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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young to remember the experience of playing Half-Life for the first time, and would likely be turned off by the title’s outdated graphics and game design.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. 

Super Mario

Super Mario 64 Land Reimagines a 23-year-old Classic

Millennials who grew up playing video games likely have fond memories of their favorite classics from the 90’s, particularly the groundbreaking and wildly successful early 3D titles such as Super Mario 64. This nostalgia is so widespread that it’s led enterprising fans to create their own reimaginings of classic games, using emulators and clever programming tricks to modify the original code. These fan-made projects have become so ambitious in scope that they can rival and even exceed the quality of the games they’re based on, replacing nearly every element of the original titles with custom content. This is perhaps best exemplified by the recent Super Mario 64 Land, a total conversion mod of Super Mario 64 that introduces unique art, level design, and gameplay mechanics to the game engine of the celebrated Nintendo 64 launch title.

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Despite legal challenges from Nintendo concerning the redistribution of their intellectual property, the emulation and modding community for classic Nintendo platforms including the Nintendo 64 has perhaps never been more active, as talented programmers and artists donate their time to create free, fan-made works inspired by their favorite titles. Due to its status as a best-selling classic and the litany of modding tools that have been developed for the title, Super Mario 64, released in 1996 to widespread critical acclaim, is the most popular N64 game to modify. Many of these mods exhibit impressive feats of programming and reverse-engineering, as in the cases of a mod that adds a 24-person online multiplayer feature to the game, a mod that lets you play the entire game from a first-person perspective, and even a custom level editor inspired by the recent Nintendo hits Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Maker 2.

The more inventive and creative mods, however, are those that replace existing game content with custom assets, including levels, character models, gameplay features, and music, to create an entirely new experience. Many such total conversion mods have been released over the past several years, including the popular Super Mario Star Road, released in 2011, and the cleverly-themed Super Mario 64: Halloween Edition. But the most recent release, created by a developer with years of experience creating custom content for Super Mario 64, aims to replicate the style and level of polish Nintendo is known for, and draws inspiration from the celebrated 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land. 

Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property

Super Mario 64 is not the only classic Nintendo title that has received attention from the modding community. Ocarina of Time: Four Swords Arena Edition allows you to play the critically-acclaimed N64 Zelda title with three friends, and another mod adds custom stages to the classic fighting game Super Smash Brothers. Perhaps the most impressive fan-made Nintendo project from recent years was the remake called AM2R, a total re-imagining of the Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus for PC. While the developer was ultimately forced to remove access to the fangame by Nintendo’s legal team, the project ultimately allowed the developer to teach himself game design and programming, leading him to be hired by a professional game studio.

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Super Mario 64 Land is, of course, of dubious legality, as the mod directly incorporates and redistributes Nintendo’s intellectual property, borrowing concepts from newer Mario titles such as their power ups and enemies. The Japanese company is notorious for issuing takedown notices to developers who modify their games, who generally capitulate to the entertainment giant by deleting links to their creations under threat of legal action. As such, the future availability of Super Mario 64 Land on the internet is uncertain, so if you’re interested in playing it, it’s a good idea to download the mod to your computer ASAP. Links to the mod, which is free but requires a ROM image of Super Mario 64 and a Nintendo 64 emulator, can be found in the description for the mod’s YouTube trailer