Tag Archives: halo

Adaptations Evolved

A guest post by R.R. Virdi

November 15th 2016 marked the fifteen year anniversary of science fiction masterpiece that impacted an entire generation. I’m talking about Halo: Combat Evolved. Debuting in 2001 on Microsoft’s gaming console Xbox, Halo brought first person shooters to the mainstream.

Lifelong gamers will note that Halo didn’t revolutionize the shooter genre. In fact, much of what it gave us had already been done by the James Bond gaming adaptation Goldeneye. Multiplayer matches over multitier levels in the first person shooter style. Halo dialed it to eleven. It introduced vehicular warfare, objective based game types such as: Capture the Flag, and Assault.

It’s greatest impact however? Major League Gaming. The professional esports organization sprung to life in 2002 and exploded with Halo’s successor, Halo 2. But it was the first game that laid the groundwork.

Halo’s well-made and addictive multiplayer matches reached the point where a national competition was held in the United States for the best player. Something that would lead to video games foraying onto a stage reserved for professional athletics and the like. This was the start of the Halo Empire.

After its resounding success, developer, Bungie, and parent corporation, Microsoft Studios hit the ground running on producing a still-continuing series of novel adaptations to expand on the game’s world.

The same year of Halo’s release on console would be when Halo: The Fall of Reach landed on bookshelves. It wasn’t the first novel based off of a video game, but it would be the first of what’s still considered arguably the best literary adaptations of a video game, as well as the longest running. The Fall of Reach gave gamers what they wanted and in the best fashion.

A backstory.

Halo: Combat Evolved gave us the Master Chief, a super-soldier raised from birth and enhanced to become humanity’s vanguard against an alien threat. Or so we thought. The prequel novel answered all of the questions we had about his origins without requiring developers to make a new game or dump resources into adding a backstory that could bog down a title. It was well done and it showed. Fans wanted more.

Within the next two years, the Halo franchise released two more novels. An adaptation of the first game itself. One I know tore through and loved for the added details and interactions never seen during the gameplay. It was an Easter egg that built upon an already loved game and foundations. Then came the surprise.

Halo: First Strike. While fans were waiting on pins-and-needles for the sequel. A novel debuted that took place between the much-loved first game and, the one we couldn’t wait for. First Strike gave us a riveting story to excite Halo fans for more than just the visual games. It enraptured us in what had happened post Halo and leading up to Halo 2, setting the groundwork. You didn’t need to read it, but you’d be glad you did.

The developers and property holders had found a formula that worked. Adapt the game world into literature and build on what couldn’t be shown on console. And it worked—brilliantly. The Halo books have continued to release successfully since the series launch in 2001. Bungie may have parted ways with parent Microsoft, but, Halo has never stopped its rampant growth.

At some point, someone involved must have asked, “Why stop at books?” It was a good question.

October 5th 2012 Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn the television mini-series aired. Halo fans had gotten what they had dreamed of. A silver-screen adaptation of the gaming icon they had grown up with. It was a test, and it had passed. The mini-series paved the way for another television adaptation by Ridley Scott, and, a still-in-the-works production by legendary director, Steven Spielberg.

Historically, it has been books that have been adapted into other mediums. Times change. Now, it’s apparent that whatever form your work debuts in, be ready with a plan to adapt it, because cross-platform is the way to go, and it works.

We’re at a point where authors are having their works turned into television series, movies, graphic novels, and it’s going the other way ‘round. Games are being turned into novels and they’ll need authors to do that. The artistic field is crossing boundaries and making it so experts in various forms can collaborate to build upon and bring a franchise into a new platforms.

This is a lesson that all creative types should pay attention to. We’re no longer bound to one medium. Our work, given the right push and effort, can take many shapes and create a powerful brand.

 


 

About the Author:ronnie


R.R. Virdi is the Dragon Award—nominated author of The Grave Report, a paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He’s an avid car nut with a special love for American classics.

