Every week, people write incredible blogs about games and their relationship to them. They write about how the games make them feel. About how they help them cope with their emotions, and escape the myriad problems they are experiencing in their real life. I've thought long and hard the last several weeks about what I could say that would be meaningful to a random reader on the internet, and I've come up with nothing. As much as I love games (and I really do love them), most of them don't make me feel powerful emotions. They're just a fun escape for me.
But that's at this stage of my life. It wasn't always this way.
I've been gaming as long as I can remember. In the dusty, unfinished basement of my childhood home, we had a DOS PC that had Doom and Breakout (or Breakout-clone) on it. I played it as much as my parents would let me, which wasn't much. They felt that I was too young for Doom. My dad would occasionally let me play it for just a few minutes here and there, and that is my earliest gaming memory.
Years later, we got a PC with Windows 95 and I played Warcraft 2, along with a slew of other games (many educational in nature). One day we received a SNES for Christmas. This was what solidified the reality of Santa in my brain. My mother hated video games. There was no way she would allow us to own a Nintendo. It just was not gonna happen. But we got it. This was also about the same time the Nintendo 64 was released, so we were really late to the party.
Several years later (after moving to a new house in a new neighborhood), I used my birthday money to purchase a Nintendo 64 and Ocarina of Time (which is my favorite game ever). I have many fond memories of this system. All my friends and cousins had one as well, so I played it a lot. Friends even had Perfect Dark and GoldenEye, which brought me back to my childhood days of Doom, Chexquest, and Heretic (why don't we have new Heretic game?)
My neighbor across the street had an XBox. He introduced me to the subject of this piece:
Halo: Combat Evolved
This game. This effing game.
It captured my imagination. It opened my eyes to a universe of characters, locales, weapons, and stories that blew my young mind.
I had grown up with sci-fi. I am a trekkie, through and through. Science fiction has always made me think and ponder about the future and about humanity's role within the universe. What will we accomplish when we set our differences aside and traverse among the stars? The possibilities are endless. Halo, of course, presents a vastly different vision of the future than Star Trek does.
My intro to Halo was in competitive multiplayer. My friend and I shot each other in Blood Gulch and Beaver Creek. And I loved it. I wanted to play the campaign, as well. One day my friend needed to go spend time in the bathroom, and I had my chance! I opened up the single player menu and was faced with a continuous carousel of levels. The names of the levels were vague, and the descriptions weren't much help either. I didn't know what level was the first in the story. So I guessed. What did I choose? The Maw.
If you aren't aware, The Maw is the incredible final level of this game. You are dropped in with not much in the way of weapons and you quickly encounter enemies from all three of the game's enemy factions. I had no idea what was going on. It was strange, weird, and not what I had expected out of this game. What were these little pod-like, wormy things that ran around the walls on tiny tendrils? What about these flying remote control vehicles that shoot lasers?
I didn't make it very far.
Eventually, we began to play the game in co-op. Splitscreen co-op is the heart of Halo and this was a beautiful experience. I loved it. Our other friend would come over and the three of us would take turns playing this game. The other friend would always want to play "the grassy level," which is actually this guy:
The Silent Cartographer
This level is incredible. It is one of the finest levels in any video game ever. It starts with a beachfront assault, which is adrenaline pumping. Then you have complete freedom to run around the island. You have to explore in order to find a security station. This will unlock a door in another part of the island (complete with short cutscene of a Gold Elite holding a Keyblade, as I called it back then). You fight your way down into the heart of the facility, and then fight your way back out. I could devote an entire blog to this level (maybe one day I will). But it's great. This game also has a few other top-tier campaign missions: Halo, Truth and Reconciliation, Assault on the Control Room, and The Maw.
Every friday for... at least a full school year (maybe two, my memory is fuzzy), my friends and I would ride our Razor scooters (mine was a knockoff brand) or bikes over to the Holiday gas station and buy a 64 oz Dr Pepper. We went right after school. We would then lock ourselves in the small office room where my friend's XBox was. The three of us, plus my friend's older brother, would play for hours. The only times we took breaks were to relieve our bladders of the insane amount of Dr. Pepper we consumed. This would go on until around 10:30 at night. My friend's dad would get annoyed and want us out. Rather than argue with us about it, he would go to the circuit box and flip the breaker to that room, turning of all electricity.
At one point, early on in this experience, I had a birthday. Probably my 13th, I would say. I asked for a paintball gun for my birthday. Paintball was sweeping the nation and all the cool kids at school were doing it.
My parents made a wise decision and didn't get me what I asked for. I got an XBox. I went out the next day and spent my birthday money on my own copy of Halo, which I played relentlessly. I remember one month where I played through Halo (the level, not the game) every night. I experimented with different paths through the level. There's a lot of ways to play this level and I wanted to find the best one yet.
