The next movement of the odyssey in the Master Chief’s saga may still be a while away from dropping out of slipspace, but by no means are we totally in the dark as to what awaits us on Installation 07.
Over the summer, Halo: Outpost Discovery toured across the US, and while I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend this momentous community event, 343 Industries has very kindly uploaded a number of the panels that were held at the event in the latest Canon Fodder: Issue #106 – Outpost Discoveries.
I thought it well worth plundering these sources for information and insights into what’s to come in Halo Infinite, and see how my faith has been rewarded…Much of the information to follow comes from the Canon Fodder Live panel, featuring Jeff Easterling and Frank O’Connor.
The Canon Fodder article also includes panels with some of the fabulous authors of the franchise: Greg Bear, Kelly Gay, Troy Denning, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Matt Forbeck, Joe Staten, and more lend their literary wisdom about their experiences with Halo in ‘The Write Stuff.’
While this article will obviously cover the information provided about Halo Infinite from Frank and Jeff, there are a lot of other great insights into the nature of building this titanic franchise.
Also, I mean, it’s worth a watch purely for these two merry men!
“The Beamish cosplay champion and I sat down together to have a casual conversation about creating and curating canon in the Halo universe, as well as answering some questions directly from the audience. It’s a fun fiction fireside chat that we think you might enjoy. Maybe we’ll do another one on stream sometime.”
BACK TO BASICS
Much of what Frank and Jeff talk about regarding Halo Infinite is to do with the kind of storytelling the game is going to have, which is important (more so, I think, than actually telling us further details about the story at this time) because part of the process on our end – as fans – really involves getting an understanding of what 343’s ‘angle’ is.
The primary takeaway is that Halo Infinite is really aiming to echo Halo 1 in terms of how the exposition about the story and the characters and universe unfolds throughout the course of your adventure.
F: “In terms of story, we want to do that again. We want to […] stick new players in the middle of a completely fleshed out universe with lots of questions, and the story will set about answering those questions very directly. And the good thing about our core and lore fans is they can come along on that ride because they will have very similar questions.”
J: “How do we make everybody be equally lost?” [Canon Fodder Live (18:45)]
This has been something of a recurring idea that we’ve been peripherally aware of as far back as last year, where 343 did a Social Stream with Dan Chosich (Narrative Experience Director) on the making of the Halo Infinite announcement teaser for E3 2018.
In this, Chosich goes into great detail about the philosophical approach to the core pillars of what they want the experience of this game to be.
One of those pillars was ‘Mystery,’ where the descriptive statement for it reads: ‘The audience arrives one moment after.’
That really lives at the heart of Halo as a series: stumbling upon something ancient and mysterious, wondering what the story is behind it – making the player feel like they’re as much of an explorer as they are a genetically augmented supersoldier.
Part of how 343 aims to raise these questions can be, again, gleaned from Halo 1 and how it throws you into the middle of a story that’s already been going on.
“The one thing we’ve been trying to do for the entire production of Halo Infinite is lean back into the things that we loved about Halo. […] The story elements, the sandbox elements, the sense of immersion, the scale – especially with Halo CE, the feeling of being stuck in the middle of an experience and wondering more about what this universe that you’re in is.
[…] We just want to immerse people in that and let them find out, in the course of the game, in the same way that you did with Halo CE […] where you felt like you were arriving in the middle of this panic situation (literally). But then, it’s all explained and it all becomes clear, and you start to understand and recognise your importance, and the pivotal nature of who you are – without saying you’re Superman, or without saying you’re the Chosen One. It’s about ‘You have a job to do, you’ve learned what your capabilities are, and now you gotta go perform.’
Like Halo CE, we’ll contextualise everything for you as if this was your first game, but there will be elements of Halo 5 that are directly connected to this.” [Blackmist523 – ‘Frank O’Connor on Halo:Infinite @ Halo Outpost Discovery Orlando 2019’ (1:40)]
(Before anybody runs away with Frank’s “Chosen One” line with the notion that it’s “dropping” the story established by Halo 4, I must direct you to this article which explores how Halo 4 subverts that trope rather than playing to it.)
While Frank understandably insists on the amount of clarity that Halo Infinite will aim to provide players, I do hope that there will be room for unanswered questions too.
