Halo 1 is very primitive compared to later games in the series. Not having any way to specifically define a path to a shader and a small number of flags.

Material naming and shaders

The JMS files you export from your 3D software contain the material names you used. Tool will then search for a matching shader tag within your tags directory when compiling the JMS into a model tag and will automatically assign the shader references. For example, a level BSP which has the material name vines^ might have a corresponding shader at tags\levels\my_level\shaders\vines.shader_environment but it could also match with tags\levels\some_other_level\shaders\vines.shader_environment. For this reason it is important to name your materials and shaders uniquely. Always use lower-case names and do not exceed 32 characters.

When no shader tag can be found, Tool will ask you to generate an empty one by choosing a shader type. H1CE Tool will create these in the root of the tags directory, whereas H1A Tool will create them in a shaders directory next to the model tag. In the case of H1CE Tool, you will probably want to move these files into your level's shaders directory later just to keep things tidy. Once Tool has generated the empty shader tags, you must compile the model from JMS again for those shaders to be referenced.

Sapien and/or Halo may crash if you do not set up any bitmap references in these new shaders so do that before proceeding; empty shaders are invalid.

Special materials

These material names are hard-coded into Tool and have special meaning. They do not need shader tags.

Name Usage
+sky, +sky0, +sky1, ... Applied to surfaces to render the skybox. You can add the index of the sky in the scenario skies block if your scenario has multiple skies. Since each cluster can only reference one sky, you must ensure that all sky faces within a cluster use the same index.
+seamsealer Applied to temporary geometry to "seal" the level. Most commonly used to seal holes or other open edged areas of the level during construction and testing. These faces functionally behave the same as +sky -- they must still form sealed connections with the open edges that they close and the sky renders through them. They cannot be placed inside the level because they would either have open edges or cause "Couldn't update edge" errors. Seamsealer is collideable and deletes projectiles just like +sky.
+portal Applied to faces that are used to define general portals used in the visibility solution or rendering occlusion for the level. Because they split the level into clusters, they are also used to define areas of different sound environments or weather.
+exactportal Applied to faces that are used to define an exact volume or portal. Such faces typically cover exactly the opening of a doorway, passage, or hallway to define a very distinct volume that can be used to occlude the rendering of other areas of the level. The portal need not be planar, but all of its vertices must be perfectly aligned (but not welded) with the level's vertices. Both +portal and +exactportal are represented the same way within a BSP tag once compiled.
+weatherpoly Used on the faces of simply convex shapes to generate weather polyhedra, which are used to mask weather particles from areas under overhangs and around doorways. The faces do not need to be sealed but do need to be connected to each other in each polyhedron.
+sound Applied to faces that are used to define volumes for sound.
+unused Reserved special material that has many uses and can be used in conjunction with the special shader symbols to define its use and behavior. For example, it can be used with the $ fog plane shader symbol to make +unused$, which can be applied to faces to construct a fog plane used to define a volumetric fog region (assigned using Sapien).

Material symbols

Material symbols are added to the start or end of the material name and give the surface certain attributes or behaviours in-engine.

Symbol Usage
% Two-sided property. This has the effect of both disabling back-face culling so that the surface will render from both sides instead of just its normal direction, and this will cause the surface to have two-sided collision (unless marked render-only with !). A surface with this symbol does not need to follow sealed world rules (it can have open edges). This symbol is typically used on glass windows and floor grates if the player will see them from both sides.
# Transparent property. Used for one-sided non-manifold (unsealed) collidable geometry like grates.
! Render-only property. This causes the surface to have no collision and therefore does not need to follow sealed world rules. Use this for things which the player will not interact with like small cables or 2D "billboard" trees outside the playable space.
* Large collidable property, also called sphere collision only. This creates non-rendering collision-only geometry that ray tests (such as projectiles) pass through but not sphere-based collisions (like bipeds physics pills and vehicle physics). This symbol is ideal for surfaces which prevent the player from getting stuck on small obstacles, covering stairs with invisible ramps, and stopping players from going out of bounds, all while still allowing grenades and bullets to pass through. Source engine modders may know this as player clip.
@ Collision only property. Used for non-rendered collision geometry. These surfaces will stop all types of collision rather than sphere only like *.
$ Fog plane property. This symbol caused faces to be used as a fog plane, to which fog can be assigned in Sapien. The fog region is the space anti-normal to (behind) the surface. When the fog plane exists alone, it is paired with the special material +unused to make +unused$. When the fog plane is used with water, you would name the material like my_water_shader!$.
^ Ladder property. This indicates if the collision surface is climbable. Use it for ladders.
- Breakable property. Use this for breakable glass surfaces. When destroyed they will shatter into small particles and become collisionless.
& AI deafening property. This is a special kind of portal which does not propagate sound. AI will not be able to hear sounds through it.
. Exact portal property. This symbol can be used for materials which are always used on surfaces that perfectly separate one space from another. In other words, they will work just like +exactportal. This is an easy way to automatically create some exact portals where you have enclosed spaces behind glass and grates.


Thanks to the following individuals for their research or contributions to this topic:

  • Halo PC End User Editing Kit Development Team (Writing the original HEK tutorial which documents many of these conventions)