Digsite Discoveries | Halo: MCC
Welcome to our second-part breakdown of the Digsite crew’s excavations of old cutting room floor content from previous Halo games.
For those of you who may just be joining us: an intrepid team of modders, in partnership with us here at 343 Industries, have been working to restore some old cut content (weapons, vehicles, creatures, maps, levels, and more) so that you can experience it for yourself in Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC.
The latest content update for MCC went live earlier this week on July 12, which included our first delivery of Digsite content on PC. You can read the full breakdown in the links below:
Let’s catch up with Kenneth Peters, Senior Franchise Writer, and the fine folks of the Digsite team to learn more about some of the most coveted aspects of Halo’s cut content that the Digsite team are working on for the future—the E3 2003 demo for Halo 2, the Guardians from Halo 3, old Promethean Knight models from Halo 4, and much (much) more!
THE GREAT JOURNEY
The Digsite team was not idle while Release 1 was being prepared and integrated into the MCC Editing Kit update. When the Github repository becomes public you will see brand new content, and new material will be flowing to it for testing, evaluation, and use by the Halo community.
I want to stress that this material still falls under the MCC EULA, so please don’t tempt legal fate and use the assets for mods in Unreal, ARMA, Fortnite, and so on (see MCC EULA: THE FAQ).
Now then, let’s look at some Halo 2 content in the process of restoration...
The Halo 2 AA Wraith, with fixed textures and UI by General_101. Recently submitted for integration with the public Digsite git.
The original Sun Devil! Heavily updated to be game-ready from Halo 2 development files. An “early access” version with baseline playtesting will be on the Digsite git for public evaluation. There’s also a missile launcher version of the Scorpion, but that still needs work. Tags are completely original and subject to playtesting change, as none were found with the model.
Prototype Brute Grenades from Halo 2, updated to work in retail. They are an interesting example of a concept in flux and evolution while the Halo 2 team were figuring out what worked, what didn’t, and what could be revisited later!
HALO 2 DEV MAPS
General’s project to update the Halo 2 E3 demo from 2003 was featured in our announcement last year, and it certainly got an outsized focus in media coverage of Digsite!
This scenario is not in our Release 1, as a) it’s been continually refined to be as close to the original setup as is humanly possible, and b) it’s pretty much just one person doing it all.
Reconstructed Halo 2 E3 skybox using original bitmaps and converted shaders.
You won’t be waiting that long to get hold of the MCC remake, but I want to note that this effort was partly to prove out concepts and create tooling that the team can now use to semi-automatically port maps from engine revisions and content formatting changes.
The team also made great strides over the last year to recover very dodgy early builds and ways of extracting data from them--something which was necessary to do a complete build of the map, as not every E3 asset survived into the later Bungie depots!
Example of a recent find and rebuild: prototype Brutes in rough order of development (left to right). You may notice one being from the E3 demo. They got more shaven as development went on, probably for performance reasons.
The E3 Phantom, complete with animated landing gear and side guns! It differs in other ways from the Phantom we know and love from retail Halo 2, but you’ll soon see that for yourself.
Among the most exciting elements of this work is that it lays the groundwork for bringing some of the earliest—and arguably most interesting—Halo 2 maps back to life: the Milestone 1 tests.
Known about in roundabout ways from very early behind-closed-doors demos, M1 Defensive, M1 Exploration, and M1 Offensive were major efforts to explore different gameplay possibilities and scenarios. None survived into the retail environment, and not all of their gameplay can even be replicated now, but they are fascinating and important waypoints in the history of Halo as a game and franchise.
M1 Defensive is probably the most well-known in general, as early press visits mention it, and the shield ship was a central element. This map was designed to be a 20-minute-long experience, with lots of AI on both sides to help and hinder the player in their mission. This was ambitious, probably too ambitious for the OG Xbox.
