PC Gamer

Image via defunct gaming site Freakygaming.

WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.

Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.

Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.

His brother was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning.

In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.

Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.

It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).

Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.

I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."

Quake wasn't the first game to introduce mouselook (Marathon came before it), but it was the most influential.

It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in Thresh s Quake Bible, which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.

The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In one thread from 1997, a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in another thread, we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.

Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.

It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.

Half-Life was one of the first games to bind WASD to movement by default.

Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.

And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.

Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.

The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.

In a period of a year, Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 set the standard we use today.

I always rebind to ESDF.

Gabe Newell

There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.

Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.

More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.

What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.

You can read more about the history of Quake in our retrospective celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by running a Quake server through the weekend, and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.

Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

I’ve just finished Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, a first-person parkour game about Faith Connors and a scrappy band of outlaw runners and hackers who deliver secret packages under the noses of an oppressive corporate government. By rights you should root for these underdogs. If only they weren’t all dicks.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Modding Half-Life 2 is still an enriching pastime for thousands, but did you know you can mod life to be more like Half-Life 2? Yeah, it's a thing: Russian handyman Valplushka has fitted a remote control drone with all the adornments needed to make an authentic Half-Life City Scanner drone.

It's a pretty impressive setup: the front panel moves emotively, just like in the game, and there's a red laser light embedded inside. The mind boggles at the potential. I'd like to have one as a pet, actually.

The first video is a simple demonstration of the drone, while the following one gives you some idea of how to make your own. Cheers, Geek.com.

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

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

Gearbox’s Barney-starring add-on is the black sheep of the Half-Life family, although at the time I never encountered any reason why that should be the case. My teenage tastes were perhaps less discerning then, but more importantly any> return to Black Mesa was irresistible. I wanted new monsters and new guns, everything that a young’un wants from a follow-up to their favourite shooter, and I also had a vain hope that maybe I’d get to shoot that creepy suit-guy in the face and rescue Gordon. … [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

I did and I didn’t like it. To me, Team Fortress Classic was unfairly dumped in a bin called “a team-based multiplayer shooter like Counter-Strike only messy and guff.”

… [visit site to read more]

Product Update - Valve
An update for Counter-Strike: Source, Day of Defeat: Source, Half-Life Deathmatch: Source, Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, and the Source SDK 2013 Base has been made available.

Important note for SDK mod authors: This update replaces the current main branch of the SDK 2013 Base with what was previously the "beta_test" branch. The previous SDK 2013 release branch as well as the outdated "upcoming" branch are now available for a short time as "previous" and "previous_upcoming" respectively.

The major changes include:

  • Fixed potential security issues (thanks to Justin G. (aka sigsegv), Nathaniel Theis, Simon Pinfold for these reports)
  • Fixed a case where changelevel2 would print a map not found error and fail to function in SDK2013 mods
  • Fixed an exploit that could be used to crash dedicated servers
PC Gamer

I can't remember how long it took me to finish Half-Life 2. It's been a while, after all. But I can say, with absolute confidence, that it was a lot longer than the breathtaking 40:49 it took the SourceRuns Team to do it.

As is usual with speedruns, this is not a typical playthrough of Half-Life 2. It's done using a 2006 build of the game that used the original engine, which has significant movement differences, as well as a long list tricks and glitches that have since been patched out. It's also segmented, which basically means that it's a group effort: Different players hammer through different bits of the game, and the best of them are stitched together into what you see in the video.

The net result is fast, furious, and funky, as the runners clip through walls, fly over levels, and blow past the talkie bits. It doesn't look like much fun in the conventional videogame sense, but it's a hell of a sightseeing tour, and a remarkable accomplishment, coming in at just one-third of the world-record mark the SourceRuns team set in 2013.

A spreadsheet that breaks down just about every element of the run you can imagine is up on Google Docs, and the SourceRunners have also posted a separate video explaining how clipping works on YouTube.

PC Gamer

Half-Life 2 turns 12 this year, and thanks to its powerful, if a bit creaky Source engine it remains as popular with the modding community as ever. Over the years we've seen all manner of excellent mods emerge, adding co-op or competitive multiplayer, shiny graphical updates, new story content, and even full conversions that bear little or no resemblance to the original game.

It's the latter two we're going to focus on today, as we round up the best single-player Half-Life 2 mods. We've chosen mods that stand up as separate adventures, sometimes set in worlds far removed from Combine Earth.

The Stanley Parable

This is the story of a man named Stanley. Or rather, it's the story of the story: a deviously clever, reactive adventure that second-guesses your every move. As Stanley or, perhaps more accurately, as the player controlling Stanley you're free to follow or ignore the various instructions the wonderful narrator bellows over you, resulting in a tangled, branching story that rewards your curiosity, imagination, and defiance. The original Source mod was later expanded into a full game, one our Phil thought extremely highly of in our review.

Download: ModDB, Steam.

