Now I am the master

Like it or loathe it, Halo is huge. Not as big regarding game sales as other popular first person shooters but the franchise, with all its toys, books, games, clothing and sponsorship deals is something many publishers would love to have (and exploit). Though, really, Halo wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for the lone soldier, risking his life for the fate of humanity, Master Chief and the creation of said gaming superstar began right at the conception of Halo, back when it was still a real time strategy game. In an interview with IndustryGamers, Joseph Staten from Bungie reveals how they made one of the most recognisable faces – or helmets – in recent years. Staten spoke of the importance of making a lead character because of its ability to ground players in the game’s world. For a number of years, Master Chief had no name but was always thought of as a soldier whose development was a result of his functionality within Halo, especially when the team decided to practically re-make the game as a first person shooter.

The importance of immersion is particularly apparent from Staten’s answers. It’s clear that Bungie really wanted players to make a connection with the Chief and hold onto that long after the game is finished. Unless you’re a die-hard fan and have read some of the many books and comics, it would be fair to say that not a great deal is known about Master Chief. Staten and the rest of Bungie believed keeping fans in the dark about his back story allows for an even greater level of immersion. This obviously worked and did so very well. The majority of games are all about allowing the player to become the protagonist so if you don’t know much about him or her, it’s easier to apply your own personal attributes to them. Eventually Master Chief had a real name, not just a rank (for lack of a better term), he is John. For the most part, John says relatively little even when chatting to Cortana, a character who became a source or his few comedic interactions. Bungie could have gone down the route of not having a voice actor but instead allowed the Chief to be heard, just on rare occasions. Which is cool, I can suspend disbelief and be a husky-voiced John for a few hours.

The site asked Staten why exactly they went through so much effort in making what is essentially a hand and a gun into a character with such depth – even if that depth is provided by the player themselves. He answered: “Why not? At Bungie, we make the games—and by extension, the game characters—we want to play. We think our fans are a lot like us: they want their time in games to have value, to be a personal experience that means something when they’re through. These shared expectations demanded a protagonist that was more than a bipedal platform for powerful weapons.”

Other successful, slightly ambiguous heroes like Gordon Freeman and Link also come from ground breaking games and do a lot of the same ‘tricks’ that are applied to Master Chief in order to get the player more involved. But their developers have chosen to keep them silent with the reaction of others being their voice. It’s weird, with all the customisation in games nowadays, keeping the character simple in form can provide the more involving and deeper experience. How does the old saying go? Silence speaks louder than words?

Check out the full interview, it’s really interesting stuff.

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Halo: Combat Devolved

The greatest form of flattery for this generation of video games is to have an 8-Bit de-make created, summarising all those months of hard work in a gloriously retro fashion. The chap behind such gems as Pixel Force: Left 4 Dead and Pixel Force: DJ Hero, Eric Ruth has turned his talents towards making an 8-Bit Halo: Combat Evolved merging the most influential console FPS with graphics from the saviour of console gaming, the NES. A side-scrolling shooter is how the FPS translated into the world of retro but there are also top-down mission involving a Warthog and some circular bullets. How utterly darling! Check out the trailer after the break.

Hopefully, Microsoft will keep a somewhat cooler head about the game and appreciate it for what its worth instead of following Universal Music’s humourless approach. They ordered Ruth to remove his version of DJ Hero despite the creator distributing it for free without any profits being made or suggestion that the songs used were his own, crediting all the artists and groups. However Pixel Force: DJ Hero is continuing its life amongst the file sharers and Bit Torrent users alongside ripped versions of the songs that Universal were trying to protect. Not exactly the victory they were trying to achieve.

Is Pixel Force: Halo a cause for Microsoft’s concern? I don’t think so. But Ruth’s suggestions for what gamers do to Cortana may be…

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Quality not quantity

"What was that?" - Halo 3: ODST

Despite being heavily criticised for being ‘too short’ and other such nonesense, Halo 3: ODST has managed to sell an impressive 2.5 million copies since it’s release a couple of weeks ago. The news comes from USA Today via Eurogamer who sadly labeled the game as an expansion pack. We maybe getting into a bit of a grey area of gaming as to what exactly ODST is but in my opinion, it’s far from just an expansion. Grizzle aside, Halo in all it’s forms has made a sweet $125 million and collectively sold over 27 million units. Not too shabby then. Frank O’Connor of Bungie fame, commented on the future of Master Chief in the USA Today feature saying “I think that (his) fate, Cortana’s fate and the identity of that *SPOILER* giant, dark planet at the ending (on the game’s hardest skill level) are probably big mysteries that would be irritating if they were just cliffhangers.” To true Mr O’Connor so let’s forget all this secrecy and just announce another Master Chief game – doesn’t need to be Halo 4 necessarily. “We do have a plan that goes out at least six years,” said O’Connor “Eventually, it will become very apparent that there is a plan for the way the canon all ties together and the way the comic books and the novels all tie together.” Yes, that’ll do nicely.