Half-Life Turns Ten Today

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.


  1. Tom says:

    Hmm, so do I now go ahead and install and play the original game, or do I go for the Goldscr engine…oh wait, my cdkey never got accepted in steam, and it would cost me 10$ to have it ‘unlocked’, so I could just as well buy the bloody thing via steam, oh wait, I live in Germany, which means I wouldn’t be downloading half-life at all, merely a ‘quarter-life’, were everything is bright and beautiful and people don’t die. They just sit in the corner…which is exactly what I’m gong to do now, and bang my head against the wall for good measure…

  2. diebroken says:

    Cool thanks for the NS2 vid, hadn’t visited the site in a long time – didn’t realise that they were moving away from Source engine, just that the game wasn’t out yet! ;)

    I’ll take your vid and give you DOOM HDR! BAM!

    link to uk.youtube.com

  3. Larington says:

    Happy Birthday Half-Life.

    With Left4Dead out the door now I wonder whats next for Valve…

  4. Ben Abraham says:

    Happy Birthday old chap. Good times we had together. Good times. (Except for that bloody giant tentacle-thing boss. That can go to hell and die a painful, screaming death)

  5. Downloads_Plz says:

    I know I’m in the extreme minority with this opinion, but I really never saw what the big deal was with Half-Life. From what I remember, it just bored the hell out of me to be honest. Maybe I never got far enough in the game, but from what I’ve the first part of the game was supposed to be the best, so I don’t think that’s it. And yes, I did play it near the time of it’s release, so it’s not as if I just played it last week expecting it to be a revolutionary thing.

    Perhaps I need to go back to it and try again.

  6. Tom says:

    Perhaps I need to go back to it and try again.

    Sir, you must certainly do so! This is not about a game, it is about character, your character to be precise. So get cracking!!

  7. manintheshack says:

    I’m guessing the next thing will be more TF2 updates and the next HL instalment. Hmmm… really want to know what they’ll do after that though. A new single-player IP would be ace, story-driven and fresh and not from the modding community…

  8. Tom says:

    Oh, just in case anyone is still unaware of this baby:
    link to blackmesasource.com

  9. MacBeth says:

    Happy birthday. The Uplink demo turned a game I vaguely knew about into the best thing I’d ever seen on a computer, and the full game followed very shortly afterwards… replayed the Source version recently and was astounded how big and deep it is, so full of places and things…

    Those frickin nearly invisible ninja birds were bastard hard though.

    Satchel charges FTW. Put them at a convenient corner, await arrival of said invisible ninja bird (possibly having wandered out into the room a little to tempt her in, then retreat again), trigger satchel charge.
    Rinse, repeat.
    => No more invisible ninja birds.
    You would have to hoard satchel charges, admittedly, but so worth it for that bit alone. And the bit at the end of on On A Rail where another train comes alongside with marines on. If you’ve gone ahead on foot and planted a satchel charge on the other train first… it’s very amusing.

    Incidentally using the cite tag messes the preview up no end… randomly centre aligning stuff… very odd.

  10. JakeB says:

    Pro-tip: Kelly Bailey (Valve’s sound dude) worked on levels before programming Half-Life’s Sound system, which then they stuck him in the sound department.

  11. Irish Al says:


    Black Mesa Source should release something already.

  12. pepper says:

    I deeply love this game, i started making my own content for it, and now im following a gamedesign course ^_^. I still mod for it and play the DM with friends. Time seems to freeze around this game.

  13. Tokjos says:

    I’ll expect a similiar post the 11’th of august next year, when System Shock 2 turns ten.

  14. The Hammer says:

    Oh, you System Shock 2 fans, diverting the conversation to other games! What next, Fallout?

  15. El_MUERkO says:

    a friend of mine got it for me for christmas, we both agreed to get each other something for £20, he got me HL:GOTY Edition and I got him something for the Dreamcast I think, it was bundled with CS 1.0 and Opposing Force

    gaming nirvana :)

  16. Pags says:

    Bring on Black Mesa Source is all I can say. Who knows, they might even be able to make the Xen levels playable.

  17. Pags says:

    Also, are they any other people (besides Del Boy) who knew absolutely nothing about HL when it came out? I remember it arriving in the post and thinking “what the hell is this gaudy orange monstrosity?” and then practically falling in love the second ‘Inbound’ faded in.

  18. itsallcrap says:

    The main thing that struck me about HL was that they put stuff in that seemed like ‘unnecessary work’. The train ride intro, for instance. That didn’t actually affect the gameplay at all, and yet they clearly spent ages on it. That’s where it pushed things forward in my opinion.

