Digsite Deliveries | Halo: MCC
Last year, we released a three-part blog series exploring the cutting room floor of Halo, reaching all the way back to not just the E3 2003 demo of Halo 2, but even further back to the 1999 Macworld demo for Halo: Combat Evolved.
We announced that an intrepid team of modders, in partnership with us here at 343 Industries, have been working to restore some of this old content so that you can experience it for yourself in Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC.
After going dark for a year, heads down as we entered the darkest depths of ancient folders and shone a light into the deepest corners of Halo history, delving into that secret tenth circle of Hell (the cutting room floor of game development), the time has now come to reveal what you’ll be able to get your hands on with the next MCC update (coming soon!)
So, let’s hand it over to Kenneth Peters, Senior Franchise Writer, and the Digsite team themselves to bring you a new two-part exploration of what’s on the way.
Today is a jam-packed article, written directly by the Digsite team! We’ve squeezed in as much as we could fit, you’ll find the full low-down on anything and everything about our first release.
Short of the mythical Forerunner Bench and Forerunner Train, we’ll be diving into a look at what you can find, meeting new friends involved in this project, and discussing old and new surprises alike.
While the wait was a big one, we all greatly look forward to seeing these restored works go out into the wild, and how the community will use and iterate on our released resources in new and exciting ways. We’re going right into the thick of it, so buckle up and read on!
Since our previous Waypoint article, the crew has expanded with new members from the modding community to bolster our efforts across the board, from giving weapons a bigger boom, to uncovering the long-famed mysteries of the Guardians…
If this is your introduction to our project, we invite you to meet the existing team progress in these three articles from 2022:
Hey all, you may know me for my Zombies inspired mod for Halo 3. Since then, I’ve been focused on community tools for working with the Halo Editing Kits. My latest project has been Foundry, a solution for turning Blender models into game assets for Halo: Reach+. I’ve joined Digsite to assist getting cut content for Halo: Reach and Halo 4 in-engine.
Hello, I'm Killzone64. You may know me from projects such as Dynamis, Halo CE+, and as a/ longtime member of VKMT. I have been modding various Halo games since 2009, specializing in 3D modeling and level design. I recently joined Digsite to assist with fixing up any cut maps that we find for release across various games.
Hello, I'm Krevil, you might recognize me from the Halo Mods Discord or from my work on mods such as the Multiplayer Characters in Campaign series. I was brought on to research enemy behaviors and restore Halo 3 assets like characters and scenarios. Since joining the Digsite team, I've been using my skills in reverse engineering to get a low-level look at what makes Halo 3’s AI tick so that I can bring cut characters such as the Guardian back to life.
NEO TE AIKA
Kia ora! I’m Neo. I joined the team last year, aiding in dev shenanigans from analyzing ~30-year-old file formats, to the production of our new audio assets (occasionally of the musical variety). My community projects include VKMT and Odyssey, reconstructing Halo music with the original gear. Alongside gamedev, I’m a musician and sound engineer. I also like takoyaki!
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
A (BIGGER) BOX
The PC release of Halo introduced the series’ online big team battle experience, jam-packed with new weapons and maps. Even more content was once in concept, though their production was cut early, and their archived iterations remained incomplete from a design standpoint, until now.
For Digsite, we went deep into the archives and uncovered Milestone builds of Halo PC which had material that never made it to the retail release. Of particular interest to us were design/production docs, Bungie feedback notes, tags, compiled maps, and source data for previously unseen multiplayer maps.
Some of these were cut before they even had a name more evocative than gbx_map#. Nevertheless, two were interesting enough to playtest and bring over the finish line within MCC:
LUDUS: Indoor was the most complete of the cut Gearbox Software maps. It was interesting to explore what was there because it wasn’t visually far off from any of the maps released with the original Halo: CE. Unlike the other maps Gearbox ended up shipping with Halo PC (Infinity, Death Island, etc.) Indoor stood out as a close-quarters map set entirely indoors (pun intended).
While it was pretty far along, much of the map flow was still a bit messy and spawns for players and weapons still needed to be done. I was considering just tidying it up with a complete scenario but inspiration struck when I was digging through the files of the map and found a treasure trove.
