After almost 15 years of making co-op mods for Half-Life and all its various iterations, the Sven Co-op team is creating a standalone version of their Half-Life mod, where it’ll be available on Steam for the unbeatable price of free.
Valve has kindly granted the modding team the ability to update and customize the Half-Life engine, which the team plans to tweak and modernize before the mod finds its home on Steam. The team of modders says it will be able to post updates more frequently thanks to Steam's content delivery system (which has been appropriately dubbed "SteamPipe").
“We are grateful beyond expression to Valve for their generosity and efforts put forth to make this possible,” one team member said in a forum post. “We’re looking forward to working with one of the greatest game engines ever made, and we can assure everyone that there are many, many more updates to come.”
The team also said players don't need to have purchased Half-Life to access the latest version of Sven Co-op and promised to post more news and updates in the near future. If anything, it’ll be interesting to see how far that team can push the dated Goldsource engine.
If you’re in the world-record setting speedrun business, your job got a little bit harder this weekend. On Saturday, the evil geniuses at SourceRuns posted a new world record speedrun video of Half-Life 2 completed in 1:27:51.09.
Speedruns are curious cocktails of obsessive practice, devoted love of a specific game and engine-warping bugs. The SourceRuns team made use of a number of known Source bugs, the most obvious being Half-Life 2’s reverse bunnyhopping glitch. When a player in the Source engine jumps, they receive a speed boost in the air and then a reverse force of friction when they land. If they’re jumping backward, though, they speed up in the air and then get a forward force of friction when they land. For some truly impressive acceleration, check out speedrunner Gocnak’s breathtaking, and backward, navigation of the coastal highway (41:47). Dr. Freeman’s iconic car gets left behind, but Gocnak soars directly into our hearts. Other highlights include speedrunner UnrealCanine fighting back against the Combine oppressors with some choice graffiti (52:59). Unfortunate lowlights include, well, every time a speedrunner zoomed in to stare at the rear ends or chests of Alyx and Dr. Mossman (too many instances to link). According to the video notes, the final speedrun took 600 days of work from over a dozen players, recorded in 200 segments on Hard difficulty. If, as you watch, you see a player glitch or launch past something in a way you've never seen before, check out Sourceruns wiki for a full description of the glitches used in the video.
In early May I visited Valve to do some research for a Dota 2 feature, which you can find in PC Gamer UK issue 254. While I was there, I asked no questions and received no answers about Half-Life 3. I'm as excited about it as anyone, but if Valve were planning to announce anything through me I assume I would know about it in advance.
I got home and I wrote the feature. Then, towards deadline on the issue, I wrote 'All Over'. That's the joke page at the back of the mag. Every month we close off with something that we hope will make our readers laugh, and it's usually based on the feature on the cover. For this issue, we thought we'd make fun of Valve.
The result was a fake elevator control panel with funny names for various floors in their building. Following yesterday's Half-Life 2 patch, a lot of people have become convinced that it's all part of an elaborate scheme to reveal the long-awaited sequel.
It's not. It's a joke, in the part of the magazine where we do jokes. It was written by me and designed by one of our art editors, Julian. Here's Julian's desk and the InDesign file.
There's no significance to the crossed-out entry for 'Half-Life 3 Development' being on floor 13 beyond the fact that American buildings tend not to have a 13th floor. The fact that it's crossed-out and that someone has replaced it with 'FPS developer terrarium' was intended to be so silly that nobody would take the suggestion seriously.
Valve also doesn't have a floor dedicated to knives. As far as I know, there's no 'Money Hose Control Centre'. 'Laser Bay 2' is an oblique reference to Tron.
I know that people are desperate to play a Half-Life sequel and that any scrap of news is seized upon, but this really is time to put the conspiracy theories down. Unless you're having fun! In which case, keep going - but don't expect any answers, because I don't have them.
I've also had quite a lot of angry messages on Twitter today from people who have taken it personally. Comments have ranged from the comically insincere - "you're worse than Hitler!" - to the comically might-be-sincere - "you're worse than Todd Howard." The rest are mostly just regular internet abuse.
I'd like to say sorry to anyone who got swept up in this and was disappointed, but I would also suggest that anyone willing to insult a stranger over a joke about a videogame should take a look at their priorities.
Don't confuse causation and correlation. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, and not the trigger for an ARG - or a witch hunt. I would love Valve to announce a new Half-Life game, but I don't think it's a topic so important that it can't be joked about.
Either way, I wasn't prepared for unforeseen consequences.
When Portal 2 was announced, the news dropped through an elaborate scavenger hunt puzzle that sent thousands of players crawling all over the internet. Years later, we finally get to see some of the work that went into making that alternate reality game, as told by celebrated Half-Life modder (now Valve employee) Adam Foster in a blog post at Gamasutra.
Foster, one of the designers of the ARG puzzle from Valve, describes the elaborate trail of puzzles that the Portal-playing community was able to decipher. It began with a seemingly mundane game update for Portal 1: “changed radio transmission frequency to comply with federal and state spectrum management regulations.” That update changed the radios found throughout Portal into Morse Code-dispensers. The code was deciphered into slow-scan television images. Somehow—my knowledge of information theory and cryptography ran dry a paragraph ago—these images were combined into an elaborate code, which was then hacked. Remember: none of us is as smart as all of us.
