220px-Cortana h5

Cortana as she appears in Halo 5: Guardians
Game series Halo
First game Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)
Voiced by Jen Taylor
Cortana 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.[1]

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 Evolved's production in 1999.[2] 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[3] by and one of the fifty greatest female video game characters ever by Tom's Games.[4]

Character design.

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."[5] Cortana's original Halo model was based on the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.[6]

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.[7] Despite her role in voicing other video game characters, including Princess Peach, she is not a gamer.[8] She felt that portraying Cortana was occasionally challenging because the character lacks a physical form and is "a computer".[8] 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."[9] 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.[10]



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.[11] 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".[11]

Cortana is highly skilled and capable of hacking alien computer systems and decoding transmissions,[12] and is occasionally smug about her abilities.[11] In Halo: The Fall of Reach she hacks into Top Secret Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) documents out of boredom.[13] 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.[14] The Doctor also sees Cortana as a teenage version of herself: smarter than her parents, always "talking, learning, and eager to share her knowledge."[11] Cortana is also described as having a sardonic sense of humor;[15] she often cracks jokes or comments wryly, even during combat.[14] Her high spirits and lack of programming restrictions give her a set of behavioral "quirks" unique among most AI characters in the Halo universe.[16] For example, she becomes irate and impatient when the Master Chief doubts her judgment in Halo: First Strike.[17]

Outward appearance

As an artificial construct, Cortana has no physical form or being. However, she always speaks with a smooth female voice,[16] 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.[13] 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.[18]


Halo: The Fall of Reach

See also: 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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.

See also: Halo: Combat Evolved

Cortana in her original form in 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 Autumn's defenses, Cortana destroys three Covenant targets before the ship's weapons are disabled. Under the Cole Protocol, Captain Keyes, the Autumn's 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[1] She takes the Index and thus becomes a target for 343 Guilty Spark.[24] 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

See also: Halo: First Strike

Eric Nylund'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.[25] 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.[26] 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.

Halo 2.

See also: Halo 2

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,[27] 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.[28] 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.[29]

Halo 3

See also: Halo 3

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.[19][30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Halo 4

Cortana and John have been floating in space for four and a half years. They start floating towards a Four Runner planet when they are attacted by a rogue fleet of Covennit. This rogue group have been floating around the planet for three years. The ship that Cortana and John are on gets sucked into a big opening on the planet. The ship falls from the sky and burns up. The ship crash lands on the planet and is left in ruins.

Halo 5 Guardians

Cortana was thought to have been dead. But it turns out that she was sent into a Worm Hole that sent her to a newly found Four Runner planet. Cortana was cured of Rampancy and she gave herself a new look.

Halo Legends

Halo Legends is an animated series made up of episodes that were fused together into a movie. Cortana is seen in some episodes of Halo Legends. Cortana talks about the history of the Four Runners, the Flood, the Halo Ring Worlds and Humanity. In the last episode Cortana turns on and projects into a living version of herself. Cortana walks over to John and puts her hands on the glass and wipes away the ice. Cortana then hugs John.

Halo 2 Anniversary

In Halo 2 Anniversary, Cortana receives a great increase in her graphics to look similar to the her graphics in more recent games.

Cultural impact


Bungie first introduced the Halo series publicly in 1999 by sending the Cortana Letters, a series of cryptic email messages, to the maintainer of, 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.[2] Although Bungie does not consider most of the letters to be canon, Cortana speaks many of the same lines in Halo 3.[34][35] 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.[36]

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.[37] The character is also featured in the first series of Halo 3 action figures, distributed by McFarlane Toys.[38][39] 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.[5]

Critical reception.

