High Charity (cut Halo 3 level)
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Forerunner City (Intended)
Concept art of John-117 looking at the Mausoleum of the Arbiter.
Map file name (?):
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- "I took the Cortana mission, completely gutted it and rebuilt it in about three weeks—that mission where Gravemind is talking to you and Cortana is in distress. We didn’t have a lot of resources for that. It was a lot cooler on paper. And it had the transforming Flood, but I don’t think we did great there. It’s a kind of half-baked mission that needed to be there for the story, so we sort of threw it together, but I would’ve preferred not to do that."
- — Paul Bertone discussing his work on Cortana and highcharity.
When originally conceptualised, the level that would become Cortana in the final game was simply meant to be a level set inside High Charity, fighting against the Flood. In this build, the High Charity level was to consist of two large found segments connected by the Hanging Gardens. An early mission layout showcases the mission as progressing with the player eventually progressing into and through the Mausoleum of the Arbiter - with a planned reveal of an army of Flood-infected Arbiters which the player would have to battle. Later on, the level was intended to feature a sequence in which the player would find a Scarab with damaged legs, which Cortana would take control of and use to battle the Gravemind while the player held off invading Flood forms and shot off the Gravemind's tendrils that attempted to latch onto the Scarab.
It would end up being present as a selectable level in the Halo 3 Alpha.
Ultimately, the High Charity level was one of several levels cut for time. At a similar time, the level Floodgate was cut-down around 75% due to issues with pacing, and thus much of the geometry developed for that mission was repurposed for Cortana. This process of gutting and rebuilding this mission was undertaken by Paul Bertone, who did the task in around three weeks. Cortana was expanded around 75%, as the team felt the mission needed to be longer and harder to better-reflect the narrative stakes in the story. These issues, combined with the lack of a dedicated designer for the level, meant that the developers at Bungie knew they were shipping what they considered to be a bad level, but were unable to do much about it. One idea pitched by Dan Miller to aid with navigation in the level was to place holographic footsteps on the ground to help show the player where to go, similar to the effect shown at the end of the level The Covenant.
The reuse of the Floodgate geometry originally developed for the crashed cruiser meant that the interior structure of High Charity contains some illogical design choices, such as the bridge of a Kerel-pattern assault carrier. The level posed numerous technical challenges for the developers, with the level's size requiring it be split into eight BSPs. Having to allow the geometry to have AI walk on it - even upside down or on walls - was also challenging, and collisions had to be faked for much of the level geometry. To help produce the feel of the city having been wrecked and crashed, the engineering team wrote a script that tilted the level geometry by fifteen degrees on export. Nonetheless, the AI pathfinding continued to be an issue, alongside questions of how to balance art vs. design needs for the level.
Following the release of the Halo 3 Mod Tools, further details on the level were released including scripting for various encounters including but not limited to the Scarab and Mausoleum, dialogue, and a few music queues.
Early revisions of highcharity were prototyped in the early Halo 3 engine on the original Xbox console. Screenshots of these early environment tests showcase a design intent to have High Charity's architecture resemble the environments the player finds themselves in in the Gravemind and High Charity levels of Halo 2.
Bits and pieces of the original level survived into the final product. The Mausoleum of the Arbiter can be seen as an inaccessible location outside the playable area. Parts of Sergeant Johnson's dialogue at the beginning is also somewhat similar to the original version. The chapter title "Nor Hell a Fury..." is also in the retail version of the game.
The level was split into the chapters: Her Tattered Soul and Nor Hell a Fury.... The following dialogue and sequence of events are transcribed from remaining files in the Halo 3 Mod Tools.
- Sergeant Major Avery Junior Johnson: "Chief, I'm rounding up all the survivors I can find.."
- Johnson: "We're falling back to the Dawn."
- Johnson: "The Arbiter is rallying the Elites."
(Co-op Change) Johnson : "The Elites are rallying as well."
- Johnson: "But with the forces we have left, we don't stand a chance against the Flood."
- Johnson: "I don't know what you think you can do."
- Johnson: "But if Cortana's still in there, bring her home."
The player(s) would have proceeded to the bridge to the Mausoleum. Once the area around the bridge was cleared, they would be able to proceed. Once inside, they would have fought more Flood before reaching another bridge. They would have proceeded all the way to the Inner Sanctum. They would also fight numerous Flood in the process.
- Cortana: "It's him. It. Them."
- Cortana: "We can't be stopped now. We won't."
- Cortana: "They're not taking either of us."
- Gravemind: "Pitiful creature!"
- Gravemind: "That you would come so far..."
The player would have either seen or moved to a Scarab.
- Cortana: "Get me on board."
- Cortana: "If these bastards want a fight, we'll give them one."
- Gravemind: "And now what can you hope to do?"
- Gravemind: "Can this broken toy offer you more than we?"
- Gravemind: "Your reunion shall be short-lived."
- Gravemind: "We will take you both."
- Gravemind: "We will have her, and you will be the bridge."
- Gravemind: "Lay your lives down before us."
- Gravemind: "We are your only end."
- Gravemind: "Accept the truth. Accept us."
