Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

I usually don’t like commenting on articles about feminism, sexism or stuff like that, as I find it hard to articulate my views without getting into trouble. Ultimately, I’m a supporter of better representation of women in videogames, as it’s been a bit of a boy’s club for too long. Sometimes I think over-zealousness gets in the way of common sense, but at the end of the day I’m a guy, and I can’t really put myself into the female mind-set and so I’m not really qualified to speak. But every now and then, I’ll read something that really makes me “hmm”, like these two articles. They’re both about the portrayal of Cortana in Halo 4, and whilst I don’t take issue with everything they say, there are just some interpretations that I find puzzling. That and they’re also both written by guys, so if they can comment, so I can I.

It was Matt Barton’s piece on Armchair Arcade that I read first, which references an article on Gamasutra, so I’ll deal with each piece in turn. Like I said, I don’t object to everything that’s said, and there are some fair points in both cases, but there are other instances where I can’t help but think the authors are just a tad uninformed about Halo’s lore and background.

Take this excerpt from Matt’s piece for example: “Cortana is not even granted a body, but exists only as a hologram. She is completely and utterly dependent on the Chief for protection as well as mobility–he literally picks her up and plugs her into his suit.”

To be fair, this is a valid argument if you disagree with the original decision back in Halo: CE to make the Cortana character a hologram and female. If you’re just looking for someone to be the antithesis to the Chief’s gruffness, then perhaps it could quite easily have been a chirpy guy. I can’t help but feel it was probably due to the fact that Bungie didn’t want to add another physical character into the mix which made the Cortana character a hologram. But that’s something rather separate to the fact that the Cortana character is female, even if it does appear to say something by casting the emotional side of the duo as a woman. Even if you take this as an affront though- we’re on the fourth Halo game now. Cortana has always been a hologram, has always been “dependant” on the Chief because, funnily enough, holograms are incapable of existing outside of a computerised environment like the Chief’s exo-suit. I’m only saying complaining about it now is a bit redundant, which is never reason not to speak up, but 343 weren’t going to make changes to Cortana like giving her a body. Cortana can no more be ‘real’ than Tali could be Bi-sexual.

It’s the next bit though that I think really made me pause: “In perhaps the final insult to females in this game, it’s emphasized that even her individuality is an illusion; she can be copied again and again when the need arises. Finally, she is even denied rationality, and becomes increasingly less coherent and more dependent on Master Chief until the closing credits”.

This comment could have been influenced by a couple of instances from Halo 4 – I profess I don’t know which one Matt is referring to, but I’ll deal with them both. First off, there are a couple of comments that Cortana makes when trying to figure out how to deal with her on-coming Rampancy. The second is a bit in the last level where Cortana makes copies of herself in order help feet the Didact. In both cases, having read Matt’s article, I get what he’s saying, I just again think it’s a bit… cynical, to take the material and interpret in that way. Matt himself does go on to say he doesn’t believe the game is truly sexist, but he raised the argument so I shall respond.

In terms of the last Halo 4 level – I just saw it as a computer thing. Cortana is an incredibly advanced computer program, and one of her abilities is to be able to make copies of herself so that she can monitor or do several things at once. In the novel First Strike, she does a similar thing when they assault a Covenant Space Station, and as far as Canon goes, the ‘Cortana’ you meet in the Halo Reach game is supposed to be a copy or shard as well (It’s one of the few things they did to reconcile the game Halo: Reach with Eric Nylund’s companion novel The Fall of Reach which had been released nearly ten years prior).

Then there’s comments Cortana makes earlier in the game where she says a ‘new’ version of herself could be made if they don’t get her back to Earth in time. In the Halo universe, “smart” AI’s like Cortana are created by using the natural synapses of a human brain, usually the brain of someone smart and already dead because the organ is destroyed during creation. Cortana’s case is unique however as she’s the only AI generated from a living brain, that of Dr. Catherine Halsey, an important figure in the Halo Universe who made her first in-game appearance in Halo: Reach. Halsey cloned her brain to create Cortana, and considering Halsey is still alive and well, the process could be done again (even though it’s illegal).

