Halo Anniversary Terminals:

by Narcogen


With the original Halo game, released on the first Xbox in 2001, backwards compatible on the 360 with a small update, and available as a download via Games on Demand, it was clear that a re-issue of the game for the franchise's anniversary would necessitate some new material. 343 Industries could have taken any number of approaches to this, from re-creating the original scenario in the Reach engine, to just re-skinning the old game. They eventually took a hybrid approach, offering cooperative play over Xbox Live, a widescreen view, and a new graphics engine overlaid over the old game, as well as remastered music and sound effects (dialogue remains untouched).

Some of those who wanted the old school game's multiplayer on Live were disappointed by the decision to implement this as map packs and playlists for Reach, but I think it's understandable.

However, with Anniversary being 343's first foray into their stewardship of the Halo franchise, I was looking to see how the decisions they would make in implementing their remastering of Halo 1 would inform me about their intentions towards Halo 4 and beyond. In order to set that up, as well as address some unanswered questions from the original trilogy plus one (and recap the entire series a bit) they added some new content into the game, in the form of audiovisual terminals, one per level, hidden in the game, similar to the terminals in Halo 3.

Halo 3's terminals, like Marathon's, were textual. These are audiovisuals motion cartoons, narrated by Halo's original voice actors, primarily Tim Dadabo reprising his role as the Monitor of Installation 04, 343 Guilty Spark.

While the inclusion of Dadabo's excellent performance as everyone's favorite monitor lends the venture some credibility, the writing of the Terminals themselves and how they treat the world's content take all of it away and then some.

Terminal 1: Pillar of Awesome

The first terminal is easy to find; it's on the bridge on the left before you run into Captain Keyes. It's accessible either before or after the cutscene, but if you watch the cutscene first you'll notice some mishandled details there, as well. Where viewscreens in the original showed the ring on the screen, new details have now been added. The label "HALO" has now been put onto the screen-- even though no one will actually use this term until you rescue Captain Keyes from the brig aboard the Truth and Reconciliation three levels from now. Indicators for "landing zone" have also been added, even though Cortana has yet to mention anything about any landing zones, and despite the fact that she mentions several options and not a single landing zone. This is just the first of many details that indicate the lack of attention paid to much of the new material added, both in the terminals and in enhanced textures, especially on displays.

The first terminal plays out like a warning transmission sent by 343 Guilty Spark to the Pillar of Autumn-- first warning the ship to stay away, and then welcoming it to land-- as long as all the crew stay on board.

I can, on some level, understand the desire to respond to an unanswered question-- why does Guilty Spark let the PoA (and the Covenant) approach the ring, if risk of Flood escape carries with it such dire consequences? Why does the ring appear to have no defenses? Why are the only defenses we do see-- the Sentinels-- appear so late and perform so weakly? Halo's inspiration, Niven's Ringworld, had formidable defenses to keep away intruders, as well as perform an absolutely necessary function-- destroying incoming asteroids that would damage the surface of the ring.

The problem is that predictably, this response raises more questions than it answers, and the new questions are more troubling than the old ones. What would Guilty Spark have done to the Pillar of Autumn if he had not deemed them worthy to approach? Humans are apparently so awesome that they should be allowed onboard-- even if Guilty Spark has no way of knowing if they are aware of their special place in the universe (they aren't) or if they're being followed by other races that pose a threat to the Array (they are).

If he could have destroyed or disabled them, why did he not do it to the Covenant ships, which presumably should not have been allowed to approach? Are we expected to believe that Guilty Spark's control over the ring's defenses are binary-- on or off-- and that deactivating them to allow the Autumn to approach also let the Covenant sneak in? The terminal only addresses the approach of the Autumn-- even though the cutscene with Keyes and Cortana insists that they arrived first. Why doesn't the terminal show Guilty Spark warning the Covenant? He gives the Autumn only thirty seconds to retreat to a distance of one light year before changing his mind. Are we expected to believe, then, that the Autumn arrived in the critical interval between the Covenant's arrival and the expiration of their one minute deadline?

