The trilogy of video games have been praised as being among the best first-person shooters on a video game console, and are considered the Microsoft Xbox's "killer app". This has 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 immense marketing campaigns from publisher Microsoft, both sequels went on to break various sales records. Halo 3 sold more than US $170 million worth of copies in the first 24 hours of release, breaking the record set by Halo 2s 3 years prior. The trilogy of games have sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
Strong sales of the games has led to the franchise's expansion to other mediums; there are five bestselling novels, two graphic novels, and other licensed products. Beyond the original trilogy, other "Halo" games have branched off into other genres of play, with different developers; including an upcoming real-time strategy game Halo Wars and Halo: Chronicles, which is being developed by Peter Jackson. The series' award-winning music was composed by Bungie's own in-house musician Martin O'Donnell, and soundtracks have been released for the entire trilogy. The cultural impact of the Halo series has been compared by writer Brian Bendis to that of Star Wars. The collective group of fans of the series is referred to as the "Halo Nation".
The story arc of the game trilogy begins with the game Halo: Combat Evolved, set in 2552. The Covenant arrive at Reach, which is the UNSC's last colonial stronghold; they vitrify the planet, leaving very few survivors. Master Chief, the last SPARTAN thought alive, escapes on the ship Pillar of Autumn. The Pillar of Autumn, in order to avoid leading the Covenant to Earth, proceeds to coordinates selected by the female A.I. Cortana; dropping out of slipspace, the Autumn discovers the titular Halo, and is attacked by the Covenant. Battle damage forces the Autumn to the surface of the ring, where the Flood, a parasitic alien species, are accidentally released by the Covenant. The release of the Flood prompts the ring's caretaker, 343 Guilty Spark, to convince the Master Chief to activate Halo's defenses, so that the Flood can be destroyed. The Forerunners created Halo to starve the Flood of their food—sentient life—by exterminating all possible vectors for thousands of light-years in every direction. Upon discovering Halo's purpose, the Master Chief detonates the fusion reactors in the crashed Pillar of Autumn, destroying the ring; he and Cortana then escape in a fighter spacecraft.
In Halo: First Strike, the Master Chief returns to Reach, located in the Epsilon Eridani system, and rejoins the survivors of the vitrification. He and other SPARTAN-II's attack a Covenant space station, where a fleet is massing to attack Earth. The space station is destroyed, giving the humans time to prepare for the invasion. Soon after in Halo 2 a small Covenant fleet arrives at Earth. Badly beaten by the humans, the Covenant commander, the High Prophet of Regret, flees to another Halo, Installation 05, unwittingly taking the human ship In Amber Clad with him. At Installation 05, the Master Chief kills the High Prophet, leading to the replacement of the Covenant Elites with the Brutes as the preferred soldiers of the Covenant. This changing of the guard causes a schism within the Covenant. The Elites, realizing they have been betrayed, ally with the humans. The Elite warrior known as the Arbiter joins the humans Miranda Keyes and Sergeant Johnson in stopping the activation of Halo. This act inadvertently puts all the Halo installations on standby: the remaining rings can be activated remotely from a location known as "The Ark".
The Master Chief stows away on a Forerunner vessel headed to Earth, in the midst of a full-scale invasion by the Covenant. In Halo 3, the Covenant excavate a Forerunner artifact in the African desert; despite the efforts of the Elites and humans, the High Prophet of Truth activates the artifact, which opens a slipspace portal to the Ark. The Master Chief and the Arbiter travel through the portal and kill Truth; They then activate a new Halo ring under construction in an effort to destroy the local Flood lead by the intelligence known as the Gravemind, while sparing the rest of the galaxy. Because the ring's construction is incomplete, the resulting pulse destroys the ring and damages the Ark. The Arbiter escapes the explosion, but the Master Chief and Cortana are left drifting in space, trapped in the severed rear half of their ship. The Master Chief cryonically freezes himself as he and Cortana wait for rescue. In a bonus ending, the ship is seen drifting towards a mysterious planet.
As of July 2008, the Halo series includes a main trilogy of games; the games were released in chronological order, with each new installment following the events of the previous title. Four additional games, one stand-alone and a "new trilogy", are planned to continue the series. The Halo series features recurring science fiction and action game elements. Ancient structures, alien races, and cyborgs appear throughout the series. The games of the main trilogy are first-person shooters, with the player experiencing most action from the protagonist's perspective.
Originally developed as a real-time strategy game for the Apple Macintosh platform, Halo: Combat Evolved went through several iterations before arriving at the console first person shooter for which it is recognised. When the developer was bought by Microsoft in 2001, the game was rapidly finished and became an Xbox launch title and platform exclusive.
