Halo is a military science fiction video game and media franchise created by Bungie. The franchise is currently managed and developed by 343 Industries, and owned and published by Xbox Game Studios.
The central focus of the franchise builds on the experiences of Master Chief Sierra-117 “John”, one of a group of supersoldiers code-named Spartans, and his artificial intelligence (AI) companion, Cortana.
The original trilogy centres on an interstellar war between humanity and an alliance of aliens known as The Covenant. The Covenant, led by their religious leaders called the Prophets, worship an ancient civilisation known as the Forerunners, who perished while defeating the parasitic Flood.
The eponymous Halo Array are a group of immense, habitable and ring-shaped superweapons that were created by the Forerunners to destroy the Flood, but which the Covenant mistake for religious artefacts that, if activated, would transport them on a Great Journey to meet the Forerunners.
They are similar to the Orbitals in Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and to a lesser degree to author Larry Niven’s Ringworld concept.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the mantle of responsibility belonged to the Forerunners. However, the Precursors wanted to remove such power from Forerunner hands and give it to the human race. In retaliation, the Forerunners drove the precursors into extinction. Among the last of the precursors, one let out a spore, hoping for it to spread and repopulate the Precursors. It spread like wildfire. However, instead of creating Precursors, the spore made a parasite known as the Flood. The Forerunners fought the Flood, which spread through infestation of sentient life, overran much of the Milky Way Galaxy. Exhausting all other strategies, the Forerunners conceived the Halo Array – ring-shaped megastructures and weapons of last resort that would destroy all sentient life in the galaxy to stop the Flood. Delaying as long as they could, the Forerunners activated the rings and disappeared.
Nearly a hundred thousand years later in the 26th century, humanity – under the auspices of the United Nations Space Command, or UNSC – colonise many worlds thanks to the development of faster-than-light “slipspace” travel. Tensions between the government and colonies desiring independence sparks violent clashes. The UNSC sponsors the SPARTAN-II Project to create an elite group of enhanced supersoldiers, whose purpose is to suppress the rebellions covertly. In the year 2525, human worlds come under attack by a theocratic alliance of alien races known as the Covenant, whose leadership declares humanity heretics and an affront to their gods – the Forerunners – and begin a genocidal holy war. The Covenant’s superior technology and numbers prove decisive advantages; though effective, the Spartans are too few in number to turn the tide of battle in humanity’s favour. After the Covenant invade Reach, the UNSC’s last major stronghold besides Earth, Master Chief John-117 is one of the few remaining Spartans left.
The rediscovery of the Halo rings sets the humans against the Covenant, who believe they are instruments of transcendence, not destruction. Master Chief and his AI Cortana are instrumental in the destruction of a Halo ring to stop the Covenant and the threat of the Flood. The Covenant descends into civil war following the expulsion of the Sangheili species, with many grappling over the revelation that their religion is false. The disgraced former Covenant Sangheili commander known as the Arbiter, along with the rest of his race, help the humans destroy the Covenant and stop its leader, Truth, from activating the Halo Array via the Ark. The Human-Covenant War ends, though new conflicts begin to emerge throughout the universe.
In the post-war era, the UNSC created a new generation of Spartans, and tensions between the UNSC and colonist rebels resume. The Forerunner known as the Didact briefly returns to assert supremacy over humanity, though he is foiled by the Master Chief and Cortana, who is believed to perish in the attempt. Cortana’s survival through the Forerunner repository of knowledge known as the Domain leads her to break with the UNSC and assert a new hegemony over the galaxy, with artificial intelligence (the “Created”) in control. After two years of a scattered war, during which the Created are successful in completely dismantling the UNSC, Cortana attacks the Banished, a mercenary organisation largely led by the Jiralhanae race. The Banished win the resultant conflict, terminating Cortana and battle the UNSC for control of Zeta Halo.
In 2005, Columbia Pictures president Peter Schlessel began working outside the studio system to produce a Halo film adaptation. Alex Garland wrote a script, which was then pitched to studios by couriers dressed as Master Chief. Microsoft’s terms required $10 million against 15% of gross; most studios passed, citing the lack of risk for Microsoft compared to their large share of potential profits. 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures decided to partner to produce the film, paying Microsoft $5 million to option the film and 10% of grosses. Peter Jackson was slated to be the executive producer, with Neill Blomkamp as director. Before Blomkamp signed on, Guillermo del Toro was in negotiations to direct.
D.B. Weiss and Josh Olson rewrote Garland’s script during 2006. Preproduction of the film was halted and restarted several times. Later that year, 20th Century Fox threatened to pull out of the project, leading Universal to issue an ultimatum to Jackson and Schlessel: either reduce their large “first-dollar” revenue deals, or the project was ended. Both refused, and the project stalled. Blomkamp declared the project dead in late 2007, though Jackson insisted the film would still be made. Blomkamp and Jackson collaborated on District 9, but the director told Film (a movie review blog) that he was no longer considering working on a Halo film if the opportunity arose. The rights for the film have since reverted to Microsoft. Blomkamp would produce a series of live-action shorts as promotion for Halo 3, collectively titled Halo: Landfall.
