Bungie, 343 and Lore

If there is one Halo topic above the rest I enjoy talking about it’s the universe and the lore that embodies it. For the mainstream audience lore can tend to be irrelevant, if its existence is even acknowledged at all. For the rest of us however, the lore is the backbone of the deep conversations we have about the world of Halo. Originally, I thought the handling of lore for the Halo series was a special case but the more I thought about it I began to realize just how often intellectual properties go through the changing of hands. As you all know Halo was created by the team at Bungie. They fostered the franchise for the first ten years of the IP’s existence before breaking away from parent company Microsoft and becoming independent. This is when Microsoft decided to create an internal studio to handle all things Halo for the indefinite future, this studio was cleverly titled, 343 Industries. While the changes that came from this passing of the torch were numerous, it’s the lore that expanded and changed in monumental ways.

When Bungie’s tenure with the Halo series came to an end we had a total of five Bungie developed games, one spin off real time strategy title in Halo Wars, several books and a slew of comics as well as other material to dive into. These different pieces of media told the story of the Master Chief’s discovery of the ringworld Halo built by the mysterious forerunners, the covenant religion bent on killing humanity in the name of their apparent afront to their Gods and the containment of the parasitic species known as the Flood. Obviously there is a lot to explore in between all of that but this was basically the plot outline of the series. Expanded fiction would build on characters, concepts, locales and ideas but would mostly serve to support the games that already existed with extra material. Bungie held a strict rule that while the expanded material did count as canon to the lore, it was only secondary. Meaning that if anything in the books, comics or other material contradicted the games they were the ones that were labeled non-canon. The games were always the highest priority. Like many others, I found this to be frustrating as we loved the worldbuilding that happened outside the main story but we never felt rewarded for exploring it since it was never referenced or explored in the video games. We would soon learn that 343 had a completely different approach to how expanded media was handled, instead incorporating everything that released and making it all very much count.

How exciting I thought, finally having all those stories we loved meaning something. Blue Team, Reach, Harvest…it was all going to have real value. The problem was it never actually occurred to me that the games were now going to be developed in such a way that you hardly understood what was going on without investing yourself in those pieces of outside media. This proved to be a poorly executed plan as it left many who were not as invested as I was with too many questions and not enough answers. The games that were once simplistic yet layered and easy to follow were now convoluted head scratching balls of confusion. It didn’t help that in the short couple of years between Bungie’s swan song, Halo Reach and 343’s first foray into the Halo video game universe the team at 343 had introduced a huge swath of new lore that was critically important. Maybe so, more than all of the expanded fiction that had come in the ten years before it. I’m mainly referring to one plot point which would cause a stir in the Halo community, one that tested my personal resolve as a Halo fan. The Forerunners.

If were honest about Bungie’s intentions for the Forerunners we could see that they were always meant to be a bit of background material more for world building than for actually having a huge relevance to the plot that was currently being developed. Make no mistake, Bungie’s games were about the conflict with the Covenant and the Flood. That is the story they wanted to tell. However, concepts were in place for what the Forerunners actually were and what their purpose was. In Bungie’s canon the Forerunners were merely just the human race as we know them today, but from a long time ago in which they were more advanced. Think of something along the lines of Star Wars, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The Star Wars universe was something from the past, but still far more advanced than anything we know of currently. I found this to be an extremely simplistic yet interesting twist that really sweetened the lore of the franchise. We spend the entire trilogy fighting a conglomerate of aliens under the Covenant religion who believe they must slaughter humanity because they are an affront to their God’s only to not know that the very God’s they worship are actually the humans they are fighting against. It’s really just a cool concept that I’m not used to seeing in fictional universes. 343 ended up taking what I would call the more mundane approach of making the Forerunners simply just another alien race, but I was more the willing to give them a chance because my love of Halo ran so deep.

