The official logo of the series
|Publisher(s)||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Platform(s)||Xbox, Xbox 360, Windows/Mac-based PCs|
|First release||Halo: Combat Evolved / 2001|
Halo is a science fiction video game franchise created by Bungie and owned and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The main trilogy of games center on the experiences of the Master Chief, a cybernetically-enhanced human super-soldier, and his artificial intelligence (AI) companion, Cortana. The Master Chief aids future humanity in battling the Covenant, a theocratic alliance of alien races. In this science fiction setting, the term "Halo" refers to Halo megastructures: large, habitable ringed structures, similar to Larry Niven's ringworlds.
The trilogy of video games have been praised as being among the best first-person shooters on a video game console, and are considered the Microsoft Xbox's "killer app". This has led to the term "Halo killer" being used to describe console games that aspire, or are considered, to be better than Halo. Fuelled by the success of Halo: Combat Evolved, and immense marketing campaigns from publisher Microsoft, both sequels went on to break various sales records. Halo 3 sold more than US$170 million worth of copies in the first twenty-four hours of release, breaking the record set by Halo 2 three years prior. The trilogy of games have sold over 24.8 million copies worldwide.
Strong sales of the games has led to the franchise's expansion to other mediums; there are five bestselling novels, two graphic novels, and other licensed products. Beyond the original trilogy, other "Halo" games have branched off into other genres of play, with different developers; including Halo Wars, a real-time strategy game, Halo: Chronicles, which is being developed by Peter Jackson, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach both prequels to Halo 3. The series' award-winning music was composed by Bungie's own in-house musician Martin O'Donnell, and soundtracks have been released for the entire trilogy. The cultural impact of the Halo series has been compared by writer Brian Bendis to that of Star Wars. The collective group of fans of the series is referred to as the "Halo Nation".
Halo is set several centuries in the future. After the development of the "Shaw-Fujikawa Translight Engine", the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) begins a program of interstellar travel and planetary colonization. Over 800 planets are colonized in 200 years, categorized as "Inner Colonies" and "Outer Colonies". The Inner Colonies, being closer to Earth, are more developed and politically stable. The Outer Colonies were reachable after the breakthrough of the Shaw-Fujikawa Translight Engine. Due to the older planets' need for the raw materials and supplies the Outer Colonies provide, tensions and outright civil war foments between the colonies and the UNSC. The UNSC creates the SPARTAN-II Project in order to covertly suppress these rebellions. Twenty-seven years before the events of the main game trilogy, UNSC communication with the colony Harvest is lost, and the ship sent to investigate is destroyed by the Covenant, a theocratic collective of aliens bent on exterminating humanity. The Covenant leadership has declared humanity to be an affront to their Gods, the Forerunner. By 2535, almost all of the Outer Colonies have been destroyed by the Covenant; in response, the UNSC vigorously enforces the "Cole Protocol", destroying material and ships that might lead the Covenant to Earth. The Covenant possesses a significant technological advantage, and proves nearly impossible for the UNSC to defeat in space engagements. These events are only alluded to in the video games, but their full descriptions are outlined in the novels Halo: The Fall of Reach and Contact Harvest, as well as in the real-time strategy game Halo Wars.
The story arc of the game trilogy begins with the game Halo: Combat Evolved, set in 2552. The Covenant arrive at Reach, which is the UNSC's last colonial major stronghold; they vitrify the planet, leaving very few survivors. The Master Chief, the last SPARTAN thought to be alive, escapes on the ship Pillar of Autumn. The Pillar of Autumn, in order to avoid leading the Covenant to Earth, proceeds to coordinates selected by the female A.I. Cortana; dropping out of slipspace, the Autumn discovers the titular Halo, and is attacked by the Covenant. Battle damage forces the Autumn to the surface of the ring, where the Flood, a parasitic alien species, are accidentally released by the Covenant and Marines. The release of the Flood prompts the ring's caretaker, 343 Guilty Spark, to convince the Master Chief to activate Halo's defenses, so that the Flood can be destroyed. The Forerunners created Halo to starve the Flood of their food—sentient life—by exterminating all possible vectors for thousands of light-years in every direction. Upon discovering Halo's purpose, the Master Chief detonates the fusion reactors in the crashed Pillar of Autumn, destroying the ring; he and Cortana then escape in a fighter spacecraft.