To my surprise, Gearbox had made a bunch of brand-new textures that were not being used whatsoever. I felt it would be a shame if these textures never got used, so I decided to remix Indoor into a brand-new map that could better utilize these newfound bitmaps.
The result of that is the new map I made: Underground.
I wanted to showcase this map as a demonstration of what the community can do just with a few extra textures at their disposal. Halo: CE especially doesn’t have many human environments outside the Pillar of Autumn, so I think that the community having even a few new human textures to play with can lead to some cool results.
I tried to keep my changes in Underground as a nice balance between the original layout of Indoor, changes based on the feedback Bungie gave Gearbox at the time of development, and lastly changes that I felt would help the map play in a way that Halo: CE multiplayer veterans might enjoy. In the new update with the tools, modders will be able to find the files for both the original Gearbox Indoor along with my map Underground.
NEO: I believe a key element of Halo: CE’s memorability lies in the distinct environment audio of every location, waiting patiently to shine in moments of reflection and reprieve. Against an entrance that may have once served a relaxing stroll for crew off duty, the interior is full with a rumble worthy of sleep mixes, computer equipment ticking away at data, perhaps never to be measured again.
Cue action: what was once underground has now been found! Evacuation sirens bounce through the corridors. Partially inspired by the escape sequence onboard Nostromo from Alien, we repurposed the Pillar of Autumn’s klaxons (now with an orange coat of paint to match Ludus’ nifty visual design) to serve in the mixing pot of your next tense round of hardcore doubles.
…and who left all the stuff in here running, anyway?
LUDUS: While working on Underground, I decided to take a second look at another cut Halo PC map, Dusk.
Unlike the state Indoor was found in, Dusk was rough to say the least. The scaling was entirely off and much of the map’s layout was muddled and unclear. Funnily enough, the layout of the center structure vaguely reminded me of the map Rust from the Call of Duty franchise, and that’s when the idea for how I’d remix Dusk came about.
From Dusk came the map Abyss. I have always adored Halo: CE’s multiplayer above all other games in the franchise for one thing specifically: the sheer sweat and tears that 1v1 and 2v2 Slayer matches produce. I scaled up the original portion of Dusk I wanted to remix and went to work.
Similar to Underground, I also wanted this map to be an example of what could be done with the new assets the community will be able to play with in this Digsite release, so it also uses the cut rock texture found in Indoor’s files along with using the skybox some might recognize from Halo's E3 2000 demo.
This map was especially fun to put together because playtesting was as simple as getting one other Digsite member on call to 1v1. (Un)pleasantries were exchanged each playtest session. Word of advice though, watch your step when going for Rockets.
NEO: The cavern lighting is one of my favorite spots here. I wanted to match the vibrant visuals and centerpoint here with a hum reminiscent of vinyl crackle and the noises you can conjure up with a piezoelectric style microphone. If the buzz gives you positive tingles, I encourage you to listen to this supercut of field recordings for Halo Infinite’s audio design, capturing intricate sounds with said microphones’ ultra-sensitivity to electrical interference!
Two “Ruined Pain” maps were uncovered as part of the Digsite process, in different stages of completion and playability. We believe this particular variant dates to a very early stage of Halo FPS-era development, as it was created at a scale appropriate for the original cyborg, who was roughly the same height as a retail marine. During playtesting, it was immediately apparent this caused issues in retail MCC due to the larger player character, so the fixed-up version was scaled up by x1.5.
LUDUS: It was a bit surreal getting to play the first test of the map after scaling the map up to correct size for retail MCC. Everything just clicked into place after that single change. After trying it with killzone64, we both agreed there was potential for a really cool Halo: CE equivalent to something like Halo 3’s Standoff.
KILLZONE64: Ruined Pain actually ended up being a great BTB map once we scaled it up—all I had to do was add weapons, player spawns, and some oxygen tanks so that players could jump up onto the base structures more easily. I also spent a little time building a completely chaotic racecourse that I really hope players enjoy.
I am also currently working on the more well-known version of Ruined Pain that appeared in the beta UI as the map preview for Damnation. This version of Ruined Pain will be released once we get it into a playable state. In addition, a “remixed” version of the map inspired by the original layout will be released by Digsite member Conscars.
