Mork Borg – Part 4: A Reckoning

Start at the beginning, or jump to what’s been missed:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of the buried den of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Part 2: Meat and Statues – The trio meet the ruler of the underground complex.

Part 3: Eyes and Ash – Lesdy inadvertently provides the last clue.

Endgame Summary

Over 4 hours of actual play, 3 well-powered characters controlled by 1 player survived by lucky rolls and ingenuity but barely.

There were 15 rooms, 9 Tier 2 enemies (guards and Lesdy; 2 damage, 2 HP, roll 9+ to attack or defend against them), 6 Tier 1 enemies (Lesdy’s aids and the strangling plants), 1 Tier 4 (Fletcher), and 1 uber-Tier Worm that was, sadly, never given the chance to eat a character 😢

Riches and weapons and some Rotblack Sludge were acquired too, but these things may not last long.

BITS Mechanic Changes

I will leave the details to be included in other posts as I continue to develop BITS.

Suffice to say:

    • I combined MB‘s attributes into BITS: Strength and Toughness (Body), Agility (Interaction), and Presence (Thought).
    • Enemies came in the 1-4 difficulty tiers of BITS which also account for their HP and damage.
    • Weapons fit into the BITS categories.
    • HP was limited to 10 for Cat, 6 for Bubble Guy, and 4 for Invisible. (Aiming for about 6.)
    • All random encounters and findings were either rolled for before the game or were pared down to a d6 roll table that fit on half a notecard.
      • Random tables:
        • Bookshelf (in the Library, if searched)
          1. Random Unclean Scroll
          2. Cloud of Dust, +1 IT tests of 30 minutes
          3. Incomprehensible Gibberish Book
          4. Uncontrollable Scream From Characters, -1 T tests until sleep
          5. T1 Knife “Nib”. Leaks ink.
          6. d6 Bag of Coin
        • Junk Search (lots of rubbish in the complex)
          1. Bony Dog Remains, ration for a day
          2. Black Stone Bracelet
          3. d3 Bag of Coin
          4. Urn w/ Fine Powder (roll 9+B or lose d6 HP)
          5. d6: 1-3 Sacred Scroll, 4-6 Small, Nipping Beetle
          6. T3 Crossbow w/ d6 Bolts
        • Corpse Search
          1. Nothing
          2. Bloody Agent Letter (Fletcher knows the characters are coming)
          3. Necklace of Teeth
          4. Hopeless Number of Spiders
          5. Rotblack
          6. d6 Bags of Coin
        • Encounters (only in 3 of the rooms)
          1. 4 T2 Guards
          2. T3 Bone Spider, Surprise, DAdv for 1 hr on successful attacks
          3. 2 T1 Starving Dogs
          4. Agent, starving, tortured. Can tell of the worm.
            (…the below happen only once each if at all…)
          5. T1 Lesdy Spy, gives ‘gift’ that teleports party to Lesdy
          6. Sagsobuth, sells poisons (6 damage, d4 uses), and tube of living wood (rewriting scroll inside); 10 damage split if attacked at all
    • Armor would reduce by 1 point to negate all damage of an attack. 0 for Armor sundered beyond use or as clothing.
    • Critical successes gave an extra action and were more likely on lower-difficulty obstacles.
    • Less of a mechanic, more of an ethic: Don’t include ‘children’ in the game. If someone or something is young, call it that: “youth.” There is virtually no need to ever include children in a game of violence and horror when other means to leave it to player imagination will do.

Impressions and What I Would Change

The game was great! I had so much fun being a first-time full-blown GM. Player C had a great time too, with special compliments to including low-key background music (sad violins) and rockin’ boss-fight beats (Smells Blood on loop).

The biggest piece of improvement feedback came for picking lowest rolls with disadvantage. Player C really did not like that, as even after the first roll all hope could be lost. A real heartbreaker, those!