- Gravemind: "After all this time, do you really think we would make such a fatal mistake?"
- Gravemind: "Entire civilizations have thrown down their lives in futile attempts to destroy us. Yet here we stand."
- Gravemind: "And you. You are but one man."
- Gravemind: "And we are your only end."
- Cortana: "Get me on that Scarab, Chief."
- Cortana: "There should be an access panel near the power core."
- Cortana: "Bring me around to the Scarab's power core and plug me in."
Cortana is plugged into the Scarab. The Scarab itself begins starting up and making sounds.
- Cortana: "All right. I'm in."
- Cortana: "Hold tight while I..."
- Cortana: "Damn. Main cannon is fried."
- Cortana: "Guess we do it the hard way."
- Cortana: "Just like old times."
- Cortana: "They're coming!"
- Cortana: "Hold them off. I have an idea."
The Scarab begins making more sounds.
- Cortana: "We've got power!"
- Cortana: "This heap isn't as dead as it looks."
- Cortana: "We may not have the main cannon or rear legs, but we've still got a functional fusion reactor."
- Cortana: "When the core is fully charged, we'll detonate it."
- Cortana: "I'll get us close."
- Cortana: "You just do what you do best."
- Cortana: "Hold on while I get this beast on its feet."
The Scarab begins moving.
- Cortana: "This thing is in worse shape than I thought."
- Cortana: "Going to have to go one leg at a time."
- Cortana: "Starting with the left."
- Cortana: "And now the right."
- Cortana: "Here comes the bump."
Depending on if the player is standing on the Scarab.
- Cortana: "Sorry about that."
- Cortana: "I'll need to build up some power for this next one."
- Cortana: "And...heave!"
The Scarab moves.
- Cortana: "Watch our backs, Chief."
- Cortana: "They have to know what we're up to."
- Cortana: "That put a lot of stress on the joints."
- Cortana: "Servos are screaming."
- Cortana: "Running what self-repair systems are still operable."
- Cortana: "The left leg is running a little hot, but here goes."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "Can't last much longer like this."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "The turrets are about to melt."
- Cortana: "The engine is well past red-lined."
- Cortana: "And the left leg is about to fall off."
- Cortana: "But here goes nothing."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "I can't even feel this leg anymore."
- Cortana: "Strain levels in the servos are through the roof."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "Just need to get a little closer to the edge."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "Almost there."
The Scarab moves more.
- Cortana: "Just one more heave..."
The Scarab stops moving.
- Cortana: "I'm as close as I can get, Chief."
- Cortana: "The rest is up to you."
- Cortana: "Come pick me up and blow the core."
The player grabs Cortana.
- Cortana: "All right. Let's send this thing to Hell."
- Cortana: "The core is charged, Chief. Hit with all you've got."
If the player stalls.
- Cortana: "Blow the core, Chief!"
The Gravemind roars in defeat.
Level concept art
A later design document for High Charity, more resembling the retail level Cortana.
Original Xbox/ Halo 2 engine prototypes
Xbox 360 Slim/ Early Halo 3 engine prototypes
- Halo 3 Editing Kit, 110_hc_mission.hsc
- VICE, The Complete, Untold History of Halo: An Oral History (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- ArtStation, Halo 3 Skyboxes and Props: "Roughed in skybox for High Charity level, before I left." (Retrieved on Feb 27, 2022) [archive]
- Twitter, Dan Miller (@dmiller360): "the level order was the same,just the geometry was different. Originally floodgate consisted of both floodgate AND Cortana" (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- Twitter, Christopher Barrett (@cgbarrett): "I found this while digging through some old concepts. I don’t think it’s even been published? A schematic concept of High Charity from Halo 3 #Halo3" (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- NeoGAF, Halo - OT14 - They call it Halo: "Developer Insight #17 Cortana and a Scarab. The level in which you rescued Cortana was going to be a "High Charity" level, not "Cortana" we ended up with. Here’s what was originally planned. You were supposed to, or rather the idea was that you were going to, fight the Gravemind, but not in a way you might think. You were going to retrieve Cortana, and a little after that you two were going to come across an abandoned Scarab with its hind legs ripped off. Seeing no other options, you were going to board the Scarab and insert Cortana so she could pilot it. After that, the Gravemind was going to appear, and Cortana was going to duke it out with him in the damaged Scarab while you were on board. You were going to help out by killing any Flood forms that made their way onto the Scarab, and shoot off any of Gravemind's tentacles that tried to latch on." - Dan Miller (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- Twitter, Dan Miller (@dmiller360): "In floodgate you went into the covenant cruiser at the end, correct? Well that was the Cortana geometry. The Floodgate mission was much, much longer. There was original High Charity geometry made for the Cortana mission that was cut due to lack of time." (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- Twitter, Dan Miller (@dmiller360): "the old original geometry for cortana was cut- that was high charity geometry." (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- Bungie Publications, Halo 3 Flood Alien Level Autopsy (Retrieved on Oct 10, 2021) [archive]
- Bungie.net, Halo 3 Flood Alien Level Autopsy: Original presentation download link (Retrieved on May 3, 2012) [archive]