So Very Many Happy Returns: Half-Life Is 15 Today

By RPS on November 19th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Half-Life celebrates its 15th birthday today. Valve’s genre-exploding, literal game-changer first appeared on the 19th November 1998, taking the well-loved first-person shooter and crafting something extraordinary. It was considered a turning point. A new bar for games to beat. And one that was safely broken by, er, Half-Life 2 six years later. Below are some of RPS’s favourite memories of the old, old game.

Graham: I haven’t been writing here long enough to do one of these yet, but: Half-Life Made Me. And I didn’t even like it that much at first. It felt sluggish compared to Quake and I got stuck at its three-headed tentacle boss. I was only able and inspired to progress months later when a friend began phoning me to talk about it every day.

Which started the slippery slope towards everything my life is today. I remember hosting deathmatch games on 56k modems. I remember finding an illegally sold disc of custom Half-Life levels in a tourist shop somewhere in England. I remember hearing that Worldcraft, the game’s level editor, came on the game’s install disc. I remember joining forums and IRC rooms and making friends and slowly learning how to use it. I remember the confidence that gave me.

I remember Counter-Strike. I remember Day of Defeat, Frontline Force, They Hunger, USS Darkstar, Age of Chivalry, Pirates, Vikings & Knights, and Half-Life Rally. Action Half-Life! Wanted. Sven Co-Op. Snark Wars? Scientist Hunt.

I remember beginning to write for a Half-Life 1 map review site and producing my first published articles. I remember befriending someone at Valve and writing reviews for the official Valve editing site. I remember starting my own fan site and interviewing modders and mappers. I remember the time I got 250,000 visitors in a single evening because I scanned the ‘Next Month’ page from Edge magazine, which had a crowbar on it casting a shadow in the shape of a 2. (Sorry, Edge.)

I remember completing the game more than I’ve completed any other game, and spending every waking moment writing or making something devoted to it. In retrospect, there’s maybe very little I don’t remember. Fifteen years later, there’s a lambda symbol still seared into my brain.

John: When I think about Half-Life the very first things that come to mind are crowbar, intro sequence, that first broken elevator, Xen, the noise of a face-hugger… Memories pour in, dozens of them, faster than I can keep up with. There are few games that my brain stores in such detail. But of everything in the game, I think the most exciting, most thrilling moment, was that time when the enemy soldiers started fighting the enemy aliens.

I’m sure there are examples of this happening in a dozen earlier games, perhaps even some I played, but this was the moment for me when a game became something bigger. It was taking place despite me. Not in the horrible way now too familiar in modern shooters, where the realisation of your own irrelevance renders the whole experience moot. But in a way where if I didn’t shoot them first, they might start shooting each other. I could watch the game taking place in front of me, without my being directly involved in it. Then leap in when it suited.

Half-Life had already developed a sense of place like no game before it. Despite the outlandish sci-fi tale, it created a real-world environment like nothing else. In fact, I remember the first time I saw screenshots of it in a PC Gamer preview, my brain almost couldn’t comprehend that someone was going to set an FPS in a recognisable location – offices like offices I’d been in. (It wasn’t until I first visited Seattle years later, and rode the airport’s monorail, that I was aware how true to life that bit was as well.) So with an Earthly foundation, then having this moment of autonomous warfare amongst the AI created something utterly incredible. Or indeed credible. That’s stuck with me ever since.

Adam: Xen doesn’t exist in my memories of Half Life. That’s not entirely true, obviously, or I’d become angry and confused every time somebody mentioned ‘that shitty alien dimension bit’. Xen is in my brainbox somewhere but I’ve managed to shove it into the closet where I keep the skeletons and R Kelly.

That’s not quite true either though. I didn’t shove Xen into the closet. It clambered in of its own accord. An ill-judged moment, particularly an ending, can eradicate all the goodwill that any piece of entertainment has generated, but that’s not the case with Xen. It is tedious, but the short interdimensional trip into the land of floating platforms doesn’t mar the highlight reel that runs through my head when I remember my first playthrough of Valve’s masterpiece. I still think it’s their strongest game but back in ’98 it wasn’t even the best game I bought that week. Truly a golden age.

The scenes haven’t faded with the passage of time and that’s at least partly because they’re all marked by sound as much as vision, and audio doesn’t date in the same way that the Quake engine has, even in such a heavily modified state. Half Life’s immersive world owes a great deal to the audio design that made vents into claustrophobic coffins and was at the heart of the game’s greatest set piece, in the blast pit. The tapping and clanging of the tentacles as they sought prey was horrifying enough, but the sonar screams of the creature itself came from somewhere deep and (mercifully) unseen. We saw its body but we never saw its home.

Then there was the chatter and barking of the soldiers, a brilliantly stitched veil that brought them out of AI’s own uncanny valley. I believed that they were flanking me, thinking one step ahead. It’s a beautiful illusion and Half Life was full of them. I don’t remember it as the story of a scientist, I remember it as a model of convincing environments and behaviours, and it’s still one of the best I’ve ever played.

Alec: It took me two years to complete Half-Life. I’d fallen out of PC gaming at the time, as the costs and social whirl of university assumed temporary priority over the unknown worlds I’d spent my teenage years in, but this was the game which brought me back, even if it took its time about it.

‘Play this’, said a schoolfriend who’d gone to the same university as me, pressing a Sharpie-scribbled CD-R into my hand with some urgency. (Sorry, Gabe). I knew nothing of this ‘Half-Life’, and indeed asked little about its nature or content at the time – I was entirely fixated upon the fact that this was a game which required a 3D card. I barely even knew what 3D meant, having not followed gaming tech for a little while – indeed I fear I interpreted it in the Avatar sense, and was faintly disappointed to find it basically meant ‘like Quake’. (Though I can remember moving the camera around on the game’s opening monorail ride, convincing myself that the train seats were jutting out of my screen, in the manner of a young drug virgin being given ground-up paracetamol by amused, more streetwise peers and told it was E or whizz or Cake or something. ‘Yeah, yeah, I can feel something now!’)

