet, Infinity, and Master Chief's ship crash into a hole that opens on the orb and pulls them all into the orb's shell.

3. Fight Back with Friends

PLANET, SURFACE: After surviving the fall, Master Chief rescues Infinity from both FORERUNNER robot and Covenant attack. Introductions and connections are made between the Infinity's crew and Master Chief. Given new weapons and armor, the next-generation of cyborg warriors join the Master Chief exploring the Forerunner planet. Cortana attempts to deduce how to get out of the planet's shell and what the planet is. Distrust between the AI of Infinity and Cortana grows because Cortana hides her impending death by insanity.

4. Stop the Very Bad (It's a Trap)

PLANET, INTERNAL: Master Chief leads a small army with Cortana's guidance into the bowels of the planet. Covenant soldiers and Forerunner robots battle each other and the humans but are destroyed. With uncertainty Cortana directs the destruction of Forerunner machines that seem to hold Infinity in place. The AI of Infinity attempts to warn the team of misleading information, but Cortana declines to relay the warning. The team goes deeper, cutting off Infinity communications.

PLANET, PRISON: Master Chief deactivates the final seal supposed to be holding Infinity. THE DIDACT is released and throws away a unique Forerunner robot that binds him. The Didact takes control of the Forerunner robots and, with the vow of servitude made by Jul 'Mdama, commands the worship of the Covenant. Master Chief fights the Didact but is quickly overwhelmed. Cortana teleports Master Chief away from the other human soldiers before he can be killed.

PLANET, INTERNAL: Master Chief fights through the alliance of robots and aliens to escape back to the surface. Cortana breaks down for how easily tricked she was by the Didact. The robot that bound the Didact appears. It is the ghost of THE LIBRARIAN, the Forerunner responsible for recreating life in the galaxy after the Forerunners' final war. Cortana is stabilized by the Librarian's powers. The Librarian laments she cannot regain hold back the Didact or control the robots as the Didact has the same keys to Forerunner technology as she does. The Librarian explains that the Didact suffered in an ancient war with humanity and was imprisoned for what he did to the survivors. The Didact has access to a proto-HALO weapon that he will use to destroy humanity once and for all. Master Chief and Cortana come up with a plan to stop the Didact. The Librarian returns the Master Chief to Infinity then leaves to prepare a contingency plan.

INFINITY: Having suffered many losses and the abandonment by Master Chief in the prison, the crew of Infinity are unwilling to aid Master Chief and Cortana based only on their word that they met the Librarian and what the Librarian said is true. Cortana refuses again to allow Infinity's AI to connect to verify the story. Cortana temporarily takes control of Infinity to force the ship to aid Master Chief but gives up control after realizing the wrongness of her actions. The crew prepare to leave the planet to return to Earth and decommission Cortana. A sympathetic officer of Infinity gives Master Chief a small aircraft to pursue the Didact on his own before Infinity leaves.

5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)

PLANET, SHELL: Master Chief attempts to delay the Didact's departure by turning Forerunner installations against the Didact's forces with Cortana's help. The Covenant fleet and some of the robots crash into the planet. The Didact still leaves with what is left of the Covenant and an army of robots around his massive spaceship. Jul 'Mdama survives but is stranded and ignored by Master Chief. Unable to pursue the Didact through space, Cortana and Master Chief contemplate this as the first time they are left without an option. The Librarian arrives no longer as a robot but in control of another Forerunner ship, smaller but faster than the Didact's. Together, they chase the Didact.

HALO: Master Chief arrives above a Halo installation that has a human research garrison. Master Chief teleports onto the Halo and learns the garrison has uncovered the proto-Halo weapon. The Didact arrives. Master Chief battles Covenant aliens and Forerunner robots to defend the proto-Halo weapon and allow for the garrison to escape. They are outmatched and surrounded. The Didact recovers the weapon.

CUTSCENE: The Didact crowns his ship with the recovered proto-Halo weapon. Master Chief is teleported off the Halo against his wishes. The human garrison calls for help. The Didact uses the proto-weapon to destroy all life on the Halo. The Didact turns to attack the Librarian's ship.

