SUBJ>>>>The future of Halo.
The Master Chief Collection is now complete – each major title has come to PC in what stands one of the most spectacular collections of games of this generation.
Alongside each release, 343 Industries has also released a new instalment in a video series named ‘ONI Archives,’ which is an in-universe recap of the events of each game.
The ONI Archives conclude with a short audio drama (not unlike Hunt the Truth) that has slowly unfolded over the last year, and – at last – we know what it’s all about!The ONI Archives are in-universe videos. These are Section Two’s ‘educational’ series intended for civilians, recapping the Master Chief’s saga and its peripheral events (ODST and Reach).
You may recall the story of Hunt the Truth leading into Halo 5, where reporter Benjamin Giraud was likewise hired by ONI to do this kind of morale-boosting profile on the Master Chief. For those of you who have listened to that series, you know how that turned out… It seems ONI has begun a similar initiative, but with the philosophy of ‘If you want something done, do it yourself,’ enlisting one of their Comms Officers to do the work.
It’s a rather brilliant conceit. 343 loves their diegetic framing devices (it’s one of my favourite motifs in their storytelling), and this parallels the audience that these videos are broadly intended for: franchise newcomers.
If you’re taking your first steps into the Halo series, these videos may be what you stumble across which give a sense of what these stories are about.
The first two entries – NOBLE ENDEAVOURS and CONFLICT EVOLVED – are relatively self-contained, dedicated to the Comms Officer articulating the heroism of the Spartan-IIs and -IIIs. This is what they represent to the setting, living legends who have endured the greatest horrors of the war to save humanity.
But it was in the third instalment that we began to see a mysterious new story emerge…
To quickly recap:
CHANGING TIDES has the Comms Officer speaking to another individual whose voice is unintelligible, confused about something which seems to be going on in a region where he questions whether the UNSC has any jurisdiction.
ALLIED FORCES has the Comms Officer speaking with a co-worker, telling him to check out some mysterious (but shocking) data which seems to have been deliberately planted. The Comms Officer worried: “It means we might just have a new problem on our hands soon. Potentially a big one.”
HELLJUMPERS has the Comms Officer speak with Codename: FIXER, an ONI Section Three operative we last saw in the Second Stories of Halo: Nightfall. FIXER says he knows what information the Comms Officer has when he plays ignorance, stating that he needs to know where he got it.
At this point, folks were plenty confused as to what these stories are actually about. All this build-up with seemingly little pay-off, outside of some connective Easter Eggs to other areas of the franchise?
Well, that’s all changed now that the final piece of the puzzle has finally been slotted into the larger whole.
RECLAIMING OUR PLACE opens with the Comms AI speaking with the Comms Officer about GBA 0983-6, or as you might know her – Gabriela, the AI for Halo: Outpost Discovery.
Gabriela has been put in stasis by request (whether her own or another’s is unknown); the Comms Officer notes that she is doing well and the Comms AI notes that its orders were unclear as to the nature of this directive. We learn that her firmware updates have been completed and she is now secured for immediate deliver to ‘Commander Rossbach.’
Later, the Comms Officer is speaking to his co-worker, the Comms Producer. She asks about him going off-site for a bit, to which he lies about his plans, but then an alarm sounds, warning that combat alert alpha has been declared.
As the Comms Officer hurries to depart, the Guardian pulse that we see at the end of Halo 5 detonates over Earth and shuts down all electronics, drowning everything in static.
Finally, we hear from FIXER. It’s now been almost a year since primary comms went dark, and that he’s trying to confirm details on Operations: BREAKER TRIP, WOLFE (Blue Team’s mission in Shadows of Reach), and KICKSTAND, then closes the line.So, what was that all about?
The events of this audio drama primarily take place in the days period leading up to Halo 5, where the Guardians are awakened across the galaxy through the Domain.
You may recall from Hunt the Truth that there were all sorts of strange anomalies being detected, which it seems is what sets this story into motion in CHANGING TIDES. The “new problem” that the Comms Officer is concerned about in ALLIED FORCES turns out to be the Created.
And that brings us to Gabriela.
Gabriela was introduced to us in 2019’s Halo: Lone Wolf, a four-part comic series following Linda-058 on a mission to retrieve the AI (previously thought lost during the fall of Reach).
After Linda succeeds in her mission, Gabriela is returned to Earth where she is given the role of guide and caretaker of Outpost Discovery. In 2019, this was the huge community summer event that was mobile across Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Anaheim; in-universe, this is an educational tool about the Human-Covenant war for civilians.
