Nine years of Master Chief and Halo (photos)

With Bungie's Halo: Reach launching at midnight and expected to be a huge success, CNET takes a look back at the smash hit series.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
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Halo: Reach

If you're reading this, that means that Halo: Reach, the fifth iteration in Bungie's multibillion-dollar video game franchise is finally for sale. Around the country, thousands of people have lined up to be among the first to buy a copy, and you can bet that there will be no small number of people calling in "sick" to work or school on Tuesday after having spent the night in front of their Xboxes.

Though there's no way to know if Halo: Reach will break any sales records, it's a sure bet to be one of the biggest sellers of 2010 and will give Microsoft yet another exclusive title to tout when it promotes the Xbox 360--none of the Halo games is available on Sony's PlayStation or Nintendo's Wii consoles.

But Halo: Reach didn't come out of nowhere. Bungie released the original Halo in 2001 for Microsoft's original Xbox, and the hits haven't stopped coming: first Halo 2, then Halo 3, then Halo Wars (developed not by Bungie, but by Ensemble Studios), Halo 3: ODST and now, finally, Halo: Reach.

To commemorate the game's release, CNET has put together this gallery of screenshots, artists' renderings, concept art, and magazine covers spanning the nine years and six games in the series.

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A screenshot from Bungie's original Halo: Combat Evolved, which was released on November 15, 2001, for Microsoft's first Xbox. The game became one of that console's biggest selling points and helped it hold its own against Sony's PlayStation 2.
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Halo: Combat Evolved

In the original Halo manual, players were introduced to the story line that would go on to support millions of sales and billions of dollars of revenue: "The year is 2552. Planet Earth still exists. But overpopulation has forced many of her former residents to colonize other worlds."
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Xbox magazine cover

The Halo-themed cover of Xbox magazine, from 2001.
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Halo manual

The opening pages of the original Halo: Combat Evolved manual.
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More Halo manual

With the Xbox 360 now nearly five years old, these pages from the Halo: Combat Evolved manual, giving tips on how to operate the joystick of the original Xbox seems quaint. But the franchise became a monster hit and helped make the Xbox platform a legitimate peer of Sony's PlayStation 2, and later PS3.
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Halo concept art

Concept art for the original Halo: Combat Evolved.
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More concept art

Artist Shi Kai Wang created this concept Halo art for Bungie in 1999, two years before the game first launched.
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A color rendering of Halo: Combat Evolved imagery.
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Halo 2

Three years after the original Halo was released, Bungie put out Halo 2 on November 9, 2004. Three years later, the game was released for Windows Vista. Halo 2 built on the success of the original game and added new layers of complexity and countless new players.
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Halo 2 screenshot

In Halo 2, released in 2004, the "plot sees Master Chief and Cortana returning to Earth in an attempt to stop the onslaught of the Covenant, a terrifyingly aggressive alien civilization, bent on the conquest and destruction of any species that dares defy them. Master Chief will be called on to save the greatest prize in the Human colonies--Earth itself."
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Master Chief rendering

A rendering of a Halo 2 image of Master Chief.
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Edge cover

The art for a Halo 2-themed cover of Edge magazine.
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Halo 2 concept art

Concept art for Halo 2.
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Halo 2 storyboard

A storyboard shows some of the original work on Halo 2.
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Halo 3

When it was released in the fall of 2007, Halo 3 scored what was then the biggest day in entertainment history, at least as measured by revenue. According to Microsoft, the game brought in $170 million that first day, and went on to be one of the biggest sellers in history.
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Pulse pounding climax

When it was released in the fall of 2007, Halo 3 centered on a story line in which "Master Chief returns to finish the fight, bringing the epic conflict between the Covenant, the Flood, and the entire human race to a dramatic, pulse-pounding climax."
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Halo Wars

Halo Wars, which was released in February 2009, was the first title in the franchise's history not to be developed by Bungie. The game, which came out in between Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, was "set early in the iconic war between the Covenant and UNSC...Halo Wars provides a new angle on the war while bringing new heroes to the battle.

"In Halo Wars fans will be able to control armies of units that are familiar to them from the [first person shooter] games, such as UNSC Marines, Scorpion Tanks, and the iconic Warthog."

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Originally, Bungie and Microsoft had led fans to believe that Halo 3 would be the franchise's final chapter. But with fans' thirst for the game still strong, as evidenced by substantial sales of Halo Wars, and unable to let go of what was clearly a major money maker, and a driving force behind sales of the Xbox 360, Bungie and its onetime corporate parent Microsoft--Bungie split from Microsoft shortly after Halo 3 was released--couldn't resist continuing the franchise and teamed up once again. In the fall of 2009, Bungie took control of the Halo franchise again and released the franchise's fifth iteration, Halo 3: ODST.
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Halo 3: ODST

This was the story line for Halo 3: ODST: "The year is 2552. The Covenant control the city of New Mombasa. They are searching for something beneath its darkened streets. You are an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. Your orders: Stay alive, meet up with your scattered squad, and escape the embattled city. Stop the Covenant and we just might win this war."
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Johnson rendering

A Halo 3: ODST rendering showing Sgt. Johnson.
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ODST concept art

Concept art from 2009's Halo 3: ODST, the fifth release in the hit franchise's history.
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Reach screenshot

For months, Halo fans have been teased and tempted with potential access to the Halo: Reach beta as well as with other tidbits. The game finally launched at midnight eastern time on Tuesday.
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Skirmisher concept art

Concept art showing Skirmisher, from Halo: Reach.
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Scorpion rendering

Millions of fans have been eagerly awaiting Halo: Reach, the franchise's fifth iteration. The game's official site promotes the game this way: "Armed with a decade of experience crafting Halo games, Bungie is raising the campaign and multiplayer bar to unparalleled heights, plunging players into the cataclysmic finale of their definitive Halo title. Warfare on Reach is waged on an epic scale, the Covenant war machine is at the height of its power, and humanity's ultimate survival hangs in the balance."
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Falcon concept

Concept art showing Falcon from Halo: Reach, which hit stores at midnight eastern time on Tuesday morning.

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