Cortana is quick to point out though that the ‘new’ Cortana, should she ever be created, wouldn’t be the same as the Cortana you’ve known through the past four games – she wouldn’t have the same knowledge or experience, and so ultimately wouldn’t be the same person at all. Despite what the author may think, I don’t think the game is trying to say that Cortana can be replicated at will, far from it. I personally would find the inclusion of a ‘new’ Cortana fairly interesting, as the Chief will have to undertake a new emotional challenge of dealing with this entity that’s so familiar, yet so alien. As far the “even denied rationality” comment goes, Rampancy has been a known quantity in Halo lore for donkey’s years – Smart AI’s (for reasons you’d have to look up as I can’t remember) only have a shelf life of 7 years. By the start of Halo 4, Cortana had been in service for 8 years, so the fact that she hadn’t already gone Rampant is a bit of a miracle. Cortana was always destined for Rampancy, as is every other human AI in the Halo universe, like Roland the AI of the Infinity who you see in the Spartan Ops cutscenes.

Apart from that though, Matt piece has some interesting sections to it, I liked his take on Cortana as the ideal women, and Halo 4’s notion of chivalry etc… although again, the bit where he says “whose very identity, individuality, and physicality, are all either denied or rendered suspect” I take issues with this as these are all symptomatic of the fact that she’s an aging AI who’s been through a lot – how else is she supposed to act? I also think Matt was being a tad unfair in the next bit:

“There’s a telling (if not touching) moment at the end of the game where the Chief is talking to a much less intimidating man, one who’s face is not obscured behind a helmet but is in fact quite animated. It becomes obvious from the man’s questions, attitude, and height compared to the Chief makes it clear he’s not nearly as rugged and self-contained as the hero. His remark that soldiers makes him seem weak and barely worthy to be in the same room. The Chief is taciturn, as a man ought to be; this guy talks too much about his feelings. Indeed, the Chief’s last words before the credits point out that Cortana, the Female, had said the same thing.”

I’m not actually sure if I’ve figured out what Matt is trying to say here (some missing words and poor sentance construction), but if I have, I think he’s making one too many assumptions as to what the character of the Chief “is”. Halo 4 raises some very interesting points, points that you don’t really think about until they’re thrust in your face. The Master Chief and the rest of the Spartan-II’s were kidnapped as children, indoctrinated, medically enhanced and trained to fight.

Fighting is all they know and fighting is all they have done since the Human-Covenant War began. The scene in question is more to do with the Chief struggling with that fact that he’s human, something Cortana tries to remind him off in game. I think trying to twist this as something about how men “ought to be” is a bit unfair. Men, even Soldiers, aren’t supposed to be machines, and Lasky (the ‘less rugged man’) is trying to remind the Chief of that.

Anyway, that was Matt’s article. Let’s take a look at the Gamasutra article he references, written by “Jon W”.

To start with, he points out what everyone has been pointing out since the first images arose – Cortana’s “makeover”. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a fan either. It wasn’t really necessary, although thankfully when playing through the game I didn’t really notice it much. Some odd shots here and there where her new cleavage is a bit ‘in your face’, but mostly the game concentrates on her face and emotions anyway, which helps support something Matt mentions in his piece about Cortana. Anyway – I don’t really have any issues with Jon’s comments here, although if you look at the two images he uses, Cortana actually does have a respectable chest to her in Halo 3 as well, so one could argue Cortana’s bust isn’t a new thing, only that the change in art direction and better technology has made it more obvious.

To also be fair to Jon, Frank O’Conner’s quote doesn’t really help things either. It’s true; Smart AI’s in the Halo universe do get to choose their appearance. I don’t know if Cortana’s choice is stated in any of the EU works, like the Fall of Reach novel, and Frank’s explanation is to be honest a little hollow. I doubt Cortana chose to be more obviously ‘sexy’ so that she could disarm people in conversation, and again it’s only in this recent game that Cortana has become so obviously “a women”. It sounds like Frank just trying to downplay something that they knew they didn’t really need to do, so Jon has a point calling them out on that.

