How Combat Evolved ruined Halo.

Firstly, that title would best be rewritten as “how Combat Evolved Anniversary shifted the community’s focus, causing them to ruin their own enjoyment of Halo” but that was just too long to include in a headline. Secondly, don’t think for a moment that my faith in the Halo franchise isn’t as strong as ever. This is not a cry out against my community, my franchise, or the game which I love and call home. It is merely an observation… and a suggestion.

Although the move to Chicago has occupied a vast majority of my time in recent days – and packing before that – even prior still you could find me sitting in my room playing video games. However if you were to look at my screen to see what I was playing you would be surprised to find that I was not playing Halo, as tended to be the case in years past. Why is this?

If the Halo Weekly Bulletin is to be used as an example of the general interests of the Halo community, then I am dismayed to offer these reports on the Bulletins we have received for the past weeks. Since the launch of Halo Anniversary, not a single Bulletin has been published in over twelve weeks that hasn’t, for the bulk of its content, contained vast amounts of information on title and matchmaking updates (excluding holidays, major events, the recently launched Office of Halo Intelligence, and that interview with Tim Dadabo). That’s nearly three months of Halo Bulletins directed primarily at gameplay.

But why is this important, you ask?

Well, firstly because I was not initially fascinated by Halo because of its subtle variations on gameplay and miniscule elements effecting the larger whole. It is not what drew me in and kept me fascinated. And while multiplayer is a crucial part of the Halo experience for me just as much as it is for anyone else, it stands separate in my mind from the core of Halo and stems (as I believe it should with all games) from a well-crafted campaign. While gameplay (and therefore multiplayer) is the backbone of Halo, standing as a foundation for great fun and socialization, campaign is the heart at the center pumping blood down this majestic beast’s veins. And in the end, has Halo ever strayed from its course so much that that extreme amount of enjoyment cannot be found whilst playing Halo with others? As Leviathan put it on HBO:

“Do the changes in the TU actually change the core of Halo? Is shooting a needler no longer fun? Hearing the boom of a Scorpion’s canon? Have we become so desensitized to the magic of Halo that simple changes disturb us so much?”

But there is more to my discomfort than simple personal choices in what makes or breaks Halo, and this stems directly from the many Bulletins we’ve had over these last few months and, more importantly, how it has effected us as a community (and vice versa).

If one were to journey to the strange lands of Halo.Bungie.Org, they would typically find a place of like-minded individuals, eagerly discussing the latest additions to the Halo storyline, or sharing gameplay tactics and custom maps. But, since the release of Halo Anniversary, conversations have tended to lean away from these kind-hearted approaches to conversations about Halo, and have gone down the terrible road of gripes and criticism, leading to an unfamiliar territory that has lost much of its excitement and character. Just as with the Halo Weekly Bulletins, I’ve found myself spending less time giving a thorough readthrough and instead skimming, only to find more and more conversations on the topic of title updates and matchmaking. The Halo Bulletins, and the Halo Community, all shifting focus away from the positive, greater picture and towards the negative, smaller one.

And again the question… why?

With the transition of Halo from the hands of Bungie to 343 Industries, there was obviously a lot of eagerness for the newly formed studio to prove their worth. Taking on a remake of the game that started Bungie’s forray into the Halo universe was a great technical and metaphorical way to test the waters and gain their footing, just as Bungie had ten years ago. But in doing so, the company (and therefore fans of Halo as well) began to focus so heavily on the original game and what made it good. This seemingly lead to a reexamination of the current Halo experience in Reach, and how 343 Industries could prove their worth as stewards of multiplayer as well. And it is because of this recent fascination with the past that they began to over-analyze, and over-think what should be, at its core, a simple exercise in restraint. Bungie, in their time as stewards of Halo, never once bothered to look back and ask what could be done to reclaim what was. They only ever looked back to see what could be done better, and this is part of what makes them a great studio that constantly puts forth amazing new ideas. As mentioned above, Halo is Halo, and will continue to be as long as its core mechanics stay the same. Every new installment to the franchise has changed one element or another, whether vastly or in more subtle ways, and yet the series persists and continues to provide the same level of enjoyment from game to game. If 343 Industries could take to heart the lesson taught by Bungie, and focus less on the minute details of what fans loved about the past installments of Halo and more on what unique ideas they have to bring to the table, they would be better equipped to handle the franchise that we all love.

It is my hope that, as Halo 4 draws nearer, 343 Industries and the community will begin to publicly shift their focus away from the past and a longing for what was, and instead begin to focus more on what can be. We know that great things are in the works for Halo 4, and I have no doubt that what 343i is making will be amazing, new, and distinctly Halo in a fresh and exciting way. HBO, and the Halo Weekly Bulletin are direct expressions of the fascinations and focuses of both the fans and the creators, and I believe that in order to cultivate a relationship that is beneficial for both parties, it is important for all involved to shift their focus away from the old, and towards the new.