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Halo Life

“This Halo Life”

By Joseph “Maniac” Cirillo III

After ten years of support, Bungie, the original creators of Halo, will be handing over the keys to the Halo kingdom permanently into the hands of Microsoft so they can be free to peruse new non-Halo related projects. Because they have devoted ten nonstop years to continuing support of the beloved franchise that they created and just how much has changed in my life since the first game was released, I wanted to put this story into words just how this game series has affected the last ten years of my life and give anyone who reads this the chance to reflect back on just how much their lives have been affected by this beloved series.

I first became aware of Halo when I saw a very lengthy trailer for it included in the bonus disc of an issue of PC Gamer around 2000. That year I was a sophmore in high school and I would spend all my free time online or playing video games on my computer. As a guy stuck on dial up at the time, having a PC Gamer subscription saved me from spending hours downloading the newest demos online, and its preview and review sections of the magazine were unmatched. Most PC Gamer demo discs would include exactly that, just game demos, but one month they saw fit to include this over 100MB trailer for a game called Halo, which at the time was going to be coming for the PC. The fact they included a trailer in a PC Gamer demo disc was high praise enough for me, I had to crack open the disc and take a look at it myself.

I don’t know how I could describe what I was seeing. It was the most in depth game trailer I had ever seen in my life. I mean first off it was ten minutes long. Most game trailers I’d seen up to that point ranged from around thirty seconds to a minute and were just quick clips of various gameplay segments played over a hard rock theme. This was the introduction to a whole universe! The story was very interesting, the graphics looked phenomenal, and I wanted to know more about it and just who this space-suited character was who showed up at the very end. I wasn’t alone. The PC gamer community was also eager to join me in the praise for the game, and was also very eager to get to play it for themselves.

Not long after the trailer I saw got a lot of positive interest stirred up in the game, Microsoft announced they had acquired the game’s developers and Halo would now launch on their new gaming console, the Xbox. Honestly, I was crushed. I did not want to spend the money it would take to buy an Xbox, especially since the Playstation 2 was selling out everywhere and after knocking Sega out, nobody at the time thought Microsoft stood a chance against Sony.

Halo: Combat Evolved and the Xbox got released in November 2001 and I could not run away from the word of mouth Halo was generating from everyone who played it. As a PC gamer, I never really bought into any of the Halo hype after it got released. They were putting it on the same page that I held Quake and Doom on for so long. I didn’t intend to pay a large amount of money for an Xbox just so I could play a game which I felt had probably already been done better on a PC. To me, the PC was the best platform you could want. It was constantly being improved, and allowed users functionality console owners could never have at the time, like support for user MODs and patching. In hindsight, I could not have been more wrong on this perception.

To no one’s surprise, Halo 2 would be announced the next year. To my surprise, that announcement also came with a phenomenal announcement trailer that I would put on par with the first Halo trailer I saw on the PC Gamer disc. If it wasn’t for the fact that the announcement trailer was one of the first videos to use WMP9 compression, I don’t think people would have known the updated player was even out. That trailer did more than just sell the Xbox for Microsoft, In fact I remember downloading and installing Windows Media Player 9 to my PC just so I could watch it.

What made this trailer so great? It could have been Marty O’Donnell’s score, it could’ve been the top of the line graphics that were on display. But what did it for me was the gravitas of reading the opening scroll as the Master Chief took his long walk through the corridors. It was the perfect mixture of the past and the future. As he walked to his ultimate destination, a list appeared on screen of all the actions I had completed in the first game. It reminded me of what I had accomplished, while at the same time prepare us for what we were about to do. As he looked out, I looked out the cargo bay window with him and saw just what would be at stake. When I read, “Stop Destruction of Human Race….In Progress,” I knew we would be fighting for Earth this time, and I was ready to do it.

In 2003 at the age of 18, I attended my first ever Electronic Entertainment Expo. At the show, I was one of the first people to get to see the early gameplay of Halo 2. It was my freshman year of college and I was writing for a site operating under the GameSpy Network, and because of that, they gave me a free pass for the show that year. Those of you who have seen the documentary included on the Halo 2 Limited Edition DVD have a good idea what the setup looked like. After a very tongue in cheek joke introduction (did you know Halo 2’s technology was going to be powering the next version of Office?), Sgt Johnson came on screen and ordered Cinematics Director Joe Staten to do a live demo of an early version of the New Mombasa level.

