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Half-Life (video game)

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Half-Life is a first-person shooter game developed by Valve Software and published in 1998. The game chronicles a catastrophe at the fictional Black Mesa research facility, from the perspective of the young assistant scientist Gordon Freeman. The game attained a large cult following which continues to this day, which in turn created several modifications to the original game. The games Counter-strike and Team Fortress were both originally modifications of Half-Life, but are now marketed and developed by Valve Software. There were two main expansions to Half-Life: Opposing Force and Blue Shift, along with Decay for the PlayStation 2 only, as well as the Uplink demo levels which were not present in the full game. Half-Life has been named "game of the year" several times by different computer gaming magazines.

Plot and setting

The game is set in three main locales: the secret underground lab Black Mesa, the desert above, and the alien homeworld Xen. The player is put in the clothes of the young theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, who is expecting a quiet day at the lab. The experiment for the day goes awfully wrong however, causing a 'resonance cascade', in effect several portals to the alien world Xen. The objective for the player is to battle the aliens, as well as the government soldiers who are subsequently sent to cover up the accident, in order to make it back through the portal to Xen and defeat the aliens.

Game design

The game is notable for the immersion it provided to the player, truly putting him in Gordon Freeman's shoes. There are no pre-rendered (movie) sequences, and the player is hardly ever restricted in his movement. Cut-scenes instead consist of scripted (pre-programmed) sequences involving characters around the player, behind windows, on different levels and so on. None of the plot is revealed through narration or rolling text, but the player relies on spoken bits and pieces from the different characters encountered. Indeed, the different levels of the game are seamlessly connected, with only the technical limitation of loading time preventing the game from flowing perpetually. This was at a time when players were used to the plot being revealed in one screen of text every ten levels, walking into end-of-the-level spots and pushing end-of-the-level buttons.

The player's arsenal consists of realistic weapons, futuristic sci-fi weapons and alien weapons. Initially, the player uses weapons like a crowbar, pistols and shotguns. As the game progresses, the player gains weapons like a bazooka, a laser weapon, a crossbow and even a severed alien limb. Half-Life's unusual choice of mêlée weapon, the orange crowbar, has since become famous by itself and the protagonist Gordon is often portrayed wielding it.

The levels are fairly linear, with the next step being quite obvious most of the way. There are quite a few puzzles which have to be solved, usually a combination of jumping and pushing buttons. At one point for instance, the player has to call airstrikes using an electronic map, adjusting the longitude and latitude with two dials.

Interestingly, there is hardly any time devoted to developing Gordon's character. He remains quiet throughout the game, not saying anything which might reveal his character. Possibly, this was a conscious decision by the developers to allow the player to assume Gordon's role, not having his (possibly conflicting) personality in the way. It is strange that the Gordon Freeman character has become so famous, seeing how little the player knows about him. Indeed, the player never gets to see what Gordon looks like throughout the course of the game. Only from deathmatch (multiplayer) games, is his appearance known.

Technically, the game is powered by the Goldsrc engine, a heavily modified version of the Quake 2 engine. The world is true 3D, with polygonal models used for all players, monsters and weapons. 2D Sprites are used for certain effects, such as explosions.

Impact on the computer game industry

Modifications

Continuation of the series