Half-Life 2

Every year, thousands of PC gamers bring their machines, their monitors, and their largest energy drinks to QuakeCon in Dallas for the largest LAN party around. While there are some basic pixel-crunching workhorses and sturdy laptops around, the vast majority of these PCs are sleek, liquid cooled, and sexy as hell. We round up our favorite rigs from QuakeCon every year, and in the process we walk straight past lovely, high-powered machines that any gamer would be lucky to own.

These few, though, represent works of art, feats of engineering, or staggering wastes of money, and we love them all. These are our 13 favorite rigs from QuakeCon 2017.

Honorable Mention: Best Use of Carbon Fiber 

An otherwise ordinary rig, the use of rigid liquid cooling tubes, contrasting tube junctions, and carbon fiber everything made this shiny little fish tank stand out.

Honorable Mention: Best Use of Music and Magnets 

This year, the brightest lights on the networking command center belonged to this high-seas PC. A few modifications turned a limited edition boat-shaped case from Lian Li into this orange-lit jewel of the QuakeCon fleet. Plus, if you put a Lego man near the bow, a magnetic trigger starts to play that classic The Lonely Island song, I’m On A Boat.

Honorable Mention: Best Use of Questionable Liquid Coolant Colors 

We’re not color scientists, but there’s something magical about this case’s bright purple LED lights bouncing off of the soft pastel blues and greens in twin reservoir tubes. Seriously, what is in those things? They look like tubes of rejected Maalox flavors.

#10 All Blue 

There’s no gimmick on this case: it’s just a beast of a machine rigged with efficient liquid cooling lines and enough fans blow Hurricane Harvey back into the Gulf. Getting perfect bends in rigid coolant tubes is not easy, and this case gets every line in precisely the right place. A masterwork of great design and function.

#9: Clear Lego 

Lego PCs are actually not that uncommon on the QuakeCon BYOC tables, but they don’t usually look so damn good. They also almost always lay flat for stability and safety. Not satisfied with that, this builder built an entire upright tower out of Legos, including GPU backplates and fittings for the case fans. He even drilled into Lego blocks to screw in the motherboard stand-offs! The entire thing is built with clear bricks and jammed full of RGB LEDs that rotate through a gentle rainbow pattern.

#8: Local Multiplayer 

Custom built almost entirely out of acrylic panels, this PC is actually a two-rigs-in-one combo. An extra powerful motherboard and CPU support a second virtual machine that boots with its own dedicated GPU, its own monitor, and half of the machine’s eight CPU cores. Both monitors, themed blue and red for fire and ice, bolt onto the sides of the case itself.

#7: So Small and So Clean 

There’s not much to this build, and that’s kind of what I like about it. In a sea of flashy neon reds and garish blues, this Mini ITX stood out like a clean shirt at a gaming convention. Everything, including the coolant, is pure white, then lightly accented with programmable RGB LEDs throughout.

#6: Oh God Run It’s A Dragon 

We’ve really enjoyed seeing how 3D printing has changed the game for case-mods, and this build featuring a 3D-printed dragon coiling around a central coolant reservoir is a great example. Everything is flame-red, including the dragon’s light-up eyes. Press a button and the dragon breathes smoke, too, but we’ll bet you $1,000 you can’t manage to get a picture of a wisp of smoke in the dank blackness of the BYOC. Seriously, I tried everything to get that picture and I just couldn’t do it.

#5: The Gift Horse 

What do you do when you get sent a promo display box with an AMD Ryzen GPU inside? Most people would take out the GPU and install it in a computer, but not this guy, no sir. Instead he grabbed a whole PC and installed it into the box around the GPU. Laser-cutting the AMD Ryzen logo out of the top of the wooden box took some work, we’d imagine, but the end result is a PC in a convenient, handsome wooden gift box.