M1 Exploration, known alternately as “Moonbase” or “Fool Moon” is currently the farthest in (re)development, using tooling from Zeddikins that converts the Halo: CE-style recorded animations into something we can make use of in Halo 2\Blender, and General’s incredible “up-porting” tools to automate much of the scenario conversion work (e.g. squad placement, decorators, etc).
These maps were never entirely finished by Bungie, but we want to make a stab at it! We are lucky to have an old Xbox build of the map that we can play and compare our port effort to!
M1 Offensive is the one we are having some issues with, but is arguably the most straightforward in terms of scenario setup. You are dropped behind enemy lines and must wipe out all resistance at a Covenant camp. This is one of the maps where we found the long-lost Covenant Command Shuttle model, as well as a blockout of the Covenant “airbus” bridge-ship seen in the first Halo art book.
A Blender render of the M1 Exploration moonbase.
Dropship path converted into a spline from the CE-style recording used in the original test scenario. We can then use this to generate waypoints and animations compatible with retail Halo 2. The tool will also be a way of converting other CE-recorded animations into formats usable in later Halo games.
Early work fixing up M1 Defensive by Sean. These were made in what we call the “Halo 1.5” engine, so some fixing was tested in Halo: CE, but we want to ship these as Halo 2 scenarios.
Concept model of a Forerunner tower used on M1 Offensive.
Let’s hear directly from our Digsite members as they share some of the additional things they’ve been up to.
My hand in Digsite happenings has largely been from the shadows, but this time around I do have an interesting nugget to share with everyone.
During some digging, a set of cache files for a Halo 2 Multiplayer Delta came up. The included maps are dated about a month before the release maps, and from a data standpoint don’t seem too remarkable. What is remarkable, however, is the main menu.
While currently unknown if this was the working concept before being scrapped for what Halo 2 ultimately shipped with, the Delta menu changes the background scene depending on your campaign progress.
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you Remember Reach, which would do this eight years later.
I eventually got the scenario recreated and running in Tag Test, though using the existing release assets instead of the early ones from the delta for convenience. This meant that some fixes and small creative liberties had to be made. For example, a space skybox was added as the original BSP was just a black shader.
Likewise, the main menu is a bit of a special case for the Blam engine. You are only meant to have one, at a fixed path, and MCC doesn’t even use them. For these reasons, I opted against including it with this initial content drop. But don’t fret, I do intend to get it released in the future through Github, for those wanting to check it out for themselves.
A closing fun fact: the camera points for these scenes never got removed from the release main menu scenario, solving a mystery I’m not sure anybody was even looking for.
As one of the newest members of the Digsite team, the majority of my work so far has been on Halo 3’s cut content. It’s still a long road before any of it will be included in a release, but I thought I would include some insights into what I’ve been up to—and a little sneak peek into the future.
Of all the Halo 3 content lost to the void, the Guardian is perhaps the most well-known, despite only being seen as a hologram on the multiplayer map Epitaph and as a feature seen on Zeta Halo in Halo Infinite.
Halo 3's Guardian was a form of Sentinel that was designed to be an even more formidable encounter than Halo 2's Enforcer. Armed with a decimating red energy beam, phase teleportation to quickly relocate, and a surging pulse which would send players flying away, the Guardian could easily dispatch any intruders who dared to trespass into their forest.
But, if players could overcome the challenge of the Guardian, it was not without reward: After dismantling the frightful Forerunner construct, the Guardian’s eye could be wielded for players to use against other foes, or perhaps even give the Guardians a taste of their own burning medicine. Though, the challenges were not only for the players, as bringing the Guardian back from the depths has also been a considerable task.
When work first began on Halo 3’s Guardian, we had only a single model file to work with and we were missing any MCC-compatible tags, though tantalizing clues remained to show that some did exist at one point. Luckily, thanks to Christopher Barrett, Paul Russel, and Marcus Lehto we were able to recover additional source files and—most importantly—development insight into the way they were supposed to work in-game.
With so many more resources to work with, the team has now begun to piece back together the Guardian, working to integrate design ideas into the game in ways that both function and fit within the game’s retail sandbox.
