December 1, 2012

Designing The Chief

The story behind the design of Master Chief, the iconic figure, is a story that hasn’t yet been told, or at least told in its entirety.

Around this time last I bought a Halo Series artbook for tenth anniversary of the franchise. If you are a frequent reader of my posts then you know the first chapter I turned to. Of course, I went in to see the character design evolution of the series’ long standing main character but the surprising factor not the changes but the story behind them.

Allow me to elaborate.

For the first Halo and creation of Master Chief, the staff wanted a lone warrior that incorporated themes of a war tank.  They put artists Robt Meleos, Marcus Lehto and Shi kai wang together to work with this idea. Looking from the concept art pages, the artists seem to have three different interpretations of their objective. Some of them looked like a green Mr. Freeze and some resembled colossal anime robots. Furthermore, the chief just never really hit the nail on the head, he just didn’t fit right. It wasn’t until the artists finally hit the story room with the writers to get a better understanding of the role and presence of the character that they started to unify ideas to get right look. The artists focused on the tech in the suit rather than big hunk of green metal. They finally got an overall body and armor for the chief.

With the body finally decided the guys ran into yet another issue, Master Chief’s head. Now, early on in production it was decided that Master Chief would wear a helmet for both story integrity and character animation budgets. It was laid in the designers hands to come up with the perfect helmet. The guys took inspiration from BMX style helmets which lead into the split into the visor as seen in the first game of the franchise. It was a good choice drawing inspiration from the BMX helmets since they do represent speed and agility, an integral part of not only being a soldier in any military but especially being space traveling super soldier.

Of course not everything the writers and artists dreamt up would become a reality. On a shoe string budget, the integration of things like jetpacks and extra guns would exceed the budget and tech limits at the time. So, the first thing to be scaled back was of course, the suit. All of these crazy gadgets and gismos took its toll on the team. The team had to rationalize to emphasize the tech of the suit instead of the gadgets on it to still pull off a believable look to the character.

The first Halo released in the Holiday season of 2001 to raving reviews and the game became an instant classic.

After having made a hit game it was just good business to make another hit game. So, when in the production of Halo 2 came around the team was faced with the opposite problem. Now that the team has money to do whatever they willed, the problem here was what to add and additions would not be believable for the corresponding story. They also needed a way to introduce this character redesign to the story. Cleverly, the writers worked the redesign into the story by changing Master Chief’s armor at the beginning of Halo 2 as an extra boost just before he goes into battle. Called MJOVIR Mark VI, the suit kept the chief’s iconic look, just toned down a bit. The helmet got a little revision as well.

The revision worked so well that the same suit made a return in Halo 3. Due to the processing power and graphics card of the Xbox 360 fans were able to see the details in HD quality.

The story behind Master Chief’s armor may not be a fairy tale but the amount of work put into one simple piece of an entire gaming series makes you realize why gamers keep coming back. Yes, the game is fun and the multiplayer will never end but the level of craftsmanship plus the time taken to develop minute pieces with care is why the people keep flocking back to the series. They come for an experience that will never be matched.

Image Credit: 343 Industries

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