Archive for May, 2012

I think I’m going through some kind of Halo re-lapse or resurgence at the moment. From speaking to a friend a-length about the franchise, to pre-ordering Halo 4, to watching the anime compilation Halo: Legends last night, I’ve been doing a lot of Halo – related stuff recently. Hell, I’m even thinking of giving Halo: CE Anniversary a proper go… I’d probably be reading the books right now, if I had any on me (as I said in my Halo 4 post, been looking at getting the newer novels, but not entirely convinced yet).

When it comes to a particular IP or Universe that I’m a fan off, there are differing levels of interaction that I have:

There’s the main or ‘Genesis’ product, the thing that started it all and where from a canon perspective time began, as well as anything that follows on directly from that. You watch/play these products because they were there first, and if you’re a fan of the IP you’ll never get tired of what created it in the first place. Then there’s the Expanded Universe, which is mainly presented through novels, although comics etc… are also a popular form of EU content (although I tend not to like comics as much as they take more liberties than novels). You engage with the EU because you want to know more about the universe, you want to see little minor segments present in the Genesis products expanded more fully, or you just want more.  Finally, there’s a minor or sub category called ‘fan service’, the comfort food of IP media. No matter what form it takes, it’s usually aimed at just giving the fans what they know and love already as opposed to exploring more meaningful corners of the universe, which is where Halo: Legends comes in and why I like watching things like it at bedtime before I go to sleep. To be fair, it has EU elements to it as well, but given the fact the shorts are between 10 – 20 minutes long, it’s not really proper EU as they barely have time to explore anything worthwhile (not a criticism, just explaining how I interact with it as a fan).

You see for me, watching Halo: Legends is like eating a bowl of ice cream. It’s on the TV, so its passive entertainment, it’s about an IP I’m a huge fan off, so I get the connection there, and yet it’s light on story so it doesn’t require me to think too much. It’s the same with movies that are based on anime shows – comfort fan service. Anyway, even though no-one cares, here’s a deconstruction of the individual parts of Halo: Legends, and what they mean to me as a fan:

Origins I & II – Probably the most disappointing bit of the DVD, which is annoying as it’s right at the beginning as well, this two-parter manages to show a hell of a lot without actually telling you anything. It’s almost a direct mirror of the origins two-parter from the Animatrix, except the Animatrix showed you stuff you didn’t already know. This origins story though, whilst be alright for the first half as you get to see some interpretations about Forerunner culture and some visualisations on their fight with the Flood, doesn’t really offer up anything new. The second half just kind of sprints through ‘Human History’ and summarises the events of the Halo games, which as someone who has played all of the Halo games isn’t really something I actually needed.

I suppose you could argue it’s to help new people acclimatise themselves to the universe, but then it doesn’t really do a good job of explaining the specific events of the games, only really that stuff happened, which they could have gotten from reading a blurb. Still, it’s watchable and in no ways a deal breaker, just don’t expect anything interesting from it (apart from some cryptic clues that may or may not (have) be(en) incredibly early Halo 4 references.

The Duel – The only short which is purely Covenant focus, this is basically a look into what Elite (Sanghelii) culture is like, which is to say they are basically the ‘brothers from another mother’ of the Japanese. The ‘main’ character is a respected General within the Elite society who holds the rank of ‘Arbiter’. What significance this rank used to have isn’t really explained much, but by the end of the whole thing you get to see how the rank of ‘Arbiter’ became what it was when it was introduced in Halo 2.

It’s interesting, and I like what they did with the art style, although personally I think they humanised the Elites too much (which was probably done for the sake of accessibility and ease of creation), plus, a little Epilogue would have been nice, but I guess you’re meant to take cues from Halo 2 as to what happened next.

Homecoming -Probably my favourite of the whole compilation, this one centres around a female Spartan called Daisy who’s trying to help a squad of marines evacuate from a planet under heavy attack from the Covenant. During the retreat though, she starts having flashbacks to what happened during her time in the Spartan program. Seven years in to her training, her and four others run away from the facility on Reach and try to get home to their families, only to find the clones living there in their place (something which is established in the Fall of Reach novel).

My favourite bit about this short is what happens at the end (Spoiler incoming): Daisy unfortunately dies during the evacuation, but at the very end the Master Chief can be seen standing over her body and laying her to rest properly. What I like about this is that it cements the ‘image’ of the Chief that much more – both as a bit of a legendary figure who’s beyond what grunts, will see in an average day, but also (as the EU has established) as the leader of all of the Spartan II’s. They’re all his soldiers, and despite being rather emotionless at times he does deep down care for all of them, and you can almost feel his regret as another one dies.

Interestingly enough the former is something that Neill Blomkamp was going to play with in the movie adaptation. Can’t believe that still isn’t being made (read an interesting article about it though, but sadly I don’t have the link).

