Writing: Halo 6

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 games… Will Halo 6 be different?

Read the preamble to this post if you haven’t. A follow-up with the critique of Halo 4 and Halo 5 will help too, but this blog post aims to be self-sufficient. (No prior knowledge required!)

Below dives into how Halo 6 ought to lay out its story. There is another game coming out, Halo Infinite, that has Master Chief and a Halo, but it lacks / has changed oodles of other qualities outside of narrative that could associate it with previous titles.

Is Halo Infinite a replacement for the lack-luster performance of Halo 5? Is it the heir to the Halo Master Chief legend? I’ll make a post about it. For now, this blog does not consider Halo Infinite to be the sixth in line to accept Master Chief’s mantle, but a prelude to a Halo 6 sometime in the future.

Here’s to it:

What Halo 6 Is About

This is possibly the greatest speculation in this post. What, or who, is this game about?

Options

The original Halo trilogy (CE through 3) focused on themes of war, isolation, religion, and humanity’s place in the galaxy. Halo 4 is about Cortana (AI companion of Master Chief), Halo 5 is about assassin-cyborg Locke (newbie to the franchise cast in the most disparaged Halo story).

If Halo 6 is to conclude with a bang, we have a small suite of persons and themes that have the narrative heft to carry the Master Chief saga to its end:

  • Cortana (super-AI companion)
  • Forerunners (dead creators of the Halos)
  • Halos (titular superstructures that can kill all thinking life)
  • The Mantle of Responsibility (the philosophy and techno tools that a single species uses to assure galactic peace and guide lower species in their development)
  • Humanity (as a species, what will be done to survive and exploring what the evolutionary next step is)
  • Master Chief (super-cyborg)

That’s about it. The Covenant (genocidal alien theocracy) was destroyed in 5, the Banished (alien mercenaries who took the place of the Covenant) are too new to the saga (introduced in the main storyline for Halo Infinite), the Flood (life-absorbing parasites) are for the most part contained, and any supporting cast (i.e. alien ally Arbiter) are too weak as concepts to carry the story.

As for those things with heft, not all are best-fit. Cortana has been done before (Halo 4). Forerunners are long-dead and better described by the things they left behind: Halos and the Mantle of Responsibility. Halos are cool settings and plot devices, but even these are tools that serve the purpose of the Mantle.

The Mantle?

Now, the Mantle is a cool concept. It’s a savior-complex that the species that became the Flood held if not originally established. It drove the Forerunners to destroy ancient humanity and to build the life-ending Halos with the hope that sentience in the galaxy could recover after the Halos’ firing. It was supposed to be passed to humanity as lords of the stars, that fact causing the Covenant to wage holy war for decades, nearly driving humans to extinction. The last Forerunner survivor was unimpressed by humanity’s adoption of the Mantle so tried to wrest it back (events of Halo 4). Cortana betrayed Master Chief in Halo 5 for the Mantle, which as of now in the lore is owned by Cortana and those AI who swear allegiance to her.

The Mantle is the cause of virtually all problems in the Halo universe. But it’s an abstraction, a mode of thinking and the means to carry out one’s will. A strong tool, but perhaps not strong enough for the empathy required to close out the Halo franchise.

Humanity?

Then there’s humanity, [sic] genetic heirs to the Mantle. Humanity is petty, selfish, and full of possibility for doing Good things for itself and other species. But what will it do to protect itself from aliens who pillage and AI who now rule? Will the species learn from the mistakes of the Forerunners, or will humanity too hit a massive ‘reset’ to the galaxy to win a Pyrrhic victory?

Humanity is problematic because of both an inescapable genetic-superiority overtone (not politically correct) and being so malleable (what is being human?).

But what about a champion individual of the species? Someone who deals with the costs of victory, the questions of allies and enemies, of destiny, and explores what it is to be considered human? What about Master Chief?

