is a fictional artificially intelligent
(AI) character in Bungie
's Halo video game series
. Voiced by Jen Taylor
, she appears in Halo: Combat Evolved
and its sequels, Halo 2
and Halo 3
, as well the novels Halo: The Flood
, Halo: The Fall of Reach
, Halo: First Strike
, and Halo: Ghosts of Onyx
. During gameplay, Cortana provides backstory and tactical information to the player, who assumes the role of the Master Chief
. In the story, she is instrumental in preventing the activation of the Halo
installations, which would have destroyed all sentient
life in the galaxy.
Cortana's original design was based on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti; the character's holographic representation always takes the form of a woman. Taylor, despite her extensive voice acting for video games, is not a gamer; she described portraying Cortana as challenging, due to the character's lack of a physical form.
Bungie first introduced Cortana—and Halo—through the Cortana Letters, cryptic emails sent during Combat Evolveds production in 1999. Since then, the character has been used extensively to advertise the series. Action figures of the character were sold in conjunction with the latter two games, and she appeared in other forms of marketing for Halo 3. Cortana has been recognized for her sex appeal, believability, and character depth; she was rated as one of the ten most disturbingly sexual game characters by Games.net and one of the fifty greatest female video game characters ever by Tom's Games.
In an interview, female Bungie artist Lorraine McLees stated that game designers are generally men, and "women in their games are perhaps portrayed in the way they themselves see women. Here, the same 3-D artist who wanted to not portray women as sex objects
[...] coincidentally, modeled Cortana." Cortana's original Halo model was based on the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti
Voice actor Jen Taylor said that she has remained somewhat distanced from the character, and has attended only one fan convention in six years after the release of Halo: Combat Evolved. Despite her role in voicing other video game characters, including Princess Peach, she is not a gamer. She felt that portraying Cortana was occasionally challenging because the character lacks a physical form and is "a computer". Interviewed about Cortana in Halo 3, Taylor said that "There’s a lot more drama and a lot less technical jargon this time around. I actually just finished a couple of lines that nearly had me in tears. When choosing a voice actor for the character, Bungie originally wanted Cortana to have a British accent. Although this idea was later discarded, Cortana still uses British colloquialisms in Halo: Combat Evolved.
Cortana is constructed from the cloned
brain of Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey
, the creator of the SPARTAN Project
; Halsey's synaptic networks became the basis for Cortana's processors. According to the Halo
novels, Cortana is classified as "smart", meaning that her creative matrix is allowed to expand, in contrast to the limited matrix of other "dumb" AI characters in the story
. This allows Cortana to learn and adapt beyond her basic parameters, but at the cost of a limited "lifespan" of only seven years; eventually, she will literally "think herself to death".
Cortana is highly skilled and capable of hacking alien computer systems and decoding transmissions, and is occasionally smug about her abilities. In Halo: The Fall of Reach she hacks into Top Secret Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) documents out of boredom. Her intellect occasionally causes her to be loquacious to a fault; In The Fall of Reach, Halsey notes that if she were to let Cortana continue with her hypothesis, the AI would talk all day. The Doctor also sees Cortana as a teenage version of herself: smarter than her parents, always "talking, learning, and eager to share her knowledge." Cortana is also described as having a sardonic sense of humor; she often cracks jokes or comments wryly, even during combat. Her high spirits and lack of programming restrictions give her a set of behavioral "quirks" unique among most AI characters in the Halo universe. For example, she becomes irate and impatient when the Master Chief doubts her judgment in Halo: First Strike.
As an artificial construct, Cortana has no physical form or being. However, she always speaks with a smooth female voice, and appears holographically as a woman. In Halo: The Fall of Reach
, Cortana is described as slender, with close-cropped hair and a skin hue that varies from navy blue to lavender, depending on her mood. Her appearance in Halo: Combat Evolved
is similar, while in Halo 2
and Halo 3
she becomes bluer in tone, and has a different hair style. Numbers and symbols flash across her form when she is thinking.