Prototype – Second favourite alongside The Babysitter, Prototype doesn’t really deal with anything that’s already been established, but is a nice little redemption story. A marine sergeant, nicknamed ‘Ghost’ because he has as much emotion as an emotionally deprived peanut, is tasked with destroying an experimental weapons factory on a planet being evacuated because, surprise surprise, it’s under heavy Covenant attack (I’m sensing a pattern here). His squad isn’t too happy about it because not only are they the last ones to leave, but Ghost is also infamous for getting his last platoon completely wiped out.

However, not wanting a repeat of the last time he lost all his men, he commandeers one of the experimental combat suits and uses it to all kinds of ass before self-destructing and buying time for his men to escape. This one is more in the realms of ‘fan service’, as you only really watch it to see Ghost kill some Covenant like a boss. Also, not quite sure what significance the suit is meant to have… possibly an early MJOLNIR prototype, combined with some of the special abilities they introduced in Halo 2 & 3.

Odd One Out – Not my favourite, but it’s not the worst either. ‘OOO’ is just a short spoof about a Spartan called 1337, and the only one of the compilation that’s not canon (everything else is said to have happened/be true at time of release). Having fallen out of his transport en route to… wherever, 1337 runs into a group of children, some of which have superhuman powers. The group is then attacked by a new Covenant enemy called Pluton, and everyone has a good old fashioned brawl before the beast is sent back into space by the AI who had been taking care of the kids. It has it’s neat moments of self-awareness where it takes the mick of things like DBZ (the kids are basically parodies of saiyans, I guess), but other than that it’s one I tend to skip as there’s little in it for me as a Halo fan.

The Babysitter – This is another good one: it involves a small unit of ODST troopers (one of whom I think is meant to be ‘Dutch’ from Halo: ODST, and another that’s called O’Brien but is apparently a different O’Brien) and a Spartan – Cal – who have been assigned to assassinate a Prophet who’s in charge of the local sector. Kill him and the UNSC gets a breather in the theatre. O’Brien isn’t happy that he’s not the one to be doing the shooting, and is even les happy when Cal has to save him several times during the course of their mission. His outlook on, well, life, is drastically changed though when Cal is mortally wounded protecting him for the umpteenth (and last) time, and it’s revealed she is a woman.

The only real issue I have with this one is that ‘Cal’ has ridiculously long hair… so long it probably wouldn’t all fit into her helmet. I get the fact that they want to show that she’s a girl and everything, but you don’t really need the long hair to do it. Daisy and even Kelly in the next short were portrayed well enough to get the point across.

The Package – This one is ‘fan service’, pure and simple. It’s made completely in CGI, and shows the Chief and a team of Spartans (inc. Kelly and Fred, fairly popular characters from the expanded universe) being awesome and doing awesome things in awesome ways. Think of all the stuff they get up to in something like Gundam, or even Bleach, and throw in the general principle of just giving fans what they want, and you should have an idea of what this one is like. It’s like the big fight scene in a Bleach movie or something, where they just show all your favourite characters doing what you like them for, and is pretty light on substance.

It’s alright though, as a finale to the whole compilation, it does its job very well and is fairly enjoyable to just switch off and watch. The constant quoting lines from the games though is kind of annoying, and staged, but I guess they’re just trying to show a basis for all the things that were to come.

Hmm, this post turned out to be longer than I thought it would be. Sorry if it seems like I’m waffling and/or geeking out, but being a fan does strange things to you.

Advertisements

So, you could say I had a new experience recently. As you might remember me and a few friends I’ve made here in Canterbury get together for a semi-regular boardgame night, previous it was A Game of Thrones: The Boardgameofthrones, although in random case of impulse buying, they’ve also bought this game called Arkham Horror. It’s not, as you might think, related to Batman or anything like that, but instead is a game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional town of Arkham, and deals with a lot of themes associated with the universe he created. First published in 1987, doncha know, although we’re playing an updated version published by the game people as Game of Thrones.

I have to say, it’s not usually the kind of game I go for. For starters, it’s co-operative as opposed to competitive, whereby the players have to work together to ‘win’ the game. There’s limited room for trolling, which can be funny at times, but if you try and screw over people too much then you will lose the game for everyone. Not to mention the fact it’s horror-based, and horror-based media is not something I usually go for (It’s actually less of an issue with boardgames as nothing’s trying to scare you, but still, I wouldn’t have spent my money on it) And I’m also a bit of a pop-fiction kind of guy, so boardgames base on IP’s I know and love (aside from classics like RISK or whatever) are also what I tend to gravitate too.

Still, it was interesting… you have to choose from a selection of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (and you can lightly role-play them if you want, although we don’t really do that unless we’re being ironic/trolls to each other), and there’s also items and equipment you can acquire or buy… you basically spend the whole game running around the map fighting monsters and going through dimensional portals so you can seal them. If things go horribly wrong though and you let too much bad shit happen, an ultimate ‘final boss’ encounter is triggered and you have to beat it in order to win. You can win before that by making sure the ‘Elder God’ doesn’t get a chance to spawn, which is preferable.