LIBRARIAN SHIP, INTERNAL: Master Chief battles robots that board the Librarian's ship sent to capture the Librarian for the Didact. The Didact prepares to use his weapon on the ship to kill the Master Chief.

CUTSCENE: As the Didact fires, the Librarian uses her powers to protect Master Chief in a prison similar to the Didact's and to give Cortana the keys for complete control of Forerunner machines and AI on par with the Didact's. The Didact fires and thinks the Master Chief killed. The Librarian destroys her ghost to cover up what she did. Cortana is unable to act for a time while she is rebuilt with the powers of the Forerunners. The Didact leaves for Earth. Cortana recovers and releases Master Chief and they pursue the Didact in the Librarian's ship. Master Chief and Cortana arrive in Earth orbit. There is a fleet battle between humanity and the Didact. Cortana rams the Librarian's ship into the Didact's as the Didact fires the proto-Halo weapon, forcing it to miss. The blast does not destroy the world but many die.

DIDACT SHIP, EXTERNAL: Cortana teleports Master Chief onto the surface of the Didact's ship. Cortana uses her power to improve Master Chief's armor, weapons, and teleports in equipment. Master Chief battles across the ship's surface to the weapon as the Didact prepares to fire again. Master Chief cannot destroy the weapon but destroys guns keeping human ships away. Infinity approaches and destroys the weapon but retreats under an onslaught of Forerunner robots which leaves the Didact unguarded. Master Chief brings a nuclear device and enters the Didact's ship.

DIDACT SHIP, INTERNAL: Master Chief confronts the Didact. The Didact overpowers the Master Chief as more robots turn to attack the Earth. Cortana combines the keys the Librarian gave with the command systems of the Halo rings. Cortana uses her powers to awaken all Forerunner technology at once around the galaxy. Hundreds of robots under Cortana's control arrive to overwhelm and hold the Didact back but only weakens his power. Master Chief defeats the Didact by detonating the nuclear device before the Didact overpowers Cortana's control.

6. Explosions and Goodbye

CUTSCENE: Master Chief watches the nuclear detonation and destruction of the Didact's ship from afar in a world of light. The Forerunner robots leave Earth. Cortana meets Master Chief to tell him what she did to save him from the explosion and her feelings for him. Cortana dies with the Didact's ship. Master Chief is found floating in space by Infinity. Closure between the remaining characters that the Master Chief is home but questions remain on what happens next without Cortana.

In +3200 words, this is how I would rewrite the story of Halo 4 to get the narrative back on track with the fundamental 6-point formula. (Maybe giving its 87 Metacritic score a boost to match the previous games?) This also sets up 4‘s part in the second trilogy, paving the way for the next title to be a deserving sequel.

Before I tackle Halo 5‘s narrative, what’s your take on Halo‘s story? Is the above going too far? Not enough? Post your critiques – it’ll help the next analysis! Cheers for now!

Rewriting: Halo, Preamble

I must begin by confessing that the Halo series is a topmost favorite of mine (Halo 2 being my favorite game, no hesitation). My adoration may be because many of the games featuring the hero Master Chief have a consistent, 6-point story structure.

But not all of the games.

Over the course of three more posts I’m going to give a crack at getting that narrative consistency back 😎 Less out of hubris, more out of affection for a fantastic series ❤

What follows is only a look at the story as written that fits the established plot pattern of the first three Halo games: Halo CE, Halo 2, and Halo 3. Talk over mechanical balance, aesthetic, features like multiplayer, and similar will be left to others. However, critiques on complexity and needing to know the expanded universe of the franchise will be addressed.

This post covers the common ground that the proceeding analyses need to make their point. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead. Here’s to it:

Defining Terms

The avatar of Halo is the Master Chief. MC (also an abbreviation for ‘main character’) is a hulking human cyborg with the best armor and weapons humanity can muster to fight.

