Half-Life

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This article describes the computer game. For other meanings see half-life (disambiguation).
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Half-Life
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Half-life-cover.jpg


Developer(s) Valve Software
Publisher(s) Sierra On-Line
Release date(s) November 20, 1998
Genre First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: Mature (M)
ELSPA: 15+
Platform(s) Windows, PlayStation , Dreamcast (canceled)

Half-Life is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game developed by Valve Software and published by Sierra On-Line in 1998, based on a heavily-modified Quake game engine. It was first published for PCs running Microsoft Windows, and was later ported to Sony's PlayStation 2 video game console.

Half-Life, often shortened to HL, has been heralded by computer game critics for its gripping in-depth storyline, which would influence the development of other first-person shooters in the years to come. Its own success continued for years with expansions such as Opposing Force, mods such as Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, and its sequel Half-Life 2.

Contents

Single player

The game is set in a remote area of New Mexico at the Black Mesa Research Facility, a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51. The game's protagonist is the physicist Gordon Freeman, a survivor (and catalyst) of an experiment that goes horribly awry when an unexpected resonance cascade rips dimensional seams that allow aliens from another world - known as Xen - to invade Earth.

As Freeman tries to escape the ruined facility whilst fighting off aliens, he soon discovers he is caught between two sides: the hostile aliens, and the forces of the United States Marine Corps that have been dispatched to cover up the incident—including eliminating Freeman and the rest of the scientists. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known as the G-Man regularly appears to monitor (and direct) Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Freeman uses the co-operation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way to the mysterious "Lambda Complex" of Black Mesa, where a team of survivors teleport him to the alien world Xen, where he must kill the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.

The game's plot was originally inspired by the computer game Quake, Stephen King's short story/novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland". It was later developed by Valve's in-house writer and author, Marc Laidlaw who wrote the books Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandala. The more influential aspect of the single-player mode is not the plot itself but rather how it is presented to the player.

The game tells the story by flowing into scripted sequences that are integrated as part of the game rather than as cutscene intermissions. The importance of these sequences ranges from major plot points such as the resonance cascade, to humorous moments (usually involving the accidental death of cowering scientists), and to "dialogue" that provides instructions to the player. Two of the intended results of this style of presentation were to increase immersion and to maintain a smoothly-flowing experience that keeps the player's interest.

Valve implemented other factors to heighten the feeling of immersion, including that the player never sees or hears their own character (dialogue is handled as if Gordon responds in an appropriate manner) and that the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, even during monologues. The scripted sequences help flow by keeping the player in the game, whereas cutscenes in other contemporary games had often been a diversion from previous segments of their gameplay. The levels for HL were also divided into small sections to minimize long interruptions from loading.

Chapters

In this scene, the player must cross a dam; but the dam is guarded by an Apache helicopter, and the lake is inhabited. This shot also shows the original  sub-machine gun, instead of the High Definition Pack's / replacement.
Enlarge
In this scene, the player must cross a dam; but the dam is guarded by an Apache helicopter, and the lake is inhabited. This shot also shows the original MP5 sub-machine gun, instead of the High Definition Pack's M4/M203 replacement.

The game storyline is divided into "chapters":

