The Price of Grimdark Books

I broke down the cost of roleplaying game PDFs two weeks ago. Now, let me do the same for the price of grimdark books!

The Abstract

Short stories (8750-10k words) are much more profitable than full-length books (95k-115k) by a factor of 367% when it come to price-per-page.

The Data Collection

Data from the first and top-rated grimdark books from The Black Library and Amazon gives the average pages for short and full stories. Using the rule-of-thumb that there are 250 words per page, we can extrapolate word count. The “Range” below comes from a +/- ~10% of the average:

GroupCount ( Range )Words ( Range )
Short Stories37.5 ( 35-40 )9375 ( 8750-10k )
Full Books420 ( 380-460 )105k ( 95k-115k )
Average Page and Word Count

Short stories where virtually sold for $4. Full books (not anthological or omnibus collections) were approximately $12.

Therefore, a short story is priced at about $.11 per page ($.106) while full books run $.03 per page ($.029), a difference of ~367%.

Without a doubt, without considering how short stories have a lower barrier of entry for the buyer and make a faster/less-risky production for the producer, writing grimdark short stories (and pricing accordingly) is the better business decision.

The Collection Method

Not as fancy as the RPG pricing post, I did most of this collection on the back of an envelope (no, really).

Already referenced above, I gathered from four groups: the first 10 short stories offered by The Black Library, 7 full stories on Amazon, 11 stories recommended from a first-read list (a source I follow and reference for grimdark content), and 2 books I myself favorite.

All stories were rated above 80%, some particular attention given to >90% titles.

Here is my abbreviated data:

GroupPagesAverage
Short Stories61, 38, 27, 28, 52,
35, 33, 37, 35, 29
37.5
Amazon Full Stories416, 256, 208, 768,
640, 416, 415
446
Suggested Stories420, 452, 420, 420, 516, 420,
297, 315, 564, 369, 395
417
Favorite Stories492, 424, 431, 324418
Page Data

The above full averages come to 427, but when compared with a median, ~420 is a confident middle position, giving the +/- ~10% range of 380 to 460 pages.

Quick and easy. Simply put, there is much more bang-for-buck by writing short stories vs. full-length novels (in the grimdark tone, at least!).

I hope this helps you with your writing – it has already helped me determine the price of grimdark books and where I ought best spend my energies 😁 Cheers!

The Layout of Your Game Rules

Picking up a rule book is the first formal introduction a player has to a game.

Sure, there is the cover art and gossip from friends, video plays on YouTube, but if the rules can’t be read or understood, it will not take long for the game to be put down if ever picked up at all!

Taking from Reddit, D&D, Tiny Dungeon, Black Hack, and Stars Without Number, I have distilled the layout your game rules need to follow to have the best success in readability and understandability.

TLDR; In General

You want to keep game rules as simple as possible.

Who is the player? What are they doing? How? Why, or, what are the goals with reward?

That is the back-cover pitch. With a few keywords (e.g. from roleplaying games: d20, OSR, Grimdark, etc.), that pitch defines a lot of the game’s ‘feel’ and filters for the intended audience.

A Freebie

Many games now come out with a free version for folks to pick-up-and-play quickly. Though this can skimp on things like internal page art or optional rules, the core rules and an introduction to the system must exist.

Introduction to the Setting – The first section. Answers most of the ‘TLDR’ above.

Mechanics – What (and when) is conflict and how is it resolved. This is where numbers on dice or comparing card faces needs to be explained at length. The ‘when’ outlines player turns and the order of gameplay.

Game Moderator – If the game has a referee, this should be a 1-page outline of what they can do to make decisions and introduce compelling conflict. Also recommended to include a rules 1-pager for quick player reference!

Pre-generated Content – Characters, factions, anything a single player would control.

At max, a10-page free manual to the game.

The Full Final Cut

This is it, the game rules as intended. Page art, examples of play, optional rules, reference tables, and tips-n-tricks for every game participant.

Here is a rundown as it would apply to roleplaying games, but can easily be altered for board games (where RPGs originated from!):

Forward – The cover, a table-of-contents, any dedications, and finally, an introduction to the game: What it is, who you are, how you do the things you do, and why.

Mechanic Systems – Details on how things get resolved in the game. When do players act, what can those actions be, and how to resolve outcomes. Randomizers of dice/cards/et al. for violence/socializing/magic need to be explained concisely along with how the player can – if at all – influence those outcomes.

Players – The characters or factions at play. What attributes do they have to affect randomizers? Any special actions or rules for the player? What are their resources, such as minerals, points, and health? Adding rules to create a character or faction from scratch should be here in the full rules.

Game Moderator – The referee needs everything they can get in the case of rules. However, when there is a referee, every rule is a guideline, not law – otherwise, what is the point of having a human not be a player? Principles, advice, and where to reference other resources exist here.

Bestiary, Tools, Rewards, Tables – The fiddly bits of play. Examples of what players and situations can include go a long way to setting the tone of the game while inspiring players for the stories they are enabled to tell. This is also the place the GM can save making a few decisions by randomly choosing from a preset.

