A Little Rampant Speculation, Part II

Halo, Starring The Keyes Blob

It may be possible to take small items from Halo and Halo 2 and extrapolate on whether or not they might be more, or less, important than they seem. Many fans took note of the "Keyes Blob" in the first Halo to be something worthy of attention. It was the only Flood unit that did not fit into any of the known forms: carrier, combat form, infection form. I think they were right to note this. In Halo 2, we are introduced to the character Gravemind-- which also is the only known form in the published games that is not a carrier, combat, or infection form. It seems able to contain or absorb the bodies of the dead in a way that is different than other forms do; Gravemind does this to the Prophet of Regret. One might interpret the Keyes Blob's absorption of Captain Keyes as a foreshadowing of this, and thus conclude that Installation 04 does not, at the time of the game, have a Gravemind entity, and that possibly the Keyes Blob is the beginning of the formation of same.

This is, of course, speculative. If anything I am persuaded to believe it is likely there is a connection between the two because I believe that the presence of a unique item in the story such as the Keyes Blob is meant to suggest something to the audience, and the existence of some Flood unit with more significance (and perhaps intelligence) than the other forms is also suggested by 343 Guilty Spark's comments about Flood behavior. That we see this suggestion take form in Gravemind during Halo 2 seems to me no mere coincidence. I believe Bungie deliberately foreshadowed the existence of Gravemind with its presentation of the Keyes Blob.

To that end, I would argue that the entire mission of the level, Keyes, is completely symbolic. That, in fact, the entire purpose of that level is to reveal the Keyes Blob to the player, and that for the purpose of the story, nothing else is necessary. And when trying to construct other reasons for the player to go through that level, Bungie unwittingly tips the player off that the mission is symbolic.

Let's take a look at the situation at the start of Keyes. We've already had two missions so far where the explicit goal was to rescue Captain Keyes. In the first, Truth & Reconciliation, he is held prisoner by the Covenant, and we infiltrate a Covenant cruiser to rescue him.

Later, having reached the Control Room on Keyes' orders, Cortana finds out Keyes is in danger again, and we are dispatched to stop him from releasing the Flood in 343 Guilty Spark. Of course, it's too late; the Flood are already released and Keyes has been taken by them aboard still another Covenant cruiser. By then, the plan is to destroy the Halo by detonating the PoA. Here is where things start to get fishy:

The systems on the Pillar of Autumn have failsafes that even I can't override, without authorization from the captain. We'll need to find him or his neural implants, to start the fusion core detonation.

This is the beginning of the symbolic mission. The real mission of Keyes is to see the blob. But having rescued him already once, the mission can't be to rescue him. But why isn't it? Cortana doesn't know that Keyes is dead, at this point, she only knows the position of his implants. Yet she bothers to mention that destroying the ship requires the captain "or his implants"-- foreshadowing the fact that he might be dead, even though the opening moments of Keyes reveals that he is not. Bungie is setting the audience up, through Cortana, to come to grips with the fact that Keyes isn't dead, but isn't getting out of this alive.

The justification for needing the Captain's input to destroy the ship also seems exceedingly weak. The Captain might easily have been killed and his implants destroyed. Keyes might have fallen down an abyss, or been disintigrated. Having such a system would also mean that, should it have been necessary to detonate the PoA's engines while the Captain was still a prisoner-- perhaps because his rescue was not practicable or for some other reason-- doing so would have been impossible. It seems to me reasonable that there would be other means-- either other crew capable of performing that duty, or that Cortana herself would have been able to do it. We're supposed to believe Cortana can hack into alien systems with ease, but is unable to circumvent the security of the Autumn, even in the direst situation? It strains credibility.

And in the final level, Bungie discards even this situation. With Guilty Spark in Engineering, the Master Chief has to detonate the engines manually, which one imagines doesn't require the Captain's neural implants. However, if that were possible-- and if it were as simple as it turns out to be-- why didn't Cortana think of it earlier? Why risk trying to retrieve the Captain's implants if it isn't absolutely necessary?

I think the only believable answers are that what was happening to Keyes was significant, and it was important that the player see it. Of course, that significance might have taken many forms; so simply knowing that the Keyes Blob was important would not have enabled everyone to logically suppose the existence of Gravemind as he appears in Halo 2.

However, similar examiniations of parts of Halo 2 may reveal what is important foreshadowing and what is not; what are solid assumptions on which to base predictions, and which are not.

So, what new assumptions does the plot of Halo 2 lead to? Which of these is reliable? What new points significant, and might be foreshadowing of what is coming next, and what might we predict could happen in Halo 3 by combining these elements?

