Sunday, December 28, 2008

Egg & Identity (Identity)

I recently dined at a little breakfast place in the Las Vegas area, called Egg Works. Egg Works is a branch off of an older successful restaurant called Egg & I. The food was good and I have no complaints regarding the restaurant itself; however, I found myself disturbed by some of the artwork displayed. I think, in my admittedly overly analytical perspective, that there lays an interesting philosophical dilemma portrayed, however unintentionally.


The restaurant has an obvious egg-related theme. Anthropomorphic egg cartoons are present everywhere throughout the place: the menu, the windows, the wall, the condiment containers, which feature a nifty little device for signaling waiters that has a happy face when you’re fine and a sad face when you need service, and in the logo. The eggs all exhibit distinct characteristics that separate them from each other; although there are no specific characters, there are the authoritative egg, the humble egg, the enthusiastic egg, the content egg, and others. The logo features a boy egg and a girl egg who are embraced in a hug and clearly infatuated with each other.


The problem comes from a notice in the display stand at each table, which announces the new location of Egg Works as opposed to the previously singular Egg & I location. I snapped a picture of it when I was there, but as the picture is highly fuzzy, I’ll describe it here. The notice is themed to look like a newspaper, the “EGGNEWS”, with a front page article describing the new opening location:


Congratulations!!!!

Egg Works new location at Sunset and Eastern
hatched in July!

help us celebrate the new arrival!


And alongside the note is (oh my god…) a hatching chicken. The egg is in pieces, and in the shell sits a baby chicken. The chick has its wings open in delight, a goofy smile on its face. So, my question is… what happened to the intelligence governing the egg persona it once was?

Eggs are people in the artwork of Egg Works. They have intelligence and individual personalities. When an egg hatches, what becomes of that person? When they are eggs, is the intelligence suspended in the developing egg yolk, which would then operate the shell body as a brain, the ghost in the literal shell? If so, perhaps the chicken would exist as a continuation of that same person, much as a caterpillar undergoing metamorphosis into a butterfly. However, suppose the chick is a new life, as the note about the “new arrival” would suggest. Have we witnessed the death of a lovable egg person?


The situation makes me recall the bittersweet world of Haibane Renmei, an anime about rebirth. The anime takes place in what appears to be a world in between worlds, a weigh station for the souls of children yet to go on to their next life, whatever that may be. The Haibane are these angel-like children who are reborn into this world, Guri, through being hatched out of room-filling cocoons that grow from plants that appear in abandoned buildings. Before they emerge from their cocoons, Haibane experience a vivid dream that would appear to be a last remnant of their previous life, basically their deaths. Aside from the rapidly fading memory of this dream, the Haibane are born into the world without knowledge of who they once were and subsequently take names based on their dreams. So, we have Rakka (falling), Nemu (sleep), Kuu (air), Kana (river fish), and Hikari (light) – people whose memories of their past selves are limited only to their final moments.


Eventually, every Haibane leaves on their Day of Flight. Although their angelic wings are useless for true aerodynamic ascension, they can leave the walled-in town of Guri through a mysterious process in which they enter the forbidden woods to the west and ascend to the sky in a miraculous light beam, leaving behind only a burnt halo. The Haibane always leaves suddenly without saying goodbye, after their character has evolved to the point where they no longer have need of Guri and can make their way to their next life.


When the once-childish Kuu leaves on her Day of Flight, Rakka is thrown into depression. If I am destined to leave here, never to return, she wonders, does my life mean anything? When the representative of the Renmei, the local government, assures her that she will see Kuu again upon her own Day of Flight, this does little to ease her troubled mentality. What if Kuu doesn’t recognize her? What if there is no memory of her previous existence?


This life-and-death metaphor is rather different from the Egg Works case in that, for one thing, the stages of life and afterlife of Haibane Renmei are completely separate universes. While a crow, representing one of Rakka’s loved ones from her past life, managed to get from Earth to Guri, there is no indication that its soul was able to get back. There are hopes and intuitive suspicions, but ultimately no one knows what the next life may bring. This is not necessarily the case of the Egg Works cartoons, which may plausibly have a hatched chick exist at the same time as of one of the other egg people.


This opens up the doorway for more issues. If the former-egg and one of its egg buddies interact, will they know each other or will they be strangers? The tint of the egg shell matches that of the girl egg in the logo, making me suspect that they might be one and the same. It breaks my heart to think of the boy egg talking to the hatched chick unable to resume their former relationship, much like the plot of The Notebook.


In conclusion… I embrace over analyzing stuff. I have no doubt that the creators of the anthropomorphic egg artwork never meant anything more than to add a little playful atmosphere to a family breakfast place. However, I do have a great interest in the philosophical subject of identity, and that my idle thoughts on their egg cartoons should provoke such questions is only evidence of the continued preoccupation I have with the subject. In the end, the main reason I wrote this is that my going on about the “philosophical issues” present in the egg art prompted my dad to sarcastically suggest I “write a blog about it.” So I did. :)

Creepy (Halo)

Originally written for Halopedia:

Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs, have been highly useful to the Halo franchise for presenting material in a unique manner. Both I Love Bees and Iris have provided the Halo universe with invaluable material in addition to their primary purposes of keeping the fans sated preceding the releases of Halo 2 and Halo 3 respectively. The unique means of presenting such aspects of the Halo universe involves the fans to a degree not usually found in fictional media, in which they become part of the story themselves. It is my opinion that this aspect of ARGs affects the relationship of the fan to the fiction and forces a connection not usually present in which the fan takes a voyeuristic role.

The “voyeur” theory I’ve heard is one with which I usually don’t agree. The perspective is that when an individual appreciates fiction, they take on a voyeuristic role in which they act as an observer of the fictional subject, treated for the moment as a legitimate aspect of reality. An example could be of a movie depicting a private moment between a boyfriend and girlfriend.

I generally disagree with the theory. I believe that for the purposes of the example, the fan and the fiction do not exist in the same way. When I watch the movie, I do not see myself as a voyeur trespassing on a private moment thanks to the magic TV screen. I either empathize directly with one or more of the subjects, or I compartmentalize the diegesis as existing entirely separate to myself and view the scene from an omniscient perspective. However, due to the reality-bending nature of ARGs, the “voyeur” concept gains new relevance.