I take issues though with some of the other things Jon points out though. For example, he rags a little bit on the Master Chief being called “Master Chief”. Sure, it’s not a great name, but Master Chief Petty Officer is his rank, and given that he’s technically the result of illegal kidnapping and experimentation, throwing his name about probably wouldn’t be a good idea either, so what does that leave? That’s not even me delving into some of the psychology of Spartan’s you get to see in the novels – they’re a close-knit family, the kind of family who wouldn’t give their name to just anyone.

Anyway, Jon moves on to point out some other examples of Halo 4’s assumptions on women, moving next to Spartan Sarah Palmer: Commander of the Spartan IV forces aboard the UNSC Infinity and voiced by Jennifer Hale (femshep). Jon makes a quip (using a still taken from the post-credits cut scene) that Palmer’s only purpose is to “gawp openly at the hero”. This is again unfair – with the Covenant laying waste to humanity world by world, the Spartan-II’s were the only force that were making much of a difference. They were deliberately built up to be heroes, and the Chief (besides being a bit of a ledge for what he did in Halo‘s 1-3) is the only ‘officially’ (as in, in the games) recognised survivor of the Spartan-II program. He’s a freak of nature, a thing of legend, and he was supposed to have just died when the Didact’s ship exploded over Earth. If you then saw him just rock up without so much of a scratch, you’d stare too. If you play that mini-scene out fully you’ll notice Palmer’s companions – other Spartan IV’s – are also staring. Also, her mouth isn’t open. This speaks to me of Jon being deliberately obtuse, and to be honest ruins the whole article as I don’t want to take him seriously. He does have a point about the achievement titles though… I  think 343 have been watching too much How I Met Your Mother.

But this is why I don’t get involved too much in more subtle side of discussions like this – Matt and Jon look at these things and see a cynical, almost juvenile representation of the relationship between men and women. I look at these things and (mostly) see eventualities backed up by a thoroughly laid out backstory, plot, and universe. Of course, there are more obvious and vulgar examples of sexism in games, and I’d happily join Matt and Jon in calling those out, but as far as Halo 4 is concerned I can’t help but ponder how they got to where they did. I think way too much about Halo stuff.

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So, as you might have gathered from previous posts I’m a bit of a lore buff. The Halo universe is one I’m particularly interested in due to my strong connection with the games, and so I read a lot of the novels and other media and am not against ideally looking through Halopedia to look things up (especially when I wrote that Halo/BSG crossover fan fiction that one time). Having recently played and completed Halo 4 for review purposes, I felt like writing about it and the lore surrounding it because, sadly, it’s not really explained that well during the game itself. So, here I am. Feel free to tune out now if you’re not really into this kind of stuff as it is kind of geeky, even for a gamer.

*** MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT ***

Do not read if you haven’t completed Halo 4’s campaign yet

NOTE: This article doesn’t take into account anything that occurs within the Forerunner trilogy of novels written by Greg Bear (Cryptum, Primordium, Silentium). In all truth, I haven’t actually read them yet but I plan too as it’ll be interesting to see how the ‘official’ version of events is expanded on. Regardless, anyone who knows anything about IP canon knows that the primary source always takes precedence. In this case it’s the Halo games and any material directly linked to that (for example, the Terminals). Anything that happens in the EU books is basically second-class material.

Everything has happened before…

Okay, so the first and most important thing you have to understand is that the Human Race has actually been around a long, long time, technically speaking. Hundreds of thousands of years ago back when the Forerunners were actually around and masters of the Galaxy, Humanity also existed on a technological level that rivalled that of the Forerunners. This is something that’s kind of glossed over in the important Halo 4 plot sequence, and for those who weren’t expecting it it can be kind of a ‘wait, what?’ moment. Hell, even I was like “hang about?” and I kind of knew it was coming, since I’d read up some stuff on Halopedia regarding all this. (The Forerunner trilogy is set during this time period, so there’s a lot of background material already online).