#4: Oh God Run It’s A Ghoul 

You may remember the incredible Nick Valentine case from last year’s QuakeCon roundup. Well apparently some of you rowdy troublemakers in the comment section (you know who you are, and shame on all of you) gave that PC’s creator a hard time. “Oh, it’s just a mannequin with a PC wired into the chest,” you said. “I could do that,” you lied. This time around, this poor guy sculpted a life-size Feral Ghoul out of clay, made moldings, then recast them in clear resin. He painted it, slaved over it, and then installed a computer into it just to make you monsters happy.

Oh, and there’s a PIPBoy showing that its owner was full crippled, irradiated, and dead by the time the ghoul tore his arm off. Are you not entertained?

#3: The Right Case In the Right Place 

Full disclosure: I walked past this damn thing at least 20 times before I realized it was a PC. It’s so massive, I thought it was holding up the ceiling of the convention center. The towering Citadel from Half-Life 2 is at least nine feet tall, with a central spire reinforced by carbon fiber and a ledge cut-out showing off the central GPU. A red-painted valve on the side serves as a power switch, and yes, its creator has already heard every Half Life 3 joke you can think of.

#2: Wood

The internal components of this PC are all bolted to an aluminum chassis. Why? Because the entire exterior is made of gorgeous, painstakingly joined hardwoods. It would be easy to walk past this case as just another retail case, but cases like this can’t be bought. The entire aluminum chassis slides out for easy maintenance.

#1: Tank Mode 

The Overwatch hero Bastion is a robot of many talents. Apparently, one of them is running video games. This huge sculpture of Bastion in his Tank configuration features two working tank tracks and remote control hardware that allow it to drive itself around. The entire PC is housed in the right-side track housing, which leaves plenty of room for a gigantic speaker that plays explosion noises through the gun barrell. Tragically, Bastion was driving himself into his place of glory for QuakeCon when someone tripped over him and crushed his gun turret. The creator spent the next two days repairing him in time for the show, because all art is suffering.

Half-Life 2

Following the publication of ex-Valve writer Marc Laidlaw's Episode 3 synopsis last week, speculation has taken hold of certain facets of the Half-Life community. Despite intrigue many questions remain unanswered, which has in turn prompted Lever Softworks to speed up the release schedule of its Half-Life 2: Aftermath mod—a mod designed to piece together the absent and elusive third chapter of Gordon Freeman's adventure.  

"In light of recent events in the Half-Life community, the release schedule for this mod was sped up significantly," so reads the mod's ModDB page, off the back of Laidlaw's Epistle 3 posting. 

In doing so, Aftermath's first release contains 11 test levels "created by Valve" between 2012 and 2013, said to be "intended for Half-Life 3", four demo levels designed by the mod's creators, a Combine laser cannon that can shoot through walls, an Armored Combine Soldier model and a City Scanner with laser gun - both of which are said to be "intended for Episode 3". 

Future releases are "coming soon", while the mod's creators reckon it should be played in concert with the following Valve News Network video:

More information, including installation instructions, can be found via the mod's ModDB page.Thanks, PCGN

Half-Life 2

In an alternate timeline, we all got to play Half-Life 3 years ago. But in this one, we haven’t even been able finish the saga of Half-Life 2. Today, however, we can get a bit of closure, since ex-Valve scribe Marc Laidlaw has posted his version of Half-Life 2: Episode 3’s story in the form of gender-swapped fan fiction. 

Episode 3 would have been pretty bonkers, judging by the synopsis, published by Laidlaw as a letter from mute physicist Gertrude Fremont, Ph.D. His site is, not surprisingly, struggling under all the traffic, so here’s an archived version

Freeman, or Fremont, and their pals trek across chilly Antarctica after their seaplane gets shot out of the sky, eventually finding a defended facility and the Aperture Science vessel, Borealis. Well, they sort of find it. It’s phasing in and out of time and space. Eventually they get onboard, leading to what could have been Half-Life’s most impressive scenes: a fight on a ship that’s hurtling through time and space.

The ending leaves things open, and many questions unanswered. Mossman dead, Alyx disappearing with the G-Man, the Borealis largely useless as a weapon against the Combine---I mentioned getting closure earlier, but I take it back.