Example Scenario – If not included separately, a starting dungeon, mission, or game needs to be included. This helps get players into play ASAP and answer a lot of common questions.

The full rulebook layout

Again, make sure to flesh out a full rulebook with art, optional/alternate rules, example situations, charts, lore, factions, maps, creation processes, equipment, rewards, and extra GM resources.

As a fiddly bit here, a full rulebook can be alternately distilled into Introduction > Terms > Objective > Turns > End-game > Mechanic Details > Victory > FAQs.

It comes down to taste and the needs of the game in question (e.g. perhaps there is no victory condition or terms are defined when introduced).

An Example

Lasers & Feelings is 1-page, yet complete with the who-what-where-when-why-how required of quality game rules.

  • Who
    • “The crew of the interstellar scout ship Raptor.” After the introduction, a section on creating characters that details what they have and a definition of the attributes that have a mechanical impact in conflict resolution.
  • Why
    • Players are given options to choose their character’s goals: Advance in rank, explore, blast stuff, solve mysteries, prove something, or have nothing to prove! A random table of adventures details a conflict to resolve too, making the “why” of this game multidimensional.
  • Where
    • Raptor, including a section on creating this ship! Further, a random table to determine where an adventure is taking place.
  • How
    • Use 1-3 6-sided dice (d6) to compare to the character attributes. Situational modifiers and success levels get short yet complete snippets.
  • When
    • “When you do something risky.” Vague-though-flexible definition on implementing the “how.”
  • What
    • Implied above, the adventure table details what is going on.
  • GM
    • A final two paragraphs outline for the ref how to navigate various situations they or the game may encounter. Quality GM advice!

A bad example would be The Orc and the Pie (despite how much I enjoy the premise, having used it not once, but twice). The rules have a who, what, why, and where, but no how – there is a present conflict, but resolution to that conflict relies on players having prior experience with game randomization mechanics.

Laying It Out

Follow this guide and reference any other highly-rated game’s rulebook to perfect the layout of your game rules.

Putting a game’s rules into a format others can enjoy is not difficult so long as a bit of prep comes with it 🙂 Cheers to your game making!

RPG Action

Action is how things happen.

Since there are opposite reactions, conflict arises and story develops.

This is especially true for tabletop roleplaying games. What a player has their character do (and the mechanical resolution to opposing reactions) is the core of these kinds of games.

I’ve been wrestling with actions in the BITS TTRPG system for awhile. I think I have it, but what do you think? Here’s my analysis:

First Things First

I’m going to avoid talking in depth about who goes when or in what order things happen (aka initiative). No rolling, no going clockwise, no group or simultaneous happenings.

Today’s focus is all about the action!

Twofer

A person cannot discuss TTRPGs without invoking the name of Dungeons & Dragons.

D&D uses a two-action system that really comes down to this: You can move, and you can do anything else (attack, prepare, prepare, move again, etc.).

The two-action economy is classic, in use all over the gaming landscape. You move, you act (and perhaps you get a free action of speaking or dropping whatever’s in your hand).

In all honesty, that sounds like one-action, with movement as a passive condition every character has regardless of any other action.

The only explicit limitation D&D places on action is that a character can only attack once without other special rules affecting that. To paraphrase D&D‘s terms, “you can always move but you may only attack once.”

Got it.

Free-Automatic-Focused

BITS can reimagine the “twofer” as Free, Automatic, and Focused actions.

Free actions are like those in D&D – letting go and shouting. Can be used anytime!

Automatic actions are muscle memory – moving, drawing, reloading, speaking, etc.

Focused actions require just that: focus. Anything requiring attention or caution, such as attacking, giving detailed information, doing something delicate like sneaking, etc.

Take two actions a turn, with exceptions: one and only one free action doesn’t count, and one and only one focused action at most per turn.

Free-Automatic-Focused is nice. It liberates the options of a player with distinct language and increase flexibility over D&D.

But what can a player do? There are examples above, examples that don’t do justice to actual expectations in gameplay.

Always Action

Whether swooning lovers, bartering goods, or stabbing robbers, BITS seeks to bring action to everything that can fail a player’s intention.

BITS divides conflicts into Environmental (passive bodily danger), Combative (active bodily danger), and Social (“sticks and stones” but words always can hurt). The same mechanics for action and resolution apply to each.

We’re not talking about conflict types here, but keep in mind how actions can apply to any of the conflicts above.

Kinds of Actions

Other than Free actions (which almost exclusively are shouting and dropping), I have found four kinds of action that fits any action a player could take: Move, Attack, Defend, Prepare. MADP.

Move actions see a player character walking, running (might need to take some caution), sneaking (definitely needs caution), jumping, crawling, swimming, or getting up. A social action would “move” the conversation on to another topic or point.

Attack actions slash, smash, stab, throw, cast spells, grapple, or commit other acts of aggression and violence. Social intimidation, charm, and deception apply.

Defend actions help others, escape from another, prevent others from passing, or stop the consequences of personal or potential violence. Social defense proves a point or deflects blame and provides excuses.

