Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb
Happy Halloween!

For our last installment of #Blocktober, we thought we would tease something we’ve not shown yet (aside from a small tease in a dev blog post a long time ago). The Xenian swamp!



There is a lot of lore around Half-Life’s development cycle that talks about the larger plans, cut levels, and more planned locations for Xen. Due to time or technical reasons, many of these ideas never made the final cut. One of these was the idea of the Xenian swamp. The area was actually briefly seen during Half-Life’s resonance cascade scene, but was never revisited beyond that, though it is quite likely that Valve originally intended for you to end up back there at some point during the Xen chapter.

Paper Plans
We wanted to bring this back in our version. Our Xen is all about realised potential. We thought it was a really cool touch to get a tantalising glimpse of the unique and interesting alien environment at the start of the game and then actually get to explore it much later, near the end of the game.



The original layout of the swamp was made by Xen Lead Chris Horn, and was intended to follow a river upstream across several branching paths, each leading to different encounters and gameplay areas. Quite a lot of our ideas and designs for Xen were originally more non-linear in nature, as an attempt to change things up from the linearity of the Earthbound sections. This was something which would later adjust, as we became more accustomed to Xen’s design and core ideas, and figured out what worked and didn’t work.



This was the initial blockout with some rough prop placement and with the major gameplay elements from the plan blocked out. This map was meant to be sprawling and winding; feeling like a confusing alien environment. As you reached the map’s conclusion at the top of the river, you would get to higher ground, and be able to look back across the maze you just navigated.





Revision, Revision, Revision
This map went through a large amount of revisions. The early versions didn’t play particularly well. It was far too easy to get lost and difficult to keep track of your progression and location, and we also found that lots of memorable gameplay sections and encounters were being missed. Things weren’t framed well in general because players could approach from multiple areas, and it was all too much to manage for players and designers alike.

This led into the map’s first major rework, similar to how the first map of Xen had been totally reworked (you can see details in our previous #Blocktober post). In fact, this was done by the same mapper! The first key idea which helped bring the map forward was to make it feel more “Xen” and less terrestrial by breaking the map up into several floating islands, which had somewhat collided together: thus allowing the river to flow across them. The idea was that this would help players track their progression better by allowing them to mentally “tick off” sections of the map as they got through it. This helped a lot, but didn’t solve all the problems.





Across many, many revisions, the valley/canyon maze following the river eventually gave way to a more interesting and complex path and cave puzzle, that further gave way to something even more ambitious, which we won’t spoil. Over time, the map became more linear, directed, and focussed, which benefitted it hugely. Due to its enormous complexity and size, the map also eventually turned into 2 maps! While a lot of the core ideas were maintained and developed from the original blockout, the overall look and shape became unrecognisable.

This map’s design and what we learned from it is something we really want to talk more about in detail after Xen has shipped. The multiple loops of iteration and feedback took this map from one of our most troubled, to one that we are most proud of. This was probably the toughest map to develop in the “Xen” chapter. It was a lot of work, and the lessons were hard, but we hope you’ll think it was worth the effort once you get to play it. We sure do!

Finally, here is an aerial shot of the same map, in its current state, matching the shot from the earlier blockout images. The shot below illustrates the top left quadrant from the earlier blockout image.



Steam Sale
Now is also a good time to mention Black Mesa is on sale for Halloween! Until November 1st we are 60% off!


Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb
Hello again,

We continue #Blocktober with another section we’ve shown off previously, the Xen cave. This part shows up after last week’s arch island, and exists in the same “badlands” biome. The goal was to call back to the original Half-Life, where water and life collected more on the interior of the Xenian land formations.

Concepts
The initial concept by Xen Lead Chris Horn was to have a bridge, built by the scientists in order to cross the dangerous water. The bridge would mysteriously have a section missing and the player would need to long jump the gap in order to proceed.


The Blockout
We planned on having islands throughout the cave that the player could explore optionally. This would create a risk vs reward scenario as the player would have to jump over water that MAY (OR MAY NOT) contain Ichthyosaurs.


An initial subdivide of the blockout geometry with sculpt changes to help shape the cave’s look.


Feedback
After we added the bridge from the initial concept, we ultimately decided that while it may have looked cool, it lead to the whole cave section being a simple straight shot which provided minimal gameplay. There was little chance that the player would fall into the water and it didn’t encourage exploration, due to how direct the player path was.


