While I’m not a hard-core fan of the Halo video game series, I’ve certainly played my fair share of the franchise, read the books and more. While working on Crimson Skies XBox title, we had the privilege of looking at the controller scheme and played quite a bit of multiplayer LAN matches of the first Halo game as a break from the game we were developing (those of us who weren’t playing Battlefield 1942).
As a result, though, there’s a bit of bias in my enjoyment of the Forward Unto Dawn web series that’s prefacing the release of Halo 4. The series follows a group of cadets training to fight the insurrectionists right when the Covenant launches its first attacks. Seen from the eyes of these ordinary people, Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) are regarded with a certain degree of hero worship, but when we’re introduced to the Covenant and the appearance of a Spartan, we see them all in a different light. In particular, the Covenant Elites are rather terrifying and their appearance in the show makes for great drama.
Watching the latest episode got me thinking about Halo and about Massively Multiplayer Games. One of my issues with the latter has always been that there’s only room in a game for so many Master Chiefs and how not everyone can be the hero of an epic story. If the balance between a starting character and an high-level character weren’t so great and the rewards weren’t quite so exponential, it would be far more interesting if different levels of characters shared the same zones of play. Say, for example, some major battle was occurring that swept through a low-level zone. Suddenly, the low-level characters would be fighting the same low-level foes, but instead of grinding on rats, they would suddenly be taking part in an epic struggle directly instead of feeling like all the really important events and fights were happening in another place just out sight. Of course, most MMOs are too static for a situation to unfold in a true story-like fashion where the battle would move on or be resolved and the level disparity means one stray high-level area-affecting ability would result in massive character death, but I’ve always been fascinated by the completely different dynamic that would be displayed.
Part of what resonates and what I see in the Forward Unto Dawn series are the same things in some of my other favorites, among them Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall Trilogy where we get to see relatively common people going about their lives and their small heroics against the backdrop of the events of the Dragonriders of Pern series where the heroes there must save the world. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross took the same basic structure in creating Marvels where the reader gets to see the Marvel Universe from 1939 to 1974 from the point of view of the man on the street instead of from the viewpoint of the superheroes. It’s a different story when one suddenly starts considering the impact of epic events on the people who aren’t superheroic, destined for greatness, or directly involved in saving the world. But they’re no less heroic for the actions they take and the choices they make and, sometimes, all the more satisfying for all of that.