Halo: The Fall of Reach
The origin of Cortana is not explained in the video games, but in the Halo
novels. Her first chronological appearance in the story is in Halo: The Fall of Reach
, a 2001 prequel
to the first video game. Dr. Halsey allows Cortana to choose which SPARTAN-II
soldier to accompany on an upcoming mission; Cortana picks the Master Chief
, whom she believes is her best match. Cortana and the Spartans are assigned a near-suicidal mission: to take the cruiser Pillar of Autumn
to the home world of the Covenant
, an alliance of alien races, and capture one of their Prophets
to force a truce. Before the mission, Cortana helps the Master Chief to survive the near-lethal exercises designed to test the Chief's MJOLNIR battle armor
. Afterward, she plants incriminating evidence in the files of Colonel Ackerson
, the ONI operative who nearly killed both of them, as revenge. When the Covenant
attacks the planet Reach
, the largest human habitation besides Earth, Cortana guides the Pillar of Autumn
based on star charts on a Forerunner
tablet, thus bringing them to Halo
Halo: Combat Evolved
Cortana first appears in the video games during the introductory cinematic of Halo: Combat Evolved. In the 2003 novelization of the game, Halo: The Flood, Cortana likewise plays an important role. Controlling the Pillar of Autumns defenses, Cortana destroys three Covenant targets before the ship's weapons are disabled. Under the Cole Protocol, Captain Keyes, the Autumns commanding officer, prepares to abandon ship. Since the protocol mandates the evacuation of any AI constructs, the Master Chief is charged with safeguarding Cortana from the Covenant. When the Master Chief arrives on Halo, Cortana helms the communications channels and helps to direct Foehammer, a dropship pilot, to human survivors scattered across the ring, and assists the Master Chief in the rescue of Captain Keyes from the Covenant ship Truth and Reconciliation.
Inserted into Halo's Control Room, Cortana looks for a way to activate Halo to use as a weapon against the Covenant, but becomes visibly agitated and sends the Master Chief to find Captain Keyes. Cortana stays in Halo's computer core as the Master Chief encounters the parasitic Flood and is conscripted by the Forerunner construct 343 Guilty Spark to activate Halo's defenses. The Master Chief and Guilty Spark return to the Control Room, intent on using the Index, the key to Halo, to eliminate the Flood, but Cortana reveals the truth that she has learned: Halo does not kill Flood, but their food. If Halo were activated, all sentient life in the galaxy would be destroyed. She takes the Index and thus becomes a target for 343 Guilty Spark. Having captured the Index, Cortana and the Master Chief plan to destroy Halo. They succeed after Cortana helps the Chief to detonate the Pillar of Autumn's fusion reactors, causing an explosion powerful enough to destabilize the ringworld. The two escape in a fighter and witness the ring's destruction.
Halo: First Strike
's 2003 novel Halo: First Strike
takes place immediately after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved
. Cortana and the Master Chief, seemingly the sole survivors of the events of Halo
, discover a small number of other United Nations Space Command
(UNSC) personnel have in fact escaped the ring. Cortana helps to take control of a Covenant cruiser, Ascendant Justice
, and later returns to Earth with the remaining survivors after destroying the Covenant space station Unyielding Hierophant
. In this novel, Cortana gains the ability to create imperfect clones of her program. A clone that the Master Chief and his Spartan Blue Team bring to Unyielding Hierophant
eventually re-clones itself hundreds of times to aid the Spartans in completing their mission.
Cortana appears next in Halo 2
, on the Earth defense platform Cairo
, at an awards ceremony for the heroes of Halo: Combat Evolved
. When a Covenant fleet arrives, Cortana takes control of the Cairo
s Magnetic Accelerator Cannon
to repel the invaders, and successfully deactivates a bomb that would have destroyed the station. Later, upon discovering Delta Halo
, Cortana gives Commander Miranda Keyes
access to all information on the original Halo, and provides intelligence to the Chief and UNSC Marines on the surface of the ring. When sent by the Flood leader, Gravemind
, to the Covenant city of High Charity
, Cortana stays there as the Master Chief follows the Prophet of Truth
. She promises to detonate the crashed In Amber Clad
's reactors to destroy the city and Halo if the ring is activated. The firing of Halo is averted by Keyes, the Arbiter
, and Sergeant Major Avery Johnson
, but Cortana is left with Gravemind, who has overrun High Charity.