The I Love Bees story has a particularly intriguing pair of scenes, played out in both the axon audio drama and in literary text seen on the website. The gist of the story is that AIs from 2552 have taken over an average American’s personal webpage in 2004 after a mysterious accident and they’re trying to figure out what happened. The main AI (Melissa) has fragmented into three separate personalities: The Operator, the Sleeping Princess, and still in the future is Durga. The Operator doesn’t realize that the Sleeping Princess is anything but a “rogue process” and is trying to track her down, so the Sleeping Princess hides in the “Error 404” area of the site, which is only accessible through trying to get to a page that doesn’t exist. She is kept company by the Seeker, which is a Covenant AI spy with minimal intelligence that infected Melissa like a Trojan horse virus, and they together listen to audio files captured by Durga in the future (the audio drama) that have floated across the temporal connection.

In one of the files, the characters Durga and Jersey, a civilian whose personal computer plays host to the Durga fragment, discuss the creepy nature of Durga’s spying habits. Melissa was a powerful smart AI designed for purposes of gathering intelligence, specifically on the Covenant. While Durga suffers from amnesia because Melissa’s memories are in the other fragments, she still retains the compulsion to spy on various individuals of interest to her and captures audio files from their chatters (essentially the 2552 version of the iPhone). Jersey at first loves the power of having “God’s own spyware” and uses her to spy on the hot girl down the hall, Janissary James, but soon becomes overwhelmed by discovering the intensely serious and real natures of other persons’ lives.

As he notes to Durga in the file creepy.ogg:

Jersey: You know, I just had a creepy thought. (…) How spooky it would be if someone was listening to us right now.
Durga: To us?
Jersey: Spying on us, you know, like we’re listening to them.
Durga: (animatedly) That would be impossible. I would know.
Jersey: Yeah, I guess you’re right. But if they were, creeeepy!

This scene is emphasized when the Sleeping Princess offers her commentary on the situation. As it turned out, Jersey’s fear was warranted after all as people were listening to them. The Sleeping Princess in turn agrees with Jersey’s sentiment and tells this to the Seeker. The Seeker at first does not understand the concept and the Sleeping Princess has to explain it to the alien AI. When it does understand, the Seeker then comments “creepy”.

This creates a very unusual scenario. The premise of the I Love Bees ARG involves Dana, the webmistress of the website that has been taken over by the AIs, calling for help. The fan, then, is an active participant in the story, in which they take the role of essentially themselves trying to help uncover the mysterious nature of the AIs. The fan can email the Sleeping Princess and can take calls from the Operator, and can directly influence the storyline by participating in games they set up.

This means that when the fan observes, they truly assume the “voyeur” persona. The audio drama is depicted as something real, as is the AI commentary. While possible to empathize with specific characters, the boundary between diegesis and reality is strained. Not only is it voyeuristic to listen in on Jersey and Durga, but also to read the conversations between the Sleeping Princess and the Seeker. The fan has access to a wide body of the diegesis, from the audio files to the thoughts of the AIs to even the message board posts of other users, who are in some ways as much a part of the story as is Melissa. The fan thus takes on a similar role as Durga, God’s own spyware, and I have to wonder at the implications.

The nature of the Alternate Reality Game is different from many other forms of media, and can open these unusual philosophical conundrums. I’m not sure if there’s even any moral question involved in this instance, other than a vague feeling of “creepy”. I feel fairly confident that at some point (hopefully before the SPDR gets wide awake and physical) huge capitalistic corporations will adopt ARGs as a marketing technique, at which point the philosophical issues will get more vast and interesting. One thing’s for sure, the ARG is a highly intriguing concept.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hello! Gay Now! (Bisexuality)


While by no means perfect, the treatment of homosexuality in modern media is improving. Gay storylines were once introduced purely for shock value, but now their appearance is far more commonplace and is often portrayed as legitimate drama (or comedy) alongside heterosexual narratives. However, while treatment of simple homosexuality has been increasingly progressive, bisexuality remains a subject without decent representation in many shows. This includes shows that would otherwise have a decent portrayal of homosexuality, but have somehow missed the boat when it comes to the concept of being attracted to both genders rather than just being gay or straight. Such examples are found in Will and Grace, Friends, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Bed with Sexism (Wedding Crashers)

I’m a pretty good fan of the movie Wedding Crashers. I usually find Owen Wilson funny, and the movie’s pretty silly in general… However, I have an issue with the movie’s treatment of rape as conducted by a female onto a male. Because the subject is treated playfully, I find it indicative of sexism of the creators and of the general movie audience.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sick, Masochistic Lambs (Twilight)


Today, I saw the movie version of Twilight. I’ve been a fan of the book series for quite a while, before it became quite the phenomenon it is currently, and found the movie enjoyable entertainment. So, I’ve found it kind of disappointing how militantly opposed some people on the Internet can be toward the franchise. I, of course, understand if some people can’t get into it (I can’t seem to get the appeal of Hannah Montana, myself, despite its popularity), but I find the hateful criticism that has been thrown at it to be largely unwarranted. The Twilight series has been targeted mainly for perceived sexism, an abusive boyfriend portrayed as desirable, pedophiles treated as good guys, promoting Mormonism, as well as just plain bad writing. Now, obviously I can’t convince people who don’t enjoy it to do so, but I feel as a fan that the attacks thrown out at Twilight should be defended.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Plan for Us and Stuff (Red vs. Blue)

Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue has been a major part of the Halo community for several years since the machinima webseries first showed up in April, 2003. Originally supposed to be only a few episodes long, its popularity prompted it to quickly grow into a long series that was finally completed in June, 2007, only to spawn several more offshoots. The current nature of the show, in its latest incarnation as Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, is that of an action-drama-comedy with a somewhat convoluted plotline with a very specific destination stemming from a complex mythology. However, the story began as a simple series of comedic sketches based around general themes of the absurdity of military life with no real destination or serious mythology intended. Numerous subjects, including the characters of Donut and Church, the series’ relation to the Halo universe, and others, have been altered to fit the plotlines throughout the course of the show.

