Halo is "full of bullshit" - A quick look at FPS storytelling

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Posted by Spacetrucking (943 posts) -

Do you remember the writer,Richard Morgan, from the recent Crysis 2 interview Brad did ? Well, he's been saying some not-so-nice things about the Halo franchise. According to him, Halo is full of "bullshit archetypal characters" [Link]. Quite an inflammatory comment and I won't be surprised if he did it as part of a deliberate marketing strategy of some sort to attract interest towards his own product. Anyway, he does raise a valid point that Halo's storyline is very played out. 

Halo:CE had a great world design
While there is no excuse for not having a better story, I think authors have to look at games from a different perspective than books or movies. For me, the biggest strength of a video game is making the player believe they are the author of their story. This is the reason why I appreciate choices in my RPGs, even if the end result is cliched. And when you're delivering a linear story like Halo, you have to trick the player into believing that they are in total control of what is happening on screen. The most memorable sequences in games are the ones where the player is directly in charge.  

In first person shooters, this is usually accomplished by giving the players a rich environment to explore and filling it with clues or interesting objects with narrative value. Combat Evolved does this well. I haven't touched the game since 2003 or so and I still distinctly remember the first time I crash landed on Installation 04 and stumbled into this vast ecosystem. It's a very cliched scene with the mountain cliff and the waterfall. But since it was a game and I had the chance to explore this surrounding myself, I remember it more than any movie's watefall/cliff scene. In cases like this, there is no need for clever words or witty writing when the environment itself can make such an impact.

More than just a chatterbox
Morgan criticized the characters and I'll definitely give him that. But if you analyze the narrative structure of shooter games, there is a very specific need for such archetypal characters as well. In most good FPS, you're also usually given a sidekick to help you understand what is happening around you (Alyx in HL2, Cortana in Halo, Atlas in BioShock, Price/Others in Modern Warfare). These characters are essential in getting us invested in a fictional world and they all become archetypes by necessity. These companion characters need humor, intellect or a sunny personality to make the experience enjoyable. And I think Cortana is very good example (though not the best) of how to do it right. The Arbiter is another good character and someone I liked immediately. He fills the archetype of the old enemy turned friend but the fact that players actually control him in co-op makes it more than his movie/book counterparts. A lot of this is down to execution and Bungie did a good job of making me like these two. Master Chief and Sgt. Johnson on the other hand are just lazy and they could have done better.

Anyway, my closing thought is that labeling Halo's entire cast as "bullshit" is just extreme and unwarranted. They are archetypes but they are well executed archetypes. If Morgan truly believes what he said, then Crysis 2 better set a new standard for shooter storytelling. Nothing against CryTek (I love their games) but he is just setting himself up for a hard knock back to reality here.
#1 Posted by Spacetrucking (943 posts) -

Do you remember the writer,Richard Morgan, from the recent Crysis 2 interview Brad did ? Well, he's been saying some not-so-nice things about the Halo franchise. According to him, Halo is full of "bullshit archetypal characters" [Link]. Quite an inflammatory comment and I won't be surprised if he did it as part of a deliberate marketing strategy of some sort to attract interest towards his own product. Anyway, he does raise a valid point that Halo's storyline is very played out. 

Halo:CE had a great world design
While there is no excuse for not having a better story, I think authors have to look at games from a different perspective than books or movies. For me, the biggest strength of a video game is making the player believe they are the author of their story. This is the reason why I appreciate choices in my RPGs, even if the end result is cliched. And when you're delivering a linear story like Halo, you have to trick the player into believing that they are in total control of what is happening on screen. The most memorable sequences in games are the ones where the player is directly in charge.  

In first person shooters, this is usually accomplished by giving the players a rich environment to explore and filling it with clues or interesting objects with narrative value. Combat Evolved does this well. I haven't touched the game since 2003 or so and I still distinctly remember the first time I crash landed on Installation 04 and stumbled into this vast ecosystem. It's a very cliched scene with the mountain cliff and the waterfall. But since it was a game and I had the chance to explore this surrounding myself, I remember it more than any movie's watefall/cliff scene. In cases like this, there is no need for clever words or witty writing when the environment itself can make such an impact.

