Why Cortana Looks So Different In The Halo Series

Every adaptation of a popular IP is inevitably going to have to make some changes from established lore when translating to a different medium. Those changes, in turn, are going to stir up no shortage of angst and vocal outcry among fans who could be generously referred to as "purists." That's just the way things are and have always been, for better or for worse (mostly for worse). The latest production to fall victim to this phenomenon — before any fans actually even saw the episodes that would explain the need for any such divergence in the first place, mind you — just so happens to be "Halo," the new Paramount+ streaming series based on the acclaimed video game franchise that's set to debut later this month. (You can check out my review of the first two episodes here.)

No, the brief but vocal backlash against the series has nothing to do with that bizarre marketing stunt involving drones from the other night. Instead, fans watched the full-length trailer for the series released a few months back and zeroed in on the fact that the game's artificial intelligence, Cortana, had been changed from her traditional all-blue appearance into something much less flashy and less, well, video-gamey. As a big fan of the games (up to "Halo 4," at least) and having spent far too many hours geeking out over all the supplemental franchise material in various novels, I guess I was expected to join everyone else up in arms over such an unforgivable, unnecessary change ... but, honestly, I couldn't care less.

As more reasonable fans may have anticipated, the creative team behind the series did actually have a reason for this. Whether the logic of that choice actually pans out or not is up to everyone's personal opinion, but it generally helps to actually watch the episodes in question before arriving at any final conclusions. Just my two cents! In any case, executive producer and 343 Industries video game developer Kiki Wolfkill is attempting to stave off the mini "controversy" before we have another mass internet campaign of angry fans on our hands. Check out her full comments below!

'It's always been about adapting Cortana to the environment'

There's just something about blue video game characters, isn't there? First, swift and unrelenting online outrage managed to convince the creative team behind "Sonic the Hedgehog" to completely overhaul the title character's original (and creepy-looking) design. Only a few years later, some on social media attempted to get a similar movement going in order to "fix" Cortana in Paramount's live-action "Halo" series. Those fan-driven efforts will have gone to waste this time around, but those behind the new series are at least attempting to explain why they arrived at this unexpected design change.

343 Industries' Kiki Wolfkill spoke with GamesRadar+ to assuage fears that this decision was perhaps evidence of embarrassment about the source material. Wolfkill, accurately and amusingly enough, points out that there is no one single Cortana design in the first place, even in the games.

"It's so funny, because we change her design for every game. And a lot of that is driven by technology. A lot of the design changes as we progress[ed] through the game generations was because we had access to better graphics, technology, more pixels, and more effects. And so it's always been about adapting Cortana to the environment."
"In this situation, it's so very different from the games in that she has to feel real. And by that, I don't mean feel like a real human. She has to feel like a real AI, a real hologram, and be a character that real people are acting against ...That was really the impetus in designing her — how do we make her feel very tangible in this Halo world?"

Fans should probably brace themselves for even more changes beyond cosmetic ones, as the first two episodes certainly hint at a drastically altered origin for Cortana. But that only adds even more legitimacy to her new appearance here, in my opinion. According to original voice actor Jen Taylor (who reprises her role in the series), this will be "...a pretty different Cortana to the one we've met before."

"She has different goals than the Cortana that we have known in the past 20 years. So that is really fun. I get to do some slightly different things."

I'm curious to see how fans will react to this when the series premieres on March 24, 2022, on Paramount+.