I understand now that the characters were overpowered as they were able to proceed without caution and given lots of chances for lucky rolls. Further, I took a lot of time drawing the rooms on notecards that would then be a visual indication of what was happening; the map was invaluable, but the time spent certainly had its own value perhaps better spent.

After careful consideration, here is what I would change:

    1. Find a way to lessen or get away from map making without completely relying on the Theater of the Mind (everyone has to imagine where they are and what they see from the GM’s descriptions).
    2. Set player hit points to 2d6, or a generic human to default 6. Too much life allows carelessness and for games to drag on. That, and rebalance some natural weapons and powers (less damage and/or limited use, such as on the magical power Blink).
    3. Leave clues and keys out in a way that all but screams to a player “use me.”
    4. Make Specialties more prevalent. (They give advantage to certain actions and are used to replace ‘class’ in BITS.)
    5. Try something different with advantage and disadvantage. Instead of rolling twice and picking the highest/lowest value, other options: Pure +/- 2 to the roll value; lower/raise the difficulty of the roll; use the highest/lowest die of 2d6 twice; double the effect of any critical rolls; etc.

That’s about it!

Closing Thoughts

Mork Borg is a solid game system. However, I have my doubts about its world and definitely about its first adventure.

I turned what Fletcher was doing into a kingdom-wide problem (Rotblack as a drug) and made ash fall from the sky. How the mission is given to the characters and how Aldor gets handed off also got clarified. The world begins its end at the end of the first mission, not randomly on some day down the line.

As for BITS, I truly feel BITS made the system more straight forward, faster, and no less deadly (ignoring the extra powers I gave the player’s characters). Every conflict of interest is resolved with no more than 2d6, tables are reduced to a d6, random effects and character sheets exist on notecards, and the rest is left to improv.

Bam! First time as an established-game-system GM! First time with Mork Borg! First time giving BITS a full flex as a system and conversion!

I couldn’t be happier for all the fun had and all that was discovered along the way.

Now is the time to take these learnings for application to other BITS games and notes. (And to see if player C will continue their adventures in the current game’s ash-eaten world 😁)

What did you find when you played Mork Borg? Who survived the first dungeon delve? How have you improved your own TT RPG sessions after experiencing them firsthand?

Let me know all that and if you’d like to play in a game using BITS in near-literally any game world you have in mind. I am sure we could whip something up 😉 Cheers to your dice rolls! 🎲🎲

Mork Borg – Part 3: Eyes and Ash

Read part 1 for a synopsis of the Mork Borg game, this story’s start, and part 2 for dangerous encounters:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of the buried den of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Part 2: Meat and Statues – The trio meet the ruler of the underground complex.

Rude Awakening

Something twists and strangles.

The passed-out party awakes to bulbous plants using their roots to dig into skin, vines tangling around necks.

After the initial shock, it should be a cakewalk to snap apart weeds. Yet the first attempt fails. And the second! And…

Health falls. Struggling leads to naught as Invisible, the naturally lowest in health of the group, finally reaches zero hit points. He is on the verge of death, unless something, someone can save him.

Bubble Guy, in the nick-of-time, breaks their bonds. With a free action, Bubble Guy Blinks into the side of Invisible’s murderous creature, knocking it off the helpless companion.

Cat then escapes and together Cat and Bubble Guy pulp to mulch the plants most vile.

Getting Invisible awake again, he has a broken arm and is still on the brink of death. Cat stays with Invisible and purrs (a healing factor for others) while Bubble Guy Blinks rapidly through the complex to find… Anything at this point.

Desperation drives action now.

A woman (not Lesdy) is in Fletcher’s ‘workshop,’ the fires burnt out and Bubble Guy leaves unseen. Through the rooms and halls, bodies are where they were left, doors open where left ajar. However, in the grand dining hall, Lesdy and 2 other women are sitting at the massive table there. Bubble Guy is not so lucky this time and is seen before Blinking away.