In Halo: First Strike, the Master Chief returns to Reach, located in the Epsilon Eridani system, and rejoins the survivors of the vitrification. He and other SPARTAN-II's attack a Covenant space station, where a fleet is massing to attack Earth. The space station is destroyed, giving the humans time to prepare for the invasion. Soon after in Halo 2 a small Covenant fleet arrives at Earth. Badly beaten by the humans, the Covenant commander, the High Prophet of Regret, flees to another Halo, Installation 05, unwittingly taking the human ship In Amber Clad with him. At Installation 05, the Master Chief kills the High Prophet, leading to the replacement of the Covenant Elites with the Brutes as the preferred soldiers of the Covenant. This changing of the guard causes a schism within the Covenant. The Elites, realizing they have been betrayed, ally with the humans. The Elite warrior known as the Arbiter joins the humans Miranda Keyes and Sergeant Johnson in stopping the activation of Halo. This act inadvertently puts all the Halo installations on standby: the remaining rings can be activated remotely from a location known as "The Ark".
The Master Chief stows away on a Forerunner vessel headed to Earth, in the midst of a full-scale invasion by the Covenant. In Halo 3, the Covenant excavate a Forerunner artifact in the African desert; despite the efforts of the Elites and humans, the High Prophet of Truth activates the artifact, which opens a slipspace portal to the Ark. The Master Chief and the Arbiter travel through the portal and kill Truth; They then activate a new Halo ring under construction in an effort to destroy the local Flood, led by the intelligence known as the Gravemind, while sparing the rest of the galaxy. Because the ring's construction is incomplete, the resulting pulse destroys the ring and damages the Ark. The Arbiter escapes the explosion, but the Master Chief and Cortana are left drifting in space, trapped in the severed rear half of their ship. The Master Chief cryonically freezes himself as he and Cortana wait for rescue. In a bonus ending, the ship is seen drifting towards a mysterious planet.
As of 2009[update], the Halo series includes a main trilogy of games; the games were released in chronological order, with each new installment following the events of the previous title. Two new games are in development. The Halo series features recurring science fiction and action game elements. Ancient structures and alien races appear throughout the series. The games of the main trilogy are first-person shooters, with the player experiencing most action from the protagonist's perspective.
Originally developed as a real-time strategy game for the Apple Macintosh platform, Halo: Combat Evolved went through several iterations before arriving at the console first person shooter for which it is recognised. When the developer was bought by Microsoft in 2001, the game was rapidly finished and became an Xbox launch title and platform exclusive.
Released on November 15, 2001, the Xbox version of Halo: Combat Evolved is the first Halo video game. The game introduced many gameplay and plot themes common to the whole trilogy. Players battle various aliens on foot and in vehicles to complete objectives, while attempting to uncover the secrets of the eponymous Halo. One concept introduced in Halo: Combat Evolved, is limiting the number of weapons players could carry to two, forcing them to carefully select their preferred armament. Players fight with ranged and melee attacks, as well as a limited number of grenades. Bungie refers to the "weapons-grenades-melee" format as the "Golden Triangle of Halo", which has remained fundamentally unchanged throughout the trilogy. In Halo: Combat Evolved, the player's health is measured in both hit points and a continually recharging energy shield. A PC and Mac port was later developed by Gearbox Software, and released on September 30 and November 11, 2003 respectively. A stand-alone expansion, entitled Halo: Custom Edition, was released as a PC exclusive, and allowed players to create custom content for the game.
