Frank O'Connor, formerly of Bungie and now franchise director at 343 Industries, says he was "surprised" by how strongly fans reacted to Master Chief's absence in Halo: Reach, and says that the character will be explored more deeply in Halo 4.
"I was a great proponent of the new Spartans for Reach," he said. "I thought that people would do what they did with the Master Chief and put themselves into the character's shoes, but people missed him."
Master Chief wouldn't have fit the Reach timeline, but O'Connor suggests that the long time spent with the character and nostalgic connection fueled the fans clamoring for more. "It's been ten years of Halo, and for some people it was their first gaming experience, so we shouldn't really have been surprised that the character had become beloved and ingrained in the experience," he told OXM. "This is some people's main sci-fi experience - when I was a kid mine was Star Wars, but for some people it was Halo."
Still, O'Connor recognizes that so far Master Chief has been more of a cipher to step into, and thinks Halo 4 is the time to give him more grounding. "The thing is, people are interested in him - it's time to start exploring him as a character a little more, but you can do that with actions rather than words. It's all about how he behaves, and the choices that he makes." He says Master Chief is "a man of few words" and says it's "important to stick to that premise."
343 has called this new spin the start of the Reclaimer Trilogy, and have said it's "John's story" -- referring to Master Chief's other name, John-117. Halo 4 is slated for a holiday 2012 release.