Although reviewers felt that Cortana essentially functioned as a "cheerleader" in the first two games,[40] 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.[41] 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".[42] Similarly, 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."[43] One publication simply noted that Cortana "has inexplicably had a sexy makeover."[44]

Part of Cortana's appeal has lain in her looks; the character was ninth on a list of "Top Ten Xbox Babes",[45]Gamedaily's "Babe of the Week",[46] and the sixth most "disturbingly sexual game character" by[3] Aside from appearance, reviewers found other aspects to praise; Cortana was named the fifth best supporting character,[47] and one of the "50 Greatest Female Characters"[4] in a video game; the reviewer thought that the character's determination and fearlessness meshed perfectly with the game's protagonist.[4]

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 Marathon's Durandal in succumbing to rampancy, a concept invented by Bungie in which an AI character becomes insane by gaining too much knowledge.

Other appearances

Cortana has been seen in an episode of Bat in the Sun's Super Power Beat Down. The episode is called Master Cheif vs. Captain Amarica. In one version Captain Amarica stabbs Master Cheif in the face with his shield which kills Cheif and Cortana. In the second version Master Cheif shoots Captain Amarica in the head with his gun and wins.

Cortana has also been seen in a Halo Fan Film.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Cortana: Halo doesn't kill Flood—it kills their food. Humans, Covenant, whatever; we're all equally edible. The only way to stop the Flood is to starve them to death and that's exactly what Halo is designed to do—wipe the galaxy clean of all sentient life. - Bungie Studios. Halo: Combat Evolved. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Two Betrayals. (2001)
  2. 2.0 2.1 MacKay, Jill (2006). "The Modern Mythos". in Yeffeth, Glenn (ed.). Halo Effect: An Unauthorized Look at the Most Successful Video Game of All Time. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books. p. 95. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Karl, Ben; Rudden, Dave (2007-10-05). "Top Ten Disturbingly Sexual Game Characters". Retrieved on 2007-10-12.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Wright, Rob (2007-02-20). "The 50 Greatest Female Characters in Video Game History". Retrieved on 2007-10-22.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Szabo, Brooke (2006-01-01). "Bungie Art Grrl McLees". Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  6. Lorraine Mclees (2003-05-20). "Cortana's face was modeled after an Egyptian queen". Halo.Bungie.Org. Retrieved on 2008-01-05.
  7. Taylor, Jen (narr.). (2007). The Cortana Chronicles [Halo 3 Legendary Edition]. Bungie Studios.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Taylor, Jen; Staff (2006-05-03). "SiN Episodes Voice Cast Interview". Retrieved on 2007-10-23.
  9. K., Paul (2007-02-16). "Bungie Weekly Update". Retrieved on 2007-10-16.
  10. Jones, Jason; O'Donnell, Marty; and Staten, Joseph. (2007-09-25). Halo: Combat Evolved Developer's Commentary [Halo 3 Legendary Edition]. Bungie Studios. Event occurs at 37:00.—Staten: "Because originally you wanted Cortana to have a British accent." / Jones: "What?" / O'Donnell: "That's actually true because when we cast Cortana we asked every woman to do an English accent for us."
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 218. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. 
  12. Bungie Studios, ed. (2001). 'Halo: Combat Evolved Instruction Manual. Microsoft Game Studios. p. 9. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 216. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 217. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. 
  15. Staff (2004-09-14). "Halo 2: Bios Blowout". Team Xbox. Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 233. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. 
  17. Nylund, Eric (2003). Halo: First Strike. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 67. ISBN 0-345-46781-7. 
  18. Dietz, William (2003). Halo: The Flood. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 9. ISBN 0-345-45921-0. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 220. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. "Halsey: Could you sacrifice him if you had to? Could you watch him die?". 
  20. Bungie Studios, ed. (2001). 'Halo: Combat Evolved Instruction Manual. Microsoft Game Studios. pp. 6–7. 