I also read a lot, back then. I discovered the expanded lore. The Fall of Reach and First Strike were written by an author named Eric Nylund. I tore through them like a child rips ribbon out of a Cassette tape. Microsoft's official Halo page on xbox.com had a list of fiction they recommended you read in your anticipation for Halo 2. This lead me to Starship Troopers (which has an impeccable TV show that I watched as young kid, story for another time) and The Forever War. This led to the disappointing sequel, Forever Free and the haunting spin-off, Forever Peace. Another book I discovered here was Armor by John Steakley. It's a great piece of fiction.
My thirst for Halo 2 was unquenchable. On the Game of the Year Edition of Halo, there was this:
I watched this over and over and over and over and over again (bizarrely, playing Halo: CE using backwards compatibility on the XBox 360 would actually hide and disable this video).
I discovered that the game was made by some company called Bungie, which was a fun, playful name. I found their website, bungie.net. I read essentially every article they had ever published on that version of the website:
Every friday, Frank O'Connor would provide an update on the game. There was hardly any real news here, but my salivating glands graciously accepted every scrap of info.
Eventually, I learned that Halo 2 had a release date: 11-9-04
I have never been more hyped. Not for anything in my entire life. I pre-ordered the game very far in advance (special edition, of course). I wasn't old enough to drive, so I didn't go to a midnight launch. But right after school, I got my sister to drive my two friends and I over to Gamestop. On the way, I explained the plot intricacies of Halo: First Strike, in order to prepare my friends (they didn't care and didn't listen). We got the game and raced home. We then played 6 or 7 battles on Lockout, as I had read it was the best map in the game. My friends went home, leaving me to the game.
Obviously, I loved it. It was magnificent. The introduction of the Arbiter, in particular, was perfect. And then, there was the ending. I don't need to tell you how I felt. You felt the same way. Rage, frustration, and mixed with a dash of hope and excitement for the inevitable conclusion.
Not long after this, I made an account on bungie.net. I was Kilroy (a handle obtained from Mr. Roboto, Styx lover that I am). It sucked up my life. I discovered an online community of passionate people who wanted nothing but to talk about one of the most important things in my life: Halo.
I immediately discovered fanfiction. I've always fancied myself a writer, even from a very young age. I soon began work on my own fanfiction: a tale of the Forerunners and why they built the Halo facilities. I envisioned that this race couldn't possibly have built these facilities as a weapon. They didn't have time. The Flood would have wiped them out. I envisione that they built them as monuments. As celebrations of their culture and achievements. However, one of the designers was a powerful villain within the Forerunner Heirarchy. He was secretly engineering the facilities to slaughter all of the Forerunners. Betrayal, murder, etc. occur.
I never finished it. I had only a couple chapters left to write (it would have been less than 10 chapters total). I am really bad at finishing things, even to this day. It would have ended with the main characters surviving the blast on the ship known as the Ark, which was a massive ship. They would land on Earth and their descendants would become the humans we know today.
I could write a whole blog about my experience on bungie.net. It was highly formative for me. I loved that website deeply. I even interviewed Marty O'Donnell, the composer of Halo's peerless soundtracks. The text of that interview is lost to the sands of time, but it was a great experience nonetheless.
Finally, my parent's granted my heart's deepest desire. They got me an XBox Live Starter kit. I was able to connect to the world and play Halo like I had only dreamed before. I played so much. SO MUCH. And I was good. I wasn't pro-level or anything, but I was good. I mean, I was bound to be, since it was basically all I did with my free time. And I played with friends made on bungie.net. People who took this as seriously as I did.
I would like to mention that Halo 2 was my first exposure to DLC. But I didn't buy the DLC. I bought it when it was released on disc via the Multiplayer Map Pack:
This pack has the best multiplayer map in all of Halo. It's called Terminal. I wouldn't be surprised if you aren't familiar with it. It wasn't regarded as legendary. But it was the best. It was perfectly designed for One Flag CTF or Single Bomb Assault. It was a huge, asymmetrical map that was made for Big Team Battle (my favorite multiplayer mode). It has a high speed, runaway train running through the map. If you get hit by this train, you will die. No ifs, ands, or buts. I have experienced the most intense, nail-biting battles on this map. It's just perfect. I can't recommend it enough. Of course Halo 2 had many other fantastic maps, as well as campaign levels. Maybe they'll get a blog one day.
The internet kept me aware of all things E3. I knew they were going to announce Halo 3. I just knew it. It had to happen. I came home from school one day during the conference and loaded up my XBox 360's beloved Blade dashboard. I looked for downloadable game trailers and discovered the Halo 3 announcement trailer.
