Halo is so Cool that it is the Best


The gaming industry has reached an all-time high. Game sales records are continually broken, consoles routinely commercially outperform their predecessors, and computer entertainment is becoming ever more pervasive in the homes of “non-gamers” - grandmothers, toddlers, frat guys are all playing games with the regularity and fervor of many stereotypical, game-playing “nerds.” The Halo series of video games is among the most commercially and critically successful game series of the past two decades, and its impact on the industry cannot be overstated. Many games have pioneered techniques that later go on to become standard fare in other similar games; Bungie Studios' Halo is unique among these not only in what it innovated, but what it perfected, and just how much of an effect it had on the entire industry. The best-selling video games of today, such as Call of Duty and Killzone, owe much of their success and appeal to the design of Halo, and it is this influence that truly make Halo one of the most important video games of all time.

At the time Halo was released, Bungie Studios was known to all as the legendary game developer that brought innovative, exciting gaming to the Mac platform. Bungie began as a small developer working out Chicago, making small games with small impacts. Their first noticeable release was Pathways into Darkness, a first-person shooter game that was widely hailed as one of the greatest Mac games yet released, and made a moderate splash in the Mac gaming community. However, their next release, Marathon, was what truly put the studio on the map. It was hailed as not only an exemplary Mac game, but one of the best shooters ever. Its most important contribution to the world of game design was that of the first use of a full, two dimensional mouse aiming mechanics in a FPS. This differed greatly from the mere side-to-side aiming mechanics of popular shooter games Doom and Doom II, and would later get integrated more famously in id's Quake. Bungie would later go on to create the Myth series of games. Myth sought to distance itself from the popular Real-Time Strategy games of the time, such as Command & Conquer and Warcraft, and instead focus more on combat. Myth revolutionized combat and unit management in strategy games, giving birth to the Real-Time Tactics genre that would later be popularized by the Total War series, among others. Following the success of Myth, Bungie began work on what would essentially be Myth set in space. As development of the game progressed, it soon morphed into a third-person shooter named Halo. The game was shown to various trade shows such as Macworld and E3, and the reactions by the gaming press could be described as amazed. The graphics were astonishing for the time, and excitement quickly grew for the game. However, in 2000 it was announced that Bungie, the savior of the Macintosh gaming community, had been bought by Microsoft. When Halo: Combat Evolved was released in 2001 for the Xbox game console, it changed the face of the game industry forever.

Halo was in many ways a relatively standard game. It had a cliché science fiction plot that would instantly be familiar to any well-read sci-fi fan. Its single player campaign followed the adventure of the Master Chief, a one-of-the-kind super soldier that must survive crash-landing on a foreign and unknown alien world as he battles the alien conglomerate known as the Covenant. The story borrowed elements from Larry Niven's Ringworld and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series, as well as aesthetics from James Cameron's Aliens and other influences. The weapons were all relatively standard FPS affair and the score, while critically acclaimed and among the most distinctive soundtracks of all time, did little to shift any paradigms. As a game, Halo was a mid-paced FPS featuring frenetic yet skill-based combat similar to that of Goldeneye and Half-Life before it. Halo later spawned two sequels, 2004's Halo 2 and 2007's Halo 3, as well as a prequel in 2010, Halo: Reach, which were all similarly well received.

The cultural response to Halo was significant. It quickly became known as the must-have game for anybody with an Xbox, which not only helped sales for both the game and the system, but also helped to define the image of the system in a market dominated by Sony's Playstation 2 and Nintendo's Gamecube. The strong, balanced multiplayer component of Halo was highly praised, and it soon became a favorite for not only LAN parties but also in gaming tournaments and leagues, such as that seen in Major League Gaming. This competitive community was one of the first to develop around a console game, as the ability to connect multiple consoles via ethernet cable was new to the sixth generation of consoles. This community was instrumental in the development of Halo as a Western cultural force, as it helped to usher in a more mature, mainstream Western audience than Nintendo was able to draw with its “kid-friendly” image and Sony with its large base of popular single-player games. The competitive casual market that Halo attracted to the Xbox would only grow in the ensuing years; this market currently shows up en masse to purchase titles such as Call of Duty, the most recent two installments having broken numerous sales records in the United States. The Xbox 360, the follow-up to the original Xbox console, has sold over twice as well as its predecessor, riding on the success of titles Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.

