This article is about the first game. For the overall series, see Half-Life universe.
- "Run. Think. Shoot. Live."
- ―Half-Life tagline[src]
Half-Life, stylized as HλLF-LIFE, is a science fiction first-person shooter developed and published by Valve. The player takes the perspective of the scientist Gordon Freeman who struggles to escape an underground research facility after a failed experiment causes a massive alien invasion through a dimensional rift. Designed initially for Microsoft Windows and later brought to other platforms such as PS2 and OS X, the game uses a considerably modified version of the Quake engine, called GoldSrc.
The game is set during May 200- in a remote area of New Mexico, USA at the Black Mesa Research Facility; a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51.
Early in the morning, Dr. Gordon Freeman, a recent MIT graduate in theoretical physics, and also a recent employee at Black Mesa, goes to the Anomalous Materials lab to participate in an experiment that involves an alien crystal. After the test goes unexpectedly wrong, a phenomenon called Resonance Cascade occurs and causes massive dimensional rifts, opening a portal between Earth and Xen. Upon waking up, Gordon leaves the test chamber and starts exploring the place. Soon, he finds out that the facility is infested with dangerous and hostile alien creatures. Arming himself, Gordon starts his journey to the surface.
As the situation escalates, Gordon finds himself caught between two opposing factions: the hostile aliens, and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a military force dispatched to cover up the incident — including eliminating Freeman and the rest of the Black Mesa Science Team. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known as the G-Man regularly appears, apparently monitoring Freeman's progress with uncanny serenity. Gordon barely fights his way through the facility and at one point even deals with the Black Ops soldiers sent to eliminate all the scientists, aliens and HECU marines. Cooperating with surviving scientists and security officers, Gordon ultimately works his way to the mysterious Lambda Complex, where a team of scientists teleports him to the alien world Xen, where he must destroy the Nihilanth, the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.
After reaching the alien dimension and fighting hordes of different alien monsters, Gordon manages to reach the portal that takes him to Nihilanth's chamber. After a challenging battle, the scientist gains the upper hand and finally destroys the creature. As the creature explodes, Gordon suddenly gets teleported.
Upon gaining his senses back, Gordon sees the mysterious G-Man that he has encountered multiple times throughout his journey in Black Mesa. Speaking in a strange manner, the man says he is impressed by Gordon's deeds and his decisiveness. Claiming Xen to be under "their" control, G-Man comments that he has recommended Gordon's services to his employers, and that now he wishes to offer Gordon a job. Finally, G-Man makes Gordon choose between accepting the offer by jumping into the portal and fighting a battle with no chance of survival. After a brief moment, Gordon steps into the portal, thereby accepting the job.
Half-Life's plot was originally inspired by the computer games Doom and Quake (both produced by id Software), Stephen King's novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland". Valve’s in-house writer and author, Marc Laidlaw, who wrote the books Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandela, later developed and expanded the plot. However, the most distinctive aspect of the game is not the plot itself, but rather the way it is presented to the player.
The game tells the story by flowing into scripted sequences that are integrated as part of the game rather than as cutscene intermissions. These sequences range from the introduction of major plot points such as the Resonance Cascade to bringing the player into a particularly difficult part of a level. Two of the intended results of this style of presentation were to increase immersion and to maintain a continuous narrative that keeps the player's interest throughout. This differed from games at the time, making Half-Life distinct, as well as defining conventions that would last for years to come.
Valve implemented other factors to heighten the feeling of immersion, such as preventing the player from seeing or hearing their own character, who remains a silent protagonist throughout the game, and ensuring that the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, even during monologues. This constant experience of the game allowed players to totally fulfill and customize, almost, the role of Gordon, whilst letting them know who they were playing as. The scripted sequences maintain flow by keeping the player immersed in the game, whereas cutscenes in other contemporary games had often been a diversion from previous segments of gameplay. The levels for Half-Life were also divided into small sections to minimize long interruptions from loading.
