Counter-Strike - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Though Half-Life [official site] is almost nineteen years old and its sanctioned fan remake Black Mesa is nearing completion, Valve have launched a wee patch for their pretty okay or whatever vintage FPS. The patch fixes a few crashes and exploits, and hit other Half-Life engine games too, such as classic Counter-Strike. Given how much of modern PC games history connects to Half-Life and its mod scene, I’m glad Valve are still tinkering a little. Earlier this year, they finally got Half-Life an uncensored release in Germany too. … [visit site to read more]

Half-Life

Half-Life got a new update today, which is significant for only one reason: the game is old. Old to the tune of nearly 20 years. So it's cool that Valve is still supporting it, despite Valve clearly not pulling its weight in other areas (releasing or even working on Half-Life Fricking 3).

The update addresses some small bugs the likes of which don't seem too gamebreaking, but since Valve probably wants to keep this game evergreen on Steam, it makes sense to address them. 

And yes, I've read the patch notes several times and there's no clear or obscure reference to any much-anticipated third instalment. Just take my word for it. Don't waste your precious time on this earth deconstructing the below published patch notes.

Here they are:

  • Fixed crash when entering certain malformed strings into the game console. Thanks to Marshal Webb from BackConnect, Inc for reporting this.
  • Fixed crash when loading a specially crafted malformed BSP file. Thanks to Grant Hernandez (@Digital_Cold) for reporting this.
  • Fixed malformed SAV files allowing arbitrary files to be written into the game folder. Thanks to Vsevolod Saj for reporting this.
  • Fixed a crash when quickly changing weapons that are consumable. Thanks to Sam Vanheer for reporting this.
  • Fixed crash when setting custom decals
Half-Life - alfred
We have updated the public release of Half-Life.

Changes in this update are:
  • Fixed crash when entering certain malformed strings into the game console. Thanks to Marshal Webb from BackConnect, Inc for reporting this.
  • Fixed crash when loading a specially crafted malformed BSP file. Thanks to Grant Hernandez (@Digital_Cold) for reporting this.
  • Fixed malformed SAV files allowing arbitrary files to be written into the game folder. Thanks to Vsevolod Saj for reporting this.
  • Fixed a crash when quickly changing weapons that are consumable. Thanks to Sam Vanheer for reporting this.
  • Fixed crash when setting custom decals
Half-Life

Half-Life: A Place in the West is a webcomic series set in Valve's esteemed Gordon Freeman-housing future world that's set between the events of the first and second games in the wake of the Seven Hour War. Created by Michael Pelletier, Ross Joseph Gardner, Heath Heil and Rachel Deering, issue one launch onto Steam towards the end of last year, with issue two landing in February this year. Now, issue three has a launch date: July 21. 

And to mark the announcement, Half-Life: A Place in the West Chapter 3 has a pretty nifty trailer. Observe:

Following the story of Albert Kempinski and his search for his kidnapped daughter, A Place in the West explores life and the trials and tribulations faced by the world's new cast of characters caught up in the dystopian city of New Franklin. The incoming third entry—named 'The Pit'—continues the exploits of Kempinski and his companion Leyla Poirier as they delve deeper into New Franklin's secrets. 

"The Pit is a culmination of everything we learned from the first two chapters," says writer and co-creator Gardner in a statement. "At a total of 30 pages, the condensed narrative is sleeker, much more focused, and really aims to bring the city to life."

Half-Life: A Place in the West in its entirety will run for a total of 13 issues—with chapter three due on July 21 for $1.99/£1.49. If you'd like to know about A Place in the West's origins, this article of Gardner's makes for pretty interesting reading. 

Half-Life - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

So committed is third-party Half-Life remake Black Mesa [official site] to emulation of its much vaunted inspiration that it has now fully embraced ValveTime. Black Mesa was first released as a free mod in 2012, followed by a spit’n’polished paid version two years ago, but still with the notorious jump’n’fail alien world section from Half Life’s final act missing. Plan was to rethink rather than merely remake Xen, in a planned act of historical revisionism to make people think Half-Life was brillo all the way through. (Note: Half-Life was> brillo all the way through).

Last Autumn, the team declared the Gordon would finally be bouncing his away across fleshy coral oddities once away this summer. Well, no – there’s been a delay. The good news is, they are now showing off Xen’s great outdoors for the first time, as well as revealing a few changes planned for Black Mesa as a whole.

