"Halo," the mega-selling video game, is inspiring a new YouTube live-action series.
Microsoft and 343 Industries will premiere the new digital mini-series, "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn" Monday from "Smallville" writers Todd Helbing and Aaron Helbing. The show will be directed by Stewart Hendler ("Sorority Row") and will be available on Machinima Prime, a YouTube channel run by digital video company Machinima.
"Halo 4" arrives with a much bigger budget ($10 million, according to Bloomberg) and pedigree (a videogame franchise that has grossed billions) than most internet offerings.
"Online budgets over the last six years have increased exponentially as the ability to reach a greater and greater audience has increased," Aaron DeBevoise, executive vice president of network programming at Machinima, told TheWrap. "I think you'll see a trend of more content like this that looks as good as any television show, because there is an opportunity to reach an audience that is global and engaged."
For non-gamers, "Halo" is set in a futuristic world beset by interstellar war between humans and a group of aliens known as the Covenant. There's an awful lot of shooting with snazzy weaponry involved.
Producers have been trying to make a "Halo" movie for years; "District 9," the 2009 sci-fi hit evolved out of a failed attempt by producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp to spin a film out of the game. But the latest effort really kicked off in August 2011, when Microsoft reached out to producer Lydia Antonini and others to come up with some sort of video promotion that could premiere between the releases of the third and fourth segments of the "Halo" video game.
That gave them roughly a calendar year to pull the series together, time constraints that limited their distribution options.
"I don't think within this particular window, we could have gotten television even if we had wanted to," Antonini said. "But this was a good option for taking this content to fans where they live and where they are already talking about 'Halo.'"
Also read: Microsoft Unleashes Halo 4 Teaser Trailer
The show follows a group of cadets are training to do battle in outer space. The story will unfurl over five, 15-minute episodes culminating in the launch of the videogame "Halo 4" on Nov. 6.
Special editions of the game will include a code that consumers can use to access the full movie. Microsoft will release a DVD version in December.
Though Halo and its alien bad guys are the real star, the show's cast includes Tom Green ("Dance Academy"), Daniel Cudmore ("X-Men: The Last Stand") and Mike Dopud ("Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol").
Though a tight timeframe may have partly motivated Microsoft to eschew a more orthodox distribution model, the team behind "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn" believes that the web launch also signifies a new paradigm shift.
"There are big opportunities in the disruption of the traditional television model," DeBevoise said. "There's a chance to reach a global audience of 800 million people in one distribution platform ... if you put this on Spike TV, that may work in this country, but then what do you do in France, in Germany, in Australia? This lets you launch all on a global basis in one shot."