[[H-L 2 and The Noise]]
Throughout the month that has gone, Half-Life 2 and its creator, Valve have been surrounded by intrigue, controversy and turmoil. During that month the game's
distribution system, Steam, experienced severe problems, H-L 2 was delayed beyond its September 30 release date to an uncertain "holiday" date, the source code, or part of it and a beta version of the game were stolen and a new release date has failed to surface.
This sequence of events has led to an unprecedented flood of speculation, rumours and half-truths. With most of those stories coming from official lips, Vivendi, seem
troubled by Valve's stance of silence and possibly concerned over the developers plans for Steam.
With the latest rumours, coming from Valve leaks, claiming the company aims to attempt to achieve a December 2003 date with April 2004, being the fallback option, we thought it was about time we shifted focus from the noise to the game.
Throughout this mess most have forgotten what Half-Life 2 really is. As most of you can understand from its title, Half-Life 2 is the sequel to the most successful game in history. In many ways the way we enjoy gaming today has been shaped by the revolutions introduced by H-L. Every aspect of gaming, from the way they look to gameplay and multiplayer aspects, has been, to some degree, influenced by Half-Life. It was only natural then that everyone who just completed the original game would begin considering what its sequel would be like. Valve waited a long time before announcing that sequel and in many ways that was their last successful PR move. They managed to raise expectations and everyone who had enjoyed the original game was now hanging from Valve lips.
The loss of that anticipation and the constant speculation are the real damage caused by the H-L 2 fiasco. Damage which has allowed gamers to forget that at the core of this story lies a game, one which could, once again, help point to the future of the industry. Whether upset by the delay or frustrated by the accusations made by the source code thief and the lack of an official reply, no one can deny that Half-Life 2 is going to be one hell of a game. We will attempt to rekindle that excitement by offering a comprehensive insight into the game and a few exclusive Megagames screenshots. Read about the stunning City 17 by following the link below and to the right.
[[Story - City 17]]
Valve have not offered any info on the game's storyline, according to them finding out the story is part of the game and players are educated as they move along. Let's work with the information we have, the player assumes the part of Gordon Freeman once again and is working for the G-Man, the game will be divided into 12 chapters which will be comprised of episodes. According to Valve each chapter will take 3-4 hours to complete, making H-L 2 a satisfying experience.
The setting for the game is an alien-infested Earth being picked to the bone, its resources depleted, its populace dwindling. Freeman is thrust into the unenviable role of rescuing the world from the wrong he unleashed back at Black Mesa. And a lot of people, people he cares about, are counting on him. The game is unlikely to feature
any Black Mesa settings but news has surfaced of the creation of a fictional Eastern European type location, City 17.
Having been present at a Valve presentation of Half-Life 2 at this years ECTS show in London and having witnessed some in-game footage of City 17, we can say that the H-L 2 city has successfully created a Prague or Budapest feel about it. The entire game takes place on earth and no excursions to the Xen homeworld are planned. The timeline of the game is also a secret since Valve claim that the information about the time between the games is important to gameplay and is revealed as you progress through H-L 2. Some old friends also make an appearance, including Black Mesa scientist Eli, his daughter Alyx Vance and security guard Barney. As you travel through the game you will quickly realise that you are not only fighting aliens but some City 17 authorities as well.
The story of the game, although important, takes second place to the technological innovations we have all come to expect of Valve. Follow the link below and to your right for some Technology details.
The original Half-Life was based on the QUAKE engine licensed from id software, this time round Valve decided they had the time and means to create their own technology which they call Source. The engine is extremely flexible and works well on both indoor and outdoor levels. Gabe Newell explains: A lot of the flexibility in the engine involves making sure you are using the triangle and memory bandwidth you've got to render what's most important in the scene.
