Ramblings of a Tampa engineer
Halo 2 "Insignia" Xbox-Live replacement

A few weeks ago I heard in some chats that a replacement for the shutdown Xbox Live was near for Halo 2. Of course with a busy life and a decade or more later - I pretty much ignored it. A few days ago a few of my Twitter posts were booming with folks playing the original Halo 2 on the original Xbox online.

I had to get involved as someone who owes Halo 2 for their career choice and path, but I only had my old Xecuter modchip Xbox - so this is the story of playing the original Halo 2 online again.

I knew my first goal was to get rid of my debug bios and modchip behavior. I had to do this because it explicitly called my bios as not being allowed.

Do you support devkit/debug BIOSes/consoles?
We do not support these consoles or debug applications/games at this time. Please use a retail BIOS.

Thankfully a quick search and I found the old document I remembered from the Xecuter team. This led me to remember the button combination to boot with my chip disabled.


Sure enough I held down the power button and it booted up onto the original dashboard. However, I hadn't really configured my Xbox for the Insignia service yet. So I booted back into my modded dashboard and remembered how to setup my FTP connection.

Filezilla for FTP on original Xbox

With a few quick clicks I moved the default.xbe from insignia-live/setup-assistant-release over to my Xbox and started the process. It failed pretty quickly on the troubleshooting step and I vaguely remember my Xecuter dashboard blocking anything Xbox Live.

It was a feature back in the day so you wouldn't take your modded console online to get banned. That was part of the reason why the Xecuter chip could disable itself so easily - so you could easily balance the different behavior.

So this time I had to remember the button combo to boot into the chip itself, which was holding the white little button.

Xecuter X3 Dashboard

This launched me into the above configuration which held the options to re-enable Xbox Live and turn this console back into something that could be used online.

So now I had my console registered with Insignia and Xbox Live re-enabled, so it was off to the stock dashboard I went with my modchip disabled.

I was surprised how well it worked on first try. I went through the registration of an Insignia account through the Xbox Live flow. I was entering a fake credit card number while seeing the exact flow from decades ago returned.

Once complete I landed on the above screen with a new email in my inbox. This looks like the classic Laravel email template, so it might possibly match the Leaf stack with Laravel & Livewire.

It's such an amazing registration process to weed out bots and more - since you cannot complete registration until you finish registration on the Xbox itself. This went something like:

  • Get subscription code from Insignia website.
  • Register console (trick it to connect to Insignia).
  • Register through Xbox Live flow using subscription code & matching email.

I now had my console connected to Insignia Xbox Live replacement and it was time to play Halo 2. I had a clean rip of the game (and about 10 modded copies), but I felt with this much time later I just wanted to pop in the disk & play. I just had to play a bit of Phantom Mappack before I went back to the clean side.

Hacky replacement to play Halo 2 via disc.

My Xbox had aged and the fancy disk drive did not want to play nice. On the flip side I didn't really want to re-configure my modded dashboard side to support Insignia. So I took the Xbox apart and took off this orange clamp and just manually locked my Halo 2 disc into the drive when loaded in. It would be the only game I would be playing so who cares that its locked in there for good.

This now cage-less drive reminded me of the era of hot-swapping during the 360 days. Now I had a clean copy of Halo 2 playable and booted it up. However prior I was fearful of my modifications cached into the E drive so I deleted the entire folder (4D530064) of Halo 2. There was a time for mods and fun, but this time I wanted to just play a clean unmodified copy of Halo 2.

I just carefully waited as my Xbox re-downloaded DLC content and game updates to bring it up to date. I guess I could have taken a shortcut here and just re-ripped the DLC content into the E drive, but I didn't mind the downloading break to write this post. Once done I carefully relaunched the game and found myself back into the online portion of Halo 2.

Halo 2 online in 2024.

A screen and page I would spend thousands of hours in decades ago. It was huge hit of nostalgia to be back in this game and screen as it was 20 years ago. I went forward to play a match and boy I was rusty. I forgot the button combos and kept throwing grenades instead of scoping and missed having a battle rifle in hand at all times.

The game ended with a victory and I was surprised how many details this post game carnage report had. With modern games these days we sometimes lack even the level of stats this game offered.

I'm a firm believer that Halo 2 revolutionized online gaming with matchmaking, parties, playlist rankings, clans, stats and more.

I played a few more matches and quickly ran into folks that hadn't stopped playing Halo 2 and I got destroyed. Either way it was a fun trip back in time. Unfortunately I did encounter one cheater which kinda blew my mind. Who comes back to a game with under 400 people 20~ years later and decides to cheat?


I tossed a donation to one of the authors of Insignia and thanked them for building this. It brought back some memories and was a fun time. Now I'm itching with such a small population of players and games that it would be pretty interesting to build another iteration of Leaf stats for Halo 2 again.

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