This chance act of nonchalant piracy coincided with a Christmas or a birthday – I can’t remember which – so to spare my parents the embarrassment of my requesting ‘booze or cash’ yet again when they inquired as to what gift I desired, I elected to ask for a Voodoo 2 Graphics Accelerator. I did no research about it, so had no idea if my PC would take it or what I’d need to install it, but it all sounded terribly exciting. When it arrived, it appeared my PC did indeed have the requisite slot, so I popped it in, ran the daisy-chain cable to my monitor, installed some complicated driver software off a floppy disc and then, finally, installed Half-Life. It ran! A modern videogame, with guns and everything, running on my old PC! This Voodoo thing was amazing!

Except it wasn’t. Unknowingly, I played the first half of that game in software graphics mode because I hadn’t pushed the Voodoo fully into the PCI slot. The game ran fine, but with edges more jagged than the glass which decapitated David Warner in The Omen, and textures like a field in Glastonbury after three solid days of rain. I cared not, for this sci-fi Indiana Jones adventure was so magnificent, so atmospheric, so challenging and surprising, so very there compared to the abstract Dooms and Quakes I’d played during my last love affair with PC gaming.

Unfortunately, software mode rendered water as an opaque grey-blue sheet, so after one too many aggravating attempts to survive and fight a space-shark I couldn’t even see, I gave up and told people that ’3D gaming was bollocks’ and went back to getting drunk and pining after girls I was too shy and badly-dressed to ask out.

Two years later, another friend was taking a look at my PC for some tech support problem I can’t recall, spotted the ill-fitted Voodoo, knowingly applied a thumb to its edge and was rewarded with a confident ‘click.’ After his mockery had died down, I loaded up Half-Life again. I blinked in disbelief at this sharp-edged, colorfully-textured, transparent-watered vision of a future that everyone else had experienced 24 months ago. I saw the shark, shot it with a crossbow, went for a long swim in a gloriously see-through pool. I played the rest in one astounded, hungry, grubby, weekend-long sitting, and PC gaming and I have never been apart since.

Nathan: The G-Man won’t stop following me.

After a Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft dominated childhood, I shamefully lapsed into console gaming’s fickle embrace throughout my early adolescent years. But then one day in middle school computer class, I overheard the Cool Nerds (who I never worked up the guts to actually hang out with, sadly) chatting excitedly about early screens and information about something called Half-Life 2. “Half-Life 2?” I pondered to myself. “I wonder if they’ll eventually bundle the first and second together and just call it Life.”

Half-Life 2, of course, didn’t come out for years. In the meantime, however, I dug into the original Half-Life and dug in deep. As a bumbling, stumbling, swamp-skinned embodiment of preteen awkwardness, I didn’t exactly have the most rollicking social calendar. My dumb offhand thought ended up being oddly prophetic: Half-Life became life. Mine, specifically. I played it front-to-back in that obsessive way only kids really can. The “just another day on the job” opening. My first far-more-difficult-than-it-should-have-been headcrab encounter. Tentacles! Scientists. Xen. The ending and its perfect full-circle callback to the beginning. Man, what a ride. Every. Single. Time.

I always loved games for their stories – pretty much from the moment I first started playing them. Whether it was StarCraft’s space opera of grimdark love and loss or Goldeneye’s sweaty, desperate attempt at faithfulness to its source material, games shoveled fuel into my imagination’s engines, impossible worlds given shape and form. Half-Life was a turning point. Compared to everything else I’d played previously, there was so much more to tear apart, dissect, and devour. It also welcomed me back into PC gaming’s hallowed halls, and I never left again after that.

G-Man followed me elsewhere, too. Counter-Strike allowed me to briefly rekindle a relationship with a childhood best friend and bond with an older cousin I didn’t have much else in common with. Half-Life and Half-Life 2, meanwhile, indirectly spawned half of the in-jokes my college friends and I incessantly repeated until entire rooms attempted to saw off their own ears when we were around. “Gordon Freeman? Gordon Freeman!” we’d repeat in high-pitched bellows, imitating the magnificent Half-Life in 60 seconds video. And don’t even get me started on Half-Life: Full Life Consequences. Let’s just say I can still quote the entire thing. With voices.

I am not proud of that fact. Well, OK, maybe a little.

But for every goofy video, there was also a wonderfully clever comic like Chris Livingston’s Concerned or a magnificent mod like the original Natural Selection. I guess what I’m saying is Half-Life – the whole series, really, though especially the first – inspired plenty of other people’s imaginations too. Many of them went on to do big things of their own after that first spark, to become excellent creators in their own right.

In that sense, G-Man – who by now you should understand is a (still really creepy) metaphor wooooooo – continues to follow me, a clammy invisible hand tugging at the strings of my reality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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136 Comments »

  1. LionsPhil says:

    Games that had a richer, more varied, vibrant, and successful mod scene than Half-Life 1:

    *crickets*

    • Premium User Badge Durkonkell says:

      For YEARS afterwards I bought games that weren’t necessarily that amazing on their own but came with mod toolkits on the understanding that it would be Half-Life all over again and I’d be swimming in amazing mods within a year.

      It was terribly disappointing when I eventually came to the realisation that this didn’t actually happen for most games.

    • Warruz says:

      Only thing that comes close i would say is warcraft 3 , but its debatable what exact definition yo could put those under.

      • Mman says:

        Doom

        That’s about it though.

        Edit: Ugh, wrong embedding.

        • Syphus says:

          I still have a great 600 page book (plus CD) about Doom / Doom 2 / Heretic modding. The CD has tons of Mods and Total Conversions on it.

          • noom says:

            I cut my game mapping teeth on Doom, before moving onto Duke Nukem 3D, then counterstrike 1.6. Sadly the hobby tailed off after that. I do miss it though. It makes me mightily sad that I no longer have copies of all those old maps.

    • arisian says:

      The only other game that I felt like had a similar quantity and quality of user-made content was Neverwinter Nights (2002).

      There, it was “modules” (essentially self-contained stories), rather than “mods” (actual changes to game engine), so it’s kind of apples and oranges. But much like Half-Life, it spawned a long-lived community of people who created an incredible amount of content, some of which was better than the majority of commercial games. And it, too, was a never-to-be-repeated phenomenon; once similar capabilities began being built into other games, the fracturing of the modding-community meant that no game afterwards ever had the critical mass to sustain such a vibrant and long-lived creative effort.