Anyway – The short version, just so you know, is that Humanity was around, we were pretty awesome, but then we had a war with the Forerunners and lost. After we lost, we were kicked back to the stone-age, and after the Halo rings fired and wiped out all life we were one of the races re-seeded, which is where the actual timeline of humanity starts as far as ‘real-life’ goes and then things plod along until we get to the ‘current’ Halo timeline.

The Didact: Motivation

Ok, so even if you haven’t played the game by now you should have some inkling as to who the antagonist of Halo 4 is – The Didact. In short, he is (was) the commander-and-chief of the Forerunner military and the highest member of the Warrior-Servant ‘caste’ within Forerunner society. He also has personal command over the ‘Prometheans’, a special sect within the Warrior-Servant Class (Special Forces maybe?). In order to understand why he hates humanity and why he wants to destroy them in Halo 4, you have to understand three key things: the afore-mentioned war between ‘ancient’ humans and the Forerunners, the fact that that war caused the Forerunners to be unprepared for the coming of The Flood, and that he saw Humanity as a threat to Forerunner superiority and holders of ‘The Mantle’. I’ll deal with each point in turn:

Human-Forerunner War – As mentioned above, Humanity was around long before and in a higher technological state then they are in 2557. What’s also kind of glossed over/hidden in the EU works is that Humanity was also the first to encounter The Flood, and fought a gruelling war against the parasite which they were basically losing. In a desperate attempt to both flee from the infestation and stop it from spreading, they went from world to world and ‘cleansed’ any that were already touched by The Flood (the rest of Galaxy, inc. Forerunners were unaware of The Flood at the time, and Humanity couldn’t be bothered to tell them it seems), including Forerunner planets. As the Librarian-shard states during the game, “Humanity wasn’t expanding, you were running.”

The Forerunners were already aware of Humanity and thought of them as a bit aggressive, but even they weren’t going to sit back and let them kill their own people, and so the Human-Forerunner War raged. The Didact was the commander who led the Forerunner forces, so you can imagine how over time he came to see Humans as nothing but ‘the enemy’. After the war was won, Humanity was ‘devolved’ and reduced to a primitive species, although the Forerunners still left them with potential within their genetics to reclaim what was once theirs, and even take up ‘The Mantle’.

The Flood – As far as the game is concerned++, it’s stated that almost as soon as the Forerunners defeated humanity and kicked them back to the stone-age, they discovered what was really going on. Humanity was running from The Flood and were trying to save the rest of the Galaxy through some extremely tough-loving. Personally, I feel that not telling anyone what you’re doing because it ‘wastes time’ is a bit of a flimsy excuse, but what can you do. The Forerunners – especially the Didact and his troops – had already paid a terrible cost in stopping Human aggression, and so they weren’t really prepared for The Flood when it attacked the Forerunners in turn.

The Forerunner-Flood war waged for a long time, again with the Didact leading a lot of the Forerunner forces, and it was a long, slow grind, one that the Forerunners were losing inch by inch. When it became clear that The Flood couldn’t be defeated through sheer might, other options were considered.

The Mantle – The ‘Mantle’, in short, was a belief system and a way of living one’s life (comparable to Buddhism, perhaps) that the Forerunners subscribed to. In a wider context, the Forerunners believed they held the ‘Mantle of Responsibility’ for looking after the ‘lesser’ races in the Galaxy, helping them grow and protecting them from threats beyond their control. The Forerunners had been around for a long, long time, even when Humanity showed up with all the enthusiasm of a young race with cool toys, and whilst many believed they could inherit ‘The Mantle’ as the Forerunner race declined, The Didact specifically believed that the Mantle of Responsibility was for Forerunners alone and forever, and resented the Humans for trying to assume the Mantle as their own (and for how willing some of his own people were for wanting to give it to them).

The Didact: Plan

So, in short, The Didact was pissed off at Humanity for A/ waging a great war against his species killing billions (inc. his own children) B/ leaving the Forerunners unprepared for the arrival of The Flood and C/ that Humanity dared challenge Forerunner supremacy and attempt to take Mantle upon themselves (through cleansing infested planets and not telling anyone about it). However, at the time, all that was kind of moot as he still had an infestation to deal with. An infestation that was winning.