Halo 1 was, after all, more impactful for the things it didn’t explicitly reveal along with what it did, and that includes the incredible story content added in the Anniversary remaster. The purposefully unanswered question of the mysterious ship that crashes on Installation 04 comes to mind…Another thing that was emphasised at Outpost Discovery about Halo Infinite is the amount of context you’ll need going into the game.
Which is to say, little-to-none!
F: “If you’ve never played a Halo game before, […] we’re leaning back on the atmosphere of Halo CE in that regard, but just as a piece of standalone storytelling it will be completely self-contained with the amount of context you need. That said, players like yourself and the folks in this audience are going to see elements in there that they’ll be surprised that those things are in there.”
J: “It doesn’t forget the rest of the universe, and that includes up to Halo 5. (Through Halo 5, I will say.)” [Canon Fodder Live (56:10)]
This will likely sound familiar to long-time fans, as similar promises have been made regarding the notion of how much you’ll need to know (or not know) going into a game. Naturally, your mileage will vary as to how true that has been for you.
Jeff follows up Frank’s statement by noting that Infinite will not “forget” the rest of the universe. The stories of the previous instalments will be relevant to Infinite, as it is still very much a sequel to what’s come before.
We can probably expect that the way in which it’s articulated as a sequel will be somewhat less ‘direct,’ something that will unfold gradually.
The difference, I think, can really be seen in that opening scene with the Pilot – the scene shown at E3 this year. No matter what your level of knowledge of Halo lore is, everybody is put in the same starting place of not knowing and asking the same questions.
At the same time, there are echoes of Halo 5 in there too. Where that game ended with Lasky saying that they’re going to be on the run until they can find a way to fight, Halo Infinite opens with the Master Chief saying to the Pilot “We need to fight.”
F: “It’s also a story that raises a lot of questions deliberately as a part of its method, and if you’ve seen the trailers you will have questions about specific scenes – what does that mean, who is this, where is this going?
Some of the story for Infinite will be ‘Yeah, we’re making you ask those questions, either as a returning player or a new player,’ and part of the story methodology is ‘Now you go get the answer, and now you get to explore what that question was and get a satisfactory answer.'” [Canon Fodder Live (57:35)]
Unlike Halo 5, there isn’t an infographic showing the dozens of supposedly connected stories that largely failed to see any meaningful reflection in the game proper. Indeed, it is notable that there hasn’t been any tie-in media for Infinite thus far…
We’re all equally clueless, but in a good way.
The journey that will follow will have us all go out with the same intention of finding those answers.
THIS GLITTERING BAND
(Yes, I’m going to be taking it for granted that this ring is Installation 07 – it really has been quite obvious since the announcement teaser last year.)
Installation 07 has previously been the setting of the novel Halo: Primordium, the second book of Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, so we already have some idea of what we may end up seeing in Halo Infinite.
What’s worthy of note, however, is that Primordium has a unique framing device in that the story is told by Chakas – an ancient human whose personality was ‘suppressed’ by what we once knew as 343 Guilty Spark, now reawakened after taking that laser to the face in Halo 3.
And just how reliable as a narrator is he? Not in the sense that he is misleading, but Chakas is recalling events from 100,000 years ago – a time in which he understood very little of what was going on and what he was seeing.
This, I think, is the key to ‘getting’ Primordium, as it’s notoriously one of the most difficult Halo novels to ‘jive’ with.
If we were to follow a Forerunner character, or anybody who had even the faintest idea as to what things were and what was going on, the book would be really quite dull. Everything would be known and explained to the reader. There’s no fun in that, right?
That we see the mundane technological workings of the Forerunners (in a time when constructs of the awful scale and majesty of the Halos was normal for them), the air of mystery around the Forerunners is not only preserved, but enhanced by the fact that we are comparatively seeing it through the eyes of ants.It’s definitely not the most approachable kind of narrative form, it certainly asks more of the reader than any of the other books, but it’s absolutely the most interesting way to preserve the esoteric nature of this era.
For those who find this book a hard one to read, I would absolutely recommend listening to the audiobook. It stunningly narrated by Tim Dadabo, the voice of Guilty Spark himself, and I daresay it’s the definitive way to experience this story (which you absolutely should at some point prior to the release of Infinite next year!)
