Halo is a video game series that launched on Xbox in 2001. During its Bungie days, Halo was one of my all-time favourite series, especially the original trilogy – Halo Combat Evolved (2001), Halo 2 (2004) and Halo 3 (2007).
Growing up, I fell in love with the original campaigns. Both solo and with my friends, I’ve played through them more times than I can count, and I continue to do so. But… I think they meant something more to me than they did my friends. They weren’t just fun, they were inspiring.
I could spend thousands of words talking about why I love Halo and why I think it’s so great, but I feel like many (and I mean many) people have already covered that. One in particular echoes a lot of my feelings towards Halo – The Act Man and his videos on the original trilogy here, here and here. Instead of doing that kind of analysis, I want to take a journey and try break down exactly what Halo inspired in my writing.
While I was obsessed with Halo, I was writing my early drafts for the first Nash trilogy. My plans for this trilogy may have evolved a lot today, but there are definitely some Halo inspirations in their DNA. Sometimes, as I will outline, these inspirations aren’t always direct either.
After dwelling on it for a while, I narrowed my inspiration down to two very tangible concepts I could talk about in this article: the structure and the music.
Halo CE was never designed with the intent it would get a sequel and you can tell. The story does a fantastic job setting the scene with the barest of details. You know humanity is at war with an alien Covenant. You learn about the forerunners, a long dead race that left behind an array of technology and artefacts. From the get-go, the world building sucks you in. That said, when you take a step back and really analyse it, there isn’t much to it on its own. It holds just enough to tell a one game story. It has legs for more, it does end a little open, but realistically it could have been standalone (and it might have been if it wasn’t so popular).
Enter Halo 2. Halo 2 took all those bare bones details from the first game and exploded them out big bang style. Suddenly you have a complete understanding of what the Covenant is and why they do what they do. You get a more in-depth look at humanity and feel like you’re part of that last resistance rather than on a single isolated mission. You see and use more tech. The side characters have more meat to them without overwhelming the larger narrative. I could go on. Halo 2 manages to establish so many story legs that subsequent Halo media has been able to build off those legs for nearly 2 decades. It blows open the story so much, that it can’t actually wrap things up. It ends on an infamous cliff hanger. Unlike Halo CE, Halo 2 NEEDED a sequel.
So lastly, we come to Halo 3. Halo 3 takes some of the best moments from its two predecessors and blends them together. It raises the stakes above anything from the last two games. Everything ties together and is wrapped up in a neat package. No side characters are safe from death. The whole way through the story FEELS like it’s the end. It feels like you’re heading for the climax. Halo 3 itself has memorable moments. Every moment feels epic, but in a sense, it only achieves this because it draws on and builds from Halo CE and 2. All the major plot points are concluded. Sure it has an open end for another adventure, but at the time you would have no idea what that is actually supposed to be. The core story points raised in Halo CE and 2 are over.
What I find the most interesting and important is that Halo’s original trilogy fits what I would call a standard and solid foundation structure for trilogy storytelling. The initial simple setup, the explosion of details and then a climax which embraces its predecessors’ strengths and wraps everything up with a nice, neat bow. I think trilogies are a great storytelling foundation in filmmaking when they form a beginning, middle and end structure themselves, and Halo is a prime example of this format.
I won’t pretend Halo did everything perfectly (even I’ll admit Halo 2’s cliffhanger ending feels jarring and I miss following The Arbiter in Halo 3), but it’s very solid. I’m not sure whether I did this consciously or subconsciously, but I would say the first Nash trilogy very closely follows Halo’s overarching trilogy structure. Nash I does the barebones introduction to the world and sets the story stage. It may conclude more open-ended that Halo CE, but it could still be standalone. Nash II explodes outwards and really opens up the world for all to see. It does end open-ended, demanding Nash III, but not in a cliffhanger kind of jarring way. That said, you couldn’t be satisfied ending it there. Nash III takes the best parts of the first 2 and takes us on a journey that wraps up everything up neatly.
The Bungie Halo games each have a phenomenal soundtrack, composed by Martin O’Donnell, in collaboration with Michael Salvatori. Almost anyone who talks about the soundtrack, especially that of the original trilogy, will agree – it’s next level incredible.
It’s hard for me to conceptualise ‘why’. I’m not a musically educated person – I can say when something sounds good, but I can’t explain mechanically why that is. I can say, though, that it’s very good at blending with the game and evoking emotion.
So what does the music of Halo inspire in Nash? Well it’s not easy to explain.
So, I have this trait where I envision a scene or sequence of my story to music. The music helps me visualise and shape what is said, how the characters move, how the line of action is paced, etc. Even though I use the music as inspiration, that doesn’t at all mean my created scene is anything like the scene the music was originally under.
For example, the opening to Nash III is visualised to the opening music to Halo 2. Does anything similar happen between these two openings? No. But the mood of Halo 2’s opening music fits the mood of Nash III’s opening. If Nash III was filmed, edited together and FX added, and you watched it with Halo 2’s music, you might agree it fits well. It would be highly illegal and impossible to pull off, but it could work.
Halo isn’t the only series where a scene or sequence and its music have inspired my own big moments in my screenplays, but it is one of the major ones. Partially because of the incredible Halo soundtracks and partially because Bungie’s Halos were so effective at building emotion while saying very little.