Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article describes the computer game. For other meanings see half-life (disambiguation).
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.
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 protagonist is the scientist 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 a dimension known as Xen to invade Earth.
As Freeman tries to escape the overrun facility 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.
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 immersive feeling, 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 had often been a diversion from previous segments of the gameplay. The levels for HL were also divided into small sections to minimize long interruptions from loading.
The game storyline is divided into "chapters":
- 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 and hopes to get help from newly arrived 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, ancient 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 and 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.
In January 1999, Valve released a demo called "Half-Life: Uplink" that featured a new chapter not seen in the game. In this chapter, Freeman has to activate a radar dish while being assaulted by numerous mercenaries and marines. Uplink is available for free from various websites.
Years after its release, Half-Life (and in particular, its numerous modifications) continues to be popular even now that most players have completed the single-player mode. Playing over local area networks and the Internet, players can fight against each other, or cooperatively, just as in previous first-person shooters.
Online play for Half-Life was originally through WON but is now through the Steam content delivery system. Users can download and play any version of Half-Life and any available mod, or even purchase the game online, through Steam. Valve introduced Steam to Half-Life in 2003, five years after the game's 1998 release date. Steam now serves as the basis for online play for many games, notably Half-Life 2.
Despite being somewhat eclipsed by its many successful multiplayer mods, Half-Life Deathmatch (HLDM) is still popular and is played in various leagues around the world.
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 clichéd, 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.
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.
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 two).
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 controls are customizable, but the Y-Axis seems to be stuck on inverted mode (i.e., pushing up makes you look down).
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).
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, though no dates have been provided yet.
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.
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 22.214.171.124 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).
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. 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.
- 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. The player can 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. 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.
- AMX Half-Life Server Mod
- List of Half-Life mods
- Vortigaunt, about a species that is found frequently in this game
- Half-Life 2
- "Half-Life 2 with Gabe Newell". An interview by 'Storm' of (now defunct) City-17.net with Gabe Newell of Valve.
- "Half-Life History". (Information on what influenced HL and HL2, citing Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar ISBN 0761543643.)
- Keighley, Geoffrey. "The Final Hours of Half-Life". GameSpot. 1998.
- The Official Half-Life Web Site (Sierra)
- Planet Half-Life, a popular fan-site of HL- and Valve-related topics from GameSpy
- The Half-Life Saga Story Guide provides a clear overview of the story.
- Valve ERC Collective features news, discussion, and help on editing and modding Half-Life.
- Half-Life entry at GameFAQs has FAQs, walkthroughs, (single-player) cheats, and discussion.
- Half-Life Clan Collision League, a European league
- Black Mesa: Source is the community planned remake of Half-Life: Source.
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