Half-Life Turns Ten Today

By Alec Meer on November 19th, 2008 at 9:20 am.

Yep, Valve’s unfortgettable opening salvo officially gets a decade under its belt on this very day. This terrifies me in ways I can’t quite vocalise.

Said terror is not simply because it makes me feel so very aged, but also because it’s been so long and yet still most FPSes seem entirely ignorant of what HL did with setpieces, incidental detail, gaming-specific narrative style, pacing and world-building. The straight line to most of today’s shooters that started with Doom seems to almost bypass Half-Life. Fortunately, there is one huge, positive side-effect which does ensure HL’s legacy is unassailable: modding.

Names like Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fortress Classic, Natural Selection, The Ship and Sven Co-Op trip off the tongue almost as quickly as Half-Life itself. The GldSrc engine might look ten years old by now, but it’s still one the driving forces of community and customisability that defines modern PC gaming and the freedom thereof.

In honour of the occasion, Moddb’s mustered a round up of Half-Life’s notable mods, both commerical (the list) and non-commercial (the video). It’s all too easy to fall into thinking HL modding’s just about Counter-Strike clones and grey weapon renders, but even this collection of the more obvious names makes it clear quite how landmark a modding platform this game was and is.

Happy birthday Half-Life, you wonderful old man, you.

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120 Comments »

  1. malkav11 says:

    I think in Half-Life’s case it really is nostalgia, though. I mean, the game’s solid enough and it holds up fairly well considering that it’s ten years old. But presumably ten years ago it was some sort of OMG revolutionary thing (I can only assume, the way people talk about it) and speaking as someone who has no problems getting into old games when they’re genuinely something special, Half-Life isn’t anymore.

  2. Mman says:

    “Why is it always “nostalgia”? Why can’t a critical appreciation of a game be trusted if that game is relatively old?”

    Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this; “nostalgia” has become such an overused buzzword in the last year or two it’s on the way to discrediting itself.

    “Then again, nostalgia is correct in the sense that it makes it easier for someone whose already played the game to replay it even after a long time has passed.”

    This is one of the few context the usage of nostalgia makes sense; but it just as easily overlaps with experience, in that you already know what awesome the game has to offer later, when you don’t the first time (with Deus Ex as an example I’d say it especially fits there, in that I found the game to only really get going after the first couple of levels, and I could easily see people getting put off by the starting areas).

  3. Saflo says:

    @Larington:

    That’s a good point, and there’s even a blog which covers that exact situation (click my name). However, the nostalgia accusation is usually just a cheap way to toss out someone’s argument in favor of a game, and an insulting one at that.

    And just to throw a wrench in those gears, I played Deus Ex for the very first time a couple of months ago and loved it.

  4. Larington says:

    Yeah, its a question of someones ability to look past graphics and see the joy beneath. In my particular case, I don’t think it helped that the chap used to be a console gamer and had switched across in the past 2/3 years after discovering the joys of modding.

  5. Saflo says:

    But presumably ten years ago it was some sort of OMG revolutionary thing (I can only assume, the way people talk about it)

    You can do more than assume: you can actually read what people have to say about it.

  6. malkav11 says:

    I have done. What I’ve read often bears little resemblance to the game I played or indeed gaming history. It’s people so carried away with fond memories that they ignore what’s actually there.

  7. The Hammer says:

    The origin of a LOT of genre-standard stuff, yeah, done in a highly professional and competent way. That’s what’s there.

  8. The Hammer says:

    Also, iconic cornerstones of PC gaming – the sheer nerdiness of the setting, the numerous memorable characters and enemies (houndeyes, for Christ’s sakes, and Kleiner!). You rarely get a game that sets a more personal tone for PC gamers. As it’s rooted in science, and has a sort of insane feel to the gibs and gore, and explosions, it feels very much a game of its time, and a game of its playerbase. A b-movie which resonates incredibly well, especially now, in these diluted times.

  9. Cycle says:

    I played Marathon and Goldeneye before I played Half-Life, which made it seem not all that impressive. Sure, it has some awesome bits, but I found most of it to be pretty tedious to be honest.

    Half-Life Uplink was a great demo, though… it pretty much has all the awesome stuff from the full game condensed into ann hour or so of gameplay. That also probably made me feel a bit dissapointed… the full version had lots of boring bits between awesome bits, and the demo made me expect NON-STOP AWESOME, which I don’t think iti delivered.

  10. sinister agent says:

    There is one thing that almost every shooter since copied wholesale, though, and pretty much the worst – the opening level where NOTHING HAPPENS, SLOWLY. And of course, you know you’re not going to be truly threatened as you’re unarmed (or merely unable to use a weapon or any of your abilities or equipment for no apparent reason until the tutorial gets to that point), and you’re just going to be led by the nose through a tiresome, unskippable intro that would be much more enjoyable if you could just sit back and watch it instead of jumping through its hoops.

