Hello everyone! Really enjoying this whole blogging thing so far. Nice to see there are people who find my views interesting!
Today I want to discuss something that’s been on my mind lately. Today, I want to convey my feelings on how Forerunner designs should REALLY look in the future of the Halo series.
First, though, to really tie down a theme for the Forerunners, we have to evaluate what they are and what the best possible theme or style for them is.
Over the past 16 years (Nine for me; I didn’t join the community until 2008, at ten years old. Just a wee lad!) we as Halo fans have come to know the Forerunners and their designs. While the specifics and details of their architecture have changed over time, generally, the Forerunner theme is this: an ancient race, lost to time, that left behind a legacy of large, towering structures with spacious, detailed interiors, surrounded by lush amounts of both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial plant life. Essentially, the design philosophy behind the Forerunners is meant to convey a sense of wonder and mystery through the grandiose nature of their architecture’s exteriors, with detailed (but “simply designed” detail; I’ll explain that later) interiors, while also making their artificial worlds feel welcoming, natural, and beautiful through the visual beauty of vegetation in all shapes and sizes.
Now that we’ve established a baseline of what the Forerunner theme is (to me, anyway) we can evaluate how Bungie and 343 have both succeeded and failed in meeting this quota. Something to keep in mind in this article is that I personally believe Halo 5: Guardians failed in most of these areas, and so when I refer to 343 I’m referring to Halo 4 only. There is one thing I feel Halo 5 does better then all of the other Halo games, however, and I’ll specifically discuss that when we get to it. Another thing to keep in mind that I will first cover who I think did an aspect of the Forerunners poorly and why, and then cover who I think did it well and why. Let’s get into it!
Personally, when it comes to the structural exteriors, I feel that in this area, 343 did a better job at hammering home a sense of wonder and mystery with Halo 4. When I look at Bungie-era structures, I honestly don’t feel much of a sense of wonder or mystery. The geometric shapes may be interesting, but the structures just look “flat” and have very little visual depth overall. In general, the Bungie-era structures just don’t look interesting and are ultimately too simple. While Bungie accurately captured the scope of the Forerunners with Halo CE-3, I don’t think they did good at making them seem mystical. That being said, they do the interiors wonderfully, but we’ll get to that later.
343, I feel, managed to capture the scope of the Forerunners, while also making the exterior designs interesting to look at and very awe-inspiring.
Where Bungie’s exteriors were very flat and not visually detailed, Halo 4’s exteriors have strong use of visual depth. They look like they have a texture, that you could run your hand over them and you would feel all these different indents and elevations in the metal. To me, it creates a much more interesting and mystical aesthetic. It draws me in and makes me say, “I want to explore that place”, which is something I didn’t feel for most of the original trilogy’s architecture.
Going on a bit of a tangent due to the fact this applies to both exteriors and interiors, but another way that I feel 343 succeeded in design is with the use of color to set moods.
While the Forerunners in 4 still retain their primarily gray/silver colorization, 343 used colors like blue, gold, and orange lighting to help set moods. In areas with cool, blue color, the game felt more relaxed and loose, gold areas feel neutral, and the warm orange colorization gives off a feeling of tension. Things like this help give the architectures their OWN personality. In a way it makes them seem alive, almost. To me, this creates an awesome dynamic from the design in that the aliveness of their architecture contrasts their disappearance from the universe, creating a feeling of their legacy being impervious to time, even if the Forerunners themselves were not.
Where I think 343 struggled, however, is in the interior designs of their structures.
While their strong use of colored lighting is ever present, the designs of the interiors are extremely complicated and to me end up feeling like “visual barf”. All of the complex designs completely surrounding you feel too overwhelming for me – I don’t think that it meshes well together and it overall just feels overly complex. Detail is good, but you should implement it in moderation, and in a way that gives your eyes “breathing room”. This is that “simply designed detail I was referring to at the start of the article – detail should be added in a way that makes it feel natural and fitting, not jarring and overwhelming.
This is where I feel that Bungie succeeded with the Forerunners.
