Like it or loathe it, Halo is huge. Not as big regarding game sales as other popular first person shooters but the franchise, with all its toys, books, games, clothing and sponsorship deals is something many publishers would love to have (and exploit). Though, really, Halo wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for the lone soldier, risking his life for the fate of humanity, Master Chief and the creation of said gaming superstar began right at the conception of Halo, back when it was still a real time strategy game. In an interview with IndustryGamers, Joseph Staten from Bungie reveals how they made one of the most recognisable faces – or helmets – in recent years. Staten spoke of the importance of making a lead character because of its ability to ground players in the game’s world. For a number of years, Master Chief had no name but was always thought of as a soldier whose development was a result of his functionality within Halo, especially when the team decided to practically re-make the game as a first person shooter.
The importance of immersion is particularly apparent from Staten’s answers. It’s clear that Bungie really wanted players to make a connection with the Chief and hold onto that long after the game is finished. Unless you’re a die-hard fan and have read some of the many books and comics, it would be fair to say that not a great deal is known about Master Chief. Staten and the rest of Bungie believed keeping fans in the dark about his back story allows for an even greater level of immersion. This obviously worked and did so very well. The majority of games are all about allowing the player to become the protagonist so if you don’t know much about him or her, it’s easier to apply your own personal attributes to them. Eventually Master Chief had a real name, not just a rank (for lack of a better term), he is John. For the most part, John says relatively little even when chatting to Cortana, a character who became a source or his few comedic interactions. Bungie could have gone down the route of not having a voice actor but instead allowed the Chief to be heard, just on rare occasions. Which is cool, I can suspend disbelief and be a husky-voiced John for a few hours.
The site asked Staten why exactly they went through so much effort in making what is essentially a hand and a gun into a character with such depth – even if that depth is provided by the player themselves. He answered: “Why not? At Bungie, we make the games—and by extension, the game characters—we want to play. We think our fans are a lot like us: they want their time in games to have value, to be a personal experience that means something when they’re through. These shared expectations demanded a protagonist that was more than a bipedal platform for powerful weapons.”
Other successful, slightly ambiguous heroes like Gordon Freeman and Link also come from ground breaking games and do a lot of the same ‘tricks’ that are applied to Master Chief in order to get the player more involved. But their developers have chosen to keep them silent with the reaction of others being their voice. It’s weird, with all the customisation in games nowadays, keeping the character simple in form can provide the more involving and deeper experience. How does the old saying go? Silence speaks louder than words?
Check out the full interview, it’s really interesting stuff.