Lesdy and the women leave down the dark corridor. Bubble Guy, thinking ahead, activates their Bubble power and follows.

Down the spring door Lesdy’s group climbs. Bubble Guy follows but at such haste, falls down the ladder in the dark and one-handed (the other sustaining the Bubble magic).

Bubble Guy suffers only lite damage from the fall. An aid to Lesdy is not so lucky. Caught between hard rock and the impenetrable Bubble field, momentum carries Guy into the aid, and they squished into stone.

After witnessing their kin’s death, Lesdy and the other woman make greater haste into the greenhouse, daggers drawn, watching their backs.

Lesdy ought to have watched her front.

Cat, hearing the commotion, jumps into a tree before jumping down onto these two returned with weapons out. Without mercy and without words exchanged, Cat slays Lesdy and her ilk.

Breakout!

The trio, now rejoined, searches the corpses for anything useful, as one does. On Lesdy is a pocket full of bleeding eyeballs – large, small, grey, green, blue, brown, utterly black.

Eureka! The characters understand these are eyes for the one-eyed statue they found before.

A short journey later, an eye from the pile gets settled in the stone-king’s socket. With a crack and crumble, the wall behind the characters falls apart, rolling into empty spots in the cobble as by some unseen will.

Within the dreary apartment before hidden is the sought Aldor. The spawn is starved, slightly maddened, desperate for Rotblack, and unwilling to leave.

After what they’ve been through, Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible give but few words before hauling the youth out. Muscling Aldor through the ravages of the complex, Aldor is unable to break free before being matched back to the locked surface gate to a welcoming party… of no-one.

No sound echoes through the falling ashes, no form breaks the smooth monotony of mounded char. As above, so below goes the grey waste endlessly.

The characters barely have time to shrug at each other and rattle the bars before a collection of dark coaches rumble through the drifts.

Sleeker steps out to welcome them and welcome back Aldor. The Shadow King’s favorite rants and rages all for naught as hulking, shapeless things of flickering smoke and shadow guide Aldor into a windowless carriage.

The return of any of the party, not to mention all three, was quite unexpected for Sleeker, especially when the first day waned. So much is the surprise, Sleeker can only give a gift in the moment of the trio’s lives. Should they want more, they perhaps could inquire at the Shadow Keep.

As Sleeker boards the last coach, it has little worry all of them may meet again. After all, the prisoners-turned-heroes-of-the-kingdom have managed to cheat death so far…

The End of Days

Left alone in the falling grey, the characters must delay any decision making once more as the second day passes and darkness begins to settle.

Above, the clouds part to a blacker-than-black sky, a void that touches at the very foundations of one’s soul. From the expanse fall legions of stars that sound like a million million screaming trumpets. Yet all this is forgotten as between the visions seen in the nothingness above and fundamental, undeniable feelings of despair, comes meaning, as prophesied in the holy Calendar of Nechrubel:

OF THOSE WHO BUILD MIGHTILY, STONE BY STONE, SO SHALL THEY FALL, STONE BY STONE.

Divinity has ordained the end is nigh! Thus concludes one of the last days at the death of the world 💀

By sword and fire and word and spell, Cat, Bubble Guy (formerly Untouchable), and Invisible managed to make it back onto the surface of their dying world…

… in time to see a herald sign of the end 🔥🤘💀🤘🔥

Where will the party go next?

That is a story for another time 🙂 What I can do is say to check back next week for Part 4: A Reckoning where I explore what worked (or not) and how that has affected the BITS system of tabletop roleplaying.

Big, big thanks to player C for being exquisite in roleplay, rolling, and patience as we got through a long and deadly adventure ~ Lots of fun in Rotblack Sludge!

See you next week! Cheers to your own dungeon delves 🐉

Mork Borg – Part 2: Meat and Statues

Read up on what the Mork Borg game this is, how it works, and who is trying to survive in the dank and dark:

Part 1: Murder and Worms – Three from death-row scour the rooms and horrors of a buried den, origin of the addictive Rotblack Sludge.