Their interior designs were detailed while remaining simple and easy to navigate, something I think that is important for interior design in any structure, whereas it could be hard sometimes to know where to go in 343’s interiors (unless the path was made of hallways)
Bungie’s design philosophy with the interiors ensures that the inside of the structures is still visually interesting, but it doesn’t interfere with navigation and path-finding of the structure itself in areas with open spaces. Unlike the exteriors of Bungie’s architecture (with the exception of the Citadel from “The Covenant”) they also used a nice neutral palette of tans, and browns to add simple color variety that doesn’t necessarily create a mood like 343’s blues and oranges do, it just makes the interiors more visually appealing, in the same way that 343’s gold lights do.
Lastly, maps like Epitaph and Citadel are examples of the apex of Bungie’s interior design philosophy, and I really think if the themes of those maps could be incorporated into the next game’s Forerunner areas, the visual appeal of the interiors would heavily benefit from it.
One interesting aspect I want to cover is the textures of the Forerunner architecture. I think that both 343 and Bungie kind of failed to find a good balance here, in that to me, Bungie made their metal structures look way too worn down, almost to the point of looking like stone, which goes against the theme of timeless endurance, whereas 343’s shiny chrome aesthetic seems to make everything feel brand new, which goes against the fact that the Forerunners have been absent for millennia. I think they need to find a balance with this. The Forerunner architecture overall should look worn and dated, but it should also still be polished to a degree. It should look like slightly worn metal, instead of the extremes of ancient stone or perfect chrome shine.
The last point I want to discuss is the foliage and natural aspects of the Forerunner worlds and design. I find it interesting how this specific topic doesn’t get discussed often because to me it’s very, very important. A big theme behind every Forerunner place we’ve visited in Halo is that it acts as a safe haven for all of the universe’s sentient species. Everything from humans to Grunts are supposed to be able to live in these places and feel comfortable and familiar with the location.
Therefore, logically, the world’s would possess foliage and other natural aspects that are both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial in origin – however, in Bungie’s Halo games, all of the natural scenery is identical to what you would see on Earth, with the sole exception of the swamp prior to the discovery of the Flood in Combat Evolved. Going off of Bungie’s designs you could guess the Forerunner worlds were only meant for humans to live on, which isn’t true. The Forerunner aesthetic should show us alien plant life alongside Earth plant life.
This is where I think 343 succeeds with Halo 4 and especially Halo 5, with Genesis. While Halo 5 fails in pretty much every other category to me due to visual over-designing, I think it excellently captures the alien aspect of the Forerunner worlds. On Genesis we see all kinds of alien flowers, grass, buds, and trees alongside more human and terrestrial plant life. Even the rock formations look alien. This variety all comes together to make Requiem and Genesis feel truly alien, as opposed to Bungie’s natural aesthetic which didn’t feel alien at all.
So! After fully evaluating every aspect of Forerunner design, across every Halo game, we’re finally ready to answer the question. What should the Forerunners really look like? The answer is this…
The apex of Forerunner design…
Forerunner exteriors should be massive in scope, filled with visual depth and tactile detail, but not enough to overwhelm the player with too many effects or moving parts; rather, just enough to give them that feeling of aliveness which contrasts with the Forerunner’s disappearance so well and so effectively.
They should be surrounded by all forms of natural plant life and rock formations, all shapes and sizes, to create a lush, welcoming aesthetic, while still feeling alien and other-worldly in nature.
Their interiors should contain high amounts of detail, yet remain simple in overall layout. They should also have a strong palette of neutral colors and lights like brown, tan and gold to co-exist with the silvers and grays in the neutral areas, while use of brighter lighting like reds, oranges, and blues should be used sparingly, but effectively to convey mood or liveliness at specific areas within the interior. Lastly, the texture of their metal should look worn, but still overall polished, conveying the theme that while the Forerunner legacy is not impervious to time, it does an excellent job of withstanding it, and will continue to do so for millennia.
So! That’s how I feel the Forerunners should look in Halo 6. I think that what I’ve described above is a perfect blend of old and new, and I would love to see it in the next installment. What do YOU think? Do you agree or disagree with my opinion or evaluations? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks so much for reading! And remember, if you ever end up exploring the vastness of space to try and discover the Forerunners, don’t wear a red shirt – if Star Trek has taught me anything, it’s that people who wear red shirts in space usually don’t survive.