More than just a chatterbox
Morgan criticized the characters and I'll definitely give him that. But if you analyze the narrative structure of shooter games, there is a very specific need for such archetypal characters as well. In most good FPS, you're also usually given a sidekick to help you understand what is happening around you (Alyx in HL2, Cortana in Halo, Atlas in BioShock, Price/Others in Modern Warfare). These characters are essential in getting us invested in a fictional world and they all become archetypes by necessity. These companion characters need humor, intellect or a sunny personality to make the experience enjoyable. And I think Cortana is very good example (though not the best) of how to do it right. The Arbiter is another good character and someone I liked immediately. He fills the archetype of the old enemy turned friend but the fact that players actually control him in co-op makes it more than his movie/book counterparts. A lot of this is down to execution and Bungie did a good job of making me like these two. Master Chief and Sgt. Johnson on the other hand are just lazy and they could have done better.

Anyway, my closing thought is that labeling Halo's entire cast as "bullshit" is just extreme and unwarranted. They are archetypes but they are well executed archetypes. If Morgan truly believes what he said, then Crysis 2 better set a new standard for shooter storytelling. Nothing against CryTek (I love their games) but he is just setting himself up for a hard knock back to reality here.
#2 Posted by Hamz (6846 posts) -

He has big brass balls, I'll give him that.
 
But Crysis and Crysis: Warhead had some weak narrative and story to them. So he hasn't got much ground to stand on making wild accusations against a franchise that has sold more copies of games than he's had hot dinners!

#3 Posted by Jost1 (2077 posts) -

Also, Cortana is pretty hot
 
But seriously good post!

#4 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

..........*whistles a jaunty tune, walks away from this thread, knowing that we both share the same fate*

#5 Posted by The_Laughing_Man (13629 posts) -
@josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot 
Ok good I am not the only one who thinks this.
#6 Posted by HandsomeDead (11863 posts) -

Considering the quality of video game storytelling in general, Halo was fine. Nothing special and a bit misguided but the fact I can even remember a lot of it all these years on is enough for me when near enough every game I play seems forgettable.

#7 Posted by ricetopher (1046 posts) -

Most people will probably play shooters for game play. While its not impossible for a shooter to have a good story, the focus of  most shooters is in the game play and multi player rather than the campaign (unless that's all the game has, but single player only shooters are a dieing breed).

Good blog though.

#8 Edited by PenguinDust (12493 posts) -

Yeah, all video game stories are viewed in the context of them being video games.  In other words, it's good (for a video game).  When it comes to shooters, I think too much depth bogs down the action.  Brevity is the brother of genius, as they say.  Get the plot points in quick and allow me to get back to blowin' shit up.

#9 Posted by ThatFrood (3375 posts) -

The guy said some cool things and all, but man... I'm gonna make some crazy predictions here: Crysis 2 is not going to blow anyone away with its storytelling.
Also, I'm gonna come out and say I think he was pretty off-base about the whole "it's bad cuz it shoots for the lowest common denominator" spiel. That's a dumb statement. Nobody's "shooting for the lowest common denominator", most games simply have different priorities. That priority being: be a game.
Obviously if a game sets out to be some "interactive story" then, yeah, they'll probably try and make it have a good story! And then it'll have more depth.
 
And finally, not to overly criticize him, I haven't read his books so I can't say anything really definitive. However, science fiction, his specialty, is rarely home to compelling storytelling. It relies on the setting constructed. This isn't bad at all but, again, it isn't where "phenomenal storytelling" usually takes place, so it's perfectly excusable that Halo has some cliche characters.

#10 Posted by heatDrive88 (2310 posts) -

I don't know. While the comments Morgan made were pretty ballsy, I couldn't disagree with him either because I wasn't especially taken with the storyline of the Halo franchise either. 
 
While you may find it completely epic with Master Chief on some cliff/mountain side, I don't see it as having the right kind of impact I'm looking for in storytelling to the sense of the overall plot. While visuals are obviously important to storytelling to paint the picture for an audience, it needs to complement the introversive nature of the story. 
 
