Master craftsman Harrison Krix has built himself a replica of Gordon Freeman's Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2. It's really something.
Made internet famous by similar projects based on the weapons of series like Mass Effect and World of Warcraft, the gun has that post-apocalyptic finish you'd expect, along with some amazing lighting effects that bring the whole thing to life.
If you actually want to own it? It's being auctioned off at a Child's Play dinner in Seattle. Details on how you can take part (and more photos from Dan Almasy, who took all the snazzy pics) at the link below.
Escape From City 17 - Part Two has the same top-shelf special effects (and reportedly the same shoestring budget of $250) as the first, only this time it's a lot longer, clicking in at around 15 minutes (as opposed to the first movie's five).
The extra time means more room for a story, in this case the relationship between an American and Russian resistance fighter, but sadly also more time for things to slow down and cracks appear in the writing and budget.
Still, it's definitely worth a watch, especially for the amazing effects.
Commenter Make.Sense gets sick while playing Diver: Deep Water Adventures, which makes perfect sense.He also gets sick while playing Half-Life 2, which is reason enough to appear in today's Speak Up on Kotaku.
Kotaku, have you ever played a game that made you feel ill? Not the "Oh this game is so bloody awful it's making my eyes hurt oh I got to throw up"-feeling but the "Oh, I'm playing an average game, damn it what a headache, I got to throw up"-feeling?
It has happened to me with two games, and it's not because of the computer, the place and my health status since I've tried these games at several occasions. Diver: Deep Water Adventures and Half-Life 2 give me a headache and make me feel ill, every time.
In Diver I've blamed the fact that you're under water and what's up and what's down isn't always that clear, and for some reason that makes my head hurt and want to throw up.
In Half-Life 2 I don't know, but I get the exact same feeling.
Anyway, has anyone else ever experienced this thing? You're playing a game and you start to feel very ill, you try the game at another time, same thing, but when you change game it goes away?
Just out of curiosity, because I don't know what's causing this on me or why it is just those two games of all games I've played, and it feels a bit odd.
About Speak Up on Kotaku: Our readers have a lot to say, and sometimes what they have to say has nothing to do with the stories we run. That's why we have a forum on Kotaku called Speak Up. That's the place to post anecdotes, photos, game tips and hints, and anything you want to share with Kotaku at large. Every weekday we'll pull one of the best Speak Up posts we can find and highlight it here.
Is it a game? Is it a manifesto? An artsy-fartsy waste of time? A story-within-a-story, an exercise in branching plotlines, meta-humor, and video game commentary? The provocative new Half-Life 2 mod The Stanley Parable is perhaps all of those things. Or maybe none of them. The game and its designer hope only that you'll draw your own conclusions.
Since we linked to the mod last week, I hope that some of you had a chance to give it a go. I won't be writing any heavy spoilers here, but it's worth noting that The Stanley Parable is worth experiencing as fresh as possible. So, if you've yet to play it, go on over to ModDB, download it, and plug it in. It's short—only around an hour or so—but it's almost guaranteed to get you thinking.
The conceit of The Stanley Parable is one of repetition and existential disorientation. Stanley is a worker in a large complex, but it's unclear what he does or why. One day, the game informs us, the monitor that feeds him information stops functioning, and so he breaks his regular routine to see what's going on.
Once outside his office, things get… weird. His actions are prompted by a kindly British narrator, who offers the sort of matter-of-fact narration we've come to expect from arty mainstream cinematic fare like American Beauty or Magnolia. In fact, the opening cinematic is scored by Thomas Newman's now-iconic theme from American Beauty, an effective means by which to quickly inform the player: "What follows is a bleak and yet charming statement on the human condition."
As I mentioned last week, the first time through the game I followed the Narrator's directions except for a single time: when I came to a pair of doors, and the Narrator said, "At the doors, Stanley went left." I went right, and found the Narrator got a bit annoyed before closing and opening doors until I was forced to go in the direction in which he had originally instructed me. Hmm.
A few minutes later, I'd been a good Narratee and had made my way to a fairly unsatisfying ending that seriously borrowed from the final sequence of American Beauty.
But upon reloading the game, I found that there are several other endings, and the paths to them are as circuitous as they are surprising. I won't spoil any of them here, but it was on my third playthrough that I began to see what The Stanley Parable was really all about, and what its creator, Davey Wreden, was using the game to say.
Wreden, 22, lives in Los Angeles, and his only formal game design training was a game design workshop he attended at USC. I spoke with him on Sunday via chat, and was surprised at how consistently he avoided ascribing specific meaning to his work.
"I think the wonderful part is that we don't need an 'answer,'" Wreden said. "People still enjoyed the game, they still had meaningful experiences, and I never offered an explanation of why any of this was happening. To me THAT is the big take-away."
I asked him about the discussion of whether TSP is in fact a game at all—after all, action is minimal, and interaction is limited to extremely simple presses of the "use" key.
