Halo, just ten years agoRecently, while browsing some French Halo websites, I found this Halocreation.org chronicle (in French), written by Jefferson who tried to explain to the newest members how it felt to live the Halo Combat Evolved community ten years ago.
While I certainly did enjoy the idea, it was oriented toward montages and frags show off videos. I then decided to write my own vision of things about what it felt to discover Machinima and Halo videos in the pre-Halo2/xbox live era.
One does not simply talk about the Halo community at that time without really explaining what made possible this whole little mess we know today. First you'll have to imagine (or remember) that Bungie's website did not host a whole bunch of stats covering your personal or team-based achievements. Neither did it let you know of your ingame screenshots and movies or allow you to find whoever was that one guy you played with three weeks ago. No really, it was not valuable for the average fan (community management was just not a term corporations had heard at that time) and had for main purpose to let people know of all the average and forgotten games Bungie had created so far like the infamous ONI or some strange little Mac games.
Heck, even the official website was no fanboy magnet like Halo Waypoint now is. Managing the community wasn't the point at all : the theme was the generic xbox.com greenish fonts and the content was limited to some short story summary (in which they told us that Master Chief was nothing more than a mere cyborg), a launch trailer, a bunch of screenshots and some wallpapers (including this flame-thrower still that didn't make it to the final game).
Actually, we need to make it clear what Halo did represent at the time for Microsoft : just a game among the others. A nice game, true, but one that had just the same amount of promotion and attention as an Oddworld Munch's Oddyssey or a Project Gotham Racing, the real titles that were supposed to make of the Xbox the hottest product around.
Thus to truly understand the state of mind from 2001 to 2004, you got to understand that the community was gathered around Halo.Bungie.Org (HBO for the fans) managed by the famous Claude Errera (aka Louis Wu). It doesn't look like much when you see it today (the design has hardly changed since 1999), but this site used to be a place of much activity where everyone could submit their creations and discuss their best lan parties ever.
Because at the time the community lacked to fundamentals tools for today's Halo players : Xbox Live and Youtube.
The lack of the first one brought the necessity to create one's own multiplayer games in local network with several consoles and screens, which sometimes led to some surprising results:
First it gave these geeky meetings a social aspect: to virtually kill other people required to have friends. And friends that agreed to get murdered over and over again in Halo was not something easy to find when the console was expensive as hell. So people started to look for other reasons to wander in the game levels. And one of the best reasons to do the same old levels over and over again was the physics engine. Characters, items and vehicles particular physics has proven to be a pretty funny thing to play with as witnessed videos such as the infamous Randy Glass' "Warthog Jumps" in February 2002 and its remixed version tree months later.
Obviously this kind of videos opened a royal path for other similar creations that exploit the funny (and glitchy) engine of Halo CE, with no need to re-tell in detail the game's original story, since at the time the game was considered as a mere shooter and people took it as it was. No UNSC bullshit, no story about how the covenant act or think, just original stories, fun ideas and crazy situations such as Djoey 154's video on summer 2002 using a Dropkick Murphy's song illustrated with Halo content :
The first attempts at making some scripted machinimas appeared quickly afterwards like this cute reenact of the introductory scene from The Matrix. The gun is not hidden behind black bars and it's not that easy to follow what's happening on screen if you don't have the original scene in mind, but the effort is quite impressive for that time.
People use to come get their fix of Halo user-generated content on HBO knowing that at any moment they could find a totally crazy video boasting a kick-ass gameplay, lan-fest videos, official scenes or just artistic video clips such as the two Sidewinder King created on infamous Sidewinder and Blood Gulch maps.
And then on April 2003, between people explaining what to do in Halo when you get bored and those who show that the silent cartographer should be finished in less than four minutes in legendary, the smart people of Rooster Teeth production bring a true revolution to Machinima with Red vs. Blue first season:
A new fashion that obviously launched a whole generation of machinimakers fond of their capture cards. You can find the typical example in Sidewinder King's sequel that now includes dialogs that may sound familiar to Church's crew fans:
Whether it's through machinima, montages, tricks, video clips, lans memories or other crazy stuff, video is now part of Halo community more than any other medium (despite the high amount of fanfics, drawings and others fans creations). And this will lead Bungie to include an easy way to lower the characters' weapons in Halo 2 then to create a complex video recording tool in Halo 3, ODST and Reach.
But what seems to be so obvious today, wasn't that much at a time when Youtube didn't exist and when the Internet speed did not allow people to exchange heavy files easily. The solution was thus offered by fans themselves who payed parts of hosting servers. Once enough space had been gathered, the site Mythica.org became the official HBO hosting service, then the site grew and gained a second and a third mirror. Most of the time, videos were compressed in 240p in 4/3, the most daring risked to download the 480p version that was advertised as 'high quality'. All of them were compressed in terrible AVI or quicktime codecs that were far inferior to the nice H264 one can use today. When all these tools have been up and running, any member could upload his own video, so in order to ensure a constant access for everyone some rules regarding the upload appeared on HBO where, in 2005, the Movie Peer Review Rating System was set up until late 2006. The principle was clear : for any submitted video, 10 anonymous reviewers selected in a pool of many had to give the video a score and as well as some pro/cons and general critique. If the average score was above 75% the movie was hosted on Mythica and a news about the video was published, otherwise the author could improve his work or try to be hosted somewhere else.
Somewhere else could have been ThatWeasel.TV, a site specialized in hosting videos that had been refused at MPRRS, as well as original productions, in order to create its own content base. That Weasel, the man behind the site, had some pretty interesting ideas since he hosted his own show centered around grunts and called "Grunts are People Too", last episode of which is none other than TGO GMBH's Offend in Every Grunt. That Weasel also hosted the annual video contest Rocket On Prisoner, yet the third edition never actually ended since That Weasel died on February 6th 2006.
In late 2003, beginning of 2004, Red vs. Blue had become incredibly popular and some teams such as Rooster Teeth had their own way of paying for content hosting : they introduced the 'sponsors' idea which allowed devoted fans to pay a few dollars each month to get the new episodes in advance and in high definition as well as being promoted 'VIP members' and being free of commercials on the main site. While the stingiest members who refused to pay were called 'freeloaders'.
From this situation, some 'sponsors' made a 10 episodes show called 'Sponsors vs. Freeloaders' in which the freeloaders (in red) are depicted as dump zombies unable to make a full sentence, but numerous enough to be a plague.
Regarding the more famous shows, if Red vs. Blue was considered the hottest thing around, we personally prefered Fire Team Charlie, a show created by the Canadiens from xboxottawa. They made 18 episodes from July 2003 to March 2005 and also offered a membership premium for the most hardcore fans.
These videos are the ones that influenced us the most. And they are the ones that we kept in mind while starting to create videos before Halo 2 was released in 2003-2004. The beginings were slow with the WEF series, presenting stunts and tricks with warthogs as featured in Randy Glass' productions.
Then with the help of a few microphones and sound adapters we were able to create our first movies and soon the first episodes of the BoB series were up. They haven't been very successful but hey, at least we did the first step in bringing the concept in France. We had to wait more than a year before the main community site recognize machinima as a 'legit' fanart and decide to open a 'video' section on the forum, then another year before a dedicated machinima & montage discussion space was opened.