To put it bluntly, it's like saying just because Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer or James Cameron paint these vividly amazing visuals, that the storytelling or plot in their movies share the same level of artistic balance. To that I say, I'm sorry, but Halo is "full of bullshit". Which is perfectly fine, I think.
 
Not that it matters, I don't think it's why the majority of people play the game anyways. The Halo franchise was just a simple scapegoat Morgan could use because it's wildly popular and commonplace in people's minds as a bestseller.
#11 Posted by PeasForFees (2411 posts) -

I may not like Halo a lot but Combat Evolved has a better story than both the Crysis Games by far.

#12 Posted by Jost1 (2077 posts) -
@The_Laughing_Man said:
" @josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot 
Ok good I am not the only one who thinks this. "
Everyone thinks it, few people have the balls to admit it
#13 Edited by Ghostiet (5250 posts) -

It's typical CryTek bullshit. Cevat Yerli already criticised other developers for doing "dumb plots" and he spent some time masturbating over Crysis' "incredible plot", which is actually weak as shit. The only difference I noticed is that I punch Koreans in the face instead of Russians, Germans and South American communists. Not worth a Pulitzer price, to be honest.

Not to mention the fact that despite my hatred, Halo isn't dumber than summer shit like the live-action Transformers or Avatar.

#14 Posted by AhmadMetallic (18955 posts) -

Good blog, i dont really have anything to add because im MEH about Halo and MEH about Crysis, they're just shooters to me, but good blog.

#15 Posted by Clinkz (1118 posts) -

Halo 2 and Halo 3 = BLEH story but Halo 1 man those missions were fun.

#16 Posted by Belonpopo (1823 posts) -

But Crysis has the best graphics!

#17 Posted by DarkGamerOO7 (574 posts) -

I've heard lots of praise about Crysis, but story wasn't one of them. Also while the story in the Halo games may not seem to all that great to some people, if you do explore the universe through the novels and look deeper into the story you will find a deep and meaningful story, similar with Star Wars. Yeah on the surface it looks like your typical fantasy story in space, but if you dig deeper, there is a more powerful and complex meaning to everything. Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing.

#18 Posted by buzz_killington (3532 posts) -

He actually has a point if you read the whole article. I mean "I gonna go up there and kill those guys" is not good dialogue.

#19 Posted by SimplyTron (77 posts) -

I fucking hate Johson.  I hope to god he is not in Reach.
#20 Edited by Wes899 (2108 posts) -
@SimplyTron: I wanna say he's on a space station above Reach at this point. I might be completely wrong though. 
 
EDIT: Also, excellent post Killjoi.
#21 Posted by Jazz (2256 posts) -

Why is everyone comparing Halo's storyline to Crysis? Richard K. Morgan didn't write Crysis, so what has that got to do with his comments? 
He's written some fantastic books, Altered Carbon especially, if you're into sci-fi with a dash of detective noir. It takes a different skill set to write for games however.  
We'll see how he does, but come on people. He didn't write crysis, and he's writing the second one. So saying Crysis had a weak storyline means nothing in the context of what he said. 
As for the storyline of Halo..it does the job, and it carries the action along. Basically it's just an excuse to shoot alien A, the Alien B in scene A or scene B. Its not like Silent Hill where the story is everything.  
and of course its a marketing ploy...dissing the competition is marketing 101. 
Personally I agree with him, though i enjoyed some of the novels.

#22 Posted by toast_burner (453 posts) -

Halos story was very bad. lets hope this guy can write a better one.

#23 Posted by natetodamax (19192 posts) -
@josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot
You mean the Halo 3 Cortana right?
Online
#24 Posted by BigBoss1911 (2434 posts) -
@natetodamax said:
" @josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot
You mean the Halo 3 Cortana right? "
Its a video game guys
#25 Posted by Lambert (404 posts) -

You gotta love the idiots.
 
"Derp, Derp, yeah he is right, he is a great person with fantastic tastes"
 
After he makes fun of their favourite game:
 
"Oh, no, he sucks, blah blah."
 