    The other thing I always remember is that it’s the last decent FPS that had a software rendering mode. That’s perhaps less significant, though…

  19. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Happy Birthday Half Life!

    It only seems like last month that I was gamboling around your headcrab filled corridors and repeatedly falling to my death in some of your more ill-advised levels. Oh wait, it was last month. Carry on.

  20. Smurfy says:

    although I wish NS2 Source would hurry up

    That’s probably because they’re developing their own engine. They decided not to use Source. If they release this engine for free it’s going to revolutionise free gaming, you should take a look at some of the devlogs. Graphically, it surpasses Source.

  21. diebroken says:

    @Smurfy: I’ve been out of the loop :( As ZeroByte pointed out earlier, the engine that NS2 will be using looks fantastic, and I don’t mind having to pay for it on Steam this time round ;)

  22. rei says:

    I feel so old suddenly. Where have the years gone? :'(

  23. Tei says:

    That’s probably because they’re developing their own engine. They decided not to use Source. If they release this engine for free it’s going to revolutionise free gaming, you should take a look at some of the devlogs. Graphically, it surpasses Source.

    The engine don’t grown on trees. Almost all are evolutionary. Source evolve from GoldSrc that evolve from QuakeWorld, that evolve from Quake1.
    I fail to see how non-professionals can create something from thing air, that will better on everywhere…

    Sure you can start from scrach, remove(ignore) all the legacy crud, and you will have a amazing render, faster, and all. But you still have to add the new crud: the support for lots and lots of broken drivers, different settings, etc… Is not easy, or short.

  24. Nick says:

    @Tei: Valve didn’t create TF or Counterstrike.

  25. Nimic says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it feels like more than 10 years? I mean, I’m only 21 years old, so that’s just about half my life, but still!

    Command & Conquer, though, is 13 years old! Dune 2.. well, I won’t even go there.

    I hate/love nostalgia.. it seems to hit me all the time, and just makes me sad.

  26. pepper says:

    Valve hired people to create TFC, i believe the original creators from TF. CS has been developed by modders, and then professionalized by Valve. So saying they didnt create it is a bit bland.

  27. Korolev says:

    I remember getting Half-life 1 for my birthday in 1999. It is without a doubt the game that has been on my computers the longest. The betas of Counter-strike and Day of Defeat were tons of fun and other mods like Firearms and Natural Selection just added to the value of this game. The mod community only started to slow down when people got used to the Source engine mod tools, which was basically from 1999 to 2005; the freaking golden age of mods.

    Valve’s game design philosophy is simply this: The way to accomplish your goal should be clear but getting there should be a challenge.

    Now if only Black Mesa Source would come out by 2010…

  28. RichPowers says:

    The heyday of HL1 mods was one of my favorite times in PC gaming. Only the great BF1942 mods, such as Desert Combat, Forgotten Hope, and BF: Pirates, come close for me.

    Looking back, I’ve probably played a round of Dustbowl at least once a week since 2000. I’m just a sucker for all things Team Fortress.

  29. Pidesco says:

    I played HL1 after System Shock 1(obviously), System Shock 2, NOLF and Deus Ex. Needless to say that I was very underwhelmed.

  30. Paul B says:

    The main thing I remember about Half Life, apart from those pesky, grenade throwing soldiers, was the intro which really set the tone for the game. At the time I thought – if the rest of the game lives up to this, it’s going to be good.

    The only thing I can remember that was less then steller, was when you went to Xen and fought that great big, pink abomination Nihilanth. Which was a bit of a rubbish ending – thank goodness for HL2.

  31. Devan says:

    Hey, it’s my birthday today too. I didn’t know that Half Life was that cool! :P

  32. Mman says:

    As a side-note, Black Mesa Source released a bunch of new media today: link to blackmesasource.com

  33. roBurky says:

    Nimic: Feels like longer to me too.

  34. Gabanski83 says:

    Didn’t realise this, but I’ve just finished playing through Blue Shift again tonight. Started Opposing Force at first, but I’ve hit a looping sound crash bug error annoyance thingy, so I’m stuck at a door keypad just after encountering the first batch of Spec Ops ninja bastards. Tough as nails they are, even after all this time.

  35. Meat Circus says:

    Birthday cake administered.

  36. Calabi says:

    I’m not sure if anyone has already posted this but valve is now selling Half Life at the might price of 99 cence or 66 pence.

    Buy it now, not now, NOW, do it quick, before they change their minds.

