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The Ark (Intended)
The Covenant (Intended)
A concept art image of Guardian Forest.
Map file name (?):
Guardian Forest was a level intended to be set on Installation 00, in the eponymous forest. During the level, the Master Chief would have piloted an AV-14 Hornet through the trees in an aerial battle. Although Bungie scrapped Guardian Forest, the team felt the aerial battle was too fun to lose, and transplanted the sequence onto the next level, The Covenant. The level was also intended to introduce a new Forerunner enemy type, the titular Guardian Sentinel. Described by producer Allen Murray as a "floating, conical sentry" with a laser-emitting eyeball that the player could rip out and use as a weapon.
Much concept art was created for the Guardian enemy, with the Guardian reaching a stage of being fully-modelled and animated, with the weapon and character itself extensively prototyped in-engine. The Guardian was intended to be massive in size, similar to the cut Strato-Sentinels. The Guardian model remained in the final release of Halo 3, existing as a hologram on the map Epitaph, while the Guardians' concept was later used and expanded upon for the Guardian Custode which debuted in Halo 5: Guardians. The Guardian concept from Halo 3 additionally featured in the Halo Legends episode Origins.
This design document reveals a number of details Bungie had considered for inclusion in the level. Notably, the level was to include Strato-Sentinels and Enforcers as enemies alongside the Guardian, with flyable Hornets and Banshees. The level's story would involve Master Chief travelling through the forest to activate the Ark's defenses, as Bungie felt that simply having two levels to show the end of the Covenant wasn't enough.
To begin the level, the player would ride on a "train" for a section before the power died and the train ground to a halt. During the "train" section, multiple other trains bearing Covenant troops would pull up and alongside the player, described by Miller as a faster version of the gondola rides from Halo 2 level Regret, with the player having to adapt to ever-changing geometry.
The player would then "crawl through the creepy forest" and ascend a massive tree-structure to find the titular Guardian enemy as a mini-boss of sorts. The Guardian would be introduced with a dedicated vignette, and eventually the player would be able to rip out its eye and use it as a weapon. At some point after this, the player would advance to flying aircraft in a section intended to be similar to the New Alexandria level later featured in Halo: Reach, with the player going to three areas and activating a device in each one; when each device was primed, the Ark would activate its defenses and release Sentinels, who would proceed to act as the Ark's defense system and destroy Truth's fleet in the space battle above.
The end of the level has been stated several times with differing scenarios including the Ark releasing Constructors to attack Truth's fleet and the level ending with a huge Strato-Sentinel rising out of the ground to engage the fleet. The level's design document supports the latter envisioning, additionally providing mention that the player would be riding the Strato-Sentinel. This idea was given some concept treatment by artist Isaac Hannaford.
Another idea for the level, recalled by Paul Russel, suggests the level was to involve a "Pelican chase" inside a Strato-Sentinel, in which the player would fly through the maw of the Sentinel. It is possible that Russel was misremembering, and meant the Hornet - which multiple other sources have stated was intended for this level - and not the Pelican. Alternatively, this may refer to the storyboards (see below) which feature a Pelican ascending in altitude and facing off against a large sentinel.
By the time the level was cut, the Guardian Forest level had more than a year of art, design and engineering time put into it though was noted by Dan Miller as still being cut incredibly early in Halo 3's development. Unfortunately, the level was one of many victims of scope reduction in Halo 3 for time. However, by this time many pieces of concept art had been put together for Guardian Forest by artists Chris Barrett and Frank Capezzuto, which inspired level designer Steve Cotton to create a map with lots of platforms and walkways similar to Halo 2's Lockout. Cotton put together a "moodier" piece of concept design, which led to the Guardian Forest aesthetic and design being repurposed for the Halo 3 multiplayer map Guardian.
Although most level files for Guardian Forest do not exist within Halo 3 anymore, one texture file does remain in the
080_forest folder, indicating that Guardian Forest was intended to take place following the level The Ark and before the level The Covenant (The Ark and The Covenant are known internally, respectively, as
100_citadel). However, a GDC talk given by Allen Murray lists the level as intended to take place after The Covenant and before the level Cortana.. Further insight by Dan Miller supports that the level was to take place after The Ark.
The model for the Guardian enemy remains in Halo 3 as a hologram on the map Epitaph, though this was noted by Miller to have no particular significance beyond the multiplayer team liking the look of the design.
With the release of the Halo 3 Mod Tools, a single script file has been found in the
080_forest folder. While the mission script file does not reveal much due to the level being cut early in development, it does refer to encounters for areas called "Sentinel Rooms".
Level concept art
Concept art of a forest on "Waypoint", the former name for the Ark.
The Halo 3 Guardian design has since been re-used again in the campaign of Halo Infinite.
- IGN, GDC 09: The Halo 3 Level You Never Played (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- GDC Vault, Building Your Airplane While Flying: Production at Bungie (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- Bungie.net, Building Your Airplane While Flying: Production at Bungie: Original presentation download (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- Twitter, Vic DeLeon: "Fwiw this is almost exactly what the Guardians looked like back when they were first imagined on Halo 2, only they were much larger, almost like the Strato-Sentinel." (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- Twitter, Dan Miller: "#halo3 original 'guardian forest' (cut map):" (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- NeoGAF, Halo - OT14 - They call it Halo: "Developer Insight #12 Guardian Forest. Most of us here know that Guardian was what remained of a campaign level that was cut, set in the same environment. Here's a couple more details about it. The level was supposed to come after The Ark; Bungie didn't like the idea of you taking down the Covenant in two levels; and it was going to be like New Alexandria. You had to go to three areas and activate a Forerunner device in each of them. When all three devices were primed, they'd release Forerunner sentinels (the ones that lined up like a train from Halo 2 and Halo 4) that acted as the Ark's defense system. These sentinels were going to destroy the remainder of Truth's fleet in space. Remember what the Elite said at the beginning of The Ark: "Brute ships, staggered line. Shipmaster, they outnumber us three to one." Truth had a lot of ships." - Dan Miller (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- YouTube - Rocket Sloth, We Discovered THE SECRET Behind Halo 3's DELETED Guardian (Retrieved on Jan 22, 2021)
- Youtube, Rocket Sloth, We Discovered THE SECRET Behind Halo 3's DELETED Guardian: Comment by Dan Miller "Great video guys!" (Retrieved on Jan 22, 2021) [archive]
- ArtStation, Halo 3, Giant Sentinals (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- YouTube - Marty O'Donnell, The Big Stage Ep 002, Pt 2: 27:30
- Bungie.net, Forest For The Trees: Guardian Postmortem (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- YouTube, Halo 3 - Cut Campaign Levels DISCOVERED! (Retrieved on Jun 1, 2020) [archive]
- Halo 3 Editing Kit, 080_forest_mission.hsc