Halo 3's Holy Grail, the 'Pimps at Sea' build, has leaked

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Let's get this out of the way first. 'Pimps at Sea' was a long-running Bungie April Fool's gag that probably seemed like a good idea back in 2001. It would run and run (opens in new tab), thanks to the studio pretending this was the next game it would make after Halo, and became a regular in-joke to the extent that the earliest known build of Halo 3 was given this nickname. Bungie employees were spotted playing Pimps At Sea on Xbox Live back in the day and, over the years, little glimpses of this particular build have appeared. It became something of a holy grail and then, early in 2022, a video of Pimps at Sea gameplay (opens in new tab) appeared.

Now the whole 'Pimps at Sea' Halo 3 build has, excuse the pun, leaked. It can be found easily enough through search, although you'll need a chipped Xbox or a devkit to run it, so thankfully a very tired Northern Irishman has uploaded around 25 minutes of the footage to YouTube.

The build itself is basically a very early alpha version of Halo 3, where many assets are imported straight from Halo 2. The build does not include any of the campaign content, though it does list various missions, and instead has a once-functional multiplayer mode and an extremely early version of Forge that's just called 'Editor'.

There are a few other interesting bits in the build, like an untextured rocket launcher model and early versions of Halo 3's weapons and equipment. The assault rifle, which got a large overhaul in Halo 3 to function as the starting weapon, is present in a slightly different visual form, alongside an extremely fugly carbine and a plasma pistol that has bright iconography and looks… kinda great? The few pieces of equipment are in-line with what would ship in the final game, with minor differences (like the Mongoose's honky horn) abound.

The most interesting thing in the 'Pimps at Sea' build is a slightly bugged-out attempt at a 'leaning' mechanic. In this Halo 3 build you can make your character's view tilt left and right (though the shots don't track accurately), an idea that Bungie apparently first tried to implement in Halo 2. It's unclear whether its presence here meant the studio had another go with Halo 3 before abandoning it, or whether it's just a hangover from all the Halo 2 stuff being re-used here.

Interestingly enough, Destiny 2 does not feature a peek mechanic. But it does have this odd little kink whereby, if you ADS while crouching, you'll pop over low walls. It feels like a vestigial system, however, rather than anything of practical use. Perhaps this is the one nut that even Bungie, masters of FPS control-feel, can't quite crack.

It may not seem like much, but this piece of software once had an almost mythical status among Halo fans. And for a very simple reason: It was a long wait for Halo 3, and the rising popularity of aggregate message boards like Reddit and early social media meant that Halo hype was building at unprecedented rates. We all knew it was out there, somewhere, but we couldn't have it. Finally seeing the Pimps at Sea build after all these years is the one thing some weary UNSC warriors wanted: Proof it was all real. 

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."