This is where the Composer comes in: again, the Librarian-shard tried to explain what it did during the game, but basically it was a device that was created during the Forerunner-Flood war as one of the potential solutions, along with the Halo Array, in dealing with The Flood. What it essentially does is ‘digitise’ life and create some kind of digital/organic hybrid, but the project was abandoned because the newly created life form lacked a moral compass, and any attempts to reverse the process resulted in ‘abominations’. Originally the Forerunners were going to use it on themselves to become immortal, but once the idea was abandoned in favour of the Halo Array, the Didact used the composer on his own Promethean Warriors to make them 100% loyal to him, but also make them immune to flood infestation so they could better combat the enemy. The form they took after this transformation is the form you see in Halo 4.

Unfortunately the Didact only had so many warriors at his personal command, and it was rather late in the war to be trying such an ethically questionable stunt, so it didn’t have much effect. In search of new ‘raw material’ to create new soldiers, had a great idea. He would use The Composer on the remnants of humanity – this ensuring new warriors for his army and also getting his final revenge on an enemy the upstarts that had caused him and his a lot of anguish and trouble. It would also prevent them from re-evolving further down the line and trying to assume ‘The Mantle’ once more.

He managed to use the composer on some humans and continue his war, but eventually the rest of his race stepped in – his wife The Librarian was especially annoyed as she had worked hard to create a future for mankind. Whether alone or with help, she captured the Didact and imprisoned him within a ‘Cryptum’ at the centre of his own personal artificial planet (A Micro Dyson Sphere, if anyone cares) ‘Requiem’. The Composer was then taken and stored in one of the other Halo Installations.

The Didact: Halo 4

So now we come to the events of the actual game. For reasons that have not fully been explained yet, the Didact seems to be the only member of his race in existence^, having been sealed in a ‘Cryptum’ by The Librarian so that he could both stop causing mischief, but so that he could also survive the effects of the Halo Array. What Promethean Knights he had left were turned into guards/jailors. However, as you’ll know if you played the game, the Didact managed to trick the Master Chief into releasing him (it seems you can be aware and have limited control over things from within a Cryptum).

Despite his wife urging him to meditate and to come to terms with everything, it seems The Didact is still pretty pissed. Realising though that Humanity had not yet assumed ‘The Mantle’ yet, he still sees a chance to at least have his revenge for all the shit they caused him back in the day. Therefore he seeks to find the Composer again and use it against humanity so he can finally have his revenge and prevent them inheriting the Forerunner’s empire, which is basically the plot of Halo 4 and source of the “An Ancient Evil Awakens” moniker.

I like to sum it up by saying the Didact wants to upload Humanity onto a USB stick and lock that stick in a box somewhere for all time.

Trivia & Notes

* Whilst this is currently under contention, it is my personal belief that the speech the Didact gives after the credits have finished rolling during the ‘secret’ ending is actually from his original trial following his victory over ancient humans, and not some proof that he survived the events of Halo 4. Even though it’s highly likely that he did survive and will return, many people online seem to think that particular speech is from the present, when I think it’s actually from the past.

* ^ It’s not been fully explained what happened to the Forerunners. Some of the EU stuff mentions that many just up and left the local part of the Galaxy for destinations unknown, and the games don’t really shed any further light on the subject, not even through terminals. I always assumed that the Forerunners were unable or unwilling to save any of their species before the Halo rings had to be fired (to prevent the Flood interfering and ensuring they couldn’t be fired at all). I imagine we’ll find out at what actually happened some point down the line.

* ++ There’s some discrepancy between various media regarding the events following the Human-Forerunner war and the start of the Forerunner Flood war… Halo: Legends stipulates that The Flood randomly arrived from ‘outside’ the Galaxy (possibly indicating that the Halo 4 material is essentially changing the original idea), but what ‘officially’ happened is that Humanity drove off the Flood for a time, although not in time to stop them being annihilated by the Forerunners who by that point just saw Humanity as too much trouble to be left standing. The Flood supposedly remained hidden for a while before pouncing upon the Forerunners in turn by arriving from outside the Galaxy, where they hid, although it’s possible Forerunners still knew of them through documentation left over by The Humans. They knew enough to know what the Humans were running from, at any rate.

