Factions of Halo
The Halo video game and media franchise takes place in a science fiction universe, where there are four major factions players encounter or control. Halo's story has 26th century humanity, led by the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), caught in a war with an alien coalition known as the Covenant. In the 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved, the UNSC ship Pillar of Autumn discovers a mysterious ringworld known as "Halo". The massive installation was built by an enigmatic race known as the Forerunners, who have long since disappeared; the Covenant worship the Forerunner as gods. During the course of the game, players discover that the Halos were built as a weapon of last resort against the Flood, an extragalactic parasite which is driven to consume all sentient life. The Forerunners were forced to activate the Halo network, killing themselves and any potential Flood hosts, in an effort to starve the Flood to death. The Covenant leadership discovered Humans could interact with Forerunner technology, and decide to destroy humanity in order to suppress this fact. The Flood, meanwhile, escape the confines of Halo and threaten to spread across the galaxy again.
A large portion of the series' success lies in the creation of a believable world, and Bungie reinforced the fictional factions the player interacts via a lengthy design process with the release of each game. The overall design of each faction was slowly developed before the release of the first game in the series, Halo: Combat Evolved, and continually refined in the later games' development.
Reception of Halo's factions has generally been positive. The Covenant were praised by reviewers as exciting and challenging enemies. Characters, weapons and vehicles of all the factions have been released as toys or promotional materials.
Early in the video game Halo: Combat Evolved's development, Bungie environmental artist Paul Russel solidified the concept of three "schools" of Halo architecture for the main factions in the game—the humans of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), the alien alliance of the Covenant, and the Forerunner structures on which most of the game takes place. For future humanity, the artists and developers settled on a functional, industrial look. Art Director Marcus Lehto said that the artists examined current technology trends and tried to extrapolate what future technology would look like. Designs were molded by the desire for building a realized and distinctive feel for the human ships and buildings, but also to make the areas fun to play in. For example, the design team wanted a cramped, claustrophobic feel for the human ship levels in Combat Evolved. Ron Cobb's work on Aliens informed some of the design for a "lived in" appearance. In comparison to the visions of dystopia common in many other science fiction works, the cities and buildings of Earth which were first shown in Halo 2 were clean and functional, with parks and attractive structures. Character design for the UNSC was more straightforward, with uniforms based on existing military outfits, ranks, and insignia. All aspects of the game were designed to feel believable and cultivate suspension of disbelief.
Weapons and vehicles
Due to Halo being a first-person shooter, significant emphasis was put into the design of human weaponry. The chief designer for human weapons was Robt McLees, who at the time of Combat Evolved's development was the only staff member at Bungie with knowledge of firearms; McLees wanted to make sure that the weapons looked "cool", but were also grounded by real-world physics and considerations. The game designers also wanted items that would be recognizable to players, yet futuristic-looking enough to plausibly exist in Halo's 2552. In an interview, McLees noted that after human weapons had been vetted and the rough design worked out, "I went ahead and built the highest-res LOD (level of detail) – and this is where I get "bogged down" with all of the stuff that "nobody cares about" like correct barrel diameter, placement of safeties, sights, magazine release buttons, and making sure that the magazines are actually large enough to hold all the bullets they're supposed to, that they would feed correctly and that the casings eject out of the correct side of the gun." Occasionally, technical restraints forced design changes; the submachine gun introduced in Halo 2 originally featured a transparent magazine which allowed players to see the caseless ammo feed into the gun, but it proved too ambitious given the time and hardware available.
Vehicles play an important role in the Halo games, and so vehicles were also given a long development stage. The UNSC's vehicles were designed by Marcus Lehto, Eric Arroyo, and Eddie Smith, and were designed to be functional and utilitarian. Their use of wheels also led many players to feel that they were more fun to drive. The addition of the Mongoose ATV made headlines, after being cut from Halo 2. The original Warthog was considered a fan favorite.