Down the Hall…

A surprise awaits Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible in what appears to be a pump room: four more guards.

Thinking quick, Invisible, still in the hallway, drops weapons and listens unnoticed. Bubble Guy carries the old man, so is in an awkward position. Though Cat can still fight, the band would be vastly overwhelmed.

Using talk, Bubble Guy asks after Aldor. The guards, unimpressed, take Bubble Guy and Cat prisoner. Through a trap door in the same room, all but Invisible are led into parts reeking and sweltering.

Invisible is left behind as the trap shuts. Horror awaits the other two.

Chains with hooked flesh hang from the ceiling, tables crusted with viscera carry jagged implements, fires burn hot in open furnaces, a yawning pit to where the great worm drops from where a wall ought be, and working among it all: a giant of a man, bald and tattooed and sweating, the master of this place, the boss, Fletcher.

Fletcher and Bubble Guy question each other on what they are doing there. With some charisma, Bubble Guy gains Fletcher’s liking after disclaiming any knowledge of Lesdy, the troublesome witch who has been Fletcher’s bane.

Only a minor interruption of Invisible botching a silent entry through the trap door sends two of the guards to investigate. Bubble Guy claiming it is only they and Cat, a deception believed by the boss.

Fletcher continues his work while monologuing the process of creating Rotblack Sludge and the incompetences of the Shadow King. From chains dangled into the depths of the pit, skulls and ribcages are drawn up. Cracking these vessels on his workbench, Fletcher shows off the crystalized black material that is Rotblack.

The drug is a source of control over others for him with the added benefit that users will eventually return to the place it is made. Fletcher emphasizes his points with grand gestures to the dripping pieces hung from the ceiling.

Through the trap door two guards return with word of a massacre of the other guards in the complex. Fletcher turns dark in tone at this not because he now disbelieves his guests, but when he understands that all the meat on those bodies was, with remorse, wasted.

Waste is something Fletcher cannot abide by. No, not at all.

Not. At. All.

Cue the music.

From a furnace Fletcher pulls a white-hot rod out with but one huge hand. From it rattles a fiery chain and the bright, spiked ball of a massive flail.

Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

The flail gently swings in the air.

Bubble Guy puts the old man down, trying to explain away things going awry. A guard points out the sword Bubble Guy carried was one of their own.

Swoosh swoosh swoosh.

Unarmed, surrounded, Cat and Bubble Guy edge away towards the pit. Begging and promises go nowhere.

Swooshswooshswoosh.

Fletcher gags! A chain is tight around his neck! Invisible, high on the giant’s back, causes a distraction to both Fletcher and the guards, letting Cat and Bubble Guy pounce.

The beast of a man Fletcher is hardly harmed by the chain around his trunk of a neck, nor the clawing of a cat, nor an unarmed magician. Yet also Fletcher fails to grab Invisible off his back or Cat off his chest. The guards are hardly about to slash at their leader, so stand at length away from the thrashing melee.

Bubble Guy thinks of what is available… The urn! This is thrown into Fletcher’s face as further distraction, perhaps incurring blindness until something better can be found. Effects are…

Incredible.

The powder is variably poisonous. To Fletcher, it happens to be maximally poisonous in just the same amount as Fletcher has hit points!

(I, the GM, unbelieving that through very rare cases the ‘big boss’ has been downed in one shot,) Fletcher takes a saving action to perhaps retain at least a single hit point from the poison.

In that too, Fletcher fails.

Eyes and nose and teeth and tongue and all things melting from his bones, Fletcher dies horribly on the very floor he had done such wrong over. Cat and Bubble Guy barely escape the collapse. A great gurgling death-cry rises from the pit as the sound of sucking muck deafens the chamber as Fletcher sputters his last.

Prisoners

In short order, the frightened guards are slain one by one. However, the last guard surrenders, offering to tell all!

