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. AzzX says:

    I want guns dammit :)

  2. Tei says:

    Great mod. Lots of puzzles. I love the effects, like the microwave box.

  3. jprwilliams says:

    We can congratulate him :
    http://matt-bortolino.cgsociety.org/about/

  4. Soulless One says:

    Excellent mod. I’m a gonna try to kill more gunships that way. Also, the secret to the fuse box puzzle is to back up a bit. that had me stuck for awhile.

  5. BooleanBob says:

    ‘Edward Pistolhands’ is a good joke.

  6. Ginger Yellow says:

    “whats with the whole “im gonna use hlep2 for all mods ever” attitude of mod peeps nowadays, i bought HL2:GOTY ”

    Presumably to incorporate the improvements to the Source engine, such as HDR.

  7. Tei says:

    “Presumably to incorporate the improvements to the Source engine, such as HDR.”

    It could be a flaw on artistic types. Don’t understand the concept of compatibility. You can also get this problem with Flash animations. Are always exported to the last version, even if the last version are only supported in a few OS’s, or the animation don’t really need to use Flash 12.
    Too bad you have Flash 10.

    It don’t get to these guys that is better to release for the older version possible. If the animation is compatible with Flash 5, release for Flash 5, to get more people playing it.

    Also, artistic types don’t understand about different machines. “It work on my machine” is all what understand. So a lame flash animation that move in a 4 GHz double core CPU, move like slow in a laptop, using the 100% of the CPU.

    It make you wonder how the artist types survived withouth programmers all these millennium.

    Anyway is not related here. The mod is totally unplayable withouth HDR. just kidding…

  8. Tei says:

    postdata:
    Is the version I have on my machine is type of “It works on my machine”

  9. Bluepixie says:

    Meh, sounds like a Source version of without the story and survival-horror.

  10. CMaster says:

    You don’t need to require episode 2 to use HDR and other engine improvements. You can make maps for the “Orange Box Engine” and anybody who owns ANY source game can play them. It’s the inclusion of content that makes ownership of individual games necessary. In this case it is probably the use of a certain NPC, texture, model or sound that requires the use of Ep2.

    It’s an argument I keep having with people who map for Synergy – that they shouldn’t use Ep1 or 2 content unless it genuinley adds to the map, as it significantly cuts down the number of potential players.

  11. MonkeyMonster says:

    “Well, we’re all going to hell anyway, because of that thing we said about John’s mother” had me chuckling all the way to the bottom of the article. But thanks for making me want to play hl and hl2 all the way through AGAIN – yeah thanks lads. Oh and this mod too.

  12. Nero says:

    Wow, just finished it and there are some really cool and clever stuff here. So awesome.

  13. A-Scale says:

    In contrast to the brilliance that is R&D, I played “Mission Improbable”, another mod that I saw sitting along with R&D on the HL2 mod site. It was a perfectly fine HL2 level, but compared to the genius that is R&D’s level design it felt like rubbish. I am now spoiled.

  14. Chemix says:

    It’s like a point and click adventure game mashed with HL2 and Junkyard Wars: and without the need to check a guide every 2 minutes to see if the left, second to bottom door from 4 perspectives ago contained the first of 25 keys or if I calibrate the machine to 45 or 123 degrees. I love it. Even if Mr. Whirlie is a bit floaty and hard to drive at times, it’s still a wagon with a roll cage and a scrapmetal fan that propels it.

  15. Bobic says:

    I feel pretty sorry for the zombie torso. Chopped in half, eaten by a headcrab, trapped in a box, trapped on a drawbridge, its a sad story.

  16. Jaffo says:

    Great stuff, really enjoyed it.

  17. vader says:

    That was really, really good. Lot’s of really clever puzzles in there. I’m gonna force feed this to everybody on my steam list.

  18. Paul Moloney says:

    Been playing 50 minutes, and grinned like a loon several times.

    Gabe Newell, hire this guy!!!

    P.

  19. Tom says:

    MR WHIIRRRLLEEEYYY!!!!!!!
    R&D – putting the laughs and cool lasers back in to Half Life.