When describing the altered continuity of a fictional series, the word “retcon” is often used. This stands for “retroactive continuity”. Retconning is most often done as a mistake in which one of the writers forgets earlier events, or because it is decided that changing the continuity will make the project better. It can be seen in sitcoms when a character may disappear or in soap operas when murder plotlines that earned poor ratings turn out to be dreams and the victims still alive. In the case of Red vs. Blue, retconning was done primarily as a way to crop new gags from old characters, but these days it has been used to get the humorous storyline relatively serious.

One of the major retcons lies in the character of Donut. Donut was originally introduced as the Red Team’s rookie, alongside Caboose, the Blue Team’s equivalent, to keep the two sides parallel. Originally, the two characters were pretty much the same in that they were both naïve and annoying new guys. However, his character started to develop when Red Command gave him a pink “lightish red” color of armor.

From that point on, Donut was the guy stuck in the girly armor. The jokes surrounding him tended to involve people mistaking him for a girl and him trying to safeguard his masculinity. Donut himself was very much the irked heterosexual male trying to convince people of that fact, mainly by pretending his armor was light red instead of the bright pink it obviously was.

After a while, however, the Donut jokes grew stale and the people at Rooster Teeth decided to take him in another direction. This direction was to have Donut become increasingly effeminate and a closeted homosexual, with various gay innuendoes such as spending a long time cleaning Tucker’s codpiece while he’s wearing it (“A three-coat waxing is just my way of saying ‘I care!’”). By the final episode in which Donut is featured, he thinks Tex’s evil plot to become Queen of the Universe is a competition and complains about not getting equal pay for equal work. This is not to say that the later version of Donut is bad, but rather that it defies the concept of the character as it was initially portrayed.

Likewise, the character of Church undergoes a major revision in Reconstruction. The character begins relatively simple. He’s an antisocial jerk who leads Blue Team mainly because he acts the part and threatens his team members, rather than actually being higher in rank than them. After being blown up by Caboose after Caboose loses control of the tank, he is resurrected on the show as a ghost appearing from the great beyond to keep his ex-girlfriend Tex, a ruthless and bloodthirsty mercenary, safe from harm.

Whether or not his becoming a ghost was ever intended at the beginning of the show (my guess is no), it was very much treated as a development of the character and is not a retcon as there was no contradiction. The show evolved to fit the spectral development, including Church possessing various bodies and talking with Sarge in the spirit world after Sarge was shot in the head (although Sarge was soon brought back to life with CPR). When Tex gets blown up by Donut as revenge for getting him stuck in his light red armor, she comes back as a ghost and fights with Church over a robot body to possess, prompting a plotline in which Church gets Sarge to build them a robot body each. Ghosts and the spirit world were firmly ingrained in Red vs. Blue canon. That is, until Reconstruction.

In Reconstruction, the whole ghost storyline is massively retconned. Up until this point, the show had been a goofy science fiction comedy with little regard to realism and included such things as an alien on a “sacred quest” who ends up impregnating Tucker, a talking bomb named Andy with a really rude personality, a socialist robot stuck on the Spanish setting, and other weird things in addition to the previously described ghost storyline. However, by Reconstruction, Rooster Teeth decided to take the show in a more serious direction, with comedy as more of a side genre than the primary one.

In Reconstruction, the Red vs. Blue mythology is solidified. We learn that the AIs dealt with in the show have been selective parts taken from a primary AI source known as Alpha. Alpha was deemed valuable by the military and hidden away where no one would think to look. By the end of Reconstruction, the Alpha is revealed to be none other than Church himself.

In Reconstruction’s retroactive continuity, there are no such things as ghosts. Agent Washington, Reconstruction’s protagonist, insists this repeatedly. Church is an AI based off of a human template, the real Leonard Church, much as Cortana is based off of Catherine Halsey’s cloned brain in Halo canon. Church only thinks he’s a ghost. Because he’s naïve.

This is a major example of a retcon. The storyline about Church being an AI did not exist prior to Reconstruction. Red vs. Blue was written with Church as a ghost, not as Church thinking he’s a ghost and with evidence that he’s really an AI. On the contrary, there are various elements that can only make sense if we accept the fact that Church is a ghost. These include the glimpses we get into the spirit world, the fact that Church’s dead body started rotting, Church walking around as a specter without a nearby holographic generator to prove he’s a hologram, and many others. These details are ignored and written over for the changing direction taken by Reconstruction.

Besides the evolution of the characters, Red vs. Blue also changes in its faithfulness to the Halo universe. When Red vs. Blue began, it was a parody of Halo and also taking place within the Halo universe, much like a fanfiction. “I signed on to fight some aliens! Next thing I know, Master Chief’s blowing up the whole Covenant armada, and I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere fighting a bunch of blue guys!” Grif complains in the first episode. This, however, is the last link Red vs. Blue has to the world of Halo for quite a while.

For most of the series, Red vs. Blue takes place in a completely different universe. In the Red vs. Blue world, the United States is fighting a massive civil war between the Red and Blue armies that extends into space. Our protagonists are assigned to Blood Gulch, a miserable little box canyon in the middle of nowhere on an alien planet – not a Halo. Likewise, Sidewinder, a location they go to at one point, is an ice planet rather than a place on a Halo. When an alien shows up, it’s not recognized as a Covenant Elite, but rather as a monstrous alien that speaks in repetitions of the phrases “blarg” and “honk-honk”. Except for the one mention in the first episode, Red vs. Blue is quite separate from the Halo world until Reconstruction.

Reconstruction retcons the earlier show by having it take place in the Halo world. Both Blue and Red Command were implied to be the same entity, manipulating the denizens of Blood Gulch for unknown reasons. Reconstruction confirms this and describes it as some experiment conducted by the UNSC for purposes of hiding the Alpha, presumably in addition to other ends. Most of the strange goings on in the earlier show are not explained, and are instead waved away as manipulative devices of the UNSC. Reconstruction is certainly in the Halo universe, and makes references to the Great War.