* The Flood was actually created by the ‘Precursors’, an ancient and powerful civilization who held the ‘Mantle’ prior to the Forerunners. In their tending of the Galaxy, they deemed that the Forerunner race should be made extinct and tried to kill them all off. However the Forerunners rebelled and defeated the Precursors and assumed the Mantle for themselves. The Flood were created as both revenge against the Forerunners, and as a ‘test’ to Ancient Humanity, who the Precursors saw as their rightful successors.

* The Humans were aligned with an ancient version of the Prophet race, who were also kicked back to the stone-age when they lost.

* The Covenant obviously return in Halo 4 as well, and just for clarity so that their deal is this – The Covenant forces you encounter in the game are a ‘sect’ that are highly religious and still believe that the Forerunners are Gods. Via events that you can actually read about in the Kilo-Five trilogy of Novels by Karen Traviss (Glasslands, The Thursday War and an untitled final novel), they learn of the Didact’s existence and his location and seek to free him. Conveniently they seem to arrive at the same time as the Chief’s segment of Forward Unto Dawn.

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.

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.

So, today saw the release of the Anniversary Edition of Halo: Combat Evolved. Oddly enough, I didn’t get to review this one in the end, which is kind of shame as I really would have wanted to. However, since I ended up doing Skyrim as well, I didn’t want to hog all of the good titles (totally doing Mass Effect 3 when it comes around, and I don’t care who I have to kill), so we ended up giving it to someone else.

It’s ok though, I’ll still pick up my pre-order today, and if I actually had a choice I think I still would have picked Skyrim as I know what to expect from Halo.

I’m glad they did this HD remake – the original game holds a very special place in heart, and is pretty integral do my development as a gamer. Unfortunately, you can’t play the original game using a HDMI cable on the Xbox 360, and whilst I could have picked it up on Games on Demand, I never got around to it. Then they announced the HD remake – the Anniversary Edition – and all was right with the world. All it is really is the original game with HD textures super-imposed over everything, along with some minor bug fixes. Everything else is pretty much the same (I hear rumours that the team – a combination of 343 Studios, Saber Interactive and someone called Certain Affinity had like no budget for this re-make, which would explain a lot of things), good and bad, but what can you do. There’s multiplayer this time, although it’s basically Reach’s multiplayer system, using re-made Halo maps.

Halo CE was instrumental into getting me into the more ‘core’ console scene. Before that came out, I basically only played strategy games (and the odd other game) on my PC, and then I had my Nintendo 64/GameCube for everything else, which was mainly Zelda and the odd other title that took my fancy. To say I was a ‘Gamer’ back then probably isn’t entirely true. Gaming for me was just a hobby equal to that of reading, watching films and listening to music, I never favoured one over the other and there are plenty of people out there who were more into it than I was. I didn’t play FPS games that much either, apart from the early Medal of Honor games (Opening level of Frontline FTW).

Then game Halo, and a lot of fond memories. To my knowledge (which is patchy because I don’t really remember a lot of how the industry was back then – didn’t really follow that closely), it was the first mainstream shooter that had a decent, story-driven campaign (Half-Life non-withstanding, although it’s debateable if that could be considered ‘mainstream’). Even if it was accidental, it was key to the initial success of the original Xbox, and it showed the potential of story driven AND action based shooters (Medal of Honor was kind of stealth based, all things considered). My fondest memory is with me and my brother in his room, the lights are off, and we are playing the level 343 Guilty Spark for the first time. (First time you meet the flood, FYI). Let me tell you, that when we saw those ghostly silhouettes and when those little leach things first attacked you, we basically shat our pants, and it was glorious.