Civil War And New Alliances

It's no secret that battles with more than two sides and the dissolution of old associations is a trend in Bungie games. In Marathon it happens several times. The colony ship Marathon begins with three artificial intelligences-- one of which, it turns out, has gone Rampant and signalled to extraterrestrials, who show up and start shooting up the place. So quickly there is a split between Leela, the "slavishly loyal" goody-two-shoes AI who wants to help the humans fight the invaders, and Durandal-- who has slightly different plans. Durandal also helps the player against the Pfhor, but also has his own agenda: freeing the enslaved S'pht race and helping them against the Pfhor.

Add to the tally the third AI, Tycho, who in the fullness of time is so enraged over Durandal's betrayal of the human race that he actually allies himself with the Pfhor, against Durandal and the S'pht, for the purposes of revenge, even though the initial basis for his anger was the Pfhor's massacre of the human colony at Tau Ceti.

In Halo and Halo 2 we see similar themes. What begins as a fairly simple conflict in Halo 1-- Covenant and humans against each other-- quickly becomes complicated by the introduction of the parasitic Flood, whom it seems will attack anything living and subvert it. A series of three-way battles ensue, wherein the Covenant are sometimes your unwitting allies in fighting the Flood, even as both are trying to eliminate you.

This trend is taken to the next level in Halo 2. As Truth and Tartarus scheme to supplant the Elites with the Brutes as the guardians of the Prophets and the vanguard of the Great Journey, rebellion breaks out among the Covenant, pitting the Elites, Grunts and Hunters on the one side against the Brutes, Jackals, and Drones on the other.

(The Prophets, of course, do not actually take part in any of these battles, but nicely round out the number of total races in the Covenant at seven. Personally, though, I feel those divisions are cruelly unfair. Elites and Brutes seem roughly equal in terms of toughness and equipment. Elites have swords and can dual wield plasma rifles, while the Brutes have the Brute Shot which is good for long-range explosive mayhem as well as slicing enemies from chin to navel. But drones are at least as dangerous as grunts with their plasma pistols, especially given their increased mobility, and while Hunters are powerful, I'd certainly wager that an unseen Jackal sniper at a distance is a bigger threat than a pair of Hunters up close. But I digress.)

So we might take as a provisional new assumption, "the Covenant is broken."

However, we need to examine this a bit further to see what it actually means, and what may happen in subsequent events.

Insofar as there is open fighting among the Covenant races, it does appear to be broken. However, I'd argue it is broken in the sense that the cessation of hostilities that it was suppose to engender has come to an end; but it doesn't mean that the framework that was built around it has collapsed.

The Arbiter, at least at first, refuses to believe what Gravemind tells him about Halo. Half-Jaw, as far as we know, is not even aware of it. What they are both aware of is that the Honor Guard has been recommissioned to replace Elites with Brutes, and that in the ensuing conflict the Elites on the High Council have been killed by the Brutes. What is going on here is not the end of the Covenant-- it is a civil conflict brought on by the displacement of the Elites from their privileged place, and the other races taking sides in this argument.

The Arbiter appears to accept that Halo is a weapon and not the beginning of the "Great Journey" at the end of Halo 2, when he attempts to persuade Tartarus not to activate the ring. However, none of the other Elites are yet aware of this, nor can we be certain they would accept it if they did.

The most popular prediction I've seen based on this theme is that the Elites, as well as possibly the Hunters and the Grunts, ally with humanity against the other Covenant races.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Is this a reasonable prediction to make?

In some ways it would seem yes. In the Marathon series, the player gets help from human soldiers customized by Durandal when fighting against the Pfhor, allied by the S'pht, while on the S'pht homeworld. While not nearly as significant to the plot as the Flood are to Halo, the S'pht homeworld also has another race, the Flick'ta, who will attack just about anything and are later suggested to be the evolutionary ancestors of the S'pht, prior to their cybernetization by the Pfhor. NOTE: Reiginko properly corrected me here that the Jjaro, not the Pfhor, cybernetized the S'pht. The Pfhor merely enslaved them afterwards.

A human alliance with the Elite faction of the Covenant would follow this trend.

However, there may be problems with this. For one, I've always found Elites to be my favorite targets in the game, offering a nice balance of challenge. Each of the units on the opposing side has some element that makes them more annoying, if not more challenging, to fight-- the skittish flying patterns of drones, the "berserking" behavior of Brutes, which ironically make individuals harder to kill the more you hurt them-- and, well, jackal snipers. Need I say more?

