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Meet the man behind Master Chief

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(Credit: Steve Downes)

There's a lot we still don't know about Halo's Master Chief, but it's safe to say very few of us thought he'd be a classic rock DJ.

Steve Downes has given the Halo hero his voice since the very beginning. When he's not busy battling the Covenant, blasting the Promethians, or chatting with Cortana, you can find him on WDRV ("The Drive") in Chicago.

The 62-year-old DJ grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and while the 6'10" Master Chief's face is permanently obscured behind his helmet's shield, it's a safe bet he looks little like Downes, who's relatively short, sandy haired and wears glasses.

Downes is, in some ways, the Clark Kent to Halo's Superman.

"For me, growing up, you had Superman, Batman, these mythic figures," he told the Chicago Tribute. "Now, when I'm out in the world and hear someone talk about 'Halo' or I spot Master Chief staring at me from a store window, I smile. For a different generation, he is that heroic figure. I would be lying if I didn't say I get the temptation to nudge a stranger and say, 'Hey. See that guy in the green helmet? Guess what?'"

Downes was one of several Chicago-area voice actors Bungie hired when they began casting the original Halo. He chose the voice based on the developer's description of the character: a Clint Eastwood-like super soldier (in space).

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Master Chief in Halo 4 (Credit: Microsoft)

He took the job, but didn't give it much thought afterward — until he was visiting a friend in Florida.

"I walked through the TV room in his house and his kids were playing Xbox. I asked what the game was and they said 'Halo,' so I said I voiced a character in that game, and they said, 'Yeah, like who?' I couldn't remember the name, so I said, 'Pretty much the main guy.' They said, 'What, like Master Chief?' And I said, 'Oh, right, that's the name.'

"They put down their controllers. Within 30 minutes there were literally a dozen kids at the door with their copy of 'Halo,' asking me to sign boxes. I had no idea anybody was playing it. Later we drove by a GameStop in West Palm Beach and, it was like, 'Oh, OK, now I see what the fuss is.'"

While Downes' voice is as much a part of Master Chief as the character's signature armor, Downes almost lost the job several years ago.

Bungie's audio guru Marty O'Donnell says after the success of the first game, the company considered using a "Tom Cruise-caliber name for the role, but eventually decided fans would see it as a sell-out."

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