Its sequel, Halo 2 was released on the Xbox on November 9, 2004 and later for Windows Vista on May 17, 2007. For the first time, the game was released in two different editions: a standard edition with just the game disc and traditional Xbox packaging, and the Collector's Edition with a specially designed aluminum case, along with an additional bonus DVD, extra booklet, and slightly different user manual. Halo 2 introduced new gameplay elements, chief among them the ability to hold and fire two weapons simultaneously, known as "dual wielding". Unlike its predecessor, Halo 2 fully supports online multiplayer via Xbox Live. The game uses "matchmaking" to facilitate joining online matches by grouping players looking for certain types of games. This was a change from the more traditional "server list" approach which was used to find matches in online games at this time. Upon release, Halo 2 became the game played by the most people on the Xbox Live service that week; regaining this title every week for over two years — the longest streak any game has held the spot. To this day, Halo 2 is still the game played by the most people each week for the original Xbox.
Halo 3 is the third and final game in the main Halo trilogy, ending the story arc begun in Halo: Combat Evolved. The game was released on the Xbox 360 on September 25, 2007. It adds to the series new vehicles, new weapons, and a class of items called equipment The game also includes a limited map-editing tool known as the Forge, which allows players to insert game objects, such as weapons and crates, into existing multiplayer map geometry. Players can also save a recording of their gameplay sessions, and view them as video, from any angle.
Spin-offs and sequels
The success of the main Halo trilogy has spurred the creation of spin-offs. Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game developed by Ensemble Studios for the Xbox 360. Set in the year 2531, the game will take place prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. According to Ensemble, much effort has been expended into developing a control scheme that is simple and does not have issues like those in other console strategy games. The game was announced at X06 and released in February and March 2009. A Halo-based character, SPARTAN Nicole-458, appeared in Dead or Alive 4, a product of the collaboration between Tecmo's Team Ninja and Microsoft's Bungie Studios.
In an interview on MTV on July 16, 2008, Microsoft’s head of Xbox business, Don Mattrick, stated that Bungie is working on a new Halo game for Microsoft, which he stated is independent of Halo Wars and Halo Chronicles. An announcement of the new Halo project was expected at the 2008 E3 game exposition, which Bungie stated "has been building for several months", but was delayed by their publisher Microsoft. The Halo announcement was to be part of Microsoft's 150-minute E3 presentation, and was cut to trim the presentation down to 90 minutes; Microsoft has stated it wants to give the game its own dedicated event. After the release of an ambiguous teaser trailer on September 25, Microsoft announced the game as Halo: Recon (later retitled Halo 3: ODST), a prequel to the events of Halo 3. Microsoft announced a new Halo title, Halo: Reach, at E3 2009.
Alternate reality games were used to promote the release of the games in the main trilogy. The Cortana Letters, a series of cryptic email messages, were circulated by Bungie prior to Halo: Combat Evolved's release. I Love Bees, an alternate reality game, was used to promote the release of Halo 2. The game focused on a website created by 42 Entertainment, commissioned by Microsoft and endorsed by Bungie. Over the course of the game, audio clips were released that eventually formed a complete five-hour story set on Earth between Halo and Halo 2. Similarly, Iris was used as a viral marketing campaign for the release of Halo 3. It featured five web servers containing various media files related to the Halo universe.
Spin-off titles were planned for release on handheld systems, but proved to be either rumors or did not progress far in development. Early rumors of a handheld Halo title began in 2004 about a title for the Game Boy Advance. However, Bungie denied the rumors and commented that such a project between Microsoft and Nintendo would be "very unlikely". At a Las Vegas consumer technology convention in January 2005, rumors were spread about a version of Halo for the handheld Gizmondo system. Bungie denied the rumors stating they were not making a game for the system. A former-Gizmondo employee later revealed development only extended to basic story and game structure concepts to obtain funding from investors. In 2006, a concept video for Microsoft's portable Ultra-Mobile PC featured footage of Halo and caused speculation for a handheld title. Microsoft later stated the footage was for demonstration purposes only; Halo was included because it was a Microsoft-owned property. In January 2007, IGN editor-in-chief Matt Casamassina claimed he played a version of Halo for the Nintendo DS. Due to speculation, on October 2, 2007 he demonstrated on-camera, in-game footage of an early-development style version of Halo DS. The demonstrated work featured dual-wielding and a version of the Halo 2 map Zanzibar. On October 5, 2007, Bungie employee Brian Jarrard explained the Halo DS demo was in fact an unsolicited pitch that was never taken on.