  21. Nylund, Eric (2001). Halo: The Fall of Reach. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 247. ISBN 0-345-45132-5. 
  22. Keyes: Protocol is clear. Destruction or capture of the shipboard AI is absolutely unacceptable, and that means you are leaving the ship. ... Which is where you come in, Chief. Get Cortana off this ship; keep her safe from the enemy. - Bungie Studios. Halo: Combat Evolved. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Pillar of Autumn. (2001)
  23. Cortana: This is it. Halo's control center. [...] This ring isn't a cudgel, you barbarian. It's something else. Something much more important. The Covenant were right. This ring, it's Forerunner. Give me a second to access... yes, the Forerunner built this place, what they called a fortress world, in order to... Wait! No, that can't be! Oh, those Covenant fools! They must have known! There must have been signs! / Master Chief: Slow down. You're losing me. / Cortana: The Covenant found something buried in this ring; something horrible. And now they're afraid. - Bungie Studios. Halo: Combat Evolved. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Assault on the Control Room. (2001)
  24. Guilty Spark: If you are unwilling to help I will simply find another. Still, I must have the index. Give your construct to me or I will be forced to take her from you. / Master Chief: That's not going to happen. / Guilty Spark: So be it. Save his head. Dispose of the rest. - Bungie Studios. Halo: Combat Evolved. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Two Betrayals. (2001)
  25. Nylund, Eric (2003). Halo: First Strike. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 22. ISBN 0-345-46781-7. 
  26. Nylund, Eric (2003). Halo: First Strike. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 332. ISBN 0-345-46781-7. 
  27. Bungie Studios. Halo 2. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: Cairo Station. (2004) “Lord Hood: You have the MAC gun, Cortana. As soon as they come in range, open up.”
  28. Cortana: If he does, I'll detonate In Amber Clad's reactor just like we did the Autumn's. The blast will destroy this city and the ring. - Bungie Studios. Halo 2. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: High Charity. (2004)
  29. Gravemind: Silence fills the empty grave, now that I have gone. But my mind is not at rest, for questions linger on. Now I will ask, and you will answer. / Cortana: Alright, shoot. - Bungie Studios. Halo 2. (Microsoft). Xbox. Level/area: The Great Journey. (2004)
  30. Cortana: Could you sacrifice me to complete your mission? Could you watch me die? - Bungie Studios. Halo 3. (Microsoft). Xbox 360. Level/area: Sierra 117. (2007)
  31. Cortana: The activation index, from the first Halo ring. A little souvenir I hung onto, just in case. - Bungie Studios. Halo 3. (Microsoft). Xbox 360. Level/area: Cortana. (2007)
  32. Cortana: I'll drop a beacon. But it'll be a while before anyone finds us. Years even. - Bungie Studios. Halo 3. (Microsoft). Xbox 360. Level/area: Halo. (2007)
  33. Cortana: I'll miss you. / Master Chief: Wake me. When you need me. - Bungie Studios. Halo 3. (Microsoft). Xbox 360. Level/area: Halo. (2007)
  34. "Joe Staten Interview". Halo Story Page (August 2006). Retrieved on 2007-12-10.
  35. Staff (2006-11-06). "Halo 3: Beyond the Trailer". Gametrailers. Retrieved on 2007-11-20.
  36. Ocampo, Jason (2006-05-09). "E3 06: Halo 3 announced, plot details revealed". Gamespot. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.
  37. "Halo Action Figures, Series 1: Cortana". Retrieved on 2007-11-21.
  38. "Halo 3: Series 1". McFarlane. Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  39. "McFarlane Halo Figures," GameInformer 180 (April 2008): 34.
  40. Various (2007-10-02). "Sci vs. Fi - Halo 3 Documentary". Major League Gaming. Retrieved on 2007-10-05.
  41. Stanley, Jeremy (2007-10-04). "Microsoft's 'Halo 3' Review". Retrieved on 2007-10-09.
  42. Cowan, Danny (2007-09-26). "Critical Reception: Microsoft's/Bungie's Halo 3". Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2007-10-09.
  43. West, Steve. "Halo 3 Campaign Review". Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  44. Cardy, Tom (2007-10-01). "Review: Halo 3 (Xbox 360)". Retrieved on 2007-10-13.
  45. Staff (2004-06-30). "Top Ten Xbox Babes". Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  46. Staff (2007-09-22). "Babe of the Week: Cortana". Retrieved on 2007-10-10.
  47. Aberle, Nick (2007-08-28). "Top Five Best Supporting Characters". SilverMirror. Retrieved on 2007-10-12.

External links.