Science In Action: Research & Development

By Alec Meer on July 20th, 2009 at 8:36 pm.

This puzzlicious Half-Life 2 mod is causing quite a stir, at least in our swollen inbox. “This year’s Minerva“, say some. “Mod of the year?” say others. “Has reinforced seams in order to contain dangerous quantities of awesome”, said an essay-length endorsement. “Try it… or GO TO HELL”, said a shorter, scarier one. Well, we’re all going to hell anyway, because of that thing we said about John’s mother, but might as well take a look nonetheless…

R&D’s hook is that it’s essentially non-combative. Yep – you go without guns throughout (bar the ol’ Gravity jobbie, but hey, that’s more about construction than destruction here). Sure, you can tell an Antlion to claw someone to death or arrange to squash men with falling girders, but you’re definitely not Edward Pistolhands. It’s an environmental adventure game, taking the irregular physics and logic puzzles seen in HL2 itself and turning them into the game itself. Mazes, gravity, exploding microwaves and fire-retardant antlion carapaces all make an appearance – it’s very much a point’n'click adventure in an FPS engine.

Some challenges are clever, some are very clever, some are annoying (especially the ones that involve pushing specific buttons on a keycode lock – the Source engine’s Use button lacks the required precision, alas), and some are openly silly (though in fairness the Combine’s ridiculous giant power cables were originally Valve’s fault), but crucially none of them involve shooting a man in the head until he falls down and doesn’t get up again.

The best comparison, oddly, is the original Half-Life – a game whose noble puzzle values its sequel largely abandoned in favour of super-atmospheric action. There is very much that sense of strange tricks and traps born of scientific experimentation, and your largely non-combative persona is in many ways more in keeping with the mind-over-matter character we’re often told Gordon Freeman is than the openly, incongruously murderous role he dons in Valve’s games.

If you’re rolling your eyes because this is more adventures in Combineland, don’t. The environment may be oh-so-familiar, but your interactions with it are a seismic (if oddly natural-feeling) shift away from what you’re used to. This is as must-play as an HL2 mod gets. So play it, you must.

Turns out it’s rather hard to thank the mod’s author for his sterling work, however. ‘mbortolino‘ is something of a man of mystery, it seems. Any clues, young bloodhounds?

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91 Comments »

  1. Mike says:

    Guy’s full name is Matt Bortolino.

  2. Mike says:

    Oh, and (sorry for the doublecomment) he posted it over at Interlopers.

    “Research and Development is a mod for HL2 Ep.2, born from a series of test maps as I learned Hammer (hence the title) it’s grown into about an hour of puzzle-centric, gun-free gameplay.”

  3. Bhazor says:

    For those struggling with the damn codes and switches you can turn on the cross hairs. To do so first you’ll need open the console. You’ll need to activate it in the advanced options menu and then check the controls menu to see what “Open Developer Console” is set to. Then with the console open type “crosshair 1″ (without quotes natch) and you’ll get the standard, no the godly, HL2 crosshairs.

    It really boggles my mind that this got through testing and actually renders some parts unplayable. Still a spiffy wee mod though, I’d say best single player mod since Minerva.

  4. The_B says:

    John’s mother is a Classy Lady.

  5. MrBejeebus says:

    whats with the whole “im gonna use hlep2 for all mods ever” attitude of mod peeps nowadays, i bought HL2:GOTY a few weeks before orange box came out so i missed the deal, so i dont have ep2 or 1, which means no mods like this work for me, i was deeply dissapointed when it came to Dear Esther..

  6. jsutcliffe says:

    MrBejeebus, an obvious solution presents itself: Buy the HL2 episodes to play the mods. As an added bonus, you also get to play Episodes 1 and 2.

  7. Tei says:

    Since theres no documentation how to start playing this, and it don’t create a launch icon. I am here with something installed that I have no idea how to launch, where is installed, or something.

    Is this a map that is loaded from console? do I have to create a shortcut of htl.exe with “hl.exe -game science-in-action-research”.

    What?

  8. Tinus says:

    A quick browse on the moddb page reveals that the cross hair thing should be fixed now:

    “Updated 17 July 2009, fixed several issues & added a dynamic crosshair when using the keypads & lab buttons.”

  9. Tei says:

    Ignore it, I have found how to start it, and I am not telling u.

  10. Matt says:

    The world needs more imploding microwaves. Also, Mr. Whirly = new Weighted Companion Cube?

  11. A-Scale says:

    WOW! I just picked this up two days ago on the suggestion of a RPS member, and I’ve been loving the hell out of it. This man should be hired by Valve as a level designed. I had no idea this game came out so recently. I feel like a regular avant gardener!

  12. lumpi says:

    Yus, this is beautiful.

    It’s as close to the MacGyver game I always dreamed up as a kid. You know, don’t use guns, make elaborate “distractions” using random household objects instead…

  13. Adventurous Putty says:

    I, for one, am quite a fan of the Combine’s absurd massive power cables and am resentful of your public mockery of them, Mr. Meer.

  14. Theory says:

    There’s another critical bug later on the game. If you can’t get out of the cart, open the console and type “ent_fire ui deactivate”.

    But even obscure console fiddling can’t stop this from being my MOTY 2009! It’s so good. :D

  15. Smee says:

    I for one can’t believe how beautiful it all looks. Source really does some lovely texture work, eh? This guy’s a proper artist.

  16. Starkadder says:

    Maybe I’m a bit of a thickie, but I can’t figure out how to get past the bit just after your ant-lion buddy is killed. I’m assuming I need to get the container to drop and crush the APC, but I can’t see how…

  17. Stem says:

    @MrBeJeebus: get yourself to http://www.g2play.net and get Orange Box for just over £8, giving you Ep1,2,TF2 and Portal as well as a copy of HL2 you can gift (or sell for a couple of quid!)