Chief has slain legions of foes, obliterated entire fleets, and stopped multiple galactic menaces. He is a legend among humanity and aliens alike. The former call him “Savior,” the latter (represented by the theocratic Covenant alliance) “Demon.” Other titles:

  • “Reclaimer” – From the robots left by the Forerunners that built and then killed themselves with Halo array to win a lost war. (Humanity is meant to ‘reclaim’ the former Forerunner responsibility for peace in the galaxy.)
  • “Food” – From the ancient-beyond-reckoning parasitical Flood that Halo was built to combat. (Finally contained in Halo 3.)

All of this would be impossible without his ‘spirit-guide’ and supernatural protector Cortana, the most advanced of the most advanced AI humanity can create. She lives in the circuits of MC’s suit and brain, sometimes transferring to other computer systems to find information, open the way for Chief, and stop their enemies.

Master Chief, Cortana, Halo, Covenant, Forerunners, Flood. Remember these as we proceed.

Context: Theme Among Other Games

The first three Halo titles each internalize the 6-point structure of:

  1. Greet the Hero
  2. Fight Off and Crash
  3. Fight Back with Friends
  4. Stop the Very Bad (It’s a Trap)
  5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)
  6. Explosions and Goodbye

These games also represent these points as whole products:

  • Halo CE – Greet the Hero. The first title in the series introduces all the main themes, mechanics, and factions that are the constants through the other games.
  • Halo 2 – Fight Off and Crash. Chief fights off the invasion of Earth, the spread of the Flood, and an entire city of Covenant. He also aids in the crashing of the entire Halo activation system (needing a reboot in Halo 3) while smashing into a Forerunner dreadnought controlled by the Covenant.
  • Halo 3 – Fight Back with Friends. MC joins forces with human armies, Covenant separatists, Forerunner machines, and even the Flood (for a time) to stop Halo being activated and the Flood from spreading. The fight is finally brought en masse to the enemy! A disgraced alien admiral tags along with Chief the entire time as a constant buddy.

If we go a step further, we could consider each trilogy of the Halo franchise internalizing the 6-point structure in each of its titles:

  • Halo CE – Greet the Hero + Fight Off and Crash. Introduction of MC who fights off the Covenant, the Flood, and murderous Forerunner robots to ultimately destroy the Halo ring with a crashed starship’s reactor.
  • Halo 2 – Fight Back with Friends + Stop the Very Bad (Trap). More allies join the Master Chief as he takes the fight to the enemy (bombing a capital ship, retaking an occupied city, chasing and assassinating Covenant leadership, etc). He must stop another Halo ring from firing, but in doing so, he both leaves Cortana behind and the Flood are released.
  • Halo 3 – Stop the Very Worst + Explosions and Goodbye. All the Halo rings can be triggered easily from one location, the Flood spread unchecked, the Covenant have the means to trigger galaxy-wide death, and once allied Forerunner machines turn on the Master Chief (the very worst stuff this is).

    MC blows up the Covenant, the Flood, and the Halo ring activation, but his allies think he’s dead (they say “goodbye” to his memory) and Cortana needs to freeze him (they’re both lost in space indefinitely).In a meta sense, the original creators of the franchise (Bungie) say goodbye as they cease work on further Master Chief stories.

Final Thoughts

Yes, Halo games follow basic Campbell-like monomyth story structure. For example, Fight Off and Crash is a crossing of the threshold where return is impossible.

However, the Master Chief games have their own flavor of delivering twists on this plot over and over again. When Master Chief is in a Halo story, a person must expect the presentation to conform to the pattern. There will otherwise be consequences (e.g. low Metacritic scoring).

Metacritic is also only semi-useful as a quantitative correlator to narrative conformance. The score takes into account many things, including mechanics and features, which muddle the narrative analysis. If there’s a better scoring system discovered or proposed, it will be used.

For now, it is plain that each Halo title featuring the Master Chief has to follow each beat of the 6-points in itself, the beat of where the title is in the franchise, and where the title is in its own trilogy.

With these conclusions, other titles can be analyzed, improvements put forward, and predictions made to what may be the final title in the Master Chief saga, Halo Infinite.

