STORE COMMUNITY ABOUT SUPPORT
Login Store Community Support
View desktop website
A YouTube legend named TheMostUpset has been diligently redubbing famous scenes from movies like Back to the Future, The Terminator, and The Shining—as well as the recent TV series Chernobyl—with sounds and voices from Half-Life.
Hearing Doc Brown talk like a Black Mesa scientist is obviously a perfect match, and redubbing Arnie with the VOX announcement system works pretty well, but some of the other choices for replacements are a bit more left-field and inspired. I'll let you see for yourself in the videos embedded here.
Hearing Arnie shoot up a police station accompanied by a bunch of 1998 videogame gunshot noises is weirdly nostalgic, and yet it's still a potent and effective bit of film-making. Movies, man.
Check out some more over at TheMostUpset's YouTube channel.
It feels like only yesterday that Half-Life remake Black Mesa was a joke. The highest-profile vaporware of the Source modding community. That thing had been milling around since 2005. Nobody thought it would ever actually come out. I remember feeling properly shook when eventually did in 2012, seven years later.
Except, it wasn’t exactly done. Crowbar Collective have been trying to figure out Xen, Half-Life’s notorious last chapter, for almost as long as the Earth bits were in development. With today’s Gonarch chapter entering public beta, it got a little bit closer to completion.
The long-delayed Xen chapters of Black Mesa – Crowbar Collective’s remake of the original Half-Life – feel tantalisingly close now. In a Steam blog post yesterday, the devs warn that “If you want the polished, complete Xen experience, you should wait. It won t be long!”, but if you’re ready for your first taste of their re-imagined alien world, you can try it now. The first three (of nineteen) maps are available to play as an opt-in beta, with the intent of testing how badly PCs buckle under the extensive changes they’ve made under the hood. Below, some thoughts on the new Xen.
I say watch because this week’s podcast takes place in a real room in front of a real audience (don t worry, there s an audio version too). At Rezzed in London this month, we thought it d be fun to re-enact three of the most memorable scenes of PC gaming, exactly as you remember them. So strap on your eye-wideners and prepare for some wonderful acting. Including a 100% faithful adaptation of the most notorious moment in any Final Fantasy game: the death of… Aerosmith?
Alice! Alice, what have you done to these scripts!?
Update: It appears that, yet again, our hopes have been raised, only to be smashed down upon the cold, hard, rocks of reality. Shortly after this post went up, McVicker deleted the video containing the "five years or so" tease, saying on Twitter that two people have confirmed to him that the email was actually a fake.
It's unfortunate, but it also aptly illustrates the thirst that so many of us have for a new Half-Life, or even just an indication from someone in the know that it's actually (maybe) going to happen. I still haven't received a response from Newell denying—or, because hope dies hard, confirming—the original report, but I'll let you know if and when I do. In the meantime, it looks like we'll be adding this one to the collection.
Will we ever actually see Half-Life 3? Or even Half-Life 2: Episode 3? Probably not. But maybe! Who knows? Valve boss Gabe Newell does, possibly, and he's even got a time-frame in mind. Maybe.
The latest thin Half-Life 3 pseudo-tease comes from Newell himself by way of Tyler McVicker, who's behind Valve News Network, an unofficial but well-informed source of goings-on at Valve. In a new video, McVicker shares a number of user-submitted email replies from Newell, some of them silly meme fodder and others more serious.
The big bit comes at the very end of the video, around the 6:45 mark, when a fan writes, "Was just wondering, will I be able to play [a] new chapter of Half-Life before my life ends? I'm 32 now."
To that, Newell replies, "Just don't die in the next 5 years or so ;)"
That is incredibly imprecise, but it fits with what we've come to expect from talk of the next chapter in the Half-Life series: Eternally hopeful, but couched in the sort of cynical doubt that comes from well over a decade of elevated expectations and dashed dreams. Is it possible that a new Half-Life, be it Episode 3 or HL3 or whatever, arrives at some point in the next half-decade? Sure. Is it likely? That's a different matter altogether, especially when the time frame comes with the "or so" qualifier attached, which could mean just about anything. And that winky face? I have no idea.
There's also the question of whether or not Newell actually sent this email: Valve News Network is a reliable source, but just in case, I've emailed Newell to make sure he definitely sent this email. I'll let you know if he replies.
A calamitous crossing of worlds has occurred in Two Point Hospital, the spiritual successor to Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital, with Half-Life headcrabs glomping onto heads and all manner of decorative doodads from Sega PC games scattering around hospitals. If you’ve not yet played the wacky hospital management sim, hey, you’re invited to try the whole thing for free this weekend on Steam. The trial weekend has just started, so hop to it. Well, don’t hop if you’re suffering from Hurty Leg, Premature Mummification, Night Fever, Lazy Bones, or Mucky Feet, in which case the doctor will see you now.