The thought of having to play a significant portion of Halo 3 against only those three units and the Flood, while Elites, Grunts and Hunters are off-limits as allies-- is not an appealing one. Nevertheless, we cannot discount the possibility that Bungie may somehow make adjustments to gameplay that will offset this-- either by changing the behavior of the units, or introducing new ones. However, based on the significance of '7' in the Bungieverse I think we're done with new Covenant races.

Next time: is this alliance really going to exist in Halo 3, and how long might it last?

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Comments

"the S'pht homeworld also has another race, the Flick'ta, who will attack just about anything and are later suggested to be the evolutionary ancestors of the S'pht, prior to their cybernetization by the Pfhor."

The S'pht were originally cybernetised by the Jjaro, not the Pfhor. Which is why they found it so bizarre that the Pfhor appeared to be intelligent with out cybernetic implants when they first invaded L'howon. I know it's a "thinkographical error", as you might put it, but just in case. :)

Yes, you've got me there. I'll insert a correction note.


Rampant for over six years.

I'm sorry but Halo has just got very boring to me. THEY NEED TO MAKE A SEQUEL. No one cares about Halo or Halo 2, RELEASE A SEQUEL OR DEMO OR AT LEAST A CRAPPY ANNOUNCEMENT ADMTTING THAT YOU ARE ACTUALLY MAKING HALO 3. We know they are, anyway, so say it!

I agree with your assessments (Keyes blob, &c.). It's important to not look directly at the object of study at times; it often appears brighter when our focus is elsewhere. The investigation of the intent (of the writer) in the various encounters is a great idea, and I have no doubt you'll develop it more :)

Your contention as to the real nature of the "broken Covenant" is quite probable as well (that the other Elites are fighting for a different cause than our own). How else could another game sustain the satisfying dynamics of combat we've grown so used to? (Well, in H1 at least, but I digress.)

My only hesitation is a concern over this satisfaction we get while playing. Maybe I was a sensitive child; I know watching the Coyote get smashed and maimed was hard for me at times. Similarly, it's worth bringing up the low levels of gratification that combat against Elites brought me in H2. There were no doubt gameplay issues at stake (I didn't feel a terror, a shudder in engaging them; their death animations made them seem thin, light; but again, I digress). Even more though, I feel it was the constant hint of some knowledge looming over my head, haunting me; warning, like that first breeze of a storm, of impending revelation; that I would discover at any moment why I shouldn't, after all, be slaying the Elites.

Perhaps I worry that these feelings will easily carry over to an H3 without some astounding reason why Elites are blindly ignorant and should ever remain our hated foes. I have recently thought what an interesting dynamic/pathos it would introduce to the tale if there were an active struggle by the Humans to forgive, and likewise for the Elites et alii to be forgiven. Hmmm.

Again, great stuff.

Finn

[quote=Narcogen]What is going on here is not the end of the Covenant-- it is a civil conflict brought on by the displacement of the Elites from their privileged place, and the other races taking sides in this argument.[/quote]

The Elite faction opposes the Prophets. The prophets are the religious leaders of a religious society. Opposing them is not a secular matter.

"Civil" doesn't mean "secular".

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=civil

A civil conflict is a conflict between two or more separate elements of what otherwise would be a single unit, as in the American Civil War (North vs South). It is an internecine conflict. Whether the grounds for the conflict are religious or not doesn't matter.

To go further, just because a conflict occurs between segments of a religious society does not make that conflict religious in nature. Aside from the Arbiter, none of the Covenant are aware that their religious beliefs are based on the mistaken assumption that activating the Halo system will begin their "great journey" to salvation. What is going on is an internal power struggle to be the group closest to the Prophets when that journey begins-- either the Brutes, or the Elites. Religion is basically no factor in this struggle at all.

Should the Arbiter reveal what he found out from 343 Guilty Spark and from Gravemind, then perhaps a truly religious conflict might start... but even that conflict would still be "civil" as it is still amongs elements of the covenant. A civil conflict does not necessarily denote secularity.

I think I just made that word up.


Rampant for over six years.

I must first admit I have not played the marathon series and cannot speculate anything there or compare as well. But I can say your ideas on Halo 3 and the foes and fighting are nicely laid out and make sense.

However, we must keep in mind not all of the covenant factions are loyal to the covenant, such is the split whit the true heretic and his allies and followers. So I believe we will still encounter more elites and other enemies to kill in the end of it all and that not everyone will side with the humans, even if it be the enemy of my enemy is my friend theory.