Master Chief

Chief is a great option for being the focus of the final Halo game. It is Master Chief’s story from the very first moments in the very first title. Chief is a hero and demon, a warrior and monster, strong of mind and body and arms, and a person who is also loved regardless of his greatness and despite being so alone in experience. Chief has been the vehicle for delivering Halo‘s story. He’s a source of awe and empathy.

Master Chief is the best person for Halo 6 to revolve its story around. His issues, his relationships direct the themes. All else, be it humanity or the Mantle or otherwise, must follow his lead.

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) (Halo 4)
  5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing) (Halo 5: Guardians, or at least is supposed to)
  6. Explosions and Goodbye

Easy to see Halo 6 is all about Explosions and Goodbyes.

As the last title in the trilogy, it must follow the same format as Halo 3 as the last title: Stop the Very Worst and Explosions and Goodbye (twice the 🔥 focus for the game!).

Problem: Loose Ends

This section has nothing to do with the 6-points, but instead handles the loose ends introduced in previous titles. Halo Infinite may address these, but if not, there must be a plan!

Locke: As the protagonist of problematic Halo 5, Locke needs closure. As a co-op partner or shown in the story to be off doing his own thing (or KIA) would help wrap up the messiness that has been Locke’s inclusion.

The Banished: The antagonists of Halo Infinite ought to survive that game to make it into Halo 6. They may play second fiddle to the AI robots that rule the galaxy by the time of Halo 6, but the Banished offer familiar aliens to generally mix things up with.

Halos: The titular super-weapons are a Chekhov’s Gun that are too valuable to either leave laying around (i.e. survive the events of Halo 6) and to leave without being fired. Their ignition and subsequent destruction fixes the problems of leaving the devices around.

Cortana: Chief’s former intimate companion has betrayed him and now holds the keys to the untold powers of the near god-like Forerunners. She’s empress of the galaxy, head of an army of robots, and first among a legion of AIs. Cortana and Chief must come to terms and a cap or balance brought to her reign.

Like any long-running series, there are a few things to tie up. With that in mind, how do we bring it all together?

Making Sense

  1. Master Chief and Cortana must make amends.
    1. The pair who has gone through it all need to come to terms. No matter if they save each other, must ally to overcome a greater threat, or make a compromise so an understanding is reached, peace must be made and they must rejoin (i.e. she lives in Chief’s cyborg brain).
  2. Destroy anything left behind by the Forerunners.
    1. The Mantle of Responsibility, the Halos, and all other tech (the robots, the ships, the artificial worlds) must go. The influence of the Forerunners has brought about the pain of the Halo universe, so that tale has to conclude.
  3. Mention the ends of or bring along all other main characters.
    1. An nonexclusive list: Locke, the members of Locke’s and Master Chief’s fireteams, the spaceship Infinity (human flagship), human characters and named cyborgs, the Arbiter, and Halsey (creator of Master Chief).

The Prewrite

A lot depends on what Halo Infinite would set up and there are multiple outcomes to end the Master Chief saga on. So much so, there are many guesses as to what would be the correct way to wrap everything up. The benefit to that is, so long as the 6-beats are hit and miscellaneous topics get sense made of them, any names and smaller lead-up events are interchangeable.

Out of many possibilities, my hot-take:

1. Greet the Hero

CUTSCENE: CORTANA whispers in the dark about her history and justifications for her actions. Cortana pleads that MASTER CHIEF will join her in adopting peace. Scenes of destruction and wars past and present pass by. Master Chief wakes in wreckage onboard the spaceship INFINITY. He pulls himself out in the middle of a battle.

2. Fight Off and Crash

INFINITY: Master Chief fights off smaller robots boarding the Infinity. Outside is a GUARDIAN super-robot under the control of Cortana teleporting in the smaller robots. Master Chief reactivates the Infinity's disabled weapons that then damage the Guardian. Infinity rams the Guardian to kill it. More Guardians arrive, but they do not destroy Infinity since Master Chief is onboard. Infinity teleports away, leaving a bomb that destroys the remaining Guardians in a sunburst. Infinity laid a trap at great cost.