Prepare actions increase the probability a future action is successful, pick up or get out equipment, operate machinery, build up, tear down, search, or ready a future response. Social preparedness means keeping silent only to improve the next action taken in conversation.

Wow! That’s a lot!

But its utility is limited – MADP only applies when a ruleset takes it into effect.

What could use this method?

No Two of a Kind

Instead of Free-Automatic-Focused actions, up to two actions of any kind (Move-Attack-Defend-Prepare) can happen in a player’s turn.

Attack-then-Move, Move-then-Attack, Defend-then-Prepare, Prepare-only, Attack-and-Attack, etc. Whatever happens, the player must declare what they intend to do in their turn before they do it.

However, if the second action is the same as the first, both actions have disadvantage in their rolls.

If there is only one action taken (not two of the same kind), that single action has advantage.

MADP adds a little more realism to the actions of play. As a reflection of Free-Automatic-Focused, actions that get the complete focus of the player character get a boon while dividing attention or being speedy-but-reckless give progressively worse boons.

Does a fighter focus all effort into one strong attack, duel with an opponent while defending against future attacks, or flail strikes with multiple attacks at once?

A curated and concise set of choices are offered to the player, enabling them to weigh pros and cons to make their own decision. If working with a two-action economy, this seems to be the best bet!

Multiple Actions?

We’re back at the start: have two or kinda-two actions in a turn.

Whatever the case, having multiple actions in a turn – even if in name only – slows play down.

Heck, in BITS critical success rolls, an extra action comes as a reward, exacerbating the problem. And it is a system meant to be quick!

So what can be done?

Call of Cthulhu

The most popular tabletop roleplaying game in Japan, Call of Cthulhu gives a character five possible kinds of actions on their turn (I paraphrase): Attack (harm another), Maneuver (attack without harming), Flee (run away!), Other (healing, investigating), and Spell (use Eldritch terribleness).

A character can only do one of these on their turn. Any movement is implied in the action being taken within the area of engagement.

While having a concise list of actions, removing the tactical tediousness of movment and exact positioning, and limiting the number of actions-per-turn to one, CoC does well to speed up play.

Where CoC stumbles is how many times the dice need to be rolled for any action. Further, the action list may be too concise – it tends to rob creativity as any in-game act must be shoehorned into one of the five kinds specified, regardless of context.

Another game though takes the metacontext into consideration:

PBtA Moves

Powered By the Apocalypse is a game system lauded for its ease of play. A major mechanic contributing to that are the “Moves” it uses.

Every player has a common set of Moves they can use on their turn, along with Moves unique to the kind of character they chose. Every Move is meant to feed back into whatever “vibe” or “feel” the game means to convey.

During a turn, a player can pick a Move and do it (rolling dice dependent on context). One turn, one action, fast play.

While PBtA has streamlined action, it has also railroaded what players can do. Moves are extremely specific to the context of the game being played, further niched to the character role a player has.

Yes, PBtA characters can adopt the Move talents of other characters as they advance in skill. Yes, PBtA players can work with each other to “hack” or introduce new Moves or do something outside the guardrails of the game.

Yet, this does not address allowing players freedom to act in the ways they see fit depending on the situation they find themselves in.

Can it be better?

Freedom to Act

I think it can be better.

BITS adopts the one-action turn of PBtA but opens up the possible actions of a player to whatever they can and want to do.

Shoot a bow or gun? Throw a rock? Climb a tree? Balance on a wall? Socialize with the bartender? BITS handles that with a unified resolution system.

However, exact positioning is not required with the BITS system. If needing to attack someone but a few steps would be needed to get there, that attack happens. If a potion needs to be unloaded from a bag, do it and be ready to act again on the next turn.

Games like D&D act as “simulations-as-games” and would care about the exact distances and contexts of the simulation in progress. With BITS one-action, so long as a declared action doesn’t blend together seemingly different actions too much, BITS cares more about the consequences of intention rather than the consequences of inches.

This rewards players with carrying out their intention for their turn, keeps turns flowing quickly because beans need not be counted, and offers extra actions as a prize (i.e. critical successes in rolls).

Conclusions About Actions

There are improvements available for the current two-action system in use by the most popular roleplaying games.

Despite those improvements, the more actions a player takes, the slower the game goes.

The more actions are tied to the meta-narrative of the game and not the context of the player’s current situation, the more agency is taken away from the player. Game context should provide actions and other verbs as inspiration to what might be done, but cannot dictate what a player may or may not do.

Like Captain Barbossa put it in Pirates of the Caribbean:

The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.

Therefore, to increase agency and reduce time taken on a turn, a single action-per-player-per-turn that focuses more on intention than precision is the best gameplay option for rules about actions.

Phew – this was a long one. I wanted to bring forward multiple analyses for popular game systems’ action-economies.

Though I’ve clearly looked over games like Lasers & Feelings or any of the Blades games, the principles remain the same: more actions taken slows the game, but reducing the actions ever able to be taken (i.e. PBtA) comes with its own consequences.

Therefore, for BITS, one-action is the way to go. Further, one-action breeds an economic scarcity, forcing players to think critically of what’s possible to get them closer to their goals.