… [visit site to read more]

Half-Life - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

That’s a long time to wait to find out what really happens when you shoot a Barnacle creature. Germany has long been notorious for the strict limitations it placed on videogame content, and the noble Half-Life was a particularly infamous victim of the censor’s stamp. Until now. That means no more robots instead of soldiers, no more barnacles spewing nuts and bolts instead of blood and gore, and no more sad looks from invulnerable scientists if you shoot at them.

Sudden realisation: censored versions of HL are going to become collector’s items now, aren’t they? … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Tom Senior: Recently Game Informer disclosed the insights of a supposed Valve insider who insists that Half-Life 3 doesn’t exist in any meaningful form. RTS and FMV prototypes have apparently been toyed with, but the magical genre-shattering FPS sequel that the internet has been craving for nearly a decade isn’t real. Earlier this week Valve’s Gabe Newell did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and suggested that Valve is still interested in revisiting the Half-Life universe, though “the number three must not be said.” Don’t hold your breath, basically.

Valve’s failure to release Half-Life 3 is not surprising because Valve has never announced Half-Life 3. The studio wanted to move from huge boxed releases to shorter development cycles and an episodic format, culminating with Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Episode Two ended on a savage cliffhanger, but that alone doesn’t fully explain why we want more Half-Life 10 years later. Half-Life 3 has taken on additional meaning. "HL3 confirmed!??" is a running gag, but a hopeful one. We want to believe.

For me Half-Life 3's absence feels like a symbol of Valve’s retreat from game development. I know this is ridiculous, because Valve is running Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive—two of the biggest games in the world. But I can’t enjoy Dota 2, because a) it demands massive time investment and b) in my experience as a new player in that community has been dreadful. I don't think I'm alone. I loved Left 4 Dead and Portal, and I had a great time with Alien Swarm, which Valve put out for free in 2010. I miss Valve’s humour and innovation, but if I’m honest I’m pining for Half-Life because Valve stopped making games for me. That’s a pretty petulant position, but there we are.

Samuel Roberts: I've always speculated that an unspoken reason behind Half-Life 3's continued non-existence is the burden to reinvent the first-person shooter again, just as Valve had done on two previous occasions. Is it enough for Valve to just make a super refined sequel, even if it doesn't have the impact of either of the previous Half-Life games? Well, yes—Portal 2 is exactly that model of follow-up. It wasn't a reinvention, it was a welcome extension of the first game's existing ideas. If the level and narrative design is strong enough, it doesn't feel like diminishing returns.

We need Half-Life 3 to complete the story of the series, but more than that, it's a better world for having more of Valve's single-player games in it.

Tom S: It is unfortunate that Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life 3: Episode Three) has become this mythical entity. We don't know what it looks like but it's everything we have ever dreamed a first-person game could be. That impossible expectation is good enough reason never to touch that series again. We've been banging on about it for so long that the stakes are crazy high now (and we are not going to stop, apparently).

Also shooters are in a good place right now. Last year brought us Doom, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege is ticking along nicely. If the rumours are true we could be looking at Destiny 2 on PC in the future. I’m hoping for another shooter from the Wolfenstein: The New Order team. I miss the jokes and the characters of the Half-Life universe, but the FPS hardly needs to be rescued.

Phil Savage: The thing with Portal 2, Sam, is that it did reinvent—just not the campaign. Through its level editor, It made Steam Workshop creation accessible to everyone, and not just people who are really good at making virtual hats. It worked! Portal 2's Workshop page contains over 557,000 items, and, while most of those will have never been played, it definitely extended the life of an otherwise unsurprising—albeit hilarious and with a better ending song—sequel.

I think that's what Gabe Newell meant when he said, in his recent AMA, that Valve's products are, "usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges." If Portal 2 was the Workshop, and Team Fortress 2 the ability to sell a fuckload of hats, what would Half-Life 3 bring to Valve's ecosystem? Maybe it's Source 2. Half-Life 2 was a great showcase for the original Source engine. Perhaps Half-Life 3 will be how Valve demonstrates the power of its successor.

Joe Donnelly: Sam and Tom's points about reinvention and the rude health of modern shooters are bang on the money, and while the FPS genre isn't in need of the same revolution brought by Half-Life 2 12 years ago, Half-Life 2 itself still one of the best first-person shooters on the market today. I revisited the Orange Box last year on a whim to see how Gordon Freeman's second outing fared against today's standards—a whim which had me rooting around Nova Prospekt a full week later, delighting in the how much of the game's wit, humour and expert design I'd forgotten since my first playthroughs.