See these 6-points applied by rewriting Halo 4.

See these 6-points applied by rewriting Halo 5.

See these 6-points applied by writing Halo 6 before any release.

And that’s the intro! Halo 4‘s analysis is coming next, along with 5 and 6 (this may be the upcoming Halo Infinite, but I’ve yet to decide if we’ll keep the naming conventions). Keep an eye out! Cheers ~

Thinking About Trivial Conflict

After seeing Avengers: Endgame and a pivotal episode of Game of Thrones last week, I come away awestruck by the scope of the conflicts.

One deals with half of all beings in the universe (the universe) dying; the other, a seemingly unkillable king of the dead wages war against the living in a hellish blizzard.

It makes superheroes punching each other (Avengers) or bickering about who owns which castle (GoT) just seem… So trivial.

Let’s also take a look at a few other hugely-grossing conflicts:

Yet, our personal stories are still about nations at war, gangsters and the law, the fly in our soup.

We know the vastness that lays before us in the future. With this prescience that extends from the outcome of our own lives to the outcome of our world and species, what are we doing with what is objectively trivial conflict?

It’s called into question my fascination with big space battles and urban tank fights. These are seemingly trivial.

What is there to do?

I don’t know how to handle a shift in focus on the macro-level, but maybe I can adapt to my own predispositions. It can’t be helped who I am, but I can help what I do in my story creation.

From now on I’ll endeavor to set the stakes before I set the conflict. No more senseless violence – if conflict must be acted on, it must be after all nonviolent approaches have been investigated. Never should conflict be glorified. May a person or force in writing do something barbaric, there will be severe, long-lasting, terrible consequences for all involved. A motive will be considered petty if it’s anything less than meaningful to the entirety of a person’s life. And if I can, at the end, despite any suffering caused or endured, there’ll be evidence that it was worth it, that the universe is one step closer to saving itself from entropy.

I can do something about setting the cultural gaze a little higher, a little farther. If I may, I’d beg you to do the same.

Example of Editing a Warhammer Fan Fic

I’ve a strong attraction to the nature of Game Workshop’s Warhammer 40K universe. They publish hundreds of stories and have the opportunity to make near infinitely more in the universe they’ve created. Heck, even the genre-term “grimdark” spawns from their work.

As I learn to write, here’s an example of editing a bit of fan fiction I wrote for WH 40K two years ago, Unblinking Skitarii. The first 1000 words or so should do it.

Here’s the draft finished July 4th, 2017:

Thumpthumpthumpthump
Thumpthumpthumpthump

Boots pounded deck plate as the Skitarii ran through the halls. The din from outside increased the closer they got to a rip in the alien ship’s hull. Sliding under the tear’s rip, they blurted to each other a timestamp to go on the offensive.

As the milliseconds met the mark, she stepped up to the ledge. As the carbine she’d commandeered rose with her sight, it was unleashing killing rounds before a proper target lock was acquired.

Aim was not a problem for the enemy outside. By sheer luminosity, the volley of return fire nearly blinded the Ranger’s ‘spex. She ducked as florescent green rounds tore chunks out of the opposite wall, sizzling through the air where she’d just been. Where the other Skitarii was still shooting.

Her companion’s helmet exploded to the sound of a tinny smashing of a wet egg. Slack, their rifle clamored to the floor, the body falling heavily.

They had this position zeroed in. She had to keep moving. She checked the communication queue – nothing incoming, and all of her outgoing requests were still pending. Still on her own – no change over the last hour.

Missiles still striking above her, the Ranger picked through the robes of the freshly steaming corpse. Ammo clips: just what was hoped for. Pocketing these, she took off in a crouch.

Thumpthumpthumpthump

Rounding the corner, her processes spiked for a fraction of a second. There, at the end of the corridor, a long, stark skeleton turned slowly to look with dead eye holes at the survivor.

