Halo 4 and a discussion on "tone"

#1 Posted by JazGalaxy (1577 posts) -

If you've ever read anything I have to say on Halo, it starts with the same disclaimer.

"Halo 1 was one of my favorite games of all time. I bought it, and an xbox, the day they came out, back when nobody had any idea what they were. I played the campaign no less than 20 times as everyone in my dorm stopped by to see what this "xbox" thing was and nobody played Halo just once. They played all the way through to the end and I was glad to do it with them, every single time."

But, when Halo 2 came out, I fell out of love fast. I felt that the brilliant and clean design of the first game had been ruined by featurecreep. I felt that things meant as fixes, like the Chiefs new floaty jumping, ruined the experience I had with the first game. But more than any of those, I felt that the story became achingly self-serious. I summed up Halo 1 and the offense of Halo 2 one time to a friend, saying that Halo was the story of a giant lime green robot who singlehandedly fights off and murders thousands of muppety aliens whose millitary color is hot pink. It was fine for Halo 1, because the tone of Halo 1 was that of a slightly more literate than average saturday morning cartoon. With Halo 2, suddenly the tone became... something else. WIth it's throaty faux shakespearian voice actors and script dense with every type of conflict the writers could crib from "Screenwriting for dummies" , it tried hard to be MORE than what Halo 1 was. But it STILL had the lime green robot and it STILL had the muppety aliens and it was STILL... JUST Halo. It even culminated with a confrontation between our beloved robot and an evil talking fungus who spoke in rhyme.

I halfheartedly played through Halo 3 just to see if they redeemed themselves and... they didn't. It was still a child trying to act like how it thought a grownup should behave. Trying to be "badass" and embarassing itself along the way.

And then comes Halo 4, and I'm left wondering how to digest it.

See, my problem with Halo 2 and 3 is a problem with tone. Tone is one of the most difficult things to come to grips with, as a writer. Tone sets the boundaries for what a writer can and cannot do, even as the master of their universe. In my opinion, all the swelling epic music was amazing, but ultimately it was meant to make you feel like something IMPORTANT was happening, when what you were watching on the screen was a robot have a conversation with rhyming fungus. It wasn't affecting, it was laughable. The mismatch of tone is the uncanny valley of storytelling. Watching the UNSC soldiers grow fouler and fouler mouths while gunning down aliens who talk one of Elmo's friends never had the intended effect on me. I don't even know what the intended effect was supposed to be.

In playing through Halo 4, I could never quite decide how I felt about the game.

If you haven't played the game yet, the gameplay is absolutely phenomenal. It's the best Halo gameplay since Halo 1, and if I took off my nostalgia glasses for a moment, I would probably say it's the best Halo gameplay of all time.

But more interesting to me is the way that 343 took it upon themselves to completely adjust the tone of the series. In playing through the game with my brother, I lost track of his Chief only to notice that he no longer sticks out as a lime green robot. In fact, in most scenes he looks black rather than green. A lot of this is due to his costume redesign that really DOES have more black than it used to and the fact that they made his costume far more matte and a darker shade of green. Similarly, the Covenant forces no longer look muppety, even if they still look appropriately alien. Several times I had trouble finding ghosts due to the fact that their once hot pink vehicles are now a much darker color and more matte, like Cheif's suit. I never heard the covenant forces rattling off ridiculous catch phrases and i never heard the UNSC forces rattling off frat boy one liners.

In short, 343 Industries made Halo grow up. I no longer felt like the tone that they were trying to portray was in direct contrast with the game I was actually playing.

Halo 4 is a fantastic game and one of my favorites on the 360.

But my problem in digesting the game is this: Can they DO that?

When the game starts up, we meet a Cortana who is moody, mopey and overcome with a womanly infatuation for The Master Cheif. Chief, for his part, is insanely chatty, making one liners and retorts when necessary and when completely un-necessary. These are completely different characters than the ones we left in Halo 3. And not just them, the way the UNSC operates, the way the game world looks and operates, are completely different than what we have seen previously.

Can a game sequel completely change the tone of a series? I mean, I know they CAN because they DID, but is it right for them to do so? Afterall, the cowboy nature of the UNSC forces, the cartoon-like and clownish nature of the covenant, the colorful super-saturated environment of the Halo ringworld, and the silent protagonist figure of the master chief were all bullet point reasons why gamers and critics loved Halo 1. Is it wrong to throw that away and do something entirely different?

I'm glad 343 did what they did, because they finally justified the change in tone Halo underwent between Halo 1 and 2, but is it right to make that kind of shift to begin wtih?