A swamp themed level by Gearbox Software. Lots of similar art from the single-player level 343 Guilty can be seen on display here and the theme for a foggy swamp area goes as far back as the swamp level from the third-person era of Halo. Put together, you have a level evoking that familiar ominous mystery.
The name and some of the theming are also shared with a very early version of Halo: CE campaign development which survives only in the form of missing tag references. In B20, the Master Chief was tasked with assassinating a Covenant Prophet (who—at this early date—took the form of Elites wearing appropriately striking hats, per Joseph Staten). A mysterious killer monster lurked in the center of the map, forcing the player to take a wide path around the center of the swamp as they made their way to a distant tower.
Made famous by the Macworld 1999 demo and subsequent media appearances, Spasm was a multi-biome environment built to test vehicles, architecture, and new game mechanics during the fast-paced early days of Halo development. It’s a big place, and used a heightmap-based terrain system incompatible with Halo: CE, so it took some work to get running in MCC. We’ve set it up as a sandbox to play in, explore, and repurpose for your own mods. Don’t forget to pack a picnic!
LUDUS: It was a fun challenge to get this into MCC. The process of figuring out how to best translate the map into something usable with the retail mod tools was very fun. It’s a bit surreal getting to walk around the map after all these years.
Currently I use a copy of Spasm for its original intended use case: a test map for tags I work on. It’s a great playground to see how vehicles play, weapons react to different materials, and even has some nice areas to set up play fights with AI if I need to test that. I hope the community will enjoy getting to first hand explore Halo’s past like this. I’d love to see someone turn it into a giant BTB map to recreate the glory of 24/7 CTF servers on Halo PC Death Island!
NEO: Vast, rich with texture, and containing a mythical center. No it’s not my favorite chocolate, but it is a very special piece of Halo history! Hiking up to points of altitude, you’ll hear the wind rushing past, and friendly birds holler near the few trees dotted around the island. Those familiar with Custom Edition-era modding may remember stereo 44.1khz sound scenery could cause the game to crash. MCC’s under-the-hood upgrades include raised engine limits and improved functionality for handling audio beyond what the engine previously supported.
This ensures that you’ll hear waves lap all around your hunking boots, in crispy stereo!
The interior is where the magic is though. Some say the Spasm hangar is haunted with everlasting whispers, but the real treasure is the Macworld control room. To me, Halo’s strongest association of wonder lies in this room-’o-destruction, not only for story importance, but because this control room set the opening shot of Halo’s initial Macworld reveal in 1999.
In keeping with the spirit of said magic, the control room ambiance features a rerecording of the very first element heard in both the Macworld trailer, and the opening of Halo: CE’s campaign.
Blink, and you’ll miss it, the key lies with the index…
GHOSTS OF FUTURES PAST
Deep in the archive catacombs, we uncovered a myriad of worlds from Halo 2’s production in early revisions of classics, and previously unseen trinkets of Xbox and Vista development.
These maps have all had work done to ensure compatibility with MCC and are playable, though they may contain occasional visual or physical oddities. Some of these may be fixed later, but we thought it important to present these as important milestones in the Halo multiplayer experience and learning tools for new modders without enacting changes that impact their original layout or design.
Not everything takes form right out of the gate during production—it's important to iterate on all ideas and adapt with where the successful ingredients naturally flow.
An early revision of Outskirts/Metropolis where New Mombasa was still a towering arcology stretching up into the clouds.
Recovered from an era where Halo 2 still largely resembled its predecessor, this early build of Ascension has been brought forward to MCC in all its glory.
BURIAL MOUNDS REVISION
Perhaps one of the most significantly different early variants of maps that made it to the final game. This restoration features a unique teleporter design constructed from meteorite chunks that emit purple particles, compared to the familiar portal variation that appears in the final game.
From an early period where textures, mechanics (e.g. ladders), and design language further resembled Halo: CE, this revision is nearly unrecognizable as the map we know today, though with tantalizing elements that hint at greatness. It even has some greenery in the back!
Another highlight of radical iteration, yet with a familiar feeling… The Spartan statue is the visual set piece here. Decals indicate this area a commercial district, but parking is in short supply.