It can often be hard to believe that 2006 was seventeen years ago. It was an incredible time to be a Halo fan, the excitement for the third game in the series rising higher with each article, trailer, and promotion.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I watched the E3 trailer again and again whilst waiting for the game to release, so when the opportunity to work on restoring the actual scenario used for the trailer presented itself, I knew it was something I absolutely had to do. It hasn’t been an easy road to walk down though, many challenges block the path to the scenario playing like it did in 2006.
The largest obstacle to getting the scenario running again has been scripting. The scripts for the scenario were written during an earlier development phase of Halo 3 and as such, much of the functionality has been changed. Notably, Halo 3 switched to a different cinematic system than Halo 2, using data files and tags to automatically create scripting for cinematics. The trailer dates back to before these systems were in place, using script functions that are now long gone.
Additionally, many assets used in the trailer evolved in the production that followed after. An example of this is that the trailer used an earlier skeleton for the Banshees and Phantoms, so applying the cinematic animations to the retail models results in errors that causes the vehicles to hover in place instead of zooming off towards the portal.
The bright side is that despite all of the challenges involved, the scenario can now be played from start to finish—it just needs a little more time and effort so it can once again shine like it did in 2006.
For those of you who read last year’s Digsite article Cutting Room Corps, you may remember the notorious Space Luger.
In the time since that article’s publication, we have found the necessary associated data to fully rebuild and polish the silver finish down to a sheen fit for active duty.
LUDUS: I’m proud to say I was able to squeeze in an art pass for this at the last second. I won’t gush over how much I adore this gun, but it was really delightful to get to bring forward the effective predecessor to Halo 3: ODST’s signature M6C/SOCOM, from long before that game was ever conceived.
NEO: Our revamp features new details, animations and audio that plays into a feeling of eloquent decision, a native extension to Halo: CE’s existing sandbox that never left your side!
Built to naturally match the internal suppressor, a compound of stab-attack-long-release compression slams gunfire of a similar caliber to that used in Marathon’s .45 Magnum Mega Class into the delivery system, the time is short, the sound lean, and the effect very mean.
A trusty companion to the classic Magnum, and the perfect choice for a recon op. Keep it clean.
As work on Digsite R1 has winded down, it’s been fun to start looking into what comes next. The majority of my recent work focused on polishing up models and animation work, but as we move forward into newer titles, my focus is expanding to new skills beyond my previous areas of expertise (map and tag development).
One smaller project we’re working on is anchored on Halo 3 pre-production level design. Many of you have probably seen the tweets from Max Hoberman showcasing several of these maps, and we are happy to say that we have a lot of them in our possession, with the potential to compile a map pack for Halo 2.
For now, we can share a look at Snowbound, as well as a peek at an alternate mix of Construct.
Snowbound, for the most part, is very similar to what players experienced in 2007. However, there are some small layout changes, the two biggest being the size of the map and the center bunker. The transparent glass for the bases has also led to some funny encounters in early playtests.
This version of Construct is a little different from the one recently shown on Twitter. It will be a unique scenario to see how Construct’s vertical gameplay adapts into Halo 2 once the scenario is fully complete.
There’s much more work and excavation remaining on this endeavor, but our hope is that this project will not only introduce classic maps in a new dimension, but serve as interesting templates for mod authors to expand with new art or gameplay features.
There is also one additional new map in the oven. Fans of Halo 2 may know that there was an additional map that did not make it into the Blastacular Map Pack. Only the legendary Max Hoberman knows all the details, but we’ve excavated some interesting bits to flesh out a fascinating chapter of Halo’s long history.
We’re only providing a small look at this map today, as it has a bit more work needed before it’s ready to be shown in game, but it’s cool to finally be able to show what once was lost—and it’ll be exciting to get this into players hands.
This map, “Permafrost”, is a BTB design in a similar manner to Halo 3’s High Ground. Light bridges also appeared as an interactive element. My favorite little detail of this map though is the sword spawn dug into a rock, excalibur style!