This article originally ran in PC Gamer 328 back in February. The render above is by our art editor John Strike. Subscribe here and get great features like this sent to your door every month.
It all started with Black Mesa. Firstly, because the stars aligned in Christmas 1998 such that my first taste of PC gaming happened to be Half-Life, the best shooter ever made. Santa Claus delivered a personal computer to our home that year—a Packard Bell Platinum 350, since you ask. A 350MHz Pentium II lay within it. A 3DFX Voodoo 2 with 8MB onboard memory. 16MB of RAM and 6GB of hard drive space. These were formidable gaming specs, and when I was given the luxury of choosing a new PC game to accompany it under the tree I relied on the wisdom of PC Gamer, who sure were keen on this Half-Life game. That Christmas was magical. But that’s not the point.
I mean to say, it all started with Black Mesa, the Source Engine reworking of Half-Life by Crowbar Collective. When it appeared on my radar back in 2013 I thought it looked like the perfect way to experience the game I’d confidently been calling the best shooter ever made—having played it just once, aged 12—once again. After 15 years of abstinence I’d once more allow myself to take in the giddy delights of creeping past the tentacle beast and watching Barneys plunge to their doom in broken elevators through the lens of this Source Engine remake.
I lasted about two minutes. That was all the time it took to realise that every slight deviation, every instance of minor creative licensing, was only going to wind me up. The Barneys all had different lines! The posters were slightly different! Some of the rooms were bigger/smaller than I remembered! This wouldn’t do.
No, this wouldn’t do at all. I made a very serious promise to myself that day, having closed down the perfectly good Black Mesa mod. The only way I’d play my darling Half-Life ever again was in situ: the original game disc I’d kept all these years, running on a Packard Bell Platinum 350. So began a painstaking and indefensibly self-indulgent quest to source nearly worthless PC parts.
The keyboard and mouse were surprisingly easy to get hold of. Having set up eBay alerts for every bit of Packard Bell minutiae I required, I was directed to the very same ’board, complete with redundant multimedia controls, going for a princely £10. It arrived shortly afterwards, smelling faintly of someone else’s house and, well, presumably working. I didn’t have anything to plug its PS/2 connector into to check. I opted for a Microsoft Intellimouse to pair it with because—and I’m ashamed to write this—I can’t remember much about the original mouse that came with my first PC and I’m pretty certain we plumped for the Intellimouse quite quickly anyway. They’re ten-a-penny on eBay too. Easy, this retro PC-sourcing lark.
The real difficulty began, funnily enough, when it came to finding a specific model of PC released 20 years ago in good working order. Retro gaming PCs are all the rage at the moment, and there’s a growing cottage industry of PC builders who source old parts and practise the dark art of ‘refurbishment’ on them (in reality a can of compressed air and some homemade bleach solution to remove the yellowing on beige plastic). But what if you’re not just looking for a retro gaming PC, but the retro gaming PC? After a year of eBay alerts and fortnightly searches, I hadn’t come close. I was at such a low ebb that I considered hitting the ‘Buy it Now’ button on a Dell.
I also thought about building the machine by sourcing the individual parts, and I must now say in the strongest terms possible: don’t do this. You’ve forgotten everything about hardware standards and compatibility from 20 years ago. You have no idea what chipset that motherboard you’re looking at is, and there isn’t a damn thing on the internet about it to inform you. No one will help you if that Voodoo 3 doesn’t fit, and good luck getting all the right cables to connect your miraculously compatible components which you’ve implausibly found working drivers for. Honestly, forget it. Buy a prebuilt PC which the seller confirms is in full working order. If they include the original recovery disc, that’s a massive bonus. You’ll need to buy your old operating system of choice otherwise, and although Windows 98 isn’t quite as expensive now (£15-£20 from most sellers), it’s an added cost you might initially overlook. If you want, you can even refurbish an old machine yourself by buying a £5 can of air and following one of the many questionable recipes for ‘Retrobright’ solution to bleach parts back to factory fresh—just know that PC Gamer accepts no responsibility for you ruining your floors, bathtub, hands and PC parts.
It came as quite a surprise when my exact make and model of PC materialised on eBay after a full year without leads. I stared at each shaky smartphone photograph on the listing with an almost pornographic fascination, barely conceiving the needle I’d found in eBay’s discarded goods haystack. The seller had listed it with a guide price of £400 to encourage private offers, and honestly I’d have paid it if it came to it. In the end, though, I sent an offer of £100 and spent the day worrying that I’d lowballed to such an insulting degree that my bridge with this seller was forever burned. He accepted it instantly, because you would, wouldn’t you, if some weirdo came out of the woodwork desperate for your unwanted two-decades-old computer. Thanks again, sync_it, and sorry about deleting all your old Champ Man 3 saves.
