343 Industries is feeling a bit nostalgic as of late. In a new blog post titled “Cutting Room Floor,” the studio announced that it’s working with a team of modders to resurrect and recreate older or unfinished Halo assets. Two “Digsite” teams have been formed to undertake the process: Digsite Alpha and Digsite Delta. The former is working on pre-release Halo content. However, Delta squad is the team working on something truly special: making the Halo 2 “Earthcity” demo, shown at E3 2003, completely playable for the first time.
Many younger players and Halo fans probably don’t recall this infamous demo. It’s likely one of the earliest examples of misleading gameplay. Back in 2003, Bungie showcased a 9-minute demo of Halo 2, called Earthcity, playable only by the presenting staff. The demo included an impressive new engine — one that was simply too ambitious for the Xbox tech at the time. Halo 2 ultimately was pared down, graphically. Sections of the demo ended up in the level Metropolis but as a mere shadow of what Bungie presented.
The original video for the demo is hard to find these days. Most trailers on YouTube are low quality, but I did stumble on an AI upscaled version by the channel HaloSpot. This video may be the closest to what players may experience once the demo goes live.
An introduction to Halo 2, of sorts
Nearly 20 years later, 343 is making that demo playable for the masses in Halo: TMCC. The blog post delves into the process. It’s not a small feat. Bungie’s demo wasn’t designed to be played “off script,” and many of the scripts were written under “insane time crunch.” Many scripts will have to be modified for TMCC, as they can’t run as they are.
“Both the script in the map file and the ones given to you through the Halo 2 Editing Kit are not valid for modern Halo 2,” wrote General, the foreman of Digsite Delta. “The script uses a few functions that changed a bit during Halo 2’s development. They no longer function as they once did, or in some cases aren’t accepted by the compiler at all. Our Digsite crew members put in some long hours upgrading the script to work well in the modern era while keeping it mostly in-line with how it was intended.”
Making the Halo 2 E3 demo playable is but one task of the combined Digsite crew. The teams are working on breathing new life into aging assets, such as original character skins, weapons, textures, vehicles, and maps. The blog post is a fascinating deep dive into Halo history, so you should check it out if that stuff is of any interest.