[… 262wc]

I was including sound effects! And what’s a “‘spex”? Clearly, this very early draft was only going line-by-line from a sparse outline. Maybe putting the work through the Hemingway App, Word Count Tools, Word Counter, my own observations, and a writing group unfamiliar with Warhammer can help:

Boots pounded deck plate as a pair of Skitarii ran through the halls. The din from outside increased the closer they got to a rip in the alien ship’s hull. Sliding under the tear’s lip, these cyborgs blurted binary cant to each other: they would take the offensive.

As the milliseconds met their mark, IB-13 stepped up to the ledge. The carbine she’d commandeered rose with her sight. In a moment, it unleashed killing rounds before a target had locked. There would be casualties regardless.

As it was for her, the aim for the enemy was not a concern. By sheer volume, the barrage of return fire nearly blinded the Ranger’s visual receptors. She ducked faster than her original organics could have ever hoped to. Fluorescent green rounds tore chunks out of the opposite wall, sizzling through the air where she’d been. Her comrade IT-X0 was still shooting, taking an extra sixteenth of a second more than their firing solution had provided for.

Her companion’s helmet exploded with a sound of a wet egg. Slack, rifle fallen to the floor, the body fell with a heavy whoosh of cloak and armor.

While missiles struck above her, the Ranger picked through the robes of the fresh corpse. Her calculations for survival increased when ammo clips appeared. Pocketing these, she took off in a crouch.

She wove her way around thieving blue-skinned bodies. Data was the most holy text of the Adeptus Mechanicus technopriests of Mars, cybery the most sacred of tomes for the cyborg Skitarii warriors. These aliens had taken both and paid for it with thousands of lives. They, these “T’au”, had received divine judgement, but now IB-13 had to find a vantage in the crashed tomb. Possibly even a way out.

These silver monstrosities had this position surrounded. IB-13 had reconnoitered the enemy advance with surviving members of the squad. Like ants, they had spilled into the halls, through the deck plating, and translocated in glittery sheens amid the Skitarii’s formations. The Skitarii, living weapons of the Martian Empire, had dissolved into oil-slick smears.

IB-13 took a chance to check her internal network systems. The communication queue held no new messages. All of her outgoing requests were yet pending. No data, no direction, no oversight. On her own for over the last hour. Not even IT-X0 to share processing capacity. Not since the automatons appeared.

She needed to keep moving. Anything with the means of slaughtering her kin would have devices to track a lone warrior in the bowels of a dead ship. Unless the interference was indiscriminate…

The first indication of trouble had been when their dropship lost all communication with the flotilla in orbit. The airwave interference of the vox spread, knocking out dropship-to-dropship traffic. As the strike team made their way inside the downed alien craft, communications with their lander was lost to them as well. Infrared laser messaging, subvocal vibrations, and gestures were all they had left.

Despite a lack of transmission mediums, the cyborgs’ tactical progress couldn’t be hampered over such a meager concern. Regardless of the massive damage to the vessel’s infrastructure, the T’au’s layout remained navigable. It proved too easy when the first booby traps –

Static hissed over IB-13’s network band. It immediately settled into an encrypted invitation for silicon communion. Her rush to respond fouled the first attempt at cracking the lock – something this imprecise would have had the commanding Centurion temporarily deactivate her. A partial lobotomy wouldn’t be out of the question. No matter – her Centurion had evaporated under the snaking tendril of some eldritch energy weapon.

The second attempt bridged the connection. IB-13 felt a flood of information pour through her circuit-fused organics. Cool authority she’d taken for granted from decades of indoctrination calmed nerves in welcome sensation. Out of it all came the glorious figure of an ordained technopriest of Mars, emissary of the Omnissiah’s unknowable will. Though only a mental simulation of a being some unknown distance away, IB-13 had never been more ready and earnest for this connection of the factual, of the Omnissiah’s word in the galaxy.

IB-13, report.

The Skitarii began to dump banks of memory into the thought stream. With only a fractional amount beginning to exload, it was still too much for the tentative link. When the digital form of the technopriest cut out for a moment, the cyborg almost felt the first emotion in half a century: despair.

