narcogen's blog

Halo 3 Soundtrack Adds Epic Sound To Epic Scenes: Part One

DISCLAIMER:

First and foremost I must admit that I am not a professional music writer or reviewer and I do not habitually review music. As such I may have misused key pieces of musical vocabulary or even misidentified instruments. I hope the audience will bear with me and that in those cases my descriptions are specific enough, if misguided, to get my meaning across.

Secondly, as the Halo 3 OST itself is arranged in such a way as to replicate the sonic experience of playing the game, I have made no effort whatsoever to separate in my mind, or in this review, the experience of playing the game from the experience of hearing the soundtrack. I feel the two are designed to reinforce each other, and this article is, as much as a review, an attempt to examine some of the ways in which it does this.

Lastly, if you haven't finished the Halo 3 campaign, don't read the below-- it contains spoilers!

It's hard not to be effusive about the soundtrack for the Halo series of games, composed and arranged by Marty O'Donnell and Mike Salvatori. As games become larger and larger projects, involving not just a handful of people but dozens upon dozens of artists, programmers, designers, writers, and testers, audio and music stand alone as areas that involve relatively few people, and hinge on the efforts of very few, in an area that still has a huge effect.

Bungie made very, very good games before they were able to add O'Donnell/Salvatori music and sound. I think it's safe to say that the addition of that element is a major ingredient in what elevates them to the level of great games.

Halo 3 is no exception in this regard. While some may scoff at the familiarity of some of the material, I think the primary challenge in scoring the last segment of a sequel is blending the new with the old. Everything needs to sound like one part of a seamless whole, the new and the old, the familiar with the reinvented. For me, at least, the Halo 3 soundtrack is a triumphant success in this regard, and is in a heavy rotation on my playlist to make up for the Halo 3 I'm not playing while my 360 is broken.

With the packaging of the Halo 3 soundtrack, the approach of the second volume of the Halo 2 soundtrack was extended over both discs of a two disc set that attempts to duplicate the sonic experience of playing the game, running through the major themes and the dynamic music triggered by certain gameplay areas, from the first cutscene of the first level right through to the bitter end, with some of the music that accompanies the main menu to round out the collection.

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Next-Gen editor Colin Campbell takes a firm stance on behalf of publishers against game retailers that sell used games, calling the practice 'parasitic':

Used game sales are, in fact, a separate business to the game industry, one that is parasitical and offers little or no benefits to the business as a whole. If you look at the share-of-effort or the share-of-investment or the share-of-creativity that goes into making a game and bringing it to market, you have to wonder if this is a system that anyone could describe as being fair and just.

Predictably a lot of gamers find this position offensive. I do, and I don't even buy used games. I think if you buy a console game in a box and you want to sell it at some point, you should be free to do so. If a retailer wishes to assume the risk associated with used stock, and their clients are willing to buy it, more power to them. Calling the practice parasitic is simply missing the point. It's the kind of mentality that leads executives to take "sales we didn't make" and call it "lost revenue". It is disingenuous.

However I think the real problem here is one that Campbell's editorial doesn't even bother to tackle: which is that the fault for this practice falls squarely with the developers and publishers and with no one else.

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This is, of course, completely offtopic but I find it exciting enough to mention.

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Okay, here's a crazy idea.

Like more than a few people, I was puzzled by Bungie's return to independence following the release of Halo 3. It didn't seem to make much sense.

Sure, it made sense for Bungie to want more autonomy. Even the friendliest chaperon is still something one would rather do without. Why did it make sense for Microsoft, though? Why negotiate for a sweet discount with the goose who laid the golden eggs when you used to own it lock, stock and barrel?

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In response to those who've asked me what do you think of Halo 3 I wrote a long piece on finishing the fights. Halo, being a first person shooter with a linear story has a number of "finishes", though. There are the conflicts the player is a direct party to, but there are other story elements as well, and action that takes place away from the player.

How well does Bungie bring this epic trilogy to a close?

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Since before I'd even managed to finish the fight on Heroic, let alone Legendary, people have been asking... "so, what do you think of Halo 3?"

Given the thousands of words I've hurled at Halo 2 over the years that seems like a rather broad question. When pressed, most people admit what they really want to know is what I think of the ending of Halo 3.

Even that can be broken down further. There's the way the game resolves its central conflicts going back to the first game, especially those conflicts that involve gameplay challenges, and then there's the denouement that the game gives us, the little epilogue.

My short answer is that Halo 3 handles both challenges with finesse and aplomb in a way that fits very well within the framework laid down by the previous two games, calling on the best elements of both, discarding some that didn't work so well, and modifying others.

So if Halo 3 does indeed, as Frankie said, allow you to finish all the fights going back to Halo 1, what are those fights?

Warning, there are spoilers here!

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Frankie does a good impression of Officer Barbrady while talking to Game Informer about the Microsoft-Bungie split:

GI: Are you at all surprised by the response to this?

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SketchFactor has posted a press release on Bungie.net that declares that Bungie Studios will become a privately held company. Bungie LLC will have Microsoft as a partner and a minority shareholder and will continue to make games for the Xbox.

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If I was apprehensive about anything in Halo 3, it was the Flood.

