This is letter thirteen of Letters to J
. We hope this one reminds you of your favorite childhood game.
(Jasdev ⇒ Justin, 8/17/20)
Details [about your Halo modding days]. Now.
— Justin, in letter #12.
Having a sheltered childhood — think math, quiz bowl, and track teams — I only got in Big Trouble twice. Once when I learned about Windows’ net send command and sent the message, “shit,” to every computer on the school network during a state-administered exam and twice when I got banned from Xbox Live (Microsoft’s online multiplayer service), for a mod that ensured we won every capture the flag Halo match.
Okay, okay, I should elaborate a bit:
- For the uninitiated, capture the flag (CTF) is a game type where each team would rotate playing offense or defense or both with two flags.
- “Modding” was Internet slang for modifying. In the Xbox and Halo sense, this meant cracking open the console’s case, haphazardly soldering in a “mod chip,” and jailbreaking the system to copy modified game files onto the hard drive.
- And by “haphazardly soldering” I mean accidentally burning holes in our childhood home’s carpet and bricking an Xbox on my first attempt (Mom, if you’re reading this, thanks for fostering this tinkering despite the collateral damage).
- And by “jailbreaking” I mean installing a browser, media center software, and giving weapons in Halo affordances the designers didn’t originally intend on.
Here was the setup. I swapped out the projectile for Halo 2’s infamous battle rifle with the asset for…a massive gate (pictured below and here’s a video of the specific gate in unmodded action).
I’d then hop onto Xbox Live’s CTF playlist and wait until the single-flag variant came in rotation. The single-flag part was important. The strategy was taking ordinary turns on offense and on defense, beelining it to the nearest battle rifle, heading back to our flag, and firing three to four gates around it — boxing it in from enemy capture. I repeated this and climbed my way to the top of the leaderboards until my account got noticed and understandably banned (modding was beyond warranty voiding after all).
I’m probably too nostalgic about this phase, yet it’s hard not to smile back on the memories it threaded through.
- introduced me to online forums and the Photoshopped signature aesthetic,
Reminiscing about the early-2000s forum signature aesthetic.
— Andy Kelly
- taught me about case modding (here’s a photo I dug up — try not to laugh too hard at this mood),
- led my friends and I to load copies of Halo 1 onto thumb drives we’d bring to — and play during — AP Physics lab,
- and ultimately got me into computers and the greater World Wide Web.
Which feels worth the broken Xbox and burnt soldering holes in the carpet along the way.
Have a story of when you got in trouble as a kid? Or a phase that was in retrospect cringe or formative or the two?