Master Chief Petty Officer John-117
The Master Chief as he appears in Halo 5: Guardians
Game series Halo series
First game Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
Voiced by Steve Downes

Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, commonly called the Master Chief, is the main protagonist of the Halo universe, created by Bungie Studios, and is a player character in the science fiction first-person shooter video games Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. Outside of video games, the Master Chief appears in the novels Halo: The Fall of Reach, Halo: The Flood, Halo: First Strike, and Halo: Uprising, and has cameos in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx and the Halo Graphic Novel. He is voiced by Chicago disc jockey Steve Downes in the video games in which he appears.

The Master Chief is one of the most visible symbols of the Halo series and the video game universe. Originally designed by Marcus Lehto, Rob McLees, and Shi Kai Wang, the character is a towering and faceless cybernetically enhanced supersoldier; he is never seen without his green-colored armor or helmet. Steve Downes built his personification of the Chief off a character description which called for a Clint Eastwood-type character of few words.

The Master Chief has been called an icon, a relative newcomer among more established franchise characters, such as Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Lara Croft.[1] While a widely known figure, the Master Chief has received mixed reception. Reviewers such as Kotaku have pointed to the Chief's silent and faceless nature as a weakness to the character, while other publications have stated that this attribute allows players to better assume the role of the Master Chief.

Character design

Masterchief sheik

Shi Kai Wang's sketch of Master Chief

The task of developing the Master Chief for the character's first appearance in Halo: Combat Evolved fell on Rob McLees and the project's Art Director, Marcus Lehto. Eventually, Shi Kai Wang was hired for conceptual art.[2] One of Wang's sketches was accepted and became the basis for the Master Chief; however, after Wang's version was converted to a 3-D model, it was decided the character looked too slender, "almost effeminate".[2] The Master Chief was subsequently bulked up to the version currently found in the games.[2] Similarly, the Chief's armor went through various changes, such as the addition of an antenna, which was removed later in development, and a green tint.[3]

In an interview on creating believable video game characters, Bungie's Joseph Staten noted that, "Master Chief is really what kicked off the creativity," he said, "in terms of how people react to him. He's a space Marine in really cool green armor."[4]

Steve Downes, who voices the Master Chief, is a disc jockey and voice actor who had never played video games before Halo.[5] Downes only previous experience with video game voice work was a small part for Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator. During production of Halo Martin O'Donnell, Bungie's music director, recommended Downes for the part of the Chief based on his experience working on Septerra.[6] Downes never interviewed for the part, describing his acceptance as "a phone call".[7] Downes has never appeared at Bungie or Microsoft events, and believes that the Master Chief is left masked because "[the character's identity] is really in the eye of the player".[5]



Steve Downes said that his voice acting was based entirely on Bungie's written character description provided, which specified a character similar to Clint Eastwood and of few words. In a podcast interview, the actor noted that, during the recording, he was given a fair amount of creative leeway to develop the Chief's personality.[5] In the games, the Master Chief never speaks during player-controlled gameplay, making him an almost silent protagonist. Even during cutscenes, the character generally speaks sparingly. Bungie Studios' Frank O'Connor has described the Chief as "so quiet and so invisible, literally, that the player gets to pretend they're the Chief. The player gets to inhabit those shoes [and] apply their own personality."[8] Bungie concept artist Eddie Smith described the Master Chief as "pretty much the consummate professional. He does his job, walks off, doesn't even get the girl, he's that cool he doesn't need her."[9] Although the Master Chief is usually depicted as calm, quiet, and wryly cynical, some reviewers stated that Eric Nylund's portrayal of the character in Halo: The Fall of Reach deviates significantly from the treatment found in the games and other media.[10][11] Alternatively, William C. Dietz's portrayal of the Chief in Halo: The Flood was occasionally blasted by fans as too radical a departure from Nylund's template.[12]

Entirely encased in heavy armor and standing seven feet tall, the Chief inspires awe and terror in friends and foes alike.[13] Despite his cold exterior, Master Chief cares about his fellow soldiers, especially the Spartan-IIs with whom he has trained.[13] At one point, the Master Chief risks injury in a massive explosion to save a fellow Spartan,[14] and withholds some combat information on the threat of the Flood, an alien parasite, after realizing that the full disclosure of the combat data would mean the death of Sergeant Avery Johnson.[14]

