Why Halo's Master Chief Is So Damn Empty

Illustration for article titled Why Halos Master Chief Is So Damn Empty

Gaming has characters with memorable personalities. But Master Chief, the protagonist of the Halo series, is a total void. And there's a reason for that.

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According to the studio's lead writer Joseph Staten, "We left-out details to increase immersion; the less players knew about the Chief, we believed, the more they would feel like the Chief."

This doesn't mean the character is boring, because that would imply he has his own personality. Rather, his personality is dependent on the player's, as Master Chief follows the events as they unfold in the game.

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The Chief is one in a long line of silent gaming protagonists who are designed to make players feel like the character — and like a badass. "Immersion was the main goal here," adds Staten. "Also keeping the Chief a man of few words reinforced what we wanted to be a tough-as-nails soldierly persona."

Since Master Chief is not fleshed out in the games (allowing players to do that!), this lack of explicit characterization caused roadblocks during the development of the proposed Halo flick. In fact, at one time during the since shuttered production, Master Chief was going to be relegated to a "supporting character".

"When it came to the Halo novels and other products of the expanded universe," says Staten, "immersion wasn't as important as deepening understanding." And in the game's what's most important is saving the universe singlehandedly.

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Be Yourself (or Not): Halo [Industry Gamers via VG247]

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DISCUSSION

The "silent protagonist" thing is, ironically, really hard to get right. The moment you start stepping out of bounds (the character talking or doing something really dumb), the illusion is broken, and you start to question why they didn't just give him/her a voice.

Most games solve this by having the people you talk to be talking TO you, and you don't really interact beyond giving them stuff and answering questions. The Zelda games have solved this decently.

Whenever you complicate the silent-protagonist role, you might as well just take it away and have'em talk properly. I remember the way one of the antagonists in Golden Sun 1, who had plenty of lines and motivation in that game, got turned into a silent protagonist in 2. So in 2, a direct sequel right down to the "to be continued" text at the end of the first game, the guy who spoke and argued a whole bunch in the first game is suddenly the "you" character. It gets weird, especially when the quiet "you" character in the first game suddenly speaks when you encounter him later in the game. I like both GBA Golden Sun games, but that's one area where the game would've been improved if both main characters spoke.

It's worth looking at MMOs for this kind of thing, too. Having gone into DCUO lately, I'm noticing how the game's handling the silent-protagonist role pretty well. It also demonstrates the curse of the silent protagonist: It's really hard to be a silent protagonist and also actually make a difference beyond being a muscle and catalyst for the story. Without being able to talk, more often than not you're heading into that dungeon and killing that boss because someone told you to do it, not because you deduced that THAT particular point is where that doohickey you need to save the world is.