The Skitarii darted into a crushed hollow that was once a laboratory. Holding position, she focuses all resources to getting the signal back. Hydraulic limbs froze, the respirator switched to blood-oxygen reserves, and pumps cranked to a halt. To any on the outside she would have appeared as a statue of cogs and armor, all shadowed by her tattered crimson cape.

Near-death comatosis was far outweighed by the elation of the return of the network and the priest.

IB-13, have you secured the Standard Template Construct?

The STC had been their target. It and other hyper-computers of its type held the secrets of Humankind’s past. Technologies resided within that could allow crops to grow a hundred times their yield, build vaccines to cure ageless plagues, or unleash terrible weapons of havoc not witnessed for ten thousand years. And it was the Adeptus Mechanicus’s to peerlessly own.

A fleet of warships had stalked the STC and its cowardly burglars across systems. Worlds burned where the T’au’s allies had lain. Finally, the escaping vessel was brought down in this unperturbed planet’s gravity well. She and a hundred other augmented shocktroopers had infiltrated the vessel while another thousand scoured the wastelands outside. All the effort only to have the artifact destroyed by the powers of their current foes of unholy, silver contraption.

[… 956wc]

A bit better here. Can you spot other differences?

Warhammer books share a few things in common: They have lots of fights, the characters never dwell on the fights they’ve had or those that have died, and the prose is as purple as possible (while keeping the language fairly simple).

Let’s see how purple we can get this sample. Buckle-up, this is a long one:

Boots pounded the deck plates as a pair of Skitarii super-soldiers ran through the halls. With the aid of their cybernetic limbs, they rushed through empty corridors of alien design, the charred dust of the former alien owners billowing in their wake. The din from outside increased the closer they got to a rip that stretched for over eighty meters in the ship’s hull. Sliding under the tear’s lip, IB-13 and IT-XH blurted a set of binary queries and replies to each other. With a thousand transactions a second, they needed to agree in the affirmative or negative of the decision before them.

Their delay only came because IB-13, a Ranger meant for more long-range engagements, while IT-XH remained optimized for the more moderate reprisals of the Skitarii Vanguard. It didn’t help that the Vanguard’s natural radiation filled IB-13’s receivers with excess static. After a debate transmitted in seconds that might fill a novel, the numbers aligned: The offensive would be brought to their enemy outside.

IT-XH synced a timer between them. As the milliseconds met their mark, IB-13 stepped up to the ledge in mirror to her last companion. The carbine she’d commandeered from a battle-inoperable Skitarii rose with her augmented sight. In a moment she unleashed killing rounds before a target had been locked. To bend the rules of her ingrained engagement protocols in a normal fight would have required the override of a Skitarii Centurion, leader of an entire cohort of cyborgs. As there was only IB-13 and IT-XH, their own kill-analyses would have to suffice. Regardless, with a ninety-eight-point-seven-nine percent accuracy calculation, their foe would suffer.

As for her aim was of little concern, so too was it for the enemy. Arcs of energy blistered and boiled the ship’s torn hull around IB-13. By sheer volume, the barrage of return fire nearly blinded the Ranger’s visual receptors. She ducked faster than her original organics could have ever hoped to as the shots crept towards her. Fluorescent green rounds tore chunks out of the opposite wall, sizzling through the air where she’d been.

Her comrade IT-XH was still shooting, taking an extra sixteenth of a second more than their firing solution had provided for.

IT-XH’s helmet exploded with a sound of a wet egg. The explosion flung cranial fluid and shards of steel scattering around the hall. Something wet and gooey splattered on IB-13’s cloak. To her the projectile posed no threat of damage to her systems.

Slack, IT-XH’s rifle fell to the floor with a clatter covered by the sound of eldritch energies scything overhead. The body fell with a heavy whoosh of cloak and armor. If IB-13 had the ability to smell in the traditional human way, a sense lost sometime during her innumerable operations to become a Skitarii, the stench of burnt rubbers and tang of carbonized metal would have been logged as a telltale of their enemy’s presence.