    • RichterLocke says:

      Unreal Tournament 1. Half Life is GROSSLY overrated. The mod scene was great sure, but the game simply is NOT as good as people claim it to be. One of the most horrifically overrated game series of ALL TIME.

      • Flopper says:

        Did you just compare an arena shooter to one of the most immersive games of all time?

        • RichterLocke says:

          UT is more fun, and immersive, then HL is. HL is simply not as good as people seem to think it is.

          Hell, none of Valve’s games are. With the exception of Portal 1 and 2, but they had to buy/absorb a studio to get those amazing games out.

          • Stardreamer says:

            I think you’re becoming confused between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ opinions. And you’re definitely comparing apples and oranges here. Half Life was a brillant narrative-driven FPS, UT was a brilliant arena combat game. I love them both.

          • Lemming says:

            Please explain how a multiplayer arena shooter is more immersive than a single-player narrative-driven shooter?

        • LionsPhil says:

          Ignoring your hyperbole, yes, he did just compare apples to oranges.

          Trying to determine which is best is ridiculous, because all it tells anyone is if you prefer arena shooters to linear singleplayer shooters.

          • RichterLocke says:

            I like them both. HL1 is a PASSABLE AT BEST game. It’s not the end all be all game everyone believes it to be, and it bugs me to no end that it gets immensely more love then it deserves. In fact, if you go back to HL, it spawned HL2 and Steam (whether you love it or hate it, that’s a personal thing), and other story driven shooters. You know, like Call of Duty. Half Life has done more HARM to the games industry than good.

            I didn’t find HL to be immersive. I found it to be “that’s it?”. The hype it received might have colored me a shade biased on release, and I didn’t finish it for years afterwards. But I simply was not impressed.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Yes, we get it. You’re very angry.

            We just don’t care.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            I you asked this kid what a ZX Spectrum was he’d do a typo and be looking at Speculum on Wiki. That is a far as he’d get as the parental filter would kick in as he tries to find out what looking up a Vagina entails.

            See I can edit posts too!

          • RichterLocke says:

            I have no idea what you’re talking about about being on a fishing trip. And I’m mildly annoyed, hardly angry. HL did more harm then good to the games industry. It’s not that great of a game, and is badly overrated. I wasn’t immersed. It wasn’t interesting. It wasn’t FUN.

            You’re all attacking ME without even attempting to explain why you think the game is worth a damn. I came to voice my opinion on a game I feel isn’t worth even 1/10th the praise it gets, and not one person askes “why?”. Or cares to explain why they think the game is good? Just a lot of “your wrong”, or “you mad”, or whatever other nonsense people like to spew out.

            I WILL grant you that HL was a groundbreaking game. I just didn’t find it, or the ground being broken, all that good at the time.

          • Syphus says:

            I suppose if I didn’t play the game until 2009 I would’ve said the same thing. But the fact of the matter is everything about it was a giant-leap beyond the games directly before it, Doom, Quake, Unreal (the actual game, not the arena shooter).

      • LionsPhil says:

        Ok, I can think of Jailbreak…and I guess ChaosUT and a few like it tweaked the arena formula a bit.

        I mean, if you’d said UT2004 I could have at least given you that airships one, and Alien Swarm, and I think there was a post-apocalyptic one with a cool rocket bike, but I’m struggling to think of even a fraction of the number, quality, and diversity HL1 attracted.

        • -N says:

          Think there’s a pretty strong argument to be made for Quake 1, or Doom.

          Those are what CAUSED the explosion. Doom had a strong set of modification tools and birthed the idea of the total conversion (and copying trademarked property, and “Foxing,” for that matter)

          Quake gets my vote. You know, actual stripped-down version of C with all of the gameplay source up for grabs. There was CTF, bots, Team Fortress, Rocket Arena for balance, quasi-military conversions like Navy Seals. Tons of single player maps, quite a few with custom code, weapons, enemies. Plenty of weird mods that diverged from the deathmatch arena / FPS – I’ve even seen a racing game and a weird kind of port of Math Blaster.

          HL1 has a pretty hefty mods list, but it was a grand time indeed back when anyone could and did throw whatever they liked at the engine.

        • engion3 says:

          Deathball was my fav (besides alien swarm) for ut2004

      • Eukatheude says:

        Of all time!

      • Mman says:

        My opinion that Half-Life 1 is (and remains) one of the best FPS games ever isn’t going to become wrong just because you say it is enough times. Sorry.

    • Muzman says:

      Quake 2

    • 2late2die says:

      I think Skyrim could qualify. Maybe if you only count mods that create something entirely new HL1 would still definitely come out on top, but if you count all mods, including the ones that just tweak the existing games then I think Skyrim would definitely be a contender.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I think that’s a different kind of thing, and you’d see a different set of games vying for that title. (Generally, ones which “needed” more community fixing. And, again, UT, since it had hundreds if not thousands of funny little game-tweaking mutators.)

    • pocketlint60 says:

      Half Life 2.

  2. Arithon says:

    The cake was a lie… sorry, The EPISODES were a lie!

    Happy Birthday Gordon. Sorry your parents forgot you.

  3. Mario Figueiredo says:

    1 plus 5 is 6. Which is the double of 3.

    • AsamiImako says:

      No no, you didn’t take it far enough. 1+5=6, divided by the number of original numbers (2) 6/2=3: Half-Life 3 confirmed.

      In all honesty though, it’s all but confirmed at this point. We have a pretty good idea that it IS being worked on. The real question we must now ask, is: WHEN WILL IT BE RELEASED!?

  4. Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

    The first letter of Valve is V, which is five, so 15 / 5 = … wait (consults elaborate collage pinned onto wall).

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Oops. Wrong reply, sorry!

      Happy birthday Half-Life!

      It’s been an year or so since I last played Half-Life 1 and 2. I never cease to be amazed as to how well this game still plays nowadays.

  5. Lemming says:

    First game I ever bought for my second PC. This and Opposing Force gave me so much joy, and was probably the first thing that got my then 11 year-old brother into PC games, as he watched me play them.

    Happy Birthday Half-Life!

  6. Meat Circus says:

    Prepare for unforseen reminiscences.

  7. ViktorBerg says:

    Okay, the comment on bundling HL1 and HL2 together and then emitting the “half” from the title was amusing.