The setting of Primordium is actually remarkably simple: a Flood-controlled, damaged Halo is crashing towards a planet to self-destruct. The Forerunner presence is dead or gone, and you don’t even know if they’re your allies.
You don’t know if anyone is coming, and if they are it’s certainly not with the intention of saving you.
You’re not a supersoldier, you’ve got no effective physical means to make a difference the way someone like the Master Chief can.
You’re a lost, devolved human completely out in the wild, facing up to the mountains of madness as you have to survive with nothing but the people around you who all contain small puzzle pieces of a plan formulated over ten million years by the closest thing Halo has to gods…
Ready? No? Well, you’ve gotta go and not only find a way to survive, but figure out what this grand mystery is.
Because even the Precursor on the ring itself doesn’t quite understand yet either.In a narrative sense, I tend to think of each Halo ring as a turning point that introduces us to something brand new for the series.
Installation 04 was our introduction to the mythos, it stands on its own as the set-up for a lot of the enduring and definitive concepts of Halo.
Installation 05 introduced us to the Gravemind, and was the battleground for the Great Schism.
Installation 03 brought in the Composer (and the Composer’s Abyss).
We’ve now got Installation 07, which, in its introductory appearance, was about as close to At the Mountains of Madness: Halo Edition as I think the series can get.
What 343 can draw from to detail this setting in Halo Infinite will likely have the lore crowd very happy indeed!
At the same time, 343 also has a great deal of freedom to do what they want with this setting and tell their own story without being too beholden to specifics from the past, owing to a lot of the ambiguities in Primordium.
As a setting, then, Installation 07 really seems like the perfect narrative middle ground for all kinds of Halo players.
ONE FINAL YEAR IS ALL THAT REMAINS…
One of Halo’s greatest strengths as a series – as I covered above – is how gloriously expansive its media is in exploring the universe.
In this year alone, we’ve had a solo post-war story for Linda-058, two novels from a civilian perspective during a Covenant invasion, a Master Chief novel in the very early years of the war where humanity and the Covenant are still learning about each others’ capabilities…
But this can also, at times, be its greatest weakness.
There’s so much of it now, I can’t blame people for being intimidated or put off by having thirty books to read.
And that’s not even counting all of the other franchise media.Additionally, the time that will have passed between the release of Halo 5 and Halo Infinite will be very similar to the time that passed between Halo 3 and 4 – about half-a-decade.
We’re at a turning point now. With The Master Chief Collection adding Reach and bringing the complete Halo experience to PC (a project truly unprecedented in scale), the TV Show making significant progress, I’m excited for Halo to feel ‘new’ again.
I want to be surprised and see things that I never saw coming, I want to see new takes on major themes unbound from the obligations of having to fit with a dozen other data points of fiction.
I love complex and interconnected Halo stories, it’s all I bang on about on here! But there’s a bigger picture of what the series ‘needs’ in order to move forwards, and 343 seems to have found the answer to that in refining the complexities of the series into the design language of of Halo 1’s approachable simplicity.Jeff Easterling raised the question of “How do we make everybody be equally lost?” and I think there’s a great aspirational goal in making that the starting point for Infinite and having the community find their way through that together.
Halo Infinite has a lot riding on it. It’s a launch title for the next generation of Xbox, it’s got to work with the state of the universe imposed by Halo 5, it’s got a new generation of players to appeal to while also satisfying long-time fans…
No pressure, right?
But this is also a unique opportunity. A chance to reflect on, refine, and consolidate some of the best aspects of the series after a long period of worthwhile experimentation.
In the end, Halo Infinite must be an affirmation of why this series should still be with us twenty years later. And y’know what? It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m confident that the post-Halo 5 ‘Age of Doubt’ has come to an end and that 343 will deliver.
To close this article out, if you are looking for some extra reading material for some peripheral context that will likely be relevant to Halo Infinite, here’s what you should find some time for in the next year.
– The Forerunner Saga, by Greg Bear – Halo: Cryptum (2011), Primordium (2012), Silentium (2013), Rebirth (2013)
– Halo: Hunters in the Dark (2015), by Peter David
– Halo Mythos: A Guide to the Story of Halo (2016), by Jeff Easterling, Jeremy Patenaude, and Kenneth Peters