In conclusion, despite the appearance of a cohesive mythology presented in Reconstruction, Red vs. Blue has gone through some major retconning to reach this state. I would like to reiterate that I don’t believe retconning to be a bad thing inherently. Rooster Teeth have accomplished some majorly cool stuff with Reconstruction that would otherwise be impossible if they stuck to their goofy paranormal plotline. That said, I feel it is best that the existence of retconning should be noted when the technique is used. In any case, I look forward to Rooster Teeth’s next project.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Outcast (Asperger Syndrome)

I have Asperger syndrome. If you don’t know what that means, it’s hard to explain. I can link to the Wikipedia article, but all that you’ll get there is a technical description defining a neurological disorder in a way the general public can understand from an outside perspective. I will now attempt to describe some aspects of what it’s like, as well as some of my concerns regarding its treatment in society.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Aliens and Xenophobia (Indiana Jones)

I recently watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the third time, via Netflix. While it’s a pretty enjoyable film all and all, one thing about it that irritates me is its usage of the plot element that involves aliens giving ancient humanity superior technology that allowed them to prosper. I generally have no real problem with movies drawing from paranormal ideas to supplement their storylines, but this one particularly irks me. For one thing, I know a lot of people actually believe in that sort of thing, while I find it kooky nonsense. For another, it seems indicative to me of a rather xenophobic perspective. That is, xenophobia as in fear of foreigners, not Xenomorph aliens.

The basic “ancient astronaut” hypothesis holds that extraterrestrial life forms visited Earth in the distant past and supplied aid to our ancient cultures. Among the evidence used to support this are artistic artifacts that can be interpreted to depict UFOs, aliens, etc. The main items cited as evidence are great architectural achievements of the ancient world. Proponents conclude that because these cultures are considered primitive by today’s standards that they only way they could have constructed such creations is with outside assistance, and that such assistance could only have come from extraterrestrial beings.

A popular subject cited are the pyramids of Egypt. Enormous ancient geometric stone formations with alignment to astronomical phenomena are awe-inspiring anyway, so I can understand why people would feel attracted to the idea that it would hold some greater meaning. However, the only meaning is that of the religious devotion of the Egyptian people. The Egyptians worshiped their rulers as god-kings and so built magnificent tombs in their honor, much as Western society built those great Gothic cathedrals as a form of religious worship.

The notion that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t possibly have possessed the ability to create such things seems to me to be quite naïve, not to mention Eurocentric. The way Western civilization developed is not the only way that works, nor should it be used as a standard from which to judge the rest of the world. The claims that are thrown out regarding the Egyptians as primitive people incapable of producing such architectural wonders due to poor intellect sound to me to be xenophobic, assuming that Western civilization is the only true civilization and that for any other civilization to produce such awe-inspiring structures they must have had some outside assistance. And as Western civilization could not produce similar work, the outside assistance had to have been outside of humanity entirely.

The evidence for Egyptians constructing the pyramids themselves and for their own religion, independent of aliens, is quite diverse if one bothers to properly research the subject before making wild claims. A quick Google search brings this up, for starters. To me, it’s fine if you want to believe in something extraordinary just for your own, personal enjoyment/mental well-being. The problem comes with accepting something extraordinary as doubtlessly true and intentionally influencing people with pseudoscience, especially when it promotes a harmful viewpoint such as reducing the great culture of ancient Egypt to helpless savages dependent on some great external source. This line of thinking advocates xenophobia and I deem it unhealthy to society.

I don’t fault the makers of the latest Indiana Jones movie for using a mythological/paranormal claim as their MacGuffin. That, of course, is their gimmick. However, this particular one is rather culturally insensitive and in turn becomes a corruption of the themes of the previous films. By saying that the ancient cultures had alien help, it removes the power possessed by the ancient civilizations in all of Dr. Jones’ previous adventures. The series’ transformation into science fiction robs it of its respect for humanity, instead leaving its human protagonists at the mercy of god-like beings from another dimension. The movie itself is enjoyable, but its mythological additions do the series a disservice.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Check It Out! In the Sky! Is that... IMAX? (Halo)

Originally written for Halopedia.

On August 21st, 2007, just over a month before the release of Halo 3, Bungie hosted a special preview event at the better of the two Seattle IMAX theaters to showcase some of the great capabilities of their upcoming game to a limited number of fans. I was lucky enough to be one of the 790 people to get into the event, and though I made an initial write-up here, I will now write a more formal and thorough article to cement the facts in my mind and to share with the users of Halopedia.

I first found out about it from a Bungie.net post. I think I was on the #halopedia IRC at the time, idle while checking it out and half-wanting to get back to the chatroom. In any case, I wasn’t paying my full attention. The post described a special event happening that night, and I was like, “Okay, cool… Anything else?” Then I realized that the event it was describing was within driving distance and it was actually possible to make. I was just like, “Whoa.”

However, I then decided it was probably too good to be true. Still, if I could hypothetically make it, was it worth just giving up on? I decided I’d just run downstairs and ask my mom about it, knowing that the odds were against it and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I went down to the family room, where my mom was sewing while watching TV, and tried to ask as nonchalantly as possible if it was an event we could go to. My take on nonchalant, however, was to scrunch a load of information into a quick, monotone statement, and I’m afraid I came out as less than indifferent. To my surprise, she said that it was possible, that the schedule for the night was clear and that she was up to driving to Seattle.

Now that the event had entered the range of Actually Possible, she sent me back up to read the Bungie announcement more thoroughly. Turned out, everyone had to send an RSVP to a Microsoft email address, so I did that and gave my mom’s name in case it was necessary. It turned out not to be, but you never know.

Everything was looking good, so we drove down to Seattle. We used to frequent the Pacific Science Center (the location of the IMAX theater) as a source of homeschool fieldtrips, so we knew the terrain and were able to park pretty quickly in a nearby parking building. When we went to pay for our parking spot at the box, we ran into a guy who was clearly a gamer. I don’t remember if he was wearing a specific video-game-related shirt or if his attire was just that stereotypical gamer geek look, but it was obvious he was there for the Halo 3 event. Knowing I would be too intimidated to speak to a total stranger, my mom made polite conversation with him so I could enjoy it by proxy – definitely appreciated. He asked for some mundane information, like how to get to the PSC from there or some such, and we left him to pay for his spot.

