May 15, 2009

Ground Zero (Part I)

> — Vociferous @ 1:17 pm

I often find myself impressed by the level of authenticity Bungie has implemented within their craft.

In point of fact, several months before the onset of Halo 3’s marketing campaign, many intrepid Halo fiction aficionados took note of Marty O’Donnell’s “Road to Voi,” a short song in the second volume of Halo 2’s soundtrack. At the time, the name “Voi” had little to no meaning for most Halo players; after all, it is presently only a small market town – a rest stop from Nairobi to the Kenyan coast. But somehow fans managed to generate ample discussion around the topic of Voi and around its potential relationship to the Covenant invasion – and, not surprisingly, the fan speculation was rewarded when the city became the centerpiece of Halo 3’s campaign on the human homeworld. This is just one example of many. Time and time again, we find Bungie’s attention to detail brought to the forefront of their projects.

As Halo 3: ODST begins to emerge from its amniotic iterations, the question becomes whether or not the computer-generated announcement trailer for this campaign expansion can be observed with the same level of scrutiny as its predecessors – especially considering that outsiders CafeFX produced this trailer, albeit closely directed by Bungie.

Lavish on the granular and resplendent on the execution, the announcement trailer for ODST is not much different in quality from Bungie’s other announcements. Guided by the intense yet somber tones of a new, masterful score, we peer through the omnipresent eyes of New Mombasa’s urban infrastructure construct – the one we’ve come to call “the Superintendent” – and we watch with breathless anticipation something only briefly witnessed during the events of Halo 2: the near obliteration of New Mombasa.

During the events of Halo 2, New Mombasa was the focal point of the Covenant invasion. When the Prophet of Regret saw his invasion fleet losing their grasp on the city, he ordered his assault carrier to breach slipspace and escape while still only a few thousand feet above the city. For the historic island city, this decision was devastating.

I’ve been told on more than one occasion that the creators of Halo – the story’s authors – are so familiar with the fictional world they’ve constructed that they could easily spend hours discussing even the remotest of canonical star systems within their universe. They’re so familiar with the subject matter of Halo that they could talk at length about the texture and brand of furnishings found in Sangheili keeps across their alien homeworld or elaborate on the complex political turmoil which preceded the formation of the UEG.

Another example of Bungie’s painstaking efforts in authenticity are concept/real world comparisons like this one for Old Mombasa and the present day Mombasa. Clearly efforts were made to articulate the real world and its aesthetics, bringing them into the Mombasa we witnessed in Halo 2. If you remember the “Outskirts” level from the game, this fact is practically unquestionable.

So if these things are true, and I believe they are, then I’d argue that reviewing the ODST trailer at close proximity is not without merit.

Now, it should be stated at the onset of this piece that some of what we discuss here may find itself off the mark with regard to the interpretation of data, both real and fictional, but in saying that, I am confident that the stone about to be thrown will hit more than a few birds before falling to the ground. With Bungie’s intent in ODST to allow a greater sense of exploration by their addition of the open-world hub system, it seems entirely probable that their conceptual depiction of New Mombasa will resemble, to the best of their ability, the same 26th century industrialist city they first introduced in Halo 2.

A fact which has possibly escaped some of our fellow Halo players out there is that Mombasa, the site of several key events within Halo 2 and ground zero of the Covenant’s invasion, is a real world location. The island of Mombasa can be found on the far eastern coast of the African country of Kenya – a small mass of land only a few kilometers end-to-end, hemmed in on all sides by channels and waterways which pour out into the vast Indian Ocean.

The above map pairings show Mombasa proper and its location in the country of Kenya. For more information on the sources of these maps, take a look at our post script ancillary at the end of the article.

In the 21st century, it is a veritable hive of African culture – a tourist destination for those interested in seeing Kenya’s beautiful beaches after a long day exploring the savanna of Tsavo National Park. The city is embodied by a bustling population, overcrowded roadways and a skyline of decades-old apartment buildings punctuated by the occasional elegant hotel – yes, it is true: Mombasa is a very real place, but you’d be hard pressed to effectively compare it in any way, shape or form with the city presented in Halo.

By the 26th century, a lot has changed in Mombasa, most of which has yet to be officially and canonically revealed. No longer is it a simple port city connecting the capitol of Nairobi to the ocean, nor is it a vacation destination for those who thirst for adventure and culture – the Mombasa of Halo is a very different Mombasa indeed. Here, this elaborately crafted haven of tomorrow’s technology is a hub for interstellar transportation. Five hundred years from now, what will eventually come to be known as the keystone of the East African Protectorate, New Mombasa will be one of the most important places on the planet.

But this, of course, isn’t why the Covenant decided to set up shop there. That’s a story for another time.

If one were to trace the city’s history back to this tipping point – the point where Mombasa ceased being a series of docks, hotels and markets and became what it is during the year of 2552, you’d likely find yourself somewhere between the late 23rd and early 24th centuries – during the advent of the space elevator. These enormous feats of human innovation were stationed at key locations across the Earth’s surface in order to easily move personnel and cargo between our world and the numerous space stations surrounding it.

What circumstances allowed Mombasa to be granted this structure are unknown, but the UNSC – with military bases located near Voi and on the atoll of Diego Garcia – may have thought its proximity was advantageous, something which was potentially fueled by lucrative materiel contracts with leading equipment and vehicle manufacturers. If the Havana and Quito stations are any indication, Mombasa’s transformation came roughly during that same time frame – some 200 to 300 years prior to the events of Halo.

Sierra 117 never ventures to the orbital spire during the events of Halo 2. In fact, this shot is as close as he comes – about two kilometers away. One might wonder if the events of Halo 3: ODST will bring us considerably closer.

So immense of a project the spire’s construction was, that it introduced several radical changes to the island’s geography and shape. Whether this dramatic restructuring of the island’s formation was a result of shipping requirements during the building process or whether these changes came after the fact is not known. Either way, this project would forever alter the face of the city. Even a cursory glance of New Mombasa’s overhead geography tells us that what was once a singular plot of land in the 21st century has now been transformed into two distinct segments through the development of a half-kilometer wide canal across its center.

At a time when all of the East African Protectorate began to change dramatically, the UEG’s nationalization efforts in Mombasa cultivated the groundwork for large industrialist companies to base their operations there. This was done, at least in part, by spearheading the Mombasa Transit Authority – a vast network of above and below ground highways, in addition to the blistering fast MagLev systems – all starting with the massive suspension bridge which directly accessed the city’s center from the island’s west coastline. By the middle of the 26th century, New Mombasa was a towering collective of corporate citadels bordered by massive levees – the island dwarfed nearly everything surrounding it.

[Proceed to Page 2]

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