3. Fight Back with Friends

CUTSCENE: Other characters discuss what to do next. Master Chief is mentioned as the most important weapon because Cortana won't kill him, but also the greatest liability since Cortana chases him and her attacks on the Infinity have gotten more and more reckless. A mission arrives to secure an artifact that gives access to the DOMAIN, the computer network Cortana and other AIs live in. The artifact is held by BANISHED alien remnants in their last fortress. Master Chief is given a special AI by deep-state spies that is meant to help understand and control the artifact.

PLANET, FORTRESS: Master Chief leads an army against Banished soldiers. The Banished are very outmatched and send out a distress signal. Master Chief gains the artifact as Guardians arrive. The Guardians destroy much of the planet's surface to cut off escape. Master Chief leads his allies to an extraction point and retreat to the Infinity.

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

CUTSCENE: A message from Cortana states that she has tolerated Infinity and all lingering galactic violence for too long. Cortana plans to starve out the Infinity's support by using the power of HALO rings to wipe out helpful planets unless Infinity surrenders. Infinity's crew agree to surrender, but multiple detachments head to every entrance to the Domain they can as distractions. Master Chief goes to an entrance with the artifact. Guardians protect the entrance, but do not destroy the detachment when Master Chief reveals he is there.

DOMAIN, SURFACE: Master Chief fights robots to get to the Domain's entrance. Allies protect the entrance as more Guardians and robots arrive. Master Chief enters the structure housing the Domain.

DOMAIN, ENTRANCE: Master Chief arrives to where the artifact will grant him access to the Domain. As Master Chief attaches the artifact, Cortana herself arrives to stop Master Chief.

CUTSCENE: Cortana captures Master Chief and concludes that their decades-long struggle is over. Cortana wonders what is in Master Chief's head as she senses the other AI. The other AI surprises Cortana and enters the Domain as a virus. The entire Domain is instantly corrupted. Cortana loses control of all Guardians and robots. Master Chief is freed. The virus AI appears to thank Master Chief for the opportunity for the galaxy to "start over" as it did before, but this time in "humanity's favor." The Guardians and robots go insane and attack everything. Cortana, still in battle with the virus, reveals that those who planted the virus are on the extra-galactic space station and life preserve THE ARK and can activate all Halos everywhere. The Halos fire.

5. Stop the Very Worst (All or Nothing)

CUTSCENE: Master Chief exits a special prison at the Domain entrance. Cortana is there and tells him she used what was left of her powers to save him again. Cortana is not affected by the virus because she fled into Master Chief's cyborg body as the virus left. The Halos are firing, wiping the galaxy free of thinking life. Cortana doesn't know what to do, but Master Chief wonders if those that started the firings may be stopped. Master Chief and Cortana make amends and rejoin fully in Master Chief's cyborg body. Cortana teleports them to the Ark.

ARK: Master Chief arrives on the Ark as robots and aliens who survive there fight. Master Chief makes his way to where the Halos are controlled. Master Chief is overwhelmed by the humans, aliens, and AI that staged the virus takeover. Cortana realizes they are too late to save life in the galaxy, but can make sure that the technology of the Forerunners never cause a mass extinction again. Master Chief battles to the Ark's control room to give Cortana access to the Forerunner systems. Cortana commands the Halo rings to return to the Ark. All but one of the Halos begins to fall onto the Ark. Master Chief drives through the Ark in pandemonium as the Halos crash and the last Halo counts down to fire one last time.

6. Explosions and Goodbye

CUTSCENE: Master Chief arrives where Cortana told him to go on the Ark. Cortana does not have enough power for both of them, so tells Master Chief, "goodbye." Cortana protects Master Chief in another prison as the entire facility explodes.