Really, I would like to first see the story of Crysis 2. Maybe he should let his games do the talking, instead of resorting to fanboy-like behaviour.

#26 Posted by natetodamax (19192 posts) -
@BigBoss1911 said:
" @natetodamax said:
" @josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot
You mean the Halo 3 Cortana right? "
Its a video game guys "
And?
Online
#27 Posted by MikkaQ (10283 posts) -

Not to defend or excuse Halo or anything, but having what that guy said come from a person at Crytek? That's rich. They can't do narrative or story to save their life. At least Halo had about the same amount of depth as an average hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. Crytek's games are still very clearly games, plot wise.

#28 Posted by toast_burner (453 posts) -
@BigBoss1911 said:
" @natetodamax said:
" @josty81 said:
" Also, Cortana is pretty hot
You mean the Halo 3 Cortana right? "
Its a video game guys "
why does that matter? *un-zips trousers*
#29 Posted by JeanLuc (3579 posts) -

Personally, I like the halo stories, but I agree that they could be done better.

#30 Posted by Butano (1731 posts) -
@DarkGamerOO7 said:
"Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
Definitely agree with you there. As much as I love both franchises, I definitely see Freeman being more generic than MC.
#31 Posted by Hailinel (24405 posts) -
@Hamz said:
" He has big brass balls, I'll give him that.  But Crysis and Crysis: Warhead had some weak narrative and story to them. So he hasn't got much ground to stand on making wild accusations against a franchise that has sold more copies of games than he's had hot dinners! "
Morgan didn't have anything to do with the previous Crysis games.  Since he's actually a good writer, he was most likely hired for the purpose of making sure that Crysis 2's story isn't a shit sandwich.
#32 Posted by Marz (5648 posts) -
@Hamz:   This guy was brought on to do Crysis 2 story to make it better.  He had no involvement with Crysis 1 and Warhead as far as i know.  So only time will tell if this guy has the story telling skills to backup his words.
#33 Posted by masterpaperlink (1836 posts) -

I don't remember anything that happened in the games so i read the books, that replaced the halo story for me (apart from that flood one gah wost book i ever read)

#34 Posted by TheHT (11140 posts) -
@Butano said:

" @DarkGamerOO7 said:

"Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
Definitely agree with you there. As much as I love both franchises, I definitely see Freeman being more generic than MC. "
An enhanced space-marine-esque super soldier is less generic than a skinny thick rim glasses wearing goateed crowbar wielding MIT physicist. Right.
Online
#35 Posted by Yummylee (21506 posts) -
@TheHT said:
" @Butano said:

" @DarkGamerOO7 said:

"Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
Definitely agree with you there. As much as I love both franchises, I definitely see Freeman being more generic than MC. "
An enhanced space-marine-esque super soldier is less generic than a skinny thick rim glasses wearing goateed crowbar wielding MIT physicist. Right. "

Bah! Nathan Hale is more generic than both of them, so HA!....
#37 Posted by Butano (1731 posts) -
@TheHT said:
" @Butano said:

" @DarkGamerOO7 said:

"Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
Definitely agree with you there. As much as I love both franchises, I definitely see Freeman being more generic than MC. "
An enhanced space-marine-esque super soldier is less generic than a skinny thick rim glasses wearing goateed crowbar wielding MIT physicist. Right. "
Who wears power armor and for some reason can't speak a word over the whole franchise so far? Absolutely! HL2 is definitely a better story, but it too falls under the generics of "I'm the only person who can somehow save the world through my lack of combat training and somehow get by through impossible means." Halo does it too, but at least MC has had years of combat training and body enhancement (who also doesn't become mute through the process).
#38 Posted by TheHT (11140 posts) -
@Butano said:
" @TheHT said:
" @Butano said:

" @DarkGamerOO7 said:

"Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
Definitely agree with you there. As much as I love both franchises, I definitely see Freeman being more generic than MC. "
An enhanced space-marine-esque super soldier is less generic than a skinny thick rim glasses wearing goateed crowbar wielding MIT physicist. Right. "
Who wears power armor and for some reason can't speak a word over the whole franchise so far? Absolutely! HL2 is definitely a better story, but it too falls under the generics of "I'm the only person who can somehow save the world through my lack of combat training and somehow get by through impossible means." Halo does it too, but at least MC has had years of combat training and body enhancement (who also doesn't become mute through the process). "
Haha, the mute hero is definitely not a generic trait. MC has that whole man of few words thing only saying things once in a while that are usually pretty GAR but a man of no words? Unheard of!
 
