The hero of the Halo video game franchise, Master Chief, made his debut in 2001 in the game “Halo: Combat Evolved” for the original Xbox game console.
In the time since, he has become Microsoft’s version of Mario, though just a bit grittier. The Chief, in his iconic green armor, and his fellow superhuman Spartans are more juggernauts than soldiers.
Weighing a half-ton, and able to absorb anything short of a tank shell, the armor includes technological enhancements that improve everything from vision to reflexes, turning Spartans into the ultimate weapons. Here are some of the suit’s highlights.
For the last 20 years, Master Chief has induced fear in his enemies and heart palpitations from fans while sporting his green titanium alloy outerwear. The Mjolnir armor worn by the Chief and other superhuman Spartans makes them all-but-invincible to their foes. The boxy design is reminiscent of the U.S. Army’s M1A1 tank.
Visually striking and instantly memorable, the armor is equally practical. Corrinne Robinson and Kenneth Peters, two of the lore masters at “Halo” game-maker 343 Industries, provided insights into several key components comprising Master Chief’s rugged and iconic exterior.
The Mjolnir helmet contains an array of essential systems, from air filtration to communication uplinks. More interestingly, the life support systems include ways for Spartans to eat and drink, dispensing food and water. Fun fact about that water: Rather than pulling from a reservoir like a canteen or camelback, it instead repurposes and recycles the water excreted — you can imagine how — by the Spartan inside.
“They have a full spectrum waste recycling system,” Peters says. “I won’t say how it works.”
No one ever said the life of a Spartan was glamorous.
A big difference between the Chief’s armor and that of similarly clad Marvel hero Iron Man is that the Mjolnir suit is comprised of individual, interchangeable plates mounted onto a Spartan’s “techsuit,” the name for their padded underarmor. This is similar to how a medieval knight’s armor plating would be buckled to a garment under the suit.
The plating system not only helps distribute the armor’s weight, it also aids the Spartans’ ability to move nimbly. The logistical down side? The armor has visible weak points that are more vulnerable, though the techsuit still helps protect Spartans from bullets and other forms of damage.
“It’s a non-rigid, ballistic armor,” Peters says. “But it also has thermal, superconducting elements so that when a plasma bolt hits it, it’ll spread the heat out very quickly around the suit. So it’s its own level of protection, but it just doesn’t have the same level of protection as the the hard armor plates.”
In addition to the plating, Spartan armor is protected by an energy shield powered by a fusion reactor built into the suit. Rather than projecting a kind of bubble around Master Chief, the shields are form-fitting, so to speak, contoured to the entirety of armor’s silhouette. And unlike a Star Wars spaceship with fore or aft shields, the protective energy is drained equally as it absorbs damage. Thus, a plasma blast to chest that reduces the shields’ effectiveness by half will leave the shields covering the Spartan’s back — or arms, or toes — at 50 percent as they automatically stabilize.
Also interesting: Like shields in “Dune," slow-moving objects can pass through them. So, in theory, you could slap a Spartan without the shields stopping you. Of course, that may end poorly.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Robinson says.
Introduced to the Halo universe with “Halo Inifinite," the grappleshot can fire a high-tension wire that attaches to surfaces, allowing Spartans to vault to new vantage points at high speeds or retrieve objects (or snare enemies) from a distance.
According to the lore, it was the result of a civilian-led initiative called “Project Magnes” — named after the mythological shepherd said to have discovered magnetism — and uses magnetic pulses to fire the grappling hook. The cable is similar to the high-tensile fiber used in Halo’s orbital elevators, which are capable of lifting people from a planet’s surface into outer space.
Like the pauldrons, the chest plates are fastened to a Spartan’s underarmor and can be easily switched out after battles if they’re damaged. Spartans also sport their ID numbers (like the Chief’s 117) on their breastplate to help with identification. In the TV show, the logo for the Spartans’ unit appears on the opposite plate.
One of the armor’s most distinctive features is its integration of AI — for example, Master Chief’s computerized partner Cortana. A port in the back of the helmet allows Spartans to insert the AI via a datachip interacting via a neural interface.
The port also allows for the Spartan and the suit’s AI to work as one. The AI can detect threats and alert the supersoldier to react accordingly, enhancing the Spartan’s reflexes via the armor. This — combined with the armor’s force multiplication that further amplifies a Spartan’s strength — is why regular marines can never don Master Chief’s duds. Without the genetic modifications performed on the Spartans to strengthen their bones and muscles, the armor would quite literally shatter a normal person.
“You would break all your bones,” Peters says. “The force multiplication would stretch and break and tear the muscles off your bones.”
Guess we mortals will have to settle for admiring the Master Chief’s armor from the outside.