And adding an extra action for a critical success is something I’ve not come across in my studies – what I feel is a sharp improvement as “critical success” has been so far relegated to either extra damage (not always applicable) or an allowance for narrative dictation by a player for just that moment. I’m not much a fan of keeping player participation in the narrative sequestered away as a reward for play 🙂

OK – enough about actions for now! If you think a one-action economy is not the optimal, why? I must know! Cheers to when we get to talk it out.

BITS – Ships

BITS – the roleplaying game system – is all about themes. Carrying off of last week’s theme of groups in BITS, I’ve been able to think awhile on how different kinds of actors in BITS work together.

So today: How ship-sized vehicles in space and on the water interact with each other.

How Ships Work

Ships have a threat tier that indicates their size:

0 – Fighters, boats.
1 – Corvettes, frigates.
2 – Destroyers, cruisers.
3 – Battleships, carriers.
4 – Dreadnoughts, city-ships.

When acting as a ship, add the ship’s tier to a 2D6 roll (or appropriate BITS value, if so inclined!). When acting against a ship, roll higher than that ship’s threat tier. For example, a tier 3 battleship acting against a tier 2 destroyer must roll 9 or more (threat tier 2) with 2D6 and may add 3 to the roll.

Tiers also show how many extra smaller actions the ship may take. These smaller actions may be either defensive or of more minor consequence. (I’m still ironing out the value of different kinds of actions.)

A ship may hold inside it smaller ships that are 2 threat tiers below it, and/or multiple groups of ships 3 or more tiers below. For example, a tier 3 carrier may hold 1 tier 1 corvette and/or multiple groups of tier 0 fighters.

A ship otherwise behaves as any other fictional Being in BITS. (This includes the use of Body as a hull and engine, Interaction as a sensory and communications capability, Thought as targeting and computation, and Specialty for whatever role the ship is fitted out to do!)

Tier Examples

Tier 0 fighters and boats exist only as groups when interacting with higher-tier ships. Tier 0 can be subdivided into interceptors, bombers, dropships, and others. Subdivisions of tier 0 ships are differentiated with simple rules.

For example, a Star Wars X-Wing would be a heavy fighter with critical roles against single ships automatically destroys the other ship (representing a proton torpedo exploding). A Gundam Ball is incredibly cheap, but cannot travel without a carrier though is useful for ship repair. A Chinook helicopter serving with the United States Navy is slow, but can carry supplies, a platoon of troops, or gunship weapons.

Tier 1 ships include dedicated troop carriers, freighters, and smaller warships. Individual capabilities are defined per ship, such as being able to travel between worlds or systems.

For example, the Star Wars Millennium Falcon is a very fast cargo freighter. Expanse‘s Rocinante packs freight, troops, and torpedoes with high maneuverability (and fits into the Donnager tier 3 battleship!).

Tier 2 destroyers and cruisers can carry a boat or small fighter group to support operations. Ships called “cruisers” (Star Trek Romulan D’deridex) and “destroyers” (Star Wars Star Destroyer) are often tier 3 battleships and carriers in their abilities.

For example, a USN destroyer may have a vulcan cannon to have advantage defending against missiles and fighters while having a mine-laying helicopter. Star Trek Galor cruisers have a large forward cannon, multiple weapon arrays, and high speed, but can be taken out by swarms of fighters or beefier battleships.

Tier 3 represents the battleships, carriers, and hybrids that bring the largest hurt and the largest number of forces to play.

For example, the Imperial Japan Yamamoto battleship had defensive and offensive advantage against any other ship on the water. The Star Wars Star Destroyer could field squadrons of tier 0 TIE fighters, capture a tier 1 Tantive IV blockade runner, land an army of troops and supplies, and bring massive guns to bare. Many Star Trek variants of the Enterprise flagship were on-par with battleships, fielding multiple torpedo launchers, heavy shields and armor, and even fighters and personnel shuttles.

Tier 4 ships are awe-inspiring, all-commanding giants. For the most part unassailable, tier 4 ships get to do what they want to do until a lucky action halts their progress.

For example, Star Wars has the Executor dreadnought that only by a lucky suicide and very poor design was brought down. The Expanse has the literal Behemoth city-/generation-/flag-ship capable of holding a fleet inside it. Star Trek brings to mind Borg Cubes that single-handedly can wipe out armadas. Even the universe of Frank Herbert’s Dune has Heighliners as the only mega-vehicles capable of interstellar travel, taking entire planetary populations from place to place.

Bonus Topic: Stations

Space stations or naval dockyards work the same way as the ships they house. Stations use similar groupings:

0 – Buoy, small communications satellite, mine, sounding station.
1 – A station with limited docking and housing capabilities. The International Space Station.
2 – A regional yard or asteroid base. Halo‘s orbital defense platforms can handle cruiser-sized craft but none larger.
3 – A strategic hub of resupply and production of battleship-tier craft. Deep Space 9 from Star Trek caters to multiple battleships and support vessels. Stargate Atlantis has Atlantis, which may count as a tier 4 station (there’s some techno-magic that makes classification fuzzy).
4 – A massive complex meant to be bringing forth armadas and entire fleets. Star Trek‘s Spacedock 1, Halo‘s High Charity, USN Norfolk Base.