- Gordon Freeman
- The G-Man
- Eli Vance (Retcon)
- Gina Cross (As Holographic Assistant)
- Barney Calhoun (Cameo) (Retcon)
- Wallace Breen (Mentioned only)
- Arne Magnusson (Retcon)
- Black Mesa Scientists
- Black Mesa Security Guards
- Xen aliens
- Hazardous Environment Combat Unit
- Black Ops
- Female Black Ops
There are fourteen weapons available to players in both single-player and multiplayer games. Many reviews of Half-Life mentioned the impressive functionality and "usefulness" of all the weapons designed. Each weapon's damage profile is distinct, none feeling superfluous or excessively powerful; each has a specific advantage in the appropriate situation. The weapons are:
- Crowbar: A simple melee weapon with many advantages, that has become an iconic symbol of Gordon Freeman and the Half-Life series as a whole. Useful for breaking objects and bludgeoning approaching enemies such as Headcrabs.
- Glock 17: The most basic ranged weapon. Accurate and with average stopping power, this 9mm pistol is unique in that it can be fired underwater. The standard issue with all Black Mesa Security Guards, ammunition is always plentiful. (If the HD Pack is installed, this gun will look like a Beretta M9)
- .357 Magnum (Colt Python revolver): Powerful and accurate with a slow rate of fire. Ammunition is also somewhat scarce, however it will often kill any enemy up to a Bullsquid with one shot.
- MP5: Fully automatic with poor stopping power and accuracy, but high magazine capacity and rate of fire. Equipped with a grenade launcher. A standard issue with all HECU troops. It shares ammunition with the Glock 17 and is quite common. If the HD Pack is installed, this gun will look like an M4 (But keeps the horrible long-range accuracy).
- SPAS-12: Powerful at close range, but has a slow rate of fire and long reload time. Also comes with the ability to fire two shells at once at a reduced rate of fire. Issued to certain HECU soldiers. If the HD Pack is installed, this gun has unusable folding stocks.
- Crossbow: The only sniper weapon in Half-Life. Its projectile is highly accurate but slow-moving, making it difficult to use against distant or fast-moving targets. Similar to the Glock 17, it can be fired underwater.
- Hivehand: Also known as the "Hornet Gun". The same weapon used by the Alien Grunts, this gun is a living creature, which appears to be a larva of some sort (because it sports no legs). Firing hornets that target and track enemies, this weapon has a low capacity and infinite reserve ammunition with a slow reload. It can also fire non-homing hornets with better damage.
- RPG: Extremely powerful, but must be reloaded after each shot. Alternate fire activates/deactivates a laser sight; with the laser sight active, the rockets will track the laser to its target, making it useful for taking down helicopters and other flying vehicles or long-range enemies. Similar to the Glock 17 and Crossbow, it can be fired underwater but the rocket becomes much slower.
- Tau Cannon: An experimental weapon that rapidly shoots beams of tau particles that reflect off surfaces if hit indirectly. Secondary fire charges the weapon up to fire a more powerful beam that can penetrate thin walls and pushes the user in the opposite direction. The recoil is deliberately exaggerated in multiplayer so the player can "Gauss jump" very high and reach hidden areas or escape opponents. This feature is a deliberate nod to "rocket jumping" in Quake (which is not possible in Half-Life). If the gun is kept charged for too long (about 10 seconds), it overloads and discharges, damaging its wielder, as comically represented just before its discovery by Gordon.
- Gluon Gun: This experimental weapon, named by its creator, fires out a beam of concentrated energy that disrupts its target's molecules. It looks and operates similarly to the proton pack used by the characters in the movie Ghostbusters. Because of its internal weapon name, weapon_egon, it is also known as the Egon gun; this is probably a reference to the Ghostbusters character Egon Spengler.
- Mk 2 Grenade: A handheld thrown explosive, similar to most grenades. It explodes after 5 seconds and can be bounced off walls. Issued to HECU grunts, supplies are often found in supply depots.
- Laser Tripmine: A high-explosive Claymore mine-like device that can be attached to walls. It is set off either by damaging the mine or by crossing through the laser "tripwire" emitted from it. In multiplayer, it can be used to form steps by attaching them to the wall in a stair-like fashion, forming a route to jump up.
- Satchel Charge: A potent explosive that can be thrown a short distance and detonated remotely. They are often scarce and hard to find.
- Snarks: Aggressive and small alien creatures that quickly pursue their target, pestering and biting, until finally exploding after several seconds (or if shot). If they cannot locate a hostile target, they will turn on the player that set them loose, making them, at times, enemies.
Half-Life was the first product for Kirkland, Washington-based developer Valve Software, which was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. They settled on a concept for a horror-themed 3D action game, and licensed the Quake engine from id Software. Valve eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support; a developer later stated that seventy percent of the engine code was rewritten. At first Valve had difficulties finding a publisher, many believing their project "too ambitious" for a studio headed by newcomers to the video game industry. However, Sierra On-Line had been very interested in making a 3D action game, especially one based on the Quake engine, and so signed them for a one-game deal.