Once we got up the hill to the block that had the PSC, we automatically joined what was clearly a line. However, after looking around a bit, it was clear it was not a group of gamer-types. Liberal hippie-types might be a better description. My mom ventured to ask a couple of people in line if it was for Halo. I was a bit paranoid about asking them, afraid of their reaction in response to hearing us ask about a shooter game when all these characters let off an ‘anti-war’ feel. While ironic for supporters of peace to react violently, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Zealots and hypocrisy, you know. Fortunately, my fear was unfounded and the woman just answered “Uh, I don’t think so,” in an honest, neutral voice. “It’s a [some name] concert,” someone nearby explained. “Oh, okay.”

So we went around the other side of the block to a line that was clearly made up of geeks and gamers, teenage/college boys and such, the odd girl among them. “Is this for Halo 3?” The response was affirmative, and we stood in line to wait. As we had shown up early, it was quite a long wait. Fortunately, I’d brought my iPod with me and just stood there listening to a Queen playlist while staring at an enormous poster of Ichiro Suzuki hanging from a building across the street.

Eventually, the skies darkened, and a couple guys from Bungie started walking around and talking to the people in line. At first I was like “Oh, yeah, sure you say you’re from Bungie. Now, anyone could put on a Bungie shirt and walk around a Bungie event and say you work at Bungie!” but then they pulled out some real merchandise soon to be sold on Bungie.net and at Penny Arcade. I was then like, “Oh my god… I think they might actually be Bungie…”

It says in my initial write-up that I thought one of the Bungie guys might have been Frankie. I don’t remember the details that well at this point, so I’ll trust my past self and say that I may have recognized one of them as Frankie, who definitely did show up for the IMAX part. Of the items they showed was a Master Chief shirt of some kind, though all further detail has been lost into the abyss of my mind.

Then, finally, the line started moving. My excitement started to flare up at this point. The announcement on Bungie.net had said that it was a first-come, first-serve deal and not everyone should count on getting a seat, so I was a bit nervous. However, we managed to buy two tickets to the IMAX theater, so that was it; we were in!

I’d been to the IMAX several times before, so I knew my way around the place. The theater was still decorated for Harry Potter. To a casual observer, it would have looked like we were all lining up for the Harry Potter movie.

We ignored the snack bar, or maybe it was closed, and lined up at the entrance. After a few minutes, more Bungie guys showed up and passed around these nifty Master Chief stickers made up of all these little hexagons so that they caught the light at different angles. Neat.

One of the Bungie guys started taking pictures of the people in line. “You guys are going on the website,” he said in an enthusiastic almost sing-song ‘get excited about this’ manner. “On Bungie.net,” he added, notably skipping the ‘dot’ part. My mom slipped aside to let me get in the picture. Unfortunately, I don’t think they ever posted the pictures. If they do/did, I’m the overweight guy in a dragon shirt who may or may not look like a girl.

So, then the doors opened, and we were rushing to get good seats. We ended up sitting on the lower middle section of the right side (our right facing the screen). The Bungie guys were walking around setting things up, and I managed to get a pretty good look at a few of them.

Frankie was there. Bald guy, shorter than I expected, but real. I most remember being stunned by his color, just the incredible range of color in his face. Not to say that he was a rainbow or anything, but when you see pictures of him on the site you don’t get the full range of colors as you do in real life. The most hi-res photos cannot capture the wealth of detail that the human eye can, so even though I was able to recognize him, he was Frankie as I never knew him.

And I was like “Oh my god, this is Frankie.” I was standing in a room with Frank O’Connor. And it was stunning because it was like I had the sudden realization that Frankie was a guy, a real human guy. His colors were at an incredible resolution, and he was actually moving around, talking to people, and moving equipment around. Not that I thought he was a male S1m0ne or anything, but it’s one thing to know Frankie as the community figure on the net and quite another to actually see him as a human being walking around.

Here he was, this Bungie god and then suddenly I had this enormous respect for the guy. I knew him as the Bungie guy on the net, but he was this real employee with amazing talent. He was a man with the kind of skills that allowed him to get a job with Bungie Studios, a professional video game developer owned by Microsoft. He was a god among men, really.

You know, on the net you start to see things out of perspective. All data starts to blend together and it sort of becomes hard to separate fiction and fact. On the web you are anonymous but for the text you reveal, which shapes people’s perception of you, and people fall into roles. On the web, Frankie is a wacky spokesperson that is entirely made up of these less than perfect images and the text he produces. However, seeing him in person made him real to me.

I wasn’t the only Frankie fan there. Some guy in the upper left area of the seating bellowed out, “We love you, Frankie!” This prompted someone on my upper right to call out, “That guy is gay!” In response, Frankie (on a microphone) made a comment like “There are a lot of Muggles here tonight…”, which elicited laughter.

Around this point, the IMAX screen was showing the set up screen for Halo 3 campaign, with an absolute giant Master Chief and Arbiter towering over us. I remember pointing at the characters and giving my mom a very basic explanation of who they were. After fumbling around a bit with the Xboxes, Frankie started narrating what they were doing: They were going to play co-op on Tsavo Highway, with him taking the first player role of Master Chief to be shown on the IMAX screen. Meanwhile, the other guy (I’m thinking it was Luke Smith) was going to play alongside him as the Arbiter.

The theater darkened and the show began. I was so unbelievably excited at this point. I got to see real Halo 3 footage on a giant screen, and it looked awesome. I was tied between wanting to just sit back and enjoy it and wanting to make a note of everything for Halopedia. I ended up mostly just watching it, though I tried to remember interesting details. (Hey, that one Marine sounds like Mal! Nah, couldn’t be…)

While the game urges you to move as quick as possible, Frankie kept the pace leisurely to allow us to truly appreciate the spectacular caves. When you play the game on the TV, the caves look cool, but seeing them blown-up to such a degree and still hi-res is just so awesome. Frankie jerked his Warthog around violently during the last part. We laughed because it looked like he couldn’t control it (an understandable conclusion given how unwieldy it was in the first game), but I think now that he was just trying to lose his Marines.