In 2006, Microsoft announced an episodic video game to be developed by film director Peter Jackson's Wingnut Interactive. The game, dubbed Halo: Chronicles, was confirmed to be in development in 2007, and by 2008 was still hiring for positions on the development team. According to sources close to the project, it has been put on hold as of 2009.
The first Halo game was announced on July 21, 1999, during the Macworld Conference & Expo. It was originally planned to be a real-time strategy game for the Mac and Windows operating systems, but later changed into a third person action game. On June 19, 2000, Microsoft acquired Bungie Studios and Halo: Combat Evolved became a launch title for the Xbox video game console. After receiving Xbox development kits, Bungie Studios rewrote the game's engine, heavily altered its presentation, and turned it into a first-person shooter. Though the first Halo was meant to include an online multiplayer mode, it was excluded because Xbox Live was not yet available. The success of the game led to a sequel, Halo 2, which was announced on August 8, 2002 at the Microsoft's New York X02 press event. It featured improved graphics, new weapons, and a multiplayer mode on Xbox Live. Halo 3 was announced at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo. The initial conception for the third game was done before Halo 2 was released in 2004. It utilized a proprietary, in-house graphics engine, and employed advanced graphics technologies.
A report published on IGN explores the literary influences present in the franchise, and notes Halo was influenced by The Culture and Ringworld, written by Iain M. Banks and Larry Niven, respectively. It comments on the similarities between characters in Halo and other science fiction series, most notably Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game: aspects of the SPARTAN Project and the design of the Drone species are perceived as reminiscent of the super soldier program and Buggers found in the novel. Other elements of the games such as the Master Chief's name "John" have been suggested as originating based on a character named Jon 6725416 in Christopher Rowley's Starhammer. Another essay suggests that the name is a homage to the John Spartan character of Demolition Man. A report written by Roger Travis and published by The Escapist compares Halo with the Latin epic Aeneid, written by classical Roman poet Virgil. Travis posits similarities between the plots of both works and compares the characters present in them, with the Flood and Covenant taking the role performed by the Carthaginians, and the Master Chief's role in the series to that of Aeneas.
Four Halo soundtracks, composed by Martin O'Donnell, have been released. The Halo Original Soundtrack contains most of Combat Evolved's music. Due to the varying nature of gameplay, the music present was designed to use the game's dynamic audio playback engine. The engine allows for the mood, theme, and duration of music played to change according to gameplay. To afford a more enjoyable listening experience, O'Donnell rearranged portions of the music of Halo into standalone suites, which follow the narrative course of the game. The soundtrack also contains music not used in the game, including a variation on the Halo theme that was first played at Halo's debut at Macworld 1999.
For Halo 2's soundtrack, producer Nile Rodgers and O’Donnell decided to split the music into two separate volumes. The first, Volume One, was released on November 9, 2004 and contained all the themes as well as the “inspired-by” music present in the game (featuring Incubus, Hoobastank, and Breaking Benjamin). The second release, Volume 2, contained the rest of the music, much of which was incomplete or not included in the first soundtrack, as the first soundtrack was shipped before the game was released; the second volume was released on April 25, 2006. Halo 2, unlike its predecessor, was mixed to take full advantage of Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound.
The soundtrack for Halo 3 was released on November 20, 2007. O'Donnell noted he wanted to bring back the themes from the original game in order to help tie together the end of the trilogy. The tracks are presented, similarly to the previous soundtrack for Halo 2, in a suite form. Unlike previous soundtracks, where much of the music had been synthesized on computer, the soundtrack for Halo 3 was recorded using a 60-piece orchestra, along with a 24-voice chorus. The final soundtrack was recorded by the Northwest Sinfonia at Studio X in Seattle, Washington. The soundtracks were bundled and released as a box set in December 2008.
