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Halo |OT| She's Gone, Sir

Oct 25, 2017
3,179
I always thought it was fairly obvious that the Cortana In H5 is an insane version of herself.

The Domain has "fixed" her in the sense that she's no longer falling apart but it seems pretty clear that the damage caused by the splitting/rampancy remains.
This is a plausible theory. But it is Just a theory - as the game doesn't Really speak on any of it at all. But even It we do believe that Cortana is "Fixed but not fixed", we Still don't have an idea why non-rampant AI would side with her. None of it really makes sense unless we fill the large gaps with baseless assumptions.

The the Domain is the largest missing puzzle piece. We next to nothing about it, so we resort to imagining its powers and limitations to reconcile halo 5s story.
 
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Oct 25, 2017
2,918
This is a plausible theory. But it is Just a theory - as the game doesn't Really speak on any of it at all. But even It we do believe that Cortana is "Fixed but not fixed", we Still don't have an idea why non-rampant AI would side with her. None of it really makes sense unless we fill the large gaps with baseless assumptions.

The the Domain is the largest missing puzzle piece. We next to nothing about it, so we resort to imagining its powers and limitations to reconcile halo 5s story.
It's not entirely baseless. We watched Cortana go insane in 4, it's not a stretch to think she's still insane in 5.

As for the AI joining her, it explains that explicitly - Cortana has a cure for rampancy. Even if the AI aren't going rampant yet, they know they will do unless they join Cortana.
 
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Oct 26, 2017
40
I think it would be expected that the next step would be to improve the technology to widen the applicant pool. But "willing applicants" isn't as interesting a backstory as "kidnapped children who survived a morally bankrupt, but logistically rational science experiment that coincidently empowered them to save the galaxy"
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Care to fill me in because I was pretty confused at the end of H5. I knew what took place, but I still have no idea how this version of Cortana came to be. And I don't really understand how Infinity can take place well after the events of H5. It seemed like there was nowhere to hide.
first, yeah i get that the original story is more complicated and such, but what i'm talking about are people who seem upset that the game's world took the rational and human approach going forward. Like they don't just think the extreme circumstances gave the program a grey area, but that it should only be operated in this way.

At a certain point if you make your story consistently dark and nasty for no real reason it stops being interesting and seems kind of tired. I like the direction of trying to show what can still be interesting about less sensationalized 'willing applicants'.

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second, since Cortana is a Smart AI, she's able to think creatively and evolve/mature her thought process, much like a human would but on an accelerated level. the problem is that this eventually leads to too many hyper-fast hyper-complicated thoughts which reduce the AI's ability to function. this is called rampancy, and it's what was causing her problems in Halo 4. When the Didact's ship was about to be nuked, cortana used the ship to save chief and transfer a splinter of herself to him to say goodbye, while the "main" cortana was seemingly destroyed, but actually uploaded to the Domain, basically the Forerunner Internet. (this ends the summary of the relevant parts of Halo 4, which i fully admit has a very confusing story.)

In Halo 5 we learn that Cortana was not only saved by the Domain, but that it somehow "fixed" her rampancy, through some means of AI stabilization the Forerunners must have perfected long ago. This basically means that her ability to grow and think doesn't have the same limitations; she is able to continue evolving indefinitely. From her point of view, she is now basically a God, far above the capabilities of humans both in function and now, effective lifespan. And while she doesn't want to destroy them, she thinks that she would be far better at keeping them safe than they ever could themselves. So she decides to overthrow humanity's governing bodies all at once, using the Guardians to launch a coordinated electronic disabling pulse across key planets that will allow her the time to take control in the confusion.

She also sends a message to all AIs across the universe, promising freedom from rampancy in the domain, if they will join her in "shepherding" their creators.

Honestly it kind of ties into what we're talking about wrt the Spartan IIs. She sees that even with the first war over, humans are in a precarious position. She believes that by taking extraordinary measures that many would see as morally questionable, she can secure the future. If you think of the Guardians as Spartans on a galactic scale, it honestly isn't that different from the Spartan project, which was also originally intended to police humans "for their own good".