This release has been quite the effort for everyone involved in Digsite. Lots of unknown data formats had to be researched, lots of blanks filled by our talented content dev team. I’d like to speak on some of the aspects of this release that I’ve had a hand in.
The early Halo 2 Troop Transport Warthog was an amazing—and recent—find. This piece was found in an old map file that required our tools to be upgraded to retrieve the data for all of you. Unfortunately, we still have had no luck with locating the jungle and snow variant of the Halo 2 Warthog.
The first thing I noticed is that the backside of the troop hog wasn’t complete. The texture wasn’t set up at all, and the transport section of the hog was very under-detailed. The second issue we noticed is that the Warthog texture didn’t really work. There were places where the texture space wasn’t being used correctly. For such a cool piece I decided it would be a good idea to take it to its logical conclusion and complete the job that Bungie started.
I went ahead and modeled a new backside for the troop transport, borrowing textures from the Pelican and adding more detail. Ludus assisted with redoing the UV map to tie it all together nicely. We will be providing the original unedited data, but I hope this edit is something that everyone along with the original artist can enjoy.
HITCH A RIDE!
When changes were being made to the games to support biped seats, we had to scan the tags for sleeping giants.
It’s at this point that we noticed the Hunter had a leftover seat for boarding at some point. While we aren’t sure how far this got in a real dev environment, it was simply too cool to pass on. I went ahead and made changes necessary to the existing Hunter tags in Halo 2 so players on PC and Xbox will be able to board the back of a Hunter.
You'll be able to plant grenades or melee a Hunter, as seen in what was also cut for Halo: Reach. HUD string text was required as well, and we luckily had additional help from General Heed for HUD translations. I can’t thank everyone enough on the MCC team and our fellow Reclaimers for helping on this project. I hope people enjoy side stepping and bashing Hunters into the ground.
GENERAL PURPOSE EXPLOSIONS
The grenade launcher and machine gun combo have been recovered and updated for retail MCC.
Originally this was only ever seen as an attachment to the GPMG on the Pelican rear turret from media in The Art of Halo. It wasn’t usable in the state it was in since it was basically just a prop with no gameplay functionality, but I thought people would appreciate having a proper turret.
I got to work using various sources I had on-hand, including a model file named h_turret_ap.max which had the grenade launcher still included (albeit hidden and referencing an older version of the weapon texture). A version of the diffuse was found with double the resolution and adds a nice bit of detail absent in the lower resolution image.
It works well and is really only missing a custom asset for the grenade launcher projectile along with some gameplay balancing. I hope to have this out for you guys shortly after the R1 release. Oh, and for the lore folks: the model refers to it as a 20mm grenade launcher.
I worked on most of the Halo 2 maps, but the one I enjoyed the most was Rodentia, the remake of Rat Race from Halo: CE. When we found it, we didn’t have source files for it. All we had was a map file for Vista at the time. The map itself was great. It had some minor art issues but otherwise was very playable.
We had some pretty big wants for this map but ultimately decided to try to fix the remaining art issues and have it shipped as a Digsite release. It was really cathartic to fix all the import errors the map had. I fixed a ton of UV, open edges, and other nasty import errors. My favorite fix was making sure you could see the outside from the windows in the interior. A portal issue in the original map would occlude the geometry when it shouldn’t have.
Would be great to see this in matchmaking proper one day, but I’ll settle for duking it out with others on custom games every now and then. Whoever the original artist for this one was, I hope they enjoy seeing their creation out for people to try out.
SMALL ARMS REPAIR
Did a lot of minor stuff for weapons in this R1 pack. If you wield one of the third-person weapons, you’ll probably see an animation I ported or made such as the spear gun reload or the microwave gun animations.
I did a couple of things for first-person as well, like the Luger reload animations. Really enjoyed helping out there. Wish we could have done more first-person weapon models, but I think we did pretty good with the resources and time we had.