The original code name for Half-Life was Quiver, after the Arrowhead military base from Stephen King's novella The Mist, which served as an early inspiration for the game. Gabe Newell explained in an interview that the name Half-Life was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichéd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter lambda, which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation.
The first public appearances of Half-Life came in early 1997; it was a hit at the Electronic Entertainment Expo that year, where they primarily demonstrated the animation system and artificial intelligence. Valve Software hired science fiction author Marc Laidlaw in August 1997 to work on the game's characters, story, and level design. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in December 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision.
In a 2003 "Making of..." feature in Edge, Newell discussed the team's early difficulties with level design. In desperation, a single level was assembled including every weapon, enemy, scripted event and level design quirk that the designers had come up with so far. This single level inspired the studio to press on with the game. As a result, the studio completely reworked the game's artificial intelligence and levels in the year leading up to its release. At E3 1998 it was given Game Critics Awards for "Best PC Game" and "Best Action Game" at the expo. The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.
The game had its first major public appearance at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where it was widely acclaimed.
On its release, critics hailed its overall presentation and numerous scripted sequences, and it won over 50 PC Game of the Year awards. Its gameplay influenced first-person shooters for years to come, and it has since been regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. As of November 2008, Half-Life has sold 9.3 million copies. As of July 14, 2006, the Half-Life franchise has sold over 20 million units. According to GameSpy, Half-Life is the most played online PC game (excluding MMORPGs), ahead of Half-Life 2. In celebration of the game's 10th anniversary, Valve lowered the price of Half-Life from $9.99 USD to $0.98 on November 8, 2008 for three days.
Half-Life was ported to the PlayStation 2 by Gearbox Software and released in 2001. This version of the game had a significant overhaul in terms of both character models, weapons, and more advanced and extended levels and general map geometry. Also added in was a head-to-head play and a co-op expansion called Half-Life: Decay that allowed players to play as the two female scientists Gina Cross and Colette Green at Black Mesa.
Critical reception for the PlayStation 2 port was widely acclaimed and was praised for its overhaul in graphics and extended levels.
Versions for the Sega Dreamcast and Apple Macintosh were essentially completed, but never commercially released.
Gearbox Software was slated to release a port to the Sega Dreamcast under contract by Valve and their then-publisher Sierra On-Line near the end of 2000. At the ECTS 2000, a build of the game was playable on the publisher's stand, and developers Randy Pitchford and Brian Martel attended to show it off and give interviews to the press. However, despite only being weeks from going gold, it was never commercially released; Sierra announced that Half-Life on Dreamcast was canceled "due to changing market conditions" (presumably the first-party abandonment of the failing Dreamcast). The following year Sierra On-Line showed a PlayStation 2 port at E3 2001. This version was released in North America in late October of the same year, followed by a European release just a month later. Around the same time, Half-Life: Blue Shift, which was intended to be a Dreamcast exclusive midquel, was released on PC as the second Half-Life expansion.
Although it has never officially been released, the Dreamcast version was leaked onto the Internet, and was proven fully playable. The leak contains the full versions of Half-Life and Blue Shift, both with an early version of the High Definition Pack (it was from this port that the pack was spawned). Although, the leak has a somewhat inconsistent frame rate (though never to the point of unplayability) and lengthier load times when the player moves from area to area (around ten seconds, while today's average PC can load an area in around one and a half). In addition, there are some saving problems; the number of blocks required to save on a VMU increases rapidly as the player reaches the end of a level, then drops at the start of the next. While the game allows the player to remove files to increase space, sometimes it still isn't enough.
The console's mouse and keyboard peripherals are supported, if preferred to the standard controller. If the controller is used, the game adds an auto-aim feature, so that when an enemy nears the center of the player's vision, the aiming crosshair will shift over toward the enemy to make shooting them easier. The game's controls are customizable. The game has no multiplayer mode, and lacks the parental feature of the PC version (players cannot turn the gibs off). It does have an interesting password feature, however; with three dials, the user makes various phrases, such as "Otis Loves Dreamcast" (god mode), "Fear and Gravity" (jump to Xen, in Half-Life), or "Barney Goes To Work" (skip the intro in Blue Shift and jump right into the main game, pre-resonance cascade).