What steals the show in most video demonstrations for the game so far, is the physics engine. The team at Valve decided on using Havok for their physics and the result seems to justify their choice. Ragdoll effects, possible when using Havok, are nothing short of stunning. The physics include new, localized ragdoll effects (for example, you can get a dead arm if you get shot in the shoulder) and bone level blending of key-framed animation with physics. Classic ragdoll effects, on the other hand are blended from key-framed animation sequences for more realistic secondary motion (for example, in death scenes) for your characters. Other Havok features are: Effects for multiple character types, which support whatever number of limbs, tentacles or antennae your imagination demands and Breakable constraints for detachable limbs, so you can get as gory as you like. A version of Havok has also been used on the recently released Max Payne 2 - The Fall of Max Payne.
The positive effects of Havok are most obviously apparent when using the Gravity Gun, also referred to as the manipulator, with which players will be able to grab items (or dead bodies) move them about or even propel them towards their enemies. The freedom provided by such a capable physics system is essential in H-L 2's gameplay since using the physics becomes an important means of problem-solving in the game. In the ECTS demo you could escape a tight situation by pushing a barrel off a rooftop and on to your enemies below.
Another striking use of new technology in Half-Life 2 is the depth of research and effort applied to facial characteristics of in-game characters. Facial expression has been pushed to the next level by the consideration of facial musculature when applying expressions to a character. Valve used data and information provided by experts in the field of facial expressions in order to make their H-L 2 characters more realistic. Although facial expression may not seem all that important, consider what Gabe Newell had to say about H-L 2 There are people. You're never alone in the game, or almost never alone. You have to think about how are they going to react and what are they going to do. A lot of times, they have goals and you don't, and you have to make up your mind about what you're going to do around them trying to achieve something. In order to better immerse the player a certain level of empathy has to be achieved. Realistic facial expressions are one way to create empathy for game characters but Valve have further enhanced realism by creating lip-synching for all speech in the game,
considering the speech in H-L 2 is dynamic that is no small feat. They are using a phoneme extractor which analyzes and quantifies wav files making automatic lip-synching possible. Upon detecting a new wav, the engine automatically shapes the mouth to match the sounds. What adds an almost eerie quality to the game and also contributes towards realism, is the tracking carried out by the eyes of the characters. A characters eyes will follow you around as you move about a room and they are not two simple slits but rather, well-proportioned and realistically created eyes, Gabe Newell commented We probably spent more time on their eyes (characters) than anything else - for example you have to model them as ellipsoids rather than spheres to make them look right as they rotate within the eye socket.
The original Half-Life was the game that redefined the importance of a responsive and flexible AI system in a game. Considered a technological breakthrough for its time, H-L's AI contributed greatly to the game's overwhelming success. It was only natural for everyone to look to Valve for an exciting new AI system. Following recent events the Half-Life 2 AI has become a controversial issue. Since Valve are the creators of the game and since they are a company that has excelled in all its projects so far, we will not entertain the doubts cast by the source code thief but will focus on official Valve word on the AI.
Gabe Newell is very proud of the AI, A big push for us was making the AI more context aware. They needed to be a lot more aware of the player's intentions, they needed to be a lot more aware of the world, and they needed to understand physics in terms of their path finding, and as a source of weapons (in other words "I can smash this to get through" or "I can break something so something else falls on your head). According to Valve then most of the AI in the game does not go through scripted sequences but reacts to the conditions it finds itself in. In the demonstration at ECTS a Strider, 40-foot tall alien creatures balancing on 3 very long legs, could be seen crouching in order to get under an arch, according to Valve this is not scripted but is a creature reaction to its environment. Gabe Newell had this to say about the subject: There's a richer experience that's a lot more reactive. There are a lot more things that are going to be responding to the actions you take, whether it's the physical simulations of weapon behaviors or tools you're using, whether it's how people are reacting to what's happening, whether it's how opponents are reacting to how the tactical situation is changing. More and more of the world responds to what you're doing, which to us is the underlying key to a great gameplay experience.
As we mentioned earlier you are, almost, never alone in this game. You have to keep check of your objectives but also be aware of those of your friends. The fighters
joining you in your battles will be responsive and independent characters and this will add an exciting factor to gameplay since you will have to make sure that your decisions are the right ones for the right moment, avoiding injuring your fellow fighters. The lines between friends and enemies are not as clearly drawn in H-L 2 as they were in the first game. Doug Lombardy says You actually ally with the slaves and some of the aliens in this game. They move over to the friendly side.
Another new feature of the game will be the introduction of vehicles, the latest trend to hit FPS games. Although Valve have been very quiet about how widespread their use will be in the game, we had the privilege to witness a vehicle scene, during which a combine gunship attacked a vehicle that Freeman was on. The resulting sequence was one of the most exciting imaginable and so effective that you needed a couple of minutes to compose yourself after it was done.
Valve have refused to comment on any multi-player aspect of the game other than the actual existence of one which they claim will enable over 36 players to join a game. Most of the well known mods will also appear for H-L 2 and a Team Fortress 2 announcement is expected soon. Valve have commited themselves to releasing a Half-Life 2 SDK (Software Development Kit) for mod developers prior to the game hitting store shelves, although under current conditions that may seem not that relevant. The game will also ship with an upgraded Hammer editor which will allow the editing of maps but has also been described as a complete development environment for maps, mods, etc.
According to Valve the physics engine will be enable on servers and clients although this claim has raised doubts about how exactly a game will be carried out under such CPU intensive conditions.
H-L 2 will feature a variety of weapons, the use of which will depend on the situation in which GF finds himself. Every weapon will include a secondary fire option, making gameplay more exciting. We still can't figure out what the crowbar alt-fire will be though.
The Crowbar - Half-Life is defined by the illustrious crowbar, GF will have the chance to use one in H-L 2, although judging by the enemies seen it will not be of much use.
Pistol - A weapon similar to the one carried by Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider movies has been spotted in various gameplay videos.
Shotgun - GF will have access to a shotgun although details are not yet available.
Machine Gun - Valve insist this particular weapon is not an MP5, it does look like an MP7 but we will have to wait for that one.
Ant-Lion Controller - This weapon is a cane with an elaborate globe at the top. Things you fire upon using this contraption will be attacked by alien Ant-Lions.
The Gauss Gun - A revised edition of The Gauss Gun will also appear.
The Gravity Gun (Manipulator) - This is by far the weapon most widely used in H-L 2 demonstrations since it puts the physics engine into good use.
Rocket Propelled Grenade Launcher - Considering that Combine Gunships and 40-foot tall aliens will be after you, this weapon will be a handy addition to your arsenal.
Grenade Launcher - Grenades - There is some controversy over the existence of a Grenade Launcher, with some claiming the same weapon is a flare gun. What is certain however, is that you will be able to use some form of grenade.
These are the weapons which we have determined to exist, Valve are bound to introduce some surprises and the recent theft may change a few things.
The game will be released in a Standard Version, including single and multi-player options, a Single-Player Version obviously without the multi-player option and a Collectors Edition which will include bonus stuff and will be quite a bit more expensive, estimated at about USD 80.
Valve have created a few versions of the game, most will be available through retailers but also using Valve's Steam service. A monthly USD 9.95 subscription will entitle users to all Valve content. Gabe Newell explains we're pretty sure that the USD 9.95 guys are going to get the better value, as we've been pretty good over the years at generating a lot of content, the subscription will be for anything we make. So when TF2 ships, the subscribers get it as part of their subscription.
ATI explain the offer For our customers who purchase a qualifying RADEON based graphics card that includes the Half-Life 2 offer and activate their STEAM account before Half-Life 2 is available at retail, Valve and ATI have added the Valve Premier Pack FREE, which includes the games: Half-Life, Counter Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Deathmatch Classic, Half-Life: Opposing Force and Ricochet. This is a limited time bonus offer that expires once Half-Life 2 is available.
Customers can use the Half-Life 2 Activation Key on their Half-Life 2 coupon to initiate download of the Valve Premier Pack from STEAM, Valve's broadband delivery mechanism, free of charge, or can order a Steam Installer CD for the Valve Premier Pack from ATI. Use of the Valve Premier Pack requires an Internet connection and is subject to acceptance of the STEAM Subscriber Agreement. Of course, you are still entitled to a free copy of Half-Life 2 when it is released.
When the time comes for Half-Life 2 to hit retail, we all hope that it proves worthy of its heritage, a lot more than just a game may depend on it.