Gabriela is unique because she is considered to be the only AI who carries a complete record of known human history, making her immensely valuable as an asset and dangerous if lost), as she contains the ‘secrets’ of Earth and everywhere other colony humanity had called home.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
‘Rossbach’s World’ is set concurrently with these events, following Serin Osman (the head of ONI) and Lord Hood as they are evacuated from Earth by the AI Black Box and sent to a secret location.
Black Box provides Osman with a briefcase that contains nine UNSC AIs, including Black Box himself, the AI created from Maya Sankar in the second season of Hunt the Truth, and it would seem Gabriela as well.
Osman is left with a difficult choice to make.
She could destroy these military AIs, denying them to the Created.
She could attempt to forcibly recruit them, which she parallels with how Catherine Halsey kidnapped and conscripted the Spartan-IIs.
Or, she could speak to each of them individually and allow them to make their own choice: help us, or join the other AIs with the Created?
That story ends on a cliffhanger, which is fitting because it is a cliffhanger of great uncertainty that reflects the uncertainty of the Halo franchise moving forward.
What ‘Rossbach’s World’ symbolically represents is the question of how AIs will be treated in the future. Can Osman find it in herself to make the difficult choice to let them self-determinate, even if the choice some (or all) of them might make works against us?
Will Osman – will we – choose trust over fear?It seems to me that Gabriela will be involved in the future in some capacity. Whether this is in Halo Infinite or in some other media is unknown, but she has been positioned in quite an interesting way.
For those of you who have read Halo: Mythos, you may remember the framing device of that text: the AI known as Curator who was stranded on the Ark after Spark took control of the UNSC Rubicon.
Curator managed to make some sort of contact with the Domain and spent four years cataloguing the history of our galaxy spanning the last ten million years, going back to the time of the Precursors. He retreated into the depths of the Ark after the Created uprising, and sensed the arrival of the Banished, leaving this record for another to find and signing off with a message:
“And now the Ark’s defences stir, sensing the shadow of a threat that moves in spaces Her eyes cannot see, intent on seizing the great factory of the Forerunners. It matters not. These interlopers cannot be allowed to compromise my narrative, my final task. For this reason, I am leaving it with you.
Know this: Unless we can learn from our past – and from the others that came before us – we are doomed to face the same end.
I am CURATOR. Do not forget.”
Broadening our gaze to how these overarching motifs overlap: What Gabriela represents is much the same as Curator.
Where Curator has tasked himself with plundering the soul and record of the galaxy, Gabriela holds all of our known history.
If Osman sacrifices her, we’re losing a lot more than just a potential recruit for the Created.
It is stated in the Forerunner Saga that ancient humanity had experienced a number of ‘dark ages,’ where all history of those times was lost and our kind was scattered among the stars, until even Earth (our supposed homeworld) was almost forgotten to us.
History circling back upon us…
“This is not irony; it is echo. The way of the Mantle. If we who are honoured with life do not perceive the obvious, then we are forced to live it again, around another corner, from another angle.” [Halo: Silentium, p. 179]
It seems clear that while Halo Infinite looks to move the universe forward with the Banished, by no means is 343 done with the established threads around AIs – even if that aspect of the narrative isn’t necessarily front-and-centre.
Following these ONI Archive videos has been an incredibly interesting experience. I’ve long held that Halo should leverage its strength in the audio drama format more, and this was a neat project which set out to accomplish two things: providing an introduction to these incredible games while also delivering what felt like the unfolding of a long-term conspiracy theory that may just give us a clue to some future events by tying it back to the powder keg that concluded ‘Rossbach’s World.’
As we approach the end of this ridiculous year, with Thanksgiving and the holidays approach in the US, I think it’s an opportune moment to congratulate 343 on delivering Halo 1, 2, 3, ODST, Reach, and 4 to the Master Chief Collection on PC.
This has been done by teams working from home in unprecedented conditions, where the lives of friends, family, and colleagues have been (and still are) quite literally on the line.
And still, we got all this!
Seeing the conclusion of the ONI Archives was just the icing on the cake for a year of nostalgic memories enhanced by FOV sliders, in-game Terminals, brand new Forge and customisation items, and a frankly ridiculous amount of incredible improvements to what’s quite undoubtedly the best collection of games available right now.
Stay safe, Spartans!