We've missed this, and it was only by returning after such a long absence that I realised quite how much I miss this. To this end while seeing Half-Life 3—or HL2: Episode 3—powered by Source 2 or something newer would be lovely; I'd just as easy take a concluding chapter powered by the original 2004 engine. And, judging by some of the responses to Gabe Newell's mid-week AMA, I seem to be far from alone. This covers the want element, but do we need Half-Life 3? I reckon yes: evolution and nostalgia aside, denying players the chance to tie up Freeman's loose ends while treating themselves to another helping of what made number two so enjoyable is not only a disservice to players, but an injustice to videogames in general.

Tom S: Some fans have wondered if Valve could do a comic, or another similarly light-touch release, to tie up the end of the story. This seems like a good idea, and I enjoy Valve’s comics a lot.

I do wonder why Half-Life 2’s story still carries weight all this time later though. Half-Life opened with a B-movie premise—experiments gone wrong, the military sweeping in to cover things up. It gained a lot of detail with Half-Life 2, but it’s still pulp sci-fi to me. I mean, there’s a whole zombie movie pastiche in there.

Chris Thursten: Half-Life has always had revolutionary storytelling, but never a revolutionary story. The groundbreaking implementation of elaborate scripted sequences in the first game is why people remember it so vividly. The game never took control away from you: you were there, in Black Mesa, watching that otherwise-familiar B-movie premise explode to life around you.

Half-Life 2 took that further, and grounded a more sophisticated (but still familiar) story of near-future resistance in a believable dystopia. It has been widely imitated, and for good reason. It was a compellingly presented world populated by well-performed characters. Again, you felt like you were in a real place to an extent that you hadn't necessarily been in previous games.

In addition to advancing the FPS as a whole, then, Half-Life 3 would presumably need to advance our understanding of what a gameworld can be. This is where it gets much more complicated, I suspect. The advance of game engine technology has slowed. We're not blown away by see-saw physics any more. I wouldn't be surprised if Valve had experimented with VR with this in mind. Because what else could they do?

Aside from some staggering advance in graphics tech—that would still need to run on regular PCs—the best they could do is kidnap you, stick you in a helicopter, fly you to antarctica and force you to live the conclusion of Gordon's journey in real life. I mean, they could probably afford to do that. But should they? I've seen Westworld. The answer: probably not. (But please do it anyway, Gabe.)

Tom S: That’s settled, then. We do need Half-Life 3, and it needs to be an experiential future-tech extravaganza with deadly IRL headcrabs and reality-shattering see-saw puzzles. Get on it then, Valve.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

So often the bleeding edge of games tech, yet so often fundamentally the same underneath: there’s a reason we can’t get enough of pretend shooting pretend people in their pretend faces. It is a pure test of skill and reflex, a game about movement at least as much as it is about violence, and done right it is absolutely delightful>. And hey, sometimes you get a decent gimmick or story thrown into the mix.

These are our favourite 50 first-person shooters on PC, from 1993-2017. Your favourite is at number 51.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Now that our game of the year awards are out of the way, we can get to the serious stuff: ventilation shafts. They’re a pillar of modern game design, shunting players from one level to the next, telling spy wannabes that a square aluminum tunnel is all espionage requires, and giving the hunted a temporary haven from their mouth-breathing pursuers. The most iconic protagonists in PC gaming depend on inexplicably designed air convection systems to save the world time and time again.I'm going to revisit a few of the most recognizable vents from PC gaming history and evaluate them based on rules I’m making up as I go. One lucky duct will win the coveted PC Gamer Gust of Approval for best vent.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution 

Gif sourceThe original Deus Ex invented the concept of ventilation shafts, and as a result is exempt from competing. Unfortunately, further iterations of ventilation shafts from the new handlers at Square Enix didn’t do much to blend them into the environments or make them feel like genuine air ducts. Instead, they serve as well-lit (somehow), long graves where you hide your dead. How many bodies can you fit in an impossible space? Deus Ex: Human Revolution steps beyond the veil.Even worse, the vents aren’t in compliance with the ASHRAE standards for acceptable air quality. According to section 5.1.1 of the guidelines, “Where interior spaces without direct openings to the outdoors are ventilated through adjoining rooms, the opening between rooms shall be permanently unobstructed.” These dead bodies are breaking the law.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

They are deeper, wider, and more Jensen-sized. Seriously, they’re massive. And they’re always hiding behind vending machines and small crates, leading directly to and fro with plenty of slats along the way just in case you need to see where all the guards are hanging. Subtlety doesn’t circulate in the near future, I suppose. Air isn’t getting through those suckers in a sensible way. It’s a fact: these vents blow.