    As for me, I remember first playing Half-Life 1 pretty late, in like 2003 or even 2004. My big brother had it installed on his PC, and me and him played CS against bots a lot (I wasn’t very good, obviously). I asked him what that game was, and he gave me the disc. I installed it, booted it up, and started playing. It was all new to me, prior to that I mostly played RTS and city builder games (I grew up on Pharaoh, which I still believe to be one of the best city builders of all time, and my favorite). 3D singleplayer games were a new thing to me, it was a very different experience from CS, which is multiplayer-only, set in a somewhat run-of-the-mill setting of terrorists versus spetsnaz/SWAT/whatever.

    I admired the first half hour of the game, wandering around the facility and exploring it. Then I went to the Anti-Matter Spectrometer chamber, and started the process. Being the young impressionable myself, I was utterly TERRIFIED once the Resonance Cascade kicked off. Oh god, what is going on? Why is everything green?! WHAT ARE THESE THINGS? WHERE AM I?!!

    And then I encountered my first headcrab in the next chamber, and quit the game out of fear. I actually was afraid of the little bugger. Only several months later did I muster up the courage to start playing it again. This time, I completed the game.

    I will never forget my first Resonance Cascade. I will never forget my first headcrab.

  8. Premium User Badge DrScuttles says:

    This is a safe environment and we’re all friends here so I feel absolutely content to guiltily whisper my confession: I like Xen.
    I enjoy the change of pace and scenery. Playing it 15 years ago, bounding around with the newly acquired longjump module coupled with floaty gravity felt truly liberating. I loved seeing the HEV clad bodies of Black Mesa scouts and feeling truly alone in that unforgiving psychedelic environment.
    It’s certainly not the high point of the game, but it never makes me inwardly sigh like On A Rail does.

    • Ernesto25 says:

      Wow someone else who likes xen as i posted below . Truely a alien world that even i felt unprepared for .

    • Premium User Badge Durkonkell says:

      [Abuse and assertions that you are objectively wrong]

      …I, um. I kinda liked Xen too. Just a bit, though! I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong impression.

    • Premium User Badge LTK says:

      I loved Xen too. Half-Life may have been remarkable in being set in a science facility that (mostly) made sense as a place, but it was the sheer alienness of Xen that really impressed me.

    • Mman says:

      I dislike a lot of the gameplay there, but I think the setting and concept is great and a perfect way to completely subvert everything you’ve experienced before visually.

      Then again, at this point I get the feeling saying On A Rail is fine is more controversial, and also that Residue Processing is one of the most important chapters in the game story-wise.

    • colw00t says:

      I liked Xen too. I never found the jumping physics to be particularly difficult, since they had set up all the jumps to have a big margin of error with the longjump module. I liked how weird and alien it felt. Those mushroom things that hide from you? Amazing. Giant testicle-headcrab? Creepy and slightly disgusting.

    • Premium User Badge distantlurker says:

      I have *zero* recollection of Xen.. does that make me a bad person? :(

    • Henson says:

      I’m not a fan of Xen, per se, but Gonarch’s Lair was pretty damn good.

    • Premium User Badge Arathain says:

      Oh hey, it’s not just me. I liked Xen.

      The final boss was just awful, though. I can’t imagine there’s anyone who liked that bit.

    • cunningmunki says:

      Another Xen lover here. Looking forward to the Black Mesa: Source remake.

    • Lemming says:

      It was an awesome idea, but a fairly bad execution. Certainly not in line with what had come before it.

  9. Myrdinn says:

    The thing I remember most vividly from my first Half Life playthrough when it was just released is the intro where you ride the tram. Despite hating modern ‘cinematic-games’, it was so dang epic to have the game begin like it was a motion picture (being a shooter nonetheless, in a time where shooter meant non stop shooting). The other great part about HL were the mods. I was a huge fan of Team Fortress when it was still a Quake mod and got really, really excited about Team Fortress Classic. TFC was so dang good (even though it was extremely similar to TF, but with so much prettiness!) that I hardly ever played HL DM (did anyone?).
    This was until I discovered a new mod called Counter Strike which had just released it’s third beta version… the rest is HISTORY.

    • Premium User Badge phuzz says:

      I remember when HalfLife came out.
      I still had an Amiga at the time, but one of my mates had a PC, and I was round there one day and he told me “you have to see this game!”.
      So he loaded it up, and started a new game, and being an Amiga user I was dutifully impressed by the graphics, but then, he moved the mouse.
      At that moment, when I realised that this wasn’t a prerendered intro but part of the game, my tiny little mind was blown.

  10. Ernesto25 says:

    One game i was young which legitimate had me scared so much i would find anyway not to start the resonance cascade. The tentacle boss is still one of my favorite moments by hearing the clanging scared me even more as a kid. In a weird way it got me into rollplaying later on as i put myself in freeman’s shoes and its been said before Freeman think’s /does whatever you want him to do. the sniper ladies are still oen of my favourite enemies in any game and wish more games (FEAR had something similar) and even the next half life adds something like that agile invisible hunter. Finally i actually loved XEN due to it felling like legitimately alien world outside my comprehension rather than a world just painted blue with Earth’s gravity etc. All these and more is the reason i still play it every year or so and i can say its still great not due to nostalgia.

    • The First Door says:

      Blast Pit utterly terrified me when I was younger. So much so, that when I was playing Black Mesa a few months back, I really struggled to start that chapter as I knew what was coming!

      Good times!

  11. tinners says:

    Happy Birthday Gordon Freeman!

    The thing I remember most is that this game came from out of absolutely nowhere. I didn’t even know about it until I saw it for sale in Electronics Boutique. I only bought it because I thought the box looked cool.

  12. diebroken says:

    Ahhh, great times indeed. Unreal is also 15, and DOOM will be 20 soon…

  13. bstard says:

    R3fund plz!

  14. Ultra Superior says:

    Valve should celebrate with a steam sale, lol, what a disgrace that company became.

  15. Didden says:

    The feel and sound of the weapons and the way the military AI worked blew me at the time. I remember redoing so many parts of it time and time again for the gun play.