I was literally jumping up and down for joy. I didn't have much time. I was a working boy by then and had to head to my job. But I was over the moon for the rest of the day. I couldn't wait to Finish the Fight.
There was a public Beta of this game. I tried and tried to get a code, but I couldn't. Microsoft wanted you to buy their new game Crackdown to get a code. I felt like this was screwing me as the consumer. But I finally caved. All my friends got codes or bought the game. I had to get it. The beta was crazy fun. I think it was actually more fun in the beta version than in the final release, believe it or not. And I ended up loving Crackdown, so that was all-good.
I was in High School when this game released. I drove to Gamestop and picked up my Collector's Edition at midnight. I then pulled my first all-nighter. I beat the game around 6:30 in the morning. I wanted to go back to bed, but my mother wasn't having it. I had promised her that I would go to school, regardless of how tired I was. It was the only thing that convinced her to allow me this experience. I went to my first class (which was my most important one) and then went home and crawled in bed.
Halo 3 created the perfect online multiplayer shooter. And the community was great. All the horrible 10 year olds had moved on to Call of Duty 4, so it was pretty civil. Forge created infinite gameplay possibilites. Halo 3 could be played forever, if you desired. And the gameplay was precisely balanced. The retooled Assault Rifle was the absolute perfect starter weapon. I just can't say enough good about this game's multiplayer.
I was pretty satisfied with the game, overall. The level Cortana is the worst single level in any of the Bungie-made games. And frankly, the relationship between Chief and Cortana starts to get weird (not half as weird as it gets in 4, but that's another conversation). But I did finish the fight. I even killed that bastard Guilty Spark.
Eventually, Bungie released Halo ODST. This is a great little game. Has some phenomenal level design and introduces Firefight (Halo's Horde mode). Although it had a huge missed opportunity. The climax of the game involves sneaking through a hive of buggers. This would have been the ideal time to introduce a new enemy boss: The Bugger Queen. Oh, what might have been! I don't have tons of thoughts on this game. It's just a solid entry in the series.
A couple years later, I was out of the gaming community. I was a missionary for my church. I knew nothing about gaming during that time. Missed out on some major stuff. The most significant was the announcement and release of Halo Reach.
I heard whispers of it from people I met on my mission, but I really knew nothing about it.
I was shocked when I returned home. I learned that it wasn't about Master Chief and the Spartan IIs. They were there, on Reach. I had read the book. I knew what happened. There was plenty of novel to turn into game. But they didn't do that. They introduced a totally new team of Spartan IIIs (and Spartan IIIs in the books were completely different, see: Ghosts of Onyx). This was supremely off-putting to me. And the protagonist is even quieter than the Chief. I don't think they call him Noble Six because of his number in the unit. I think it's because of the number of lines of dialogue he had in the game. It also introduced Spartan Abilities, which I hated. I think equipment in Halo 3 was much more interesting. The game just didn't resonate with me. Not at first, anyways. Over time, I grew to appreciate it more. The Long Night of Solace is easily in the top 3 campaign levels in the series. And the ending is beautifully tragic. I can empathize with Bungie ending this era on such a somber note. They were as conflicted as we, the gamers, were.
I was so happy to see Bungie free of the shackles of Microsoft. But this ended up badly. I don't like Destiny OR Halo 4. It was ultimately a tragedy that killed my love of both Bungie and Halo. I never even touched Halo 5.
Ultimately, Halo has slipped from my mind. I don't even have my 360 or original XBox. They're at my folk's house. I haven't played Halo in years now. But maybe it's time for that to change. Maybe it's time that I take the fight back to the Covenant and cleanse the galaxy of the Flood once again.
But perhaps not. I have my PS4 and my Switch. I don't have the time, energy, or money to play all the games I wish to on those systems. I may not return to my beloved Halo for a long time to come. Perhaps, in a couple years, I'll find an XBone on a deep sale and pick it up. Maybe my deep and abiding relationship with Halo will be rekindled. It's hard to say.
What I can say is this: Even though I technically rank Halo as my third favorite game of all time, that's probably ridiculous. I have spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours playing the various games in the series. And that's before factoring the hours spent pouring over forums and fanfiction on bungie.net. Halo has impacted me on a deeply personal level. It was like a best friend as a lonely teenager. It was always there. I could always depend on it. I could grab any of the three games in the trilogy and have an abolute blast. It brought me together with friends both in the real and online worlds. It consumed my life for many, many years. Even though I am distant from it now, it will never cease to have a deep and powerful hold on my heart.