With him, the trio march through an unexplored room of junk and into what must have been a statue room before its backside collapsed into the pit. The only things there are another door, some scuffed cobblestones, and a monument to a one-eyed king.

Finding nothing but a bloody eye-socket in the room’s statue, the trio head through the far door. There they find a screaming man who attempts to crawl away shrieking.

This distraction gives the former guard a chance to flee back through the statue room. After a messy chase of the crawling man and killing the guard as the guard took the chance to flee, the crawling man calms knowing the trio is not sent from Fletcher nor will they eat him. He lets know he is a Shadow King agent who was the last survivor of his particular group. The rest?

Eaten.

The man is starving and can offer little new information. No child of the King was ever encountered, nor clues to any whereabouts. As the party decides what to do (they have no food to feed the man), the agent dies in the bounty of filth.

Without more clues, the party heads back to the garden to council with Lesdy again. However, only her caldron of roots and mushrooms remains in the garden.

Now sampling the food once before offered, the group regains much of their lost health. Without Aldor, they may not return above. But here below, there is water, food in the garden… Could they live there indefinitely?

A decision for the morrow. As the day wanes, two sleep with a guard, Cat, posted.

Not even the strong Cat can stay awake as the room swims and shimmers before Cat’s very eyes. The stew! The. Stew…

With no guard standing, not even nightmares disturb the company’s slumber, though they are not alone…

Dun dun dun!

Stay tuned for Part 3: Eyes and Ash next week! A… deadly conclusion to the rampages in Mork Borg‘s Rotblack Sludge 🔥🤘💀🤘🔥

Cheers to the grim and the dark ~

Mork Borg – Part 1: Murder and Worms

Long after the Halloween when I had the privilege of Game Moderating the grimdark OSR Mork Borg tabletop roleplaying game, I share with you what went on, the changes made, and how I made it fit the BITS RPG ruleset!

Right to it:

What is Mork Borg?

MB is a grimdark rules-lite game that takes place in a dying world. As mentioned in a post about RPG modes of play, this game “lets players know and know often that their fumbling is pathetic” when compared with the horrible troubles of the world.

There is great strangeness in MB. There are great monsters and great despair. All of these are included in the sample dungeon-delving scenario provided with Mork BorgRotblack Sludge.

This is the game I (Game) Moderated on the all too appropriate Halloween 🎃🔪

Who Played

Other than myself as GM, there was only player C who knew nothing of TT RPGs. Because the starting scenario didn’t include an estimate of how many player characters should be involved, I delved into other plays of the scenario posted online.

It came down to about six randomly created characters were needed to have just a few survive the adventure.

Because C had no experience with RPGs, I’d create characters they could choose from, including based on character types they’d be most interested in playing as. Further, to be kinder for a first-time experience with RPGs, I made it my duty to make these characters heroic:

    • The Cat – Based on the the large cat from Dungeons & Dragons, this character was a fury of claws and teeth and too many hit points, especially considering their special ability included a number of lives they could be reincarnated by!
    • The Untouchable – A magician with three spell powers: Broil (control any fire in a room), Bubble (untouchable so long as the spell is maintained, but doesn’t stop momentum while in the bubble), and the overpowered Blink (no cap on the number of uses with this spell; as a free action, teleport anywhere you can see instantly).
    • The Invisible – Just that. Invisible at all times, anything swallowed also disappearing. However, picking up or wearing items, leaving footprints, and any sounds or smells could be detected. Delicate with the least number of hit points and of course, no gear.
    • The Gunslinger – Carries two revolvers (similar to the MB pepperbox pistolet) and knows how to use ’em. While each gun has 6 rounds inside, there is only one box of bullets that could deplete after critically failing any reload.
    • The Space Wizard – A personal favorite. Heavily armored environment suit and a cut-anything energy sword (treated as a magic item). Powers include a gravity gauntlet to push/pull a target and a hologram projector. However, any damage taken is doubled (the suit is punctured) while the suit being destroyed or removed is instant death!
    • The Everyman – A randomly generated ‘meh’ person. No bonus, no nada (though perhaps I would include the best of the random gear available 🙂 ).