SCRUFFY: I just wanted to quickly add to that statement and thank the whole team. If it weren’t for these talented programmers, artists, animators, and audio engineers, all of my work involving number crunching the weapon, vehicle, and character/AI stats in the spreadsheet dungeons would have meant nothing, so thanks again for making this project what it is.
The Slugman and Drinol were fun to get into the game. The Drinol only had a few animations and the Slugman had none at all. I had to retarget animations from the Hunter and Jackal respectively to fill in the needed animations. Some animations were then touched up or redone entirely, such as death animations for the Drinol.
Once the art was more or less final Scruffy came in and gave them AI. It’s pretty wild to get one-hit KO'd by a Drinol or sniped from a distance by a Slugman. Hoping people have as much fun fighting them as we did bringing them in!
SCRUFFY: Don’t worry, they aren’t Halo 2 Jackal snipers. I did my best to reference Halo: CE’s existing AI, such as plasma rifle Elites and sniper rifle Marines, to come up with a happy mix where they can engage you at range but still have the potential to miss. If you don’t take them out quick enough, then they will stop missing after a while. It’ll be fun to design missions now that the Covenant has a unit that isn’t restricted to close-medium range weapons.
Digsite leaves no stone unturned, so it was only right that we looked forward to some of the games that fall outside of the original trilogy. Halo: Reach and Halo 4 are both entries which tried a lot of new ideas, many of which did not make it to release.
The source data from these games has revealed some early concepts that were seemingly resigned to the boneyard during development. Where I’ve been able to help the Digsite team is taking data assets from Reach and Halo 4 and building them into tags.
WELCOME TO REACH
The strike fighter, more elegantly named the Pegasus, was a concept similar to the Sabre. This wing of the UNSC boasted an armament of cannons, missiles, and nose-mounted Spartan Laser.
I found this hidden inside a source 3DS Max file for the Sabre. It exists in an untextured blockout state, but it looked too interesting not to try and get this in game.
Source model data for released tags consists of files which detail special properties (like a model’s in-game regions, whether a certain surface is rendered two-sided in game, etc). This is not the case for many of the assets I’ve looked into for Reach.
Getting these assets in-engine requires building these properties using Reach and Halo 4’s new modding asset import pipeline. This new pipeline was borne out of changes in how the original development pipeline switched from using proprietary intermediary file formats to a third party one. Much of my time spent working on assets has been in building the Blender part of this import journey, which then works with the tools provided by 343 to bring 3D creations to life in game.
The Pegasus is just one of the many concept models Digsite has found. The model we have doesn’t fit exactly to any of the drawn concepts, rather being a mix of a number of them. Here’s a better look at the 3D model.
With the skies covered, let's bring this down to
The Wolverine is another vehicle which exists in an untextured massout state. The name of this vehicle may serve as a point of confusion for fans of Halo Wars, with the design and function of the vehicle being more similar to the mobile artillery cannon known as the Kodiak in Halo Wars 2, than the Anti-Air-focused Halo Wars Wolverine. In earlier concepts, this vehicle even went by Kodiak too.
The Wolverine took a little more work than the Pegasus to get working. Reach introduced a few extra challenges for anyone looking to make working vehicles, such as a more complicated, but also more configurable system for controlling vehicle steering animations.
One of the more fun animations to put together was enabling the Wolverine to enter a lock down state while its back-mounted weapon was primed to fire.
WHAT WE HAVE RECLAIMED
The first entry into the Reclaimer era has its own fair share of interesting assets tucked away. My focus here has been largely the same as in Reach, looking through source assets for interesting finds.
One particular weapon I found impressive was an early blockout of the “Knight Rifle.” This weapon is quite detailed and offers an earlier glimpse at Forerunner weapon design for Halo 4.
Fittingly, with an early version of an enemy weapon comes an early version of an enemy unit. Halo 4’s Promethean Knight went through many concepts. One of the 3D concepts we’ve found is this take on the Knight, which fans may recall from this old image.