The overall presentation was phenomenal, the gameplay looked like a ton of fun, the graphics were fantastic, and when I saw the Master Chief carjack a ghost, I was sold. It was without a doubt in the top bracket of the best games I saw at that E3, with the only other contender being Half-Life 2. I didn’t even have an Xbox, but I knew I needed to play that game.

In 2003 Halo was released to the PC by Gearbox Software. It would have online support, new maps, and support for higher resolution graphics than what the Xbox version could do. Finally, I would be able to play the game I had seen in 2000 that everyone had been praising for two years. I quickly installed the game and started to play through the campaign. Immediatly, I could tell this game was something special, and that everyone who had been praising it for the past two years were right. On every level, the single player campaign was the perfect enclosed story. It started off with an introduction to the characters, and then it introduced the environment you would be spending the rest of the game in. In the final level, I was driving pedal to the metal to make it to the last spacecraft to evacuate the ring before Halo blew up! As I finally jetted away, I realized the story couldn’t have ended with a louder bang as the entire installation crumpled to pieces in outer space. It was just an amazing experience and I knew I was going to have to play it’s sequel, and the fact it was coming to a console didn’t matter to me anymore.

One week before the release of Halo 2 I went to the same GameStop I bought the PC version of Halo at and put down the money for an Xbox. I no longer had any concerns about betraying my PC roots, I wanted to play Halo 2 and I wasn’t willing to wait any longer than necessary to play it. A new GameStop opened in my area not too long before the release of Halo 2 and I picked up a brand new copy of Halo for the Xbox. Already having it on the PC, I only got it because I wanted to get used to playing the game on the Xbox controller before the sequel was released.

I was also glued to the Bungie Weekly Updates, which actually started getting published because of the development of Halo 2. Since then it’s been a staple of Bungie’s website. When Halo 2 shipped, they decided to make that Weekly Update a video update and we got to see just what goes on at a game company when they ship.

They intended to link their website accounts to the newly created Xbox Live network and anyone who played Halo 2 online would be able to check their statistics on their website just by logging in and linking their Gamertag. As far as I know, this was the first game to make this functionality available to players on their website, and they made it look easy. In fact, I hold the title of Exalted Legendary Member on their site because I had signed up for an account pretty much since they’ve been offering them.

The day before Halo 2’s release I was up at UCONN visiting a good friend of mine. While I had never attended that school I sure had worked there plenty by that point and a few times during the school year I’d visit my friends who were students there. There were a few different game stores in a mall not too far from there, and we decided to go check it out for some food and games. I asked the clerk about Halo 2 and he told me they were in fact doing a midnight release that night. I asked if they still were taking pre-orders of the Limited Edition and he assured me there were plenty. Without hesitation I put down the money for a Limited Edition reserve and told him I’d be in at midnight to pick it up. While my friend slept in my car, forty minutes before release, I found myself in the hugest line I could’ve possibly imagined. In a rare moment in my life, I could talk about gaming with people who knew what I was talking about. My experience that night was one of my favorite memories. When my turn came, without any hesitation I signed over my last sixty dollars and got what I still consider to be one of the finest Collector’s Editions ever released.

I have no problem saying it, Halo 2 was the reason I got an Xbox Live account, and why I’ve had one on constant renewal for six years. But the single player game had ended on a cliffhanger and by this point everyone had high expectations that the series finale would be coming on the Xbox’s successor, which hadn’t even been officially announced yet.

After Halo 2 shipped, Bungie moved into new digs, and released a video showing their new offices off, which was a fun sequel to their Halo 2 release party video. They weren’t talking about what they were working on, but they did admit they were an Xbox 360 exclusive developer by that point.

I had a whole new philosophy by the time the next console generation released. By the time E3 2006 came around, I already had an Xbox 360. Because I had linked my Gamertag online through Bungie’s site all those years ago, transferring my account data from my original Xbox to the 360 took no time at all. On the first day of E3, the Halo 3 Announcement trailer hit Xbox Live, and it was an even bigger hit than the previous trailers.

The Halo fanbase had grown tremendously over six years, and everyone who was part of it wanted to finish the fight.