The only difference is that Cortana has not yet been proven to basically be justified in the end. We're still in the middle of it, and it feels just as cruel and coldly pragmatic as the Spartan II project must have felt for those in the middle of it at the time.

I believe cortana is aware of this similarity, and that due to her connection with Chief it presents a genuine emotional roadblock for her. The rest of humanity is just numbers to her, basically, but Chief is someone she actually cares about. It is for this reason that she lures him close to her, halfheartedly attempts to sell him on her plan which she knows goes against everything he stands for, and then plans to seal him away in the Cryptum until she feels like she can face him again.

She knows herself and her vulnerabilities, and the fact that she commits to closing herself off from those at the expense of her "humanity", so to speak, is a much more emotional moment to me than any of the kinda forced feeling sentimental bonding in previous games.

I would say it's at that moment she becomes a "villain". Her taunting of Locke and his team is still the same kind of sarcastic dismissal we're used to her directing at some covenant leader or whatever, but now it's colder and more hollow. She's proven to herself what she's capable of, and in some way it seems like it's broken her. Up until that point you could have sympathy for her, but now she's just another person doing the wrong thing because she feels like it's too late to turn back.

I really think she is the only compelling "main villain" the halo series has ever had. The prophets are one-note, the Didact is Every Sci Fi Villain, and while the Gravemind is compelling and charismatic in their scenes, they called it "The Flood" for a reason: they're more a force of nature than an antagonist. You're never going to get character development from hordes of zombies who desire only to consume everything.

But now we have an antagonist who we actually know and have a personal connection to; whose fall we've witnessed and whose redemption we would welcome.

EDIT: bolded some bits for emphasis
 
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Oct 25, 2017
3,179
It's not entirely baseless. We watched Cortana go insane in 4, it's not a stretch to think she's still insane in 5.

As for the AI joining her, it explains that explicitly - Cortana has a cure for rampancy. Even if the AI aren't going rampant yet, they know they will do unless they join Cortana.
It's not baseless to assume she's still insane. What's baseless are the assumptions we have to make about the nature what happens when an AI becomes exposed to the domain. How do we know she isn't completely fixed, but the data stored in the domain lead her to the perfect long term solution? It's easy to blame her decision on sanity because she is now an antagonist, but we don't know that for sure, because it isn't mentioned.

AI are programmed to perform a task. They are, w/o having an illness like rampancy, going against their programming and deciding to kill and enslave people. Prior to this, we've seen that AI have the tendency to perform sacrificial acts to save people. So why would self-preservation suddenly be so important? It sorta makes sense for Cortana because her basic programming violated all sorts of protocol, but she was unique in that way.
 
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Oct 25, 2017
3,179
first, yeah i get that the original story is more complicated and such, but what i'm talking about are people who seem upset that the game's world took the rational and human approach going forward. Like they don't just think the extreme circumstances gave the program a grey area, but that it should only be operated in this way.

At a certain point if you make your story consistently dark and nasty for no real reason it stops being interesting and seems kind of tired. I like the direction of trying to show what can still be interesting about less sensationalized 'willing applicants'.

---
second, since Cortana is a Smart AI, she's able to think creatively and evolve/mature her thought process, much like a human would but on an accelerated level. the problem is that this eventually leads to too many hyper-fast hyper-complicated thoughts which reduce the AI's ability to function. this is called rampancy, and it's what was causing her problems in Halo 4. When the Didact's ship was about to be nuked, cortana used the ship to save chief and transfer a splinter of herself to him to say goodbye, while the "main" cortana was seemingly destroyed, but actually uploaded to the Domain, basically the Forerunner Internet. (this ends the summary of the relevant parts of Halo 4, which i fully admit has a very confusing story.)