The hardest challenge for him up to this point has been fooling most of society into believing he’s a completely sane member of the general public. There are rumors that he wanders the streets of his neighborhood in the dead of night dressed in a Jedi robe and teal fuzzy slippers, no one knows why. Other such rumors mention how he is a professional hair whisperer in his spare time. We don’t know what that is either.

Follow him on his website. http://rrvirdi.com/

Or twitter: @rrvirdi or https://twitter.com/rrvirdi

 

From Zork to Halo and Back Again, Part One

zork_1[1] A guest post by Aaron Scott Hildebrandt

When you start a conversation about storytelling in video games, it’s hard to not immediately jump to discussions about the writing in Halo, Call of Duty, Uncharted, God of War, and the other games that have graced living rooms across the globe. There’s a lot that can be said about the stories in these games–both how they’re written and how they’re presented. Some of these games tell expertly penned and deeply engaging stories, and there are some seriously talented people behind them. People like Ragnar Tornquist, Amy Hennig, and Chris Avellone have left their prints on the entire industry.

But at the same time, the industry as a whole seems like it’s stuck in a rut. There’s something oddly familiar about a lot of the stories being told. Since games like Dragon’s Lair first appeared in 1983, it’s been hard to avoid phrases like “it’s like playing a movie.” And that’s a pretty good summary of where we’re at with computer-based storytelling–we’ve been transplanting the movie experience and casting the viewer in the leading role, rather than leaving them as a disembodied spectator.

Of course, things haven’t always been this way. A lot of us remember the early days of computer gaming, and to compare those experiences to Hollywood blockbusters–or even low-budget indie films–would be kind of hilarious. In fact, those early games seemed like they were on a different medium entirely. So, how did we get using computers to tell stories about battling dysentery in Oregon Trail or exploring mysterious white houses in Zork to defending the universe in Halo? More importantly, where did the dysentery and white houses go? To find out, we’re going to have to rewind a bit. And by “a bit,” I mean “through most of human history.” It’s kind of a long story.

Marshall McLuhan’s phrase “the medium is the message” has gotten a nauseating amount of attention since it first appeared in 1964. There’s a good reason for that–the stories we tell are directly affected by the way we choose to present them. Some stories work across all mediums, while others are so deeply tied to their medium that it would be almost impossible to attempt it in any other. That might not seem like much of a revelation, but we’re living in an odd era that’s become obsessed with translating stories between mediums while pretending that the core of each story will remain intact.

For a while, almost every major movie release saw a companion “novelisation” released in bookstores. Some of the biggest movies (and TV shows) of the last ten years have been adaptations of popular books, comics, and graphic novels. And sometimes, this all works out. There are a handful of examples of beautiful synergy existing between the two mediums, especially when stories are translated from one graphic medium to another. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez demonstrated this extremely well with Sin City, a movie that literally recreated the graphic novel panel for panel, shot for shot. But for each time it works, you have a hundred other attempts that are met with a shrug, followed by the damning phrase “the book was better.”

There’s always been an interplay between the different mediums we use to tell stories, and it’s pretty obvious as to why this happens. At one point, every medium is new. Early oral storytelling established a lot of the techniques we still use to string narrative together. Speaking words aloud could transport people to other times and places. Dialogue could be spoken on behalf of people who only existed in the imagination of the storyteller. But you can’t tell every sort of story with your voice alone.

When the first stories were written, it shouldn’t be surprising that what people wrote were, essentially, the same sorts of stories they were already telling orally, and the stories were told in much the same way. They transcribed. As time passed, though, we started to find new and interesting ways to tell stories. We discovered the novel, Don Quixote setting the stage for an entirely new way of telling stories that just wouldn’t have been feasible had Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra attempted to speak it aloud instead of commit it to paper.

