Book Review: Halo – The Art of Building Worlds

Before Halo: Combat Evolved was released for the Microsoft X-Box gaming console, there was doubt about the product’s longevity, especially in a world supremely dominated by Sony’s PlayStation consoles, with family gaming sticking to the Nintendo gaming systems. Bill Gates and Microsoft seemed to be hedging a lot of bets on the system, and its failure or success was suspected to impact Microsoft as a company either negatively or positively. Lucky for them, they had a strong design team with Bungie, and the game was an instant hit, selling millions of copies, and vaulting the console into the upper echelon of gaming systems.

Of course, every good first title deserves a sequel, and in the case of the Halo franchise, there are now four sequels and prequels to the original title, and there doesn’t seem to be any plan to stop. Fans of the series credit the deep story, futuristic weapons, and revolutionary game design as the reasons they keep coming back to the franchise. While those same fans rabidly await the arrival of Halo 4, they can now check out the latest offering from Titan Books, a thick hardcover full of glossy photos of concept art, early and unused designs for different levels, characters, vehicles, and weapons.

Along with the great photos comes small paragraphs of information explaining what you see on each page, running through the lineage of the Halo series, and what the thought process was behind each design, drawing, or painting. And really, there is some stunning artwork here. For fans that have come late the party and aren’t caught up on the story line of the games, it offers a rough run-through of the levels, which game they appeared in, and what is happening to our main character throughout. This accumulates to all the basic knowledge one would need to know about the story line in the Halo campaigns, along with a stunning visual history of what the important levels looked like, and what purpose they served throughout the duration of the game.

Varying widely through a variety of formats, from oil paintings to pencil scribbles and ink drawings, you can trace the lineage of the Halo franchise through the people that designed the games, and some interesting insight on their influences and thought patterns while creating these worlds. At the same time, they also offer explanations to unused designs, why they didn’t get used, or when they got delayed until the next game in the series and why. It makes for an interesting read to fans and non-fans alike, I suspect many that aren’t fans of the series may check into the games after seeing the spectacular artwork on display, especially for fans of sci-fi and fantasy artwork.

The book even goes into detail on the main character, Master Chief, how they arrived at the name, and what elements went into designing him, and what thought process they had as to what the character needed to represent and accomplish throughout the course of the series. Intricate planning, forward thinking, and immaculate design have brought the Halo series great success, and there’s no reason to believe that it will not continue into future games.

For fans old and new, this book will appeal mostly to the die-hards that have to know every character, weapon, vehicle, and level, who want to know more about the places they’ve visited in the game. Everyone else would still be awe-struck by the amazing art on display, but without a passion for the series, there might not be very strong interest, but the strength of the work is at the very least worth looking at.

8.4/10

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