Alternate reality games have fallen off as of late, but at the cusp of the social media revolution no vaguely popular science fiction ad campaign was complete without one. One of the most notable and impressive of these fourth wall-breaking gatherings remains I Love Bees.
The obscure game got its start appropriately enough. Hidden inside a secret message within a Halo 2 trailer, hawkeyed viewers were tipped off to visit the website. ILoveBees.com. There wasn't much to go on: mostly just information about the proper preservation of honey. Well, the site was plastered in demands to "seek the truth," but given the mid-2000s' doomed love affair with Banksy their legitimacy was anyone's guess.
That is until coordinates and timestamps from the site began directing readers to automated payphone calls. Rather than assume the government really was out to get them, however, avid Halo and ARG fans unraveled a 500-year plot of time travel, Forerunner technology, alien espionage, and teen romance. Precisely everything Halo is famous for.
The story itself bridges the gap between Halo: Combat Evolved, and the villainous Covenant's discovery of Earth before Halo 2. The scope of the thing was so compelling that one idiot player stuck around during 2004's Hurricane Frances to answer a payphone's siren call.
I Love Bees drew international attention. By the end of its three-month run three million curious viewers had visited the dotcom. Only about half of which were very confused beekeeping enthusiasts. At the same time, about 9000 players actively engaged in the glorified geo-caching. The air of mystery, the slowly developing plot, and the compelling affairs of the fictional characters worked together to drum up the massive interest. Years later, Bungie Content Manager Frank O'Connor even went so far as to confirm that the time-hopping tale was part of greater Halo canon. Not bad for a trumped up game trailer.
While The Fall of Reach offered some small insight into Halo's primary protagonist, Contact Harvest goes several steps further. This fifth novel set in the universe sets up the entire first three games in the series.
"Harvest" is a planet; the breadbasket of human civilization. It's also riddled in ancient alien artifacts like sesame seeds on an Everything Bagel. This "Forerunner" technology is sacred to the Covenant religion, which swarms down on the planet as if it were the last Everything Bagel in the galaxy.
The book is told from multiple perspectives -- human and alien alike. There's Halo 2 big bad Tartarus, the Prophets of Truth, Mercy, and Regret, and Master Chief's recurring buddy/noted cigar enthusiast Avery Johnson. From their points of view we see the start of Human-Covenant War and a whole lot of extraterrestrial realpolitik.
The book was one hell of a commercial hit, topping out The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today's bestseller lists. It even garnered some condescending mainstream media attention, that most elusive measure of success!
Most of the plotlines in Contact Harvest were resolved at the end of Bungie's Halo tenure. That is Halo 3, ODST, and Reach. Certain specifics, like details about the cultures of different Covenant races, continue to have an impact, however. So the next time you want to be thrown out of a window, try to dazzle your friends with the knowledge that the Kig-Yar were the first aliens to encounter human life.