The fates had smiled on me. I’d secured some very specific pieces, and I hadn’t even had to risk the one website that claimed to still be selling my original PC new, 20 years later. Still, two pieces elude me: the Packard Bell Milano 17-inch CRT monitor, and the recovery disc. I’ll keep searching, of course, but I was especially disappointed not to fully immerse myself into 1998-o-vision with a CRT’s characteristic display. Good CRTs are hard to find now—most have either been chucked, broken, or taken to recycling centres to fester away. Of those that appear on eBay, most predate my target Windows 98 era—there’s high demand for Win95 screens and earlier, it seems. They’re also heavy as all heck, which means delivery is a real issue—there are specialist couriers who deal with fragile items and know how to handle a CRT, however. Perhaps there’s someone out there who’s cared for a Milano monitor all these years, someone now ready to part with it. Until I find them, I must subject my retro rig to the indignity of outputting on a 32-inch IPS.
Never mind. The beating heart of the PC was just as it had been. Likewise my peripherals. What a perfect way to remind oneself what PC gaming was really, truly like 20 years ago. That’s no small point—that era’s been fetishised in recent years, evidenced by Kickstarter-funded odes to the Infinity Engine RPGs, and reboots of everything from Thief to Outcast. Not to mention Black Mesa, of course. What’s clear when you press the power button on an old tower PC, hear the Windows 98 welcome chimes, and load a game’s CD-ROM into the tray, is that we’ve forgotten much of the era’s reality.
For example: first-person shooter control schemes were the wild west in 1998. By default, Half-Life’s controls are bound to the arrow keys, of which left and right turn, rather than strafe. At least mouselook is enabled by default. Quake II, released just a year prior, maps the mouse to moving forwards, while A and Z control your vertical view. Barbaric.
On the technical side, we’ve forgotten much about what games looked like when they released—for most people, running on a software renderer in 640x480 and still not hitting anything like 60fps. The Half-Life you see in YouTube speedruns and let’s plays, running at modern day resolutions, bears little resemblance to the one I lost myself in the Christmas it came out. That game is grainier, darker, and somehow more atmospheric for it. Although hundreds of shooters have since aped Half-Life’s setpieces, NPCs and storytelling techniques, Valve’s vision stands as tall and impressive on this retro PC as it did on release. Half-Life was, and is, a place you go, rather than a game you play.
Perhaps the most profound realisation that comes from building an old PC and booting up a treasured memory is that I’d advocate every single PC gamer do the same thing. The nostalgia hit is absolutely worth all that e-trawling, but more than that, sitting at a PC without an internet connection (for goodness’ sake don’t try to go online with Windows 98) reminds you how easily distracting your modern gaming habitat can be. There’s nothing to alt-tab out to and no Steam list of zero hours played shame. That feels like an important reminder.
If you've ever wondered what the top of Gordon Freeman's head looks like then Half-Life: Top-Down is the mod for you—it turns Half-Life into a top-down shooter, complete with plenty of camera customisation options.
You can watch it in action above, but I wouldn't judge it until you've seen the last 30 seconds, which shows how you can adjust the camera. On the default settings the overhead camera hugs the ceilings and, as the mod's creator points out, "it makes the camera get really close when the ceiling is low". It's a bit claustrophobic, and makes it hard to see where enemies are. But it's easily fixed thanks to a neat options menu that lets you manually set the height of the camera.
If you tell the camera that it doesn't have to stay in-bounds and bump the height up then it starts to look more like a conventional top-down shooter, and you can actually see the enemies you're fighting (see how it looks in the picture below). Unfortunately it will show everything that's out of bounds in a bright red colour, but I think it's worth putting up with. Beside, modder Sockman111 is working on a solution, perhaps by placing a big object with a texture far below.
The mod also tweaks the auto-aim to account for the fact you can't aim higher or lower on an enemy, and makes it easier to interact with objects if you aren't looking straight at them.
A word of warning: the creator says they're "not sure yet if the entire game is playable like this". One player in the comments of the mod has also reported a number of bugs. But it's something Sockman111 is working on, and most people seem pleased with the results.
You can grab it from ModDB.
Half-Life, released at the end of 1998, did not have cooperative gameplay. That was unacceptable to Sven Viking, who on January 19th, 1999 released beta 0.8 of his mod Sven Co-op, a proof of concept multiplayer modification consisting of a single level of the campaign. Today, 20 years later, Build 3482406 of Sven Co-op is available. That’s exciting, unless, like me, it makes you feel the inevitable march of time and the looming of the grave all the more keenly.
The lovely update squashes a healthy multitude of bugs and rejiggers some of the various checkpoints, along with the campaign from They Hunger. It also adds a glorious thing: varied sounds for NPCs firing the MP5 submachine gun, one of the most grating repeated noises in all of video games history. The patch drops support for Windows XP and Windows Vista, operating systems which weren’t even in development when Half-Life and Sven Co-op were first released.
The mod’s developers suggest going online and booting up svencoop1 with everyone else today. You should probably play dial-up modem screeches in the background while you do it for the full, authentic experience.