Released on November 15, 2001, the Xbox version of Halo: Combat Evolved is the first Halo video game. The game introduced many gameplay and plot themes common to the whole trilogy. Players battle various aliens on foot and in vehicles to complete objectives, while attempting to uncover the secrets of the eponymous Halo. One concept introduced in Halo: Combat Evolved, is limiting the number of weapons players could carry to two, forcing them to carefully select their preferred armament. Players fight with ranged and melee attacks, as well as a limited number of grenades. Bungie refers to the "weapons-grenades-melee" format as the "Golden Triangle of Halo", which has remained fundamentally unchanged throughout the trilogy. In Halo: Combat Evolved, the player's health is measured in both hit points and a continually recharging energy shield. A PC and Mac port was later developed by Gearbox Software, and released on September 30 and November 11, 2003 respectively. A stand-alone expansion, entitled Halo: Custom Edition, was released as a PC exclusive, and allowed players to create custom content for the game.
Its sequel, Halo 2 was released on the Xbox on November 9, 2004 and later for Windows Vista on May 17, 2007. For the first time, the game was released in two different editions: a standard edition with just the game disc and traditional Xbox packaging, and the Collector's Edition with a specially designed aluminum case, along with an additional bonus DVD, extra booklet, and slightly different user manual. Halo 2 introduced new gameplay elements, chief among them the ability to hold and fire two weapons simultaneously, known as "dual wielding". Unlike its predecessor, Halo 2 fully supports online multiplayer via Xbox Live. The game uses "matchmaking" to facilitate joining online matches by grouping players looking for certain types of games. Completely forgoing the more traditional "server list" which was used to find matches in online games almost exclusively prior to this. Upon release, Halo 2 became the game played by the most people on the Xbox Live service that week; regaining this title every week for over two years — the longest streak any game has held the spot. To this day, Halo 2 is still the game played by the most people each week for the original Xbox.
Halo 3 is the third and final game in the main Halo trilogy, ending the story arc begun in Halo: Combat Evolved. The game was released on the Xbox 360 on September 25, 2007. It features several gameplay elements, including vehicles and weapons, that were not present in previous Halo games, such as an entirely new to the series class of useable items known as equipment The game also included a limited map-editing tool known as the Forge, which allows players to insert game objects, such as weapons and crates, into existing multiplayer map geometry. Players can also save a recording of their gameplay sessions, and view them as video, from any angle.
The success of the main Halo trilogy has spurred the creation of spin-offs. Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game being developed by Ensemble Studios for the Xbox 360. Set in the year 2531, the game will take place prior to the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. According to Ensemble, much effort has been expended into developing a control scheme that is simple and does not have issues like those in other console strategy games. The game was announced at X06, where a pre-rendered trailer was shown; at E3 2007, a montage of gameplay clips featuring many aspects of Halo Wars was shown, followed by a demonstration video on the official site. The game will be released in Spring of 2009. The other in-universe spin-off is Halo: Chronicles, a "new trilogy" of Halo games. Originally announced on September 27, 2006, at X06 as an untitled project, these titles are to be co-written, co-designed, and co-produced by Peter Jackson, with his recently formed development studio, Wingnut Interactive; the series will be episodic. A Halo-based character, SPARTAN Nicole-458, appeared in Dead or Alive 4, a product of the collaboration between Tecmo's Team Ninja and Microsoft's Bungie Studios.
In an interview on MTV on July 16, 2008, Microsoft’s head of Xbox business, Don Mattrick, stated that Bungie is working on a new Halo game for Microsoft, which he stated is independent of Halo Wars and Halo Chronicles. An announcement of the new Halo project was expected at the 2008 E3 game exposition, which Bungie stated "has been building for several months", but was delayed by their publisher Microsoft. The Halo announcement was to be part of Microsoft's 150-minute E3 presentation, and was cut to trim the presentation down to 90 minutes; Microsoft has stated it wants to give the game its own dedicated event. After the release of a ambigious teaser trailer on September 25, Microsoft announced the game as Halo: Recon, a prequel to the events of Halo 3 to be released in 2009.
Alternate reality games were used to promote the release of the games in the main trilogy. The Cortana Letters, a series of cryptic email messages, were circulated by Bungie prior to Halo: Combat Evolveds release. I Love Bees, an alternate reality game, was used to promote the release of Halo 2. The game focused on a website created by 42 Entertainment, commissioned by Microsoft and endorsed by Bungie. Over the course of the game, audio clips were released that eventually formed a complete five-hour story set on Earth between Halo and Halo 2. Similarly, Iris was used as a viral marketing campaign for the release of Halo 3. It featured five web servers containing various media files related to the Halo universe.
Four Halo soundtracks, composed by Martin O'Donnell, have been released. The Halo Original Soundtrack contains most of Combat Evolveds music. Due to the varying nature of gameplay, the music present was designed to use the game's dynamic audio playback engine. The engine allows for the mood, theme, and duration of music played to change according to gameplay. To afford a more enjoyable listening experience, O'Donnell rearranged portions of the music of Halo into standalone suites, which follow the narrative course of the game. The soundtrack also contains music not used in the game, including a variation on the Halo theme that was first played at Halos debut at Macworld 1999.
For Halo 2s soundtrack, producer Nile Rodgers and O’Donnell decided to split the music into two separate volumes. The first, Volume One, was released on November 9, 2004 and contained all the themes as well as the “inspired-by” music present in the game (featuring Incubus, Hoobastank, and Breaking Benjamin). The second release, Volume 2, contained the rest of the music, much of which was incomplete or not included in the first soundtrack, as the first soundtrack was shipped before the game was released; the second volume was released on April 25, 2006. Halo 2, unlike its predecessor, was mixed to take full advantage of Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound.