A station may hold ships that have the same threat tier or below whether constructing or docking the ship. The station may or may not have defensive or offensive means. If so, the station uses its threat tier for resolutions.

For example, a tier 0 listening post may detect ships approaching a tier 1 science station orbiting a moon. Tier 2 defense platforms may open fire and release a compliment of fighters so that a tier 3 space dock can muster battleships and carriers to fight. When all else fails, a distress signal summons reinforcements from the fleet HQ, a tier 4 mega-station.

Thought Behind Design

Inspired by shows like The Expanse and of course movies like Star Wars, I began to see patterns in how the large vehicles known as “ship” were treated in fiction (a class their own; another post later about vehicles later).

After experimenting with carriers (ships carrying smaller ships) and threat tiers, I am struck by how tightly the BITS treatment of ships above fits into naval considerations. From the real-world United States Navy, to modern space flight, to hard sci-fi in The Expanse, to the fantasies of Star Trek and Star Wars, a 0 to 4 threat tier system where some ships carry other ships seems to work really, really well!

So that’s the thought behind: Keep with the mechanics found throughout BITS, allow for all the classic naval designations, and thematically represent ships regardless of “universe” or IP they exist in.

Ready to play some BITS? I know I am 😁

Now to get these manuals taken care of and updated to 2021 standards!

What do you suggest for putting rulebooks together? What holes are there to sink this handling of ships? Let me know! Cheers to your gameplay ~

It Is OK to Fail

Really, it is.

But failure snowballs into complete and utter debasement! Failing is a slippery slope to irrelevance.

Certainly don’t make a habit of easy failure. If failure must happen, make it hard-fought to get the most out of the slip.

If the failures are spectacular enough, the failure will be quite relevant! Regardless, the failure should be relevant at least to you to show what to do or not, in addition to being an example to other folks.

But failure is a sign of weakness! If I fail, I won’t be wanted, I’ll be scorned, and I’ll carry a Scarlet Letter forever.

While some folks may not want you over particular failures. And some truly severe Scarlet Letters are deserved so that others can be protected.

Yet you live only with yourself. Only you know the severity of guilt and the just penance. An so long as you are acting out the penance (even if it is only to not fail the same way twice), you are doing what is owed to the failure.

But failure can be tragic! It can scar and rend and kill and all horrible things.

That’s a fine point! Failure certainly can be immense in its consequences. But what are consequences worthy of worry?

As the saying goes, “any landing you can walk away from is a good one,” so the same applies to failure. Loss of money or time or knickknacks can be made up and should come with an adequate exchange of experience. Bruises heal and hurt feelings amended.

What can’t be put back together are the three serious scars that can remove opportunities for action or attraction:

    1. Mind – Being unable to think straight, fully, or at all is a terrible, terrible thing. Brain damage, addiction, and dogma make up this scar where healing is miraculous (but we can’t depend on miracles).
    2. Body – Being maimed, crippled, or made twisted changes the whole world. (Trust me, I know.) Losing limbs, suffering catastrophic nerve injuries, and physical scarring such as tattoos of hate signs make this scar horrific to live with.
    3. Society – Being vile, abhorrent, or too dangerous to others or the culture is the quickest way to be identified with this scar. Outward physical violence, harm towards children and other helpless, and upending public expectations will slam you with a modern, contextual Scarlet Letter.

So long as these three scars are avoided, your failures won’t stop you!

But failure isn’t stopping me! It’s my fear of failing anew…

And that’s where coming to peace with failure comes it. It is OK to fail.

One of the biggest obstacles to what we intend and our lives being lived is us, you and I. Our thoughts dwell on the ‘what if.’ Prior experience and imagination can be a real bane in this regard.

That is why forgiving ourselves is the first step to making failure OK.

We are the ones that can stop habitual failure.

We are the ones who are already suffering under guilt.

We are the ones who can avoid the three disastrous scars.

We are the ones who must forgive ourselves.

Simply put, forgive yourself. It is OK to fail.

Why I Wrote This

The fear of failure lies strong on my mind and always has. I’ve developed rules for myself so as to fail less:

Failures still happen despite it all. Like this month’s goals I’ll be reporting on in a week. (It’ll be bad.)

And that’s OK.

Now this may sound like I’m giving myself a pass on a failure by using flowery words – it’s not (sans the flowery words part).

I know I’ve lived my life. What’s left is my duty to ensure my future self can live without the baggage of guilt or regret going forward. Casting off such suffering seems like a decent goal.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Really looking forward to your feedback here.

Where have your failures been? How have you recovered? What are you still carrying around all this time since?

Here to talk to hear about what’s going on – drop me a line and we’ll get the convo going!

Until next week, go out to happen to the world knowing the failures you make along the way are OK. Cheers ~

Truth: Suffering

Suffering is inevitable.