This version of Lockout predates prior publicly known development builds of Halo 2.
Halo: CE-style teleporters connect the lift room and sniper tower, preceding the final “elbow bend” walkway. The lift room here also sports an actual physical platform instead of a gravity lift to ascend floors.
An early version of Midship. Another map pulled from an era where Halo 2 still resembled Halo: CE in a lot of ways. It has the same energy as what we got in retail, but it’s a little different with how things work. For example, there is an elevator in the middle of the map that leads up to rockets.
No water to be found here! This version of Waterworks borrows environment textures from Halo: CE’s Blood Gulch, and likewise is very spacious and open, much flatter than Halo 2’s final incarnation.
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 on Xbox. The divisive map is finally here and ready to be judged by your own hands.
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 Vista. Watch that you don’t fall, it’s a long way down.
A cut map from Halo 2 Vista. Let the battle for the hill commence!
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 Vista. An interesting Forerunner installation with unknown purpose.
An alternate, earlier iteration of Convergence, with notable differences in both art and layout.
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 on Xbox. “Prisoner from Halo: CE was a really good map, but how could we make it even better?” That’s probably what the meeting for the creation of this map looked like. Frankly, it’s more Prisoner and you can’t go wrong with that.
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 on Xbox, surgically sliced from the Halo 2 campaign geometry. It’s a shame this wasn’t more fleshed out since the Delta Halo art is spectacular.
A cut multiplayer map for Halo 2 Vista. Take in the nostalgia with this remake of Rat Race from Halo: CE in the Halo 2 engine. Pulled from a map file and cleaned up for you to enjoy.
An unearthed Covenant example map for Halo 2 Vista. A fine example of eloquent construction.
Only unofficially released until now. A Forerunner example map for Halo 2 Vista. Views like this should be enjoyed by all.
Only unofficially released until now. A human example map for Halo 2 Vista. Duke it out in the streets of Mombasa.
A cut multiplayer map from Halo 2 on Xbox. The basics of the map layout and theme were also worked on in Halo 3 and will be the subject of a later Digsite release.
A revision of a test map from Halo 2 Vista. You may remember this map from early demos showing the modability of H2V. Cue Haloball!
WEAPONS, CRITTERS & VEHICLES
This Digsite release includes various assets from the early development era of Halo: CE and Halo 2. From vehicles, to weapons, to new creatures, there’s a little something for everyone to get their hands on.
LOCKED AND LOADED
One of the most beloved parts of the Halo franchise has always been the diverse and fantastical armaments seen throughout the games and media.
Famously, the first Halo had a large and diverse arsenal that never made it to the final game. Thanks to the efforts of both the Digsite and MCC teams, modders now have access to plenty of new guns to play with. Here are a couple of the new firearms awaiting you in this release.
We do want to point out that the recovered weapons shown below were from the third-person era of Halo development—they were not made to be seen up-close, nor rigged for use as first-person weapons. All of the cut prerelease Halo: CE weapons with first-person models in these Digsite releases were done from-scratch by the team as a labor of love!
ASSAULT RIFLE GRENADE LAUNCHER
NEO: The assault rifle shouts quintessential Halo, with a character recognizable far and beyond. It seemed fitting to incorporate elements of the spiritual predecessor, and fans of Marathon may detect hints of the MA-75B in the secondary trigger. Time to deliver some boom with your bang!
LUDUS: I always loved the MA5B from the first Halo. Logically the only way to make it cooler was to give it a noob tube. It was fun working on the first-person model to keep it as a nice middle ground between the original third-person models we recovered and the final MA5B.
SCRUFFY: It was an interesting design challenge translating third-person weapon data to values that made sense for a first person weapon, and fitting them into an established sandbox. Using the original stats would have resulted in sniper-accurate paper cuts, so what I ended up with was a blend of the original unique stats, adjusted to be on equal footing with the rest of Halo: CE’s sandbox in damage and range, without sandbox overlap.
If the MA5B is an SMG in rifle’s clothing, then our grenade launcher variant is CE’s first true mid-range rifle. Be careful firing grenades, they ricochet on hard angles, though will plant firmly into earthy materials like dirt before detonating.