    In Half-life, it was original, set the scene superbly, made great use of the time to show you around the facility, gave an impressive sense of setting (how much of the facility appears in the intro, and then never again?), and for most of it you were ferried about anyway, so could sit back with a cup of tea. Almost every game since that’s copied the concept completely missed the point.

    I remember playing half-life a couple of years after it came out, and thinking the fuss really over the top. I still think people overestimate it, but it was a great game, and its original approaches are to be commended.

  11. malkav11 says:

    The origin of very little genre-standard stuff, really. About the only thing I can think of that I’d definitely associate with Half-Life first would be having all the cutscenes in-engine while you’re wandering around. And I’m not that fond of that. As theoretically immersive as it may be, it also means they’re a) unskippable and b) it’s easy to miss the cool stuff by looking the wrong way.

    They were originally advertised as being interactive (e.g., you see a scientist being dragged off into the vents by a zombie, blow the zombie away rescuing the scientist), and that would have been really mind-blowing. But they just weren’t.

    Well, okay, and the tram ride. Although it seems like that’s just now really coming into vogue.

  12. Cycle says:

    “They were originally advertised as being interactive (e.g., you see a scientist being dragged off into the vents by a zombie, blow the zombie away rescuing the scientist), and that would have been really mind-blowing. But they just weren’t.”

    That’s one of the reasons I was more impressed by Goldeneye. That also had in-game cutscenes, but there were also interactive, even if it was very minor in some cases… such as getting slightly different text if you met someone with very little health remaining.

  13. MadTinkerer says:

    “Said terror is not simply because it makes me feel so very aged, but also because it’s been so long and yet still most FPSes seem entirely ignorant of what HL did with setpieces, incidental detail, gaming-specific narrative style, pacing and world-building.”

    That is why most of the FPSs I own are Valve games. Games like Prey and UT3 pale in comparison (the latter I played for less than half an hour before uninstalling and never looking back). Only hybrid games like Bioshock, which is just as much an RPG as an FPS, are capable of entertaining me as much as the Half Life series.

  14. Juggernath says:

    I remember when this first came out, I was in elementary school and found a magazine with some beta screen shots. I became obsessed with it. Unfortunately I wasn’t a gamer then. Didn’t have a computer or anything. Until about 2 years ago, I had forgotten about this game. I bought it on impulse and decided to play it. My thoughts? It is probably the greatest game I’ve ever played. Half Life was my introduction into PC gaming and I loved every minute of it, and it sequels.

  15. Psychopomp says:

    @Pags, I wish I could have luck like that with glitches…

    As for Nostalgia, bullshit.

    First off, I’m 18.
    I played Thief: The Dark Project two years ago, thought it was brilliant.
    I played Half Life 1 on both expansions just before Half Life 2 came out for the original Xbox(Shitty PC back then). Thought it was brilliant.
    Played Deus Ex 1 a few months before Deus Ex 3 was announced. Yet again, thought it was brilliant.
    Discovered Xcom last year. Brilliant is too kind, possibly my favorite game ever.
    System Shock 2, a few months before Bioshock came out. Brilliant, though I liked Bioshock more.

    MY theory is that the cause of people not going past the first few levels of an established classic is the same thing that leads to, after talking someone who has never played Half-Life 2 before into trying it, you feeling physically ill as you watch them attempt to barrel through the opening of the game, not paying any attention to anything. Eventually you just say “FUCK IT! STOP, LOOK TO YOUR LEFT! WHY ARE YOU BARRELING FORWARD LIKE THIS? STOP AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE WORLD AROUND YOU! SEE THAT GUY? TO YOUR RIGHT! HE’S BEING INTERROGATED, THAT’S WHAT! DON’T JUST WALK AWAY, GO TOWARDS HIM!”

    Uhmm…

    So yeah.

  16. Mooey Poo says:

    Kotaku stole your joke!
    http://kotaku.com/5093625/happy-birthday-half-life-now-you-are-ten

    You should sue

  17. Andrew F says:

    Also valve learnt a lot from half life about endings…they realised they can’t do endings very well

    ??? The last levels on Xen are rubbish, but the actual ending is complete genius!

  18. Cooper42 says:

    Aww, that’s made me just that tad less jaded today and a bit misty eyed, thinking back to just how good half life was.

    Happy Birthday…

  19. Fumarole says:

    For those of that haven’t done so, be sure to check out Freeman’s Mind. It really changes the way you’ll see this classic game. There are five episodes so far:

  20. Jimmy says:

    Ive beat both parts and im playing it again. Very fun and interesting game with a twist.