The Flood are fictional parasitic alien life forms in the Halo video game series created by Bungie. They are introduced in Halo: Combat Evolved as a second enemy faction alongside the Covenant; they return in later entries in the series such as Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo Wars. The Flood are driven by a desire to infect any sentient life they encounter, and are depicted as such a threat that the ancient Forerunners killed themselves and all other sentient life in the galaxy in an effort to stop the Flood.
The Flood's design and fiction was spearheaded by Bungie artist Robert McLees, who utilized unused concepts from the earlier Bungie game Marathon 2. The setting of the first game, the ringworld Halo, was stripped of many of its large creatures to make the Flood's appearance more startling. Bungie environment artist Vic DeLeon spent six months of pre-production time refining the Flood's fleshy aesthetic and designing the organic interiors of Flood-infested space ships for Halo 3.
The player's discovery of the Flood in Halo: Combat Evolved is a major plot twist, and was one of the surprises reviewers noted positively upon release. The Flood's return in Halo 2 and Halo 3 was less enthusiastically praised. Reaction to the Flood has varied over the years; while some found the Flood too derivative and a cliché element of science fiction, some others ranked them among the greatest villains of all time.
The Flood are depicted as parasitic organisms that infect any sentient life of sufficient size. The largest self-contained form that the Flood can produce itself without using other biomass is an "infection form". These forms seeks hosts living or dead, attempting to drive sharp spines into the host and tap into the nervous system. The host is incapacitated while the infection form burrows into the host's body and begins the mutation process, bringing the host under Flood control. Depending on the size or condition of the body, the infection form mutates the hapless host into various specialized forms in the continual drive for more food. Larger hosts are seen turned into forms for combat, growing long whiplike tentacles, while mangled and disused hosts are turned into incubators for more infection forms. The Flood also create forms such as a central intelligence or "Gravemind" to drive the infestation.
The Flood were added early in the development of the 2001 video game Halo: Combat Evolved, before the game had made its jump from the Macintosh platform to the Xbox. A design for one Flood form appeared as early as 1997. Commenting upon the inception of the Flood, Bungie staff member Chris Butcher noted that "the idea behind the Flood as the forgotten peril that ended a galaxy-spanning empire is a pretty fundamental tenet of good sci-fi. Yeah, and bad sci-fi too." Another inspiration was Christopher Rowley's The Vang series. The early design for the Flood was done by Bungie artist and writer Robert McLees, who considers himself "the architect" of the Flood; the Flood's roots are reflected in concept art of a "fungal zombie" that McLees did for the earlier Bungie game Marathon 2: Durandal. McLees also did all the early concept art for the Flood.
Based on the behavior of viruses and certain bacteria, the Flood were intended to be "disgusting and nasty". The creatures were constructed from the corpses and bodies of former combatants, so the artists had to make sure the Flood soldiers were recognizable while changing their silhouette enough to differentiate them from the uninfected. Many concepts and ideas were discarded due to time constraints—initially, the Flood were intended to convert any species of the alien Covenant into soldiers. "We didn't have the resources to make it happen," McLees recalled, so they modified the game's fiction to suggest that some Covenant were too small or too frail to be combat troops. Likewise, the Flood enemy intelligence was intended to be as complicated as that of the other enemy faction in the game, the Covenant, but full implementation was cut for time. The dinosaur-like terrestrial wildlife that originally dwelled in Halo's environments were dropped due to gameplay constraints and fear that their pretense would reduce the surprise and impact of the Flood.
Bungie decided a new visual language for the Flood was needed for Halo 3. The task of developing the new Flood forms, organic Flood terrain, and other miscellaneous changes fell to Vic DeLeon, then Bungie's Senior Environment Artist. Early concepts of what became new Flood types in the game called "pure forms" featured the creatures wielding an array of weapons via tendrils, while forms like the Flood Infector and Flood Transport concepts never made it into the final game. Flood-infested structures were designed as angular to counterbalance Flood biomass, as well as provide surfaces for the game's artificial intelligence to exploit and move on. New additions were designed to be multi-purpose; exploding "growth pods" that spew Flood forms were added to the game to adjust pacing, provide instant action, and add to the visuals. Endoscopic pictures provided further inspiration. Halo 3 added new capabilities to the Flood, including the ability for the parasite to infect enemies in real time. Bungie used Halo 3's improved capacity for graphics to make a host's sudden transformation into Flood form more dramatic; two different character models and skeletons were fused and swapped in real-time.
The Flood make their first appearance more than halfway through Halo: Combat Evolved, during the story mission "343 Guilty Spark". A group of humans fleeing the enemy aliens Covenant land on "Halo", a ringworld built by the alien Forerunners. The human commander Jacob Keyes disappears in a swamp while searching for a weapons cache. The artificial intelligence Cortana sends the supersoldier Master Chief to find Keyes. The Master Chief discovers that the Covenant have accidentally released the Flood. Keyes' squad is turned into soldiers for the parasite, while Keyes is interrogated by the Flood in an attempt to learn the location of Earth and ultimately assimilated. The emergence of the Flood prompts Halo's caretaker artificial intelligence 343 Guilty Spark to enlist the help of the Master Chief in activating Halo's defenses and preventing a Flood outbreak. When Master Chief learns that activating Halo would instead wipe the galaxy of sentient life to prevent the Flood's spread, he and Cortana instead detonates the human ship Pillar of Autumn's engines, destroying the ring and preventing the Flood from escaping.
The Flood return in Halo 2 (2004), appearing on Installation 05 or "Delta Halo". The Flood on Delta Halo are led by the Gravemind, a massive Flood intelligence that dwells in the bowels of the ring. Gravemind brings together the Master Chief and the Arbiter and tasks them with stopping the Covenant leadership from activating the ring. In the meantime, Gravemind infests the human ship In Amber Clad and crashes it into the Covenant space station of High Charity. Once there, the Flood sweep through the city, and the Gravemind captures Cortana. As the Flood spread, the Covenant form a blockade in an effort to prevent the parasite from leaving its prison.