SEAN T: For the most part I didn’t want to change what isn't broken with the AR animations. The MA5B reload is effectively synonymous with Halo: CE itself, and maintained with this animation set (with hand placement adjusted to accommodate a larger grip on this model). On top of this, I fixed up the old “stealth” melee to be much snappier, now the featured melee. There’s a special extra animation for grenade reloads, a feature now possible with MCC’s engine updates.
NEO: Though they share a side-fed ammo delivery system, this SMG is very different from the signature M7 we bonded with in Halo 2 and ODST. This SMG has a meaner punch, thanks to the heavier caliber, but still needed to fit into the soundscape of Halo: CE. The result is a sort of middle ground between the “plastic” bite of Halo 2’s audio, against the beefiness of CE’s human guns. A middle ground between a cat purring and a motorcycle with engine issues. Avoid the barrel end.
LUDUS: For everyone who complained that the MA5B performed too much like an SMG, thankfully your solution is here: an actual SMG!
Unlike other models—like the Chaingun or the above ARGL—the SMG was pretty barebones detail-wise. I wanted to keep a lot of the original silhouette and design choices but have the gun “make sense” in first-person. To keep the proportions of the original gun’s sights, I decided to turn that into a futuristic holographic sight. I used this as an opportunity to make a nod to the original holographic parallaxing reticles Halo had back in its third-person era. To make more mechanical sense of the gun, I drew inspiration from the firing mechanism of the real-life HK SMG II.
SCRUFFY: A similar challenge with the SMG as with the Assault Rifle. This time, however, it clearly would overlap with a retail weapon and there was no way around that. The decision was to make it a different flavor of MA5B gameplay instead of trying to push it towards a gameplay role it was not designed for.
It's slightly more accurate, but with a slightly smaller magazine. It also features a burst fire mode recreated from its original files, which can still be disabled by modders to allow grenade throwing.
SEAN T: The SMG is a completely custom set of animations and was the most challenging weapon to work on for Digsite. The goal with these first-person animations was to keep them in line with the Halo: CE style, which is slower paced and more methodical than the rest of the franchise. An earlier version of this animation set felt far closer to Halo 2, so I ended up redoing all of it from scratch with help from Ludus. I think the final version feels right at home now.
Additionally, with the help of the MCC tech team, many features were added in recent updates that help us approximate legacy behavior. For example, the CE engine can now support third-person weapons, allowing us to replicate their original look and feel much closer than previously available.
NOW I CAN HIDE BEHIND... ME?
SCRUFFY: It works, and it looks really cool. These third-person reticles aren’t perfect recreations of the older builds in function, instead of 2D HUD layers they exist physically as 3D holograms. Even so, they indicate your weapon’s aim precisely, even at a distance or while jumping around.
When we began modeling and animating first-person weapons it became clear that we would not be able to enhance all of them to a retail-level quality standard within a timely manner. Once Halo: CE was updated to allow third-person weapons, our weapon count for R1 quickly shot up from four weapons to over forty. Shout out to the MCC dev team for implementing our feature requests.
LUDUS: I’d also like to give a small shoutout to my friend and fellow Halo modder Frostbyte6686. Thanks to spitballing “things to do with effects tags in Halo: CE with him, the method used to implement the 3D reticles was figured out.
LEGENDS OF OLD AND VISITORS BOLD
From the depths of the 343 vaults and archives from Marcus Lehto, we bring long-lost artifacts of an elder era. Some from a time where the Halo we know and love was but a twinkle in Bungie’s eyes...
We’ve included Blender versions of vehicles recovered from the real-time strategy and third-person era of early Halo development (circa 1998-1999). The theme at this point seems to be the near-future human military against alien invaders using biomechanical vehicles. Lots of armored vehicles, and even a Forerunner tank. Oh, and it’s appropriate that these proto-Covenant arrive in style with a UFO!
After internal testing and discussion, we ultimately decided to release these as data-only assets due to a lack of documentation on their weapons and performance. Meaning they are not set up as tags or mod-ready, but are included for modders to develop further as they see fit. We look forward to seeing what the community does with them.