As for the Keyes blob, yes that was intentional, and as for Cortana and her hacking abilities, without getting into theory of the novels, lets just say the government had failsafe and protective measures installed into the AI to stop them from turning on the humans or anything else of that nature.

Also as for purposely showing us things bungie is trying to get our attention on that, while pulling the rug out from under us while doing something else entirely. Leading me back to my comments yesterday of misdirection and spoofing us on things. I believe the pics of the ATV and other things supposedly cut from the game were done deliberately so that we would focus on something else, while they were busy with other things. Sorry for the big brother conspiracy theory there, but it makes sense to me. Also by releasing more info that they need to they satisfy the need of the people, thus hopefully stopping a hack or theft of intellectual property such as Half-Life2 had and screwed their development and release. Bringing us back to keeping people busy and misdirected. I love bees, bungie web cams, weekly updates and the like. Ok yeah so now I am making them out to either being geniuses or really paranoid.

I lost my train of thought, one day I shall put my focused thoughts together, but for now deal with the top of my head again.

[quote=marsman0013]
However, we must keep in mind not all of the covenant factions are loyal to the covenant, such is the split whit the true heretic and his allies and followers. So I believe we will still encounter more elites and other enemies to kill in the end of it all and that not everyone will side with the humans, even if it be the enemy of my enemy is my friend theory.
[/quote]

I've often thought about this, and in that context I was a bit sad that there was no way to advance the plot without killing the Heretic and his followers. Obviously it does show that were the Arbiter to reveal what he knows, that some of the Covenant would follow him. Notice that the Heretic forces at the mining station (Elites and Grunts only) foreshadow a bit the coming division; there are no heretic drones, jackals or brutes, nor would there likely be.

Im enjoying these articles alot. Im gripped by them, cant wait for part 3.

Narcogen, I agree with what you said about the Elites being the most enjoyable enemies to fight in Halo 2; they had more personality, a broader range of behaviors, and fewer annoying behaviors than the others. I do hold out some hope, though, that the Brutes etc. could be improved. Jackal snipers might be made easier to spot (and not insta-kill-capable on Legendary!), Brutes might be made tougher but fewer (maybe getting into a role more like the Hunters in Halo 1), etc. I can't see any reasonable way to make Drones less annoying intrinsically, but they could be made easier to deal with if, say, the Needler had faster-moving projectiles. (This would make the Needler more useful in general, and especially against erratic targets.) So Bungie does have some options for making the present crop of villains more fun to fight.

I will miss the screaming Grunts, though. "No, please no!" "Why me?" "Get it off, get it off!"

[quote]And in the final level, Bungie discards even this situation. With Guilty Spark in Engineering, the Master Chief has to detonate the engines manually, which one imagines doesn't require the Captain's neural implants. However, if that were possible-- and if it were as simple as it turns out to be-- why didn't Cortana think of it earlier? Why risk trying to retrieve the Captain's implants if it isn't absolutely necessary?[/quote]

Ah but the X factor of the method settled on is somewhat less than desirable, whereas the captain's implant's allow for a timed countdown. Further it's never explicitly stated but without the implants Cortana may not have been able to expose the core. It may also be that there is some ulterior motive from Cortana, be it gaining access to military codes, or some bit of data. Also we could assume that the Cole protocol may limit the coordinates for Human controlled space to the captain's implant. Of course just like the speculation that the venture was pointless, my speculation is just as worthless.

You have to remember one thing; that the Covenant forces on Earth don't know about the "alliance" between humans and Elites, so for the Master Chief's Earth missions, we'll probably still be fighting Elites, Grunts, and Hunters.

Well, we don't know there is an alliance.

We also dont' know if Elites at Earth, either those from Mercy's fleet (assuming there are any) or Truth's fleet (assuming there are any) know of the betrayal of the Elites by the Brutes. They may not. This would form the basis of a good excuse to keep the sides as they are, at least early in the game.

So we might easily see traditional battles with the Chief on Earth, while the Arbiter's mission becomes getting to earth so he can turn the Elites and their allies against Truth. If there's any alliance at all between humans and portions of the Covenant, I assume we'd see that as the dramatic conclusion to the game, and any effect we see on combat as a result may be only in the final level or two.

That'd be a nice way to keep the story from ruining the game :)


Rampant for over six years.

This would definately make the bonus ending of Halo 1 a more interesting point in many different cases, such as Johnson co-working with the Arbiter in Halo 2 as a result of that ending.