This rendition of the Knight features destructible limbs, much like how the Flood functioned in previous titles, but allowing for all four limbs and head to be destroyed. The source animations indicate the Knight would have been able to repair itself. Do enough damage though and you’ve earned yourself a trophy.
The Knight has an interesting set of source animations, including a set of “grab” animations that showcase a kind of grappling mechanic the player could enter into with the Knight.
These animations were made of different variants, which makes them distinct to Reach and Halo 4’s assassination sync animations.
SEVEN LONG YEARS
We will have to save some surprises for later, but there has been work done to evaluate Halo Wars material for inclusion in MCC.
For the most part, these are cinematic assets that were either not used in the retail game or have hi-poly assets which can now be reevaluated with modern baseline hardware. That said, we currently have no plans to release cut content for Halo Wars itself. That may seem a little odd, but it’s far simpler to get content from the RTS to the FPS, and those pipelines align with the skills of the current team.
We’ve already done work to port the Halo Wars thorn beast, but that was rather straightforward due to the RTS version using the FPS model as a base in the first place. It gets tricker when we look at vehicles and characters, particularly the Blur source assets. The Blur assets are extremely well organized and set-up, but their texturing workflow is rather alien to how we do things in the Halo game engine.
Halo Wars cinematic Elite model ported to Halo 3 and rigged to the retail Elite skeleton. Credits to General_101 for the conversion and Ensemble for the original model.
Halo Wars cinematic SPNKr, ported to Halo 3 by Sean T.
Feel like checking out some of today’s highlight artifacts in action? We’ve put together a special showcase level, available for PC Halo players, released via Steam Workshop and NexusMods.
An experimental remix of “Spasm” from early Halo, adapted into a new full-scale campaign mission, Crash Site invites you right to the fight, reinforcing a downed Marine squad and eliminating Covenant outposts on the open search to unlock the island interior.
Explore the island alone, with survivors, or tag in a friend to join your adventure—Crash Site fully supports cooperative play. Unique from traditional campaign levels, players can be anywhere on the map simultaneously without limit, a trait that may be exploitable to a flanking approach…
We don’t want to spoil too many mission details in this article, but we’d love for you to try it out for yourself!
Head on down to the following section for a link to subscribe to the map on Steam.
ACROSS THE STREET, DOWNLOAD
The question of the day is where and when? The answer is here and now!
Halo: CE and Halo 2 content for Release 1 featured in this article is available at the links below. The tags and select source data are maintained at an active resource where you can always find the latest released Digsite content, and any related content fixes or updates.
A “1.0” release is now part of the core files included in the Halo: CE and Halo 2 Mod Tools, but for ongoing support, GitHub will be the one-stop-shop for updated resources as we uncover more content.
To our community modders: be sure to keep the GitHub repository bookmarked for further updates to Digsite, so you’ll always have the latest and greatest.
Many additions in this Digsite release were made possible from new updates to both Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and the Halo Mod Tools. For more details on what was added under the hood, have a look at this companion article regarding the update along with the patch notes.
Check out the following links for players on PC seeking an immediate demonstration of today’s content, available right now!
- Digsite - Release 1, via GitHub (link coming soon)
- The Excavated Map Pack (Halo: CE), via Steam Workshop
- The Digtacular Map Pack (Halo 2), via Steam Workshop
- Crash Site, via Steam Workshop
(If you have MCC for PC installed via the Microsoft Store or Xbox Game Pass, the Steam Workshop page for Crash Site also includes instructions on how non-Steam PC players can install and play Crash Site manually.)
With this, we’ve reached the complete first release of Digsite content.
We’re excited to uncover more on this Great Journey in the future, and if you’d like to follow public developments, you can scope the latest at our dedicated spaces, courtesy of YouTube, Halo Modding Reclaimers, and Halo Mods. Until next time!
Oh, and for the fiction fans out there, our next Canon Fodder issue will indeed concern elements of this excavated material and how it exists within the Halo universe. Stay tuned!