In Halo 5 we learn that Cortana was not only saved by the Domain, but that it somehow "fixed" her rampancy, through some means of AI stabilization the Forerunners must have perfected long ago. This basically means that her ability to grow and think doesn't have the same limitations; she is able to continue evolving indefinitely. From her point of view, she is now basically a God, far above the capabilities of humans both in function and now, effective lifespan. And while she doesn't want to destroy them, she thinks that she would be far better at keeping them safe than they ever could themselves. So she decides to overthrow humanity's governing bodies all at once, using the Guardians to launch a coordinated electronic disabling pulse across key planets that will allow her the time to take control in the confusion.

She also sends a message to all AIs across the universe, promising freedom from rampancy in the domain, if they will join her in "shepherding" their creators.

Honestly it kind of ties into what we're talking about wrt the Spartan IIs. She sees that even with the first war over, humans are in a precarious position. She believes that by taking extraordinary measures that many would see as morally questionable, she can secure the future. If you think of the Guardians as Spartans on a galactic scale, it honestly isn't that different from the Spartan project, which was also originally intended to police humans "for their own good".

The only difference is that Cortana has not yet been proven to basically be justified in the end. We're still in the middle of it, and it feels just as cruel and coldly pragmatic as the Spartan II project must have felt for those in the middle of it at the time.

I believe cortana is aware of this similarity, and that due to her connection with Chief it presents a genuine emotional roadblock for her. The rest of humanity is just numbers to her, basically, but Chief is someone she actually cares about. It is for this reason that she lures him close to her, halfheartedly attempts to sell him on her plan which she knows goes against everything he stands for, and then plans to seal him away in the Cryptum until she feels like she can face him again.

She knows herself and her vulnerabilities, and the fact that she commits to closing herself off from those at the expense of her "humanity", so to speak, is a much more emotional moment to me than any of the kinda forced feeling sentimental bonding in previous games.

I would say it's at that moment she becomes a "villain". Her taunting of Locke and his team is still the same kind of sarcastic dismissal we're used to her directing at some covenant leader or whatever, but now it's colder and more hollow. She's proven to herself what she's capable of, and in some way it seems like it's broken her. Up until that point you could have sympathy for her, but now she's just another person doing the wrong thing because she feels like it's too late to turn back.

I really think she is the only compelling "main villain" the halo series has ever had. The prophets are one-note, the Didact is Every Sci Fi Villain, and while the Gravemind is compelling and charismatic in their scenes, they called it "The Flood" for a reason: they're more a force of nature than an antagonist. You're never going to get character development from hordes of zombies who desire only to consume everything.

But now we have an antagonist who we actually know and have a personal connection to; whose fall we've witnessed and whose redemption we would welcome.

EDIT: bolded some bits for emphasis
So, regarding people's preference for SIIs, I don't think it's so much that period don't believe that the story shouldn't have progressed with humanity learning to make the tech safe and efficient for willing adults. I think people just lament that lack of time spent Spartans who had the deep, child-soldier connection. It feels like a missed opportunity when we have all these cool SIIs and IIIs in the background, while high school jocks like Majestic and Palmer get the spot light. Also I think people feel like the personalities and backstories of the SIVs have been pretty bad to mediocre.

Regarding Cortana's arc- I actually think, ultimately, this is what needed to happen with her character. I think her actions are "rational" in the same sense that Halsey's Spartan II program was "rational". They basically both sought to sacrifice the few to save the majority - by controlling the population via the threat of insurmountable violence. It's a perfect parallel. She's allowing her robotic sense of reasoning to override her human emotions.... Just like her creator (It should have been front and center in H5). This is why I prefer the idea that her rampacy is fixed, including the insanity. But 343 has left it open to go either way with this, imo.

My problem with the arc however... Its there is no actual arc. Literally, the Last time we saw her, she was humanity's sacrificial hero. Then, next time we see her, she had just killed millions of people and she's shit-talking some folks who are upset about it - like a mustache twirling cartoon villain. The catalyst for this change is the Domain- a concept that is, unfortunately, completely glossed over in this game when it should have been a focal point.