For Halo Wars, the task of creating the game's music fell to Stephen Rippy. Rippy listened to O'Donnell's soundtracks for inspiration and incorporated the Halo theme into parts of his arrangements. In addition to synthesized and orchestral components, the composer focused on the choir and piano as essential elements, feeling these were important in creating the "Halo sound". Rather than use the Northwest Sinfonia, Rippy travelled to Prague and recorded with the FILMharmonic Orchestra before returning to the United States to complete the music. A standalone compact disc and digital download retail version of the soundtrack was announced in January 2009 for release on February 17.
- Further information: List of Halo media
The Halo franchise includes various types of merchandise and adaptations outside of the video games. Currently, this includes bestselling novels, graphic novels, and other licensed products, from action figures to a packaging tie-in with Mountain Dew. Numerous action figures and vehicles based on Halo have been produced. Joyride Studios created Halo and Halo 2 action figures, while Halo 3 poseable and collectible action figures were produced by McFarlane Toys.
There have been numerous printed adaptations based on the Halo canon established by the video games. Larry Niven (author of Ringworld) was originally approached to write a Halo novelization, but declined due to unfamiliarity with the subject matter. The first novel was Halo: The Fall of Reach, a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved. It was written by Eric Nylund in seven weeks, and published in October 2001. William C. Dietz wrote an adaptation of Halo: Combat Evolved called Halo: The Flood, which was released in 2003. Eric Nylund returned to write the third novel, Halo: First Strike, which takes place between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and was published in December 2003. Nylund also wrote the fourth adaptation, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, which was published on October 31, 2006. Bungie employee Joseph Staten wrote the fifth book, Halo: Contact Harvest, which was released on October 30, 2007, while Tobias S. Buckell produced the sixth, Halo: The Cole Protocol, published in November 2008. Bungie considers the Halo novels as additions to the Halo canon.
The Halo universe was first adapted into the graphic novel format in 2006 with the release of the Halo Graphic Novel, a collection of four short stories. It was written and illustrated by graphic novelists Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, Brett Lewis, Simon Bisley, Ed Lee and Jean Giraud. At the 2007 New York Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced they would be working on an ongoing Halo series with Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. The limited series, titled Halo: Uprising, bridges the gap between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3; initially planned to conclude shortly before the release of Halo 3, the constant delays led to the final issue being planned for publishing in March 2009.
Marvel announced at the 2009 Comic Con that two new comics, a five-part series written by Peter David and a second series written by Fred Van Lente, would appear the coming summer and winter. David's series, Helljumpers, is set prior to Halo: Combat Evolved and focuses on the elite Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. The five-part series will be published starting July 2009. Lente's series, Spartan Black, revolves around a black ops team of Spartan supersoldiers assigned to the UNSC Office of Naval Intelligence. Science fiction author Greg Bear has been contracted to write a trilogy of books focusing on the Forerunner, with the first volume to appear in 2010.
Reception and critical response
The Halo franchise has been highly successful commercially and critically. During the two months following Halo: Combat Evolved's release, it sold alongside more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles and sold a million units by April 2002. Halo 2's sales generated US$125 million on its premiere day, making it the fastest selling United States media product in history up to that time. Combined with Halo's sales, the two games sold 14.8 million units before Halo 3's release.
GameSpot reported 4.2 million units of Halo 3 were in retail outlets on September 24, 2007, a day before official release—a world record volume. Halo 3 broke the previous record for the highest grossing opening day in entertainment history, making US$170 million in its first twenty-four hours. Worldwide, sales exceeded US$300 million the first week, helping to more than double the sales of the Xbox 360 when compared with the weekly average before the Halo 3 launch. At the end of 2007, Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved were the number one and two best-selling Xbox titles, respectively, and Halo 3 was the best-selling Xbox 360 title. The Halo series has gone on to sell more than 25 million copies worldwide.
The Halo adaptations have been successful as well. All the novels have appeared on Publisher Weekly's bestseller charts. and the Halo Graphic Novel sold more than 100,000 copies, a "rare hit" for the games-to-comics genre. Ghosts of Onyx, Contact Harvest, and The Cole Protocol appeared on The New York Times bestseller lists, and The Cole Protocol also opened 50th overall on USA Today's bestsellers list.