Since these folks had a touch-better abilities than a randomly created character would and they would be united in intention under the control of one player, C, only three were allowed to be chosen. (The rest were saved as backups if the adventure really went to pot.)

Adventurers on this mission: The Cat, The Untouchable, and The Invisible.

As will be covered, this trio was perhaps a bit too heroic for the horrors soon faced 💀

Introduction

The three characters share a cell together in the Shadow King’s prison. Soon to be executed for dealings against the King, a personal representative, Magistrate Sleeker, offers a deal the prisoners cannot refuse:

Raid a buried complex where comes a potent drug – Rotblack Sludge – that, more importantly than its horrific side effects, goes untaxed. Further, rescue one of the King’s favorite spawn, Aldor, who seems to have gotten involved, disappearing some days ago into the underground abode. Failing any of these things, the prisoners best not leave Rotblack Sludge, joining all the other agents sent, none who have returned 🔥

After an armored carriage ride, Sleeker lets the characters know it has done them a minor justice: they have waited until the couriers for the Rotblack drug have left, therefore it is suspected the chambers below will be fairly empty this time.

On that note, Sleeker releases the characters to tread down underneath the mounds of falling ash that bury the world. There, the adventure begins…

Day 1

Quickly Cat, Untouchable, and Invisible explore their surroundings. The way behind is locked by Sleeker who will kill them should they emerge empty handed. The ways tangent lead off into dark tunnels, but each is barred by gates or rubble. The only way ahead is an ornate door on the left, a ruddy door on the right.

Through the latter they go, sad violin music playing for them somewhere far off.

A library is found with skeletal bodies about. Nothing is investigated, but through the next door they go without pause.

How rude. Or so the four guards inside find it. The first battle is brought!

Cat mauls many while Untouchable – hereafter known as Bubble Guy – has both armor and shield smashed apart. Invisible runs away to go pick up bricks from the collapsed entries seen earlier. It is here that Bubble Guy learns how to use the Blink power to pop behind enemies every turn to get a surprise attack on their backside.

Together, after taking a little punishment from the guards, the trio murders all four found. Finding on the bodies and in the room a key, a mysterious urn of powder, and all the swords of the guards, they follow bloody footprints farther down into places clearly excavated more recently.

The first room holds nothing but bloody chains, a wedged and handleless door, and a hole.

Through the hole is a cave glittering with jewels and a sharp drop into sulfuric mists. Blinded by greed, gems are torn from the wall, but not without notice.

Behind, from the depths, rises a magnificently immense worm. Rows of teeth like blades in a maw as wide as a man, body pale as pus, the hissing thing creeps upon the trio.

Taking the wiser route and acting fast, Cat, Bubble Guy, and Invisible squeeze through a crack in the cave before the worm can smash its face at the gap behind them.

Crawling along, the trio emerge into a greenhouse choked with exotic plants underneath a sooty glass ceiling where dim sunshine makes itself known.

Exploring, Cat and Bubble Guy meet mysterious girl Lesdy at her fire and bubbling caldron. Lesdy offers rest and refreshment, but the offer is repeatedly declined. There is only one concern: Where is Aldor?

Lesdy does not know and the trio leaves. But, as Invisible remained hidden and is the last to traverse back into crack, they look back to see other people staring at the departed from the bushes…

In the crack, there are bolted-on handholds up to a spring door. Through it the trio comes into a dark corridor with dim paintings. Following one direction, they enter a grand chamber meant for feasting, but where guests would be and feed, only an unresponsive old man sits.

Reconnoitering the location, the trio is in the place behind the first ornate door they found, along with the connecting guard room. Nothing else of value but the man remains.

