One of Halo’s key writers and current head of creative at 343 Industries has said he thought series protagonist Master Chief was originally rather bland.
The faceless space marine is one of the most recognizable mascots in gaming, and recently starred in last year’s Halo Infinite on Xbox Series X|S. But Joseph Staten, who served as writer and director of cinematics on Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, and was one of the defining voices behind Master Chief, wasn’t always keen on the character.
“At the end of Halo [Combat Evolved], I felt like Master Chief had limitations,” said Staten, speaking to the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (opens in new tab). “If we wanted to tell a deeper story, to expand our world, Master Chief was the least interesting character in the Halo universe.
“Through a combination of technology and the choices we'd made about keeping his face masked, I was pulling my hair out and saying, ‘What can we do with this character?’".
Enter the Arbiter
Staten says his frustrations with Master Chief’s blandness eventually provided the springboard into Halo 2. The sequel shifts focus from the power-armored super soldier to the Arbiter – a shamed military commander of the Covenant who must atone for failing to stop the events of the first game. He features heavily in Halo 2’s plot and is even introduced as a playable character in its single-player campaign.
“That was the more interesting character,” Staten said. “You've got this hero who cut a bloody swathe through the Covenant. Who's the most interesting character? The one who the Covenant blamed for that disaster. That's where the Arbiter came into being.
“The reason why I was upset with the Master Chief and thought he was the least interesting character in the Halo universe is we'd never put up something in opposition to him that ever felt like a real dramatic blocker; a character that could be an equal partner in this dramatic conflict relationship.
“With the creation of the Arbiter, I began to feel ‘This is clicking now. There's real dramatic opposition here. There's a different point of view, and a villain has his reasons for acting the way that he did.' So everything just started working.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Staten describes how Halo Infinite's open world underwent "significant scaling back" ahead of its launch. Regardless of its final size, you'll soon be able to explore it with a buddy as Halo Infinite co-op is on the horizon.