They played through a few of the battles, mostly just to show off the graphics and certain features. Frankie specifically bumped into a hanging rope to show that the rope does indeed move as you brush against it. I remember becoming really excited as I recognized specific Covenant races and saw different types of Brutes with their new armor. I’m not sure if they specifically pointed out features of the Covenant. I know at one point after a battle, Frankie just faced his partner as he fired and reloaded to showcase the animation.

At one point, Frankie decided to show off a plasma cannon. I was just staring in awe at the graphics and didn’t recognize the turret as anything other than “Wow, beautiful purple gravity lift thing – super cool!” He mounted it and swiveled it to its limits. He made a comment like “This is pretty good… but not enough freedom of movement.” He snapped the cannon off its base. The theater then erupted into a big cheer of “YEAH!” It’s kind of silly, but it really felt empowering, like we were collectively claiming our freedom of movement with that turret thing.

They moved on to the entrance to the highway, noting the shield that can’t be shot through. After eliminating the enemies, Truth began his ominous sermon, and I basically got goosebumps. This was the epic Halo storyline playing out on an epic screen/sound system. Then the CCS-class Covenant ship soared over our heads on that massive screen and it truly felt epic, like it really filled the sky. It’s awesome on the TV, but on an IMAX screen it’s truly fantastic.

At this point, Frankie decided we’d had enough of a teaser of the storyline and, after pointing out the Forerunner dreadnought in the distance, had a quick melee battle with his co-op partner before bringing things back to the menu. Having shown us the campaign, he then showed us Forge. As it loaded, he noted the beauty of the Halo 3 loading animation, made by Adrian Perez. Again, this is one of the things you can truly appreciate on an IMAX screen. That swirling Halo animation is really pretty and peaceful, almost like something out of Fantasia, and you really don’t appreciate it as much when it’s all bunched up together on a TV screen.

Now, I had been neglecting my Halo 3 coverage, so I didn’t really know about Forge despite it having previously been announced on Bungie.net. So, I was pretty shocked and amazed when my study of High Ground was interrupted by Luke changing into a Monitor and making stuff appear in the map. I was just blown away by the new feature, and marveled at Bungie’s genius.

Next, they showed off their saved film capabilities by showing a match they had on Sandtrap. The graphics were just unbelievably gorgeous and it was hard to take in it all at this point. As a team of Choppers rolled toward the structure, Frankie showed how he could jump from person to person to see everyone’s actions. He paused it as one guy grabbed a heavy weapon (I’m thinking Rocket Launcher or Missile Pod), to point out the red laser tickling his feet. “People tend to go for the power weapons,” Frankie noted, “Because people are fundamentally stupid.”

They stopped the show at this point, but answered a few questions from the audience and then revealed a Halo 3 Legendary-edition case shaped like the Spartan helmet. They said that one of the ticket stubs had three Frankenstein images stamped on it, and that whoever had it would be taking home the case (without the game, of course). However, it seemed that the guy who got the lucky ticket had thrown it away or something, because no one came forward. As a back-up plan, they gave it away to whoever was sitting in seat G-7. If you notice, G is the seventh letter in the alphabet.

And then, unfortunately, it was over. People started walking out. We decided to wait a little while to let the crowd pass through. This allowed us to notice several people getting their ticket stubs signed by the Bungie guys. I was willing to just leave with my memories, but my mom pointed out that Frankie was right there and I might as well. So, I hesitantly approached him and handed him my ticket stub and a pen. He was nice and quickly scrawled out a little Mister Chief alongside his autograph.

On my way out, I saw some guy getting his chest signed by a Bungie guy. Though I was trying not to stare, I overheard “I'm going to use your nipple to dot the I. I totally am. Dude, hold still.” Once outside, we had to wait a bit for the crowd to clear, during which my mom started talking to a PSC employee. According to him, some people had shown up as early as 10:00 AM, and some had come from as far away as Portland and Austen.

The event was truly magnificent. I remember muttering, “I can die happy now…” It was a physical manifestation of my somewhat abstract Internet obsession come to life in a way truly awesome. The word awesome is thrown around a lot, but this was truly awe-inspiring. Way to go, Bungie. You guys are artists.

Sins of the Father (Halo)

Originally written for Halopedia.

There is a theme in Halo, of old conflicts being fought anew at a time far in the future. The most obvious instance of this lies in the Forerunner-Flood War, in which the activation of Halo halted the war for 100,000 years until the descendants of the Forerunners met what Flood had survived in hibernation. In addition, it also would appear that most human conflicts in the Halo universe are based on historical wars, primarily those related to America.

The Interplanetary War, a series of conflicts in the twenty-second century, has its roots in both World War II and the Cold War. The war pitted the United Nations against two enemy factions known as the Koslovics and the Frieden, organizations composed of Russian communists and German fascists respectively. They are likely each based on the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, with whom America fell into conflict, as did the United Nations, on which it was also likely to have been based, with its similar enemies. With the defeat of the Koslovics and the Frieden came the formation of the United Earth Government, dominant over all of the human population, from what was once the United Nations.

In the latter half of the twenty-fifth century, however, some of the Outer Colonies came to think that their local governments could do a better job of taking care of their populations than could the UEG. After their requests to secede were denied, numerous groups in support of secession went to war with the UNSC in a conflict known as the Insurrection, which has similarity with the American Civil War.

The primary conflict is that of the Human-Covenant War, which has many similarities to various historical conflicts. The most obvious, I believe, is to the currently ongoing conflict America has with certain Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. In some respects, the Covenant resembles radical Islam, which America opposes in real life just as the UNSC opposes the Covenant in Halo.

However, other parallels can be made with the Crusades, in which Christian aggressors waged a religious war primarily against Muslims over occupation of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is considered to be of extreme religious significance to both cultures, the city heavily referred to in the Bible and the Koran. Similarity can be drawn to the Covenant invasion of Earth, in which the Covenant take the place of the Christians and the humans as the Muslims.

