The bestselling Halo franchise takes place in the fictional Halo universe, where there are four major factions players encounter or control. Halo's story has 26th century humanity, led by the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), caught in a war with a genocidal alien power known as the Covenant. In the 2001 videogame Halo: Combat Evolved, a lone UNSC ship surrounded by Covenant discovers a mysterious ringworld known as "Halo". The massive installation was built by an enigmatic race known as the Forerunner, who have long since disappeared for unknown reasons; the Covenant worship the Forerunner as gods. During the course of the game, players discover that the Halos were built by the Forerunner as a weapon of last resort against the Flood, a parasite which is driven to consume all sentient life. The Forerunner were forced to activate the Halo network, killing themselves and any potential Flood hosts, in an effort to starve the Flood to death. In Halo: Contact Harvest, it is revealed that the Covenant leadership discovered that humanity was in fact descended from the Forerunner, and decide to commit genocide in order to suppress the truth. The Flood, meanwhile, escape the confines of Halo and threaten to spread across the galaxy once more.

A large portion of the series' success lies in the creation of a believable world, and Bungie reinforced the fictional factions the player interacts with via a lengthy design process with the release of each game. The overall design of each faction was slowly developed before the release of the first game in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved, and continually refined in the later games' development.

United Nations Space Command

Halo 3 Marine

A UNSC Marine as seen in Halo 3.

The United Nations Space Command is the main faction of future humanity, spanning multiple worlds besides Earth. Formed in the 2160s, during a period when remnants of old cultural ideologies clashed over supremacy in the Solar System, the UNSC primarily served as an overseer of United Nations military operations in space. After initiating massive militarization propaganda throughout its off-world colonies, the UN, through the UNSC, defeated neo-communist and neo-fascist forces in a conflict generally known as the "Interplanetary War", consisting of several side-battles that took place on Mars, the Jovian Moons and the South American Rain forests. Although the war brought a great deal of suffering to both the colonial population and the residents of Earth, it also united humanity's military forces into a common armed force by the end of the 22nd century: the UNSC.[1]

Before the Covenant's attack on Harvest, humanity is in turmoil, with the more remote colonies fighting for independence from the UNSC. To help quell the revolts, the UNSC commissions the SPARTAN Project, which creates elite supersoldiers to stealthily eliminate insurrectionists. When the Covenant began decimating the outer colonies, these Spartans became humanity's best hope against the technological superiority of the aliens. By Halo: Combat Evolved, Earth—whose location is kept secret from the Covenant—is the last remaining Human bastion; it falls under attack during Halo 2. The end of the Human-Covenant war only comes after one of the Spartans, MCPO John-117, helps to eliminate the Covenant's leadership and destroy the Flood.


The UNSC is the military arm of the Unified Earth Government, or UEG. According to Halo story architects Frank O'Conner and Robt McLees, during the events of Halo, the UNSC exercises considerably more power than its civilian counterpart.[2] The UNSC is divided into multiple subbranches, very similar in structure to the current-day US military, as well as including medical and science divisions.

The commanding offices of the UNSC military are CENTCOM (Central Command), and HIGHCOM (High Command). The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) is the most secretive branch of the UNSC, responsible for gathering intelligence and distributing propaganda. In the novels The Fall of Reach and Ghosts of Onyx, ONI is responsible for the development of the SPARTAN II and SPARTAN III supersoldiers under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Halsey and Colonel James Ackerson, respectively.

The primary force in the UNSC, the UNSC Navy is seen to use a varied fleet of warships, ranging from retrofitted Colony ships[3] and fighters to stealth ships and cruisers.[4] Among the UNSC's armaments are coilguns known as "Magnetic accelerator cannons", or MAC guns. First mentioned in Halo: The Fall of Reach, the cannons play an important role in Halo 2 as part of Earth's defense grid. Aboard Navy ships are the UNSC Marine Corps, seen throughout the games and novels as the primary ground force of the UNSC. One of the UNSC's Special Forces units are the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (also known as "Helljumpers"), which specialize in orbital combat insertions.[5] As characterized by author William C. Dietz in Halo: The Flood, the future Corps shares thematic similarities to the present-day United States Marines.[6] The UNSC also has an Army, which serves as a ground defensive force within the UNSC military along with the UNSC Air Force,[2] and in the novel Halo: Contact Harvest train militias on each colony, in part to stem insurrections against the UNSC on the colonies.