Paul Russel is considered the architect of the Forerunner's design. In an interview, Russel stated that creating the Forerunner's "visual language" was a tough process which only came together "like five months away" from the game's completion; much of the design was finalized on a single level, "The Silent Cartographer", which features both exterior Forerunner structures as well as deep interior chasms. Concept artist Eddie Smith is also credited with helping hone the Forerunner's direction, and said that he started work by reading the game's mission synopsis. "I knew what human and Covenant architecture looked like, so I tried to make the Forerunner concepts different," Smith said. The result was a sleek angular design which was distinct from the curves of the Covenant's architecture and the functional human designs. For Halo 2, designers wanted to refine and elaborate on the Forerunner design, without abandoning the style set by Russel; environment artist Frank Capezzuto found that looking at the Forerunner structures as sculptures rather than buildings helped to drive the designs for Halo 2.
The Flood were added early in the game development stage of Halo: Combat Evolved, and life of Halo was specifically tailored to increasing the surprise of the Flood's sudden appearance, halfway through the first game. At one point, Halo featured large numbers of terrestrial dinosaur-like creatures, but Bungie felt the presence of other native species would dilute the impact of the Flood and removed them.
Covenant technology, architecture, and design continually changed throughout development, occasionally for practical reasons as well as aesthetics; one piece of alien technology, a "gravity lift", was created so that a Covenant ship's low-resolution textures were not so obvious. In comparison to the other factions, Covenant architecture is smooth and organic, with the use of purple or blue tones throughout.
The Forerunners are a long-lost species which are first cryptically mentioned in Halo: Combat Evolved. Little is revealed about the Forerunners in the games, but some (notably, the Librarian) consider humanity to be most eligible as reclaimers of the Mantle; humanity is thus the only race which is allowed to retrieve the indices with which to activate the Halo network.
According to the official backstory to the series, the Forerunners came to power after they successfully rebelled against their creators - the Precursors. To ensure that the Precursors will never again threaten their existence, the Forerunners exterminated them, except for one imprisoned which they called The Primordial. At the height of their power the Forerunners formed a galaxy-wide empire for more than 100,000 years before the events of the main Halo story arc. The Forerunners successfully usurped the Mantle—protection of all life in the galaxy—from the Precursors.
Much later, they were threatened by the parasitic Flood. The Forerunners took action, but the parasite was unstoppable. A group of Forerunners conceived a plan to stop the Flood once and for all, building an installation known as the Ark that created seven ring-shaped megastructures called "Halos". The Halo Array, when activated, would destroy all sentient life within range—depriving the Flood of its food.
After waiting as long as they could, and traveling the galaxy to collect species from planets, which would later be used to "re-seed" the galaxy, the Forerunners activated the Array and vanished. Although the parasite's spread across the galaxy was halted, the Forerunners paid a terrible price as they, and all sentient life capable of sustaining the Flood in the galaxy, were annihilated. The Covenant worship the Forerunners as deities and relentlessly search for Forerunner relics. The reason for the Forerunner's disappearance is revealed in Halo: Combat Evolved, when the artificial intelligence Cortana enters one of the Halo's computer networks and learns the true purpose of the Halos.
The Flood (originally called the shaping sickness) is a parasite which is driven by a desire to infect, kill or consume all sentient life it encounters. The Flood first appears in Halo: Combat Evolved, when the Covenant release some captured specimens from stasis on Installation 04; the parasite spreads and threatens to escape the ring, until the Master Chief destabilizes the installation with a massive explosion coming from the Pillar of Autumn. It is also later found in Halo 2 on Installation 05 along with the Gravemind, The Master Chief later encounters the Gravemind. In Halo 3, the Flood reaches the Halo Ark using an abandoned Covenant ship. Master Chief then defeats the Flood once and for all by exploding the replacement for Installation 04, which damages but does not destroy the Ark.
The Covenant is a theocratic collection of alien races. In many Halo video games, they fill an antagonistic role. The alliance worships an ancient alien race known as the Forerunners and search for their gods' relics. The novel Halo: Contact Harvest reveals that the Covenant's luminaries, devices which search for Forerunner relics, discovered a massive cache of the relics on a human colony, Harvest. The Forerunner artificial intelligence Mendicant Bias awakens and reveals to three Covenant politicians that the "relics" are in fact the humans themselves—Bias identifies them as descendants of his makers. Worried that the discovery of such a secret would destroy the Covenant, the leadership instead directs the Covenant to destroy humanity as an affront to the gods. This leads to the search for Halo, an ancient weapon designed by the Forerunners to attempt to contain the flood. In Halo 2, the Covenant splits apart in civil war when the Elites learn of their leaders' treachery; the Elites eventually ally with humanity to stop the rest of the Covenant from activating the Halos in an attempt to follow the Forerunners into godhood.