Once we broke free from the previous mediums and embraced what made writing different, we were able to tell stories in totally new ways. Writing, as a medium, is still continuing to surprise us. Jonathan Safran Foer took a physical knife (okay, well, a laser cutter) to the pages of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles, creating an entirely new book from its fragments (Tree of Codes). Both David Foster Wallace and Mark Z. Danielewski have written books that parody the medium itself, hiding the most interesting parts of the book in footnotes and sidebars. Even though they found their root in the same storytelling devices that preceded them, written stories evolved.

Every medium goes through this evolution. At first, we attempt to use new mediums to clone old stories, and while there’s certainly a sense of wonder and discovery as this happens, it’s the evolution that keeps us excited–the adventure of bending and twisting that medium to create something new. Every new medium opens up the possibility of telling original stories that excite and surprise us in ways we’ve never experienced before. Movies took ideas from theatre and radio and turned them into something new. Summer blockbusters would, by and large, make dreadful books, but movies can tell stories that are loud and bright and impossible to experience firsthand. They can actually show us things instead of simply describing them. They can hide details and use focus pulls to draw our attention around a scene in an extremely nuanced way. Movies like Timecode and shows like 24 played at telling stories in real-time, something that would be nearly impossible to experience if we were reading them instead of watching.

(A quick aside: I have no idea if anyone has ever attempted to write a real-time book. Essentially, every three hundred words you write would have to cover about a minute of action. If anyone knows of someone who has attempted this, please let me know, because I owe that person a beer.)

There is one medium, however, that ended up on a different evolutionary path than the mediums that came before it. When we started telling stories with computers, what used to be a cycle quickly became a rut.

Jump to From Zork to Halo and Back Again, Part Two

Guest Writer Bio: Aaron Scott Hildebrandt
Aaron Scott Hildebrandt is a narrative designer and animator living in Vancouver, Canada. His work can be found in a number of games, including Halo: Anniversary, Halo 4, and Remember Me, as well as the web series H+. He’s also the author of the upcoming web serial Hanna Buys the Farm.

Halo: The Success of Story

I’ve played the first three Halo installments and still consider it to be the best video game I’ve ever experienced. I must admit that I had to hang up my blasters when time management became a challenge, but there are times when I consider breaking out the old Xbox and “blasting me some Covenant troops.”

There’s a reason I still remember Halo fondly. It’s the same reason that the franchise is still going strong, but it may not be the reason you’re thinking of.

I remember watching an infomercial for Halo 2 back in 2004. One of the developers at Bungie Studios said something that has stuck with me ever since. What he said was true, but I’m going to caveat the hell out of it to make a point about the success of the Halo franchise.

Basically, this techno-weenie (an incredible gifted one, I might add) said that if you can make 30 seconds of combat be fun over and over again in a video game, you basically have a winner. He couldn’t have been more right. If you look around you’ll find plenty of examples for this little business model, including Counterstrike, Aliens vs. Predator, and WoW to name just a few. But Halo is the bar in both popularity and raw monetary revenues that virtually all other video game companies strive for.

Most people would just say it’s an epically awesome first-person-shooter, and they’d be right. However, something set Halo apart—something intrinsic to the game that turned it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise still going strong after nearly fourteen years.

Story and character.

Halo is set upon a galactic stage of epic scale, with first humanity and then all sentient life cast in the balance should our hero fail in his objectives. What’s more, players really get a sense of tremendous scope as the storyline unfolds. There are fantastic, deep-space cut-scenes, incredibly detailed starships, and brilliantly created alien settings that literally suck you into the story before you know what’s happened to you. And it is upon this stage that players experience a truly fantastic story. It’s what they call in the literary world are real “page turner.”

In a nutshell, Covenant troops are doing their best to wipe out humanity as part of a religious crusade, and it takes almost no time at all for gamers to become totally immersed in the conflict. The protagonist is Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced and fully armored soldier, who must almost single-handedly stop them. The Master Chief dashes, tumbles, leaps, or flies from one firefight to the next… over and over again.