  16. Premium User Badge Wisq says:

    At the first office I ever worked at, my co-workers had a habit of playing Action Quake 2 (a movie-themed Q2 mod) around lunch-hour. I didn’t get much of a chance to play with them, and I hadn’t yet started playing games online, so I mostly just puttered around against bots at home.

    But then I heard that the AQ2 team had moved on to produce Action Half-Life, so I went and picked up Half-Life, purely because now I could actually be ahead of the curve and be the one to introduce AHL to the office, right? And hey, while I’m there, let’s play the singleplayer campaign, maybe it’s fun.

    And thus, personal history was made.

    Of course, then I went right back to playing AHL, and that phase lasted for many years and introduced me to online multiplayer with strangers, and to elimination-style round-based team play (which I will always prefer over team deathmatch), and to my first GeForce card (so many more frames per second than my Voodoo 3!), etc. And when the AHL servers were empty, I would sometimes play TFC — and now I’m coming up on my 1500th hour of TF2, in which I’ve made way more online friends than I ever had IRL.

    So really, I owe a whole lot to Half-Life, even if I stumbled across it completely by accident.

    • HadToLogin says:

      There’s still someone playing AHL TeamPlay from time to time. Mostly around weekends, starting from Europe evening to US midnight.

  17. cunningmunki says:

    Haa-ppy birthday, Missster Free-man.

  18. Lobotomist says:

    No question one of best games ever made. Naturally judging in context of its release time frame.
    Real game changer.

    Easily standing among Another World, Elite, Prince of Persia ….

  19. Henson says:

    One of my most memorable moments was in the laser-trip hallway with the two turrets (in standby) and the two scientists. Rather than shooting the turrets or triggering them via laser tripwire, I actually maneuvered around the trip wires and through the hallway, hitting the ‘emergency close’ button on the other side. As the heavy door slowly slid down…I accidentally hit a tripwire on my side. The door was about halfway down now, but I could hear the familiar sound of the turrets powering up…and the sounds of bullets firing…and the alarmed shouts of the two trapped scientists…and the sight of blood splatter just as the door was closing…

    Quite unnerving. Awesome.

  20. Fenix says:

    When Half-Life came out, I was following gaming with a big delay, as I hoarded my allowances to purchase gaming magazines months after publication dates, and I remember pages upon pages of this game called Half-Life in PC Gamer and The Games Machine and whatever else I could get my hands on.

    So obviously when my friend at school shared his copy with me, I was very eager to play it. So eager, in fact, that I didn’t bother to play it when my parents were not watching and after my dad saw me shoot a scientist in the head with the glock, he made me uninstall and return it (I was 12). Which is funny as I had finished Blood just a year before.

    So I didn’t actually play Half-Life until like, 2001, sneakily. It was glorious, and rocked my world. Probably my favourite PC game of all time. Only Starcraft and Alpha Centauri come close.

  21. WhatKateDoes says:

    Got it when it came out, at the grand old age of 24! Loved it, loved the story, the illusion that I could get lost in the “on a rail” tunnels.

    But most vivid memory is early on, running up a gantry from various horrid spitting monsters, running headlong into what I thought was a rope. I remember thinking it weird that the game had “auto-climb” – then I looked up…

    Classic panic moment a’la Hicks in Aliens when he checks the ceiling crawl-space… AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH shooty-shooty-shootyfullautoshooty – fall, dead. Shocked agog-ness followed.

    :)

  22. Akimbo says:

    Let’s see.

    Action Half-Life, The Opera (mook matches!), Existence, Pirates, Vikings & Knights, Science & Indsutry, Team Fortress Classic, Earth’s Special Forces, Sven Co-op, Counter-Strike, The Specialists, Day of Defeat, Zombie Panic, Master Sword, Firearms, Natural Selection, Vampire Slayer, Wizard Wars, Ricochet, The Ship, Monkeystrike, Battle of the Millenium.

    This is not the list of mods for Half-Life 1. This is not even the list of mods for HL1 that I’ve personally played. This is the list of mods for HL1 that I specifically remember playing, and remember what they look and play like.

    Myself and a few mates used to run our own little LAN-parties throughout highschool and I think it’s fair to say, over the course of three or so years, we’ve spent more times playing HL mods than we did all other games combined.

    • Akimbo says:

      Also, Ricochet is not on that list as a joke. Ricochet was (and still is) damn great. And boo to you naysayers.

    • ViktorBerg says:

      Ah, the good ol’ memories of Sven Co-Op. My favorite map series was by far the Tetris maps. They were great and unique.

    • mpk says:

      Day of Defeat! dod_Caen remains, for me, one of the best multiplayer maps ever built. Oh, it had lots of flaws and it was sniper-camping hell but it was clearly the best of the early Day of Defeat maps and I spent as much time there as any CS level.

    • Evilbrennan says:

      Aaaaaawww yeah the Opera!
      I was a beta tester for that and man, was it grand! The thing that killed the mod was that they flubbed the release and put out a super bugged version instead of the one we greenlit. People tried it, hated it ,and never came back even though it was fixed within hours.

      • ViktorBerg says:

        This is interesting considering how people treat mods nowadays. MISERY 1.0 came out, and was buggy. People gave it a chance, and they patched it somewhat. MISERY 2.0 came out, and it was also buggy. People still gave it a chance.

  23. GallonOfAlan says:

    Still have my original CD here in my desk drawer at work.

  24. Numerical says:

    I remember the day this game came out, since it’s my birthday. I was on the night crew working at a movie theater. Fun stuff.

  25. Turkey says:

    I remember that everyone was making a huge deal that you had to pick a side between Sin and Half-Life at the time. Probably because of the rivalry between Quake and Duke Nukem 3D a couple of years earlier.

    I remember that me and my friend at the time weren’t that impressed with the huge HL carboard cutout adorning our local game shop at the time. All the advertisements said it was the game of the year, but the graphics were quite clearly inferior to Unreal and indeed Sin, so how could it be better?

    Meanwhile, it took me a couple of levels to discover that Sin was a buggy piece of crap and I could never bring myself to slog through the tedious Unreal campaign, but Half-Life remains one of my favorite games to this day.

    Then the 21st century happened and all gamers bled from their eyes from the horrible legacy of Half-Life and everyone wished they had supported Looking Glass instead, but by then it was too late.