The result? A phone number to an ancient modem in Foster’s kitchen that slowly drip-fed Portal 2 concept art to announce the game to the world. The ARG team at Valve did a fun thing with no budget, and it caught the attention of the world’s games media. It was also an intricately designed puzzle that, despite a few false positives, played out exactly as Valve designed. As Foster writes, “Estimated time to 'solve' the initial puzzles: seven hours. Actual time to solve: seven hours and sixteen minutes. This wasn't an accident.”
We are all just puppets dancing on Gabe Newell’s strings, aren't we? Check out the full blog post from Foster for a lot of fascinating details about ARGs and the devious geniuses at Valve.
Are we finally going to be able to play Half-Life 3? While Valve isn't exactly holding press conferences or sending marching bands through the streets yet, a recent slip in its system supposedly exposed the details of every project it's ever worked on—including the long-fabled conclusion to one of gaming's best series, as well as Left 4 Dead 3 and Source Engine 2.
The tip-off comes to PC Gamer via ValveTime, who recently received alleged screenshots of Valve's internal project-tracking software (Jira) during a momentary lapse in which is the system was made public (it has, of course, since been locked up tight again). The images show a 42-employee mailing group for a project entitled "Half-Life 3," as well as a mailing group for "Left 4 Dead 3" with 68 recipients.
Meanwhile, the development of Source 2 appears to be plugging along nicely, with the numerous groups devoted to the project hinting it's in full swing. Other project listings include familiar names such as "Return to Ravenholm," "Steam Box," and "Episode 3," as well as the more mysterious "F-Stop" and "SteamMMO."
One of the screenshots sent to ValveTime.
Before we start waving about banners emblazoned with Gordon Freeman's handsome face, we have to keep in mind that this info dump is in no way an official confirmation of anything. Firstly, these screenshots come from an anonymous source and cannot be verified. Secondly, Jira catalogs everything that has ever been worked on within Valve's walls, regardless of development stage, and some of the listed titles may very well have been canceled years ago.
ValveTime hypothesizes that games further in their development cycle have multiple mailing lists, as Left 4 Dead 3 does—suggesting that it is in active development. This is in contrast to Half-Life 3's single group, which suggests that its development is either inactive or in the very beginning stages.
We'll be keeping our ears perked for further details. In the meantime, let's pray that a tiny Half-Life 3 embryo is kicking about somewhere in the Valve HQ, preparing to grow into something grand.
The story of Jón Gnarr, who in 2010 was elected mayor of Iceland's capital and largest city, Reykjavík, could be mistaken for a story from EVE Online, the sandbox MMO created by Icelandic developer CCP. In EVE, players form corporations and take part in fascinating, often-bizarre political and military shenanigans. In Iceland, Jón ran for office as founder of "The Best Party," which he says wasn't, and still isn't, a real political party.
"It was supposed to be a complete nonsense party," said Jón during a Q&A after last week's EVE Online Fanfest in Reykjavík. "We promised whatever people wanted us to promise, but also promised to break all of our promises."
Icelanders apparently appreciated Jón's honesty, and he earned international fame after becoming one of the world's most fascinating and whimsical mayors. Though he claims he didn't even know what he was running for, he wasn't surprised when he was elected. "I could sense that people appreciated The Best Party," said Jón. "I mean, it's the best party."
Jón Gnarr, CCP, and Hættuspil
With a population of only 320,000, stories about Jón and stories about CCP are really stories about Iceland, all intertwined as part of the country's recent history. And here's where they intersect:
Before becoming a politician, Jón was already well-known as a comedian in Iceland, and appeared in one of Iceland's most popular board games, Hættuspil, which translates to "Danger Game." The man on the cover, dressed as a perturbed woman, is Jón Gnarr, and the company behind it was CCP.
Hættuspil's success funded the initial development of EVE Online, which was the plan all along, so Jón—the mayor of Iceland's capital—deserves some small credit for EVE Online and CCP's success.
An obsession with "building armies"
Jón says the people of Iceland are proud of CCP and what it's done for the country and Reykjavík, but he doesn't play EVE himself. "I suspect that EVE Online could be an obsession," he told us.
"I've been, yeah, I was obsessed with Warcraft and...uh, yeah," he continued, the crowd laughing in acknowledgement. "And Half-Life, and I just had to erase it and get rid of it."
After the Q&A, Tom Senior and I caught up with Jón for a few more questions about his gaming career and obsessions. His favorite game is Heroes of Might and Magic, followed by Elite.
"I played Elite on an Acorn Electron, and I was fascinated by it," he said. "It was quite time-consuming, it took a lot of time...and then of course, Warcraft came about. I dropped out after StarCraft, because it has become way too complicated for me. And the same happened with Might & Magic, it just became too complicated."