During his training, the Master Chief is taught by Chief Petty Officer Franklin Mendez to sacrifice lives only when necessary and to understand the difference between "wasting lives and spending lives."[15] While in the Chi Ceti system, one of the Master Chief's fellow Spartans and best friend, Samuel-034, suffers an irreparable breach in his armor.[15] Sam stays behind to detonate explosives, while the Master Chief and Kelly evacuate the ship. Although the Chief would have preferred to die with his friend, he tells himself that he needs to "live and fight another day".[15] In Halo: First Strike, Dr. Catherine Halsey tries to teach him to save every single life possible.[15]

Despite the Master Chief's excellent combat record, many in the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), the military unit to which he belongs, distrust him. Antonio Silva, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, exemplifies this attitude,[14] and considers the Master Chief the freak product of an experiment that should never be repeated. Although the Chief resents Silva's dishonor to his fallen comrades' memory, he is also loyal to the chain of command, and remains quiet.[13] Despite these explorations of the character's personality, O'Connor said in an interview that revealing the face of the Chief is not as important as revealing the events going on around the character.[8]

Outward appearance

In the video games, the Master Chief is never seen without his armor. In the final cutscene of Halo: Combat Evolved, the Chief removes his helmet, but camera movement hides his face. The first cutscene in Halo 2 similarly pans up the Chief's body to his head just as he puts on his helmet. Bungie did this to help the player bond with the Chief.[16] The only physical description of the Master Chief comes from the novels. During a briefing scene in Halo: The Flood, the Chief is described as tall with short hair, serious eyes, and strong features. His skin is "too white", a consequence of spending most of his time in his armor.[13] The Master Chief stands about seven feet (2.13 m) tall and weighs 1,000 pounds (450 kg) in armor;[17] without it, he stands six feet, seven inches (2 m) tall and weighs 287 pounds (130 kg).[15][18]


Halo: The Fall of Reach

See also: Halo: The Fall of Reach

The Master Chief's backstory is never explained in the games. A prequel of Halo: Combat Evolved, the 2001 novel The Fall of Reach, reveals much of the character's history and was released as a companion to the game. The Master Chief, originally named John, was born in 2511 and first lived with his family on the human colony planet Eridanus II. Large for his six years of age, and approximately a foot above his school peers, he is described as a typical boy with brown hair, freckles and a gap between his two front teeth.[15] In 2517, John and seventy-four other children his age are covertly taken from their homes and replaced with flash clones to hide the kidnapping. The original children are brought to planet Reach, one of the UNSC's headquarters, to begin intense physical and psychological training to become SPARTAN-II supersoldiers.[15] They are assigned new identification numbers instead of last names; John becomes known as John-117. Approximately eight years later, John and the other children are biologically and cybernetically augmented and enhanced. These procedures had substantial risks;[15] only John and thirty-two other Spartans survive.[15].

After the Spartans' first successful operation which involved capturing a rogue UNSC officer, John-117 is briefed on the threat posed by the Covenant, a theocratic alliance of alien races, and witnesses the utter devastation wrought by a single ship.[15] The Spartans are first sent to the Damascus Materials Testing Facility on the planet Chi Ceti 4 to retrieve the MJOLNIR Mark IV armor. In the process, they board a Covenant vessel and plant a bomb; John is forced to leave one of his fellow Spartans, his best friend, to die.[15]

In 2552, the Covenant invades the human world of Sigma Octanus and occupies one of its cities, Cote D'Azure.[15] Following a failed Marine assault, John-117 and three teams of Spartans are sent to destroy the Covenant force with a nuclear warhead. After detonating the weapon, the Spartans return to Reach, where the UNSC High Command has developed a last-ditch plan to capture a Covenant High Prophet, who they hope could be used in order to barter a truce.[15] The Master Chief's armor is upgraded, and he first encounters the artificial intelligence (AI) Cortana during a training mission.[15] A massive Covenant armada of 314 ships[19][20] arrives and begins to destroy the planet, despite the best efforts of the Spartans and other UNSC forces. Aboard the spaceship Pillar of Autumn, Cortana plots a random course of escape.[20] Seemingly the last Spartan alive, the Master Chief enters cryonic sleep along with the Pillar of Autumn's crew.