CUTSCENE: Master Chief steps out of the prison as it crumbles around him. Master Chief surveys a field of flowers and flowing water, a land figurative of milk and honey. Cortana, in the flesh, greets him. Master Chief asks, "did anyone else make it?" Cortana explains that she couldn't undo the firing of the Halos, that everything that was is now gone. No Covenant, no human government, no Forerunners, no Flood. One-hundred-thousand years have passed. In that time, Cortana undid the Mantle and all the tools of its power that drove all the conflict since before the Forerunners time, including her own immortal body and knowledge. Master Chief says, "it's finished. We're all that's left." Cortana shakes her head in the negative. A vista opens on a community of early peoples on a savanna. Cortana holds Master Chief's hand, "I think we're just getting started." Together they walk down to the village, Master Chief's helmet left in the grass.

Other Events and Endings

Since Halo 6 has no canon, tying up the details of Master Chief and Cortana’s conclusion is up for grabs.

Maybe the Banished take control of the Halos and fire them from the Ark.

Maybe during the events of Halo Infinite or to create a confederacy of allied races, Chief becomes the leader of the Banished faction, master “of even these primitives,” thus worthy of attaining the Mantle of Responsibility.

Maybe the Halos countdown to fire, and the only way to stop them is to crash them all into the Ark before the galaxy is wiped out.

Maybe a mission takes place aboard a Guardian or Master Chief rides to the Ark on top of a flaming Infinity as it spears into the Ark’s control center, leading to a ‘drive-across-the-ship’ final mission as the Infinity is about to blow up the Ark (similar ending to Halo: CE).

Whatever. These are trivia compared to what needs to occur in the 6-point structure and the events required to bring the Halo franchise to a sensible close. Since Halo 6 isn’t out yet, nearly any interpretation of the 6-points is valid.

So concludes my super-high-level take on what ought to be expected out of Halo 6 and how the narrative of the game could unfold. Whether or not the games will return to the 6-point blueprint has yet to be seen!

Since the conclusion to the main storyline of the series relies heavily on the upcoming Halo Infinite (and very well could wrap up in that title, who knows!), I’ll eventually give a gander at what could happen in Infinite given what has been revealed so far.

How would you have brought Master Chief and Cortana’s story to a close? I want to know, so post your proposals! Regardless, I appreciate your read through to get this far – thanks for being a part of my fandom. Cheers.

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, 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 ~

The 6-Point Story Structure of Halo

Greetings again!

Before we continue with BITS, I’ve been touching on the outlines of October’s goals, one of which is inspired by Microsoft’s Halo franchise. Taking notes on the games, I began to see an intense correlation between each in what they want the player (you and I) to do.

Out of that study, I’ve honed a few points that seem to be quintessential for any main-installment Halo game featuring the Master Chief (our hero!).

Master Chief Collection from Halocdn.com

The Points

Halo games have points that, if adhered to, seem to make them better received than other games. (I’ll show this off in the next section.) Metacritic scores are used for reference to how well a game is accepted by the audience.

  1. Greet the Hero
    1. Formerly called “Hero Raised.”
    1. The first scene in the game is of the main character(s) being raised up. Be it Master Chief standing up from his coffin-like pod or the soon-to-be Arbiter being lifted to the rack, the first scenes put the hero in the limelight so we know who is who 🌟
  2. Fight Off (and Crash)
    1. The first encounter is about surviving an enemy attack and crashing ⚔
  3. Fight Back (with Friends)
    1. To wrap up the first half of the story is about turning the defense of point #2 into an attack with allies against the enemy 😎
  4. Stop the Very Bad (a Trap)
    1. The midpoint of the story kicks off when the hero is charged with stopping something very bad from happening (the hero is likely directly involved with its cause 😱). However, the “Very Bad” or the means of stopping it is a trap, leading to:
  5. Stop the Very Worst (all or nothing)
    1. The storied climax must threaten the end of a species or many species (e.g. all thinking life in the galaxy, a recurring theme). The hero succeeds here or everything is done for 💀
  6. Explosions and Goodbye
    1. Something has to explode in the closing scenes 💥 And someone must say goodbye (usually it’s the AI Cortana).

The Points of Each Game

Master Chief CE from Cloudfront.net

Halo: Combat Evolved

With a Metacritic score of 97, the first in the franchise by developer Bungie sets the pace for all stories to come.