What did he enjoy so much about the original Might and Magic? "Building armies," Jón said laughing. "Building an army was my goal and pleasure. But I easily get addicted to games. I couldn't quit."
Danger Game returns
"One more turn" syndrome is the reason Jón now forgoes gaming in favor of taking walks and listening to podcasts, but his relationship with CCP isn't over. To celebrate EVE Online's 10 year anniversary, Jón is reprising his role in an English version of Hættuspil to be bundled with a new Collector's Edition.
Pre-orders are now open to get the box of EVE memorabilia, along with the first chance for us to play CCP's debut game, which set off a decade-long cascade of incredible stories from in and out of the EVE universe. If you don't play EVE, 149.99€ is real steep for just the board game, but perhaps CCP will decide to sell it on its own. Of around ten Icelanders I asked during Fanfest last week, only one hadn't played Hættuspil, and the rest gave glowing reviews.
Alongside the likes of Slenderman and that ghost girl from Curse of the Blood Moon, another indie horror contender has been brewing in the original Half-Life engine. Cry of Fear is a free total conversion mod constructed on the back of Gordon Freeman's maiden voyage, and it's releasing standalone this Wednesday. Using 100% custom assets, the mod was developed by Team Psykskallar, which even went so far as to implement animated cutscenes and a few other non-native elements in the 15-year-old engine.
This release will be available on Steam as a stand-alone download that won't require the original Half-Life to play. Although, if you don't already own the original Half-Life, you could snag one of our highest-rated shooters of all time for $10 at this point. The original Cry of Fear mod is available on the official site.
Cry of Fear looks to take place in a dark, urban area, and your character is shown equipped with a pistol, a phone-mounted light, and a drab hoodie. Somehow, I don't think that's going to be enough to feel safe. Just a hunch.
Since the release of Black Mesa, modders have been bending and shaping its spruced up Half-Life assets to create Source upgrades of every one of the game's expansions, demos and curios. But mod group Tripmine Studios are attempting to go it alone, Sourcing up Gearbox's Opposing Force expansion entirely from scratch. The name of their project? Operation Black Mesa. Wait, what?
Confusing name aside, it's looking like an accomplished upgrade of Adrian Shephard's adventures through the bowels of Black Mesa. It's certainly looks more muted than the other Black Mesa's visual shock and awe, but the lighting seems to nicely capture the underground claustrophobia of HL1's dated engine.
According to Tripmine's team leader Antonín Žoha, the multiplayer portion of the mod is due to arrive in Q1 2014, and will bring "classic modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and one brand new game mode for people who are also looking for something new." There's currently no release date for the singleplayer portion.
Despite the wait, you can already vote for Operation Black Mesa on Steam Greenlight. More details are available on the project's ModDB page. Also on ModDB are details of Tripmine's other expansion overhaul, Guard Duty, a Blue Shift remake.
There are a few notable things about the Kickstarter campaign for Double Action. Firstly, the final game will be entirely free. It's a spiritual successor to The Specialists - a Half-Life mod with similar John Woo inspired acrobatics to Action Half-Life, but with added bullet time slow-mo for the multiplayer mayhem. Secondly, the pitch video is refreshingly frank about the team's distribution of funds, project scope and disinterest in stretch goals.
Thirdly (and most importantly?), the codename for the game's first version is Boogaloo.
Double Action: Boogaloo is a multiplayer shooter with an emphasis on style. "You fill up your Style Meter by doing stylish things - stunting, brawling, headshots, and so on. When your style meter fills up, your chosen style skill is activated." Diving, sliding and rolling feature heavily as you fight in ridiculously over-the-top slow motion battles.
The team are looking for $18,000 for a summer blitz on the game's development. With no price tag on the game, there's no minimum funding amount to get your hands on it - instead, purely cosmetic items are available at certain tiers.
It's also playable right now. The pre-alpha client is available on the Double Action forums, although, as the post warns, "It is probably crashy and everything is a placeholder. You may find it difficult to use."
Why no stretch goals? According to the Kickstarter page, "Those things would only detract from the game's design and create additional busywork for us." Instead, they're interested in using additional funds to support the game through further development and a Valve engine license.
After using a Xen relay to slingshot itself across an interdimensional portal known as "the Internet," Black Mesa and its updates to Half-Life 1 continue to influence satellite mods that restore extended chunks of Gordon Freeman's tale. Next in line for Black-Mesa-fying: the Hazard Course, Gordon's optional and educational pit-stop for teaching movement and shooting basics.
Along with the standard face(granite?)-lift to the Hazard Course's bunker-like training areas and twisting pipes, the mod hopes to add a few new characters and areas for that extra bit of distraction as you eternally run late for that silly test chamber appointment. A notable planned addition is the tram station and the brief meeting with a few scientist overseers from the PlayStation 2 version of the game (here's a video), which is a rare opportunity to see one of the lab's normally stuffy pencil-pushers shirk procedure over a liability contract.
The mod just moved into its alpha stage after its team announced the first connection of all playable areas just yesterday. You can track the mod's progress over at Mod DB, and here's a few more screenshots showing off the completed work so far.