Halo: Combat Evolved

See also: Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo: The Flood

The Master Chief first appears in the games as the protagonist of Halo: Combat Evolved. In Halo: The Flood, the 2003 novelization of the video game, the Chief is likewise the main character. During the opening cinematic of Halo: Combat Evolved, the Chief is awakened from cryonic sleep. Upon exiting slipspace, the Pillar of Autumn is attacked by the Covenant and crash lands on Halo, a ring-shaped megastructure. Master Chief escapes the ship via escape pod. Upon landing on Halo, his first task is to find other survivors. While fighting the Covenant, the Master Chief and Cortana learn that Halo was created by an ancient race, the Forerunners, as a last line of defense against an alien parasite called the Flood.[21] The Covenant accidentally releases the Flood, which begins to spread across the ring.[22] At the request of the installation's resident AI 343 Guilty Spark, the Master Chief retrieves the Index, a device used to activate Halo's defenses and eliminate the Flood. However, Guilty Spark neglects to inform the Master Chief that Halo would accomplish this by destroying all sentient life in a vast radius, essentially starving the Flood to death.[21] Cortana intervenes to prevent the activation of Halo. She and the Master Chief destroy it[23] by detonating the Pillar of Autumn's fusion reactor core. The Master Chief and Cortana escape in a Longsword, believing they are the only survivors.[13][24]

Halo: First Strike

See also: Halo: First Strike

Halo: First Strike, the 2003 novel by Eric Nylund, follows the Master Chief after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and bridges the events of Halo and Halo 2. Floating in Halo's debris field, Cortana and the Chief discover that there are in fact other human survivors.[14] The Master Chief and these soldiers capture the Covenant flagship Ascendant Justice, and return to Reach to save any UNSC survivors on the planet. At Reach, the Master Chief discovers that the Covenant had not destroyed the planet's biosphere in the usual manner, and that a few other Spartans survive. The Chief retrieves Dr. Catherine Halsey, the creative genius behind the SPARTAN-II Project, and his fellow soldiers. The Spartans then attack a massive Covenant command station, the Unyielding Hierophant, thus delaying a Covenant assault on Earth.[14]

Halo 2

See also: Halo 2
Masterchief halo2 delta

The Master Chief lands on the surface of Delta Halo.

The Master Chief returns as one of two playable characters in Halo 2, the 2004 sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved. Returning to Earth with heavily damaged armor, the Master Chief receives an upgrade. Aboard Cairo Station in space, he attends a brief awards ceremony, which is interrupted by a Covenant invasion. Master Chief is commanded to protect the station.[25] The Covenant is repelled, and the Master Chief joins the ship In Amber Clad to fight the Covenant on Earth's surface, in New Mombasa. As the Covenant departs via slipspace, the In Amber Clad follows them to Installation 05, another Halo. The Master Chief lands on this Halo and subsequently assassinates the Covenant High Prophet of Regret. Emerging from a structure, the Master Chief is attacked by orbiting Covenant forces, but is rescued by the Gravemind, an intelligence of Flood origin. The Gravemind sends him to High Charity to search for Delta Halo's Index.[26] Subsequently, the Master Chief boards a Forerunner ship bound for Earth, intending to "finish the fight".

Halo: Uprising and Halo 3

See also: Halo: Uprising and Halo 3

The Master Chief appears as a main character in Marvel's limited series Halo: Uprising, in which he breaks into a Covenant-held Forerunner structure before being captured by the Covenant.[27] Like First Strike, the comic serves as a bridge between two video games, Halo 2 and Halo 3, in which Master Chief is again the main character.

Back on Earth, the Master Chief helps to repel hostile Covenant forces from Mombasa, Kenya and Voi. With the Arbiter (a Covenant Elite who has sided with humanity) and fellow allies, the Chief leads the assault on a Forerunner artifact that the Covenant Prophet of Truth is attempting to activate. Soon after Truth escapes Earth through the slipspace portal opened by the artifact, the Flood lands on Earth.[28] After helping to control the infestation, the Master Chief follows Truth to the Ark, an immense constructed world more than 262,144 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy and well beyond the range of any Halo.[29][30] There, all the Halos can be remotely activated, thus killing all sentient life that could be infested by the Flood.[21] It is discovered that a new Halo is being constructed to replace the one that the Master Chief destroyed in Halo: Combat Evolved. The Flood follow the Chief to the Ark, bringing High Charity through the slipspace portal to escape the range of the six original Halos. The allied Elites and humans decide to activate the new Halo in order to kill the Flood outside the galaxy, and thus preserve life there. 343 Guilty Spark opposes the premature activation of the incomplete installation and attempts to stop it. The Master Chief destroys him, activates the ring, and escapes with Cortana and the Arbiter on the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn. During the escape, the collapsing slipspace portal severs the Dawn in two, stranding Cortana and the Master Chief deep in space. While the Arbiter returns to Earth, Cortana activates a distress beacon, knowing that rescue could take years; the Master Chief enters cryonic sleep, telling Cortana, "Wake me when you need me."[31]