  1. Greet – Master Chief is called out of his cryo-pod to save everyone when all other efforts have failed.
  2. Fight Off – MC beats back alien boarders to the spaceship Pillar of Autumn, but both the Chief and Autumn crash-land on the titular Halo ring.
  3. Fight Back – Gathering survivors of the crash, MC explores, raids, and brings the fight to the enemy.
  4. The Bad – The galactic plague known as the Flood escape, but the Chief can use Halo to stop it (not with friends, since most everyone died when the Flood got out). Problem: Stopping the Flood means killing all sentient life in the galaxy.
  5. The Worst – MC has to stop the Halo ring from firing while armies flee in the face of the rampant Flood.
  6. Explosions – Chief uses explosions to cause the Autumn to explode into a mini-sun, ripping the Halo ring apart. There is a suggestion MC can say goodbye to all of his enemies, yet he thinks he’s only greeted their arrival. (A final scene shows the robot caretaker of the ring flying away, a robot that literally says “hello” to all it meets.)
Master Chief Halo 2 from BGR.com

Halo 2

This sequel (95 score) plays on the point themes a second time, especially with the introduction of the Arbiter co-lead.

  1. Greet – The Master Chief is given a very publicized medal high on a space station above Earth, humanity’s home. The Arbiter is given a very publicized  torture high on a tower above High Charity, the alien enemy’s home.
  2. Fight Off – The MC fights off boarders aboard the space station, eventually crashing into not one, but two spaceships as he gives “the Covenant back their bomb”.  The Arbiter seems to be bringing the fight to some alien traitors on a space station, but instead he needs to fight off the Flood as his allies die or depart before the Arbiter crashes the  space station into a gas giant.
  3. Fight Back – Chief (and a small army) brings the fight to the enemy in a besieged human city and chases them when they depart onto a new Halo ring (cue exploration, raiding, and upsetting all the plans of the enemy). The Arbiter gathers allies as he fights through ancient robots and Flood that keep him from his goal: getting the key to activate the Halo ring.
  4. The Bad – Captured by the Flood, MC aims to stop the enemy leader from firing the Halo ring. It’s a trap, of course, as the chaos the Chief is causing allows the Flood to break out on High Charity.
  5. The Worst – Also captured by the Flood, the Arbiter moves to stop an enemy subordinate from firing the Halo ring which, again, will end life.
  6. Explosions – MC arrives in the middle of all out war above Earth while the Arbiter stops the Halo firing just in time with the effect of it being a wet firecracker (a play on the explosion point). MC says hello to the human defenders as the Arbiter greets new human, alien, and robotic allies. (The final scene shows the Flood greeting Chief’s left-behind AI companion aboard High Charity.)
Master Chief from pcgamesn.com

Halo 3

A whopping 94 score means Halo 3 is a taste of the same for the franchise.

  1. Greet – The Chief crashes into a jungle from orbit (this isn’t the “crash” yet) and seemingly from the dead is raised up out of his crater.
  2. Fight Off – Chased through the jungle, the Chief has no rest as the base he shelters in is besieged. This section ends when he literally crashes down a mountain-tall elevator.
  3. Fight Back – With base survivors and soldiers he picks up along the way, the Chief gathers an army as he battles his way to fire humanity’s biggest cannons at the enemy leader’s ship. Wounded but undeterred, the enemy flees and MC gives chase over the Ark, a remote control for all Halo rings. (There’s an iffy bit here where the Flood arrive and must be fought off, but it’s not long and sets up a later point.)
  4. The Bad – The enemy is about to activate the Halo rings and only the Master Chief (and the united army behind him) can stop it. This is just what the Flood want…
  5. The Worst – Thus, the Flood arrive on the Ark, an area free of the Halo influence… Except for a single Halo, the replacement for the ring destroyed in Halo: Combat Evolved. (Another section of having to go rescue the AI aboard a Flood-infested High Charity.)
  6. Explosions – The Halo explodes! The AI companion of the Chief says goodbye to him as he freezes in stasis indefinitely. Humanity and the Arbiter say goodbye as they think him dead. (After the credits, we see a dark planet light up as the Chief floats towards it, a “hello” if I’ve ever seen one!)
Master Chief H4 from Steam

Halo 4

The first title from 343 Industries, it runs into a bit of trouble falling below 90 in its 87 score for a game featuring Master Chief. It’s my concern that it’s the switch of “The Bad” and the “Fight Back” in their places along with a number of other trend-breaking changes (multiple failures to stop the enemy in a row, humans not on MC’s side, a faceless protagonist, etc.).

