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Halo 3 fans spent 13 years trying to break into a skybox

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By now it should be clear that Termacious Trickocity are a tenacious bunch: The Halo group has made a name for itself by achieving elaborate exploits that the wider community often regards as impossible. But usually, when a challenge stands in its way, Trickocity have objects to play with, like weapons or cover, which can then be manipulated to clip through solid space. The Picture Room is different.

The level appears in Halo 3, and it contains massive graphics that display in the background during the final cutscene in the game. After Master Chief activates the Halo, which causes it to self-destruct, he escapes to a ship. But the ride is turbulent enough that it nearly sends him flying out into open space. Getting to the area where the scenery is held in place — the skybox, as it’s known in game development — became somewhat of a white whale for Halo stunters back in 2007. At the time, players found a glitch that allowed the camera to get up close to the skybox, but they couldn’t physically place their characters there. Seeing and being there are two very different things, especially in video games, a medium that prides itself in giving fans interactivity.

Folks tried, of course. The problem is that, for normal stunting, you need a wide array of props. The Picture Room mostly only had a few vehicles, which limited options severely. And according to group leader Aaron Sekela, who spoke to Polygon over email, that was but one of the many issues facing the community.

“We had to pinpoint [the room’s] location, what checkpoints we had available to us, what materials we could use,” he recounted. “From there, we came up plan after plan, each ending with failure. Ultimately, the problem we kept running into was clipping. We [weren’t] able to clip far enough under the map with any normal method we knew of.”

It was only in 2018 — nearly a decade after the room’s discovery — that the Halo community reached a breakthrough. While playing Halo Reach, fans discovered that if a vehicle was dropped from an extreme height, it would gain enough speed to eventually clip through the ground. A year later, folks started wondering if the same might be true in Halo 3.

There was skepticism, Sekela said. When fans looked at the area again, it seemed like the Picture Room couldn’t provide enough height to bust through the skybox. But even with that uncertainty, Halo players needed to know for sure. Extensive testing began in earnest around August 2020, all led by a player who goes by the handle “Harc.”

Within a week, everyone was proven wrong. The Picture Room wasn’t just viewable. You could, in fact, stand in the void that developers never intended anyone to see. The view was as majestic as it was unsettling.

Image: Bungie via Termacious Trickosity

The top video in this post details the process necessary to break into the cutscene room, which involves four players coordinating extensively over the course of about 10 minutes. The stunters have to die at specific points, pick up weapons at specific junctures, and eventually launch a Mongoose vehicle into place to set everything up. One stunter will then progress far enough to force the game to start loading the Picture Room, while another sets up the checkpoint needed to put the scene into motion. Once in place, the Mongoose player gets blasted by a hammer repeatedly — they want to force it into gaining enough speed to clip through the map.

Then, and only then, will the stunters let the Picture Room part of the level load. If done correctly, the player who clipped through the map should then be teleported to the skybox. A feat that took 13 years of head-scratching calculations and frustrating failures.

“Was it worth it?” Sekela pondered in our email exchange. Yes, he said — The Picture Room was one of the most sought-after challenges for the group.

“It was at the top of list for many of us and it was honestly hard to imagine it getting done,” he wrote. “So, when we actually completed it, it was kind of surreal. Still is sort of! That sense of, ‘Man we actually did it…’ the accomplishment of putting the pieces of puzzle together and finally figuring it out. That moment makes it worth it. It’s always about the journey for us, not always the destination, even when the destination is so cool!”

Here is the new problem facing our digital daredevils: With the Picture Room done, along with a number of other long-standing challenges, there aren’t that many challenges left to tackle anymore. When I ask him what’s next, he responds with uncertainty.

“I’ve been starting to ask myself the same thing,” Sekela said. “Like, we’re coming close [to clearing the list].”

There are eight items left on the Halo 3 community’s stunts checklist. Half of them, Sekela isn’t even sure are possible even with all the discoveries the group has made over the years.

“But hey, Picture Room seemed just as daunting a few months ago,” Sekela said.

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