From there, we changed the plan. Working as much as possible with our existing geometry, we forced the player to long jump between platforms, added more obvious resources for the player to find through exploration, and made the path to the exit much more indirect. This lets the player take in more of the environment and makes them feel like they are progressing through a challenging environment, instead of simply following a line.



This was a paint over of the existing environment by Project Lead Adam Engels, designed to help convey the intended new look and feel. The Level Designers did a great job of building new gameplay out of the shape we had already created. A great example of “creativity through constraint”.

Iteration
Things start to come together here with better lighting, some stalactite placement, and underwater foliage props.


Throughout the process, we iterated on the shape of the cave to feel more natural and support gameplay. You can see in the image below (brightened for visual clarity) that we lowered the ceiling and the height of the outcroppings on the left and right of the player’s view.



Dialing In
By identifying problems and addressing them in iterative passes, we were able to utilize more of the environment, improve/maximise gameplay, and still keep optional risk vs reward sections in the playspace. This is a design process that we have followed throughout the entirety of Xen.

After these revisions, we handed the scene to Level Designer/Artist Spencer Rose to push it up to the quality of something that was worthy of a public screen shot. He further sculpted the displacements, propagated the cave with assets made by the art team, and used lighting to guide the player through the scene; for instance, making the hole in the ceiling stand out with lighting and volumetric rays (which subliminaly point to the cave exit). He also tweaked the water to look more “alien” and unique. The new water added some much needed contrast to the environment.



We hope this was an insightful peek into our design process. More to come for #Blocktober!
Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb
Happy fall from the team,

We will put out some tasty updates soon, but FIRST it is #Blocktober! We wanted to not only post images, but also show how our maps have progressed and evolved.

Xen A - The Badlands
For the first map of Xen, we wanted to capture the desolate feeling of the original HL1 map, while putting our own spin on it. In the original, the desolation of the outer islands gave way to more life as you accessed the interior of the level, which was a theme we expanded on across multiple maps. Our version of the badlands is rocky, with patches of water and arid plants, but no soil for true, vibrant Xenian life to grow. This is the first of the multiple biomes that players will progress through in the Xen chapter.

First Blockout - Houndeye Arch Island
This was the first version of the Houndeye Arch Island, following our original and detailed plans for Xen’s first map. This was built directly off the paper plan. This first version was extremely basic in scale and style, and although it captured the core ideas, we would not truly understand some of the underlying flaws in its construction until we progressed further down the art pipeline.



First Blockout and Art Experimentation
We began to experiment with textures and artstyle, using the early version of this island as a base. We originally went for something colored similarly to the original Xen, except utilizing a dark base rock to bring about the feel of a desolate wasteland. We took a more realistic approach to the skybox, using brightly colored nebulae to remind the player of the original Xen feel, but attempted to keep it more grounded in reality. The environmental light source was a giant black hole in the sky, which we eventually deemed too distracting.





Here you can see the art continuing to evolve as we sculpted the island a bit more and started utilizing some new props and textures. The arch prop was amazing, but we felt like it did not fit the way the island had been built. And this led to...

Second Blockout
It was at this point we identified some of the fundamental issues with the way the map had been constructed. It was not hitting the correct notes for scale or for player guidance. One of our mappers did a significant rework of the entire map, rebuilding every island from scratch, aiming for a far better sense of grand scale. For the screenshot, focus on how the surrounding landscape frames the arch in a better way:



Second Blockout and Art Experimentation



It was with this second revision that we continued to build the map’s art style. The “green” Xenian feel from the original was moved to a later map, to represent a more lush Xenian biome.

We went with giving the Badlands a purple feel. The screenshot shows how we changed to more of a galaxy cloud style skybox, heavily inspired by Homeworld. We made progress on the lighting and the “feeling” of the level. We trimmed the island down, and made the arch feel like a gateway to the rest of the map, to guide the player and frame the next section.

“Final” Art Pass
Lastly, there is the more completed level, which we have shown off previously. We completely rebooted the skybox, based the level lighting off of it, and did a proper rock and small foliage pass. We went for lighter base textures for the rock to better play with the light colors and feel. Even this shot, which we considered final art for the game, has seen a number of improvements on the dev side since we previously revealed it.



Thanks for reading. More to come.
Black Mesa

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before: Half-Life remake Black Mesa's Xen chapters should be out very soon. You may well be sceptical—Xen has been delayed multiple times—but in an update this week the developers said that the five chapters are going through external playtesting, and two of them are pretty much "locked in".

