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Fighting Words

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ISSUE 64 (BIT)

Greetings, fiction fans, and welcome back to Canon Fodder, your weekly look at the expansive and evolving fiction of the Halo universe. Last week we spent a bit of time looking at some of the extended lore behind new play-spaces, armors, and weapons of Halo 5: Guardians new content update – Hammer Storm – which as many of you know slammed onto the shores of your Xbox One consoles this very week.

This week though, I’d like to first extend a warm welcome to the Killer Instinct community, many of which might be visiting our humble Halo abode for the first time – and for good reason, as this past weekend, during the already-intense final round coverage of the Halo World Championship North American Regional Finals, we dropped the full trailer and reveal of a very cool partnership that sees a noble and deadly Sangheili warrior leap into battle against cast of Killer Instinct on Xbox One. Read on to get the skinny!

CREATING THE PERFECT COMBO

In the mid to late-‘90’s, your humble scribe sacrificed many a quarter/token at the local (Tampa) bay-area arcade, with almost every one of them being dropped into arguably the loudest and prettiest cabinets available – the ones that housed Killer Instinct 1 & 2. I ate it up. I loved the art style, the fight mechanics, and perhaps most of all, the universe itself. I literally wore the covers off of my KI2 strategy guide, and might still remember off the top of my head how to do the unlock code for Gargos on the N64 version of KI Gold.  It was nestled comfortably atop my “favorite franchises” list, and in 2001 Halo: Combat Evolved launched and quickly joined the list as well. It was only natural that I began to daydream about how cool it would be if one franchise were to ever cross over into the other. However, as the years continued to pass with no new Killer Instinct title on the horizon, I often lamented the fact that I’d never get to see such a thing come to pass.

I was sitting in the audience in LA in 2013 for two very important and memorable moments in my gaming life. Within the span of an hour, I witnessed a Forerunner Guardian rise from the sand to herald Halo’s arrival on the Xbox One – and watched in shock as a familiar guitar riff announced the return of the Killer Instinct franchise to the gaming world as a whole. Had you told me then that in just two years’ time I’d be part of bringing those two franchises together nearly two decades after spending that first quarter in the arcades… Let’s just say that this particular project has been an unforgettable journey on both a professional and personal level.

It’s been pretty incredible to watch the teams at 343 Industries, Iron Galaxy, and Microsoft Studios forge such a powerful and productive partnership as each of us poured our own particular portions of passion into the project. Of course, one of the first questions people always ask is how both sides landed on the character choice. For all parties involved, the idea of using the energy sword-wielding warrior was in no way a difficult one.

“I was asked before we’d launched Killer Instinct if I had thought of any guests that would fit well into the game.” Says Adam Isgreen, the Creative Director at Microsoft Studios assigned to the Killer Instinct franchise. “Without hesitation, I said ‘Well Arbiter, of course… but we’ll never get him.’ Over two years later, you can’t imagine how happy I am that he’s finally here!”

The next thing that typically flows furiously forth from fan lips and forum fingers is “Yeah, but is it the Arbiter? What about Keith David?! Is this canon? And where is my Ricochet playli - ” We get it, we get it. The answer is that from pretty early on it was decided that to both make things easier from a fictional explainability perspective, as well as take full advantage of all the cool opportunities available in the Killer Instinct ecosystem, that it would be best to create a versatile “could be anyone” Sangheili warrior for the role, while leveraging the obvious advantages that the familiarity of the Arbiter title and characterization might afford us. Just as countless Arbiters have faced impossible odds to represent the honor and glory of their people, this Arbiter was created to represent the glory and honor of the Halo universe against an impossible new challenge.

How can we say all that with a straight face? Shut up is how. How does this explain why he's fighting a cyborg dinosaur in a Mediterranean oasis? Silence fool! How does this explain some very cool easter eggs on a Sanghelios-inspired level? Shut your noisehole is how. Actually, in keeping with this theme, let’s see what Mr. Frank O’Connor had to say about it all.

“[Keith] David of course, IS ‘The Arbiter’ from the Halo game universe for all intents and purposes, and will continue to be as long as he’ll have us.” Frank explains. “But in Killer Instinct, we wanted to create multiple visual variations of the combatant archetype in the classic fighting game style, and so we leaned heavily on the 'Hall of the Arbiters' concept from the games, where we see armors and costumes from historical Arbiters in a kind of mausoleum. So our KI Arbiter is in some ways an amalgam of Arbiters past, as well as more modern Sangheili warriors. And further, like Spartan Nicole-458 from Dead or Alive 4, it helped to insert a subtle canonical buffer between their game and ours, so that players aren’t scratching their heads when the Covenant’s historical champion is fighting a Battletoad in Chicago...”