The UNSC also field a varied number of ground vehicles for combat. Among these is a jeep dubbed the "Warthog", a real working replica of which was created by special effects company Weta Workshop for a series of shorts by director Neill Blomkamp.[7] This vehicle had fully functioning four-wheel steering, machine-gun, digital displays and air-bags.[8]


From the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved's development, environmental artist Paul Russel pushed the concept of three "schools" of Halo architecture for each faction; for future humanity, the artists and developers settled on a functional, industrial look.[9] Art Director Marcus Lehto said that the artists examined current technology trends and tried to extrapolate what future technology would look like.[10] Designs were molded by the desire for building a realized and distinctive feel for the human ships and buildings, but also to make the areas fun to play in. For example, the design team wanted a cramped, claustrophobic feel for the human ship levels in Combat Evolved.[11] Ron Cobb's work on Aliens informed some of the design for a "lived in" appearance.[12] In comparison to the visions of dystopia common in many other science fiction works, the cities and buildings of Earth which were first shown in Halo 2 were clean and functional, with parks and attractive structures.[13] Character design for the UNSC was more straightforward, with uniforms based on existing military outfits, ranks, and insignia.[14]

Due to Halo being a first person shooter, significant emphasis was put into the design of human weaponry. The chief designer for human weapons was Robt McLees, who at the time of Combat Evolved's development was the only staff member at Bungie with knowledge of firearms;[15] McLees wanted to make sure that the weapons looked "cool", but were also grounded by real-world physics and considerations.[15] The game designers also wanted items that would be recognizable to players, yet futuristic-looking enough to plausibly exist in Halo's 2552.[16] In an interview, McLees noted that after human weapons had been vetted and the rough design worked out, "I went ahead and built the highest-res LOD (level of detail) – and this is where I get "bogged down" with all of the stuff that "nobody cares about" like correct barrel diameter, placement of safeties, sights, magazine release buttons, and making sure that the magazines are actually large enough to hold all the bullets they're supposed to, that they would feed correctly and that the casings eject out of the correct side of the gun."[17] Occasionally, technical restraints forced design changes; the submachine gun introduced in Halo 2 originally featured a transparent magazine which allowed players to see the caseless ammo feed into the gun, but it proved too ambitious given the time and hardware available.[18]

Vehicles play an important role in the Halo games,[19][20] and so vehicles were also given a long development stage. The UNSC's vehicles were designed by Marcus Lehto, Eric Arroyo, and Eddie Smith, and were designed to be functional and utilitarian.[21] Their use of wheels also led many players to feel that they are more fun to drive.[21] The addition of the Mongoose ATV made headlines,[22][23] after rumors of it being cut from Halo 2.[24] The original Warthog was considered a fan favorite.[25]


Forerunner concept h2

Concept art for Forerunner structures in Halo 2, showcasing the Forerunner's ancient, angular design (art by Eddie Smith)

The Forerunners are a long-lost species which are first cryptically mentioned in Halo: Combat Evolved. Little is revealed about the Forerunner in the video games, but Halo 3 reveals to players that humanity is in fact related to the long-dead race; humanity is thus the only race which can "reclaim" the keys which activate the Halo network. According to the official backstory to the series, the Forerunners came to power after the extinction of an even more ancient race, known to them as the Precursors,[26] and formed a galaxy wide empire more than 100,000 years before the events of the main Halo story arc.[27] Mysteriously, the Forerunners then vanished, leaving behind many relics, including massive ringworlds known as "Halos". The Covenant in turn worship the Forerunners as deities and relentlessly search for Forerunner relics. The reason for the Forerunner's disappearance is revealed in Halo: Combat Evolved, when the artificial intelligence Cortana enters one of the Halo's computer networks and learns the truth about the rings: they function as weapons of mass destruction, and were activated by the Forerunner as a last ditch effort to halt the spread of a virulent parasite known as the Flood. Although the parasite's spread across the galaxy was halted, the Forerunners paid a terrible price— they, and all sentient life capable of sustaining the Flood in the galaxy, were annihilated as well, starving the Flood of sustenance.


Paul Russel is considered the architect of the Forerunner's design.[28][29] In an interview, Russel stated that creating the Forerunner's "visual language" was a tough process which only came together "like five months away" from the game's completion;[30] much of the design was finalized on a single level, "The Silent Cartographer", which features both exterior Forerunner structures as well as deep interior chasms.[31] Concept artist Eddie Smith is also credited with helping hone the Forerunner's direction, and said that he started work by reading the game's mission synopsis. "I knew what human and Covenant architecture looked like, so I tried to make the Forerunner concepts different," Smith said.[31] The result was a sleek angular design[32] which was distinct from the curves of the Covenant's architecture and the functional human designs. For Halo 2, designers wanted to refine and elaborate on the Forerunner design, without abandoning the style set by Russel;[33] environment artist Frank Capezzuto found that looking at the Forerunner structures as sculptures rather than buildings helped to drive the designs for Halo 2.[33]