    • int says:

      I remember that too. Sin did try some cool things though, like letting you control a minigun on a moving helicopter, accessing computers/hacking(I think). I enjoyed the demo greatly.

      Also around that time there was… Blood 2! Not as good as 1 but still fun, fun, fun!

  26. mbp says:

    The Nihilanth Encounter at the end of Half Life remains one of my proudest memories of PC gaming. I got through the stages and ended up on top of his enormous brain when it dawned on me he couldn’t hurt me any more. The ultimate boss of this epic game was completely at my mercy. After thinking about it for a minute I put away my rocket launcher, gauss cannon and other heavy weapons. It just seemed appropriate to bludgeon him to death with a crowbar, the humble yet iconic first weapon of the game

  27. zappeo says:

    Thanks, Nathan. Every single time I stumble upon somebody who mentions “Concerned” I feel the urgent need of reading it again from start to finish.
    And that’s another day that passes by without being productive. Thanks!

  28. Jason Moyer says:

    1998 was the year of Hexen 2, Grand Prix Legends, Thief, and discovering MAME for me. I did finally get around to picking up a copy of HL and the expansions when they were on sale recently, though.

    • jmtd says:

      Oh man, Hexen 2 over hl? Go back and play Hexen 2 again now and it really highlights how good half life really was. And I really wanted h2 to be good…

  29. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    ‘Get out of here Gordon Freeman’

    There once was this foreigner in our neck of the woods… Gordon was his name? His whole manner gave out an experienced stalker, but he said he’d never been to the Zone. But anyway, that’s not the point. He did vanish somewhere in the Zone eventually. But he had this rather curious thing, the Black Kite. If I could just take a closer look at it…

  30. RichterLocke says:

    Half Life is a grossly overrated game. So is HL2, though I did feel HL2 had better moments then HL. It’s just not that good, and it honestly sickens me to see all the love it gets. It’s not that good, people!

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      I have the sneaking suspicion you never played it on release and to be brutally honest you are in a very VERY small minority…or fishing Edit: ˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅˅Glad you saved me wasting how ever may minutes of my life, like I say ‘a lost voice’

      • RichterLocke says:

        What are you talking about?

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          ‘What are you talking about’ You editing your post completely dickhead!(revisionist)

          • RichterLocke says:

            What are you going on about? I JUST SIGNED UP here, and half my comments are invisible to me. I didn’t edit anything. And when trying to repost comments that aren’t being posted, I’m being told I am spam. I have not editted anything OUT of any of my posts. If anything, I edit stuff IN. If this lameass forum was actually working properly.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            I guess you are between 10 and 13 and very annoying, I bid you adieu!

      • RichterLocke says:

        I stand by what I say, though not sure what you mean by a lost voice. HL1 isn’t all that great. It’s passable. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t expect people to agree with me, but I’m sick of the game getting undue love when it’s just not the end all be all game people make it out to be.

        • Stardreamer says:

          If an overwhelming majority of people enjoy a thing, and you don’t enjoy a thing, perhaps you need to re-examine your own opinions on the matter? It’s statistically likely that you are, in fact, wrong.

          • RichterLocke says:

            There is no such thing as a wrong opinion, and you know that. I’m right. You’re right. You think I’m foolish for thinking I am right, and I feel the same to you. It’s an endless cycle. The game isn’t very good. It’s aged poorly. And it brought about both Steam (which you either kove or hate), and the rise of the “cinematic” story driven FPS’s like CoD. It’s damaged the industry more then helped.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            I guess you being a twinkle in your parents eye at the time of Half Life’s release may cloud your judgement somewhat!

            Bought Half Life on STEAM LOL, BANTZ etc!

          • Stardreamer says:

            If there’s no such thing as a wrong opinion…then what is it you are sick of? Seems weird to be crusading hard against another right opinion?

      • stele says:

        Don’t feed the trolls.

        • RichterLocke says:

          I’m not a troll. I don’t think the game is very good. We’re entitled to have differing opinions last I checked.

          • stele says:

            Well you know what they say about opinions…

          • RichterLocke says:

            quite true, but I came here, having heard the people here were a cut above normal internet messageboard/forum/whatever dwellers. I state an opinion and get called out by any number of people without a single question as to why I dislike it, or even a rebuttal explaining why it’s good. Just ceaseless hostility.

          • Stardreamer says:

            You could have avoided the adverse reaction if you’d laid out your opinion In detail first? Pinging all over the thread stating that you’re sick of the HL1 love was only ever going to aggravate. So here’s your chance: what’s passable about HL1?

          • Low Life says:

            Your initial comment was nothing but an attack on other people’s opinions (that’s what calling something overrated is – you’re saying people are wrong in liking it) without any kind of argument, and you complain about hostility?

            edit: Ah so slow, this was obvious aimed at RichterLocke.

          • RichterLocke says:

            The story telling was relatively strong with HL1, and the combat was decent. I also make no bones about the fact that it really helped pushed storytelling in FPS games forward by leaps and bounds.

          • Volcanu says:

            In future it would probably save you some grief if you set out your argument in your inital post, rather than just making an attention grabbing (intentionally or otherwise) contrarian statement.

            Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and of course you dont have to like something just because the majority of people do. But on an article celebrating the 15th anniversary of a well loved game, you’re likely to get a grumpy reaction if you make an assertion like “it’s not that good” without going on to explain WHY you think this.

            Asking genuinely now you stated above that HL did more harm to the industry (should that be genre) than good. Did you play FPS games at the time of the original’s release? If so, I find it hard to understand that statement. Likewise blaming it for the state of current Call of Duty games. Which is altogether baffling, if you think the play experience is even remotely similar then you and i perceive games very, very differently.

          • RichterLocke says:

            The success of HL led Valve to get awfully full of themselves and create Steam. I like steam, begrudgingly, but it’s taken years for that. And I still don’t find it to be a great value proposition, given it’s essentially a featured drm suite with a poor web browser in game that likes to stop functioning, very basic friends list functionality with no llogs available, etc etc. But it’s convenient, and it’s the path of least resistance, and it eventually broke people down. HL was DIRECTLY responsible for this. The success of HL paved the way for HL2 which FORCED Steam on you if you wanted to play it on PC, like it or not.