That UNSC and Covenant craft were able to approach, land, or in some cases, crash on the surface of the ring, completely unaddressed by Guilty Spark or any other automatic defenses, raises unanswered questions, and potentially has a negative impact on the perception of the abilities and competencies both of Guilty Spark and his Forerunner creators. The problem is that the new material creates an even worse impression. It might have been believable that 343 was dormant or inattentive after 100,000 years of relative quiet, or that key systems broke down to the point where he was unaware of their approach until it was too late. This terminal ruins that potentially reasonable explanation, replacing it with an unreasonable one-- that he was aware of at least some of the approaching ships, and as a result of his contact with them, disabled any (presumably all) defenses that could have kept the Covenant away and prevented the eventual release of the Flood.

Not Bad For A Human

It's unfair to accuse a remake of the original game for spoiling the plot of the sequels, but I think it's fair to accuse it of undermining its own dramatic tension. From Halo 1 to Halo 3, as well as spinoff novels, graphic novels and anime, fans were left wondering what exactly Guilty Spark means when, at the climax of the first game, he asks the Master Chief why he would refuse to do what he had already done. Does the Master Chief travel in time? Is Guilty using the royal "you"-- referring to a human as representative of his entire race, and by extension, his forebears-- the Forerunners? Is Guilty Spark coming right out and saying that humans are direct descendants, or at least cousins, with the creators of the ring? What does he mean when he calls human history "all our lost time"?

So, Guilty Spark knows enough about Forerunners, Reclaimers and Humans that he is able to recognize them on sight and even access their databanks. However, he is unable to make himself heard, apparently, since there is no evidence that anyone onboard the Autumn ever hears his transmission. There's now no reason for him to be surprised or excited at all when he accesses the ship's databases while in the engine room during The Maw, because he's already accessed that information remotely before the game even starts-- how, we don't know. This terminal hasn't just spoiled that dramatic reveal, it's ruined it, rendering Guilty Spark's performance in that scene incomprehensible and redundant, and taking the air out of the balloon of Halo 3's climax as well.

Three Steps Forward, Four Steps Back

So the terminal tells us that Halo does have defenses-- but they can't be used effectively, since turning them off for one authorized ship allows several others to approach as well.

Guilty Spark warns no one to leave the ship after landing, but then apparently does nothing about it when both human and Covenant forces leave their respective ships-- humans before the Autumn ever reaches the surface. Why aren't sentinels waiting for the Master Chief on the surface before a Covenant dropship ever arrives? It makes no sense. (This terminal also manages to directly conflict with not just the content of the rest of the game, but with another terminal you encounter later, wherein Guilty Spark notes the crash of a Covenant ship on the ring's surface, and then obsesses about why the occupants refuse to leave.)

Near the end of the terminal, Guilty Spark says that "we have much to discuss, humans"-- but this discussion never, ever takes place, nor does Guilty Spark ever attempt to initiate it. Most of the mystery throughout the series about exactly who the Forerunner were and what the relationship between them and humanity was pivots on the idea that Guilty Spark either assumes that the Master Chief (and, by extension, the audience) should already know what the state of play is, or that he doesn't actually know himself. This terminal also blows those reasonable explanations out of the water, clearly illustrating that he knows, and wishes to discuss it with the humans-- in fact, a desire to validate their "assumed legacy"-- and yet this evaluation never takes place. One is forced to conclude that the need to combat the Flood took precedence, but when Master Chief's refusal to turn over Cortana and the Index put the two into conflict, it would seem high time to have a talk. Instead, Spark orders a few ineffectual Sentinels to take the Chief's head.

All in all, an inauspicious start. Little new material is actually revealed; it's more a question of when Guilty Spark knew things rather than what he actually knew; but the revelations within diminish the dramatic tension of the plots of both the first and third games, while offering explanations for seeming contradictions that are more troubling than the questions they answer, a trend that will continue throughout the terminals as well as in other new details added in Anniversary.

Terminal 2 Coming next: