Projects I’m Looking Forward To – Black Mesa: Source…

Projects I’m Looking Forward To – Black Mesa: Source after the break…

Projects I’m Looking Forward To – Black Mesa: Source…

I have a confession to make – I have a love/hate relationship with the computer game developer “Valve.”

On the one hand, there is no denying the place that the computer game “Half Life” (or “HL” for short) should have in gaming history.

HL revolutionized the first person shooter genre by merging a compelling story with a (then) highly-advanced first-person game engine. Younger players accustomed to modern gaming may not understand the appeal of HL; They are already accustomed to a lot of the devices that HL employed and they certainly won’t find the relatively blocky graphics appealing. In order to understand what made HL so appealing to the game playing public, you have to understand the world of first-person gaming during the time that HL first premiered.

First-person shooters, at one time, could not express true “room-over-room” architecture. First-person shooters had to employ coding and level tricks to make you believe that you were really walking under a bridge that you could then walk over or walking on the roof of a building that you could then enter. These coding and level tricks could be very convincing to the audience in their time but a lot of players grew accustomed to these tricks and their novelty soon eroded. Players “knew” that the game was secretly switching levels or using coding tricks to make you think that the game was “true” 3D when it was really just the same old 2.5D type of first person shooter that games like “DOOM 1” or the Build engines (responsible for such games like “Duke Nukem,” “Blood” & “Shadow Warrior”) employed.

A lot of first-person shooter games also did not have compelling story lines. “Duke Nukem” was humorous in a college fraternity sense; “DOOM” had a lot of it’s story lines in text blocks during cut scenes. Similar first-person shooter games fit into these molds, with either an interesting story blurb in the game manual or even nothing at all. “Ultima Underworld” was an exception to this, employing a very sophisticated (again, for it’s time) story but it wasn’t, technically, a first-person shooter but a first-person RPG. Ultima Underworld didn’t have the rapid-fire action associated with first-person shooters. Even when the computer game “QUAKE” (now considered “Quake 1”) arrived with true polygon “room-over-room” architecture, it possessed a threadbare plot that left plenty to the imagination.

HL eliminated both deficiencies; It not only had a sophisticated first-person engine for it’s time but it also employed a compelling storyline. Quite literally, HL was the best of both worlds; A first-person shooter that you wanted to play, both for the game play as well as the story itself. Scripted events told the story of hapless scientists getting killed, a brief confrontation between soldiers and scientists revealing that help wasn’t on it’s way and taunts from the soldiers after a while when they realized that you were more then capable of fighting back. HL deserves it’s place in gaming history as a first-person game that raised the standards of what a first-person game ought to be and it is in part because of HL that modern-day gamers enjoy some of the quality products that they are playing right now.

On the other hand, I have no interest in supporting Valve for it’s “Steam” digital-rights management (“DRM” for short) scheme which has robbed me of playing most of their post Half-Life 2 era games.

As an old-time gamer, I firmly believe in owning the game that you purchase. If you buy a game, you ought to have the right to install it onto any non-Internet connected computer you choose and play it at will – No strings attached. “Steam” does not allow you to perform the actions previously written; Without an Internet connection, you can’t install (and sometimes play) the game that you just bought. In fact, it is a popular tactic amongst computer game developers to impose even more restrictive DRM for computer games – Some DRM insist upon being connected to the Internet during the entire time you play your game while others give you a limited number of times that you may install that game.

I also do not appreciate the false degree of “innovation” that fans of Valve feel that the game developer deserves. When you hear their fans, you would think that Valve personally invented gravity-based weapons (the famous “gravity gun” in Half-Life 2), portals (the “portable doors” in the computer game “Portal”) and the attribute-changing paint (as seen in “Portal 2”). No, no & no – These weren’t Valve inventions; They were invented by other developers but popularized by Valve. It would be like myself taking credit for creating the board games of Go, Chess or Monopoly.

Ever since Half-Life 2 premiered, a band of level designers has attempted to recreate the game HL with the graphical engine of Half-Life 2, calling the project “Black Mesa Source” (the “source” comes from the name “Source Engine” that powers Half-Life 2).

Like the Doom 3 mod, “The Dark Mod,” “Black Mesa Source” has taken it’s sweet time in being finished; It started in 2004 and has yet to be completed. The mod will not be a straight “one-for-one” conversion of HL; Rooms and details will be far more sophisticated then the original game in keeping with the graphical and game-play norms of modern day games.

I may not be able to play it but I look forward to “Black Mesa Source” being completed. Part of the reason I look forward to seeing it completed is because I feel that the older generation of gamers ought to update some of these classic and highly-regarded games for the modern generation of gamers who have never known a time without polygon architecture or compelling story lines in their games. Another part of the reason I look forward to seeing it completed is because I like rooting for large, ambitious fan-based projects to succeed; “Black Mesa Source,” like “The Dark Mod,” is no small task but the rewards of completion to the game-playing community would be immense, especially if the Source Engine became open sourced like like id Tech 4 (the Doom 3 engine).

I may not appreciate Valve the way others do but that doesn’t mean that I hate everything about them; I liked Half-Life 1 and I appreciate the project “Black Mesa Source” even if I probably won’t be able to play it. There’s a joke in the gaming community about which will premiere first, “Half-Life 3” (or even “Half-Life 2: Episode 3”) or “Black Mesa Source.” I hope that both games are eventually made but, if I had to root for only one, I’m rather sentimental over “Black Mesa Source” considering that I own, played and enjoyed the original. I can’t make the same claim for “Half-Life 3.”

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