Truth can be debated endlessly. Look no further than the blind men and the elephant. Simply put, a singular Truth cannot be known 🤷‍♂️

What can be understood are the collection of truisms close to Truth. Things that are agnostic to time, space, culture, and context are more true than dichotomies or idioms. Something that, once known, is of terrible power for its ability to inflict or relieve suffering in one and another. Yet, not knowing can lead to a suffering through ignorance!

So what is truthful?

All life seems to agree on this: Suffering is the only guaranteed experience.

Before you go, hear me out. Suffering is a cornerstone of existence if not the foundation of what it means to be alive.

It all starts at where all things do: at the beginning. First there is the suffering caused to mothers during pregnancy and labor. Second, babes wail at the shockingly cold, shockingly bright loss of everything they have ever known. Communities then suffer the child’s cries and inadequacies while their parents sweat and toil to keep the new human alive – and often that is beyond their abilities!

The baby born, that child will become self conscious. With that knowledge, the young person begins to doubt their own value. Their body morphs through puberty in unknowable, painful ways. Their minds become aware of themselves and other people, namely the failures of themselves and their society. A child is considered ‘mature’ when they lose the shield that was naiveté. In a complete upending of the child’s reality, they come to understand they are betrayed by family, friends, society, and their own body.

That babe-turned-adult suffers once again as the incessant march of time grinds down thought and bones alike. If not outright crippled in mind and body, the ‘edge’ of peak performance experienced in late adolescence is dulled. A second revelation comes where the elder recognizes how much of their short life has been spent with little return. Existential nihilism or a living lie of denial sets in, killing the elder long before they are dead and buried. This is the elder’s only inheritance left to their next of kin, who in turn do not understand the trauma they’ve received. Thus the cycle of suffering, from birth to death, continues on into the next generation.

Matter – atoms and the like – too suffers in its creation, as understood through an empathetic anthropomorphism. All particles exploded into an inferno during the universe’s birth. All suns only formed after eons of atoms floating alone before being crushed and incinerated under their own weight. The universe itself may be convulsing in a cyclic version of Western Hell and has so done since the beginning of time.

Suffering is inherent in creation. Yet does it last?

Absolutely.

We see in the life of a person or a galaxy, suffering is the ever-constant companion throughout a singular existence. From start to finish, suffering is present and repeats its pattern infinitely.

Suffering persists. But what of the Good?

While there are absolutely may be moments of pleasure in one’s life, no two persons can agree on the specifics of such pleasures, or if the pleasure itself is a Good thing! (What is Good has been mentioned before, but a further exploration is later in this post.)

What used to be the common ground of Good was religion. But which religion? Which denomination of that religion? Can a history of stoning neighbors, burning knowledge, and the excruciation of the masses, justified in the many names of God, be considered Good? (Rhetorical questions all.)

When consuming certain mushrooms across the world, shamans and laypersons alike gain the satisfaction of meeting their own God without the need of religion. Perhaps this is a contributor as to why claims to be religious are becoming a minority. Regardless, religion seems to be unable to define a Good in the universe.

Hedonism gives many moments of pleasure. Eating, drinking, sex, and drugs all stimulate dopamine and other feel-good chemicals, these chemicals the only objective cause of pleasure in a person’s body. If pure pleasure is what Good is, the only Good activity in life is the pursuit of opiates until death arrives, the dead no longer suffering.

Sensual pleasure works as well as it does because of the erasure of self it causes. There is no person, there is only bliss. Should a person retain any amount of self-conscious ego, this pleasure is often found to be meaningless. (Not to mention that the individual hardly survives for long, which is not Good.)

The idea of ‘the nation‘ aims to give meaning with shared common purpose, that which the nation claims to be Good. Further, nations promise to carry the ideas and works and wishes of the citizen into the future, a survival-by-proxy. So which nation is Good? When? For whom? What consistently has been considered Good? Perhaps during the disenfranchisement of its women? The crucifixion of its minorities? The genocide of its enemies? The enslavement of the destitute?

The nation has many ideas of what Good is. No idea remains consistent, thereby a changing definition of what is Good. In the book The Rape of Nanking, it is come to be understood that nations will justify its actions without remorse, even glee, passing this ‘goodness’ into its citizens and collective actions. It is clear ‘the nation,’ despite giving meaning and surviving, cannot be Good.

If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.

George Orwell, 1984

In these ways, the Good is entirely subjective. What is Good for one cannot be guaranteed for another. The Confucian Golden Rule of “do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” usurps its Western opposite of “do unto others what you would have them do to you.”

But Good may yet have something true about it. If suffering is the omnipresent woe, minimizing suffering may be a common agreed-upon Good. But remember that many things done with ‘Good’ intention (Western Golden Rule) cause suffering. Therefore, Goodness with the intent to reduce suffering seemingly is to act less on perceived suffering (the context others appear to be in) and more on actual suffering (the context a person finds themselves in, the only guarantee suffering is indeed occurring).

As Goodness with the minimal definition is an eternal endeavor since suffering persists, Good would need to accommodate failure and continue (i.e. survive). That still does not negate this narrow definition of Good as being subjective, only one in a crowd of other definitions that claim to be correct.