Macintosh and Linux version
Though more or less complete and ready for mass production, the Macintosh port of Half-Life was scrapped because of incompatibility with the Windows version's multiplayer mode. Additionally, concerns over the task load associated with providing technical support on more than one platform at once may have contributed to its initial demise.
In early 2013, Valve released a beta version Half-Life for OS X and Linux in secret. While STEAM still listed the game as Windows only, it could be downloaded and played on OS X and Linux Computers. It was initially listed as "Half Life (beta)" when played on Mac and Linux, even if it was listed as "beta" it still featured the complete fully-playable game. The game could be purchased directly from the OS X and Linux Clients as well. Later in 2013 the stable release of the game was officially released for Linux and Mac, listing it as officially available for these platforms on Steam.
To experience first-hand the processes mod-makers would have to go through with the new engine, Valve ported Half-Life (dubbed Half-Life: Source) and Counter-Strike to their new Source engine. Half-Life: Source is a straight port, lacking new content or the Blue Shift High Definition Pack. However, it does take advantage of vertex and pixel shaders for more realistic water effects, as well as Half-Life 2’s realistic physics engine. They also added several other features from Half-Life 2, including an improved dynamic lightmap, vertex map, and shadowmap system with cleaner, higher resolution and specular texture and normal maps. They also utilized the use of the render-to-texture soft shadows found in Half-Life 2’s Source engine, along with polygonal 3D skybox replacements in place of the old 16-bit color prerendered bitmap skies. Also redesigned was the Crossbow that will pin its targets to a nearby wall (if they're close enough), and the Colt Python, which will zoom in as if it were multiplayer. The Source engine itself, however, is not perfect. Certain control issues are generally regarded as being a problem, such as a ladder bounce (where disconnecting from a ladder gives a sideways vector boost, which can be highly undesirable when trying to move near a ladder on a platform over a fall), fall push (where moving off a platform into a fall gives a sideways vector boost), and jumping from platforms (where the graphics engine tends to lead the player to think a jump can be made later than it actually can). Naturally, the Half-Life port possesses the Source engine's control weaknesses as well as its graphical strengths. Half-Life: Source is available with special editions of Half-Life 2 and on Steam. This port has been criticized, however, for not utilizing many of the features of the Source engine found in Half-Life 2, as it still used textures and models from the original game. Due to this, a third-party remake called Black Mesa was released on March 6, 2020. On September 26, 2005, a port of Day of Defeat to Source (dubbed Day of Defeat: Source) was released.
On June 10, 2005, Valve announced through their Steam update news service an upcoming port of Half-Life Deathmatch: Source, the multiplayer portion of the original game, much in the same fashion as the earlier released Half-Life: Source. No exact release date was given, simply the words "In the coming weeks..." On May 1, 2006, Half-Life Deathmatch: Source was released.
Two expansion packs made by the developer Gearbox Software have been released for the PC version: Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999) and Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001). Opposing Force returns the player to Black Mesa during the events of Half-Life’s storyline, but this time from the perspective of the U.S. Marines sent to cover up the incident. It introduced several new weapons (most notably the M249 SAW LMG and a Barnacle grappling gun), new non-player characters, both friendly and hostile (Otis Laurey the security guard and the Race X aliens, respectively) and new, previously unseen areas of the facility. The expansion is much shorter than Half-Life, having Twelve chapters to the original's nineteen. Half-Life: Opposing Force (unlike most expansion packs for video games) received critical acclaim, and an overwhelmingly positive response from fans.
Blue Shift returns the player to Half-Life's storyline once more, this time as one of the facility's security guards. Originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version, Blue Shift came with an optional High Definition Pack that could update the look of Half-Life, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. In particular, the models' polygon count and texture resolutions were increased, and some changes were made to the in-game sounds, most notably the Shotgun. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few models (jacket-less scientists and security guards, Otis, and Dr. Rosenberg), all content was already present in the original Half-Life. While the critical reception was mixed, the reception has very much warmed to the game in recent years, praised for its atmosphere and details.
Decay was another expansion by Gearbox, released only as an extra with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life. The add-on featured co-operative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles and fight alongside against the many foes in Black Mesa. An Unofficial PC ported of this expansion was released on September 22, 2008 by Ukrainian Developer as a Modification. The critical reception was mostly very positive, praise went towards its effective portrayal in a co-op game.