  20. Tom says:

    MR WWHHIIRRRLLLEEEYYYY!
    R&D – putting the laughs and cool lasers back in to Half Life.

  21. Urthman says:

    After coming really late to the Half-Life 2 party, I was enormously disappointed at how few single-player mods there were, especially compared with the incredible bounty of single-player-goodness that followed from the first Half-Life game. Where is the Source answer to They Hunger? Is it really that much harder to develop mods for these next-gen engines? Have all the kids interested in game-making moved to Flash and other web stuff? Are there so many games now that no single game gets a critical mass of mod development to really explode? Is single-player modding dead? Are people who would have made a game in the past have too many new games to play to make mods for old ones?

    Anyway, Research & Development is a wonderful exception. Super-high quality in production values, fun ideas, fun execution. I kind of hope he doesn’t get hired by Valve and continues to turn out more Source-engine-goodness while we’re waiting for Episode 3.

    MORE LIKE THIS PLEASE!

  22. macc says:

    Utter geniality, had an enormous smile on my face at the end!

    More like this please!

  23. Geb says:

    By the end I was grinning so much that my mouth hurt, but then about fifteen minutes after that, I stopped suddenly and asked myself “did I just have an A-Team ending?”

    Bullets have very little effect, enemy takedowns are mostly by conveniently placed heavy objects, finish by hiding in a garage to build an armoured car…

    It was, wasn’t it. Argh.

  24. Theory says:

    Where is the Source answer to They Hunger?

    Right here. OH WAIT.

  25. Thiefsie says:

    Great mod… better than HL2 single player imo (and defo better than Ep1).

    Brought back a lot of the exploring/reading/thinking nostalgia from HL1 including the train rides.

    nice challenge too at times.

  26. Bobic says:

    Actually the level transitions are more natural than in the legit hl2 (words on the wall)

  27. Paul Moloney says:

    Quite possibly a contender for Game of the Year in my book; apart from that one annoying level at the end with two swinging platforms, it’s perfect.

    P.

  28. KP says:

    I can’t exit Mr. Whirley without being frozen in place and still controling the vehicle. :(

  29. SlappyBag says:

    @Kommissar Nicko – as Metaltron said there was another one in production but we ended up folding.

  30. noggin says:

    just finished it – i heartily agree it’s ingenious and lotsa fun

  31. Fumarole says:

    Urthman: next gen engine? Say wha? Isn’t Source five years old now?

  32. domo says:

    RAWR! I’M EDWARD PISTOL HANDS!!!! FEAR MY WRATH!!!!

  33. alvarito says:

    no se que decir… xD!

  34. CMaster says:

    This article now linked to from Steam Update News. Funky.
    Also, this mod was pretty awesome. I think the need for Ep 2 may well have been the helicopter you can throw bombs at, although can’t rule out textures or sounds also. Oh, and the gnome.

  35. Pyro says:

    I noticed this mod on ModDB, downloaded it, thought “It’s a nice mod.”
    Now it’s all over the ****ing place, getting rave reviews left and right.
    Go figure.

  36. Kua says:

    I like it a lot. A whole lot. Very very polished. Very very clever. And does that thing, the player, the gravy-stained-vest-wearing-tin-swilling player feel clever. I don’t recall getting frustrated once. If it took me a little while to work out a solution then I was very much enjoying that working out. Lordy, this is good.

    Oh, and Valve have a rather delicious engine there too. It doesn’t feel dated at all and I actually prefer the ‘style’ to Crysis and Far Cry 2.

  37. Kua says:

    How embarassing. I really f***** up one of those sentences. Enjoy.

  38. fuggles says:

    Gah! This was absolutely brilliant until the very end part – although I see what the desired effect should be (and it’s probably down to my mad skillz) I became very bored as I failed massively to do x to y enough times as I kept falling off, or spinning or generally not getting it right.

    Still, asides from that – bravo! Clever and funny.

  39. Jayt says:

    Finally reinstalled ep2 and gave this a go, loved it!

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  41. GameKey says:

    Really bloody well made.

    :)