Nature is healing, and nothing exemplifies that better than this lineup of new creatures for modders to introduce into their asset pools.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to wrangle up the Blind Wolf and Thornbeast for release, they keep running away with their partially implemented animations. We’re also taking a look at some cut Halo Wars ambient creatures that would fit right into Halo: CE, but those also present some trickiness to get working at a level where they won’t be inanimate statues (or crash Sapien).
These creatures do not have any special AI or gameplay functionality implemented. That was never developed to a point where we could get it working in the retail games (or we have not found those files). We can only guess at what some were even intended to do in the environment, though Twitter posts over the years by former Bungie devs have filled in a few blanks. That said, we’re sure that some canny modders will figure out fun and interesting things to do with this menagerie of monsters!
For those keeping track of cut Halo: CE material: not shown here are the Threeleg (that needs significant animation work to do anything more than idle in place) and Paul Russel’s amazing Tankbeast (no 3D files have been found, yet). There’s also a Covenant Drone (as in, robotic scout, not a Yanme’e) that we have a texture and screenshot for, but no 3D. While the Antaeus may have been considered for CE, the only files we’ve recovered for that beast are in the Halo 2 era, and we treat it as a Halo 2 cut creature for purposes of Digsite.
VULPARD: Bearing a probably-not-coincidental family resemblance to the famous quadwings, the Vulpard could still be confused as a Terran creature under the right lighting conditions. Unlike the Blind Wolf, there is no evidence the Vulpard would have been rideable.
KEELBUG: Thanks to interviews and commentary we know how the Keelbug was supposed to work in Halo: CE, but it was cut before any work was done in code. So, for now, it’s a relatively simple critter and won’t slice-and-dice corpses to Keep It Clean on the Ring. This critter survived until pretty late in Xbox development, but Bungie simply ran out of time to implement them.
ROCKWORM: This critter from the Macworld-era was (as far we know) cut before the change to first-person, but thanks to Marcus Lehto we have managed to extract it from the relic builds and up-port it to CE. In the old builds, it was disguised as a rock until you got close, at which point it emerged and began to thrash the area with its boulder-head. It’s such an odd and unique creature we could not resist making sure it gets exposure in MCC.
QUADWING: We have one quadwing from Halo 2, but what about a second quadwing? We’re not sure why it didn’t make it into CE, but this version of the iconic skybox cruiser dates to the year 2000. I blame Y2K.
THORAX: These little guys are a real enigma for the team, and we really wish we knew what level they were going to appear on. Our working theory is they would have been on 343 Guilty Spark, but that’s just inference based on its amphibious appearance.
EYE BUG: The Blind Wolves’ semi-symbiotic prey finder was not a model we even knew existed until recently. Implementing the original cooperative hunter-seeker behavior intended by Marcus is probably impossible in CE, but there are doubtless other uses for our little insectoid friend.
Lots of new vehicles here for players to drive into enemy lines. We've shown off the Kestrel and Viper before, but now we have several more vehicles rigged up and ready to rock on your Halo battlefields!
LEECH: These are the Covenant boarding pods attached to the ship’s hull in the level Pillar of Autumn. You only see the interior piece in the final retail game, so the full model was cut despite having Xbox tags and being in a near-ship build of the console game.
Our working theory is they would have been seen in a variation of the intro cutscene (which was originally planned to be more involved) or the escape pod sequence. As found, it was a simple scenery object, but General_101 gave it some additional attention so modders have it almost ready to turn into a full-fledged vehicle.
SPECTRE: For simplicity, we renamed the fixed-up tags and data as “Spectre” from its dev-name of Shadow. Though the Xbox-era tags we found were sort-of usable, the team ultimately did a complete revamp from the original Max models up. We had to do some educated guessing for the plasma cannon FX to match early screenshots, but feel free to take it and make your own variants! Since recovering this Spectre, we’ve found WIP models of other versions previously only seen in concept art, but those need a lot of work.
VIPER: In the very early stages of Digsite, we had a basic recovered model of the stealth tank and got it running in CE. As the weeks went on, we had discovery after discovery, and the stealth tank got rebuilt each time as new info was found. Without a doubt it’s had more complete restarts and rebuilds of any Digsite content, which was pretty frustrating but it also means we have done a lot of work to get it in a place that respects its original performance values and has a clear role in the modern sandbox versus the Scorpion.