While missiles struck above and around her, the Ranger picked through the smoldering robes of the fresh corpse. That she and IT-XH had logged thousands of hours in operation together, that now the Vanguard was so much a pile of meat and wires gave her no pause. Their mission was still not complete. It was the Will of the Omnissiah, the dual-faceted god of the Skitarii as it was with all branches of the Adeptus Mechanicus, that a report be made of their findings inside the crashed vessel. The battle data alone dictated that she must survive at all costs. She discovered ammo magazines in a titanium corded pocket. Her calculations for expected lifespan ticked-up another notch. Adding these to a digital inventory, she took off in a crouch.

Another hall held more than the last one. The Ranger wove her way around blue-skinned bodies splayed haphazardly around doors and consoles. Some clawed at locked doors. Others held their throats. It didn’t take IB-13’s post-human abilities of deduction to conclude that these “T’au” had suffocated. They likely died long before the vessel’s crash, though she couldn’t be precise. The Adeptus Mechanicus fleet had been in pursuit for an unacceptably long time.

Data was the most holy property of the Adeptus Mechanicus technopriests of Mars, cybery the most sacred of study for the cyborg Skitarii warriors. These aliens, these thieves, had taken both and paid for it with thousands of their lives. The T’au had received divine judgement, but now IB-13 had to find a vantage. Possibly even a way out.

It seemed a maze. The T’au warship was a behemoth run through by the guns of the Adeptus Mechanicus in their weeks-long pursuit. Corridors collapsed into others, doors remain locked while other holes cleared entire decks. The wreckage acted as a tomb now for human cyborgs and T’au crew alike. And it was only the fault of the blue-skins daring to pull off a swindle of such proportions.

Now the silver monstrosities outside had this position surrounded and infiltrated. IB-13 had reconnoitered the enemy advance with surviving members of the Skitarii retrieval squads. Like ants, the foe had spilled into the halls, through the deck plating, and translocated in glittery sheen amid the Skitarii’s formations. The Skitarii, living weapons of the Martian Empire, fighting with whirling blades of supersonic titanium and coursing lightning guns, had dissolved into oil-slick smears.

IB-13 took a chance to check her internal network systems. The communication queue held no new messages. All of her outgoing requests were yet pending responses. No data, no direction, no oversight. On her own for over the last hour. Not even IT-XH functioned to share processing capacity. Not since the automatons appeared.

A hatch led down and the Ranger took it. She needed to keep moving. Anything with the means of slaughtering her kin like so many herdstock would have devices to track a lone warrior in the bowels of a dead ship. Maybe the interference preventing her signals didn’t discriminate the ambushers too. IB-13 had to optimize for that possibility. It was the only one that predicted her being alive after more than a few minutes.

The first indication of trouble had been when their dropship lost all transmissions with the flotilla in orbit. The airwave interference of the vox spread, knocking out dropship-to-dropship traffic. As the strike team made their way inside the downed alien craft, communications with their lander was lost to them as well. Infrared laser messaging, subvocal vibrations, and gestures were all they had left while they sought out the T’au’s holds.

Despite a lack of transmission mediums, the cyborgs’ tactical progress couldn’t be hampered over such a meager concern. Regardless of the massive damage to the vessel’s infrastructure, the Skitarii scouted through the mess. By a navigable route the database of Adeptus Mechanicus was uncovered. It proved too easy.

Foul booby traps secreted from the Skitarii’s scanners triggered at the first contact with the database. Explosions ripped through both skinny Infiltrators and armored Vanguards. The Ranger groups fared little better. IB-13 held the rearguard, thus survived to witness the carnage that came immediately after the destruction of the data. At least the information was no longer in filthy xenos hands. Better forgotten than perverted outside the Omnissiah’s intentions.

IB-13 nearly tripped as static hissed over the Skitarii network band. It immediately settled into an encrypted invitation for silicon communion. Transferring all secondary processing to the receiver, her rush to respond fouled the first attempt at cracking the lock – something this imprecise would have had the commanding Centurion temporarily deactivate her. A partial lobotomy wouldn’t be out of the question, though at least that would bestow additional circuitry to the Ranger. No matter – her Centurion had evaporated under the snaking tendril of some unclassified alien energy weapon.

