Half-life, the game, the memories… …the movie?

 

OK, here’s an upfront nerd alert. This post contains mainly information about computer games and gaming, so you’ve been warned. There’s also a spoiler alert too as if you haven’t played the game and still want to (and why not, it’s a classic) then there’s some information here that will lessen the game experience if you read it instead of experiencing it first-hand.

For those of you that don’t know, I LOVE computer games. I’ll be the oldest gamer in the retirement home, regularly breaking wrists and fingers trying to use whatever the control pad of the day looks like then. I’ve spent entire days off playing games. So it was huge excitement to me when I saw that the rights to a movie based on the game Half-Life have been discussed again. JJ Abrams is looking at making it, along with another based on the game Portal.

For people that don’t know and don’t want to read long Wikipedia links, Half-life is a game based around the premise of a science experiment at a top-secret facility, Black Mesa, going wrong and causing creatures from an alternative dimension being transferred there. It was ground breaking at the time and set the standard for storytelling, enemy AI and action in games right up until today still.

You play a scientist (Gordon Freeman), who gets to collect and shoot an array of weapons, although the infamous crowbar itself is satisfying to use. Up until then most games gave you a pistol of some description as the first basic weapon to use, waiting on better ones to arrive as you progressed. Half-Life gave you a crow bar. A relatively small length of metal that gave a nice thunk sound as you hit creatures with it. That satisfying feeling wouldn’t return again until the wrench in Bioshock was first bought down on a splicers head.

Exploring a huge and interesting underground research facility in his attempt to get to the surface and raise the alarm. You crouched, crept, ran and leaped from place to place. All the while avoiding the dimension jumping aliens and the trademark government troops sent in to silence everyone. It’s hard not to get involved as you watch helpless lab coat clad scientists being dragged of through air conditioning ducts, only to be spat back out minus the odd limb or ribcage contents, or stand by as some stumble around tugging at the headcrab gnawing away on their skull. You feel bad shooting them, but know it’s the quickest way to end their agony (also they’d ripe your head off in a heartbeat if they got within range!). Then there’s the option to get some colleagues to tag along with you. Security guards a better option than scientists, as they carry guns. They give you additional cover, save your life, but sometimes they get killed. This leaves you with two choices, which often has you reloading a previous level so you can carry on with them or shrugging your shoulders, grabbing his gun and ammo and running off, after all you didn’t even know his name… … it was Doug. Doug Peterson, from Sector 7G, he won’t be returning home tonight, his last day on the job before retirement… …probably 

I spent so many hours playing the original game, the multiplayer game and the subsequent sequels. My online name of Christ_Monkey (or Christmonkey, as the story is clouded in the past) was created originally for playing Half-life multiplayer in a clan, [CI5] along with Prankmonkey (which is why I think Christmonkey was the original version), Mr Bullfinch and one other, she’ll be so mad that I can’t remember her in game name, but I’m sure it contained the word girl somewhere. There’s a Call of Duty 4 (COD4) clan that uses [CI5] now, but we thought of it first, way back in 1998? Mr Bullfinch even amended the logo from the (AWESOME) TV show from the 70’s and 80’s, The Professionals, and had it pasted on our in game avatars backs.

Playing against bots (computer controlled players) is ok, but nothing is better than playing against another human, except maybe playing and shooting against someone you know! Also, no games had managed to perfect bots until Unreal Tournament arrived.What prompted this post? Other than the discovery that a movie may be in the pipeline, is Black Mesa. A mod, rewrite, reboot however you want to describe it, of the original game. Let me try to briefly explain. Half-life was released in 1998 and back then it looked good. Graphics have come a lllooonnnggg way since then. Black Mesa has recreated the original Half-life game using the graphics engine used in Half-Life 2, released in 2004, but with various updates and improvements and released in 2012. It breathes new life back into it and makes it a pleasure to play through again. The sights and sounds were instantly familiar. With such a long time passing since I last played it, something’s were still a surprise to me. Even if you have no interest in the game itself, I’d still recommend watching the intro of the game that has you boarding a small train and being taken on a ride through the facility. You can’t actually do anything, other than move about the carriage and look at what is going on outside, but that’s the point. It’s a glimpse of where you are going and an atmospheric tool to make you feel more immersed in that world. You then might want to take a look at what the original intro looked like (as you’re already on the YouTube page) to get an idea of how much of an improvement Black Mesa is. Alternatively how about a side by side comparison, for people in a hurry?

Funny thing is, you only really appreciate it the second time round, I think. When you watch it for the first time, you’ll have no doubt already been waiting months for the game to have been realised. Then waited the day before for it to become available in the stores to buy. Then queued up in the shop and purchased it. Sat on the tube, bus or in your car on the way home. Ripped open the box, tossed the install guide and manual to one side and manually pulled the CD-ROM drive open, as the seconds delay before opening was becoming too much. You watched Steam install, then the game installed and it’s not like the old days when you could excitedly watch a 6 bit image slowly draw itself on the screen as your game loaded from a tape. So you picked the manual back up again and read and reread the contents, looked at the back of the box. Finally it’s loaded! The Steam logo pops up and you’re in, but you’re not quite. There’s still the matter of audio and video settings. If your computer had the hardware you could adjust everything up from the defaults, so it had to be done. OK, now you can select new game. You’re on a train, wow this looks cool, look at that, look over there, this train ride is awesome. This place looks great, you can read the signs on the train, and papers on the floor. Ah, we’re here, nope, just going through a big metal door, off again. Oh look, a big robotic transport walking below you. [Start tapping Esc key] ah, ok, you can’t skip this intro, still, I guess it’s good. [Clicks mouse thinking that may do it], hmmm, OK, they must want you to watch it all. Whoa, you just went outside the facility and saw a military helicopter on a landing pad. [Maybe the Enter key skips it?] Back inside again and off down another tunnel. Come on! I’ve been waiting to play this game for what feels like ever! Another stop, then the train goes vertically down, deeper into the facility. [What if I try Esc, then Enter and then click the mouse a few times?] Nope, hmmmm, wonder if I can go get a drink while I’m waiting? Oh, the train has reached the terminal, I can exit the door now… … that intro was excellent, wish I could watch it again.

Portal is based in the same, game universe with the business rival to Black Mesa, Aperture Laboratories, experimenting with a device that can create portals you can jump through. Yes, that’s a REALLY simplified explanation and I’m sure there’s lots of people out there who will complain at the details I’ve left out, but then that’s what the Wiki links are for!

So I am actually really interested to see and hear more about any upcoming movie based on the game. I don’t think I’ve eagerly anticipated a movie this much since the first mention of Judge Dredd, huge disappointing pile of Hollywood crap that it was. The reboot in 2012 was much better, but they all seem to have missed the mark a bit. That’s a whole other post rant though. What I will say is that Luc Besson made the perfect MegaCity1 way back in The Fifth Element.

There will be discussions about who should play Gordon and some of the other characters. The others merely bit parts, unless the movie does well and Half-life 2 is made into one too, as those characters appear again with much bigger parts to play in the game sequel.

I’m sure this post appealed to me much more than it has to others, as it was great remembering back to when I used to play it and the joy a great, well made, video game could give you.

Gordon Freeman

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