The Covenant similarity to the Abrahamic religions of humanity is obvious, providing an interesting parallel. The aggressors fight on the basis of a religion very similar to the people they attack, over the occupancy of a land (planet) considered holy due to the presence of ancient holy sites. This may, however, simply be a coincidence, as Bungie appears reluctant to portray the humans as anything other than American.

Another war that could have served as inspiration for the Human-Covenant War is the previously mentioned WWII. Unlike the other connections, which are primarily made up of my own speculation, there is some canonical basis to this one. In Halo: The Fall of Reach, McRobb expresses a worry that Reach will turn out like Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor, for those unaware, was an American naval base on Honolulu, Hawaii that was attacked by Japan in 1941, bringing America actively into WWII. In this, the Covenant is compared with Imperial Japan, a culture with which it does share some notable similarities. For instance, much of the Sangheili warrior culture appears modeled on the romantic notion of the samurai as it appears in popular culture. In addition, both the Sangheili and Jiralhanae armor bears striking resemblance to that of the samurai. The Prophet of Truth, ultimate leader of the Covenant and aspiring god, could be compared with Japanese Emperor Hirohito Showa, who claimed to be a god in human form.

The Human-Covenant War is compared with WWII again in ilovebees, when Colonel Herzog speculates that ONI knew planets Troy and Harmony were to be attacked by the Covenant and let the attacks occur in order to keep the Covenant unaware their transmissions were being monitored, bringing up a similar incident in WWII in which the British forces cracked Germany’s code and had to make their own sacrifices. In this comparison, the Covenant are not Japan but rather their Axis ally Nazi Germany. It is easy to see the link between power-hungry, genocidal Prophet of Truth and Adolph Hitler, and perhaps this is where such inspiration originated.

This is all primarily speculation, so don’t take this as strict fact. I, however, view it all as likely to have influenced Bungie as they concocted their wonderful world. And in the end, Bungie’s own spin changes the scenario radically enough so that anything that could apply to these historical wars does not in the unique environment they designed. Their own story ultimately becomes the important one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halo Fanfiction Tips

Originally written for Halopedia.

Since the beginning of storytelling, authors have taken one person’s story and applied their own spin on it to transform it in their own image. This practice has continued into modern day, even within the realm of copyrighted material. While copyrighted works cannot be legally reproduced without explicit permission, copyright holders will often allow fans to write their own stories, known as fanfiction or fanfic for short, using characters and elements from the work, provided that there is no commercial gain. Halo is no exception to these stories and many Halopedians, including myself, are fanfiction authors. Although fanfiction is not allowed on the encyclopedia, it is more than welcome on our sister site Halo Fanon, specifically for Halo fanfiction material. I hardly consider myself an expert fanfiction writer, but I have had several years’ experience, so I feel obliged to share some tips.

First of all, it’s important to know the language. One can hardly expect to amass readers if most have trouble reading your story. If you aren’t comfortable with your knowledge of grammar and spelling, refresh yourself on the subject and/or use a word processor with an automatic spellchecker. It also helps to get someone else, referred to as a beta-reader, to look over your work and make sure everything makes sense. It can be very easy to write words like “your” instead of “you’re” that the machine doesn’t catch, so it helps to have another set of eyes.

Now, onto the Halo aspects of fanfiction writing. Most of the elements you need can come straight from the canon, which can be researched pretty easily here on Halopedia. However, I find it easier if I can draw from some more commonplace media to use as inspiration in conjunction with the straight canon.

For instance, the Sangheili culture strikes me as similar to the romanticized depictions of both European knights and Japanese samurai. To get inside the head of the Arbiter, I look to various movies and books depicting these subjects, including First Knight and Dragonheart as far as the knights go, with a bit of Star Wars as well for the Jedi – a knight/samurai blend in their own right.

For the dialog, you can observe the similarly old fashioned manner of speaking from a number of fantasy characters. I personally like Glory’s minions from the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the “hobbits with leprosy”, not the crazy people). I think they match up pretty well in terms of prose. For those who don’t want to bother with other media, think “exaggerated prose.” These guys are well-educated and want everyone to know it. You can just take what an average person would say and make it a bit more complicated and dramatic (e.g. “The goddamned Brutes killed Bob! They’re going down!” becomes “Noble Bob has been slain by the wretched Brutes! They will pay for the blood they have spilt!”).

And speaking of Brutes, the Jiralhanae can be considered the Sith to the Sangheili Jedi. While the Elites are all about honor and discipline, the Brutes strike me as passionate and disorderly. I invite everyone to read the Code of the Sith at Wookieepedia, as I find it great for getting inside Brutes’ heads.

Star Wars aside, inspiration can be drawn from the sheer brutality of the human race. Brutes are brutal, after all, and as big gorillas they are excellent metaphors for the animalistic side of humanity. While the Sangheili are romantic samurai, I see the Jiralhanae (a Korean slang word for psychotic lunatic, by the way) as the Japanese war criminals at Nanking during the Nanking Massacre. If you are unfamiliar with the subject, I urge you to educate yourselves – although, a warning that it is pretty horrific. Bungie also compares the Jiralhanae to bikers and to Roman barbarians.

The Klingons of Star Trek can provide a source of inspiration as well. Although they are also based on romantic samurai, they’re far more brutal than other depictions. Their somewhat over-the-top dialog is also similar to Sangheili dialog. The following exchange from Halo 3 could easily have come from Klingons:

Major: “Brute ships! Staggered line. Shipmaster! They outnumber us, three-to-one!”

Rtas ‘Vadum: “Then it is an even fight…”

Moving down the hierarchy, we have the Kig-Yar. I find it useful to think of Jackals as a more domestic enemy: your typical creep. The sort of person is commonplace: arrogant, abusive, and thoroughly nasty if left unchecked. The Kig-Yar are relatively low in power, but they are space pirates and can present trouble to both humans and Unggoy.