Appearances in other media

The Master Chief has appeared or has been referenced several times in non-canon media. Team Ninja approached Bungie Studios and asked to use the Master Chief in their 2006 video game Dead or Alive 4. Although the Chief could not be used due to storyline restrictions, Bungie's interest in the idea resulted in the development of Nicole (Spartan-458).[32]

The Master Chief is mentioned several times in Rooster Teeth Productions' Halo-based machinima parody series Red vs. Blue. In the first episode of the series, Grif, talking to teammate Simmons, says: "I signed up to fight some aliens. Next thing I know, Master Chief blows up the whole Covenant Armada, and I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere, fighting a bunch of blue guys."[33] In the Halo Zune exclusive video titled "Turn On, Tune In, Zune Out", Doc has a segment on his radio broadcast called "You're not Master Chief, and that's okay".[34][35]

The Master Chief is referenced as a hero by a then-retired soldier in the live-action short, "The Museum",[36] and appears in the subsequent video as part of a special advertisement series for Halo 3 entitled "Believe in a Hero".[37]

The character appears outside Halo fandom and associated works. Master Chief appears in a cameo as "Minstrel Chief" in Fable II as downloadable content;[38] the character is also featured in a MADtv segment.

Impact and reception

In an article in Time, Lev Grossman stated that the Master Chief represents a "new kind of celebrity for a new and profoundly weird millennium" and is a symbol of the increasing legitimacy of video games as an art form.[16] The Sydney Morning Herald simply described the Chief as "iconic".[39] Electronic Gaming Monthly noted that the Master Chief had become the de facto symbol for the Xbox and for a new generation of gamers to boot.[40] The recognition of the Master Chief has spread to mainstream culture; Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas has developed a wax sculpture of the Chief. At the ceremony, Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy said that the "Master Chief is as much of a hero today as characters like Spider-Man, Frodo, and Luke Skywalker were for previous generations."[41] Steve Downes only realized his character was such a huge hit after children lined up around the block for his autograph about a year after the game shipped.[7]

BusinessWeek listed the Master Chief among several video game characters who have been branded beyond their respective video games, "helping them transcend the very medium in the process".[1] The Master Chief has been used in marketing on a variety of products, from 7-Eleven Slurpees to T-shirts, Xbox 360 controllers, and Mountain Dew.[42][43] In Australia, around September 2007, Hoyts Cinemas popcorn buckets were branded with high-detail images of Halo 3 and the Master Chief along with a prize advertising offer. Several action figures of the character have been created to market of the Halo series; the most recent were manufactured by McFarlane.[44] These actions have been called necessary to the game franchise; Ed Ventura, director of Xbox's worldwide marketing, said, "We want to be in the hearts and minds of our fans as much as we can."[45]

Roger Travis, associate professor of classics at the University of Connecticut, compared the Master Chief to the epic hero Aeneas, in that both superhuman characters save a civilization by defeating strong enemies in a martial setting. The audience is intended to become immersed and to identify with the protagonist similarly in both stories.[46] Matthew Stover compared Halo to the Iliad, saying that both stories share the meta-theme that "war is the crucible of character". As military science fiction, Halo further raises the issue of being human.[47] Stover argued that, since players are to imagine themselves as the Master Chief, the character is correctly presented as a cyborg, neither a flawless machine nor fully human. Players would be unable to empathize with the former, and the latter would be too specifically developed.[47]

IGN saw in the Master Chief elements of Jon 6725416, a character in Christopher Rowley's novel Starhammer.[48] Reviewers have suggested that the name John-117 could be a Biblical reference.[10][48]

Reaction to the Master Chief as a character is generally mixed. Some reviewers see the character's silent nature as a strength;[10] others have said that this quality leaves him insufficiently developed and believable.[49][50] Neil Blomkamp, director of the stalled Halo film, said the movie would have depicted the character as "the most important supporting cast member" because of his faceless nature. Instead, "other characters around him [...] did most of the emotional heavy lifting", with their story exploring their perception of the Chief.[51]


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External links