Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bungie and The Halo Series: Why it's Important to Me

Anyone passionate about games knows that games are powerful things. The can shape us into the people we become, they can educate us, they can stimulate our minds, and they can change our lives. Everyone has that one game; the game that they will always remember. I'd like to share mine with you.

When I was young, I had the privilege of owning numerous game consoles along with a generous amount of games. I frequently played Super Mario Brothers 3 on the NES and Strider on the PlayStation. Games like those are the ones that I'll never forget, but it wasn't until I got my first Xbox console in 2002 that I would be introduced to something that would, one day, become part of my life.

I played Halo: Combat Evolved casually at a friends house every time I went to visit him. I was young back then and I wasn't really into the whole FPS genre. I was more into games like War of the Monsters and Ape Escape at that age. Nevertheless, there was something about Halo: CE that kept calling me back and I wouldn't know why until 10 years later.

Halo: Combat Evolved

As much as I enjoyed Halo: CE as a kid, I never actually played through the story or beat the game until well after Halo 3 released. The first Halo game I ever owned was Halo 2, and damn was it magical. Something about the inspiring music, the unique art design, the weapons, the characters, the story: It was overwhelming. To this day, I can't think of a game that drew me in more. BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us were immersive, but Halo 2 did everything right. The music was perfect, the gameplay was unique, the controls were tight. Everything worked in unison to deliver an amazing experience. Halo 2 was the first game I ever intellectually analyzed and, because of that curiosity, I learned many things that would go on to shape the person I would become.

It was the first experience in any media, be it music, TV, or cinema, that made me question things. Back when Halo 2 was new, I was in catholic school and my mind had been running with questions and doubt about the validity of the Catholic faith and genuine scientific curiosity. In Halo 2, an alien character named Thel 'Vadam (called "The Arbiter" in the games) was an assassin for the religious leaders of The Covenant, a union of religious alien races hell bent on bringing about an age of salvation.


In the game, The Arbiter begins by doing the blind will of the Prophets, even going so far as to assassinate the leader of a Heretic rebellion. Later in the game, The Arbiter learns that the Prophets are deluded and what they believe will bring them salvation will actually bring utter destruction. As a child with many questions regarding faith, this was a seminal moment for me. I drew parallels. It showed me that people can be so certain of things they know nothing about. Assumptions must never be made. This moment legitimately changed me.


Arbiter: Thel 'Vadam 

Ever since that moment, I felt a deep connection with the universe. The characters, the setting, everything, and on top of all that, the game was simply fun. I remember it was the first time I flew an air vehicle in a game that felt like an actual plane. That alone was huge because it was something I hadn't seen before. Before that, every vehicle in every game required a whole other loading screen or a dedicated level, but here? I could switch whenever I wanted. I could fly around for hours in Coagulation doing NOTHING and still I was having an amazing time. Then, in 2007, everything changed.

Halo 2 Multiplayer was almost a religious experience.

My parents finally caved in and got me an Xbox 360, and not only that, but they allowed me to have Xbox Live for the first time. I had never played an online video game before this day. I didn't even understand the concept. I could play with people who weren't even in the same house? That's ridiculous, that can't work. Little did my stupid little brain realize just what an amazing thing that would be. I booted up Halo 2 to a universe I had never seen before. I was playing with people from other towns, other cities, other countries. It blew my mind and I have yet to experience the same kind of disbelief in anything. I had become part of a community, bigger than any I had ever known. I was making friends, joining clans, going on adventures in custom games, leaving the bounds of the multiplayer space and exploring the vast outskirts of levels I had previously known inside and out. 

This was incredible. 

My High School life took place in Halo 3

When Halo 3 was a few weeks away, I was ecstatic. It was all I could think about for weeks until it's release. In 2007 I was starting high school and it was a stressful time for me. My nerdiness didn't go over well with many of the students but I had already made some friends through mutual love for Halo 2. When Halo 3 released, that was it. My friends and I played for ages. I made a vast majority of my friends through this game and this universe. We grew up in the walls of this game and it was amazing. Late nights going through story missions, after school sessions of big team slayer. It was pure bliss. I remember creating ridiculous games for my friends to play using the custom game settings and The Forge map editor. Everything was fun; playing, creating, sharing.

Well into Halo 3's life cycle, Bungie put out an expansion called Halo 3: ODST which came coupled with a cooperative Firefight mode. Even this expansion pack was a par Halo experience. The same friends I made through Halo 2 were there to help me fight through waves of enemies in ODST and we had fun doing it. I have so many memories of Halo 3 multiplayer and ODST co-op that refuse to leave me. They were just such great stories, but now's not the time for that.

Halo: Reach (The Culmination of it All)

When Halo Reach came out, I went to college and though I did play the game A TON, along with my friends, we just didn't have the same free time we once had. Halo Reach was definitely the best in the series in terms of the tech and the polish behind it, but it came after the golden years of childhood and growing up.

This game introduced me to a developer that cared about their work and desired to create a community that flourished outside the game, wether online or off. Bungie studios impacted my life in such profound ways, it's difficult for me to imagine the person I would be had I never found Halo. Bungie showed me what I wanted to do in life: make games. Hopefully, one day I'll be sitting at my own desk in Bungie's walls working on their next big thing. So that I can take part in impacting someone else as much as Jason and the team have impacted me. Thank you, Bungie.

I look forward to Destiny

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