Simply put, a definition of Good may be “reduce net suffering to survive and survive to reduce net suffering.” This does not violate the subjectivity of Good, merely prescribes what the abstract concept is.

Good is subjective. So what is objective?

If any claim to objectivity is made, it seems to be made of suffering and surviving. A person cannot do a guaranteed Good. By the act of existing only, a person can participate in suffering.

You and I will experience suffering, will cause it. Much of it will happen and we won’t be aware of it. In our darkest times, we will seek it out.

Therein lies an objective truth: Suffering is inevitable. With that knowledge, preparing to suffer can be committed to and actions readied to reduce it. How suffering is perceived is variable, but thoughts about suffering tend to trend in two ways: Those that have the means to hypothetically bear great suffering are better; those that endure actual suffering not of their choosing are considered lesser.

Whether suffering is accepted or railed against, if a person finds that they are suffering, it may be a comfort to know suffering is natural and it too can pass. How to address suffering is another topic entirely, an important one to have when suffering is known to exist, persist, and permeate throughout the universe.

In these ways suffering conforms to a universal truth, a first-tier fact that better reveals Truth and hones other truths in their meaning and purpose.

Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.

George Orwell, 1984

Something I’ve pondered on and worth continuing to ponder. Cheers.

Truth: Knowledge

Knowledge is a terrible thing.

Truth is something we cannot know. However, Truth is a legion of many faces, each aspect of Truth being a testament to the universe. Through these aspects Truth may be known. Yet, the knowledge itself is a terrible thing.

Terrible, really?

Quite so. Once something is known, it cannot be unknown. The knowledge itself gains a consciousness in its perception. The knower gives the information their own life by spending time and calories thinking on the knowledge.

A terrible part of knowledge is when it allows the knower to become self-conscious. A belief held in ignorance contradictory to newfound information provides a stark contrast to what may have been a life in the ‘wrong’ or ‘false.’ Not many are ready to recognize their failings in this way, that their reality was a lie up to the knowledge gain. Thereby it is born a perfect situation to allow a knowledgeable person to suffer not only the pain of finding in themselves a false-self, but doubly the suffering of perpetuating the now insincere lie of their false belief.

But to live in the dark? To forego the possible suffering of exploring the unknown? Enjoying the bliss of ignorance makes sense if the benefit of knowledge could not outweigh its horrors.

Common nay-sayers to the progress of knowledge cite many of the troublesome topics of modern times:

Gunpowder, biological weapons, social stigmas, dogma, racism, factory farming, sweat shops, nuclear arms, weaponized pathogens, fuel waste, more addictive substances, inhumane architecture, spam email.

Yet, humans continue to push the boundaries of knowledge, to explore, to discover. Ill-content with the state of things, people have gained knowledge of, well, everything a mind can perceive and more.

Language, sparking fire, paper, printing, the raising of crops and livestock, penicillin, engines, mathematics, rocketry, clothing, environment control, the internet, vaccines, subatomic physics.

All-in-all, knowledge has proven terrible in its power for the Good reduction of suffering, and the contrary application of incredible suffering for meager gain. “Terribleness” cannot be said to be in-and-of itself a ‘bad’ thing. By any objective measure – poverty, life expectancy, opportunity, access to resource – knowledge has on the balance been a Good thing, making now the best time to be alive ever.

If the concept of knowledge were visual, knowing would be feeling around into the darkness of the world’s unknown. Some finds would be sweet and soft, treasures to make the journey worth the while; others sharp and deadly, tragedies there in the dark. Sometimes a truly terrible tool is found, a thing with the capacity for great reductions and increases in suffering, depending on its use.

Taking the ‘darkness’ example further, sharing knowledge might be visualized as a light cast on a place – a piece of knowledge. However, that light comes from one direction – the sharer of the knowledge. What may appear true and whole on one side may seem completely false on the other – a shadow cast. Therefore, partial light may play tricks and deceive for a time. Until further insights and investigations cast more light on the subject, knowledge and its sharing suffers from the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant.

Light too, when shown to unprepared eyes, can be blinding. In this way, the illumination and knowledge can send a person reeling from the moment’s bright suffering.

So the distribution of knowledge may cause suffering, at least for a time. To pursue knowledge is one choice; to reveal information is another. Sometimes it’s best to not reveal true knowledge, as in the case of white lies, especially to the unexpecting. Sometimes knowledge will be shared with the express intent to cause suffering, e.g. black truths.

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

William Blake

Therein lies the terrible essence of knowledge. It gives and takes suffering from the world when gained by a person.

This has always been the case. Two-and-a-half millennia ago in East Asia, renown warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu based much of his The Art of War on knowing and keeping others from knowing. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a half-millennia ago in the heart of Europe that success in life lay in knowing what to do with the power one had. Shortly after, Sir Francis Bacon put it bluntly: “knowledge itself is power.” Or as Susan Orlean puts it for today, “Knowledge is a beautiful thing, but there are a few things I wish I didn’t know.”

So pay respect to knowledge and its lack alike. Context plays a part in guessing whether knowledge gives or takes suffering away, but across time and culture, this remains true: Knowledge is a terrible tool to have and to wield.