While Unggoy are often seen as comedic due to their tendency to say silly things in gameplay, the characters presented in the novels are far more serious. Grunts are cannon fodder. They are relatively weak, but breed quickly and are just thrown out at the enemy en masse and can overwhelm. Although they are pretty much brainwashed, they realize that they’ve got a bad deal and often fake laziness just to keep from being sent out into the frontlines. When they get together with conviction, they can form a powerful fighting force, even against the Covenant as happened in the Grunt Rebellion.

I like to think of Unggoy as slaves. Technically, they are not because slavery specifically refers to people being treated as property to be bought and sold. However, despite a few who delight in serving the Prophets, the Unggoy are certainly in bondage. They occupy a very low caste and cannot leave the Covenant.

The Prophets, San 'Shyuum, are the ruling class of the Covenant. They are both religious figures and politicians, and many of them are corrupt. I find looking at a few especially disliked modern day politicians helps me come up with Prophet-type inspiration. The Prophet of Truth, specifically, I find similar to classic historical bad guy Adolf Hitler with their shared maniacal genocidal attitude (“Your destruction is the will of the gods! And I? I am their instrument!”), with the exception that Truth is lying to cover up the human-Forerunner relationship.

On that note, many of the Prophets have names with an ironic quality. The Prophet of Truth tells lies; the Prophet of Restraint doesn’t have any, etc. When coming up with a Prophet name, this aspect should be kept in mind.

When writing the UNSC, there are a couple things to keep in mind. The first is that the UNSC is highly Americanized, probably due to Bungie having designed it specifically for an American market. However, after the game’s international popularity, Bungie began trying to make it really seem like the product of a United Nations. So, although the series started out with the UNSC as essentially “America in Space”, it later turned into a big melting pot with things like a research station named Beweglichrüstungsysteme.

The Halo series has a few themes that come up repeatedly. While not necessary to include them, I find it adds some value to my fanfiction. These include but are not limited to transhumanism, religion, and heroism.

Transhumanism is a philosophy holding that the human body can and should be improved with technology, even to the point that the body is transformed to such a degree that it can no longer be referred to as human. Such advanced humans are generally termed posthumans, and although that term is never used in Halo both the Spartan-IIs and the smart AIs fit the definition. The desire to keep moving forward and become better is abundant in Halo, from John becoming a Spartan, to Catherine Halsey “becoming” Cortana via cloning, to AIs’ Rampancy, and to the Gravemind’s thirst for universal domination.

The most explicit instance is of the Covenant (and Forerunner) desire for apotheosis, or self-deification. The Covenant religion is built around the concept of mortals ascending to a state of godhood. Although not explained in detail, the Covenant notion of gods is implied to be of powerful entities that can affect the world to a substantial degree.

Religion in general is also a theme in Halo. In addition to the polytheistic Covenant, there are numerous biblical references as well as allegorical characters. There are obvious references in names such as Halo, Covenant, Ark, Flood, as well as a few paraphrases in the promotional transmissions. It is also likely in my opinion that John-117 is an allegorical representation of Jesus while the Gravemind is a representation of Satan.

Outside of the bible, religions such as Zen Buddhism are also present. For some reason, smart AIs have a thing for koans, which are spiritual conundrums in Zen. Catherine Halsey is able to get an AI to do what she wants just by intriguing it with a religious philosophical discussion.

Another theme is that of heroism. “Folks need heroes [to] give ‘em hope,” as Avery Johnson tells John-117. John being honored and practically worshiped as the savior of Earth (remember the Jesus thing, by the way) is a main theme in the Believe promotional campaign and isn’t exactly absent from the games.

Apart from the themes, there are a few generic items that are thrown in repeatedly. The most prominent is the sevens. Bungie is obsessed with the number seven and use it a lot in Halo. So, whenever I need some random number, I make it related to seven somehow to make it true to the series.

Another one of Bungie’s trademarks is repeated references to their earlier game series Marathon. I’m not an expert on Marathon, but I do like to throw in a few references from what I’ve read of the series. A main reference seen in the games is the appearance of the Marathon logo, a circle with a vertical bar running down from the bottom, producing a symbol similar to a lollypop in appearance. The symbol is difficult to describe in prose, but it’s a notable element worth including if possible.

Fanfiction has long been a part of the Halo community, and can be a good way to illustrate speculation or just intriguing ideas about the Halo universe. I hope my tips are worthwhile and this article helps inspire some of you to write your own Halo stories. Again, please keep fanfiction off Halopedia, but instead post it at Halo Fanon. We are largely the same community, though, so it’s not like I’m shooing anyone away.

"I think I'm going to tell a story now so I get in a happier place, and because Paul asked last time, and I said I would. This is not a game. I like games, but this is just the first chapter of a story I'm making up, now. I'll make up some more next time."
—The Sleeping Princess, prior to posting the first chapter of Perdita's Story

Short Glossary of Fanfiction Terms

  • AU (Alternate Universe) – Essentially, it’s a form of fanfiction in which elements of the original work are present, but the world is quite different. An example could be of a world in which the Covenant is entirely peaceful and they are threatened by the warmongering humans.
  • Canon – True elements of the Halo universe, those stated by Bungie to be factual, as opposed to inventions of fanfiction authors.
  • Fanon – While generally used to mean non-canon elements of fanfiction accepted by most fanfiction authors but not actually canon, on Halopedia it has come to mean another term for fanfiction.
  • Mary-Sue – An original character that is perfect, often a personification of the author themselves, to a point that becomes cheesy. The term comes from a well-known instance of such a character. Male versions can be called variants such as Marty-Stu or Gary-Stu, but Mary-Sue can be used universally.
  • OC (Original Character) – A character entirely created by the fanfic author and not present in canon.
  • Slash – A same-sex romantic pairing. The name comes from the way of identifying a romantic pairing as one name “slash” another name, such as Kirk/Spock, although this practice is common with all romantic pairings.
  • Songfic – A fanfiction containing song lyrics as a way to illustrate the story.

Resources

Some useful stuff I've been using for fiction.

Technical Info

Name Generators

Language and Culture

Military

Inspirational Quotes