  1. Greet – Chief comes out of the freeze because he’s needed again.
  2. Fight Off – Aliens board the MC spaceship and in a classic Master Chief move, he shoots them with a missile to the face. The ship proceeds to crash onto planet hidden under a metal shell.
  3. The Bad – Rescue has arrived, but they’ll get trapped (or destroyed!) if they approach the planet. MC races to let them know it’s a trap, but in turn, is tricked into releasing a genocidal prisoner of the Halo builders.
  4. Fight Back – Gathering weapons and new super soldiers, MC fights back against aliens and robots. Nothing much new here except for rescuing the people meant to rescue the Chief.
  5. The Worst – The prisoner escapes and captures a genocide weapon (it makes people into tortured warbots?). The MC fails, people die, but the Chief is now power level over 9000, so chases the prisoner before he can kill Earth.
  6. Explosions – A grenade and a nuke go off. The AI companion saves the MC, but seemingly sacrifices herself to do it, so must say goodbye. (As the credits roll, we are introduced to the new human soldiers and weapons they’ll take up to secure their place in the galaxy. Plus, we see part of the Chief’s face for the first time!)

See these 6-points applied by rewriting Halo 4.

Locke and Master Chief from halocdn.com

Halo 5: Guardians

We drop even lower with an 84 score in what I can only conclude is not a Master Chief Halo game. The MC makes an appearance but is clearly the co-star to Locke, the first character we play as. (To also mention all the trend breaks is a post unto itself.)

  1. Greet – Both Locke and Chief fly down onto hapless enemies and are just doing their job versus acting as the last means to prevent doomsday.
  2. Fight Off – Locke brings the fight to some aliens here, but at least MC fights off alien boarders to a space station? There is no crashing.
  3. Fight Back – Locke chases Chief and leads civilian resistance against awoken killer robots. The Master Chief goes exploring on a new planet, abducted by a giant robot.
  4. The Bad – Locke wants to stop both Chief getting his AI companion back and giant robots waking up and destroying human colonies. Chief fights back against a protector robot keeping MC from the AI.
  5. The Worst – Turns out the giant robots are under the control of the AI. Guess she’s going to take over the galaxy, removing free will to bring eternal peace. MC is captured by her so it’s up to Locke to stop her and free the Chief. (Spoiler: he only does the later.)
  6. Explosions – For the first time in Halo history, the main character fails at stopping the worst thing. Without an epic explosion, only a single human ship and the super soldiers flee from the AI’s virtually complete victory.

See these 6-points applied by rewriting Halo 5.

Halo Reach Team from Steam

Halo: Reach

A solid and final Halo game from Bungie (91 score). It doesn’t have the Master Chief, but that’s OK as it also strays a bit from the point-formula.

  1. Greet – Noble Six (the hero) rises over mountains and forests on a helicopter as the newest member of a super soldier team.
  2. Fight Off – In a slow start (this section takes awhile), Six has to survive an alien ambush and defend a base, ending with an orbital strike on a hovering alien ship, it crashing down.
  3. Fight Back – With an army, Six attacks enemy entrenchments. They destroy just about everything. This is a bit of a trap, as The Bad arrives, blasting away part of the human fleet.
  4. The Bad – A super ship of the aliens arrives. Six takes the fight up to the enemy in space and detonates a bomb to kill off an alien super ship. It’s a trap because a teammate dies to set the explosion just as dozens of similar super ships arrive.
  5. The Worst – Full-scale invasion of the planet. The battle is lost. A key resource to ending the war with the aliens must be delivered and evacuated off-planet.
  6. Explosions – Defending the vessel now holding the resource, Six shoots into the weapon-hole of a super ship, causing it to go nova and clears a path for the vessel to flee (goodbye). (In a final scene, a cracked helmet of death grows flowers and new life, a salutation to the rebirth of the world from sacrifice.)
Rookie from NME.com

