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The original Halo isn't referred to as Halo 1. We oftentimes refer to the first game on the OG Xbox as Halo: Combat Evolved. But, why? Well, we finally received some details on how Halo managed to get the subtitle "Combat Evolved," and it has everything to do with the word "halo" itself. It seems like Microsoft was never really keen on it for a few reasons.
In an interview with Waypoint, various developers who helped work on Halo and turn it into the powerhouse brand that it is today, chimed in to talk about development, building the brand and working on the game. One of those interviewed, senior designer at Bungie Jaime Griesemer, explained that, originally, Microsoft was not high up on the title Halo, and it eventually had to coin a subtitle because they hated the name. Griesemer says...
They hated the name. They said that it doesn't mean anything, and to people it does mean something to, it's not on-brand, because what we're selling is the super soldier, not this weird space junk. In every foreign language it sounds stupid, it's feminine---they had so many reasons why the name should be changed.
Throughout the interview some of the others chimed in to reiterate Griesemer's position; former Bungie composer and audio engineer Marty O'Donnell explained that there were a lot of bad run-ins with the suits at Microsoft over nearly everything they were doing with Halo because they didn't quite understand where Bungie was coming from with the title.
O'Donnell does give props to Ed Fries, one of the former vice presidents of game publishing at Microsoft, during the time when the OG Xbox was taking off. He explained that Fries tried to get what they were doing at Bungie and wanted to help bring the whole thing to life.
O'Donnell mentions that one of their big roadblocks was dealing with the marketing team who came in and tried to convince them to change the name of Halo to something else. O'Donnell explains that the marketing team essentially pitched to them what sounds like a 1990's edgy teenager action game with heavy metal music and lots of quick-cuts. The description easily comes off as something that you might have found on MTV back when they didn't fill the network with reality TV.
However, they eventually managed a compromise. Griesemer explains that while Microsoft didn't like Halo they came up with a subtitle: Combat Evolved.
At some point they said, "Okay, we're going to do a subtitle." And this was before subtitles were the thing every game had. We thought that was dumb, but whatever, we could ignore it. Eventually they came back with Combat Evolved, and we thought that was the stupidest thing ever. It doesn't mean anything, it's not really informational, and it's not even good grammar.
That actually makes a lot of sense. I always thought the "Combat Evolved" seemed a little corporate since it was never something that Bungie talked about in relation to Halo when they talked about the game. For us gamers, it was just assumed that the subtitle was there to refer to the fact that the game was doing some things other FPS titles at the time weren't doing. But, otherwise, it had absolutely nothing to do with the story or gameplay.
Nevertheless, the Halo: Combat Evolved title worked out well in the long run since there are a bunch of other Halo games out there now and it gets tough distinguishing between which game you're talking about. But now, when people want to talk about the original on the OG Xbox, they add "Combat Evolved" in there. And now gamers know that Microsoft hated the original Halo name, and Bungie hated adding Combat Evolved. I guess in a way... everyone won?