"If I have to tell you to enjoy my game, you didn't enjoy it. If you decide for yourself that you enjoyed it, and that decision conflicts with a previous belief, now THAT's interesting to me."
"Part of what I'm trying to say with TSP," he said, "is that that distinction [between game and non-game] is all in your head. The best parts of the game are the parts that the player arrives at themselves, without me saying anything. If someone plays the game and they say, 'Wow, I really enjoyed that!' then maybe they have to reconsider what's 'valid' fun in a game.
"I think any piece of work that gives the consumer the answers is pretty boring," Wreden continued. "If I have to tell you to enjoy my game, you didn't enjoy it. If you decide for yourself that you enjoyed it, and that decision conflicts with a previous belief, now THAT's interesting to me. I realize this can come off as sounding zen and artsy," he admitted, "but I believe that there is no answer. The best answer is the one you had to come to and no one else could have."
The Stanley Parable certainly raises more questions than it answers—and many of the questions it raises are about game design and video game "meaning" itself. I asked Wreden if he that had been his intention going in.
"That's something that games can do," he said, "there's a space between the developer's intentions and what the player actually does, so the player has to fill that gap in themselves. No other medium is capable of that."
He's right—there is always a line between artist and audience, and at some point intent must become interpretation. When you listen to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," you might hear beauty where someone else hears noise—but each interpretation is equally valid.
"I should clarify that I do NOT believe games have a monopoly on artistic interpretation," Wreden said. "Just that they're capable of it in a way that we really haven't even begun to explore."
The Stanley Parable makes it clear that short games can take considerably greater risks with branching storylines than long, AAA titles. Whether by necessity or by design, the fact that one can play through all of the game's six endings in an hour makes it possible to actually see them all. I can't wait to finally see the effect that different choices will have in my second playthrough of The Witcher 2, but the game is so long that it's a real commitment to see them through.
Wreden says that part of the reason TSP is so short is simply due to the fact that he made it by himself. "[The decision] was definitely pragmatic," he said. "But I also wanted to encourage people to replay it, because replaying it is the whole point. Players know they're encouraged to try new things as opposed to thinking 'I gotta make the right decision, it'll be 20 hours before I can go back to this.'
"Most of the decisions you make in those 20-hour games are fairly meaningless when you get down to it. Especially if it's on a good/bad scale. I didn't want to punish people by witholding content based on an arbitrary decision."
I mentioned my belief that if, say, Deus Ex had had an ending like some of the more off-the-wall endings in The Stanley Parable, players would have been justifiably upset. He agreed, adding that "In Deus Ex, if you'd had another ending where you also were told 'and then everything was happy!' you'd also have been upset because there's cognitive dissonance between that and an ending where, say, it was in the mind of a crazy person. Gamers generally expect all 'paths' in their game to fit within the same cohesive narrative context. That's not bad, it's just how we've come to perceive branching story in video games."
Wreden made the game with minimal testing, relying mainly on instinct to tell when it was finished. "It shouldn't have worked," he admitted, pointing out that many reviews laud things that he thinks of as unfinished or broken. "For example, when you go through the red door, I originally tried to bind keys to actions in the world so that the screen told you to do things and then it had a response, but I couldn't figure out how to bind keys, so I just flashed text on the screen and nothing happened. But then people were like, 'I love how it tells you to push buttons but it doesn't actually respond to your input!' That actually was the benefit of designing a 'broken' game."
In the included commentary text-file, Wreden describes the process of designing The Stanley Parable as "grueling," and says that by the end, the project "felt completely dead to me." He goes on to admit that "I started out with career ambitions; this game killed most of them. If you're starting out, do not try to create something as ambitious as this by yourself. You will burn out and crash hard."
Davey Wreden – A 22 year-old modder in Los Angeles, Wreden cites mainstream influences like Bioshock, Braid, Shadow of The Colossus, and Metal Gear Solid, as well as mods like The Chinese Room's Dear Esther and Robert Yang's Radiator. He spent two years making The Stanley Parable.
With the newfound success of The Stanley Parable (ModDB is showing 64,000 downloads), Wreden feels a touch differently. "Toward the end of development, I was sure it would be a long time before I made a game again. But now, people are coming to me saying they want to build games with me, so there are opportunities popping up that I would only have dreamed of a month ago. I'm in that rare position of being a desired creative writer."
Before starting any new projects, Wreden says that they'll be taking the time to remake The Stanley Parable and polish it further. He plans to bring on skilled designers to reconstruct the entire game, overhauling the visuals and sound design. But one thing that'll stay the same: the voice of the narrator, Kevan Brighting, who recorded his vocal takes in a single pass. " there isn't a chance in hell I'd do it with anyone but Kevan," said Wreden. "God no. He's half the reason this game has been successful."