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a live-action film and miniseries set in the Halo universe. Although shot as a feature-length film, Forward Unto Dawn was originally released as a webseries consisting of five episodes released between 05 October 2012 and 02 November 2012. The series’ plot, occurring in the early days of the Human-Covenant War circa 2526, revolves around Thomas Lasky, a young cadet at Corbulo Academy of Military Science, and how John-117 inspired him to eventually become a leader. Lasky is also a prominent character in Halo 4 as a commander on the UNSC Infinity. The name of the series, aside from being a reference to the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, is given new significance in the series as part a running motif based on a poem. The film cut was released on Blu-ray and DVD on 04 December 2012.
On 03 April 2014, it was announced that Ridley Scott and his production company, Scott Free Productions, were working on a Halo digital feature alongside 343 Industries and Xbox Entertainment Studios; Scott would be the executive producer, with David W. Zucker and Sergio Mimica-Gezzan as the directors. The feature was expected to follow the same format as Machinima’s Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. On 09 June 2014, it was announced at E3 2014 that the feature, titled Halo: Nightfall, would be included with Halo: The Master Chief Collection at its November 2014 launch. The feature introduces a new character to the franchise, Agent Jameson Locke, played by actor Mike Colter; Nightfall is considered to be his origin story. Locke is one of the Spartans portrayed on the cover art and plays a large role in the series. On 24 July 2014, 343 Industries released the first trailer for the feature. Halo: Nightfall is available to watch through Halo Channel, an application for the Xbox One, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone. On 16 March 2015, the series became available to stream, download, and buy on physical disc.
Paramount+ Television Series
On 21 May 2013, Xbox Entertainment Studios and 343 announced that a live-action television show of Halo would be produced with Steven Spielberg serving as executive producer through what is now Amblin Television. It was originally titled Halo: The Television Series. Neill Blomkamp was rumoured to be directing the pilot for the series. Xbox Entertainment Studios shut down in 2014. Later, it was announced the series would premiere on the American premium cable network Showtime. It had been in development hell for many years. On 01 March 2018, it was announced that the series would start filming in late 2018, with speculation of the series airing in mid- to late-2019. On 28 June 2018, Kyle Killen was hired as showrunner and executive producer and Rupert Wyatt as director and executive producer. On 04 December 2018, Wyatt stepped down as director and executive producer from the project due to scheduling conflicts. On 21 February 2019, Otto Bathurst replaced Wyatt as director and executive producer. On 17 April 2019, it was announced that Pablo Schreiber was cast as Master Chief. On 02 August 2019, Deadline reported that Natascha McElhone had been cast in two key roles: Cortana and Dr. Catherine Halsey, Bokeem Woodbine was also cast as Soren-066, along with Shabana Azmi as Admiral Margaret Parangosky, and Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha. It was also announced that the series would be released in early 2021. Filming was incorrectly reported to have officially began in October 2019. In November 2020, it was reported that McElhorne had been recast in the role of Cortana by Jen Taylor, who voiced Cortana in every major game in the Halo franchise. It then was reported that filming began in February 2021 and that ViacomCBS was shifting the show from Showtime to Paramount+ with Showtime retaining production credits. The series premiered on 24 March 2022.
Microsoft announced at Comic-Con 2009 that it was overseeing production of a series of seven short anime films, together called Halo Legends. Financed by 343 Industries, the animation was created by six Japanese production houses: Bee Train Production, Bones, Casio Entertainment, Production I.G., Studio 4°C, and Toei Animation. Shinji Aramaki, creator and director of Appleseed and Appleseed Ex Machina, served as the project’s creative director. Warner Bros. distributed Legends on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2010. Six of the stories are officially part of the Halo canon, with the seventh, made by Toei, intended to be a parody of the universe.
An animated version of The Fall of Reach was included in the Halo 5: Guardians Limited Edition and Collector’s Edition.
The main trilogy, particularly its protagonist, are considered iconic and a symbol of today’s video games; a wax replica of Master Chief was made by Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas, where Pete Wentz compared the character to notable characters from previous generations like Spider-Man, Frodo, and Luke Skywalker. The Escapist author Roger Travis compared Halo’s story to Virgil’s Aeneid, saying the religious and political struggle described in the games relates to the modern epic tradition. GamesTM stated Halo: Combat Evolved “changed video game combat forever”, and Halo 2 showcased Xbox Live as a tool for communities. Game Daily noted Halo 2’s launch was “easily comparable to the biggest in other sectors of the entertainment industry”, marking the first time a video game launch has become a major cultural event in the United States. Time magazine included the franchise in the “2005 Time 100”, highlighting that in the first ten weeks after the release of Halo 2, players spent 91 million combined hours playing the game online. A The New York Times report noted the success of Halo 3 was critical for Microsoft, persuading consumers to buy the Xbox 360 console which was experiencing waning sales compared with the Nintendo Wii, as well as helping restore the console’s image. On 25 September 2007, the release date for Halo 3 “The Legend”, Microsoft’s shares rose 1.7% based on sales expectations for the game. Halo has been described as a series that “has reinvented a genre that didn’t know it needed to be reinvented”, with aspects of the main trilogy being duplicated in other first-person shooter games multiple times.