The first chapter, itself called Xen, is mostly done, and the team need to simply "polish one or two rough edges". The third chapter, Interloper, is playable from start to finish, and the final chapter, Endgame, is locked, and just needs some final minor tweaks. "There are some dependency assets and some polish we have to implement once the rest of the game is complete, but other than that, it is ready to go."

Admittedly, the other two chapters still require a little more work. The second chapter, Gonarch’s Lair, still needs some art and design changes, while the fourth chapter, Nihilanth, still needs work on scripting and animation.

You can expect the chapters to be much more rich than the original's Xen sections: currently, the first two chapters clock in at two hours combined, whereas in Half-Life, all five chapters could be completed in an hour.

Xen doesn't have a release date.

Half-Life - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Dominic Tarason)

Xen

Sometimes, things just take time. When an amateur team remake an FPS classic up to AAA standards in a modern engine in their spare time? Yeah, that’ll take a while, but the patience seems to be paying off for fans of Black Mesa. While so so far the ambitious (and Valve-endorsed) Half-Life remake has mostly adhered to the structure of the original, developers Crowbar Collective reckon that they can do better with Xen. While the core concepts and story beats are still present, everything else is being re-designed from the ground up. It’s looking lovely, and nearing completion.

(more…)

Jun 21
Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb


Summer Sale
Hope everyone is having a great summer. Black Mesa is now on sale for 60% off! It’s a GREAT time to pick up the game at a discounted price ;)



Xen
There has been lots of progress on Xen. We have started external playtesting. The first two chapters, "Xen" and "Gonarch's Lair", clock in around two hours. For reference, all five chapters of Xen in HL1 can be completed in approximately one hour! We are really excited to show our work to everyone, but we also want to save the majority of Xen as a surprise.

Here is a brief breakdown of our current progress in each chapter:

Xen - Final Polish
We have locked the majority of the Xen levels. Most of the design and art is completed, and we are polishing one or two rough edges in the design.


Gonarch’s Lair - Art
As you can see, we have a good amount of art completed for Gonarch. We are doing some last minute design revisions to get the gameplay tight and consistent throughout the chapter, and then we can drop in our already created art. As you might guess, this chapter is very heavy on code and animation. The first map is locked, the second map is finishing its main art pass, and the final map is undergoing some design iterations, with some art already implemented.


Interloper - Final Gameplay
This chapter has gone through a hefty number of positive and ambitious design revisions since we started it. We are really happy with the direction and iterations that have gone in, for all five maps. They are very close to gameplay complete, and are playable start to finish. We are currently finishing the modular art pieces, trimming some of the chapter’s “fat”, and polishing the last of the rough design edges to produce a streamlined and action-packed conclusion to Xen’s main story.

As Interloper is a significant departure from the rest of Xen, our intention is to get Xen and Gonarch’s Lair completed through the final polish stages first, before shifting the entire team onto Interloper at once, to finish this chapter up in one quick fell swoop.


Nihilanth - Gameplay/Art
The art for this level is completed. Without giving too much more away, we have a really exciting evolution for this chapter, and we are starting the final push to get this chapter completely coded, scripted, and animated.


Endgame - Final Polish
This chapter is locked. There are some dependency assets and some polish we have to implement once the rest of the game is complete, but other than that, it is ready to go.


Multiplayer Playdate - 6-30-18
The Black Mesa devs are getting together for a play date on on Saturday June 30th at 12:00 PM EST (midday). We are looking forward to filling some servers, blowing off some steam, and having a good time.


Celebrating 20 Years of Half-Life
Oh cool, so it’s already JUNE. Time flies when you are grinding toward a deadline having fun. As many of you are probably already aware, Half-Life will be TWENTY this November. We obviously plan on doing some BIG THINGS to celebrate the game that inspired us and became such a huge part of all our lives.

One of the events planned is Black Mesa (Crowbar Collective) having a booth at Syracuse’s Retro Game Con November 3rd and 4th. Stop by if you are in the area and chat with us. I went last year as a guest and had a great time (and got some sweet video game themed magnets too). More info on this event to come.

We are also considering doing a dev marathon stream of Black Mesa, Half-Life 2, Episode 1, and Episode 2. Would anyone be interested in watching us do that? We would have to figure out the logistics, as we are all not in one place, but that is something that sounds like a good time to us.

There are some other big ideas we would really like to do, but can’t talk about just yet. If you have any ideas, please let us know!
Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb


Hey all,

A quick mini update for everyone.

Fixes
We have deployed a number of fixes for the latest version of the game.