A comparison of Halo against Perfect Dark, a popular shooter on the Nintendo 64, showing off Halo's graphical innovation Halo was a revolutionary step in the design of console shooters. It innovated the use of the dual thumbstick aiming mechanic that has since become standard for virtually all modern console games. Whereas most consoles prior to the sixth generation had at best one thumbstick, forcing developers to integrate the look and move mechanics to only one stick, all three major consoles of the sixth generation did have two thumbsticks and so were able to take advantage of Halo's control scheme. It also introduced a dedicated, powerful melee button mechanic, a considerable difference from older games such as Goldeneye, where physically hitting somebody was restricted to a weapon slot just like anything else, and it was often extremely weak. With Halo, you could kill any human opponent in at most two strikes with whatever weapon you happened to be holding. This would soon become the standard, with games such as Call of Duty and Mass Effect incorporating the function into their gameplay. The game also introduced a dedicated grenade button that would help shape the future of the competitive shooter as well. Grenades had traditionally, as with melee, been treated as a separate weapon that one must cycle to in order to use. However, following Halo, many games have followed its lead with the idea of the unique button dedicated to melee. These advances allow for the existence of the mid-paced competitive shooter; games like Medal of Honor and Battlefield: Bad Company are known for their skill-based, frenetic gameplay that is entirely distinct from older arena shooters such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament.

One of Halo's features that has become a mainstay in the genre is the limiting of players to only two swapable weapons. This was a huge step away from the established paradigm in First-Person Shooters, where players could simply carry all the weapons that they could find. Another of the groundbreaking effect Halo had on the industry was the introduction of regenerating health; most games, Goldeneye and Doom included, used a health bar/med pack system that required a player seek out a health pack after taking significant amount of damage. Halo, and even moreso with Halo 2 onward, incorporated a regenerating shield system that mitigated the necessity of the health bar at all. In fact, Halo 2 did away with the health bar altogether, so that almost the entirety of a player's health could be regenerated after only a few seconds of cautious play. This kept players close to the action, as they weren't spent waiting around for or hunting down life packs and could instead simply remain in play. This mechanic became insanely popular, even becoming the preferred method of health management in action RPGs such as Mass Effect, as well as newer installments of established franchises such as Medal of Honor.

However, one of its most lasting effects on the game industry was introduced in its second installment. Halo 2 was the first game in the series to be released with support for Xbox LIVE, Microsoft's online multiplayer gaming service. Prior to the release of Halo 2, most games that had utilized LIVE used a dedicated server system directly inspired by those used on PCs. However, the closed nature of consoles, and of the Xbox in particular meant that much of the fun of hacked servers and modified settings as seen in PC games such as Quake and Battlefield 1942 was removed. Users were presented with essentially long lists of largely identical games, which were often laggy or otherwise unplayable. Halo 2 introduced a matchmaking system, where essentially a group of friends can join together and then get randomly matched with other players based on various factors that make for a more consistent, albeit controlled, experience. This system has been adapted by virtually all online console games, and some games with a major cross-platform focus have matchmaking systems even on the PC as well.
The market and cultural impact of Halo is legendary, and it is this impact that ensures it will be remembered for generations to come, even if the games themselves may someday stop being produced. The release of a Halo game is a national phenomenon, with the releases easily crushing the financial impact of most other media releases. The Halo series alone has sold over 34 million copies, not to mention the bringing the reinvigoration of the FPS genre, creating one of, if not the best-selling genres on the market right now. Regardless of whether or not today's shooter market is simply a bubble waiting to burst, or a powerful mainstay that bridges the gap between the casual and hardcore markets, the fact is that Halo is the game that brought this success to fruition. While many of its features may have been first introduced in other games, such as Tribes, its combination of innovation and polish are what truly set the game apart from all others in its class.

Works Cited: 

Benge, Dan. "Halo." Four Fat Chicks. N.p., Feb 2002. Web. 25 Mar 2011. .

Cordeira, Jim. "Halo Review." Gaming Age. Gaming Age Online, 07 May 2004. Web. 26 Mar 2011.

Slodkowski, Antoni, and Sachi Izumi. "Microsoft "Halo: Reach" sales hit $200 million on 1st day." Reuters 16 Sep 2010: Web. 25 Mar 2011.

Unknown, . "History of Bungie." Bungie.net. Bungie, LLC., 2008. Web. 25 Mar 2011.

Image Credits: 

Halo: Combat Evolved user screenshots. Web. 29 Mar 2011. .

The Next Level. Web. 29 Mar 2011. .

1 comment

Nick Kolenko, Sun, 2011-04-10 17:38

Hey I like Halo a lot and I was wondering if I could be in your group for these projects. My email is nkolenko@mail.umw.edu if you can let me know if you still have room or I'll just see you in class.

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