May 15, 2009

Ground Zero (Part II)

> — Vociferous @ 1:19 pm

Now, if you’ve read previous articles from our site, you’re probably wondering what source has fed this rather elaborate historical estimation. To answer bluntly: Halo 2.

As it stands, the single best resource for information on the layout of New Mombasa is Halo 2 – and more specifically, the Liwitoni MagLev station, also known as the multiplayer map “Terminal.” Below is an overhead image of New Mombasa provided by the Mombasa Transit Authority and found near the landing platform of the terminal station itself. It clearly displays the island’s 26th century footprint. And while starkly different from present day Mombasa in many respects, it bears a stunning and somewhat disarming similarity on a granular level.

Further evidence cements that this same care for detail is, without a doubt, intentional – a female voice within the MTA’s public announcement system states that MagLev terminals in several real world locations within Mombasa have been closed due to the city’s automated security protocol – a protocol we later learn was implemented by our friend, the Superintendent, an urban infrastructure AI construct who plays a major role in Halo 3: ODST’s story.

Here you can immediately see several differences in both the coastal areas and the man-made canal. The red lines indicate the MagLev system, the purple ones display the highway network, the green ones are standard roads and the orange segments are conservation/recreation parks. Also take note of the spire’s layout and the circular rim of roadways which surround it.

As stated earlier, all of the stations mentioned in the audio reel heard on Terminal are not only factual, but can also be charted along the provided map. The station you find the map in is Liwitoni, which, from an etymological standpoint, is likely to be the preexisting borough of “Liwatoni,” which lies just a short jaunt south of its 26th century counterpart. Next, the Kilindini station is found just slightly northwest of Liwitoni, sidled against a waterway bearing the same name. The Mtongwe station lies just across that same body of water, surprisingly near Old Mombasa from the memorable Halo 2 level called “Outskirts.” Meanwhile, both Manyimbo and Nyali rest on the northeastern portion of the metropolis, nestled around the base of the space tether and adjacent to a pair of bridges connecting the island to the mainland.

These real world connections reinforce the map’s validity and present undeniable evidence that Bungie did not take their geographic reimagining of New Mombasa lightly when developing Halo 2. But what about ODST? Could Bungie have applied the same level of attention to accuracy in the upcoming campaign expansion as we see in this Halo 2 iteration of the city? Ultimately, without the game in hand, that remains to be seen, but we can take a look at the small but incredibly articulate amount of information provided by the announcement trailer. If we can find solid connections between this and the data culled from Halo 2, perhaps we can leverage the two together in an effort to speculate about what might take place during the events of Halo 3: ODST – or, more specifically, where it might all take place.

At the start of the trailer, we peer through the eyes of the Superintendent, gazing off toward the northern skyline of New Mombasa where the orbital spire burns in the distance. Here we witness Mombasa at the center of the fierce storm. It is empty, stoic – subdued. Interestingly, as the camera display indicates, we come to discover a handful of locations set in accordance with the Superintendent’s city-wide monitoring system.

Initially somewhat of a blur of elegant buildings and darkened street corners, we almost immediately see the first three locational candidates: Tanaga, Lumumba and Mbaraki.

The last one eventually becomes the most intriguing, because as the trailer’s events unfold it appears to be the key to the ODST’s insertion point. In addition to that, its proper name has been cited (seemingly without warrant) in Bungie’s updates more than once since the trailer debuted. Coincidence? Not likely, since Mbaraki becomes the core focus of the first half of the trailer, clearly showing the protagonist being hurled down toward the Earth’s surface between a pair of magnificent skyscrapers inside this very district.

ODST units are inarguably bad ass. This in part due to the fact that they are the best of the best when it comes to infantry warfare, but also because they ride their horses into battle at speeds near terminal velocity.

One question comes to mind almost immediately: Is Mbaraki a real world location and is its representation within the announcement trailer accurate according to what we know of Bungie’s version of 26th century Mombasa? If it is not, then we can assume that either Bungie has relinquished their initial take on the city or that CafeFX took liberties to alter it – and both are somewhat possible. But, if it is in fact real, and its actual location mirrors the one provided in the trailer, then it speaks volumes about the level of scrutiny we might be able to dedicate to the trailer’s events.

With this condition on the line, one will discover that Mbaraki is in fact a very real location and it’s found in the southeastern segment of the 21st century Mombasa, therein placing it only a short distance south of the artificial canal which segments Bungie’s fictional 26th century geography of the city. Even a passing look at the trailer’s first few seconds reveals that this location, using the space tether as a frame of reference, is exactly where one might expect it to be.

What does this mean? It means that the trailer’s depiction of the Mbaraki location is flawless.

And it is flawless. This is the very first shot from the trailer, later revealed to be from Tanaga and just a few blocks away from Mbaraki. It is the best reference for Mbaraki, as we clearly see its relation to the tether and the canal just beyond.

Still doubting that Bungie’s on point about this – perhaps Mbaraki’s location was simply coincidental and the MTA map is too inconsistent for this investigation?