Minerva: Metastasis

Adam Foster's Minerva comes close to the quality of Valve's own Half-Life 2 Episodes in fact, Valve was so impressed Foster joined the company. It's a sizeable story, about the length of an official chapter, with considered level design and a high level of polish. You begin the game strapped to the underside of a helicopter, before being dropped on a mysterious island with a sinister secret.

Download: Steam.

Mission Improbable sends you on a mission to repair a Resistance radio tower.

The Citizen

Gordon Freeman ends the Half-Life series as a crowbar-wielding superhero, a figure of legend in the Half-Life universe. Two-part mod The Citizen provides a new angle on the world, casting you as an ordinary oppressed citizen of City 17. Obviously, said ordinary man soon acquires a gun and starts killing people, but you might snap too if you called that dystopia home.

Download: ModDB.

Get a Life

This lengthy, ambitious mod swings from horror to all-out action. Occasional cutscenes tell the story of a subway technician suffering from leukaemia, but Get a Life's unlucky hero Alex also has to contend with the mod's new limb damage system, which causes effects like dizziness and limping, depending on where he's hit by enemies.

Download: ModDB.

Mission Improbable

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to step into the sneakers of Gordon Freeman and set off to repair a Resistance listening post. This impressive Episode Two mod begins with Gordon rowing to a distant coastline: a coastline that reminds you just how pretty the venerable Source engine can look in the right hands. The right hands in this instance are a couple of established game devs, and their experience shines through pretty much every crevice of this slick, well-paced adventure.

Download: ModDB.

Looking for a good laser puzzle? Try Research and Development.

Research and Development

Thanks to its then-revolutionary ragdoll physics, a lot of time in Half-Life 2 was spent throwing chairs at NPCs, or flinging teacups with the gravity gun. In that spirit, Research and Development does away with offensive weapons altogether, leaving just a couple of secondary tools to let you manipulate gravity or order Antlions about. Puzzles are the order of the day here, and it's surprising just how easily Half-Life 2's toolset translates to this new focus.

Download: ModDB.

Nightmare House 2

Where there are modding tools, horror mods are sure to follow. You don't need to have played the original in fact, it's included as a prologue, giving you the chance to explore both a haunted house and a spooky hospital. The horror on offer here is mainly of the jump scare variety, so if you were hoping for the psychological horror of Silent Hill, move on to the next item in the list. Nightmare House 2 is basically FEAR it even features its own creepy ghost girl but more FEAR is hardly a bad thing.

Download: ModDB.

Silent Hill: Alchemilla

The impressive Alchemilla drops you in the world of Silent Hill, endless fog, Dark World and all. Not only have the developers nailed the grimy aesthetic of Team Silent's classic series, they've matched its colour palette, borrowed its sound effects, and recreated its lonely atmosphere. It's such an uncanny representation that it may take you a while to notice there are no enemies traipsing around, but then those games were hardly known for their satisfying combat.

Download: Alchemilla mod.

Water

Until now everything we've featured has been strictly first-person, but Water bucks that trend. In fact, it bucks a lot of trends, given that it's a third-person puzzley adventure starring a mermaid. Yes, a mermaid. While you're (initially at least) limited to a fantasy city's waterways, this smart mod soon finds ways to get you exploring land too, using a number of innovative systems. The developers of Water went on to make From Earth, another, similarly inventive Source mod.

Download: ModDB.

Black Mesa

Well, we couldn't ignore Black Mesa, could we? For the unaware, this recreates the original Half-Life in its sequel's shinier engine, and it's been in development since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Much more than a simple port, Black Mesa updates Valve's game with fancier assets, new voice acting, a reworked campaign and more. The team have also excised Half-Life's much-maligned Xen section, albeit only temporarily until it's been remade to be, somehow, good. While the older mod is free, you'll find the newer version on Early Access, accompanied by a price tag.

Download: Official site.

PC Gamer

When IGN pressed for a status update on the rumoured Half-Life and Portal movies, JJ Abrams responded, "Not yet, but they're in development, and we've got writers, and we're working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update." Au contraire, Mr Abrams; confirmation of their existence is more exciting than you think.

If the concept of a Half-Life or Portal movie is all news to you, I'm not surprised—there was a brief flurry of activity on the subject in 2013, when Abrams and Gaben got together at the DICE summit to talk about cross-platform storytelling. Newell suggested that "either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie" could work, while Abrams said he'd like to make a game with Valve.

Even further back, in 2010 Newell lamented the quality of pitches he'd received from a litany of Hollywood production companies for a movie based on the Half-Life franchise.

"Their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of."

Evidently he found common ground with Abrams, because it seems the collaboration has the green light.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Graham Smith)

Half-Life and Portal movies are “in development”, according to JJ Abrams. The director told IGN that “We’ve got writers, and we’re working on both those stories. But nothing that would be an exciting update.” Which means clearly Abrams isn’t familiar with Half-Life fans, who can see excitement in a cloud shaped like Gordon Freeman’s face.

… [visit site to read more]

...

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