"My intention was that Ep3 would simply tie up the plot threads that were particular to HL2," Laidlaw said in June. "But it would still end like HL1 and HL2, with Gordon in an indeterminate space, on hold, waiting for the next game to begin. So one cliffhanger after another."

Obviously this might as well be fanfic at this point. Laidlaw is no longer with Valve and who knows if we’ll ever see more Half-Life. But it’s a fascinating look at what could have been. 

Half-Life 2

Cars, confirmed.

Earlier this week, we watched some SGDQ speedrunners surf and fly through Water Hazard,  Half-Life 2’s wettest level. Normally, you coast through with a boat, stopping here and there to shoot aliens and open gates. It’s a relaxing venture compared to Nova Prospekt’s turret hell. 

Ditching the boat makes sense if you’re trying to go fast, but modder WALLe’s anti-boat agenda runs deep. They’re redesigning the entire Water Hazard level to be playable from start to finish without a floaty friend. That doesn’t mean they’re just putting out a mod that lets Freeman fly or plops handy planks throughout the entire sequence. It’s being completely redesigned, featuring a small story, voice acting, music, and maps made for feet. See it for yourself in this early demo playthrough.

The footage doesn’t look too thrilling, but I suppose it’s the novelty of the mod’s intent that overrides what a quiet experience it might be. I mean, if you take the boat out of Water Hazard, I’d expect it to be quiet. There’s no boat making boat sounds. It’s boat-less. Er, BOAT-LESS. The capital letters are there to emphasize exactly how little boat there will be in the final release. 

We don’t have a word on a release date quite yet, so keep your eyes on the BOAT-LESS ModDB page for any incoming information.  

Half-Life 2

It’s possible to ignore the boat almost entirely in Half-Life 2’s first notorious vehicle level, and speedrunner Woobly demonstrated it last night during his Summer Games Done Quick run of the classic FPS. Dubbed Boatless by the HL2 speedrunning community, the strategy isn’t exactly new, but for those who only hear about speedruns when the Games Done Quick carnival rolls into town and hate the Water Hazard chapter, it’s a revelation. 

A few tricks go into making the run possible, the most important of which is save deletion. It’s a method of creating and deleting saves to reset Freeman’s weapon inventory and health. Since most of Water Hazard’s water is, well, a hazard, it’s nearly impossible to swoop through the radioactive liquid without marooning yourself eventually. With save deletion, runners can just save, delete the save, and die to get healthy again. It will also spawn the boat nearby, no matter where the runner leaves it behind. 

Before save deletion was discovered, the run wasn’t possible even if players somehow survived the ordeal. Throughout the entire level, there’s a single trigger that requires the boat, and it’s right at the end. Gordon doesn’t have to even be there. Save deletion lets runners spawn the boat right at the end when it’s needed, so some NPCs can talk to it and open a gate. 

But to swoop around like a damn bird on a surfboard and fly over most of the map, runners use variations well known Source exploit to gain speed called accelerated back hopping. To do it, you need to jump forward, turn around in the air, and jump right when you land. The Source Runs wiki explains how this process actually gains speed: 

“When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slows you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going, the more you will get accelerated.”

By gaining speed and hitting certain surfaces at angles that don’t trigger damage, runners can treat level geometry like a stunt course. It’s just like real life, basically. 

As impressive as Woobly’s SGDQ run is, it’s nothing compared to the World Record run by Rainnt, set just under a month ago. To see their near perfect Boatless run, skip to the 20-minute mark or so. 

Half-Life 2

Brace yourselves, but we may never see Half-Life 3. We will, however, always have Half-Life 2—and, thanks to the efforts of a group of modders, it may soon be playable on current Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. The Half-Life 2: VR mod that first saw the light of day back in 2013 has been resurrected on Steam Greenlight, with updates that will allow it to run on current VR hardware.

As explained by Road to VR, the original mod fell into disuse because Valve didn't update the Source engine to keep pace with changes in Rift and Vive headset software. Now, however, members of the original mod team, along with some new additions, have figured out how to make it work with current headsets, and also to support motion controllers, a feature that wasn't previously available. 

