CEA compression

CEA compression is an algorithm used to compress files for Halo: Combat Evolved Aniversary. It works by breaking a file down into smaller chunks, and compressing each chunk with zlib. The offsets to the beginning of each chunk are then stored in the header of the file. Each file is little endian.


First 0x40000 (262144) bytes of any CEA-compressed file are the header. It contains a count, as a 32-bit integer of how many chunks are in the file followed by an array of offsets, also as 32-bit integers, to each chunk.

Each chunk is allowed a maximum size of 0x20000 (131072) bytes decompressed, which imposes a file size limit on what can be compressed. We can calculate the theoretical cap with the following equation:

limit = ((header_size - count_size) / offset_size) * chunk_size
#((0x40000 - 4) / 4) * 0x20000

This gives us ~8.5 GB of potential space; however, about half of the header is wasted. The offsets are 32-bit values and cannot have a value high enough to reference any offset higher than ~4 GB, leaving about 0x20000 (131072) bytes unusable. The actual data cap varies somewhat due to zlib compression levels and compressed chunk size.


Each chunk contains the decompressed chunk size as a 32-bit integer, and a zlib-compressed blob of data. Due to the nature of zlib compression, the compressed chunk will vary in size. It can be computed using the difference in consecutive offsets from the header (or to the end of the file). For example, to compute the compressed size of chunk i:

chunk_offset = offsets[i]
next_chunk_offset = file_length if i + 1 == len(offsets) else offsets[i + 1]
compressed_chunk_size = next_chunk_offset - chunk_offset

Data structure

Here is an example C++ struct representing the above:

struct h1a_compressed_file
        uint32_t chunk_count;
        uint32_t offsets[0xffff];
    } header;
        uint32_t decompressed_chunk_size;
        char* compressed_chunk;
    } chunks[0xffff];

This example uses the theoretical maximum amount of offsets, and chunks (0xffff), however this may not be optimal. In reality CEA compressed files will not contain the theoretical maximum chunks.


Thanks to the following individuals for their research or contributions to this topic:

  • zatarita (Documenting CEA compression scheme)