I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

HARNESS THE POWER

So with all of that in mind, let’s talk looks. Thanks to the customization options available within KI, we’re able to offer players a wide array of options when it comes to role playing their particular Elite character. While every Arbiter wields the venerable T-51 Carbine for ranged attacks, for up-close and personal encounters, the default character will utilize Prophets’ Bane, while the alternate “retro” version will wield a classic Energy Sword. For the different costume options, we pulled from a variety of sources, allowing fans to customize their character with a range of Elite roles and armors found in the Halo universe. Let’s take a look at what you’ll be able to choose from and – especially for KI fans that are curious – where they come from in the Halo universe!

 

KAIDON

The default livery for the Killer Instinct Arbiter mirrors that of Thel ‘Vadam’s in Halo 5: Guardians, showcasing a classic Sangheili design that has adorned noble clan leaders and warrior-keep castellans for millennia. In addition, players can unlock stunning color combinations that might have been donned by Sangheili judge-kings long since passed. My personal favorite is platinum-white armor with crimson filigree that more than subtly call to mind the Elite Ultras.

 

ARBITER

Nearly all of the characters in the Xbox One edition of Killer Instinct have a secondary base aesthetic – normally classified as a “retro” costume, especially for alumni characters from KI 1 & 2. Of course, when it came time to pick the alternate base visualization for the Killer Instinct Arbiter, there was only one logical choice. Which is why players will also be able to recreate Thel’s classic look from Halo 2: Anniversary.

 

COMBAT

The Sangheili combat harness has many functional and aesthetic variations, and has been worn with honor and distinction on the battlefield by a host of Elite warriors across a range of different ranks and roles. For Killer Instinct, players will get to select the combat harness shown in the Halo 2: Anniversary campaign, which, when combined with the various color options, allow players to play as different ranks within the Covenant military, including that of Supreme Commander.

 

STORM

Storm Elites were a specialized shock-trooper role most widely encountered within Jul ‘Mdama’s Covenant force. Players who unlock the Storm armor might also find themselves imagining that they are fighting as Ayit ‘Sevi, a peculiar Sangheili agent who has been utilized by the Office of Naval Intelligence on more than one occasion – most notably within the pages of the Halo: Escalation comic series. 

 

RANGER

Elite Rangers are highly trained assault units that have been used in a variety of capacities within the Covenant and Swords of Sanghelios. In Killer Instinct, players can bring their own exoatmospheric onslaught with the Ranger harness style seen in Halo: Reach.

 

COMMANDER

Many Sangheili who served as officers under the Covenant’s reign became commanders of their own factions following the Great Schism – most eventually chose to follow rising leaders such as Jul ‘Mdama and Sali ‘Nyon, though some formed pocket empires and independent alliances. In Killer Instinct, the armor donned by Elite Commanders in Halo 4 and Halo 5:  Guardians will be available for use, allowing you to play as an ambitious warlord or key general in the Sanghelios civil war.

 

ZEALOT

The role and legacy of Sangheili Zealots can be traced back to the pre-Covenant era. Over the decades, a number of different Zealot chapters aligned with particular interpretations of ancient codes of honor or debt-packs endured – and even thrived – under the Covenant. In Killer Instinct, players can outfit their character with the ceremonial battle harness that was the armor of choice of the Devoted Sentries, a group of Elite Zealots that served under Supreme Commander Rho ‘Barutamee within the Fleet of Valiant Prudence during their assault on Reach.

 

ASCETIC

The Ascetics were an ancient warrior order with deep ties to ancient Sangheili beliefs, fervently devoted to their pre-Covenant faith. While the Ascetic’s military forces had been formally dissolved following the formation of the Covenant at the Writ of Union, Ascetic priests continued to secretly initiate worthy Sangheili warriors into their ranks, keeping the ideals of their martial order alive within the Covenant. In Killer Instinct, players can adorn themselves with the armor of the fabled Ascetic Guard, first seen in Halo 3.

IT’S THE WAY YOU MOVE

One of the most important aspects of making the Killer Instinct Arbiter “feel” right is by ensuring his move-set and combat style make sense for a warrior of his caliber, his size, and his weapons. Special care was taken by all parties involved to make sure that everything from the Energy Sword swings and Carbine shots, to the Plasma Grenades and cloaked assaults, felt like you were controlling an Elite. The folks at Iron Galaxy have truly done an incredible job in capturing the essence of Halo’s famous multi-mandibled menace and integrating it seamlessly into the Killer Instinct stable of characters. While the KI team will be talking more about the full Arbiter move-set soon, we wanted to give you a taste of the combat traits that drive the character’s fighting philosophy.

Type-51 Carbine

The Type-51 Carbine holds 18 rounds of radioactive ammo and fires three-shot bursts. Once the magazine has been emptied, gunshots are replaced by melee attacks.             

Plasma Grenade               

Sticky anti-personnel plasma grenade that detonates after a three-second delay. Throwing distance can be changed by pressing Forward or Backwards. Grenade blast can harm both players. The Arbiter carries three grenades, replacement grenades are salvaged over time.