That’s what the techno-weenie was referring too. There’s an assortment of wicked-cool weapons and uber-awesome vehicles. The basic action of the game is fairly straightforward, but never gets old.

If the game had been left at just that, it would have been very successful, but as far as I’m concerned, Bungie took the whole thing to the next level. They did it not with CGI or harder levels or even any sense of “leveling” the Master Chief. They did what I wish all game design companies would incorporate. They created a story that rivals any epic sci-fi novel I’ve ever read.

To begin with, there’s a sense of discovery built into the storyline that appeals to what must be nearly the hundredth percentile of gaming geekdom. Behind all the action—behind the Covenant and traversing the galaxy—are the Halo rings. It’s this sense of mystery that makes Halo a step above other gaming storylines. Not only must Master Chief beat up on the Covenant—which is tons of fun, by the way—he must discover what Halo rings are, what they’re for, who built them, and why.

Which leads us to The Flood.

Bungie didn’t stop with just shooting Covenant. They decided to throw a real monkey-wrench into the works. The Flood is an alien, zombie-like life form that, if loosed upon humanity, could wipe us out indiscriminately. In just one cut-scene, the whole story takes remarkable sci-fi action and adds a horror element that ups the stakes considerably. Tension just oozes from the three-way antagonism inherent in the Halo universe.

That’s a huge part of why this game has been so successful. Bungie (and later Microsoft) has consistently upped the tension and scale of the story. There’s always something new—something exciting or horrific—just around the next corner.

GENIUS.

This is what good storytelling is all about—constantly upping the stakes and making it all plausible as you go along. And the Halo franchise does just that… in spades.

The last caveat worth mentioning here, and it’s a big one, is the characterizations within the story. For starters, the Master Chief is an exceptional protagonist for the story. He’s the nearly indestructible super-hero whose vulnerabilities leave just enough risk to keep things interesting. He’s the stoic, lone-gunman in space, who must face insurmountable odds over and over again out of a sense of duty. I mean, who doesn’t love the honor-bound hero who has no interest in monetary gains?

But Master Chief isn’t alone. He’s assisted by Cortana, a rather voluptuous AI who rides shotgun and scopes out some of the more technical bits of conflict that the Master Chief must face. However, she does serve one other critical function of a more literary nature. She’s easy-access to the deep back-story of the Halo universe, something that every good tale needs. Through her, the Master Chief discovers a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes. She is both his “right hand” and the “investigator” portion of the story. Cortana allows gamers gets quick info dumps about the history and scale of the universe that Bungie continues to expand upon, and does so without wrenching the player out of the storyline.

Again, GENIUS.

In Halo 2, Bungie even upped their game from a characterization perspective. They made the “first person perspective” not only that of the Master Chief, but also a renegade Covenant soldier who is committed to bringing down the Covenant leadership. In one fell swoop, they increased the level of storytelling, created a “sympathetic villain,” and expanded the scope of who and what the person behind the game controls experiences.

Bungie got literally everything right with this game. The nailed the action part, which hasn’t really changed much in the past 14 years, and created a compelling, intriguing and multi-perspective set of characters that make for hour after hour after hour of fantastic gaming experience.

The story, hands down, has some of the very best tools and tricks that keep readers/gamers interested. We are taught from the get-go that there’s always just a little bit more to learn. We come to expect these new discoveries, and thus far we haven’t been let down.

That is why the Halo franchise continues to be best in breed.

The success of Halo is something each and every writer should take notes from. Play this game, from start to finish. Pay attention to story and characterization. Watch how the chapters are laid out and how the designers/writers keep upping their game to keep you riveted to the couch and the controller in your hands.

And when you’ve done all that, apply it to your writing. If you do, you’ll be writing better stories with better characters. More importantly, readers will want to turn those pages till the wee hours of the morning to get to the end… and buy the next installment.