An investigation into how Spartans do their business
In the Halo games, we never see Master Chief without his iconic green and gray Mjolnir space suit. Brief glimpses of Chief without any part of his armor are rare. The Halo series’ most famous Spartan has worn that suit for days, weeks, even years in a single stretch in the game’s fiction. Which raises some obvious, basic questions, like: How does Master Chief pee? And when does he do it?
It’s a query raised by many Halo fans over the years, and those well-versed in the series’ lore have directed the bodily function-curious to the 2011 novel Halo: Glasslands for the answer. In that book, we learn that Master Chief and every other Spartan who wears Mjolnir armor are peeing in their suits, which are designed to process and recycle urine into drinkable water. In other words, Master Chief could be (and probably is) peeing at any given moment — maybe even while teabagging an online opponent.
The oft-quoted passage from Halo: Glasslands answers that all-important biological question from the point of view of Sgt. Mal Geffen, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper (ODST) in the UNSC Marine Corps. ODSTs wear much simpler armor, and Mal learns just what a Mjolnir suit is capable of from Spartan Naomi-010, who’s in the process of being sealed into her armor.
Here’s how that scene from chapter nine of Halo: Glasslands plays out:
Mal peered into the helmet with the look of a man who was making a note of all the tech that Spartans had and that ODSTs didn’t.
“Once you’re sealed in,” he said carefully, “you can’t just … you know, step out of it easily when you need to, can you? That rig’s got to dismantle it.”
“Correct. It’s a last resort to do it manually.”
Vaz had never seen Mal lost for words before. He actually blushed. “So … bathroom breaks?” he asked, very quietly.
Naomi paused a beat. “I’m catheterized. Another reason why that machine has to be so precisely calibrated. This suit plugs into me in a lot of places.”
“I think I’m going to cry,” Mal said.
“Think of it as a weaponized life-support unit. It recycles the urine, too.”
Karen Traviss, the author of Halo: Glasslands (and other books based on the Gears of War and Star Wars franchises), is widely credited with this addition to the series’ canon. Traviss told Polygon that she prefers to ground her work with small details — including details about how a supersoldier space marine pees in their suit.
“Because everything I write is driven by the characters I create (or develop), I have to know what it feels like to be in their heads,” Traviss said, “and small detail[s] like their daily routine is part of building that, even if it never actually appears on the page.”
While the minute details of writing her Halo novels have faded over the past decade, Traviss described the process of learning and conceiving those deep-lore bits and pieces thusly: “Overall, the process went something like this: I’d hit a point where I needed to know something very specific,” Traviss said, “I’d ask the Halo team if there was already something in canon, and if there wasn’t, I’d say, ‘I plan to do this, then,’ and they’d OK it. That covered everything from ‘Do you already have a device/weapon/technology that does this?’ to ‘How long does it take to suit up in Mjolnir?’ and ‘How do they take a leak?’ Because I write with a very different method and rely on very tight third-person POV (it’s like creating a computer model and seeing what the characters do), most of the stuff I need to know tends not to be covered by canon, either published stuff or the material that isn’t public.”
How Master Chief pees is just one component of lore that occupies the precious brain space of people like Frank O’Connor, creative director at Microsoft, whose work focuses on the creative, marketing, and business development aspects of the Halo franchise. O’Connor told Polygon in an interview that little details like Master Chief’s bathroom habits are in the Halo story bible and the stuff of conversations at 343 Industries.
“Yeah, we talk about that stuff all the time,” O’Connor said. “And often we have to put it down on paper” for things like the Halo TV show coming to Paramount Plus next year.
O’Connor explained that “everything that Chief secretes in a normal day” goes into the suit and is recycled through capillary action powered by the Spartan’s body movement. O’Connor likened the Mjolnir armor’s waste recycling to Dune’s stillsuits, which process human waste and even the moisture from the wearer’s breath into safe drinking water. In other words, Chief’s suit may not plug into the Spartan super soldier as, well, aggressively as one might think.
“There’s a noninvasive physical connection beneath and part of the base layer,” O’Connor explained in a separate email. “Spartans do not wince when they suit up. Catheter implies invasion but really is used in the Mjolnir sense to describe a hygienic valve system. Thank goodness for 26th century supermaterials and bespoke tailoring. Capillary action happens after the voiding. Recycling is almost perfectly efficient.”
Joseph Staten, a longtime Halo writer who worked on the early games at Bungie, wrote the novel Halo: Contact Harvest and serves as head of creative for Halo Infinite. He gracefully responded to this line of questioning by saying, “We don’t actively think about it every day, but yes, at some point we did, and it was part of the design of the under-layer of the grayish sort of suit that you see beneath the armor plating.”
As for when Master Chief may or may not be doing the deed in-game, Staten put it this way: “You know what? Master Chief just … does it. [He] doesn’t have time to worry about bodily fluids. He’s got more important things to do, and clearly […] he just does that in the suit.”
Understandably, given Master Chief’s rare change of clothes and all that sweating, peeing, and, yes, pooping in his armor, he frequently smells terrible, O’Connor pointed out.
“We were having a conversation [recently] and someone’s like, ‘I wonder what Chief smells like?’ and I was able to rattle off a long explanation of just how awful it is,” O’Connor said. “He can stay in his armor for days and days on a mission and never come out of it. We had to create fiction for ‘Can Chief take his armor off on his own, or can he do it with simple assistance?’ […] If we’re on a properly equipped spaceship, this stuff can be taken on and off — more importantly cleaned and air conditioned.”