  • Black Mesa Inbound — Gordon starts his day out riding a tram through Black Mesa Facility to work. On his way he witnesses many interesting things, such as a miliatary helicopter preparing to leave and a strange man in a blue suit watching him from another train.
  • Anomalous Materials — Gordon is running late for an important experiment. After donning his HEV suit, he proceeds to the test chamber to assist with the experiment, but something goes terribly wrong.
  • Unforeseen Consequences — Disaster strikes: A resonance cascade has been triggered, causing massive structural damage to Black Mesa. Worse yet, Xen aliens begin teleporting in all over the place, attacking the few survivors who are left to fend for themselves.
  • Office Complex — Gordon works his way to the surface through an abandoned office facility. He finds out that the military is coming and hopes to get help from the marines.
  • "We've Got Hostiles" — The Marines take command of Black Mesa and are killing everything, human and alien alike. Gordon learns that members of the science team have retreated to the Lambda Complex at the other end of the facility and can help him.
  • Blast Pit — Gordon runs into a sort of giant animate alien plant that has nested in a rocket testing area. By firing the rocket engine suspended above the creature, he destroys it and is able to follow the tunnel it leaves behind to the old rail system that leads to Lambda Complex.
  • Power Up — Gordon reactivates the rail system's power, fights off the hostile marines, defeats a large alien being known as Gargantua, and takes the train to Lambda.
  • On a Rail — A guard informs Gordon that a communications satellite needs to be launched to activate equipment at the Lambda complex. Gordon fights his way through the rail system, finding entrenched Marines lying in wait for him, and launches the satellite's rocket.
  • Apprehension — Gordon runs into some mysterious assassins and later the Marines finally apprehend him and dump him in a garbage compactor.
  • Residue Processing — Gordon carefully moves through "residue processing", a dangerous, industrial and sparsely populated area of the complex filled with hazardous materials and automated materials processing equipment.
  • Questionable Ethics — With the help of hiding scientists, Gordon makes his way through laboratories designed to perform experiments on alien life forms. Apparently they were on Earth long before the resonance cascade. Eventually he reaches the surface and tries to meet up with the remaining scientists at the Lambda Complex.
  • Surface Tension — The surface is swarming with aliens and marines, who are losing the fight and plan to pull out and start air strikes on Black Mesa.
  • Forget About Freeman — The marines are ordered to evacuate immediately and Gordon finally arrives at the Lambda Complex.
  • Lambda Core — Gordon activates the reactor for Lambda and learns of the secret teleportation experiments that have allowed expeditions to the alien "borderworld" of Xen. An immensely powerful being in that borderworld is keeping the portal between the worlds open. Gordon enters the teleporter.
  • Xen — Now on the strange borderworld, Gordon encounters many of the aliens that had been brought into Black Mesa, as well as the remains of HEV-wearing researchers that came before him. He activates an alien teleporter and is whisked away.
  • Gonarch's Lair — Gordon faces a powerful spider-like creature — literally the mother of all headcrabs — in its own lair. After defeating it, he finds a portal and enters it.
  • Interloper — Gordon arrives at an alien factory. To his horror, it is a genetic flesh factory, manufacturing an army of engineered soldiers (presumably for the invasion of Earth), and it is entering the final phases of production (the soldiers are being packaged into portable containers for transport). After sneaking and fighting his way through, he finds another portal and enters it.
  • Nihilanth — At last, Gordon confronts the powerful being that is holding the portal open: Nihilanth. Gordon defeats the creature by destroying its brain.
  • Endgame — Gordon, having just obliterated Nihilanth, is met by the mysterious G-Man who offers Gordon an ultimatum: either work for the G-Man or be abandoned on the alien world, where he would have no chance of surviving.

Development

Half-Life was the first product for Kirkland, Washington-based developer Valve Software, which was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. They settled on a concept for a scary 3D action game and licensed the Quake engine from id Software. (Valve eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support.) The company had a difficult time finding a publisher at first, many believing their project ambitious for a studio headed by newcomers to the video game industry. Sierra On-Line had been very interested in making a 3D action game, especially one based on the Quake engine, and so signed them for a one-game deal.

The game was codenamed "Quiver" while in development. Gabe Newell explained in an interview that the name Half-Life was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter λ (lower-case lambda), which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation.

The first public appearances of Half-Life came in early 1997, it was a hit at E3 that year, where they primarily demonstrated the animation system and AI. Valve hired science fiction author Marc Laidlaw in August 1997 to work on the game's characters and level design. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in late 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision. The studio had completely reworked the game's AI and levels in the year leading up to its release. At E3 1998 it was given Game Critics Awards for being the "Best PC Game" and "Best Action Game" at the expo. The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.