  18. Catmacey says:

    Ok. I’m an idiot. Some one please tell me how to launch this thing… I have it installed…

  19. The_B says:

    Catmacey: Restart Steam after installing, as is the case for all HL2 mods (but granted, they usually tell you this.)

  20. Catmacey says:

    @The_B : Many thanks.

  21. Maj says:

    @Starkadder: The answer lies in the cables (or more precisely, their weight limits)

  22. Brass Gerbil says:

    As long as there are no jumping puzzles. I hate those almost as much as I hate soccer.

  23. Zra says:

    If it really is Matt Bortolino, then he’s the graphic artist who worked with Liquid Development on Hellgate: London.

  24. Wallace says:

    And the award for most inventive use of a microwave goes to…

  25. Starkadder says:

    Thanks Maj, that’s actually the first thing I tried, but it didn’t work, so I thought I was on the wrong track. Perhaps my body wasn’t fully on the container or something. Anyway, thoroughly enjoying it so far!

  26. Vandelay says:

    Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!!

    I love the Half Life games but this had almost as many fantastic moments as the whole series put together. The only qualm I can think of is that some of the puzzles could have been slightly better sign posted but I managed to solve the whole thing by myself, so it wasn’t too much of a big deal. But besides that, this really could have been made by Valve themselves. Genius throughout.

  27. Mike says:

    I don’t think i’ll buy RPS advice on mods after the trainwreck that is Neotokyo.

  28. Tim James says:

    Can goddamn websites in 2009 figure out a way to earn enough money to keep the servers on without this clown college jumping through hoops to download a zip file?

    I’m about to join moddb out of pity.

  29. Psychopomp says:

    @Mike

    RPS made a bad/strange call=/=All of their calls are bad/strange

  30. Mike says:

    They usually make bad/strange calls on mods.

  31. Krondonian says:

    I find it so odd as a regular lurker on Moddb that this- perhaps the most accomplished, professional mod I’ve ever played- had basically no introduction. Especially with the enormous effort many others put into advertising much lesser efforts.

    This is the first HL2 mod I’ve played with a custom vehicle too, DIPRIP aside. All round awesome. I only got stuck twice, and they were my own fault (I turned the crosshair on for the keypad bits).

  32. The_B says:

    Starkadder – you yourself are not required for this puzzle. (Call it a quick lapse in physics continuity.)

  33. Purple0limar says:

    Seriously, wow. That was unbelievable. The way the author gives you a few precious moments of invulnerability with Mr. Whirly, then steals it away with barnacles– great. This guy had better have a job coming to him at Valve.

  34. Psychopomp says:

    @Mike

    Then I question your taste :\

  35. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    The evil *if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean* was brilliant.

  36. Willy359 says:

    I hate freakin’ gunships.

  37. Weedkiller says:

    @Willy359

    Amen. Trying to hit a gunship with it’s own bombs has always been hard with no depth perception. I was willing to go through the fight against two gunships, but when I realized I need to fight a gunship, hordes of zombines and hordes of rollermines all at once I just quit.

  38. Peanut says:

    I loved it through and through, also slightly proud I didn’t need to ask for help for anything as some folks on ModDB are. :D

  39. T. Slothrop says:

    Best mod for Half-Life 2 that I’ve ever played, the imagination, visual cues, level design, Mr. Whirly and even visual fidelity all supersede Valve’s work, even the imploding microwaves recall the black scientific humour of the first game perfectly. I really wish Valve would integrate puzzles like this into their own games and I certainly join the chorus to see this man hired by the aforementioned developer. Minerva just doesn’t compare to this brilliance, sure the levels were ‘clean’ and neatly constructed without too many rough edges but where was the heart?

  40. wbjohnston says:

    beat it. it was good. i wish they found a better way to kill heli-choppers though

  41. Cirdain says:

    http://www.destructoid.com/elephant/index.phtml?t=Indie+Nation has a much better article an doesn’t undersell how awesome this mod is.

  42. Joseph says:

    Really bloody well made. Lots of fun, interesting and varied puzzles. Particularly like the crawling zombie one and Mr. Whirly.

  43. Ben Abraham says:

    Arrgh! It’s asking me to remember a what those four colours numbers were 20 minutes after I last did that section!? AAAARRRGGHHH! Pro Tip: Write them down for future reference, players!

  44. Ben Abraham says:

    Ah, I watched this walk-through and figured it out. SPOILER WARNING! (admittedly, it was pretty confusing what it was asking me to do.)

  45. Ennui says:

    The guy who made this mod posts regularly on Interlopers.net under the username Matt_b. He basically made it as he learned Hammer, and you can follow some of the development of it through his threads there from the past year.

    I personally loved this mod to death and as far as I’m concerned (sorry Minerva fanboys) this is the best singleplayer experience that a Source mod has produced to date.

  46. Kommissar Nicko says:

    Am I mistaken, or was there once a mod called “Reserach and Development” for the original Half-Life, which was all shooting and killing, and had you working for either Amalgamated Fluorodynamics or Something Carbide Labs? Is this a hallucination?

    Also, Neotokyo was fun!

  47. Metaltron says:

    Kommissar: that mod is called “Science & Industry”. they are supposed to be making a new one but dont know if they are still working on it.

  48. wbjohnston says:

    ben follow the wire

  49. JB says:

    Weedkiller, it really wasn’t all THAT tough. I used the rollermines to take down the Zombines, then killed the chopper. Easy? No. But not impossible. A challenge, like a lot of the mod.

    Also, once I finished R&D I downloaded and played through Minerva. Thought it was good, but R&D beats it hands down for entertainment value IMHO.