Halo 1 has reached a certain legendary status amongst fans, but even it has a sore spot for many: the Library, where you navigate endless repeating dark corridors with endless hordes of only four enemies to fight: Human Flood combat forms, Elite Flood combat forms, Carrier forms and Infection forms. The level goes on a floor or two longer than it really has to, and only has a few tricks up its sleeve to make it seem fresh.

If Halo is built on a foundation of "thirty seconds of fun" then the Library was built on six helpings of five seconds of fun: shotgun a Flood form in the face, run away, repeat.

Of course, other Flood missions fared much better; they had better unit mixes, more varied terrain and encounters, as well as vehicles. 343 Guilty Spark had atmosphere oozing out of every pore as the Flood gave you the first real scare of the game. Two Betrayals gave you the dark side of Assault on the Control Room as Flood, Covenant and Sentinels took aim at each other and you while you tried to stop Halo from firing.

The Maw mixed it up by varing your objectives a bit, and by allowing you the chance to watch some interesting fights play out. The Flood themselves, though, were interesting to look at, but not so much interact with. When they didn't see you, they gurgled. When they did see you, they charged straight at you, firing whatever they had. If you had superior firepower and room to maneuver, it was no problem. If you had only one of those, or neither, you'd be in a world of hurt, not because the Flood outsmarted you, but because they overwhelmed you with numbers and clogged up your travel lanes with dead bodies. Or even dead Grifs.

Halo 2 added a significant twist to the Flood, but the game could only get so much mileage out of it. Instead of merely giggling with glee as you set off cascading explosions of popcorn Infection Flood, this time around the little devils scurried around more unpredictably, and raised dead Flood from the battlefield to face you once more if you didn't dismember them with a sword or blow them up with a grenade.

Once so raised, though, they were still the same old Flood. Four flavors, and one tactic.

How, then, would Halo 3 handle the Flood? More of the same?

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The Zero Punctuation videoblog at The Escapist proves that it's much easier to be funny when criticizing something than praising it, and their review of Halo 3 is indeed funny. I just can't figure out if it's funny for the sake of it, or whether the reviewer honestly dislikes the game as much as the review says and being funny is just a byproduct of that.

However, all I can think of watching the recycled criticisms (the game is short, the story is incomprehensible) is that I don't see the basis for them. At all. Estimates of game length are all over the board, from 8 to 20 hours. And yet all of these are called "short". Compared to what? Oblivion? Are all games supposed to deliver the same number of hours of play for a single price point? Is it fair to hold Halo 3 to that standard while saying "I don't give a flying shit about multiplayer"?

Would this stuff be deemed funny if someone lampooned the plot of The Return of the King from the perspective of someone who had neither read nor seen The Fellowship of the Ring or the Two Towers and therefore didn't know anything about these wacky short people called Grunts Hobbits and this all-powerful Halo Ring everybody is on about?

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This is the most definitive link I can find for what is so far a non-story story about Microsoft somehow letting Bungie become independent again.

The official Microsoft response to reports in Jacob Metcalf's blog that allege Bungie is leaving Microsoft was:

There's been no such announcement.

That's the kind of non-denial denial you'd expect from a company that is the subject of so many non-story stories.

Todd Bishop, on his Seattle Intelligencer blog, gets Robbie Bach at Microsoft to comment on that non-denial denial, and ends up getting an explanation of why the non-denial denial exists:

"The problem is, I can't comment one way or another on any of these rumors. Because then, every time you ask me a question about a rumor, I have to comment definitively, and there's times when I don't want to, and times when I do want to. I just don't. You should interpret it that way. You should interpret it as a neutral 'don't.' "

All in all, it seems very likely that people in Bungie might want to, you know, work on a game that isn't Halo, or isn't a shooter, or, God forbid, isn't a Halo shooter. Farming out Halo Wars to Ensemble and Halo Chronicles to Wingnut seemed to me like Microsoft setting up the Halo franchise to continue while Bungie moved on to other things; but perhaps it was just a move to try and maximize the revenue from the Halo property by developing ancillary products with a series of Halo shooters at the center, developed by Bungie.

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It's tired cliché that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Despite rampant accusations of having a story that's derivative pulp, the first half of Halo 3 is not a tired cliché, nor does it need a second chance to make a first impression.

Hearing from a number of reviewers and community members who played through the game in a single sitting under Bungie's purview, I've decided to play no more than two campaign levels a day in order to savor the experience. To get my Halo 3 fix the rest of the day, I watch films of those levels, hunt for skulls, or play around in Forge. I understand why those people wanted to get through the game right away, and why Bungie wanted reviewers to play the whole game. Community members knew they wouldn't be able to go on much longer without someone spoiling the ending for them. Bungie knew it would be best for reviewers to have a complete experience-- at least, the most complete experience you can get from 8-15 hours of a game that probably has as much if not more replayability value as Halo 1 and 2 combined. However, I refuse to be rushed.

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The latest Bungie update covers a number of topics, including achievements and skulls, but the real revelation is that unlike most Xbox 360 games, Halo 3's native resolution is 640p, as rumored:

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...next week.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this site that I've lived overseas for eight years, and as such, I can't walk down to the corner store to pick up Halo 3, it has to be couriered to me.

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The Seattle Post Intelligencer wonders if Halo 3 can 'turn things around' for Microsoft's Xbox 360.

While I know from personal experience that copyeditors are sometimes pressed for time, I'm still at a loss to understand that headline.

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