Energy Sword

The Arbiter carries a master-crafted Covenant Energy Sword or Thel ‘Vadam’s personal blade – the vicious Prophets’ Bane.

Combat Evolved

Arbiter can tack on a Plasma Grenade or fire his Type-51 Carbine to deal additional damage after performing a Throw, Command Throw, or any Ender.

SETTING THE STAGE

The Arbiter’s stage is the Arena of Judgment, located near the ruins of Nuusra. In the distant past it was a place of discussion and debates on matters of Sangheili honor, hosting Kaidons and Arbiters competing in a battleground of ideas and philosophy. But time is cruel, and now this forum hosts a different kind of judgment.

The final key piece of the puzzle is making sure that the Arbiter stage not only captures an epic and accurate slice of the Halo universe, but that it also serves will as a properly balanced arena worth of any Killer Instinct cast member who engages in combat within its hallowed halls. 343 Industries and Iron Galaxy worked closely to maximize the advantages of leveraging assets born from the Sanghelios areas of Halo 5: Guardians, while creating a living and breathing scene for players to face off in – one that includes more than a couple cool Halo easter egg moments we’re sure you’ll enjoy catching.

For more thoughts on the task of crafting such an arena, I grabbed friend, colleague, and bon vivant Kenneth Peters, who was one of the crazy characters on the 343 side who was instrumental in the project’s process.

“Thel ‘Vadam is but the latest link in a long chain of Arbiters that stretch back thousands of years. Judge-kings, peacemakers, teachers, and tyrants of Sangheili myth and history who led the Sangheili clans. For Killer Instinct it was not only important to allow players to forge a narrative - to build their own Arbiter – but also see their stories played out on a stage. In this case, literally. For this we chose an ancient temple on Sanghelios caught in the crossfire of the war between the Swords of Sanghelios and Covenant, its ancient walls progressively broken as the match plays out. Pushing the scripting capabilities of Killer Instinct to the limit we see Elites fighting and dying, war engines spending their last energies, and fierce battles for aerial dominance that end in vanquished craft careening out-of-control.

“In Killer Instinct the Arena of Judgment is a testing ground for strange warriors from elsewhen, where your customized Sangheili champion faces off against cyborg raptors, skeleton pirates, and talking frogs. Even so, we worked hard to make sure this is authentic and recognizably Halo, right down to the color scheme of the vehicles and sound effects of the Carbine. In the Arena, you will be challenged. You will be humbled. But we also hope you'll be as happy as we are with the amazing work by our partners.”

-          Kenneth Peters, 343 Industries

As you see above, as a bonus, we’ve also included some pretty awesome concept art from Iron Galaxy’s talented team, in order to show you some of the intention behind the Arbiter’s stage as it evolves throughout the match.

(DROP)POD-TACULAR

On a more completely Halo-centric note, as noted on this month’s Halo LiveStream, you can now place UNSC Drop Pods into maps using Halo 5: Guardians’ Forge mode, and trust us, fans are already doing ridiculously cool things with it. The new addition also prompted the lovely denizens of r/HaloStory to inquire about the new look. Well, story-loving subredditers, I’m happy to oblige; this week’s Universe article will update the UNSC Drop Pod entry with a new coat of paint and a bit of new info to sate your curiosity.

Phew! So there you have it, folks. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our fairly comprehensive breakdown of some of what fans can expect to experience when they step into those size-24 hooves when Killer Instinct Season 3 hits this March. I’ll let Adam Isgreen from MS and the KI team have the last word…

“I hope that both Halo and Killer Instinct players will see that we (343 Industries, Microsoft Studios, and Iron Galaxy) have delivered a character that you can all be proud to play, one that upholds what’s great about the character from his origins in Halo, but in a way that makes him fun in Killer Instinct and unique among the cast.”

–         Adam Isgreen, Microsoft Studios

And with that, we close for this edition of Canon Fodder. If you're interested in learning even more about the Arbiter in Killer Instinct Season 3, it might be prudent to check out the Halo World Championship Finals on March 18-20, 2016, just saying. If you are interested in learning more about the Killer Instinct universe and franchise in general, make sure you check them out on the web and on Twitter. To the KI-based community, we hope you enjoyed your stay, and to Killer Instinct and Halo fans alike, we hope you’re excited about what you’ve seen today and are looking forward to getting your Elite's Ultra on soon! 

Until next time… Live well, play Halo, and don’t forget to use your Shadow Meter.

-GRIM

UPDATED UNIVERSE ARTICLE THIS WEEK!

UNSC DROP PODS

The drop pod is a means of troop deployment from very high altitudes or, in most cases, from space. This equipment is most frequently employed by Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), but has seen increased use by Spartan-IV personnel in recent years.

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