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The Untold Truth Of Halo's Master Chief

Every good franchise needs a mascot — a character that acts as its face and distinct personality. Pokemon has Pikachu, Street Fighter has Ryu, and Halo has Master Chief. The irony of Master Chief never showing his face on camera is not lost on many audiences, yet he is still one of the most recognizable characters in video game history. Master Chief is so famous, in fact, he is one of the few video game characters to grace the halls of Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas. Not even Mario or Luigi have received that honor.


And yet, for all of Master Chief's fame, most gamers still don't know much about him. Sure, you could read about his backstory in the countless Halo books and learn that he was kidnapped as a child and subjected to horrendous surgical procedures — and he was one of the lucky few who survived. But that's less of an untold truth about Master Chief and more of an in-universe dark secret regarding Halo's Spartan soldiers in general.

If you want to know how Master Chief became the icon he is today, keep reading.

Master Chief owes the Windy City his voice

With few exceptions, a recognizable face needs a voice. Since Master Chief became a household name when video games found their voice acting footing, his actor, Steve Downes, solidified himself as the voice behind the helmet. It's common knowledge Downes has few video game roles outside Master Chief, but do you know how he nailed the role? Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.


Downes — as well as the rest of the first Halo's cast — owe their roles to living in or near Chicago, Ill. When Bungie started developing Halo, the studio was based in Chicago. So Bungie filled out the game's voice cast with people from the area, including Tim Dadabo (Guilty Spark), Pete Stacker (Captain Keyes), and of course, Steve Downes.

Downes was a radio DJ in Chicago, and Halo's music composer, Martin O'Donnell, listened to Downes' shows and came to appreciate his work. One day, out of the blue, O'Donnell asked Downes to play a minor video game role. Downes said, "Yes" and thus got his first video game voice role... in Septerra Core. That job started a friendship between Downes and O'Donnell, so when it came time to cast Master Chief, O'Donnell asked Downes to play yet another video game role, and Downes once again obliged.


Master Chief's name was never finalized

What's in a video game name? Only its fate and future. You get one chance to make a good first impression, so you have to spend lots of time perfecting the names of the game and all its characters. Everything and everyone in a game receives an initial name, which then needs to be scrutinized, discussed, changed, and scrutinized again until it is finalized. For all of its accomplishments, Halo initially had a bit of a struggle with names, Master Chief's included.


During an interview with the brains behind the Halo franchise — including Marcus Lehto, Joe Staten, Jaime Griesemer, and Marty O'Donnell — Griesemer recollected how Master Chief earned his name. At first, Fall of Reach's author Eric Nylund gave the character the name "John." Griesemer, Staten, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones, and artist Rob McClees wanted to expand on the name. It was a fine name, but they thought it wouldn't be fun to run around the game world continually being called "John." So they thought of other ways to address the character. McClees suggested giving him a naval rank, specifically the "highest non-commissioned officer rank that's considered expendable." That rank was Master Chief. According to Griesemer, nobody liked the name, but it just stuck.


The name "Master Chief" was essentially proposed as a placeholder. It not only stayed — it became iconic.