            I’m also not saying CoD is the same framework of a shooter, but how many serious story driven shooters were there before HL? It WAS groundbreaking, no FPS had really told an in depth story. HL paved the way, with the first military style FPS being MoH1 on PS1 IIRC (which was a truly fantastic game, one of the few console FPS’s worth a damn). Which came out the next year, if my memory serves me right. And from there, we got Call of Duty. The influences of HL were felt throughout the industry, specifically in FPS’s. Given the state of FPS’s these days, I don’t think that was, in the end, for the better.

          • Volcanu says:

            On the steam issue, I’m with you in terms of hating it initially, but now tolerating it somewhat begrudgingly. And yes, I was really pissed off when valve forced it down my throat with HL2. But putting all that aside, I dont think it’s fair to say that HL 1 is a bad game or overrated because it’s success led to a sequel which valve used (opportunistically/smartly) to force adoption of steam. Steam hasn’t really got anything to do with the merits of HL as a game. Especially as it pre-dated it completely.

            Personally I wouldnt draw a straight line from HL all the way through to the modern iterations of COD, despite the loosely shared features of being ‘story driven’ and featuring scripted events. The implementation is quite different, as is the wider experience. HL was much more cerebral than COD Black Ops for instance- whether its the environment based puzzles or the way it gave you freedom to tackle different encounters in different ways, or the fact it never wrenched control away from the player and forced you to LOOK AT STUFF EXPLODING HERE!

            There were many, many years between HL1 and the CODs of today and FPS games didnt take a linear path. As you point out, the early MOH games were actually very good, as were the first couple of iterations of Call of Duty and had they adhered to the principles & feel of those games, the current CODs would be far less detestable.

            Remember in the years between HL and modern COD we had MOH:AA, RTCW, HL2 Far Cry, Jedi Knight 2, Doom 3 (to name just a few), all of which were far deeper experiences than typical current fare . FPS games only went off down a dead end about 3 years back. Not after HL. And its not right to try and trace that trend back to HL’s door. At least not in my opinion.

    • UncleLou says:

      It’s fine to disagree and not like it, but you’re “sick of it” that other people love it? Hubris, much?

      And obviously, you’re wrong. And I share the suspicion that you might not have been there when it was released originally.

      • Phendron says:

        The word ‘overrated’ is usually a red flag for a self-righteous prick by my book.

  31. Opiniomania says:

    According to wikipedia, the Thief 15th anniversary will be on November 30th. I sure hope you rock-throwin’, paper-scribblin’, shotgun-wielding pencil pushers will write a glorious article for that occasion, or woe betide!

    • Adam Smith says:

      “…back in ’98 it wasn’t even the best game I bought that week”

      I think you’re the first person to mention the best game I bought that week.

  32. Premium User Badge cpt_freakout says:

    Great times.

  33. waltC says:

    “And I didn’t even like it that much at first. It felt sluggish compared to Quake and I got stuck at its three-headed tentacle boss.”

    Graham,

    Your first mistake was in thinking of HL in Quake terms, like “boss,” etc….;) While Quake was just “OK,” HL was a masterpiece–back when any decent game worth owning was a single-player marathon which pitted the player against the game developers & programmers. None of this cop-out, “I do multiplayer games because good single-player games are beyond me” sentiment we see so much of today from certain developers.

    But back to “boss,” for a minute. It’s one of the genre’s terms that I have loathed from the first time I saw it in print somewhere. I often tried to imagine the mind that equated a multi-tentacled alien monstrosity from another dimension as a “boss.” Boss? It’s a term that to me has always been as incongruous with game content as can be imagined. It sounds vaguely thuggish, as if one is discussing the local crime lord or underworld “boss.” Whenever I hear the term I always wonder if the person who used it was even aware of the *plot* within the game, or if maybe the plot might be beyond him and the whole game nothing but a sequence of ever-harder-to-kill “bosses,” etc. I can’t say for certain, but it often seems like the latter. Looking at HL through the eyes of a multi-player game seems wrong to me somehow. Just wrong…;)

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Re: “Boss”: I know, right? I first became aware of it through Super Mario Bros, I think. “Why is this giant fire-breathing turtle monster called a guy who runs an office?” thought 9-year-old me.

      I believe its origin is Japanglish, like “1-Up.” Some Japanese dude with a very loose grasp on English and a Japanese-English dictionary has somehow managed to warp the language for all time.

      One that we can’t blame on the Japanese is “dungeon.” How exactly did the word for “underground prison” come to mean “cave full of monsters and treasure”? I mean, I’ll give you the “underground” bit, but “orcs and treasure chests” aren’t what I normally associate with prisons. I blame Gygax.

  34. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Telly Savals says Birmingham is top venue shocker!

  35. RichterLocke says:

    Is there a banned games word list or something relating to consoles? Because half my posts aren’t going through, and I am quite annoyed. Either way…

    analydilatedcorporatestyle: Thank you for your guess, but I am 36. I was busy playing other, better games. I gave HL a shot. I didn’t like it.

    • The Random One says:

      It’s too bad that you’re in here being aggressive, confrontational and strange because I agree with you entirely.

      Half-Life was boring. It had a good presentation and little more. Most of the stuff it does well Goldeneye 64 does better, as long as you can deal with the claw-shaped controller. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

  36. mpk says:

    I played through the whole game in software mode.

    Edit: 3D cards are for the weak!

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      You Sir get the ‘Hardcore’ badge!

    • Evilbrennan says:

      I booted this up on my PC at the time which was FAR below the recommended system specs. No video card, maybe half the ram, etc.
      It…worked?
      Worked in that in 1/4th of the screen the game was running and the other 3/4ths of my monitor became a STROBE LIGHT with bright white flashing lights. So, like any sane person, I taped up cardboard over the vast majority of the screen and played it like that.
      I’m vaguely ashamed I beat it that way too.

      • mpk says:

        Pretty much my recollection – more of a slide show than anything else, and absolute murder to get through a fire fight. Still made it though.

        (I also remember the slowdown caused by lack of 3D card being handy for Tifa’s limit break in the PC version of FF7)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Software mode represent!

      (I had a PowerVR card. It was the same as not having one as far as games were concerned.)

  37. Rockman says:

    Call it what you like but after Alec’s story, I hate him just a bit more than I probably should.

