343 Industries has announced that it's embarked on an ambitious partnership with the Halo modding community to resurrect archived and dummied-out Halo content for Halo: The Master Chief Collection (on PC). Said content includes unused assets from Halo: Combat Evolved, the Halo 2 2003 E3 demo, and assets created for the Mac-exclusive version of Halo that debuted at MacWorld in 1998.
This move follows a years-long archival effort from senior franchise writer Kenneth Peters, who had been recovering files from a file named "\share\Halo1" over the last few years. He writes that after a recent return from Budapest, he and publishing team member Sean Cooper began a more dedicated effort to restore archival game files, and the result has been a number of still-usable game assets from the early days of Halo history.
With the help of an NDA-bound modding team, Peters and company were able to quickly get cut vehicles from Halo: Combat Evolved working by way of the Halo: CE Editing Kit. This is because the vehicles were archived with near-retail tags that were fully compatible with the Editing Kit.
Seeing the working vehicles running in Halo again apparently lit a fire at 343 Industries, and the modding team was brought fully onboard to restore a wide variety of archived Halo content under the name "Digsite." The results are astounding for fans of both game history and Halo alike.
A slew of cut content for Halo: Combat Evolved
As mentioned before, the primary assets recovered for Halo: Combat Evolved include a host of vehicles, including the alien hovering tank Spectre, a flying human vehicle called the Kestrel, and a "stealth tank" that's been renamed as "The Viper."
These aren't the only vehicles from the Halo archives, but they are the ones that the team was able to get working quickly. Other pieces of cut content might be released for the modding community to work with down the line. One such vehicle is the "Doozy," a two-person waterbike that looks very cool, but...Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 don't have any physics for water travel.
The pre-release content for the first Halo game also includes assets from 1999, when the game was planned as an entry in the real-time strategy genre. Though the assets were designed to be viewed from a third-person camera angle, they work remarkably well when imported into Combat Evolved.
"A surprising number of these look perfect in CE, and it is a testament to the original artists how well these assets hold up in 4K resolution!" Peters wrote.
A number of older alien models, including an early version of the Elites, are also being restored.
Peters noted that the team does have access to some unreleased maps from Halo: Combat Evolved, but these will take more work to restore due to complications. One unnamed map was apparently complete enough to be released as a multiplayer arena, which will be revealed down the line.
Hazy E3 memories of Halo 2's debut
The modding team working on restoring Halo 2 content has also managed to dig up new usable vehicles and weapons, but of particular archival interest is the original E3 2003 demo for the game that bowled over game journalists of the day ("There's little in the eight-minute demo that isn't worthy of awe," an IGN staffer wrote at the time).
As Peters and a modder going by the name of "General" noted, this archival restoration effort is different from the rest of the process. The level (named "Earthcity" in 343's archives) was not meant to be played outside of a presentation format.
Because it was also made earlier in Halo 2's development, it also just works differently than the rest of the content being unearthed. "The script uses a few functions that changed a bit during Halo 2’s development," wrote General. "They no longer function as they once did, or in some cases aren't accepted by the compiler at all."
The modding team is also working to restore a cut mission from Halo 2's campaign called "Alphamoon." According to General, the level "wasn't far off from being complete," but Peters noted that making campaign maps playable is "several orders of magnitude more work" than their multiplayer brethren.
Portions of this map did ship in the final version of Halo 2, but Peters expressed excitement that players can now play the full level "as intended."
Seeing a company like 343 Industries invest this kind of time and effort into making archived content playable is valuable both for the archiving of the video game industry and for inspiring the next generation of Halo fans and game developers. This unused content is a part of Halo history, and everyday players and developers will be able to experience it for themselves in the near future.