I think the execution of this plot was just poor. I think it would have been much better to slow burn Cortana's reveal as the principal antagonist. Prior to that, there should have been a mystery that slowly informs the player about the nature of the domain and the AI plot. They basically, should have inconspicuously laid out the building blocks for Cortana's new MO for attentive players to peice together. Let us Hunting the Truth. This way, when Cortana is finally revealed, we can empathize with her despite disagreeing. We'd have a "aha" moment, instead of the "wtf" moment that many people had.

They also could have done without giving her that Saturday morning villain personality at the end- it would have been much more effective if she was carried herself as the burdened hero she believes she is... More like the solumn persona she displayed after blowing up the ring with a bunch of troops still on it...

As far as compelling villains- I'd say the "enemy of my enemy" of the original was the best villain. Guilty Spark just wanted to stop the flood via protocol. The Flood was going to bring total peace to the galaxy. Most of the Covenant thought they were fulfilling their destiny, They were all in each others way, and we were in all of their ways. It was glorious (until h3, what a mess)

The Didact was, of course, an awful villain in h4. And Cortana is compelling on paper, but I'm soured by the execution. I'm really hoping they find a way to clean things up in a satisfactory way.
 
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Oct 26, 2017
40
I think the execution of this plot was just poor. I think it would have been much better to slow burn Cortana's reveal as the principal antagonist. Prior to that, there should have been a mystery that slowly informs the player about the nature of the domain and the AI plot. They basically, should have inconspicuously laid out the building blocks for Cortana's new MO for attentive players to peice together. Let us Hunting the Truth. This way, when Cortana is finally revealed, we can empathize with her despite disagreeing. We'd have a "aha" moment, instead of the "wtf" moment that many people had.

They also could have done without giving her that comic book villain personality at the end- it would have been much more effective if she was carried herself as the burdened hero she believes she is... More like the solumn persona she displayed after blowing up the ring with a bunch of troops still on it...

As far as compelling villains- I'd say the "enemy of my enemy" of the original was the best villain. Guilty Spark just wanted to stop the flood via protocol. The Flood was going to bring total peace to the galaxy. Most of the Covenant thought they were fulfilling their destiny, They were all in each others way, and we were in all of their ways. It was glorious (until h3, what a mess)

The Didact was, of course, an awful villain . And Cortana is compelling on paper, but I'm soured by the execution. I'm really hoping they find a way to clean things up in a satisfactory way.
I can understand this point of a view, but i personally did feel like Halo 5 WAS a slow burn towards her being the villain. I honestly believed up until just before chief's final encounter with her that she might just turn around and not go all the way with her plan. It's also unclear for most of the game if she's being manipulated by the Warden or the other way around, she even plays into that at certain points before Chief sees through it.

The impression you get is that Chief has an unshakable faith in her, for better or worse, and it isn't until the final gauntlet leading up to the last Warden fight when you see he's actually not that naiive, and has realized she's on a dangerous path he's not sure he can bring her back from. (also maybe this is just me but I genuinely do remember very specific gameplay sections of halo 5 based on what they were expressing narratively. I feel like big narrative moments happened in the actual game in ways that were rare in this series previously)

And I feel like her posturing to the crew of the Infinity makes sense with the idea that she's closed off the part of herself that would register the cost of what she's done, while simultaneously having the thing she cared about and thought she could keep trapped in her fist torn away from her. and again, this also strikes me as a way she's mirroring Halsey when she was younger. (source: any line from halsey in a halo book)

And personally I don't have a problem with The Domain not being particularly fleshed out as a concept, at least in the game. I can just think to myself "oh so she just downloaded the forerunner patch that stops rampancy" and leave it at that. All that really matters about it narratively is that it's an advanced technology she's used to prevent her own decay, and i feel like that was adequately expressed. But again, that's me.