They take the old man away down the corridor. To where? The trio does not know. Only death waits for them above… at least if the King’s spawn is not found.

Careful to avoid the spring floor door, Cat and Bubble Guy and Invisible march through the corridor to a light at the other end and… a surprise.

Gah!!! What is going to happen??

Look for Part 2: Meat and Statues next week 🙂

Cheers!

P.S. I totally forgot to introduce a random encounter in the room full of chains… this will be corrected 😈

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 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 ~

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!

They’re Aboard – Epilogue

This is the unofficial story of Reserve Imperial Guardsman Kye Cromp. When the defenders of the massive warship Honorable Action die to the boarding swarms of monsters, Kye’s journey to escape will bring him face-to-face with horror.

Start at the beginning.

Epilogue

The human sits in a cold cargo hold, its hands clammy from the damp. It rubs its larger eyes, wiping goop off on a dirty shirt. The scabbing at the base of its neck itches. Flipping the collar up does little to abate the chill. Memory hints to it that the body remembers such a chill, but it’s more a dream than concrete recollection.

The bulk cargo ship also serves to shuttle passengers. Many people are spending their trip among the ill-insulated containers, storage, whether for holding food, goods, or luxuries. Their destinations for some populated world are the same. For them. For it.

They are coming out of Warp travel. It’s a strange place to go. There are voices without bodies that want to talk to the human like as they prattle to the other humans, the creatures without a family who are ones among none. This human is accompanied by many and can give the whispers no heed.

Bells chime. Orbital entry is close. The human gets up, joints aching in the low temperatures. It doesn’t mind. There’s work to do.

It has long since memorized the paths needed to traverse the labyrinthine aisles between the stacks of freight. With walls whose heights disappear into the gloom above, privacy had been easy to come by. Walking to the main sections only takes minutes.

Before the section’s airlock, many others join the human. They are its family, its handiwork during the length of the dismal voyage. Every one of them smiles at it as their paths converge. It doesn’t know if they recognize how special they are to each other, but it need not wonder about such things. These former strangers are ready for the work ahead.

There are no guards at the hatchway. Security must be looking after the more lucrative passengers. Stepping into the bright light gets the human to squint.

Strolling through the polished halls, members of the family split off down side corridors. Their absence does not disturb the human. Those travelers will find their way to other departures, other ripe vistas teeming with life.

The vibration of atmosphere baking along the superstructure hums in the walls. The human feels the rumble of retrograde engines in the roots of its regrown teeth. The sensation goes away soon enough.

A group of civilians mills about outside of their cabins. The crowd is large. It works a way among them without recoil or pause. No one troubles the filthy wanderer. The vox speakers direct all non-essential personnel to gather at the unloading ramps. A tide of bodies carries the human along as it blends into the soon to be departed.

Waiting doesn’t last long at the exit. With a gentle rocking of the deck, the ship touches down. A smooth, reassuring impact evokes a quiet cheer among the passengers. The human smiles because nothing is stopping its work.

Pressure changes in a hiss. Gates the size of buildings perform a gentle slide along their tracks. The crack between them sheds glorious sunbeams onto the upturned faces of the crowd. Of the dirty human. Its eyes adjusting to the shine, it looks out on the field of wonder.

Megastructures lose themselves in clouds on the horizon. Ground transports zoom along tiered levels of roadway. Ungroomed trees dot the far fields of the landing zone. Able bodied folks, elders and children alike, go about their business. It seems all is right with this peopled world.

Boots stained with human and inhuman blood march off the ramp. Crowds swallow their wearer into superficial oblivion.

The human breaths deep of the crisp air, itself hinting only slightly of ozone, a taint of smog. A tear wets its cheek. “So many to join us in communion,” it says, voice lost in the commotion. Everything was right for this one of many.

This unofficial work is published under the Intellectual Property Policy of Games Workshop Limited: https://www.games-workshop.com/en-US/Intellectual-Property-Policy