Halo: Reach's ninth campaign level, The Package, has a cutscene where Noble Team goes through a destroyed science wing. This area only exists for the story - it never becomes playable, nor was it meant to be explored by real people. And so, a team of hardcore Halo fans sought to achieve the impossible: they wanted to break into a cutscene.
It all started with a mistake. Termacious Trickocity, a group known for achieving incredible Halo tricks, were just messing around back in 2010, as one does in a game with fantastic physics.
Aaron Sekala, a member of Trickocity, recalls that the team was actually trying to clip into an entirely different room at the time. Instead, they phased into an abyss they had no idea was there.
"We took to theatre mode to get a bird's eye view of what happened and found the cutscene rooms floating in the Abyss," Sekala told Kotaku. What Trickocity discovered was a void being held together by a subway track.
The cutscene, it turns out, wasn't pre-rendered: Halo: Reach uses real set pieces to stage scenes. The science wing lay in wait here, seemingly just beyond grasp. "From that moment we knew, we had to reach those areas," Sekala said.
The first step, as Sekala tells it, was to find out when the scene loaded in the game. This was straightforward enough: the wing loads when the player reaches a swordbase right before the actual cutscene.
But the "when" and "where" of it weren't the complicated parts. The game was programmed to make sure players couldn't go where they weren't supposed to, after all.
"Every time we tried to get closer to the Red Room with our freecam, our camera would teleport back to our player," said Waffle, another Trickosity member.
From experience, the team knew that Reach's camera tended to do this whenever there was a "death barrier" around an area that would instantly kill anyone who so much as touched it. Bungie had created a no man's land. "This [piqued] our curiosity even more," Waffle said.
What followed was a seven-year incursion to push Halo: Reach to its limits, all in the name of going where no fan had gone before:
The completed process, which was performed in January 2018, is mind boggling. For over ten minutes, Trickosity orchestrates an elaborate choreography consisting of dozens of steps which you can view above.
In short: players stand in specific locations at specific times; they arrange vehicles just so; they push and place power-ups; they force their characters into strange places; they find and use special weapons; they kill enemies in specific ways - all to trick Reach's programming into letting them phase into a part of the game they're never supposed to see.
But the most impressive part of this coordination involves lining up a series of Ghosts. When these are initially introduced in the video above, you have no idea what they mean.
It's only later, when Trickosity manages to clip into the abyss, that you realise why these Ghosts are so important: for a brief moment after the map disappears, these vehicles are the only things that exist in the chasm. Trickosity players use the Ghosts as floating platforms to get across an unloaded map, each Ghost falling into the barren wasteland moments after the player touches it.
"It sounded ridiculous out loud, but it made sense," Sekala said. "We knew the ghosts wouldn't disappear if we left them behind. We did some testing to figure out the perfect placement and a few hours of trying the jump across the Ghost we landed it. At that moment we knew we could complete the trick."
Despite the thrills of the Ghost jumps, however, Sekala says it wasn't the hardest part of the heist. It wasn't even figuring out how to get past the death barrier. Actually, the toughest part of landing this trick was getting all of the smaller things just right.
"There were so many parts to the setup, when to hit certain loads, what order to hit the loads in, having players stand in correct areas, doing certain armour lock clips, the placement of the Ghosts, revert grabbing the concussion, just a ton of subtle steps that needed to be done in a certain order," Sekala said.
For most onlookers, though, the most remarkable thing about all of this is that anyone could remain dedicated to messing around in an old shooter for so long, just to get into a room.
"The interest has never faded from the group," Sekala said. "There are periods where we can think of nothing to solve certain tricks, but over time new ideas form and discoveries are made that aid in the solving of these tricks, or maybe not."
"Trial and error always go hand in hand with success, though. When there is an idea, there is always great excitement. But in the end, even after an unsuccessful attempt, or a thousand unsuccessful attempts, we know someday, maybe tomorrow, maybe a year from now, or ten, we will accomplish what we set out for.
"That's what drives us and keeps our interest, that drive to knock out the remaining challenges; no matter how long it takes. I remember countless hours invested into the Destroyed Science Wing, the many evolutions this trick has taken on, and the frustration, confusion, dead ends, late nights, and here we are, with the completion of one of, if not, the biggest Reach trick."
Trickosity aren't done. They plan on playing even more Halo - there are still more tricks on the docket, more impossible achievements to earn. They're already in the middle of another massive project that is years in the making. Until then, there's more Halo to play.