Variety called Halo “the equivalent of Star Wars“. The fandom is referred to as the “Halo nation”.
As a popular video game series with a large and active fan base, the Halo trilogy has given rise to an array of video productions in an emerging entertainment medium, machinima. Virtually all machinima footage based around Halo is taken from the multiplayer modes of the main trilogy. Most productions are set outside Halo canon, while others are based on fan fiction closely relating to the story. Halo 3 includes a saved film function that allows camera angles not possible in previous games, and other features that simplify production. The game has become one of the most popular tools for generating machinima, and Microsoft updated its user license agreement to allow non-commercial distribution of such films.
A notable machinima production is the comedy series Red vs. Blue created by Rooster Teeth Productions. It has achieved an unparalleled level of success in Halo machinima in specific, and machinima in general; it is credited with bringing attention to the genre. Red vs. Blue generated annual revenues of US$200,000, and special promotional episodes were commissioned by Bungie. The first series, The Blood Gulch Chronicles, ended on 28 June 2007, after 100 regular episodes and numerous promotional videos. Subsequent series include The Recollection, which contains more dramatic elements than its comedic predecessor, Project Freelancer, The Chorus Trilogy, Anthology, and The Shisno Paradox. Other machinima series include Arby ‘n the Chief, Fire Team Charlie, The Codex, and the in-game interview show This Spartan Life.
Players began creating impromptu Halo tournaments and local parties after the release of the first game. Bungie looked at the success of these matches as inspiration for crafting the online multiplayer components of Halo 2.
Larger organizations soon began operating Halo competitive games. In August 2002, G4 hosted the Halo National Championship Finals, a FFA [free-for-all] tournament involving sixteen players from across the country (hosted by Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame). The Associates of Gaming Professionals (AGP), which focused solely on Halo, held its first event in November 2002. Inspired by friends placing bets on their Halo matches, Mike Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni formed Major League Gaming the same year.
Microsoft and 343 Industries sponsored their own professional Halo league, called the Halo Championship Series (HCS), in 2014. It was started in partnership with the Electronic Sports League (ESL). Seasons 1 and 2 ran on The Master Chief Collection. In August 2015 Microsoft announced it would be increasing the total prize pool of the HCS to $1 million USD, for the newly announced Halo World Championship, which will be the debut event for Halo 5. This prize pool was later announced to be crowd-funded, which later resulted in Major League Gaming announcing that the prize pool had climbed to $2 million USD. Later that week, 343 announced that the prize pool was locked at $2.5 million USD. This was the largest console esports prize pool ever.
- The games in the series are critically acclaimed, with the original considered the Xbox’s “killer app”. This led to the term “Halo killer” being used to describe console games that aspire, or are considered, to be better than Halo.
- Fuelled by the success of Halo: Combat Evolved, and by marketing campaigns from publisher Microsoft, its sequels went on to record-breaking sales.
- By 2015, the games had sold over 65 million copies worldwide, with the games alone grossing almost $3.4 billion. As of February 2021, that figure has risen to 81 million copies. Halo has since become one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time.
- These strong sales led to the franchise’s expansion to other media; the Halo Universe now spans multiple best-selling novels, graphic novels, comic books, short movies, animated movies and feature films, as well as other licensed products.
- Halo Infinite, the sixth main instalment, released its multiplayer beta on 15 November 2021, which coincides with the franchise’s 20th anniversary. Halo Infinite’s single-player campaign was released on 08 December 2021.
- Halo (working title):
- A planned film adaptation of Halo: Combat Evolved but it has been repeatedly abandoned and picked up by studios.
- Although originally planned for a 2008 release, it is currently postponed indefinitely.
- Halo (working title):
- TV Series:
- Halo Legends (2009) (seven anime shorts; released as eight episodes on the 2010 DVD).
- Halo 04: Forward Unto Dawn (2012) (A live-action web series released in the weeks leading up to the release of Halo 4. Also released as a film).
- Halo: Nightfall (2014) (A live-action web series released in the weeks following the release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection).
- Hunt the Truth (2015) An episodic audio-drama released as a (podcast) promotional marketing campaign for Halo 5: Guardians.
- Halo: The Fall of Reach (2015) (An animated web series following the events of Eric Nylund’s book Halo: The Fall of Reach releasing alongside Halo 5: Guardians).
- Halo (2022) (live action).
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 15 November 2001 to Present.
- Rating: Variable.
- Running Time: Variable.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.