United Nations Space Command
The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is the main faction of future humanity. The UNSC is the military arm of the Unified Earth Government (UEG). According to Halo story architects Frank O'Conner and Robt McLees, during the 26th-century events of Halo, the UNSC exercises considerably more power than its civilian counterpart.
Before the beginnings of the war with the Covenant, humanity was in turmoil, with the remote colonies fighting for independence from the UEG. To help quell the revolts, the UNSC commissioned the highly classified Spartan Project, responsible for the development of four generations of unique special force infantry, collectively called Spartans, who operate in performance-enhancing armor known as MJOLNIR. The Spartans undertook classified missions against rebels and insurrectionists. When the Covenant began destroying the outer colonies, these Spartans became humanity's best hope against the technological superiority of the Covenant.
One of the UNSC's unclassified special forces units are the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers or ODSTs. They are also called Helljumpers after their motto "Feet first into hell." They specialize in orbital combat insertions via Single-Occupant Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicles (SOEIVs) jettisoned from ships in low orbit. The 105th Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC) are labeled as the 'Helljumpers'. As characterized by author William C. Dietz in Halo: The Flood, the future corps shares thematic similarities to the present-day United States Marines. The most important Special Force unit in the game is the SPARTAN project, more importantly, the second generation of Spartans within the project – a group of specially trained supersoldiers. The main playable character in the main trilogy, John 117, is one of the few known surviving Spartan IIs. The UNSC also has an army, which serves as a ground defensive force within the UNSC military along with the UNSC Air Force. The UNSC Navy and Marine Corps are mainly responsible for space combat.
The UNSC also field various ground vehicles for combat; among these is a general purpose scout 'jeep' dubbed the "Warthog" or simply the "'Hog", a real working replica of which was created by special effects company Weta Workshop for a series of shorts by director Neill Blomkamp. This vehicle had fully functioning four-wheel steering, machine-gun, digital displays, and air-bags.
The initialisation "UNSC" has occasionally been confused with the United Nations Security Council. For example, on 24 May 2012, a BBC news report on the UN used the Halo UNSC logo, as opposed to the United Nations Security Council logo, as a background image.
Halo has a variety of affiliated merchandise. A version of the strategy board game Risk was released based on Halo Wars with game pieces being modeled after the UNSC, Covenant, and Flood. A mix of human and Covenant vehicles and weapons were also featured in the Halo ActionClix tabletop game and a series by McFarlane Toys. Game journalists have even noted the similarities between the Warthog and the Hummer HX, which GM denies. The merchandise includes several series of action figures. The first series of figures were created by Joyride Studios, and featured characters, weapons, and vehicles representing all of Halo's factions. The task of creating Halo 3's action figures fell to McFarlane Toys; in an interview with Bungie.net, Todd McFarlane stated that the challenge of creating figures for a franchise was that designers had to accommodate and integrate both articulation and attention to detail, "without compromising one or the other too heavily". A total of three series of figurines have since been produced, featuring UNSC, Flood, and Covenant forces. Manufacturer Kotobukiya also produced "high-end statues" for Halo 3's debut. Other merchandise based on the weapons of the Halo universe include die cast weapons replicas and a set of Covenant weapons used for Laser tag.
Halo's universe and the factions in it have been well-received, both from a storytelling point of view and from game play. Gamasutra lauded Halo's artificial intelligence. For example, Covenant or Flood forces never spawn in the same places when the player restarts from checkpoints, which gives the player "the sense that the [alien] creatures have things to do besides killing humans". Bungie's goal of making characters behave realistically in the games has led to the behavior of the Covenant, Flood, and Forerunner units being praised in each game of the series. A point of criticism has been the AI of allied UNSC characters; reviewers noted that in Halo 3, they were often more of a hindrance than help.
The various factions that make up the Halo universe were each received differently. The Flood have been alternatively praised as terrifying foes, and lambasted as annoying zombie-like enemies; the literary adaptations of the Flood, particularly their representation in The Halo Graphic Novel, have been best received.
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