Branching, dynamic storytelling is something that games do almost uniquely well. But that kind of design stands in opposition to the length of many AAA games today; building truly consequential decisions into a 50-hour game like Fallout 3 or The Witcher requires an incredible amount of work, and it's difficult for players to see all of the possible content. As a result, many modern AAA games can't deviate very far from their primary storyline; it's simply too much content for one team to create.
It's exciting to find a game in the indie scene—the truly indie, make-this-game-in-my-basement-alone scene—that engages in storytelling as risky as that of The Stanley Parable.Download it, play it, think about it—it's certainly worth your time. And as for Wreden, he'll be out there dreaming up new ways to shake things up.
"As long as I keep surprising people," he said, "that's the most important thing to me. Because even this formula can become routine. My next game will be a third person action puzzle shooter set on Mars in hell."
Branching storylines have become quite the thing in games lately, but most games don't take the idea much farther than "choose option A to get ending A, choose option B to get ending B."
That's not the case with The Stanley Parable, a smart, twisty new Half-Life 2 mod by Davey Wreden. The first time I played it, I finished it in a few minutes and thought, "Well, that was neat."
Then I played it again, just to see what would happen if I did things differently. And that was when I figured out what The Stanley Parable is actually all about.
There's a lot more to say about this mod and the many fun ways it experiments with video game storytelling, but I'll save that for later. For now, you should really just download it (link is below) and see for yourself.
Just remember: when you finish, you're not finished.
Oh yeah. And he was also art director on Half-Life 2.
During his time with Valve, Antonov created much of the iconic imagery we associate with the game, including the look of City 17 (and environments beyond, some of which were cut, others which returned in HL2 spin-off The Lost Coast) and the vehicles and equipment of the Combine.
Hacking attacks and digital theft have been in the headlines a lot lately, whether it be the loss of user details on the PlayStation Network or a preview build of an upcoming game.
So let's look back today on a crime both more brazen and impressive than any we've seen in the past few years: the theft of Valve's Half-Life 2, months before it was actually released to the public.
In 2003, Valve was just a company that made video games. Namely, the classics Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Steam was yet to come (t would be released in September '03), and when it came people hated it, and there was no such thing as Portal or Left 4 Dead.
"Hacktivist" group Anonymous had only just been formed, it was before the erosion of online privacy brought about by social networking sites and before a lot of people even had things like credit card details stored online, let alone somewhere vulnerable enough for them to be stolen.
In short, it was a simpler time on the internet. A more civilized age. Or so we, and Valve Software, thought.
Towards the middle of 2003, Valve was putting the finishing touches on Half-Life 2, its hotly-anticipated sequel to what was regarded at the time as one of the greatest first-person shooters ever made. The game was due out in September 2003, to launch alongside the company's daring new online platform Steam, and people could not wait to get their hands on it.
One guy especially. German Axel Gembe went above and beyond the average Valve fan and conducted a sophisticated, and ultimately successful, attack on the company's network that ultimately led to his stealing of not just Half-Life 2's source code, but assets and other files that were enough to allow people to build a working, albeit unfinished, version of the game.
Gembe's attack began in September 2003, when Valve boss Gabe Newell's computer began exhibiting peculiar behaviour. Newell also discovered a few days later that one of his personal email accounts (a webmail account) had been compromised. Valve would later discover that not just Newell's computer, but several others at the company, had "keystroke recorders" installed on them, which let other people see what you've been typing on your keyboard (very handy for stealing passwords).
In other words, this was a very sophisticated attack. On September 19, 2003, an unauthorised copy of Half-Life 2's source code was made, and shortly after the lifted files were leaked onto the internet for all the world to see. And, even though the build was unfinished and unstable, actually playable (you can see some of the leaked build, featuring the cut Hydra and Alyx's old duds, to the left).
Valve boss Gabe Newell publicly acknowledged the hacks on October 2, at the same time asking Valve fans for assistance in tracking down those responsible.
The attack and subsequent leak was a disaster for Valve. The game ended up being delayed for months, and wouldn't be released until November 2004, over a year after it was supposed to be out. In the end, of course, the delay didn't matter, Half-Life 2 being one of the finest games ever made (the extra twelve months really helping), but remember, at the time, nobody knew that!
In its attempts to catch those responsible, Valve enlisted the help of the FBI, and a wacky attempt at luring Gembe (who had bizarrely confessed, albeit anonymously) to the US with a job offer failed, but by May 2004, Gembe's time was up. German police raided his home (actually on charges relating to his other hacking efforts, as the Germans didn't want him deported to the US to face the FBI) and he was arrested, though he'd escape jail time; in the end he was given two years' probation.
These days, the reformed hacker is repentant for his actions, telling Valve "I am so very sorry for what I did to you. I never intended to cause you harm. If I could undo it, I would. It still makes me sad thinking about it. I would have loved to just stay and watch you do your thing, but in the end I screwed it up. You are my favorite developer, and I will always buy your games."
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.