What would happen if the next Mario game featured Bowser invading New York and eating New Yorkers by the armload? What would happen if Link ran away when Ganon was rising and only 10 years later, after Hyrule was in ruins, he decided to do what he was always supposed to do and start his quest?

Can games change tone? and if so, is it changed forever? Can it change back? SHOULD games change tone? What are the effects of a game changing tone?

(For reference, other games that I believe changed tone are Metroid Other M, Prince Of Persia Warrior Within, and Jak 2)

#2 Posted by SuperWristBands (2265 posts) -

Halo 4 didn't grow up in my opinion. It became more childish for one very specific and important thing. When the Master Chief uses the hologram and positions it to stop near a corpse of an enemy, it begins tea-bagging it. One might not see too much wrong with that but if you think about it, tea-bagging has now been canonized. It could also be implied that ONI/UNSC/whoever made that piece of technology that way did so in the idea that it is convincing. So it must be common practice for Spartans/Marines/whoever is using this thing to stand over a defeated enemy and rub their crotches in the face of their opponents. Otherwise it wouldn't be convincing in the slightest to have a hologram do this.

I mean, really, most people on this site would probably think it's stupid when it's done in an online game. People in this game's universe are straight up disgusting.

I love Halo and I am just going to assume they forgot to uncheck the box that makes this happen in campaign or something, but it's really stupid and I had a strongly negative reaction when this happened in campaign for the above reasons.

#3 Posted by JazGalaxy (1577 posts) -

are you being serious? that actually happens?

#4 Posted by SuperWristBands (2265 posts) -

@JazGalaxy: Completely serious unfortunately. I get that it's an "lol" moment meant for multiplayer but leaving that in campaign was a really dumb move.

Though it is still dumb either way, be it multplayer or campaign. Smart for multiplayer but still... dumb. Not that that makes sense but whateves!

#5 Edited by Tru3_Blu3 (3150 posts) -

I thought Halo3's tone was redemptive. It was colorful, it had jolly characters, the marines said cheesy things, and the animations were that of plastic toys. Halo3 was a cartoony as Halo can be. It had its serious moments, yes, but so did a lot cartoons, comic books, and movies. No matter how light or dark a story is, it must have a goddamn conflict. Even the unique, artsy-fartsy structures that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino concoct have some sort of conflict affecting everything. Bungie elaborated stuff in their universe, and in doing so we got more conflict in their story. Halo2 and 3 were very light in tone, blood and flood and all. I really don't know what you're talking about in that sense.

Halo4 and Reach, though, were very serious. Reach had its reasons; it was a hopeless war and demise was common. It was the Empire Strikes Back of Halo, and that's fine. Halo4 on the other hand... yeah, I can concur with that.

#6 Posted by HistoryInRust (6212 posts) -

@Tru3_Blu3: You nailed it.

The original Halo trilogy was a space opera. Reach is the dark, claustrophobic genesis.

Halo 4 is this gangly and awkward nacent contradiction. It has really great moments, but can't ever maintain that maturity for long.

#7 Posted by JazGalaxy (1577 posts) -

@Tru3_Blu3 said:

I thought Halo3's tone was redemptive. It was colorful, it had jolly characters, the marines said cheesy things, and the animations were that of plastic toys. Halo3 was a cartoony as Halo can be. It had its serious moments, yes, but so did a lot cartoons, comic books, and movies. No matter how light or dark a story is, it must have a goddamn conflict. Even the unique, artsy-fartsy structures that Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino concoct have some sort of conflict affecting everything. Bungie elaborated stuff in their universe, and in doing so we got more conflict in their story. Halo2 and 3 were very light in tone, blood and flood and all. I really don't know what you're talking about in that sense.

Halo4 and Reach, though, were very serious. Reach had its reasons; it was a hopeless war and demise was common. It was the Empire Strikes Back of Halo, and that's fine. Halo4 on the other hand... yeah, I can concur with that.

You're absolutely right that stories need conflict, but creating and resolving appropriate conflicts are where real writers are sorted from crap writers.

The tone problem, for me, comes when everyone in the story is incredibly serious about what they're doing and the game is scored and edited in an extremely self serious way, and yet the main villain is a fungus who talks in rhyme.

It's the cartoony-ness of Halo 2 and 3 that was the problem, I was saying, when placed against how seriously the story takes itself.

I think Halo 4 fixes that problem by eliminating the cartooniness to match the tone of the presentation. My question, though, is "is that the right thing to do?" Where does that leave all the sillyness that made Halo 1 memorable to people 10 years ago?