I knew that the night Halo 3 was going to be released was going to be something special, and I wanted another chance to experience what I had experienced the night that Halo 2 got released. Fed up with GameStop after some questionable business practices they had been doing for a while, I pre-ordered the Legendary Edition of the game at Best Buy, which was becoming my new home away from home. However, this could not have turned out worse for me. When I checked the list of stores that would be having a midnight release of Halo 3, the store I preordered at was not on that list. I wouldn’t be able to play the game until the store opened the morning of release.

That morning I stood in line at Best Buy, preorder, coupons and gift certificates in hand. I had the Legendary Edition in my sights this time. As a nice gift, the clerks handed me a t-shirt, which I’m sure you’ve seen me wear in some of my site videos. When the clerk put the box on the checkout counter, my jaw dropped. The Halo 3 Legendary Edition was the largest game box I had ever seen up to that point. When I got home that afternoon I cracked that Halo 3 Helmet open and tried to make up for all those hours I hadn’t been playing it. In two days the fight was finished and Master Chief and I had earned some rest. I had thought it was over.

After the release of Halo 3, Bungie announced they had their freedom. They had been such a successful purchase for Microsoft and made them so much money in profits and created one of the biggest. In fact they were one of the exceptionally rare success stories that came from being bought by a major publisher. Most of the time the company is allowed a small period of independence (one game release) but after shipping product they’re usually either absorbed or shut down by their owner. Bungie would not have this fate, but even with their freedom they were not content to end their relationship with Halo there.

Halo 3 ODST would see release in 2009. Two years after the release of Halo 3, its launch was nowhere near as huge as Halo 3’s was, but then again nothing could have possibly topped what was probably the biggest launch in history. When Halo 3 ODST was released it got very high review scores and its story, while very different than previous Halo games, had shades of a fully contained storyline that harkened back to the very first Halo game. Halo 3 ODST was a critical success, and it brought back a lot of the orignal Halo fans who felt the single player experience had been diluded in the sequels by bringing back a lot of the original gameplay of the first game. Also, it had Firefight, which, to be honest, was awesome on every level.

But deathmatch and firefight could be used as more than just entertainment, it could also be a force for good when so much bad was happening to people. When the earthquakes in Haiti happened in 2009, Bungie mobilized their fans to support the people affected by the tragedy. For a few days, anyone who played Halo 3 multiplayer or ODST firefight with a red heart as an emblem would get Bungie to contribute a large amount of money to the Red Cross for those efforts, and they made up a ton of t-shirts at their own expense. Anyone who bought a shirt was basically getting it for free, every dime of the money they paid for it would go straight to the Red Cross as well. As I type this article I am wearing that very shirt for my contribution. In fact, I scheduled some firefight achievement runs with my neighbor to coincide with the days Bungie was trying to get players to play with heart emblems. In the end, Bungie contributed the maximum set aside to the Red Cross for all the games played, as well as all the player contributions. They gave gamers the chance to help people who had suffered a tragedy, and from the amount of hearts I saw on display in matchmaking I could see we were all happy to help.

Of course, once ODST came out, the opportunity was avalible to players to earn the highly coveted Recon Armor, the most difficult armor to get in the game. I started working on it the second I ran my copy of ODST for the first time, earning the Brainpan achievement. It took ten months of hard work, a total catastrophe, and one major break of luck for me to earn it. In fact, I felt it was such a momentus occasion, I made this video.

But Bungie was not done. Earlier, at E3 2009, just after their demo of Halo 3 ODST completed, Joe Staten showed the first trailer for what would be Bungie’s final Halo game. They were pulling out all the stops and going back to the very first story Halo ever had, the events that took place just before the first game, which up until that point had only been presented as a novel I used to read in between classes. Halo would be going back to Reach.

One year later, Bungie’s final Halo game shipped. When Halo Reach released, I realized my life was a lot different than when the first game launched all those years prior. I was out of school, I was working steady, I now had my own gaming website. My life had changed so much over ten years, but under it all, I was still the same gamer who loved Halo.

Now it’s all coming to an end. Bungie is handing over the keys to the kingdom to the new Microsoft owned development studios, fittingly named 343 Industries. To symbolize the changing of the guard, the company is made up of former Bungie team members including Frank O’Connor, as well as some of the other best team members they could ask for, like Ryan Payton, who worked on games like Metal Gear Solid 4.

It’s been a wild ride. With this company put in place rest assured, Bungie may be done, but Halo is not over. A new trilogy has been announced, ready to expose Halo to the next generation of gamers.

See you in 2012, Chief…

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