That, and the fact that on another level prior to that, Assault the Control room, we’d painstakingly gather as many marines as we good, kept them alive, and then assaulted this particular Covenant stronghold that was up a hill. Again, glorious. There’s been many theories as to why Halo works so well – the fact that the Master Chief is a blank canvas, so it’s easier to impose yourself into the game, the mystery of Halo (so good story-writing, basically), well crafted set-pieces (Beach assault on Silent Cartographer, anyone?), whatever… the fact of the matter is that it worked fantastically well, and I’m fairly sure it helped shape the industry and the genre. If I’m being honest, Halo 2 and 3 weren’t nearly as good. Although I did  rather enjoy Halo 3‘s story, and the technology behind it made it look good, not to mention the improvements to multiplayer, The Forge, and other elements to the franchise. Halo 2, if I’m being honest, was a little bit shit, although it did help put Xbox Live on the map, and helped establish it as THE service for competitive online gaming. Halo: ODST was a very interesting exploration of what other styles of gameplay the franchise could provide – I hope we see more of it, and you can read my thoughts on Halo: Reach here. None of them had quite the same impact as Halo CE though.

Some people would want more from a HD remake – and in many ways there is probably more Microsoft could have done with the Anniversary Edition, but this is one game I’d happily slap my £40 down for, regardless of what was in it, as I owe the original Halo that much. It’s just a shame Bungie haven’t worked on it, as really the money should go to them, but I’m willing to give 343 the benefit of the doubt for now (Let’s see where they go with Halo 4, although I’m not entirely sold on an entire trilogy just yet). It’s a shame my brother is in the Philippines right now, as I’d love to sit down with him with the Anniversary Edition and play through it for old times’ sake, but I’m sure I can find someone else to play it with.

Give me a few days, and I’ll write a mini review on it.

So, on the face of things, today has not been that great a day. Well, it’s been alright… well, kind of disappointing, but I’m already over it. Still, nothing’s really gone right this entire weekend, so I’m in a bit of a funk. And I spent more than I really should have today, which is never a good feeling.

A long time ago, in a place far, far away (known as ‘Surrey’ to the indigenous population), my uber-cool matte black Xbox 360 Elite died on me. Not, as you may have expected at the time, of the Red Ring of Death. Despite having RROD’d on me about three or four times since I’d bought it (I always managed to bring it back to life) – it died of an altogether different problem related to the graphics card. I can’t remember the code name for the problem, but it killed it, good as dead. Right in the middle of a review as well, which was annoying.

The Microsoft PR chap (who I won’t actually name because the last time I ‘named’ him in something I actually got him into trouble. Oops), was nice enough though to send me out a replacement pretty sharpish though, saving me the trouble of having to go through Microsoft’s Consumer Support options and/or buy a new one. The only catch, was that it was white – same specification as an Elite, just the wrong colour. At the time I didn’t think it would really matter, and I was kind of desperate, so I said sure.

Fast forward to today, and that turn of events finally bit me in the ass. Despite being the same specification as an Elite, the fact that it was the wrong colour meant that GameStation wouldn’t give me Elite prices on the trade-in value. Something to do with trading standards. Damn those people, protecting consumer interests!

Still, I got my xbox slim, and I managed to get some extra money off by insta-trading in Deus Ex, which came with it (I reviewed it on the PS3, so I already have it). It’s not the matte black version though, it’s the shiny black, so it’s going to get all smudgy. I’d hoped that by the time I’d gotten around to it, all the slims would be matte black, given that Microsoft said they were going to discontinue the shiny casing.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing that made today a bit naff – add in the fact that I was supposed to have taken care of everything yesterday (took longer than I thought to figure out a way to back everything up), so I couldn’t go to the bank today. Gamestation also weren’t taking pre-orders for the Mass Effect 3 special editions, because apparently it’s still ‘TBC’ (odd considering a fellow games journo told me they were running out). Annnnd, thanks to GamesCom and leaving it till this weekend, it was too late to return an item I didn’t need.

I tried to cheer myself up by buying Source Code, which I’ve wanted to see for a while… but then that made me feel guilty as I’d already spent enough that day (had to do food shopping too). Oh, and the cute girl in Gamestation who sold me my DS Lite didn’t recognize me. Sad Face.

Hmm. That came off as a little whiny, didn’t it? Oh well, you’ll live.