Main article: Covenant (Halo)

The Covenant are a theocracy of various alien races and the primary antagonists of the player. The alliance exists under the religious worship of the long extinct Forerunners and search for their gods' relics. Halo: Contact Harvest reveals that the Covenant's luminaries, devices which searched for Forerunner relics, discovered a massive cache of the relics on a human colony, Harvest. The Forerunner AI Mendicant Bias awakens aboard the Covenant mobile city of High Charity and reveals that the "relics" are in fact the humans themselves-- Bias identifies them with his makers. Worried that the discovery of such a religion-shattering secret would destroy the Covenant, the Covenant leadership instead directs the Covenant to destroy humanity as an affront to the gods. In Halo 2, the Covenant splits into civil war when the Elites learn of their leader's treachery; the Elites eventually ally with humanity to stop the rest of the Covenant from activating the Halos in a misguided attempt to follow the Forerunners.

Covenant technology, architecture, and design continually changed throughout development, occasionally for practical reasons as well as aesthetics; one piece of alien technology, a "gravity lift", was created so that a Covenant ship's low-resolution textures were not so obvious.[34] In comparison to the other factions, Covenant architecture is smooth and organic, with the use of purple tones throughout.


Main article: Flood (Halo)

The Flood is a parasite which is driven by a desire to infect or kill all sentient life it encounters. The Flood first appears in Halo: Combat Evolved, when the Covenant foolishly release some captured specimens from stasis on Installation 04; the parasite spreads and threatens to escape the ring, until the Master Chief destabilizes the installation with a massive explosion. Since then, the Flood have made appearances in Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo Wars, as well as Halo: The Flood, and Halo Graphic Novel.

The Flood were added early in the game development stage of Halo: Combat Evolved, and life of Halo was specifically tailored to increasing the surprise of the Flood's sudden appearance, halfway through the first game. At one point, Halo featured large amounts of terrestrial dinosaur-like creatures, but Bungie felt the presence of other native species would dilute the impact of the Flood and removed them.[35]

Artificial intelligence

According to Wired, the artificial intelligence (AI) of video game characters is "one of the most fraught topics in the world of games, because bad AI can ruin an otherwise good game".[36] Since Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie has sought to create a player experience based on a model of repeating "30 seconds of fun" for each enemy encounter.[37] Each faction in Halo, and the races and characters within that faction, have specifically designed AI to make enemies seem more varied and alive. Halo's AI was made territorial, so that players had a way to escape and regain health if they were nearly beaten in an encounter.[37] Each encounter was given several "stages", or areas where enemies could fall back and regroup or where reinforcements would arrive, in order to sustain a pace of battle.

Cultural impact


Halo's commercial success has led to numerous releases of affiliated merchandise, preceding or following the games. A mix of human and Covenant vehicles and weapons were also featured in the Halo ActionClix tabletop game[38] and a series by McFarlane Toys.[39] Game journalists have even noted the similarities between the Warthog and the Hummer HX, which GM denies.[40] The merchandise includes several series of action figures. The first series of figures were created by Joyride Studios, and featured characters, weapons, and vehicles representing all of Halo's factions. The task of creating Halo 3's action figures fell to McFarlane Toys;[41] in an interview with, Todd McFarlane stated that the challenge of creating figures for a franchise was that designers had to accommodate and integrate both articulation and attention to detail, "without compromising one or the other too heavily".[42] A total of three series of figurines have since been produced, featuring UNSC, Flood and Covenant forces.[43] Manufacturer Kotobukiya also produced "high-end statues" for Halo 3's debut.[44] Other merchandise based on the weapons of the Halo universe include die cast weapons replicas[45] and a set of Covenant weapons used for Laser tag.[46]

Critical reception

Halo's universe and the factions in it have been well-received, both from a storytelling point of view and from game play. Gamasutra lauded Halo's artificial intelligence, which meant that Covenant or Flood forces were never in the same place when you restarted from checkpoints; this had the effect of "giving [the player] the sense that the creatures have things to do besides killing humans".[47] Bungie's goal of making characters behave realistically in the games[48] has led to the behavior of the Covenant, Flood, and Forerunner units being praised in each game of the series. A point of criticism has been the AI of allied UNSC characters; reviewers noted that in Halo 3, they were often more of a hindrance than help.[49][50]

The various factions that make up the Halo universe were each received differently. The Flood have been alternatively praised as terrifying foes, and lambasted as annoying zombie-like enemies; the literary adaptations of the Flood, particularly their representation in The Halo Graphic Novel, have been best received.


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External links