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The Halo Story

Joe Staten Interview - October 2004

Just prior to the release of Halo 2, we sent off a batch of questions to Joseph Staten, Cinematic Director at Bungie Studios. They had just finished up the game and were primarily on vacation, but after some well-deserved rest Joe was kind enough to respond to us.

First off, the following ideas are a representative sampling of the ones that have been supported by a majority of our readers. Joe agreed to comment briefly on each of these one by one.

HSP: 343 Guilty Spark believes that the MC is a Forerunner, due to some kind of physical similarity between the two, related in some way to the MC's armor.

JS: Spark, being a Forerunner creation, would certainly recognize one of his makers. But he never clarifies what he means by "Reclaimer". Yes, Spark remarks that the Chief's suit offers relatively poor protection from the Flood compared, one would assume, to armor of Forerunner design, but that's all he ever really says on the subject.

HSP: The Covenant released the Flood.

JS: No rational beings would ever knowingly release the Flood. Or, if they did, one would hope they had a damn good reason.

HSP: Modern humans are descendants of the Forerunner.

JS: That's an interesting theory.

HSP: The three Spartans who were "otherwise engaged on fields of combat too distant to be easily recalled" will be significant, either in their presence, or in what they have been doing.

JS: Not as far as Halo2's story is concerned.

HSP: ONI knows much more than they let on.

JS: Without a doubt.

HSP: The Flood are more than just a biological curiosity to the Forerunner.

JS: Curiosity? No. The Flood was the Forerunner's undoing - an overwhelming antagonist they could not defeat without putting a gun between their collective teeth, and pulling the trigger.

HSP: There are seven Halos in this galaxy.

JS: If Spark is to be believed, there are definitely more than one.

HSP: The Forerunner inhabit another galaxy.

JS: Well they don't inhabit ours - which is to say something with the power and reach of the Covenant would certainly have found them by now if they did.

HSP: There has been some mention of a possible inherent lack of ambiguity in the storytelling style of Halo (and presumably Halo 2), where recorded dialog and video leave little room for the inscrutability and/or tantalizing vagueness that other Bungie games have been known for. Are you content with the ways in which you have been able to tell the story from within the game so far?

JS: It's an unavoidable fact that, the larger you want your audience to be, the less ambiguous you can afford to make the stories you tell.

I'm not saying every story with broad appeal needs to be watered-down, cliche, merely that if you hope to attract the interest of the mass-market, your fiction needs to be clear, tight, compelling - and, as far as video-games are concerned, easily avoided (press "X" to make my job irrelevant).

The Marathon terminals, the Myth narrations - these story-telling elements were designed to be ambiguous, tough nuts to crack. As such, they appealed to a much smaller audience than we were shooting for with Halo - a game that relied, accordingly, on pretty unambiguous letterboxed cinematics for the bulk of its storytelling.

Like its predecessor, Halo2 has straight-forward movies, scripted mission-dialog, but we've done a better job this time around at infusing all aspects of the game (the environments, the characters, the combat dialog, etc.) with deep, consistent context. It is my hope that Halo2's story will satisfy the masses as well as provide the leave-no-stone-unturned faithful with ample grist for the mill.

HSP: Are the "Marathon connections" which are so wistfully searched for by some of the fans going to be enhanced with the release of the new game? Forever shattered?

JS: Nothing overt, but if you look/listen carefully...

HSP: Our HSP timeline was constructed using the two timelines and the novels, primarily. How accurate is it? If you compare this timeline and your own internal, 'story bible' one, are there any significant differences, aside from things that we haven't seen yet from Halo 2?

JS: You missed some dates - well, not dates per se. More like blocks of time:

Age(s) of Abandonment
Age(s) of Conflict
Age(s) of Discovery
Age(s) of Reconciliation
Age(s) of Conversion
Age(s) of Doubt
Age(s) of Reclamation

I wonder where they go, and to what they pertain?

HSP: 343 Guilty Spark says, "Last time, you asked me, if it was my choice, would I do it? Having considerable time to ponder your query, my answer has not changed." How much time is he referring to?

JS: 100,000 years. Give or take.

HSP: 'Time travel' has been decried by some readers as one of the more hackneyed plot devices in story telling. The events of Sep 7, 2552 at Reach provide ample possibility of that device being employed in Halo 2. What comments do you have in regards to time travel, Halo 2, and storytelling in general? [Or, paraphrased] Time travel is a little corny, don't you think?

JS: Absolutely. Teleportation is a different matter, however. Used sparingly, it works great as a plot-device without stepping too far outside the hard sci-fi boundaries of the Halo universe.

HSP: Do you think it is possible, using only the publicly available story sources, to know where Dr. Halsey has taken Kelly at the end of First Strike?

JS: Your guess is as good as mine.

HSP: Is Halo2 the end of the story?

JS: Not by a long shot.

HSP: If you were to define what is and isn't Halo story canon, would the I Love Bees stuff make the cut?

JS: The Bees would not make the cut.

Those guys basically did their own thing with very little Bungie input (save for massaging and approving the initial plot-treatment). While we helped define the boundaries of their fiction, we let them do what they thought best. And I think the game turned out great.

HSP: Would the books make the cut?

JS: The books are, for better or worse, part of the canon. In the future we may choose to revise or flat-out ignore some of the less appealing ideas (Johnson's biological immunity to the Flood, for example), but folks should treat them as defining elements of the Halo universe.

HSP: Do you think that the conclusion of the game might be a bit more subtle than some people expected? Also, we'd love to be able to indicate, for those that seem to need it, that a deeper sense of closure was down the road, so will there be another Halo game coming sooner than the ~3 years that this one took?

JS: Subtle? How polite of you! Unfortunately, I can't comment on any future plans. But for those who would have preferred less cliff-hanger and more closure, I'd say this: Bungie has always carefully considered the thoughts and opinions of its fans. Whatever we do next, find comfort in the fact that our eyes ears are wide open.

HSP: If you could offer a few words to guide dedicated Story Page readers on their Quest for Tru7h, what would they be?

JS: In your valiant search for the truth, do not forget the legacy of the good Dr. Heisenberg.

We'd like to thank Joe for taking the time to answer our questions, not to mention all his hard work on the game. Thanks, Joe!