Beyond the Frontline is a regular feature where the staff here get up on the soapbox and put forward an idea or question relating to Halo. Each BTF is a talking point designed to start a dialogue and unlike our regular word blasts and articles, the entries are short and sweet.
We’ve always had this sort of schism between multiplayer and campaign… [The campaign] was really wrapped in fiction and the multiplayer just wasn’t.
We’ve created a fairly compelling and fairly convincing reason why Red Spartans can fight Blue Spartans.
–Frank O’Connor, “Making Halo 4: First Look”
Halo‘s surreal multiplayer experience will soon be a thing of the past, as Halo 4‘s multiplayer, or War Games, aims to fully include this competitive mode into the game’s fictional world. Set inside the confines of the massive UNSC Infinity, the Spartan-IVs aboard this high-tech ship are running training simulations, in which environments are supposedly manufactured holodeck-style for them to operate within.
This explanation still begs many questions. For one, what happens when one Spartan kills another in the simulation? Is that knife through the skull still virtual? What, then, is the point of differentiating a kill with a dissolve effect versus one without? If the deaths are simulated as well, shouldn’t they all dissolve, to show that the Spartan wasn’t really killed, just beamed out of the game? Answering either of these questions would mean that 343 Industries would have to finally reveal the context of these multiplayer games, either being inside of a VR simulation in which Spartans do not physically interact with each other, or explain through some other method how it’s okay for humanity’s most elite fighting force to be murdering one another before going into real battle. So far, it seems that 343 Industries is keeping its cards held close to the chest, if they even have an explanation at all.
This recent rebranding of the Halo multiplayer experience brings up an interesting quandary. If multiplayer is now part of the canon, then how do the games of past Halo installments fit in with the fiction? The setting has always been canonical–each environment accompanied with interesting backstories to frame the area in which combat occurs. But the combat itself, as previously mentioned, has always had a surreal feel to it, existing just outside the context of the real lore. Red vs Blue took this a little step further, with the characters of these multiplayer matches actually discussing with each other in wonderfully framed meta humor the purpose of their fighting, as epitomized by the line “You ever wonder why we’re here?”
343i might simply ignore the canonicity of these battles entirely, but they also have two options from a storytelling standpoint to make players look back in awe at the many matches played over the last ten years as not just great fun, but a unique form of storytelling in disguise, retroactively created as an impressive plot twist of sorts by saying that it was canon all along.
The first option is that all of the multiplayer matches from Halo 1-3 (and the DLC, non-campaign based maps of Reach, although Spartans vs. Elites and Invasion help to justify these a bit more) are a further extension of the Spartan-IV training program, where maps and weapons are retroactively created so that these warriors can have experience with all weaponry, and can understand and analyze the fighting that their predecessors saw. It would be a way of taking study of historical battles to the next level by living it.
Alternatively, they could utilize the single sweep-under-the-rug plot device that most Halo fans despise, time travel. While of course most are groaning upon reading this, it must be seriously considered as well. Not all are going to feel as positively towards having multiplayer stand side-by-side with the adventures of Master Chief, and what better way would there be to remove it from the immediate vicinity of that more important story whilst still maintaining its relevance inside canon? Create a narrative similar to that of I Love Bees. Set it throughout periods of time, with a group of Spartans who encounter an unknown anomaly and end up fighting each other in a massive confusion of betrayal and chaos, with an almost Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like vibe of paranoia, where each side accuses the other of being the true hidden enemy. Furthermore, it could be used as an opportunity to follow up on the Forerunner crystal from First Strike, an amazingly powerful artifact that was shown to have not just time manipulative properties, but a near sentient–even omniscient–ability to determine the destinies of the groups and individuals it effects.
“That’s not possible,” Cortana said. “How could the artifact on Reach affect us on Halo – light-years away?”
“Don’t think of it as a physical distance,” Dr. Halsey replied absentmindedly, staring at the monitors. “You and John were on an event path intersecting the crystal.” She moved the curves over one another; the time and space surfaces were a perfect match. “You had to be there at that place and time to recover us and remove the crystal – time and space warped to make that event occur.”
– Halo: First Strike, pg. 299
The Prophet flicked its claw at the container. It floated free from Tartarus’s grasp and hovered. The top unscreed, and three glittering chips of sapphire-colored crystal shimmered, and threw light and shadow upon the chamber’s mirrored surfaces.
The Prophet’s dais bobbled in the suddenly uneven gravity – but it quickly compensated.
“This is all?” it asked.
“Eight squadrons combed the area surrounding the Eridanus Secondus asteroid field and Tau Ceti,” the Brute replied, bowing its head even lower. “Many were lost in the void. This is all there was to find.”
The orb’s lid screwed itself back on, and then the container gently drifted into the Prophet’s grasp.
“It may yet be enough for our purposes…”
– Halo: First Strike, pg. 407
Something that powerful certainly deserves better than to be brought up and then dropped from the rest of the universe. This could also easily be fit into the storyline of future Spartan Ops mission, showing how the three crystal shards were retrieved from the Covenant, and subsequently sent groups of Spartans back through time. This would help to explain why Spartans would be fighting other Spartans in locations as they existed before humanity made contact with the Covenant, or even before the fall of the Forerunners (Isolation). It would also allow 343 Industries to tie the story of each multiplayer map together into one continuous narrative, providing a greater level of depth to the Halo universe through such a simple framework.
This is both an open question and a humble submission of a new idea. For those fans of fiction who now have to contend with the canonicity of multiplayer, how would you feel if 343 Industries took this approach to unifying all past Halo games? Would you like to see the crystal plot thread come to a close? And to those fans of multiplayer, how does it make you feel that 343 Industries is pulling you into the campaign now, whether willing or unwilling, and how would you feel if this effort was strengthened thusly in the future?