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Halo: Contact Harvest

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An interview with Joseph Staten

A conversation with Bungie Studios lead writer and author of Halo®: Contact Harvest, Joseph Staten

Eric Raab, Tor editor here, with Joseph Staten, the lead writer with Bungie Studios, creators of the mega blockbuster, cultural phenomenon, Halo® video game trilogy and author of Halo®: Contact Harvest. I think it pretty much goes without saying that Halo has become the greatest science fiction world to come out of the video game industry. But I want to go back to the beginning. Where did the idea for Halo: Combat Harvest come from?

JS: Initially it was a desire by Bungie to get back to science fiction after spending a good number of years working in fantasy – on the “Myth” series of games for the Mac and PC. The specific art, story and game-play elements that make Halo unique among first-person shooters came together slowly. The Halo ring itself, for example, used to be a planet. And the Master Chief – the main character in Halo – didn’t actually have a name until a few months before we shipped.

ER: I’ve worked with many great SF writers and I have to say, the world-building in Halo is pretty impressive. Can you explain the foundations of it and where you looked for inspiration?

JS: Games are the product of lots of people with really diverse backgrounds. Our artists, for example, would probably cite the monolithic stonework of ancient Egypt or the geometric patterns of Frank Lloyd Wright as inspiration for the game’s alien structures. From a story point of view, Halo is epic space opera through-and-through. And for that we drew from any number of sources – books and films alike. Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” was an obvious influence, but so is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” To get an exact answer, you’d have to ask every member of the team what they brought to the table. Bungie thrives on collaboration.

ER: I keep telling people that even if they’ve never played the video games, reading Halo: Contact Harvest sets the stage for the entire Halo trilogy storyline. You’ve obviously done a lot of writing for the video game; what compelled you to want to write a novel?

JS: I’d been kicking the basic story around for a few years, and when Tor gave me the chance, I took it! Halo has great fans, and while I wrote the book with them in mind I’m especially eager to hear how people who’ve never played Halo would react. As you said, because Contact Harvest is the start of a different story-line (a prequel, really, to the events in the games) my hope is that it’s very easy to pick up and get sucked into the world and characters without any understanding of the larger Halo universe. When I started writing, I taped a little note to my computer monitor: “Don’t write a great Halo novel. Write a great novel.” Hopefully, I came close.

ER: I may be biased, but indeed you did. Two-fold question: When it comes to SF, what writers are your personal favorites and, if there are authors that you would love to see take on a Halo novel, who would they be?

JS: Personal favorites (in alphabetical order): Iain M. Banks, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, and Vernor Vinge. Obviously, some aren’t around to write a Halo novel. But actually, rather than have, say, Mr. Vinge write a Halo book, I (and I’m speaking for all of Bungie Studios) would love to collaborate with him on the creation of an entirely new, non-Halo universe.

(from the Tor/Forge November 2007 newsletter)