Every developer will tell you that their game is supported by a deep and diverse game world with a compelling and rich game story - but none seem to have the same kind of reach as the Halo franchise.
Recently, US technology magazine Wired described the series as "more than just a game: it's a cultural touchstone, a Star Wars for the thumbstick generation." It's not wrong - using the story arc and universe laid out in the three Halo games, publisher Microsoft, developer Bungie and a host of partners have stepped up to extend the franchise in various ways.
So, where to begin? Let's start with the games themselves.
While last year's massively successful Halo 3 allowed players to once again guide central character Master Chief, it did so with a very final message - relying on the phrase 'finish the fight' as the Covenant war spread to Earth, and heavily hinting to the Chief's demise. But the Halo world is huge and intricately detailed, and while the Chief's trilogy might be over there's still plenty of room for Microsoft to expand the universe further – and indeed it is, with at least three Halo projects announced and more known to be in production.
The first of these is the upcoming Halo Wars, a new real time strategy game built specifically for the Xbox 360. Taking place before the first Halo game, it lets players control the vast human army as the Covenant war kicks off. Developed by Ensemble, the game has been put together in close collaboration with Bungie to make sure that, when the game arrives next year, it offers one of the most compelling prequel experiences seen in any medium - and a captivating strategy title to boot.
Another known project is Halo 3: Recon, a recently-announced expansion to Halo 3 that goes back in time to chronicle a previously untouched time segment in the series. But perhaps the most interesting – and certainly the most telling in terms of the multi-media expansion of the Halo brand – is the brand-new but still top secret trilogy of new 'game-like experiences' heading to Xbox Live and designed by movie director Peter Jackson. The Lord of the Rings film supremo has founded a new company, called Wingnut Interactive, and is taking up co-writer, co-designer and co-producer roles on this new project.
In fact, Jackson's involvement with Halo doesn't end there. He's also signed up as executive producer of the movie adaptation of the series. Although the project is currently on hold, the movie has scored writing input from authors Alex Garland and D. B. Weiss - attracting literary heavyweights like that in itself should prove how ingrained in pop culture Halo is. Even Pirates of the Caribbean writer Stuart Beattie loves the series enough to write a spec-script based on one of the Halo books, showing that this is a movie project that won't die quietly – and with movie giant Fox having already nabbed the merchandising rights, many in Hollywood are still hoping for a resuscitation in the near future.
Speaking of books, there currently exist five books chronicling Master Chief's backstory and filling in the narrative gaps between the timelines of the games. They're more than shelf-filling tie-ins, as well – Bungie considers them 'canon', which is to say very much a part of the Halo mythos, and new prequel books should provide a gripping accompaniment to the Halo Wars.
And, as if further proof were needed that Master Chief was an entertainment icon, the Halo world will be as revered and detailed as that inhabited by the likes of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man himself. A graphic novel about the Halo hero, written and illustrated by the cream of the comics world, emerged last year, as well - and comic powerhouse Marvel (yep, the firm responsible for Spider-Man) recently published a four-part series tying together the ending of Halo 2 and the beginning of Halo 3.
Clearly, the Halo franchise is more than a game series - and with toys, music soundtracks and other merchandise already out as well, it's clear that it's an entertainment brand with real long-term value.