The mod will also offer "updated effects, textures, models & maps," a 3D interface designed specifically for VR, "realistic weapon interactions," and "multiple VR locomotion methods," which I assume means ways of moving around in the game world.  It'll be free too, but will require ownership of Half-Life 2, and HL2: Episode 1 and 2, in order to run. If you like what you see—and it's Half-Life 2 in virtual reality, so by all rights that should be a big ol' "Yes please, and thank you."

Half-Life 2

"I finally got to a point where my skills don't match what the mod is anymore," Curtis, aka Enzo.Matrix, tells me. "To me that's insane." 

The mod Enzo is referencing is one he co-founded in 2005: the Half-Life 2 modification and modern adaptation of Rare and Nintendo's first-person shooter GoldenEye 007—GoldenEye: Source. 12 years on, the mod that he and one-time partner Nicholas "Nickster" Bishop founded has been updated and reworked on several occasions, and is now almost unrecognisable in its current state. Nevertheless it continues to maintain and grow its thriving player base, and last year celebrated the launch of its most sophisticated and accomplished iteration yet in its 5.0 build.

"When we first started out, Nickster and I were working on a different mod that fell by the wayside called Project XX7," Enzo says. "When Nick came up to me and suggested we try something new, we decided to create something that was fun and enjoyable that you wanted to play with your friends. That's what the whole idea was: we wanted to recreate this experience that's enjoyable for everybody."

Enzo and Nickster chose to reimagine one of the most celebrated FPS games of a generation in N64's GoldenEye 007—and sought to capture the passion that'd elevated the '97 classic to cult status, without being hamstrung by the technical limitations the original faced eight years prior. Enzo recalls launching he and Nickster's Source variation into alpha on Christmas Eve, 2005 and quietly sneaking away from the family dinner table the following day to ensure everything was running smoothly. It was and people loved it. He was, in his own words, "utterly blown away." 

As two hobbyists operating remotely in IRC rooms, Steam Chat, and on forum pages, development of GoldenEye: Source in the early days was slow but open, and as many as 20 people had volunteered their services within its first few months. Some folk dedicated more of their time, commitment and effort than others—Enzo highlights Killermonkey, Fourtecks and Luchador as three particular modders who "took things to the next level"—but, much similar to any part-time project that doesn't have the means to remunerate its contributors, this is perhaps to be expected. It was then Enzo was dealt a very personal blow, as he discovered in May of 2006 that co-founder Nickster had committed suicide.

"He was a very fun and pleasant guy," Enzo says. "It was just unfortunate that he went that route. He was a great friend that loved to chat." According to this archived thread featured on the mod's official site, Nickster, aged just 27, had spent some time in the lead up to his passing battling depression, and had shown a recent interest in the perceived concept of the afterlife. Despite the mod's fast-growing success at the time, GoldenEye: Source had lost one half of its pioneering founders, and his father paid tribute to the outpouring of well-wishes from his son's mod's community. 

"I'm finding writing this message to be very helpful in helping me cope," his message concludes. "Nick twisted my arm for years to get me to play Half-Life. I've gotten to know and play with some great people. I can't tell you what it means to me to read all the wonderful things people have been writing about Nick. From the bottom of my heart I know Nick didn't want any of us to be sad."

The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that.

Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier

With this sentiment in mind, GoldenEye: Source soldiered on and spent the next several years growing and refining the GoldenEye experience. Its classic maps were reinterpreted and made less linear; its guns were modernised and mechanics such as invulnerability were removed; and stalwart settings such as You Only Live Twice and License to Kill were reintroduced on top of a number of altogether new modes. 

When GoldenEye: Source launched into alpha, its inspiration was the best part of ten years old—an influence that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. While it still enjoys a celebrated cult status today, though, it's easy to forget how much of it isn't worth saving. As Evan rightly noted in his review of Source's most recent 5.0 launch last year, the 64's four-player capacity, horrible controls, and slow turning speed, among others things, are best left behind thus reinterpreting something so highly regarded against modern hardware and, crucially, expectations is perhaps more complicated than it first seems.    