Ports

Half-Life was ported to the PlayStation 2 by Gearbox Software and released in 2001. This version of the game added Head-to-Head play and a co-op expansion called Decay that allowed players to play as the two female scientists Dr. Cross and Dr. Green at Black Mesa.

Versions for the Sega Dreamcast and Mac were essentially completed, but never commercially released.

Dreamcast version

Despite never officially being released, the Dreamcast version was leaked onto the Internet, fully-playable; it contains the full versions of Half-Life and Blue Shift, both with the High-Definition Pack (it was from this port that the pack was spawned), but has a somewhat inconsistent framerate (though never to the point of unplayability) and lengthier load times when the player moves from area to area (around ten seconds, while today's average PC can load an area in around one and a half).

The console's mouse and keyboard peripherals are supported, if preferred to the standard controller. If the controller is used, the game adds an auto-aim feature, so that when an enemy nears the center of the player's vision, the aiming crosshair will shift over toward the enemy to make shooting them easier. The game's controls are customizable. The game has no multiplayer mode, and lacks the parental feature of the PC version (players cannot turn the gibs off). It does have an interesting password feature, however; with three dials, the user makes various phrases, such as "Otis Loves Dreamcast" (god mode), "Fear and Gravity" (jump to Xen in HL), or "Barney Goes To Work" (skip the intro in Blue Shift and jump right into the main game, pre-resonance cascade).

Later developments

The sequel, Half-Life 2, was merely a rumor until a strong impression at E3 in May 2003 launched it into levels of hype perhaps unequalled by any other game. The player again takes the role of Gordon Freeman, this time a decade after the Black Mesa incident in a dystopic Eastern European 'City 17' where he must fight as part of a rebellion against an alien regime. After a series of controversies and delays Half-Life 2 was released on November 16, 2004.

Valve ported Half-Life to their new Source engine, which has been dubbed Half-Life: Source. Valve ported HL (and later Counter-Strike) to experience first-hand the processes mod-makers would have to go through with the new engine. Half-Life: Source is a straight port, lacking new content or the Blue Shift HD pack. It does however take advantage of shaders for realistic water effects. Half-Life: Source is available with special editions of Half-Life 2. Also under development is Day of Defeat: Source, which will be out Q2-Q3 2005.

Expansions

Two expansion packs by outside developer Gearbox Software have been released for the PC version: Opposing Force (1999) and Blue Shift (2001). The former, often shortened to OpFor, returns the player to Black Mesa during the events of Half-Life's storyline, but this time from the perspective of the U.S. Marines sent to cover up evidence of the incident. It introduced several new weapons (notably the M249 SAW LMG and a Barnacle grappling gun), new NPCs, both friendly and hostile (Otis the security guard and the "Race X" aliens, respectively) and new, previously unseen areas of the facility. The expansion is shorter than Half-Life, having 11 chapters to the original's 17.

Blue Shift returns the player to HL's Black Mesa timeline once more, this time as one of the facility's security guards. (This expansion was originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version.) Blue Shift came with an optional High Definition Pack that could update the look of Half-Life, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. In particular, the models' polygon count and texture resolutions were increased, and some changes were made to the in-game sounds, most notably the shotgun. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few models (jacket-less scientists and security guards, Otis, and Dr. Rosenberg) all content was already present in the original Half-Life.

Half-Life: Decay was another expansion by Gearbox, released only as an extra with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life. The add-on featured cooperative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles or fight against the many foes in the Half-Life universe.

Mods

From its release in 1998, Half-Life saw fervent support from independent game developers, due in no small part to support and encouragement from Valve Software. Worldcraft, the level-design tool used during the game's development, was included with the game software. Printed materials accompanying the game indicated Worldcraft's eventual release as a retail product, but these plans never materialised. Valve also released a software development kit, enabling developers to modify the game and create mods. Both tools were significantly updated with the release of the 1.1.0.0 patch. Many supporting tools (including texture editors, model editors, and rival level editors) were either created or updated to work with Half-Life.

