Master Chief Petty Officer John 117 – your time has cometh once more.
With only a month to go before millions of gamers the world over finally get their hands on the Xbox 360′s first post-Bungie Halo title, the Halo universe and it’s iconic olive drab armour clad Covenant crushing protagonist Master Chief, continues to represent one of contemporary gaming’s most celebrated and illustrious properties. In 2012, entertainment experiences, never-mind just games, don’t come much bigger than Halo 4.
A man of very few words for the most part, Master Chief lets his battle rifle do all the talking, and despite never veering out from behind the golden visor that defines his profile, his intent, his tenacity and his persistence to absolve the universe of the seeming omnipresent threat posed by the apathetic Covenant and Halo 4’s bestial Prometheans, is never undermined or questionable.
TGL caught up with veteran voice performer and altogether brilliant guy Steve Downes, the voice of Master Chief, to talk about all things Halo and Halo 4. Steve tells us about his early career, how he landed the role as brand Xbox’s most iconic super-soldier and how Halo 4 represents his best work on the greater Halo franchise to date.
Here we go….
Steve Downes: My interest came from a love of music. I was in rock and roll bands from the time I was 13, through high school & college. While in college, I tried out for a gig at the college radio station. It was a great way to stay closer to the music, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
TGL: Can you tell us about your early days of Rockline Radio, and a little about your experience working on Rockline throughout the years?
SD: I joined Rockline in 1994. They were probably the most exciting years for me on radio. Hosting a live call in show that broadcast coast to coast and interviewing the biggest names in rock and roll was just amazing. I interviewed everyone from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley to Axel Rose and Slash from Guns n’ Roses. The reunions of Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, and of course The Eagles in 1995 were also significant. The band had a long close relationship with Rockline over the years, and we were honoured when they chose Rockline for their first reunion interview. I considered those 90 minutes some of the most memorable of my radio career.
TGL: Your debut role in the games industry was voicing “Gunnar” in Septerra Core. How did the transition from quite an impromptu environment (radio) to a more scripted one (video games) feel at the time?
SD: My voice over work has consisted primarily of commercial and narration work. Gunnar was a pretty minor role and I didn’t think too much of it at the time, although I enjoyed the sessions because it was my first opportunity to do some character acting, and I think it prepared me for what was coming with Halo.
TGL: Of course, this led to you contributing your talent to the role of Master Chief. Since his debut in Combat Evolved, Master Chief remains one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Did you ever think the game would reach such acclaim? Could you tell us a little about the early days of recording for Halo, and what kind of character direction Bungie gave you at the beginning?
SD: I had no idea Halo and Master Chief would become what it has become. I don’t think Bungie did either. Marty O’Donnell, who wrote the music score and cast most of the voice talent for Halo, was the one who brought me in to read for the role. His direction was simply that the Chief was to be the strong silent type - a man of few words. Think Clint Eastwood’s performance in “Fist Full of Dollars.”
TGL: How do you prepare when going into the recording booth? Is there a particular routine you follow that helps you get into character?
SD: I have an old pair of cowboy boots that I wore when I did the first session for Halo CE. I’ve worn them for every session I’ve done as Master Chief ever since. Its a part good luck charm, and it helps to get me into character.
TGL: How would you view the relationship between The Chief and Cortana? Some fans claim Cortana loves John, whereas some would suggest she portrays a more “motherly” figure in his world – watching over him, guiding him…
SD: I think their relationship is a complex one. Cortana is a nurturing figure to John – a protector of sorts. But there’s also a sibling playfulness between the two. And yes, I think there is also a loving relationship there. It’s what makes their interaction so interesting. What’s most interesting to me is that Cortana, an AI, is the most human of all the characters in Halo and it is Cortana who brings out John’s humanity. You will really see this play out in Halo 4.
SD: I can’t speak of the ‘shooter’ side of the game because that is not my expertise (Read- I’m not any good at it!). To me, what sets Halo apart from all other videogames is the care & detail the creators put in to it – from the visuals, to the audio, the technical aspects, and most importantly (to me), the story and the greater Halo universe.
TGL: Is there a particular video game franchise you’d like to work on, but never had the opportunity to?
SD: Where do you go after Halo?
TGL: The Halo franchise, with you at the helm, has spanned over a decade worth of games now. Do you have any particularly fond memories from working on the Halo franchise that you’d like to share with us?
SD: Career wise, it’s the thrill of a lifetime. I feel like I’m living a boyhood fantasy come true. The moments that stand out are:
- The first time I realized how big Halo had become. I was at a friend’s house in Florida. When I told his kids I was the voice of Master Chief, I will never forget the looks on their faces. You would have thought it was the second coming!
- I also recall the first time I had to do the “Death Scream” sessions for Halo CE. I blew my voice out for 3 days!
- The first time I went to an Anime/Gaming convention was a bit of a mind blower.
- But in all honesty, some of my favorite Halo memories are being made now. Working on Halo 4 has been the absolute best.
TGL: Halo 4 launches this November with 343 Industries behind the development. What has this “passing of the torch” from Bungie to 343 felt like behind the scenes? How do you think Halo 4 is coming along?
SD: I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. The words “jaw dropping” come to mind.
TGL: What’s your greatest inspiration at this time in your life?
TGL: What’s next for you Steve?
SD: I hope to continue my association with 343 and the Halo franchise. I’m looking forward to doing some traveling in the coming year to help promote the new Halo trilogy and to meet as many fans as possible - maybe even to your neck of the woods! I love Ireland. I still enjoy playing rock and roll on “The DRIVE” in Chicago, the greatest city in the world! I love doing voice over, and would like to become more involved, perhaps in narration and documentary voice over. I think I will be doing more work in that area with a Canadian producer that I have done a number of shows with under the banner, “The Blue Realm”.
TGL: Steve, how would you like The Master Chief to be remembered?
SD: As a man – a man who never left a fight unfinished. A man who’s loyalty was unquestioned and whose most powerful weapon was his heart.
TGL: Finally, do you have a message for your fans?
SD: Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. It was the fans that kept Jen Taylor & I coming back as the voices of Cortana & Master Chief. It has, and continues to be, an honour to serve you.
Halo 4 is available on Xbox 360 from November 6th 2012