  37. subedii says:

    Calabi I would buy that if I hadn’t already bought the game ten years ago. :)

    Awesome factoid: Valve allow you to register even your original, ten year old copies of Half-Life with Steam. As long as you’ve got your original CD key, just plug that in, and it’s in your Steam account.

  38. Scandalon says:

    On sale for 98cents until friday:
    link to store.steampowered.com

  39. Scandalon says:

    And…of course, Calabi beat me to it. (But it’s 98 cents, so perhaps my superior reporting made a difference in someone’s life. ;)

  40. Scandalon says:

    And now for my HL story (order/dates may be a bit wrong…)
    I wanted to play it. Oh, how I wanted to – but I didn’t have access to a machine that could run it properly, and had at that point switched to a Mac at home. (Quakeworld on a Voodoo2 that cost me like $200…).
    Eventually, HL:Uplink came out, and I got to play it on a work comp, and that made me want it all the more. Then a co-worker got it, and showed me the intro…and the desire grew yet again. And then…they announced a mac version of HL! Happyness and joy.
    And then they canceled it when it was nearly ready.

    And then I was introduced to the Dreamcast, and I bought my first console. And then HL for DC was announced, and it was going to have higher-def models and new expansion pack!

    And then they canceled that when it was almost ready.

    “Damn you valve, why did you taunt me so? Is my money not good enough for you? I WANT TO GIVE YOU MONEY!”

    And then my roommate bought it (this was UnrealTournament/HomeWorld/WheelOfTime) era by now) – and I played, and was happy, until I got to an elevator shaft that crashed every time I went up it… Finally, years later I found the GOTY edition in the mall for $10. And like Subedii says, it’s now available to me in Steam, along with a ton of mods that I’ve never played: CS, Ricochet, etc.

    And I still haven’t finished it.

    It eventually got boring, actually. I suspect that’s because it really doesn’t hold up as well as nostalgia suggests. As in, “you had to be there, you wouldn’t understand.”

    Of course, it will never be as wonderful and earth shattering as DOOM.


  41. Scandalon says:

    Edit – RE: elevator shaft: It crashed the computer/game, it wasn’t an elevator that simulated falling in the game…

  42. Pags says:

    Speaking of elevator shafts in Half Life, my favourite bug/quirk in any game ever was around the first 10 minutes after you’ve tits’d everything up and opened the portals to Xen; I walked up to the elevator shaft, see the elevator falling with all the scientists screaming and I hear a voice say:

    “Ah a fellow scientist”

    Followed by a bang and an explosion. I’ve told this story before on RPS actually, but I love it and no-one paid attention to it the first time round so it’s okay.

  43. MetalCircus says:

    I love you guys, you mentioned Sven Co-op. Don’t play it much anymore, but many, many happy memories of that mod.
    You lovely buggers.

  44. David Amador says:

    Looks like valve is celebrating with a 98 cents promotion
    link to blog.differentpixel.com

  45. Saflo says:

    I suspect that’s because it really doesn’t hold up as well as nostalgia suggests.

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

  46. Nick says:

    I’m with Saflo, it really irritates me when anything positive said about a game that is old is instantly described as rose tinted or whatever, load of bollocks for the most part.

  47. Larington says:

    The rose tinted goggles thing is, to some extent in my mind, equivalent to people who might say “don’t take this the wrong way but…” and then says something really insulting (Or whatever). I don’t think its ever intended to be an irritant, like that darned hacker in system shock… (Insert other choiciest SHODAN demeaning titles as ye desire)

  48. Larington says:

    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. Recently tried to get someone who’d never played Deus Ex to give it a go and he couldn’t get passed its age.

  49. matte_k says:

    I must admit, i’m loving some of the Gravatars that the RPS Community are touting, sterling stuff. :D My favourite 3 at the moment are Sly Boots, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time.

    Also, was a bit of latecomer to the HL experience, I first remember seeing it when Opposing Force was reviewed on Bits on Channel 4 (incidentally, what happened to those 3, anyone know?).

    Two favourite bits that spring to mind are the first time you see the beast in the Blast Pit, and spend ages trying to work out how to get past it, and a random line from one of the Dr. Kleiner clones after getting the suit: “They’re waiting for you, Gordon…in the…TEST Chamber…” . Something about the way he says it puts such weight on those two words, you KNOW it’s going to go tits up soon.

  50. Larington says:

    I’m going to use this as my gravatar forever and ever and ever. As characters go, hes so much more interesting than say, Duke Nukem, or whatever silly over macho cookie cutter stuff that the games industry is addicted to churning out.
    And his flaws make him sorta love-able, in a characterisation sort of way.