Yeah the whole 'without me you're all dead' deal is there in both, but in terms of just straight up character resume MC is definitely more same old than Freeman.
Online
#39 Posted by Emilio (3380 posts) -

I'd like to say this about Halo 3: 
 
The single player sadly drops you not knowing what the fuck is even going on. You meet up with a bunch of useless and generic computer controlled characters, and finally you fight some zombie aliens. 
 
 
Also, the last level is an escape with a vehicle. Again.

#40 Posted by Gruff182 (855 posts) -

Who cares about which has the better story.
 
Crysis has Sykes, so it wins by default.
 
"YANKEEE SHANKEE"
 
"I'm English, you muppet!"
 
Brilliant.

#41 Posted by Ferginator4k (737 posts) -

Great post, I see what the guys point is. 
But writing a novel and writing for a game are very different things and ill wait to see how Crysis 2 plays out.

#42 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

It's funny, but what I liked about Halo wasn't necessarily any of the main characters, so much as the individual soldiers you run into as you're fighting your way through the levels.  They seem to have individual personalities and attitudes, which is really cool.
 
And yes about the Arbiter.  Not sure if Morgan had this guy in mind when he was talking about the archetypes, but this fallen zealot makes a perfect foil for Covenant excesses.  Probably the one character I remember being impressed with.

#43 Edited by Capum15 (4874 posts) -

I love Halo.

So here's the required "Fuck you." to Mr. Morgan.

Note: If my computer was capable though, I'd probably have bought Crysis anyway.

#44 Posted by Agent47CSim2 (1085 posts) -
@DarkGamerOO7 said:
" I've heard lots of praise about Crysis, but story wasn't one of them. Also while the story in the Halo games may not seem to all that great to some people, if you do explore the universe through the novels and look deeper into the story you will find a deep and meaningful story, similar with Star Wars. Yeah on the surface it looks like your typical fantasy story in space, but if you dig deeper, there is a more powerful and complex meaning to everything. Also I hate how people criticize Master Chief as being a bland and generic character, but never seem to criticize Gorden Freeman for the same thing. "
this.
#45 Posted by Rawrz (590 posts) -

Oh joy lets single out Halo, even though except for Bioshock and Half-life, every FPS released nowadays tends to have a pretty generic story. Someones just mad that Halo Reach is gonna be a better game them Crysis 2.

#46 Posted by Superfriend (1545 posts) -

That dude better bring his a-game for the story of Crysis 2. Honestly, if it follows the story of part 1 it could be kinda assy. And that trailer had WAY too many blatant "this is 9/11" moments for my taste. Not that I can´t stomach it or anything, but I´ve got a feeling that the game is going to stumble and fall when it comes to recreating that kinda atmosphere in the actual game.
It might be nice to have this kind of atmosphere for a trailer, but a 5-7 hour game? Just that bullshit melancholy? All the time? Directed by Cervat Yerli?
 
I´ve got my doubts about this one.

#47 Posted by Hitchenson (4682 posts) -
@Belonpopo said:
" But Crysis has the best graphics! "
That might as well be written on the case, that's all it's got going for it.
#48 Posted by ProfessorEss (7323 posts) -

I assume the marketing team just want to make sure Crysis and Halo are used in the same sentence as much as possible.

#49 Posted by MysteriousBob (6272 posts) -

Halo had a plot? 
Pffft.

#50 Posted by MAN_FLANNEL (2462 posts) -
@MysteriousBob said:
" Halo had a plot? Pffft. "
You're all about the trolling this fine morning, aren't you?

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