WARTHOG VARIANTS: The Troop Warthog in Digsite is actually sourced from Halo 2 (see image below), but it was created on the CE model and dates to an engine version not far removed from CE anyways. So, we made the executive decision to prioritize getting it working in CE. The Rocket Hog recovery and rebuild could be a massive article in itself, but suffice to say we’re more than happy to get at least some assets from the otherwise lost E3 2000 build up and running.
KESTREL: We’ve shown and talked about the Kestrel in the past, but we’re very interested in feedback now that it’s released. We did have to change its original physics and performance values because they were simply not working well in retail CE. That said, we’ve included the original tags to look at, so feel free to experiment with the Kestrel just as Bungie left it!
DOOZY: Did you know Halo: CE has boat physics? We made use of them in updating the Doozy, and considering the limitations we’re quite happy with how it turned out! We had a model of the Doozy very early in Digsite, from a prop folder in the cyborg folder of all places. It was only much later in the excavation process that we got hold of extracted textures, then source PSDs. Just make sure to spawn it in deep enough water.
SHADOW: Another rename for convenience, aligning it with the name established for these transports in Halo 2. In the distant past this was variously referred to as “c ground transport”, “bus”, and “covenant truck.” This was not fully functional as we found it, but the team has stood it up as a complete vehicle, with all the features you would have expected to see if it shipped with Halo: CE.
PELICAN: This is the Pelican you see in the E3 2000 demo and is one of a handful of assets from that era we have on hand. As well as being a real piece of Halo history, this vehicle is notable for also providing us with the Pelican nose turret animations cut from its CE successor.
DRIVING DOWN MOMBASA STREETS
Drive around Mombasa with some new wheels!
MONGOOSE: A mostly working version of the Halo 2 Mongoose was included in an earlier Editing Kit update, but now we’ve had the chance to clean it up and make it more presentable! We’ve also recovered the Master Chief animations so that our hero can actually drive the thing! As a labor of love we also fixed up bugs that had been left behind when Bungie cut the vehicle.
UBERCHASSIS: Intended to be drivable, at least by Grunts, we’ve done some additional work above and beyond what Bungie planned to make it even more functional and usable. In addition to restoring the gull-wing doors (albeit without updating physics due to engine limitations) it can now be driven by the Master Chief to sideswipe unsuspecting Covenant.
PIGLET: This was a toy or prop Bungie never intended to be usable as a vehicle, but it was just too adorable to resist! As a Digsite Exclusive™ addition inspired by vehicle scaling shenanigans done by modders in other Halo games, the Piglet has custom animations associated with it so both the Master Chief and Arbiter can drive it, with extensive playtesting to make sure Warthog Junior can handle all sorts of terrains! Feel free to use these expanded animation graph options for your own carting creations!
STILL NEED A WEAPON
We didn’t forget weapons! The team is still in the process of cleaning up some cut Halo 2 weapons, but the Battle Rifle, Sniper Rifle, and SMG have been given restored animations to showcase melee combos and reloads left out of the retail game. Button mash your way to victory!
Witness the return of lost combatants from the past. We’ve had to work around limitations with the existing AI system to get these functional, and almost all their animations are from-scratch new creations or modified. Modern animation retargeting and workflows makes this substantially easier than what the Bungie folks were forced to use back in 1999-2000.
SHARQUOI: Hulking bruisers from an ancient battlefield, these monstrosities deliver a faceful of feeling to anyone within their path. Be sure to move as fast as you shoot to avoid being trampled!
SLUGMAN: Biomechanical weapon specialists, trained to pick at their targets from a distance, these ‘slugs’ can deliver a nasty nudge for unsuspecting cyborgs with their long-range sniper rods. We are treating them as a form of Lekgolo assembly for now, as the concept art seems to draw very strong ‘family’ lineages between both designs.
(NEO: Given their appearance as an almost bio-mechanical alternative to the Hunter, it seemed fitting to intertwine some resemblance on the sonic side too. Catch one in a bad mood and you get a twisted mesh of processed Hunter dialog and the cautioning tails (hah!) of a rattlesnake.)