The soundtrack for Halo 3 was released on November 20, 2007. O'Donnell noted he wanted to bring back the themes from the original game in order to help tie together the end of the trilogy. The tracks are presented, similarly to the previous soundtrack for Halo 2, in a suite form. Unlike previous soundtracks, where much of the music had been synthesized on computer, the soundtrack for Halo 3 was recorded using a 60-piece orchestra, along with a 24-voice chorus. The final soundtrack was recorded by the Northwest Sinfonia at Studio X in Seattle, Washington.
The Halo universe was first adapted into the graphic novel format in 2006 with the release of the Halo Graphic Novel, a collection of four short stories. It was written and illustrated by graphic novelists Lee Hammock, Jay Faerber, Tsutomu Nihei, Brett Lewis, Simon Bisley, Ed Lee and Jean Giraud. At the 2007 New York Comic Con, Marvel Comics announced they would be working on an ongoing Halo series with Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. The first part of the series, titled Halo: Uprising, bridges the gap between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3.
The Halo franchise has been highly successful commercially, critically and with its audience. During the two months following Halo: Combat Evolveds release, it sold alongside more than fifty percent of Xbox consoles. By April 8, 2002, it had sold a million units. Halo 2s sales generated US$125 million on its première day, making it the fastest selling United States media product in history. As of May 9, 2006, 8 million units of the game have been sold worldwide. Prior to the release of Halo 3, the first two games of the trilogy had sold a combined 14.8 million copies. GameSpot reported 4.2 million units of Halo 3 were in retail outlets on September 24, 2007, a day before official release—a world record volume release. Halo 3 broke the previous record for the highest grossing opening day in entertainment history, making US$170 million in its first twenty-four hours. Worldwide, sales exceeded US$300 million the first week, helping to more than double the sales of the Xbox 360 when compared with the weekly average before the Halo 3 launch. At the end of 2007, Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved were the number one and two best-selling Xbox titles, respectively, and Halo 3 was the best-selling Xbox 360 title. The Halo novels appeared on Publisher Weeklys bestseller charts, and the Halo Graphic Novel sold more than 100,000 copies, a "rare hit" for the games-to-comics genre. Ghosts of Onyx and Contact Harvest appeared on The New York Times bestseller lists as well.Overall, the Halo series has been well received by critics. Halo: Combat Evolved has received numerous Game of the Year awards. In March 2007, IGN listed it as the top Xbox game of all time, while readers ranked it the fourteenth best game ever on "IGN Readers' Choice 2006 - The Top 100 Games Ever". Conversely, GameSpy ranked Halo: Combat Evolved tenth on its list of "Top 25 Most Overrated Games of All Time", citing repetitive level design and the lack of an online multiplayer mode. Halo 2 also received numerous awards, with IGN listing it as the number two top Xbox game of all time in March 2007. From its initial release until the launch of Gears of War on the Xbox 360 nearly a year later, Halo 2 was the most popular video game on Xbox Live. Halo 3 was nominated for and won multiple awards; it won Time magazine's "Game of the Year" and IGN chose it as the Best Xbox 360 Online Multiplayer Game and Innovative Design of 2007. Most publications called the multiplayer aspect one of the best features; IGN said the multiplayer map lineup was the strongest of the series, and GameSpy added that the multiplayer offering will greatly please "Halo veterans". Complaints focused on the game's plot. The New York Times said the game had a "throwaway" plot and Total Video Games judged the single-player aspect ultimately disappointing. The series' music and audio has received enthusiastic response from game reviewers.
The success of the Halo Series resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the series 5 world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include "Best Selling Game on the Xbox", "Most Successful Machinima Series" for Red vs. Blue, and "Highest Grossing Game (One Day)" for Halo 3. Since the book's publication, Grand Theft Auto IV claimed that record.
Guinness World Records also attributes the "Longest Ban From Xbox Live" to Halo 3, when gamer |Scar| downloaded Halo 3 Epsilon, a test version of the game for Microsoft and Bungie Employees, played the game with his console connected to Xbox Live, and came to the attention of Microsoft. Pirating the game resulted in a ban from the service until December 31, 9999, or roughly 7,992 years.
As a highly popular video game series with a large and active fan base, the Halo trilogy has given rise to a wide array of video productions in an emerging entertainment medium, machinima. Virtually all machinima footage is taken from the multiplayer modes of the main trilogy games. Most productions are set outside Halo canon, while others are based on fan fiction closely relating to the official story. Halo 3 includes a saved film function that allows camera angles not possible in previous games, and other features that simplify production.
A notable machinima production is the comedy series Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles, a parody of the Halo universe, 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 series ended on June 28, 2007, after 100 regular episodes and numerous promotional videos. Rooster Teeth has resurrected Red vs. Blue with its new Reconstruction series which contains more dramatic elements than its comedic predecessor. Other machinima series include Fire Team Charlie, The Codex, and the in-game interview show This Spartan Life''.