  38. Ross says:

    I bought Half Life after playing through the demo countless times, in fact my strongest memory is from the demo, in the room where you reconfigure the antenna and the door is blow torched by the marines.

  39. Urthman says:

    Early on in the game, somewhere around that big diagonal lift, I came across a ladder leading down into darkness. I thought, “No way am I going down there!” and then after a few seconds laughed at how much deeper my mind was into this game than any other I’d played before.

    Also had at least one moment where I ripped the earbuds out of my ears jerking my head trying to dodge a headcrab.

  40. Dave Tosser says:

    Thief retrospective on the 30th or you’re dead to me, RPS.

    Also, this:
    “I still think it’s their strongest game but back in ’98 it wasn’t even the best game I bought that week. Truly a golden age.”
    This is what we’re missing when we get something nice coming out on PC. We rarely (if ever) get anything even matching that sort of quality, and we NEVER get it in the same quantity. 1988-2005. Crivvens.

    • Ridnarhtim says:

      I reckon 8 of my 10 favourite games of all time came out between 1995 and 2000. 3 of them (Thief, Unreal, Ocarina of Time) in 1998. Also Grim Fandango, and probably a bunch more excellent stuff.

      At the moment, I barely even buy 2 games a year, and while usually enjoyable, they never really provide me with the experience I got from those old games. Sad times.

  41. Inglourious Badger says:

    Weird, I was just playing some Black Mesa at the weekend. Lovely reading people’s memories of it. It will always remind me of my first Christmas after my parents split up, basically everyone, parents, step-parents, etc, were going overboard to get me whatever I wanted for Christmas so I tested the waters by asking for a new Voodoo 2 powered PC and Half-Life and sure enough I duly got them! (Feel like a privileged arse describing this now). It was glorious, coming from an N64 which had some staggeringly ground breaking games anyway, to then play something that was another quantum leap in graphics and immersion and storytelling was incredible. There are so many moments that were so well done in that game, the intro, Surface Tension, the way these faceless grunts seemed like real, intelligent, foes compared to the other monsters through their chatter, their flanking manoveurs and judicious use of grenades to flush you out of hiding places. Playing Battlefield 4 recently I was thinking how AI never really went anywhere after that. Some failed attempts at human-aping bots in UT aside the blue-print for FPS AI was set in Half-Life and only really bettered by FEAR.

    And that’s without mentioning the mods and multiplayer. Unreal introduced me to PC Deathmatch with it’s bot games, but Counterstrike and Team Fortress Classic were the first online multiplayer PC games I really got into. On a 56k modem! I can hear the dial-up noise now! Oh god, I feel old.

    So much you could talk about. A marvellous game, imho the better of the 2 HLs and certainly the one I still enjoy returning to. Along with Deus Ex this was the only game that left me thinking this is the future and it makes me feel quite old, and a bit sad, that 15 years have passed without something else doing the same.

  42. best_jeppe says:

    Half-Life was probably the game that hooked me on the PC. I was 13 at the time and I know that the first magazine of Swedish PC Gamer that I bough had a review of Half-Life (they gave it a 96 if I remember correctly) and a few months after that I think a got a pirated copy from a friend (I have bought the game since then…stop looking at me like that) and I was a real eye opener. Playing Half-Life is one of my fondest memories…but I never could get through Xen back then. Up to that point was no problem but I never completed Xen…without cheating later on. And I also remember Half-Life without Xen. The cool thing about Half-Life was that it was a coherent world. Sure there were loading screens but they wouldn’t teleport you from one setting to the next, you just traversed through the world. The scripting was also really good and got me really in to the game. Those 2 things plus the cool enviroments and sheer joy of playing it just made it an awesome experience. And Half-Life 2 managed to carry that legacy onward because I had the same enjoyment out of it. The fact that that HL1 & 2 was superb is probably the reason why Valve are taking their sweet time with Half-Life 3, they want it to be just right and I don’t blame them.

  43. Greggh says:

    Shit, that made me realize I’m old.

  44. Phendron says:

    For me, Half-Life was The Specialists and Natural Selection. Many, many hours sunk into those 2 mod gems.

  45. Nicodemus Rexx says:

    Played Half-Life on PS2 (there was a port!) after I had played the Orange Box on 360 back when I was a console gamer. I remember being struck at the time by how, with some better physics and shinier graphics, it would have been ranked at least on par with many of the console games I’d been playing at the time.

    Happy Birthday Half Life! :D

  46. Ridnarhtim says:

    … I always prefered Unreal.

    But yeah, Half-Life’s pretty good too.

  47. unit 3000-21 says:

    The tram, the once peaceful corridors turned into bloodbath, dodging vortigaunt’s (or as we knew it then alien slave) lightnings, the fear induced by the allhearing tentacles, the tension of fighting the HECU slowly turning into understanding their patterns and owning them, They Hunger (and my and my then BFF’s difficulty level known as “umbrella only mode”), Points of View, Azure Sheep, Western Mod. All these memories take me back to a time when my life had meaning. Good times.

  48. El Huervo says:

    I guess some people just dont get it. I kinda agree with that other dude in the thread who felt HL is a wee bit overrated.

    I mean, I can see that alot of people think its the shizznit the same way I can see why peeps like Mario so much or Halo etc etc.
    Personally I thought HL was boring and had more fun playing Vagrant Story because to ME that game was more versatile. And Mario was just ugly and fat, Sonic looked and felt waycooler to me (back in the nineties)

    To me Silent Hill was, in every way, a more exciting videogame than HL and it was also, in my eyes, more important for the evolution of videogames.

    Just because you dont agree with the majority it doesnt mean yer a self righteous prick. It means you have a different opinion and sometimes you grow tired of being the minority while everyone is like shitting their pants over something you dont agree on.

    Also, one can sometimes get the sense that many just follow the mob because they simple lack a critical thinking of their own. So there you go, you are mindless idiots for following the flare and we are selfrighteous pricks for thinking differently. To me that rings a bit bitter for my taste so lets settle with the fact that just because you are a part of the majority it does NOT, per automat, equal that you are part of a singular truth. There are lots of examples throughout history of how a minority actually carries the benefit.

    Its just like, your opinion, man. New shit has come to light! And….shit!