We fixed:
  • The tentacles in Blast Pit not responding to explosives
  • Problems with CSM on lower settings and improved CSM performance
  • Humvee using experimental texture that caused FPS drops
  • Invalidated old saves as we forgot to set that with the first deployment. Sorry if that inconvenienced anyone.
We are currently troubleshooting
  • Flashlight not working on some machines with dedicated video cards
  • Game not launching on some machines
  • Black screen on Linux when launching

Multiplayer
We also found a nasty bug on our Linux servers. We are working on getting that sorted as soon as possible. For the time being our MP servers are down. Once we have them up, we will plan a play date so we can REALLY test the servers and blow off some steam with everyone!

Thank you to everyone who reported bugs and helped the community fix problems.
Black Mesa

The fan-made Half-Life remake Black Mesa took another step toward completion over the weekend with the release of a Xen engine patch that fixes a number of issues including freezing and crashes on Radeon 300, 400, and 500 series video cards. 

"We will probably do one more 'Engine' release just before we drop Xen, in order to make sure that everything is running smoothly on everyone's machines," developer Crowbar Collective wrote. "We want the Xen release to be as close to a simple content release as possible." 

Black Mesa is largely a faithful recreation of the groundbreaking FPS Half-Life, but it makes some changes as well, shortening or otherwise editing some levels while expanding others in ways that the old GoldSrc engine wasn't capable of. The one thing it's lacking, despite being in development since at least 2005 (seriously, Black Mesa: Source, as it was known then, won ModDB's "Mod of 2005" award), is Half-Life's concluding Xen location. 

And that's perfectly fine by me: Gordon Freeman would've been better served with a Poochie-style sendoff than the ugly, tedious slog through Xen he ultimately got stuck with, as far as I'm concerned. But that's how Half-Life ends, and so—eventually—that's how Black Mesa will end, too. 

There's no word on when Xen will actually be added to the game and even if there was I'd strongly suggest taking it with a handful of salt: The rollout has already been delayed twice, most recently in November 2017, just ahead of a "do-or-die deadline" that had been set for December. (Obviously, it did not.) There are, however, patch notes and a list of known issues available for perusal on Steam

Black Mesa - Valve
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Black Mesa - [BMS] Adam-Bomb


Xen Engine Public Release
We have patched the latest version of the Xen Engine and released it to everyone. Please let us know on the Steam forums if you run into any game breaking issues. As we have mentioned before, this is important to test our new features so that the Xen release can be as flawless as possible. We will probably do one more “Engine” release just before we drop Xen, in order to make sure that everything is running smoothly on everyone's machines. We want the Xen release to be as close to a simple content release as possible! Here is what is in the latest patch:

April Patch List
Fixed screen freezes / crashes on Radeon RX 3XX 4XX 5xx cards!

Fixed most dynamic shadows flickering and improved the overall quality and performance

Fixed most dynamic lights flickering on lower quality levels Nvidia GPUs (and some AMD GPUs)

CSM quality and perf improvements

Fixed CSM not working on some AMD cards

Fixed decals flickering in some maps

Fixed full screen blur when using dynamic light godrays

Fixed zombie headshots with the crossbow. Now when you headshot a zombie using the crossbow, they will no longer spawn a live headcrab.

Fixed assault points for Houndeyes

Added texture scrolling for dynamic light cookie textures

Fixed tilemap animation bug in light cookie textures.

Fixed rim lighting not working with old light entities

Fixed Phong/skin shader specular not working on static props

Flashlight intensity and range increased

Settings optimization for new deferred lighting and shadows

December Patch Notes

Known Issues
Flashlight Doesn’t Have Shadows
We have a more advanced plan for the flashlight in the works. This will be deployed at a later date.

Haloing Around Props/Object
MSAA is causing outlines around certain objects. MSSA is a performance killer and we hope to have a better solution for anti-aliasing with the Xen release. To remove the haloing/outline, simply turn off MSAA.

Dynamic Shadows Flickering On Moving Dynamic Lights
These should be completely fixed, but if you DO get them try:
Try running the game in windowed borderless mode.
Try turning off Vsync, lowering your overall settings, or turning off dynamic shadows entirely.

Stencil Shadows
We have removed the old Source stencil shadows. This helps performance and fixes the double shadows that happen in outside environments where CSM is used. We plan on using new dynamic lights to get more realistic shadows in key interior sections.

Always Run
Always run has an issue where after every map load you have to press “shift” for it to work. We will be fixing this for Xen.

Outlines Around Weapons
If you move the screen fast in areas using dynamic lights, you may see small outlines around your weapon. This is very minimal and is something we will look into fixing.
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