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The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World
Eric S. Trautmann (text), Frank O'Connor
Del Rey, 161 pages

The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World
Eric S. Trautmann
Eric S. Trautmann's other novels include Crimson Skies (2002) with Eric S. Nylund and Mike Lee and Nancy Berman.

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A review by Chris Przybyszewski

Halo is the worldwide first-person shooter phenomenon that launched Microsoft's Xbox console way back before any of us were born. Ok, so it was only around the year 2000, but five years is a mighty long time in gaming terms. To be sure, Halo2 has already graced the high definition TV screens of many gamers, and there is currently much merriment to be had by all who enjoy the game.

Full disclosure: I played the first installment of Halo with great joy. That was probably the best video game I had played at that point in my life. I eagerly purchased and played Halo2, but then sold it before I had finished the single-player storyline. The second game sucked and had no new original features for the single-player version. What's worse, vicious storyline cuts by Microsoft fundamentally changed the game's scope and understanding of itself. Halo had sold out.

With all that said, the games sure are purty. The artistry displayed by Bungie Software Studios, the creators of Halo, are the best in the video game business. The people know how to create a visually immersive environment, and whatever the perceived story flaws, the artwork holds its own against any game on the market, past or present.

The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World highlights the process and precision of creating such art in a way not common to the artistry world. On the one hand, many who work in art do not consider interactive entertainments like gaming to be of the same caliber. Alternately, many graphic artists who work in the video game world do not want to be associated with 'real' artists, preferring the commercial world and the freedom to create new environments per game.

So a book about making this sort of art is not a usual fare, but it has the potential to fill a much-needed gap that can shed light on the process of making great art for games. The Art of Halo has no intentions of doing such thing in lieu of plastering its 161 pages with literally explosive graphics and color. The writer of the book, Eric S. Trautmann, didn't have much of a job on his hands as he never gets past adding cut lines for the presented art.

The text that is presented is geared toward those people who already know something about creating art for games. For example, Trautmann explains the attention to detail in the game, as well as the efforts taken to create a skull, which would become the object of possession in one of the game's many multi-player modes. "It turned out [Robt McLees, a game designer had] finished UV mapping the skull, and it needed to be textured." Oh. Is that all? Technobabble continues throughout the pages of the book, though I am not sure the details add to much of a story about artistic creation.

As far as the art is concerned, it is stellar. Readers can see multiple phases of each of the game character's artwork from the two-dimensional drawing phase, straight to three-dimensional game phase. The Art of Halo is full of sketches, concept art, and original hand drawn maps for various game levels. Each character, environment, weapon, vehicle, and enemy is shown in a variety of circumstances, so the reader can get an idea of the visual breadth and depth of the game.

Of interest, the book does highlight the exhaustive community process that is involved in the creation of modern video games. Multiple artists worked over a multi-year period to create a world that has an internal consistency. The staggering amount of work to keep that consistency is vividly displayed in the pages of this book.

The Art of Halo is definite eye candy for the game fan and perhaps a good visual reference for the artist. Most of us, however, can make do by picking up the book in the bookstore, browse the pages, shrug our shoulders, and put it back. Without content, the book isn't worth the asking price.

Copyright © 2005 Chris Przybyszewski

Chris learned to read from books of fantasy and science fiction, in that order. And any time he can find a graphic novel that inspires, that's good too.

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