COVENANT MASTERS: Elites from a bygone era. Referred to as “covenant masters” in the early files, these warriors led the most powerful and unruly Covenant creatures by means of control collars that could be shot off to cause havoc in the alien ranks. Their animations and AI are mapped to the retail Elites, which lets them use the full arsenal of new and old weapons.
OLD GUNS, NEW KICK
NEO: Designing essentially “complete” legacy assets is a tricky ride. On one hand, lost material can now claim the spotlight, polished and updated to a quality appropriate to the era of Halo: CE’s retail release. Meanwhile, the audio dev process, like most elements of production, really comes into full swing in the final gauntlet of development. Many tag iterations here in Digsite were early enough in the pipeline to miss the final cut, and so never received a final audio treatment.
While much of the final game’s arsenal can be traced back to a lineage within these prerelease assets, pre-Xbox builds sported placeholder sounds, or lacked audio important to the final game.
As a bit of trivia: E3 2000’s cinematic audio largely depended on post-production. Telltale signs include the constant cycling of sound effects attributed to the assault rifle’s gun fire throughout.
Since audio dev has historically been a much smaller community skillset in Halo modding, I wanted to share insight to my process of authoring new audio for the first Digsite release.
My approach with a project like this is to work backwards to the source and look at resources and technologies of the era. It’s no secret that CE’s design language bears tones akin to sci-fi cinema and anime (Aliens, Gasaraki, Ghost in the Shell) of the 80s and 90s.
Key players in hardware (Roland XV-5080), software (Waves Audio) and libraries (Sound Ideas) all equally contribute to a Halo: CE-era production environment. These resources in hand and mind, we have the digital toolset to append CE’s sound set in an authentic manner.
In my DAW (digital audio workstation) for effects creation, I can set parameters to emulate the behavior of a 22khz sample rate (used for non-stereo audio in CE) before the final render stage.
Many game engines at this time still often partially depended on 22khz sound effects, compared to the 44.1khz rate of Halo’s music (and standard CD audio), and can sound drastically different than expected if steps aren’t taken to mitigate the downsampling involved in authoring assets.
All of the sonic ingredients are timed around the animations and visuals available, mocked up to visual recordings as the initial “draft” sounds. Exported from my DAW of choice, REAPER, I create the sound tags and set everything up, ready to play in-engine. From there, a process of elimination and iteration takes place.
Occasional quirks in the setup of tags can lead to rapid small edits to the related tags in guerilla, working with sound_looping or effect tags, there’s a fine grained process to ensure everything syncs up with perfect timing, checking with environmental audio in MCC (the HCEEK tag test build lacks certain audio processing functions in Xbox/MCC).
Audio ready to rumble, the assets are finalized according to final playtesting and feedback, then wrapped up neatly! Of the sounds authored for Digsite, my listener’s choice would be the OICW assault rifle, now with a personality that is very weighty compared to the standard issue MA5B.
My favorite sound design experience so far would have to be the Excavator. Part of that weapon’s cooldown/reloading audio includes my own recording of inserting a floppy diskette into the source (pictured above) of Perilous Journey and On A Pale Horse’s pizzicato strings! Also a personal highlight was bringing some (subtle) extra character to the 1999/2000 Energy Sword.
Of note, some may notice that much of this equipment consists of a music related nature… To that I’ll say that we are, of course, far from the culmination of our journey into Halo’s audio.
BEFORE THE STORM
This concludes the first part of our detailed excavation of what the Digsite crew has been uncovering, but we’ll be back soon... very soon!
We’ll be sharing a preview of the next MCC content update (which includes the tags for all this content and more for MCC players on PC!) on July 10, and our second Digsite blog will drop out of slipspace on July 14 to explore some of the additional things the crew has been up to—from the E3 2003 demo of Halo 2, to the Guardians cut from Halo 3, more weapons, maps, vehicles, characters, and more general awesomeness.
And, of course, we’ll have links for you to GitHub and the Steam Workshop where you can grab all the goodness from Digsite Release 1.
Until the next time.