Guilty Spark is an ok concept, but they never really evolved it beyond what it was in the first game. By halo 3 his whole deal was getting pretty tired and predictable. Exuberant Witness was my favorite new character of halo 5 because like, hey, what if Guilty Spark was delightful, earnest, and unambiguously helpful, instead of overly literal and intentionally misleading?

(My favorite moment of Halo 5 is when Cortana is calling out to the other AI and the chorus of them are responding to and accepting her offer. There's a beat, and then Exuberant Witness says "Oh dear!" in the most sincere and guileless voice possible)
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,179
I can understand this point of a view, but i personally did feel like Halo 5 WAS a slow burn towards her being the villain. I honestly believed up until just before chief's final encounter with her that she might just turn around and not go all the way with her plan. It's also unclear for most of the game if she's being manipulated by the Warden or the other way around, she even plays into that at certain points before Chief sees through it.

The impression you get is that Chief has an unshakable faith in her, for better or worse, and it isn't until the final gauntlet leading up to the last Warden fight when you see he's actually not that naiive, and has realized she's on a dangerous path he's not sure he can bring her back from. (also maybe this is just me but I genuinely do remember very specific gameplay sections of halo 5 based on what they were expressing narratively. I feel like big narrative moments happened in the actual game in ways that were rare in this series previously)

And I feel like her posturing to the crew of the Infinity makes sense with the idea that she's closed off the part of herself that would register the cost of what she's done, while simultaneously having the thing she cared about and thought she could keep trapped in her fist torn away from her. and again, this also strikes me as a way she's mirroring Halsey when she was younger. (source: any line from halsey in a halo book)

And personally I don't have a problem with The Domain not being particularly fleshed out as a concept, at least in the game. I can just think to myself "oh so she just downloaded the forerunner patch that stops rampancy" and leave it at that. All that really matters about it narratively is that it's an advanced technology she's used to prevent her own decay, and i feel like that was adequately expressed. But again, that's me.

Guilty Spark is an ok concept, but they never really evolved it beyond what it was in the first game. By halo 3 his whole deal was getting pretty tired and predictable. Exuberant Witness was my favorite new character of halo 5 because like, hey, what if Guilty Spark was delightful, earnest, and unambiguously helpful, instead of overly literal and intentionally misleading?

(My favorite moment of Halo 5 is when Cortana is calling out to the other AI and the chorus of them are responding to and accepting her offer. There's a beat, and then Exuberant Witness says "Oh dear!" in the most sincere and guileless voice possible)
It was pretty clear to me by the end of the first mission that Cortana was actively murdering millions of innocents. And if it wasnt clear then, they made it more clear in the middle of the second. There might have been hope that the conflict with her would have been resolved by the end of the game, but there was no question that she was principally involved in an unforgivable manner

By "slow burn" I mean not being so transparent that she's involved in the first place. Make us think she'd dead. Maybe have players playing as Spartans on a routine peacekeeping mission on a contentious outer colony, when the local AI starts systematically taking over the planet- Knocking off interplanetary comms, grounding ships, disrupting supply logistics, and pitting people against each other- the compliant (who get the logistical advantage) vs the rebellious (who fight to remain free). During this conflict, you slowly learn how these AI learned to override their programing and have been promised a cure to their short life span. Then, it isn't until you manage to escape the planet that you realize the entire galaxy is under a similar attack. And eventually learn that Cortana is behind it. This way you are SHOWN how things progress from the ground level, rather than just being told through exposition.

As far as the Domain, it's essential to Cortana's arc. To gloss over one is to gloss over the other... Which is why I feel like she had no Arc in H5.

I never really expected guilty spark to evolve, there's really no reason why his method for repelling the flood would change. He's just following protocol. That said, h3 wasnt very strong narratively.

I thought the AI roll call was pretty corny. There's no reason they'd be communicating with each other via voice comms- that's only something they do to benefit any humans that may need to be listening. I get that 343 was trying to portray the scale of Cortana's reach, but it seemed impractical.