In 2000, a pack titled the Half-Life: Platinum Collection was released, with these games included:
In 2002, the pack was re-released with Half-Life: Blue Shift included.
Today it is known on Steam as the Half-Life 1 Anthology without Counter-Strike.
The Game of the Year edition of Half-Life came packaged with Team Fortress Classic.
After its release in 1998, Half-Life saw fervent support from independent game developers, due in no small part to support and encouragement from Valve Software. Worldcraft, the level-design tool used during the game's development, was included with the game software. Printed materials accompanying the game indicated Worldcraft's eventual release as a retail product, but these plans never materialized. Valve also released a software development kit, enabling developers to modify the game and create mods. Both tools were significantly updated with the release of the version 220.127.116.11 patch. Many supporting tools (including texture editors, model editors, and rival level editors like the multiple engine editor QuArK) were either created or updated to work with Half-Life.
Half-Life's code has been released and is being used as a base for many multiplayer mods such as the immensely popular Counter-Strike. Other popular multiplayer mods include Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, Deathmatch Classic, Action Half-Life, Firearms, and Natural Selection. Team Fortress Classic and Deathmatch Classic were both developed in-house at Valve Software. Some mods, such as Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, that began life as the work of independent developers (self-termed "modders"), later on received aid from Valve. There was even a free team-based multiplayer mod called Underworld Bloodline created to promote the Sony Pictures film Underworld.
Numerous single-player mods have also been created, such as USS Darkstar (1999, a futuristic action-adventure on board a zoological research spaceship), The Xeno Project 1 and 2 (1999–2005, a two-part mod starting in Xen and again including spaceships), Edge of Darkness (2000, which features some unused Half-Life models), Half-Life: Absolute Redemption (2000, which brings back Gordon Freeman for four additional episodes and another encounter with the G-Man), They Hunger (2000–2001, a survival horror total conversion trilogy involving zombies), Poke 646 (2002, a follow-up to the original Half-Life story with improved graphics), and Xen-Warrior (2002–2004, based on Half-Life: Chronicles, the player controls an Alien Grunt, similar to Point of View in which players take on the role of a Vortigaunt and Half Life: Zombie Edition, where the player plays as a Headcrab).
Some Half-Life modifications eventually landed on retail shelves. Counter-Strike was the most successful, unexpectedly becoming the biggest selling online game to date and having been released in five different editions: as a standalone product (2000), as part of the Platinum Collection (2000), Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004), and the newest addition, Counter-Strike: Source, which runs on Half-Life 2's Source engine. Team Fortress Classic has had a visual upgrade to the Source engine, becoming the stylized Team Fortress 2. Day of Defeat also received the Source treatment becoming Day of Defeat: Source. Gunman Chronicles (2000), a futuristic Western movie-style total conversion with emphasis on its single-player mode) was also released as a stand-alone product.
The sequel Half-Life 2 was merely a rumor until it was finally revealed at E3 in May 2003, which ignited a firestorm of hype surrounding the game. The player again takes the role of Gordon Freeman, this time several years after the Black Mesa Incident in the dystopian City 17, where he must fight as part of a rebellion against an oppressive alien regime. After a series of controversies and delays, Half-Life 2 was released on November 16, 2004.
Half-Life's soundtrack consists of tracks specially composed by Kelly Bailey, who was also responsible for the in-game sounds. He also composed much of the music for the rest of the series.
- Due to censorship, in the German version of Half-Life, the HECU grunts have been replaced with Robot Grunts. In addition, other violent aspects have been removed or altered; the Robot Grunt blood was changed to oil and their gibs are now composed of machine parts, death animations have been removed for Scientists and Security Guards, instead they simply sit down and shake their heads.
- The Half-Life series draws some inspiration from various adaptations of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds; the Vortigaunts who appear throughout the series are almost identical to the Mor-Tax aliens from the War of the Worlds TV series.
- When Gordon puts on his hazard suit in the first level, there are two empty hazard suit slots. According to Decay developer Gearbox's CEO Randy Pitchford these belonged to (or were used by) Decay protagonists Gina Cross and Colette Green.
- Half-Life, as well as its three expansions, are named after scientific terms. "Half-life" refers to radioactive decay.
- Half-Life holds the record for the "Best-Selling First-Person Shooter of All Time (PC)" in the Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition 2008.
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