Well, take a close look at the following comparison overlay of our modern day southern Mombasa on top of Bungie’s own iteration from Halo 2. Look at highways like Dedan Kamathi Avenue, Digo Road and Moi Road, for example – all three match identically with their corresponding purple designations on the MTA map. This overlay shows that almost all roadways on the New Mombasa MTA map very closely mirror, if not identically duplicate, their real world counterparts.

We’ll be offering a map directory at this end of this piece which will allow our readers to download higher-resolution image files of both maps and compare them side-by-side, if they find that the above overlay is not compelling enough.

Not only does this evidence from the trailer give the viewer an accurate sense of space with regard to Mombasa’s topical layout, but it seems to provide us with the general location of the opening levels of Halo 3: ODST. Perhaps by proxy we can surmise the whereabouts of this mysterious “hub world” in its entirety.

Let’s take a closer look at what we mean when we say “hub world”…

Although presently the information is scant, we know that the campaign expansion follows a lone ODST (the Rookie) as he tries to hone in on his team’s whereabouts and uncover the enigmatic agenda the Covenant seem to specifically have in regards to the city of Mombasa. Within this narrative framework, Bungie propels the player into what they’ve coined as a “hub and spoke” mission system. The player will be able to freely roam throughout the non-linear hub (a large section of the city) and voluntarily choose when they enter the linear, spoke-like missions.

We can now say with some degree of confidence that Bungie intends to do their best to accurately integrate the fiction they’ve already established within Halo 2 into their plans for ODST’s New Mombasa. Perhaps it won’t be an exact and identical reiteration, but we can expect some level of semblance – clearly Bungie did not scrap their previous conceptualization of the city, otherwise the spatial relationship of Mbaraki to the canal and spire would have been wholly different. With that in mind, we should pay attention to all the locations mentioned in the trailer, as they may well represent the hub world itself.

The first witnessed was Tanaga, a location which appears to be just southeast of Mbaraki and one which some may have confused with “Tangana,” a separate area in contemporary Mombasa. While Tanaga might have a place in the game itself, its role in the trailer appears to merely frame Mbaraki’s location.

The second is Lumumba, an area which may have been named in homage to the 21st century Mombasa roadway which at one time lay near the city’s center. But, as Halo 2’s “Metropolis” conveyed during its final Wraith encounter (the location which Lumumba Road once occupied), it clearly no longer exists in 2552. As with several other streets throughout the city, it appears to have been removed when the canal was constructed. Perhaps the sector in the trailer exists in honor of what was one of the more prominent roadways of the city’s yesteryears.

If Mbaraki is the most important locational ingredient in the first part of the announcement trailer, then Lumumba is the same for the second part. While its actual location remains somewhat of a mystery, we know two things: It lies south of Mbaraki and it appears to be where Halo 3: ODST’s campaign begins.

In addition to the aforementioned areas, there are two very brief flashes in the trailer regarding to other locations: Sidiriya and Makadara.

Again, much like Mbaraki, both of these are not fictional and can be found in modern day Mombasa. The former appears to have been forced further south during the restructuring process (it lay at the center of where the canal is now), while the latter remains largely unchanged, hugging the east coast of the island.

Interestingly, it seems as though Sidiriya appeared only when the EMP blast was first detected, as it presumably transferred waves of billowing energy across the canal and that district. Makadara, appearing almost immediately after, can be seen while the Superintendent watches the first waves of ODST pods break through the city’s airspace. In that shot he zooms in as the shock troopers’ HEVs deploy their drag cords – slowing them down from their near fatal speeds.

For Lumumba and Tanaga, the same cannot be said. Neither are a part of contemporary Mombasa.

Tying these locations into the trailer itself, it appears as though the ODST escapes from his HEV onto a street in Lumumba. He faces north toward Mbaraki (the direction he careened through) and then heads east toward the apparent location of Tanaga. Obviously, trying to carve out exactly what will happen in the opening sequences of a game based on a few somewhat nebulous inferences in an announcement trailer isn’t terribly effective, but I would honestly question why someone would take so much care in calling out specific locations unless it was at least somewhat representative of the game’s content.

The above full map of New Mombasa should provide a reasonably accurate representation of where these key places are located in relation to the final resting place of our Rookie’s HEV.

So from this we can presume that the ODST campaign will begin in southern New Mombasa, several kilometers south of the space tether which resides on the opposite side of the man-made channel. Interestingly, this massive structure, which we know eventually falls as a result of the slipspace event, is still standing at the end of the announcement trailer. This fact coupled with Bungie’s repeated elaboration of it during their weekly updates seems to suggest that we might see the orbital spire from a closer vantage point during the events of Halo 3: ODST.

For this reason, it would not be surprising to us at all if, at some point during the course of the campaign we bore witness to the tether’s collapse. Such an event would successfully bridge the story’s continuity while also providing a dramatic and intense experience for the player. It would be the quintessential definition of a successful set piece.

[Proceed to Page 3]

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