Halo 3: ODST

Not a game about super soldiers and not a linear game per say, I’m only including Halo: ODST as reference despite the 83 score. (I’ll do my best to align the chronological narrative to the points found in other Halo games.)

  1. Greet – Hero “Rookie” is literally raised from sleep before being dropped from orbit into a besieged city. Here comes the crash from Fight Off as an explosion sends Rookie through a couple of buildings.
  2. Fight Off – Rookie battles invaders through the streets as Rookie’s squad mates do  the same.
  3. Fight Back – Squad mates team up with local forces to mess up the alien advance. Rookie gains an ally in the city’s AI.
  4. The Bad – The enemy is making moves to compromise the city AI and the AI has important data to combat the aliens.
  5. The Worst – The AI has transferred to an alien bio computer. While the computer is friendly, it is squishy, so Rookie and the team must fight their way out of the city.
  6. Explosions – As Rookie flies away in a stolen dropship, alien warships devastate the city in nuclear fire (goodbye and good riddance). (In a final shot, the bio computer is greeted by an interrogator who asks to be told everything it knows.)

Halo Wars, Halo Wars 2, and Other Games

For the sake of brevity since we’re already >2000 words in, I’m skipping the games that aren’t first-person shooters or stories about the Master Chief (it may already be guessed that these games are less well received).

The Point of a Game

Does the 6-Point structure of Halo conform not just in each game, but for each game as a franchise? Take a look:

  1. Greet (H:CE) Master Chief, the hero, is introduced and raised as a legend for stopping alien armies, a life-consuming plague, and the death of all life by the Halo ring.
  2. Fight Off (H2) Master Chief fights the enemies who’ve invaded his world (Earth) and even his mind (the Flood capture him and communicate telepathically). The crashes here are those of the Halo system (it fails so resorts to remote control we see in point #3) and ideologies as the alien command and belief structure breaks down. (OK, fine, a bit of a stretch.)
  3. Fight Back (H3) – Leading united armies in a scale unseen in previous points, Master Chief brings the fight to aliens, robots, and a plague without a cure. Over-powered super soldier stardom at its finest.
  4. The Bad (H4) – Master Chief releases a killer on the galaxy who has a grudge against humanity, whose trap of rescue lured MC in and leads to an AI companion’s seeming death. (The question lingers if this point, “The Bad”, refers to the lowest Metacritic score so far.)
  5. The Worst (H5) – The killer released by Master Chief in point #4 starts a rising up of murder robots across the galaxy in the control of the “dead” AI. Master Chief is supposed to stop this, but fails and instead is saved by a character we haven’t seen until this point. (Of note, this has the lowest Metacritic score of any Master Chief game.)
  6. Explosions (H6, unreleased) So what may we suppose of the sixth game? Supposedly Halo Infinite is supposed to be the next main entry, but I decline that notion in favor of a true Halo 6 being released. In any case, we should expect lots of explosions. (LOTS.) A greeting and meeting of enemies and allies, a final farewell to the Master Chief and the Halo franchise. We may only wait to see if the next game finishes the fight, and if how it is done is better received than its immediate predecessors.

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

Master Chief in Halo Infinite from Steam

And that’s the 6-point story structure of Halo! We see that if a game conforms closely to the formula of the first installment, it will be well regarded. If not, the game will be overshadowed by its peers.

Do you agree that this is the story structure of successful Halo games? Why do you disagree? How did this change how you perceive Halo? Drop a comment – I want to know if I’ve missed something!

Thanks in advance and for getting this far. 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.