I really like Halo. Yes the video games, most recently Halo: Reach, but I really enjoy the stories that are told in that universe. Even more than just the stories themselves, I am fascinated by how these stories are being told.
The stories of the Halo universe and its characters are told through unconventional media. The first story was told through a video game. Though it happens more often, it is still pretty rare to find a really engaging game that also tells a great story. Halo: Combat Evolved worked it out and presented a universe brimming with potential. This potential was tapped for a few novels that were decent enough if you liked the video game.
Where it gets really interesting, though, is the lead up to the second game. A viral marketing campaign for Halo 2 used an alternate reality game to deliver another story centered around ilovebees.com and called, appropriately enough, I Love Bees. The bulk of this story was told through audio messages delivered to payphones at specific times. As part of the ARG, the coordinates for the location of the next payphone were delivered through the website. Eventually all of these audio messages were compiled. The result is a wonderfully produced five-plus hour radio drama that tells a very engaging story. Even if you don’t care about Halo, I still think this story is worth experiencing if merely because stories are not told via this medium anymore. This is probably my favorite Halo story. Every part of this story, the ARG elements and the audio story, were incredibly well executed.
Then there were more games, now spanning into other genres, and more novels, including graphic novels. There was also another ARG for the release of Halo 3, but this one was not nearly as ambitious as I Love Bees and did not have the depth of story behind it. Then in the expansion of Halo 3, ODST, “Sadie’s Story” emerged. This story mimicked I Love Bees in that it is told as messages through ringing telephones through out the game. While this is actually a story told through a game, and thereby not very unconventional, it is a very personal story told as an aside to the story of the game. And, if you follow that link, you can experience this audio story in a beautiful web presentation featuring accompanying art.
Most recently, with the release of Halo: Reach, the story of Dr. Catherine Halsey’s Journal emerged. This was a physical journal packaged with the Limited Edition of the game. The Journal is written from the perspective of the in-game character Dr. Halsey and details her backstory and experience up through the events of the game. It includes sketches and notes from Halsey as well as scraps of news folded and tucked into the pages. Halsey’s Journal pulls together stories told elsewhere and adds the character’s perspective and some details here and there. While it is a book, the little additions and the fact that it is not available for purchase but merely included as an extra with the game makes it a unique experience.
These unconventional presentations only serve to make the stories more immersive and engaging, thereby more entertaining. And that is what all stories strive for, to craft a world believable and pervasive, that it takes little effort on the audience’s part to get lost in the fiction. The controllers of the Halo franchise have leveraged powerful tools to make that happen.