"Recreating GoldenEye is a very interesting endeavour because there's a lot of stuff that people will remember from the original—specific weapons, characters, levels and all that—but there's also a lot of details that, as a result of the original's mechanics, the most people don't recall," says Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier, who became the mod's project lead ahead of build 5.0. "The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that, though. We definitely had to experiment with how much of the original game we wanted to port over to GoldenEye: Source, but I think we struck a pretty good balance of stuff that's essentially original content but heavily revamped for the modern gameplay environment."  

Entropy-Soldier continues to say that simply recreating the old game within the Source engine is equivocal to copying someone's homework assignment, and that these bold sidesteps alongside the challenge of maintaining the mod's enduring appeal are what keeps everything interesting. He points to the original's infamous Dam map as a particularly relevant example of this.

"It is very difficult to strike the balance correctly where it's like: this shouldn't be as it was, but we don't want to just completely change everything," he says. "The Dam Map was a perfect example of that. Remaking the Dam from the original was tough because it's a very linear map and there really isn't a whole lot of leeway for layout changes. As such we had to change it quite a bit to make it feasible for multiplayer environments, while keeping its lineage intact."    

And it's here where GoldenEye: Source thrives today. Whereas other prominent shooters operate automatic health regeneration mechanics, for example, GoldenEye: Source instead still relies on armour. There's also no crosshair by default, which encourages the fast and frantic twitch shooting the original executed so well—hitting shift pulls up an oversized reticule, but aiming comes at the expense of maneuverability and speed. Crouch dodging and crouch sliding return which, across its 20+ expanded maps, adds a whole other 'easy to learn/difficult to master'-type dynamic to combat should you desire. With that, there's enough here to draw the attention of new players, even if nostalgia plays a huge part in its overall appeal. 

But nostalgia can surely only take players so far. An obvious question, then, is: what keeps players returning in their droves? 

Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!

Curtis, aka Enzo Matrix

"I think there's always been a lot of people who've wanted to see a remake or remaster of the original game and there was a project in the works that was shut down," says Lewis, aka Mangly, the mod's lead artist. "It's a very memorable game and a lot of people want to experience it again but maybe not put up with all the notable constraints of '90s videogames."

"Yeah, we've added more modes, gun modes that's more relevant to the likes of Counter-Strike and what not, which has resonated pretty well with newcomers," Lyndon, otherwise known as Tweaklab, the mod's music composer interjects. "I've only been here for the past couple of years, but our organisation has also led to a more accomplished game in 5.0. Even as a newcomer it was making shift from Steam Chat then the forums, and then six months after that we moved to Discord and I noticed a huge change. It was really good getting frequent feedback and collaboration and even though I'm only doing music, there was no time wasted—the music was able to evolve naturally through the feedback. 

"Before I joined the team I was making music just for fun, and I've been doing since around 2003. Since joining the team I'd say the quality of production has probably doubled, just because it's not just for fun. I mean, it is but it's more guaranteed that people are going to hear it now - that you're going to get feedback from others and not just your own. Even the stuff I make outside of GoldenEye now, I'm able to notice all the new techniques I've picked up and the extra attention to details and the layering—it's all come from the mod, it's really good."

With communication at the forefront of its 5.0 development, Entropy-Soldier reckons a smaller, more intimate team has allowed GoldenEye: Source to flourish into the focussed and polished article it's become today. The original GoldenEye 007 celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year and while the Source team don't have anything planned by way of celebration just yet, they do plan to maintain its latest build and grow it over time. It's unlikely we'll see such ambitious leap between 5.0 and its next step against what's come before the current build, however it's in a great place now to continue pushing itself into the future. 

The team has set its bar high, but says it will never monetise its work—not least because so many faces have came and went along the way, and it'd hardly be appropriate for the current team to cash in on its predecessor's building blocks, some of whom have graduated to full-time employment with companies such as EA and Adobe. With this in mind, GoldenEye: Source is an archetypal labour of love, and a perfect example of hobbyist modders working with and for its community. Yet despite its most influx of players, the GoldenEye: Source team remains humble. 

