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We Finally Know The Origins Of Master Chief

The soldier known as Master Chief has become the (helmeted) face of the entire Halo franchise. One could say that he's become one of the most iconic characters in gaming history. However, the character didn't immediately come out of the gate as we recognize him. 


IGN's Ryan McCaffrey recently interviewed Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto about the history of the franchise. During that chat, Lehto described the long process that led to the creation of Master Chief as we know him today. As the game that would eventually become Halo evolved into its present form, so did its lead character.

According to Lehto, the very first inklings of the character that would become Master Chief were there from a very early point. Lehto explains that one of his first projects at Bungie was a "strategy game that was skinned with a sci-fi theme." The main character was referred to as "the Super-Soldier."

In stark contrast to the imposing soldier that Master Chief would eventually become, this Super-Soldier character was anything but. This was mostly due to the software limitations and the style of game being explored at the time. Lento describes this early version of the character as "an armored character. The very first iteration of that thing, I think it was all of 400 polygons. It was this teeny little thing that would stand next to this tank and would run alongside the tank."


Eventually, this tank was developed into the Warthog, the trusty mode of transportation preferred by Master Chief and his cohorts. As this character and his tech went through various design iterations, so too did Lehto's conception of how the character would carry himself.

As Lehto puts it, "I was responsible for looking at what this universe really was: how it was functioning, what it was made of, how it was going to be built." These looks and functions evolved over time, which was a thrilling process for all involved.

When the Warthog prototype was added to the game, the team realized it needed to further flesh out the design of their soldier character. After all, it wouldn't look quite right when the game shifted to third person for the driving segments if the player character was still represented by a blocky little guy.

This is when, according to Lehto, the character began to take more of the shape we know and love. Though it retained the "Super-Soldier" name, the design began to incorporate more of a detailed armored look. 

At one point, a version of the Chief was designed that had a much more "anime-inspired" look. According to Lehto, this conception of Master Chief was "much more slender and agile-looking, at that time. That's the character that we showcased in the Macworld demo."


All of this was well and good for demo purposes. However, when it came time to develop the story for Halo, that's when the team — and Lehto in particular —began to realize that Master Chief was a very specific type of man. They decided that the design for Master Chief needed to visually represent the symbol of strength the Chief had become to his soldiers. 

"As we started writing the character ... and as we started writing who the Master Chief is ... this empty vessel that the character would really take the reins with ... [we realized] that the slender character wasn't the right kind of feel for the Master Chief," explained Lehto. "He needed to look like a tank that could take on an entire army. That's when I had gone back to some of my original designs for it."

Those original designs finally took shape as the one and only Master Chief. Of course, Halo was a massive success and the rest is history. The full interview with Lehto is a fascinating look into the creative process behind one of the most recognizable figures in video games. It's incredible to think that we almost missed out on a crucial aspect of Halo's enduring appeal. 

Lehto and company obviously got something right. There's a brand new Halo game coming this holiday season, Halo Infinite. That game is poised to return the series to its roots with a bit of a soft reboot. According to the head of 343 Industries Chris Lee, the game will drop players "in the middle a universe at war, with a sense of history underlying your entry into the world. But it will also feel fresh, full of potential, and new adventure."


Naturally, Master Chief will be the one leading the charge into this new adventure.