Cortana returns in the final installment in the Halo
trilogy, the 2007 Xbox 360
game Halo 3
. During gameplay, Cortana appears to the player in broken transmissions, often reciting lines from Fall of Reach
and earlier games. Cortana manages to send a message to the Master Chief on Earth, through a Flood
-infected ship. In her message, she states that Gravemind is unaware of the portal opened by a Forerunner artifact on Earth. Cortana continues to appear to the Chief, who later recovers her from Flood-controlled High Charity
. Surprised that the Chief has against all odds rescued her (as promised), Cortana produces the Index from Installation 04, which she has kept as a souvenir. With it, Cortana is able to activate a new ringworld being constructed. While the Flood are destroyed as planned, a slipspace
portal collapses as the Master Chief, the Arbiter, and Cortana attempt to escape through it, thus stranding the Chief and Cortana. Cortana activates a distress beacon, but knows that it could be years before they are found. As the Master Chief prepares to go into cryonic sleep
to await rescue, Cortana confides to him that she will miss him. He replies to wake him when she needs him.
Bungie first introduced the Halo
series publicly in 1999 by sending the Cortana Letters, a series of cryptic email messages, to the maintainer of marathon.bungie.org, a fan site
for one of Bungie's previous series, the Marathon Trilogy
. The strategic use of cryptic messages in a publicity campaign was repeated in I Love Bees
, a promotion for Halo 2
. Although Bungie does not consider most of the letters to be canon
, Cortana speaks many of the same lines in Halo 3
. According to C. J. Cowan, Bungie's director of cinematics, the studio used the character here to give story clues without actually revealing the story.
Cortana has been turned into an action figure twice to promote Halo. The first was released as a seven-inch (178 mm) miniature as part of the Halo: Combat Evolved series of action figures. The character is also featured in the first series of Halo 3 action figures, distributed by McFarlane Toys. In an interview, McLees noted that the first action figure was supposed to convey an older appearance than was depicted in the games. This was accomplished by making the figure look a little buxom, despite McLees' direct request to reduce the mass of the figure. She explains that the sculptor appeared reluctant to make the change and that time constraints ultimately left the design intact.
Although reviewers felt that Cortana essentially functioned as a "cheerleader" in the first two games, the character's role greatly expanded in Halo 3
. Some reviewers found that Cortana's cryptic messages during the first part of Halo 3
slowed the gameplay. On the other hand, Gamasutra
quoted another website that thought that the game plodded along without Cortana, "who provided the series with most of what humor it had and most of the exposition". Similarly, CinemaBlend.com decided that the "love story" between Master Chief and Cortana in Halo 3
provides "a focus to the game that an epic war between species can not accomplish. As Chief, the player needs something to anchor them into the story, and that happens to be Cortana. One publication simply noted that Cortana "has inexplicably had a sexy makeover.
Part of Cortana's appeal has lain in her looks; the character was ninth on a list of "Top Ten Xbox Babes",Gamedailys "Babe of the Week", and the sixth most "disturbingly sexual game character" by Games.net. Aside from appearance, reviewers found other aspects to praise; Cortana was named the fifth best supporting character, and one of the "50 Greatest Female Characters" in a video game; the reviewer thought that the character's determination and fearlessness meshed perfectly with the game's protagonist.
In an essay on references to mythology in Halo and previous Bungie games, Jill MacKay analyzed the significance of Cortana's name. It is a variant of Curtana, the sword used by the legendary Ogier the Dane, just as the titular AI character of Marathon 2: Durandal is apparently named after another legendary sword, Durendal. Curtana's inscription reveals that the sword has the same "temper as Joyeuse and Durendal". Accordingly, MacKay speculated before the release of Halo 3 whether the "smart" Cortana would follow Marathons Durandal in succumbing to rampancy, a concept invented by Bungie in which an AI character becomes insane by gaining too much knowledge.