The Flood reappear in the Halo 3 mission "Floodgate", on board a damaged ship that escapes the quarantine around Delta Halo. While the infestation of Earth is prevented, Master Chief and Arbiter form a tenuous alliance with the Flood to stop the activation of all the Halo rings at the Forerunner installation known as the Ark. Once the threat is stopped, the Gravemind turns on them. The Master Chief fights his way to the center of High Charity, freeing Cortana and destroying the city, but Gravemind attempts to rebuild himself on a Halo under construction at the Ark. Realizing that activating the ring will destroy only the local Flood infestation due to the Ark's location outside of the Milky Way, the Master Chief, Arbiter, Cortana and Sergeant Johnson proceed to Halo's control room, activate the ring, and escape. However, the Gravemind warns them that his defeat will only delay the Flood, not stop it.
The Flood also make appearances in the video game spinoffs Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2. In Halo Wars, they are encountered infesting a Forerunner installation and ultimately annihilated by the actions of the crew of the humans ship Spirit of Fire. In the Halo Wars 2 expansion "Awakening the Nightmare", the alien faction known as the Banished accidentally release the Flood while salvaging the wreck of High Charity.
The 2006 anthology The Halo Graphic Novel expands upon the Flood's release from Halo in two stories. The first, Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor, takes place at the same time as the Master Chief hunts for Keyes during Halo: Combat Evolved. The Flood manage to pilot a Covenant dropship off Halo, and infest a Covenant ship, Infinite Succor. The Flood are stopped by a Covenant strike team led by Rtas 'Vadumee, who sets the ship on a course into the nearby sun. The second story, Breaking Quarantine, details the escape of Sergeant Avery Johnson from the clutches of the Flood, immediately after Keyes' squad is overrun. Whereas the Flood are only hinted at being intelligent in Halo: Combat Evolved, the Halo Graphic Novel shows the Flood have a hive mind, assimilating the knowledge of their hosts rapidly. Lee Hammock, writer of The Last Voyage of the Infinite Succor, described the basis of the story as a way to showcase the true danger of the Flood as an intelligent menace, rather than something the player encounters and shoots. Hammock also stated that the story would prove the intelligent nature of the Flood, and "hopefully euthanize the idea that they are just space zombies".
The Flood also feature heavily in Greg Bear's trilogy of novels, The Forerunner Saga, which takes place thousands of years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. It is revealed in the novel Halo: Silentium that the Flood are what remains of the Precursors, an ancient race that was said to accelerate the evolution of a species and "shape galaxies". The Forerunners overthrew the Precursors; on the verge of extinction, some Precursors reduced themselves to a biological powder that would regenerate into their past selves. However, time rendered the powder defective, and it became mutagenic, reacting with other living organisms to produce what would eventually mutate into the Flood. The Flood would threaten both ancient humanity and then the Forerunners, who would ultimately build and activate the Halo Array to stop the spread of the Flood.
The Flood have been featured in four series of Halo action figures, produced by Joyride Studios. For Halo: Combat Evolved, Joyride produced a Carrier Form and Infection form bundle. Halo 2's series contains both a human Combat Form and Infection form (bundled with the Master Chief), which were released after the video game. Reviewer Aaron Simmer of Armchair Empire.com expressed the sentiment that Joyride's models could not totally capture the ghoulishness texture and detail of the Flood. The action figures for Halo 3 were produced by McFarlane Toys and although the first series did not feature the Flood, the third series featured a human Combat Form.
The surprise appearance of the Flood during Halo: Combat Evolved was seen as an important plot twist and a scary moment even after repeat playthroughs of the game. Gamasutra, writing about video game plots, gives the example of the Flood not only as an important reversal to the story of Halo, but a textbook example of how games and their stories are made more interesting by twists in the plot. Rolling Stone and Kotaku credited the appearance of the Flood as an excellent way the game kept players on their toes, forcing them to adjust their strategies; Rolling Stone called the twist as shocking "as if, several levels into a game of Pac-Man, the dots suddenly began to attack you".
Despite the positive acclaim in Halo, the response to the presence of the Flood in Halo 2 and Halo 3 was mixed. A panel of online reviewers noted that the Flood appeared in Halo 2 for no obvious reasons, and were simply described as "aggravating" to play against. Similarly, reviewers including Victor Godinez of The Dallas Morning News felt that the Flood were too derivative of other sci-fi stereotypes, and functioned as "space zombies". Daniel Weissenberger of Gamecritics.com noted in his review of Halo 3 that even though the Flood looked better than ever, their single strategy of rushing the player proved tedious over time. GamesRadar's Charlie Barratt listed the Flood as the worst part of Halo, contrasting what he considered fun, vibrant and open levels before the Flood's appearance with confined spaces and predictable enemies. The Flood have been recognized as some of the greatest game villains. Wizard Magazine ranked the Flood as the 77th Greatest Villains of all time, Game Daily ranked them 5th of their "Top 25 Enemies of All Time", and PC World ranked the Flood the 31st "Most Diabolical Video-Game Villains of All Time". Electronic Gaming Monthly ranked the Flood in their top ten list of "badass undead". MTV considered Flood possession in Halo 3 as a "great gaming moment" of 2007, stating that "with the power of the Xbox 360's graphics, this reanimation comes to vivid, distressing life, more memorably than it had in the earlier games. Here are the zombies of gaming doing what they do worst. [...] It's grisly and unforgettable." IGN listed the Flood as the 45th best video game villain, describing them as one of the most hated video game villains in the history of video games.
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