The Marketing of Halo 5: Guardians, Part II

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In 2009, following Bungie’s split from Microsoft, 343 Industries was created to develop Halo, the mega-blockbuster growing bigger with every major release. A year before, however, transmedia consultant Starlight Runner Entertainment was hired to manage the mythology. Before the “Reclaimer Saga” begun development, the Halo lore was cleaned up for future congruity. A mega-bible of around 800 pages was written, sealing the “super story-arc” off from retcons. This is an extreme clash of the business and the creative, with more at stake than artistic vision, but higher ambitions than money-making.

In the last post, something as innocuous as the juxtaposition of two trailers could tell a unique story — give a sense of things on a level deeper than the typical, misguided, live-action ad. This could be the result of 343 and Starlight’s collaboration, the augmentation and solidifying of story in an overwhelmingly unstable storytelling medium, and if so, may allude to the artistic potential of these transmedia consultants.

Conceptually, these firms, which have been fielding top clients in Hollywood for years and years, are arranging these blitzes on mass audiences, zapping every last appreciator of character, or aesthetic, into consumers plain and everyman. They stretch a brand across all possible media, like television or comics or social media, maximizing noise and racing farther and farther away from whatever modicum of auteur theory video-games were just beginning to enjoy (problematically).

Doing so however requires engaging with mythology as a serious business practice, even holding lectures on the material in the case of Pirates of the Caribbean. We’re one degree removed from the bottom line here; the goal for Halo is consistency and persistence, straightening out complex lore to then extrapolate out to products for the bottom line.

Taking an official approach to fleshing out a fictional universe is formal support to the creation of what may be an example of a ‘modern epic.’ 343 and Starlight allude to the “super story-arc,” which sees smaller units of stories within, contributing to the greater narrative in some way. These units will manifest in commercial products, whose highest priorities are things like ‘fun’ or ‘multiplayer,’ but just as the extended temporal space from film to television in that false dichotomy spells a huge difference in character, the protracted Halo narrative can possibly be affecting in much the same, indirect and nebulous, method as the dialogue between official and teaser Halo 5: Guardians trailers.

Where some read the franchise as ‘franchise,’ others may see diversity in story potential, which had already paid out before mythology consultation with a third-party firm. Halo 3: ODST was acclaimed as a smaller story set in the greater universe, reaching toward a markedly different feel as a game about loneliness and exploration, more Metroid Prime in places than the Scarab action-heights of contemporary Halo 3.

Even in the main arc, there are literary pretensions. While recently we’ve seen deconstruction on the part of the Master Chief, this is only a culminating formalization of preexisting themes. In Halo 2, the invisible villain of the first game was brought to the fore and introduced as the second player-avatar in the Covenant’s Arbiter. Initially clad in the same yellow armor so familiar under a red reticle, the Arbiter is given a unique visual identity, a voice, and finally, a character.

This one-time enemy provides a gateway to a more nuanced conflict, where it’s no longer the easy equation of war to traditional gameplay — two sides, one against the other. Although there are no bad humans in the original trilogy, there are sympathetic Covenant, and a depiction of cognitive dissonance with violent religious fundamentalism.

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While the overall ideas of Halo can’t be easily logged, consolidated and transferrable to a succinct but comprehensive essay or other pure message form, it’s a story in progress, and has only potential going forward. Which it’s had from the very beginning; this series with the fortune of being the product of a team invested in creating the complete package, Bungie not content to merely ride on breaking ground with the first workable console shooter ever. (Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Goldeneye are unplayable by the standard of mouse-and-keyboard).

Bungie wanted to make a fun game first, but believed that a good story was proper motivation to push the player through the correct beats. They began a legacy with financial perpetuity, sure, but hopefully also a finite and rounded narrative. In other words, they came for the shooting but stayed for the why of the shooting. The why, being space and war and aliens, was interesting.

It could be franchised out to comics, anime, TV, and novels. It could also be developed into a story so big, that quantitative begins to morph to qualitative by non-accidental function, guided by committee. What an awesome job to have.

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