Half-Life's code has also been used as a base for many mods such as the immensely popular and free multiplayer mod, Counter-Strike. Other popular multiplayer mods include Team Fortress Classic (TFC), The Specialists, Day of Defeat, Deathmatch Classic (DMC), Action Half-Life, Firearms, and Natural Selection. TFC and DMC were developed in-house at Valve Software. Counter-Strike, The Specialists, Day of Defeat, and others began life as the work of independent developers (self-termed "modders"), later on received aid from Valve. Numerous single player mods have also been created, such as Absolute Redemption (2000, which brings back Gordon Freeman for four additional episodes and another encounter with the G-Man) and Gunman Chronicles (2000, a futuristic Western-style total conversion that included a single player mode).

Some Half-Life modifications eventually landed on retail shelves. Counter-Strike was the most prolific, having been released in four different boxes: as a standalone product (2000), as part of the Platinum Collection (2000), as an Xbox version (2003) and as the single player spin-off, Condition Zero (2004).

Weapons

There are 14 weapons available to players in both single-player and multiplayer games of Half-Life. Half-Life: Opposing Force added several more weapons. Many reviews of Half-Life mentioned the impressive functionality and "usefulness" of all the weapons designed. Each weapon's damage profile is distinct, none feeling superfluous or overpowerful; each has a specific advantage in the appropriate situation. The weapons in HL (without expansions) are:

  • Crowbar: A simple melee weapon that is iconic of Gordon Freeman and Half-Life.
  • Pistol (GLOCK 17, Beretta M9 pistol with the High Definition pack): The first and simplest ranged weapon. Has good accuracy but low damage that makes it more useful on weak targets, like headcrabs or laser trip mines. Unlike most other ranged weapons, this pistol is effective underwater. Primary fire is accurate with every shot; secondary fire is faster but less accurate.
  • Magnum (Colt Python revolver): An extremely powerful and accurate gun. It has a long reload time and a small 6-round clip. Good for dispatching enemies in one hit, especially from a distance. In multiplayer mode, secondary fire gives the player a zoomed view.
  • Submachine gun (HK MP5/A3, Colt M4/M203 assault rifle with the High Definition pack): Excellent for close-range combat. Has a fast rate of fire that compensates for its poor damage and accuracy. Secondary fire launches a grenade that detonates on impact. Uses same ammo pool as the Pistol.
  • Shotgun (SPAS-12): Does high damage at close range, but its broad fire cone makes it weak at a distance. It can be reloaded one shell at a time, but is slow to fully reload. Its secondary fire shoots two rounds at once.
  • Crossbow: A sniper weapon with high damage and accuracy, but with a slow rate of fire and reload time. Like the pistol, the crossbow works underwater. Secondary fire toggles its zoom mode. Multiplayer behavior is quite different: It fires explosive bolts, and when zoomed in it is an instantaneous-fire sniper weapon.
  • Hornet gun (alien weapon): The same weapon used by the Alien Grunts, this gun is a sort of living hive of constantly replenishing "hornets". Primary fire shoots up to 8 homing hornets that can hit unseen enemies around corners. Secondary fire launches straight-flying non-homing hornets that move faster and have a higher rate of fire compared to the homing ones.
  • RPG launcher (ATGM-4000 RPG Launcher): Does a large amount of explosive splash damage. Secondary fire toggles a laser that guides the RPG to its target. Can only hold one rocket at a time with 5 more in reserve.
  • Gluon gun: This experimental weapon looks and operates similar to the proton pack used by the characters in the movie Ghostbusters. Because of its internal weapon name, weapon_egon, it is also known as the Egon gun; this is probably a reference to the identically-named character from the movie. This gun emits a powerful, continuous, bluish energy stream.
  • Tau cannon/Gauss gun: Another experimental weapon that rapidly shoots laser-like beams that reflect off walls if hit indirectly. Secondary fire allows the gun to charge up to shoot a more powerful beam that can penetrate thin walls and pushes the user in the opposite direction. The recoil is deliberately exaggerated in multiplayer so the player can "Gauss jump" very high and reach hidden areas or escape opponents. This feature is a deliberate nod to "rocket jumping" in Quake. If the gun is kept charged for too long (ca 10s), it overloads and damages its wielder.
  • Hand grenade: A frag grenade that explodes a few seconds after being thrown.
  • Laser trip mine: A high-explosive Claymore-like mine that can be attached to walls. It is set off either by damaging the mine or by "breaking" the laser "tripwire" emitting from it.
  • Satchel charge: A high-explosive that can be thrown a short distance and detonated when the player presses fire. Secondary fire allows the player to place several satchels and detonate them simultaneously.
  • Snarks (alien weapon): Aggressive little alien creatures that quickly pursue their target, pestering and biting, until finally exploding after several seconds (or if shot). If they cannot locate a hostile target, they will turn on the player that set them loose. Can be used, for example, to draw enemies out from their cover.