#8 Posted by Hailinel (22674 posts) -

The tone of a series can change, so long as that change feels appropriate. The Lord of the Rings is darker and more mature than The Hobbit, which is for younger audiences, but both have their place.

Online
#9 Posted by believer258 (11033 posts) -

The tone of a series can change, yes.
As for Halo 4, the whole computer-falling-in-love-with-Chief thing made it sillier than the Gravemind ever was. I agree that Halo 1 had the best tone but Halo 4's story is too head-scratchey to consider anywhere near good. I think Halo 1's story is only good because it embraces its simplicity instead of trying to add false depth to it with a bunch of crazy mumbo-jumbo about Didacts, Forerunners, Arks, and Librarians.
Also, either your eyes or your television are fucked. Everything about the Covenant, Ghosts included, is very purple and not at all pink-ish.

Online
#10 Posted by JasonR86 (9364 posts) -

Halo 4's gameplay was an absolute blast which is why it is number 10 on my GOTY list. It's also great that they gave Master Chief more of a personality because, honestly, he really didn't have any before Halo 4. It also looked incredible.

The story was rough though. I'm as happy as a pig in shit that they killed off Cortana cause she was the fucking worst. The humans were all stereotypes and the enemies may as well be faceless and nameless considering how little I fucking cared about them.

So that's my take.

#11 Posted by JazGalaxy (1577 posts) -

@JasonR86 said:

Halo 4's gameplay was an absolute blast which is why it is number 10 on my GOTY list. It's also great that they gave Master Chief more of a personality because, honestly, he really didn't have any before Halo 4. It also looked incredible.

The story was rough though. I'm as happy as a pig in shit that they killed off Cortana cause she was the fucking worst. The humans were all stereotypes and the enemies may as well be faceless and nameless considering how little I fucking cared about them.

So that's my take.

oh she is clearly not dead.

My take is that they play up that female character they introduced in this game in the next game while simultaneously bringing an evil/crazy version of cortana back. Then in the end chief has to choose between the girl and cortana and he chooses to figure out a way to save cortana in the third game.

#12 Posted by JasonR86 (9364 posts) -

@JazGalaxy said:

@JasonR86 said:

Halo 4's gameplay was an absolute blast which is why it is number 10 on my GOTY list. It's also great that they gave Master Chief more of a personality because, honestly, he really didn't have any before Halo 4. It also looked incredible.

The story was rough though. I'm as happy as a pig in shit that they killed off Cortana cause she was the fucking worst. The humans were all stereotypes and the enemies may as well be faceless and nameless considering how little I fucking cared about them.

So that's my take.

oh she is clearly not dead.

My take is that they play up that female character they introduced in this game in the next game while simultaneously bringing an evil/crazy version of cortana back. Then in the end chief has to choose between the girl and cortana and he chooses to figure out a way to save cortana in the third game.

She better be fucking dead. How many times can we retread old ground with her? "I'm sick." "No you're not." "Yes I am I'm dying." "We'll fix it." and repeat for 7-10 hours. Fucking'a dude.

#13 Posted by JazGalaxy (1577 posts) -

@JasonR86 said:

@JazGalaxy said:

@JasonR86 said:

Halo 4's gameplay was an absolute blast which is why it is number 10 on my GOTY list. It's also great that they gave Master Chief more of a personality because, honestly, he really didn't have any before Halo 4. It also looked incredible.

The story was rough though. I'm as happy as a pig in shit that they killed off Cortana cause she was the fucking worst. The humans were all stereotypes and the enemies may as well be faceless and nameless considering how little I fucking cared about them.

So that's my take.

oh she is clearly not dead.

My take is that they play up that female character they introduced in this game in the next game while simultaneously bringing an evil/crazy version of cortana back. Then in the end chief has to choose between the girl and cortana and he chooses to figure out a way to save cortana in the third game.

She better be fucking dead. How many times can we retread old ground with her? "I'm sick." "No you're not." "Yes I am I'm dying." "We'll fix it." and repeat for 7-10 hours. Fucking'a dude.

ha! I'm with you brohter, but I'd bet a years salary that she's in for the long haul.

#14 Posted by xMEGADETHxSLY (455 posts) -

CORTANA IS PART OF REQUIEM, The halo 4 was childish. Especially when that one dude was going crazy against the MAster chief its like "dude its the Master Chief". Then when Cortana went tinker bell at the end. No explanation or even knowledge cortana was even capable of that. Not like Halo 2's huge scope and space opera feel. This felt like badly written fan fiction. All that said Halo 4 was a great game, Multiplayer is in its best form and Solo legendary was a great puzzle that i figured out eventually.

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