343 decided not to waste anytime delving deep into the history and background of the Forerunners when they decided to commission the well known author Greg Bear to write a trilogy of novels based around the origins of the Forerunners, their struggle against the flood, and the creation and eventual activation of the Halo rings. I was excited to finally get insights to an unexplored time in the events of the Halo universe, so I made sure to invest myself in the novels as soon as possible. To my surprise Greg Bear along with the help of 343 managed to weave an intricate, deep, interesting and captivating story about the Forerunner society, Ancient Humanity, the Precursors and the Flood that inevitably drove them to creating the Halo rings. I was sold. Somehow this new studio managed to create something so well constructed that I was able to allow myself to disconnect from the love I had for the old lore of Forerunners being humans and accept this direction wholesale. Characters like the Didact, Librarian and Bornstellar were great additions to the history of Halo, it really enriched the universe it ways I hadn’t seen before. This was further cemented when Halo 4 finally released and was actually a very competent entry into the Halo franchise. It was to my chagrin to find out that many back in 2012 were unhappy with the story and campaign of Halo 4. This effectively turned me into a massive Halo 4 apologist. I frequently went to battle on forums with other enthusiasts to convince them why Halo 4 was such a good game and that I felt it didn’t get the love it deserved simply because it wasn’t a Bungie game. Some of my closest friends had the same distaste for Halo 4, but I let my enthusiasm ooze into every conversation we had to the point I even managed to bring a lot of them around to actually liking the game.

As you can imagine, by the time the Halo 5: Guardians announcements and marketing came around my hype was at an all time high. Here was this great franchise I grew up with that changed studios, managed to enrich the universe and build upon it rather than diminish it. Now to top it off they were going to introduce the characters from The Fall of Reach to a mainline Halo game? How could anything go wrong? All the ingredients for success were there. It was when I finally played Halo 5 that things began to change, when the feeling of a loss of a dear friend began to creep into the pit of my stomach. Simply because the criticism for Halo 5 could warrant an entire post by itself I won’t list all the ways it fell short here. I started to rethink everything I had thought about 343 and the decisions they had made. I actively grew a distaste for their changes to the series including the direction they took with the Forerunners and even Halo 4 itself as I felt it was retroactively impacted by the poor narrative of Halo 5. I began to walk back on all of my prior statements, I reveled in the negativity my friends already had from Halo 5 and ultimately just felt depressed that the series I had once loved had now become this entirely different thing. This is the part of my Halo fandom that runs darkest, it was at this point I decided while I’d always be a fan of the collection of games Bungie had released, I was no longer a fan of the series. I just couldn’t see it head in this direction any longer. Or so I thought.

It didn’t seem like it mattered how much I told myself I wasn’t a fan of Halo anymore, I just couldn’t keep it off my mind. Halo had always been a part of my life, or at least for about as long as I can remember and it’s one of the only pieces of media that manages to inspire me. It’s why I’m spending an entire evening writing this blog for assumedly no one to read. I just need to express the love I have for this series. It runs deeper than I ever knew it could. Time went on, years passed and life changed. I sit here in the latter half of the year 2019, four years after Halo 5’s launch living on the other side of the country, married and trying to be a responsible adult but I still have this deep yearning for the universe I hold so dear. I suppose it makes sense that with maturity and growth I was able to see fandom for what it really is, and it’s opened me up to an entirely new perspective. On the one hand Halo is just a fictional universe, a source of entertainment and in the grand scheme of life it does not matter. On the other hand it does matter that it means so much to me, so much to all of us Halo fans out there. I think anytime something can be so influential and special we need to cherish that.

So what if 343 retconned the Forerunner’s origin? Who cares if Halo 5: Guardians had an awful story. Maybe you really don’t like the art style or long for the days of Marty O’ Donnel’s beautiful score. That’s all okay, were allowed to not like things, were allowed to experience disappointment in the things we love. You see, we hold these things to a higher standard and it makes sense. I’ve found that I can still be a passionate fanatic despite the shortcomings I’ve experienced and that the bad things can be used for good purpose to weigh in contrast to the things we love. You know what? Luke didn’t actually have a lightsaber duel with Kylo Ren and yeah, Canto Bight kinda sucked. The Hobbit movies were not as good as The Lord of the Rings, the Matrix really didn’t need it’s sequels, but hey I’m a fan of these things and I love what I love. The journey is more important than the destination sometimes and I’m glad to be along for the ride. I think when we open ourselves up to not having things the exact way we pictured them in our heads we can start to enjoy things on a whole other level and just relish in the fun of it all. Bungie did have ideas for Halo, 343 had others. We did have to fight The Warden Eternal seven times and Cortana did become evil. It’s terrible but it’s Halo and I’ll be here for the good times as well as the bad. We don’t have to overlook criticism and we are allowed to admit when we enjoy things others find less favorable. I thank Bungie, 343, the community and all the contributors to this wonderful world of Halo. I’m not going anywhere.

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