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Black Mesa, the Remake of the 1998 PC Gaming Classic Half-Life, is Complete

On November 19, 1998, the video game developer Valve released its first title, Half-Life, which went on to revolutionize the industry by introducing several concepts that have become staples of the first-person-shooter genre. For instance, the game introduced the concept of an immersive, story-driven first-person gaming experience; throughout the entirety of the game’s main campaign, the player maintains control of the story’s protagonist, Gordon Freeman, as a compelling science-fiction story about an alien invasion at a research facility unfolds. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell likened other video games from the era as “shooting galleries,” whereas with Half-Life he wanted to create an immersive world. The game received rave reviews upon release, with many outlets considering it to be among the greatest games of all time and praising its innovative and revolutionary game design. Half-Life was a surprise hit for the company, as the game went on to become a best-seller, spawning multiple expansion packs and sequels.

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Now, over twenty years since the game was released, many video game enthusiasts are too young to remember the experience of playing Half-Life for the first time, and would likely be turned off by the title’s outdated graphics and game design. However, Half-Life has inspired a legion of enthusiastic and dedicated fans, who have created several modifications and other fan projects related to the franchise. Perhaps the most impressive of these projects is the fan-made remake Black Mesa which, after more than fourteen years in development, has finally been completed, albeit in beta form. Black Mesa gives a younger generation of gamers a chance to experience the original Half-Life adventure in a form that appeals to modern-day sensibilities, as the remake substantially improves the graphical fidelity of the original title while also tweaking elements of gameplay to address many of the criticisms of Half-Life that have emerged over the two decades since its release.

Initially announced in 2005, Black Mesa began life as a project meant to convert the original title to the then-newly-released Source engine, taking advantage of all of the features the game engine offers. Initially, the project was developed as a free modification of Half-Life 2, with the developers working on the project in their spare time, motivated by their own creativity and passion for the franchise. However, as time passed, the project grew in size and complexity, as the developers recruited voice actors to re-record the game’s dialogue and composed custom music specifically for the remake. As the years passed, many had doubted that the project would ever see the light of day, as the developers shared information sporadically and did not commit to a release date. In 2009 and 2010, Wired magazine included Black Mesa in its “Vaporware of the Year” lists, suggesting that few still believed that the remake would ever be released. In September of 2012, though, years after most people had considered the project to be dead, the first version of Black Mesa was made available as a free download to substantial critical acclaim, with many reviewers praising the developers’ attention to detail and the project’s high polish, particularly for a free title.

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This initial release of Black Mesa, however, only incorporated the first two-thirds of Half-Life, with the final third of the game, which takes place on the alien world Xen, still under development. Additionally, at this point, the developers announced that they had permission from Valve to sell the project via the company’s Early Access program, which enables customers to play unfinished versions of games at a reduced cost. The Early Access version of Black Mesa was released in May of 2015 for $20, featuring improvements to the original release but still lacking the final chapters of the story. Now, over four years later, these chapters of the game have been released, marking the first point in the title’s long development history that customers are able to play through the entire Half-Life adventure in its updated form. As such, if you’re a fan of the first-person-shooter genre but have never played the 1998 classic that revolutionized the industry, there’s never been a better time to immerse yourself in the title, as Black Mesa brings the original masterpiece into the 21st century and improves upon an already-excellent gaming experience. 

Virtual Reality

Valve Announces Half-Life: Alyx, a Virtual Reality Exclusive

Over the past several years, the game development studio Valve has shifted its focus from developing new titles in its various critically-acclaimed video game franchises to developing Steam, its content-delivery platform and investing in innovative technology like virtual reality. As such, it came as a surprise when Valve announced Half-Life: Alyx, a new entry in the famed Half-Life series which revolutionized the first-person shooter genre when its first entry was released for PC in 1998. Half-Life: Alyx, the first entry in the series in more than a decade, is not the highly-anticipated Half-Life 3 that fans of the series have waited for, but instead takes place before the events of Half-Life 2 and puts players in the shoes of Alyx Vance, a supporting character from the main series. As the game is built from the ground up for VR, it will not resemble a first-person shooter in the traditional sense, but rather will ask players to use motion controllers to manipulate objects in virtual 3D space to solve puzzles and engage in combat.

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Valve has not released all of the details about the upcoming title, but has announced a launch date of March 2020 and has promised the game will be a full-length experience. The game’s trailer, posted to Youtube a few days ago, showcases the improved graphical capabilities of the Source 2 engine, which enables advanced lighting and other high-quality effects. Additionally, the trailer gives players a hint of the kind of gameplay they can expect, as the player character is depicted firing weapons and interacting with the visually-updated dystopian world first featured in 2004’s Half-Life 2. The title will only be available for PC, but will support all virtual reality platforms that can be used with a Windows computer.

It doesn’t seem likely that a real Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, as Valve has seemed to move on from traditional game development; however, fans may experience some long-awaited closure in the form of Half-Life: Alyx.

While fans are of course excited by the announcement of a new title in the Half-Life series, the game’s exclusivity as a VR title has drawn criticism. For one, though their price has lowered in recent years, virtual reality headsets continue to be prohibitively expensive for most, and they require a similarly-expensive high-powered gaming PC to function well. One of the biggest challenges in VR game design is the problem of locomotion, as allowing players to move freely within a virtual world while remaining physically stationary in the real world causes sensations of nausea in many people. As such, the locomotion system featured in Half-Life: Alyx is likely to be extremely limited compared to the movement systems featured in previous titles in the series. 

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Half-Life: Alyx will mark the first commercial use of the company’s Source 2 engine, an update to the revolutionary Source engine upon which previous titles in the series were built. Valve is also opening up their game development tools to the public, updating Hammer, the company’s free level authoring tool, for compatibility with the new game. Valve has promised that Half-Life: Alyx will be a flagship experience for the VR format, and the game’s $59.99 price tag reflects this ambition. While Half-Life 2 featured the “Gravity Gun” weapon as a tool to manipulate objects in the environment, showing off the game’s then-unique use of a full physics engine to breathe life into the game’s setting, Half-Life: Alyx gives players “Gravity Gloves,” allowing them to pick up objects, like guns and puzzle items, from a short distance.

The last entry in the series, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, ended on a major cliffhanger that after twelve years remains unresolved; while Valve’s newest title in the series takes the form of a prequel, fans still hope that the game will shed light on what happens in the aftermath of the precious title. It doesn’t seem likely that a real Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, as Valve has seemed to move on from traditional game development; however, fans may experience some long-awaited closure in the form of Half-Life: Alyx.