Watch Dogs 2 

Pitiful, but so pitiful, I can’t help but love it. There’s been no effort made to hide that this vent in a multi-billion dollar tech company building was built specifically for drone passage. (Just a heads up, this is how you get raccoons.) Watch Dogs 2 makes little effort to mask its videogame vents as anything but transparent chunks of level design. It’s one of the bigger problems I had with the game, that it promises options for infiltration, but vent layouts are so arbitrary and assured to lead directly between points of interest that they start to feel like a big billboard, stating ‘Sneak here!’

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes 

Gif sourceOK, so it’s more of a drainage system, but it might also push some air around. Note the more rectangular design gives the impression that they’re a tighter fit than most videogame vents, which makes for a more immersive ventilation shaft experience. Were I in a crime film, I’d consider using such a discreet, small passage as a good place to hide the murder weapon. Were I in a videogame, I’d glitch through the floor and fire my weapon with reckless abandon. In conclusion, I love the compress of MGS5’s passages, but otherwise, they rarely make sense. Often, they’ll just lead from a hole outside a building in a direct line inside. You’re going to get raccoons, damnit.

Half-Life

So very, very dark. Like a damn vent should be! If I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief that these big metallic crawlspaces are mean for air circulation and not hiding headcrabs, I want them to at least distract me with tension. The vents are otherwise featureless, vanilla shafts. Four walls, grey, nothing particularly special about them. At least they acknowledge you’re going to get critters with such impractical vents, even if they’re interdimensional face suckers.

Half-Life 2

Talk about sequelitis! No innovation. Expect more flat, boxy aluminum textures, more headcrabs popping out to say hello, and most grievous, of course, are the impractical air convection layouts. The thought makes me shiver, not because it’s abhorrent, but because damn, it’s cold in here, Gordon!

Batman: Arkham Series

Gif source

Gotham’s vents are comically large. Bruce Wayne isn’t a small man, especially with an extra few inches thanks to bat ears. And crouching isn’t easy in all that armor—it’s going to bunch up, Bruce. I’m sorry but your tummy is getting pinched beneath those plates. God forbid you drop a quarter. To accommodate all that batmass, the vents essentially serve as a venue for badguy shadow puppets and an echochamber for the Joker’s prolonged loudspeaker monologues. They’re a nice place to hide in if you’ve been spotted, but their design won’t win any awards from us. Often they serve as a comically short passage between two rooms, ensuring the only air they’re circulating is Wayne’s big ego.

WINNER — Alien: Isolation

We praised Alien's production design during release, and Creative Assembly's extraordinary attention to environment detail extends to the design of its vents. The aperture entrance to each vent is accompanied by a slick cylindrical animation and shrill soundbite that sounds like a sword being pulled from its sheath. Foreboding, a bit, considering there’s probably a hungry alien in there.Isolation’s detailed lighting and shadows give the impression that Sevastopol is a hulking, intricate tangle of retro-futurist industrial design. As you crawl through every vent and maintenance shaft, you’ll get small glimpses into the guts of the station, a smoky mess of pipes and dim lights and scattered tools. The result is a space station that feels so vast and cobbled together that its tiny passages and maintenance systems feel plausible. Vents that don’t make sense, make sense on Sevastopol.To the team at Creative Assembly, you’ve creatively assembled good passages behind the walls for players to bonk around in that don’t feel like a mad maintenance man’s pet project. Your congratulatory PC Gamer Gust of Approval should make it your way soon.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

The Black Mesa [official site] gang have shared a first look at Xen in their Half-Life remake. You might remember that they launched Black Mesa without Half-Life’s oft-maligned final chapter, set in the alien world of Xen, because doing it right was taking yonks. You might further remember they’re planning to launch Xen in summer 2017. You might… well, I> was surprised by this first peek at a Dear Esther-lookin’ cavern. … [visit site to read more]

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