What lights do you live your life by?

Cheers.

Truth: Simplify

Simplify.

Truth is an enigma, but there are scatterings of Truth in universal truisms. These truisms are plentiful, none are equal. The further from Truth they go, the more truisms there are, but the less true they are in turn. There, they become a ‘noise’ while fewer and truer the truths become. In that way, the closer to Truth one goes, the simpler the space is as are the truisms found.

Truth tends towards simplicity.

A diamond cannot be uncovered while there’s rough. Gold cannot be picked unless the silt is panned out. Grain does not grow if choked by weeds. A body cannot breath if drowned. About seven things is what a human mind can hold. About 150 persons is what a single individual can keep track of.

To simplify is a cornerstone of existence. We see this exampled in everything from the composition of cellular life to the decomposing of atoms into baser parts to the simplicity of the equations that describe the fundaments of reality.

It is a challenge to think of what, when added, makes things simpler. The act of taking away brings things into focus. Take myself:

I trimmed my professional "expertise" from game design, production, illustration, programming, and mathematics into tools engineering, serving me with above-par pay and sharp skills.
From aiming to please any-and-everyone, relationships of all sorts have become straightforward - my experience knows "why what works with who," making any decision involving others near immediate versus requiring deliberation over months and years.
My time, previously split between an immense variety of activities and active interests,  boils down to creation (writing, game design, sketching), being of use to others (tools engineering, exploring problems) and myself (working out, learning), and achieving a sense of order (planning, chore completion).
Even this blog used to be many goals spread over a quarter and two posts, now regulated to four goals in a single month in a single post.

Yet, simplicity’s opposite – complexity – pervades. This, too, appears to be natural. Planets gather moons to add the complexity of tides. The simplest atom hydrogen is incredible unstable, binding itself with other atoms to form more complex molecules. Organisms evolve to add necessary features, even if that’s combining symbiotically with other creatures.

Life itself could be described as a pattern within the universe that attempts to stall its own entropy. That pattern does whatever it can to survive, which through evolution, has brought forward more complex forms.

Humans too generate a ‘gravity’ to add things to their orbit of concern. Another task makes it onto the ‘to-do’ list. Another acquaintance boosts the follower count. Another car needs payment. Another interest of the moment divides attention. Another another another.

Though how often has “another” brought suffering to life? The pain of indecision contrasts with the toil for more, a common masochism a sleepless person who takes on another responsibility shares with the pet that gorges itself into ache and vomiting.

We cannot help adding complexity to our lives. But as another card is added to the house or another plate is brought to spin, our lives become more perilous.

Our wants are simple: Comfortable environment, quality sleep, satiation in emotion and nourishment, a feeling of worth, and energy to pursue the things we intend and find interesting and survive without cars from what we don’t. Our ways and whys are many more than these.

This complexity resembles what it is: a construction. How well it is built is directly linked to the foundation of planning and intention that goes into our lives.

Complexity can serve a purpose. As mentioned, life will become more complex to survive, with a caveat: The nature of the universe abhors doing anything that is not needed at the precise place and time. When complexity arises, it must be judged, especially in ourselves, since humans are awfully good at justifying what exists, regardless of correctness.

Is this object or situation or action as simple as it can be? Does it serve a necessary outcome here and now? How can it do the easiest thing possible?

A medicine is highly complex but any more or less than necessary ruins its purpose. A wall with its many parts crumbles with any more or less than the required stones. A body – a miracle of moving parts – with any more or less than a very small range of temperature, water, or calories destroys itself.

It’s simple: The farther from the simple a thing strays, the more the thing destroys what it is. Such change is a guarantee. Whether the consequence of the change is intended is up to how simple the origin remains.

Managing change is incredibly useful. For a person, if a situation is unacceptable, that person can add to their life in some ways, subtract in others. Once a person finds a place where they are contented, no more gets added, no more gets removed. They have simplified to a level of stable complexity so they may begin to survive. And to survive, to live, that is a Good thing to do.

In that way, to simplify conforms to a universal truth, reduces suffering, better reveals Truth in its many effects, and is one of the few truths that best represents the Truth.

Simplicity Elsewhere

Occam’s Razor – No more, no less. That which is less indivisible is preferred.

Newton’s Rule 1 – It is vain and unnatural to do more than what’s required.

Tao’s Greatest Treasures – “Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.”

GI Bill of Rights – Four pages with simple language lasts 77 years and still serves tens-of-millions.

Abrahamic Religions – There is only one cause to the universe and it requires respect for being unknowable.

Theory of Evolution – That which exists came from before and changes over time in the most efficient way possible.

Greek Creation Myth – Out of immense complexity comes a simple few things which then gather to themselves immense complexity and suffering thereby.

Prime Numbers – A value so simplified, it cannot be divided any further without ending what it fundamentally is.

Feel-Good Chemicals – The sensation of pleasure is triggered by only four hormones.

Entropy – The ultimate simplification, the universe flattens all complexity into nothingness over time.

Something to live by. Cheers.

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~