It’s a bit of a grind of a game though… sometimes it seems too easy, and then you can suddenly spend two hours stuck in limbo for various reasons. Monsters blocking off access to a gate, a special environment card that stops you sealing said gates, repeatedly being hospitalised or going insane, forcing you to effectively ‘start again’ (you’d need to go acquire more items to be useful)… during my second go at the game, I got hospitalised, and then hospitalised again without even being given a chance to return to the board. Yeah, that wasn’t fun.

Not sure how long we’ll run with this one… this group is mainly uni students so a lot of them are probably going to be going home for the summer soon, plus the lack of competitiveness isn’t really my thing – give me the armies of westeros any day, or at least the Battlestar Galactica boardgame which at least has the Cylons vs. Humans element.

In other news, E3 is next week! Huzzah! I don’t really know what the current rumours are at the moment, what’s supposed to be revealed or what’s not… should probably sort that out. I’ll probably do my usual E3 ritual of loading up on snacks and caffeine and watching the live streams. I like to watch those as they happen… I wonder what new heights of showmanship will be seen this year.

Ok, so I may or may not have just placed a pre-order for Halo 4 on ShopTo.net. With 343 taking the helm, there’s a lot to be apprehensive about when it comes to this new ‘Reclaimer’ trilogy which Microsoft are pushing, and whilst I believe that they’ll probably be good games, whether they strike a chord with gamers like myself who remember the Bungie games fondly is another matter entirely.

I wasn’t going to pre-order initially, but looking at what’s in the special edition there’s actually quite a lot of good stuff there, you should check it out. ShopTo is my current go-to place for games at the moment. They were pretty good at getting me a Mass Effect 3 copy to me on launch after GAME couldn’t honour my pre-order, and they got Darksiders to me pretty sharpish as well.

Thinking about it, and especially after having a chat with another writer for a project of his a couple of weeks ago, I reminded myself of the impact that this franchise- and especially Combat Evolved – has had in terms of my personal history as a gamer. It’s the game that really switched me on in terms of the Xbox, it’s the game that really got me into First-Person Shooters, and in terms of memories and moments, it’s the game that I’ve have the most fondest memories of. That’s not to say of the massive impact I personally believe the franchise has had on gaming – Halo 2 and Xbox Live in my mind completely revolutionised the industry’s attitude towards online gaming and multiplayer, and Combat Evolved help put the first Xbox on the map, despite not initially being considered as a poster child for the console (there’s a great four part series of articles done by Patrick Garret over on VG247 that you definitely need to read).

Anyway – long story short – Halo 4 gets the benefit of the doubt for the moment. From recent experiences, I can’t help but feel that in situations like these it’s dangerous to put your trust and faith into something without having really seen anything beforehand. There’s a lot riding on Halo 4 being good, not only because Microsoft wants to keep their golden boy making money, but 343 themselves have to prove that they can do it without Bungie. It’s almost like the Treyarch/Infinity Ward divide, and I hope 343 don’t change too much for the sake of making the franchise their own.

Couple of things that have me concerned though at the moment:

* The new ‘Spartan IV’s’ – how they are going to fit in lore-wise it going to be something I’m going to pay attention to, since to be honest Halo: Reach and the official acknowledgement of the Spartan III’s, was handled rather cack-handedly I feel in terms of the official timeline (I’m a bit of a lore buff, what can I say) – it was like Star Wars all over again. I don’t see how the universe allows for the existence of a fourth generation of Spartan soldiers, but there you go. Mind you, from what’s available so far, the Spartan IV thing seems only to exist to allow for a plausible plot reason for multiplayer to exist. Unnecessary I feel but fair enough.

* Halo 4 is apparently relying a lot more on trans-media to help promote and tell its story, in a way. The Forerunner Trilogy of novels is supposed to have considerable relevance to Halo 4’s story, and Karen Travis’ Glasslands’ novel is as well. I have mixed feelings about this as I rather resented Mass Effect 3 for bringing in someone from the novels to be part of the story of the game, although in principle it’s not so bad I guess. Problem is, I’m rather disappointed by Travis as an author, not only because when I met her in person she seemed rather soulless for someone dealing with IP-fiction, but also reading reviews of Glasslands’ it doesn’t sound like I’ll like what she’s done with the story post-Ghost of Onyx. Plus I wasn’t that impressed with her work on Gears of War 3 either, but that’s different.

I don’t want to sound too negative before I’ve even seen the game though. Even though I care about lore and story and continuity more than I probably should, it didn’t completely stop me from enjoying Reach, and it won’t stop me enjoying Halo 4 either. If this doesn’t work out though, then that’ll probably be it in terms of investing in aHalogame beforehand.

What was that? Diablo III? I have no idea what you’re talking about:

Diablo III, Collectors Edition

Diablo III

It’s well good by the way Sian.