"We're always getting new people coming in and saying: 'my god, I've never heard of this project'," says Enzo, "and we've been around for such a long time, it's really interesting that's there's people that haven't heard of it. I love that, and it's always great to see new faces [getting] involved.

"It was pretty shocking when we hit the first big release like that. Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!"

You can download the GoldenEye: Source mod from ModDB.

Half-Life 2

Back in 2007, Ross Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind, a YouTube comedy series which explored the (very loud) inner monologue of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman as he traveled through the events of the original Half-Life. Longtime fans, rejoice: yesterday, Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind 2, in which Gordon arrives in City 17 to internally shout his way through Half-Life 2. You can see the new episode above.

It's natural to be a little suspicious that this is just a tease, what with the video being posted on April Fools' Day, but Scott has said in the past that he someday planned to tackle Half-Life 2 so we're hoping this is just the beginning of another long and enjoyable series of videos.

You can visit Scott's site, Accursed Farms, and find an archive of all episodes of Freeman's Mind here.

Originally this article stated the Freeman's Mind series began in 2013. That has been corrected above.

Half-Life 2

In November 2004, an independent studio named Junction Point was formed by Warren Spector and ex-Valve employee Art Min. The following year, it was announced the new outfit was working alongside Valve to create a Half-Life 2 episode which aimed to "fill in one of the gaps in the Half-Life universe" by fleshing out a specific part of its story. This project was ultimately cancelled, however new images offer a glimpse at how it might've looked. 

As posted on Valvetime.net, the images from Junction Point's interpretation of Half-Life depict the second main series instalment's eerie zombie town Ravenholm—this time covered in snow. 

According to Valvetime, the leaked map files suggest this Ravenholm would have included "small puzzles, scripted sequences, and fights". Valvetime also notes Junction Point's Ravenholm episode should not be confused with Arkane's also cancelled Return to Ravenholm.

"It is implied that the player crashes into a warehouse in a gondola," says Valvetime of this episode's narrative. "He wakes up in a room with two unique characters named Duncan and Scooter. There is a train station and buildings nearby. A group of rebels and Combine Soldiers fight on the streets. Duncan (ravenholm_npc_mueller) and Scooter (ravenholm_npc_scooter) are unique entities. Duncan uses a generic Citizen model, while Scooter's model is unknown.

"Some entities use JPS as their prefix in their names, which obviously stands for the studio's name. In addition to this, some objects have fields called magnet and magnetization, which are related to the Magnet Gun mentioned by Warren Spector in the interviews."

The magnet gun mentioned there was supposedly "entirely different" from the existing gravity gun, so said Spector in this Reddit AMA, however "the two would have been super complimentary."

Alas, it wasn't to be but a snow-themed Ravenholm would've been cool all the same. If not Ravenholm, which other areas of the Half-Life universe would you liked to have seen redone? Let us know in the comments south of here.

PC Gamer

Erik Wolpaw, a long-time Valve writer who has worked on game series including Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and Portal, revealed today that he is no longer with the company. Marc Laidlaw, himself a former Valve writer, let the news slip on Twitter, while Wolpaw confirmed it in a status update on his Facebook page

Wolpaw joined Valve in 2004, and has credits on Half-Life: Episode One and Two, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and Portal 2. Prior to that, he was with Double-Fine, where he co-wrote the outstanding platform-adventure Psychonauts, and before that he was one-half of the brilliant (and sadly defunct) gaming site Old Man Murray. He's currently involved in the development of Psychonauts 2, which was successfully crowdfunded in early 2016.

A reason for Wolpaw's departure wasn't given, but it does appear to be legitimate this time around. A report that he had left Valve also surfaced last summer, but in that case it turned out that he'd just called in sick for the day. 

I've emailed Valve for more information, and will update if and when I received a reply. 

Update: The report originally stated that writer Jay Pinkterton had also left the company, but apparently not.

...

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