Additionally, the long jump module can increase the horizontal distance and speed of jumps. This increased mobility can be used to dodge attacks quickly and jump from one platform to another.

Soundtrack

(Note: All of the songs are renamed in Half-Life 2 Soundtrack, the names in paranthesis are the names in Half-Life 2 OST)

  • 01 - Vague Voices (Black Mesa Inbound)
  • 02 - Space Ocean (Echoes of a Resonance Cascade)
  • 03 - Cavern Ambience (Zero Point Energy Field)
  • 04 - Hurricane Strings (Neutrino Trap)
  • 05 - Diabolical Adrenaline Guitar (Lambda Core)
  • 06 - Valve Theme (Valve Theme)
  • 07 - Sirens In The Distance (Triple Entanglement)
  • 08 - Nuclear Mission Jam (Something Secret Steers Us)
  • 09 - Drums and Riffs (Tau-9)
  • 10 - Steam In The Pipes (Negative Pressure)
  • 11 - Electric Guitar Ambience (Escape Array)
  • 12 - Dimensionless Deepness (Dirac Shore)
  • 13 - Traveling Through Limbo (Singularity)
  • 14 - Closing Theme Remix (Tracking Device)
  • 15 - Threatening Short (Xen Relay)

Black Mesa: Source

A fan based project that endevours to recreate the original Half-Life on VALVE's Source Engine. The Black Mesa: Source Developement Team not only hope to recreate the experience but to also improve and expand on the original Half-Life. The Black Mesa: Source team is headed by Jon 'Kalashnikov' Dominski and James 'denzil' Headdon and is staffed with several other talented members.

See also

References

  • "Half-Life 2 with Gabe Newell (http://web.archive.org/web/20030820204929/www.city-17.net/int_gaben1.php)". An interview by 'Storm' of (now defunct) City-17.net with Gabe Newell of Valve.
  • "Half-Life History (http://www.btinternet.com/~rideflame/HalfLife/history.html)". (Information on what influenced HL and HL2, citing Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar ISBN 0761543643.)
  • Keighley, Geoffrey. "The Final Hours of Half-Life (http://www.gamespot.com/features/halflife_final/)". GameSpot (http://www.gamespot.com/). 1998.

External links

Useful tools

  • 17Smi (http://dwl.17buddies.net/All-Downlds.php?Tab=98): 17's Buddies Steam Map Installer

Install hundreds of maps in a few seconds, and get rid of files location. HL, HL and all Mods compatible.

  • 17Ims (http://dwl.17buddies.net/All-Downlds.php?Tab=98): 17's Buddies Integration Map System

Make zip files or full map-pack of your maps, by clicking on your .bsp, with all necessary ressources (wads, sprites, models, sounds, etc). HL, HL and all Mods compatible.

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