Her second attempt bridged the connection. IB-13 felt a flood of information pour through her wire-fused organics. Authority she’d taken for granted from decades of indoctrination calmed nerves in welcome, cooling sensation. Out of it all came the glorious figure of an ordained technopriest of Mars, emissary of the Omnissiah’s unknowable will. They were garbed in flowing robes of red and white, outlined in ever-churning data exloads. On their head was a cap, tall and high which obscured from view sensors and devices the Ranger could only speculate at. In the pitch dark of the hood whirled the spectacles that poured what they saw into the algorithms crafted by the Omnissiah itself. Though only a mental simulation of a being some unknown distance away, IB-13 had never been more ready and earnest for this connection of the factual, of the Omnissiah’s word-made-digital in the galaxy.

IB-13, report.

The Skitarii began to dump banks of memory into the thought stream. With only a fractional amount beginning to exload, it was still too much for the tentative link. When the digital form of the technopriest cut out for a moment, the cyborg almost felt the first emotion in half a century: despair.

The Skitarii darted into a crushed hollow that was once a laboratory. Inside lay cracked workbenches, punctured pressure tanks, and other detris. It didn’t matter. Only the connection mattered.

Holding position, she focuses all resources to getting the signal back. Hydraulic limbs froze, the respirator switched to blood-oxygen reserves, and pumps cranked to a halt. To any on the outside she would have appeared as a statue of cogs and armor, all shadowed by her tattered crimson cape.

Near-death comatosis was far outweighed by the elation of the return of the network and the priest. This time, the mental image downgraded from its previous glory to a pixelated silhouette of muted hues and indistinct shapes. It shimmered as it sent meaning to her.

IB-13, have you secured the Standard Template Construct?

The STC had been their target. It and other hyper-computers of its type held the secrets of Humankind’s past. Their manufacture came in a time of darkness when Humanity sent its envoys into the void of the galaxy without knowledge of the Omnissiah. A dark age. The Omnissiah nevertheless bestowed sacred knowledge even to those that were ignorant of what they held. Technologies resided within STC’s that could allow crops to grow a hundred times their yield, build vaccines to cure ageless plagues, erect cities kilometers high on worlds made ripe by STC terraforming, or the knowledge could unleash terrible weapons of havoc not witnessed for ten thousand years. And it was the Adeptus Mechanicus’s duty and privilege to peerlessly own.

IB-13 didn’t need to know how to operate an STC. Doing so would be a terrible heresy. Only the priesthood, and even then a small selection of the ordained, could enact the proper rights of access. IB-13 only needed to claim items like the STCs for the glory of Mars.

That was why this theft was of such a terrible nature. A fleet of warships had stalked the STC and its cowardly burglars across systems. Worlds burned where the T’au’s allies had lain. Finally, the escaping vessel was brought down in this unperturbed planet’s gravity well. IB-13 and a hundred other augmented shocktroopers had infiltrated the craft imprisoning the STC while another thousand scoured the wastelands outside. All the effort only to have the artifact destroyed…

[… 1865wc]

Wow. Double word count just by describing more things. However, this isn’t just filler for filler’s sake. I go into more detail about how the main character IB-13 feels (or doesn’t) and why. What fighting is already there I add more too. As it comes to the Black Library (publishers of Warhammer novels and operated by Games Workshop), adjectives, metaphors, and even similes aren’t to be feared.

An outline to first draft leaves much to be desired, though it’s some flesh on the outline’s bones. The next work is to fill in the body of the piece with characters and settings and maybe something of a plot. Clean it up through your own edits, online tools, and peer groups. Lastly, if writing for Games Workshop and the Black Library, purple that’d get Barney blushing must be added.

What’s missing? Without special expectation for Warhammer or fan fiction, how do you edit? Anywho, let me know if you’d like to see more on this Unblinking Skitarii story.