Action Half-Life: The 5 a.m.

[I wrote this article for PC Gamer UK last year. It’s the story of my brush with one of gaming’s most fearsome map secrets, and a true story, and a love story. Kind of.]

Strangest game I ever played?

Well, okay.

It started when we met in the underpass at dawn. The memory’s hazy now but I remember it was the underpass, and I remember it was dawn, because it was always dawn in AHL_5am.

You ever walked around a deathmatch map without anybody firing a shot? It’s creepy. The map’s still a dangerous place built from killzones and bad angles, but without all the noise and adrenaline filling things up you become aware of the presence of something else. I am telling you right here that every deathmatch map ever made is haunted as fuck. Got to be. That many men don’t die in one place without leaving some ghosts behind.

So, after meeting up the four of us made our way to the hotel where we knew our journey would start.

* The Hidden Love *

It is the hardest one I’ve made so far.

You must be on a roundless mode to access it.

I’m hesitant to use the word surreal in light of what lay ahead, but we definitely looked a strange bunch. My friends were Indiana Jones, a witheringly ugly Solid Snake and a Mr. T with day-glo orange skin. I think I was an Escape From New York era Snake Plissken, but I could have been anyone. I was a lot of people back in those days.

In the alleyway next to the hotel we waited and watched as Indiana Jones pulled a revolver and took a shot at a door. Boom. Nothing happened for a moment, and none of us said a word. Was the door the way in? No, it was just a texture. You could tell just from looking at it that it could never be opened and nothing lay behind it. Then Indiana turned around and made his way to a perfectly ordinary wall.

The rest of us watched as Indiana paused next to it, as if taking a breath, then clipped right through, vanishing from sight.

And now, the hints. These are all I will ever give…

To get in, try the hotel interior. However, the beginning is not IN the hotel.

This was what we’d come for. One by one we went through that portal and entered the 5 AM’s secret.

The game we were playing was Action Half-Life, an immaculately balanced mod built from a dream of FPS multiplayer combat that was more cinematic and less twitchy than what was offered at the time. AHL was our Counter-Strike, except it was slower and had more room for heroics and villainy.

But AHL was also the favoured mod of a mad cabal of mappers who obsessed over easter eggs. What had started as the routine addition of little secrets which l33t players could show their friends quickly spiraled out of all proportion as AHL grew in popularity, and soon levels were being unleashed on the community with entire levels hidden inside them, mazes so big, inventive and intricate that the PC modding scene hasn’t seen the likes of them since.

And if the AHL community was the mecca for crazy mappers, then Hondo was God. The immaculate deathmatch maps Hondo constructed were dwarfed by the secrets buried underneath them, areas so cruel, opaque and imaginative they felt like claustrophobic expeditions into a broken mind.

Two of Hondo’s secrets even tied together into a single epic saga where players traveled through time trying to defeat an inter-dimensional beast known as Hgrethedelon, who appeared as a giant, unblinking eye. To look upon Hgrethedelon was death, and one of these two linked secrets ended with players marooned on a floating island that gradually broke apart to reveal a city-sized eye staring up at them. Players were giving no choice but to fall into the inky iris, and drown.

AHL_5AM was Hondo’s swansong- on the surface a cramped city downtown intelligently designed to facilitate action and player motion, few of the players who dived around it blowing holes in one other knew what lay beneath their feet. Behind a secret portal in 5AM was a labyrinth so nightmarish that the only person who knew the way through was Hondo himself. No player had ever seen the end of it, and trying to decompile 5AM to look at it in a map editor would crash whatever software you were using.

So, of course my friends and I had to try and beat it.

We only knew three things on the muggy summer night we launched our expedition. We knew the way into the secret, we knew beating it required more than one person, and we knew those who had tried and failed before us talked in fear of something called ‘Pear smash’.

Stepping through the portal we were teleported onto the face of a giant luminous clock that was submerged in a well of darkness. The numbers I to XII floated in the air and marked out twelve hours, and above us two hands marked some meaningless time. All was silent. We looked at the secret and the secret gazed back at us. I felt like we were boring it already.

‘Right’, typed Snake.

‘Yep’, I replied. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting. Four hundred palette-swapped bullsquids or something.

As our first cautious steps turned into less cautious jogging we quickly found we were walled in. After a minute we realised something was wrong. There were now only three of us. Indiana Jones was missing. His message popped up on our screens before we had time to start panicking.

‘WALK THROUGH THE ONE. The number one. There’s an invisible door underneath it.’

And so we did, and one by one we got dumped into the first proper stage of the secret.

This took us to an ordinary domestic living room built entirely out of a blue wireframes, suspended in that same endless blackness. Again we began our professional investigative technique of spamming the use key and rubbing ourselves against walls. Mr. T found the way out of the house first, which seemed like good news until we watched him take his first step out of the room only to plummet like a stone down into the shadows, where his body landed with an ugly, fatal sound. He reported he’d respawned back in the deathmatch level and would retrace our steps.

As the rest of us were wondering what to do we saw something in the distance.
A driverless flat-bed truck with glaring headlights was coming trundling up out of the black. Without a word we all threw ourselves into the back as it passed, the truck speeding us off to some unknown destination.

To dismiss Hondo’s work as ‘weird’ or ‘confusing’ is missing the point. The abstract realities he and many others created during the golden age of Half-Life modding and mapping pushed gaming in a direction almost never seen in commercial projects. Games always strive and sweat to recreate the familiar because people react better to it- as a developer, to attempt to play with the surreal is to alienate potential buyers and doom your game to sink without a trace. Think Vangers, Outcast, Project Nomads, Anachronox, Psychonauts, Darwinia, or even Omikron, all of which bombed at release due to a lack of either customer interest or publisher support. People don’t react well to what they don’t understand.

But as a designer, to doggedly have to stick to real-world rules and imagery is an unbearably sad thing. Not only are you putting your imagination on a leash, you’re ruling out a whole toolset that can be used to get emotional responses from your players. So many feelings thrive in the unknown, not just surprise and confusion but also fear, awe and wonder. Look at something like Morrowind. One of the reasons it earned itself a rabid fanbase while Oblivion merely sold well is because the creatures, cultures, architecture and landscapes in Morrowind were unlike anything we’d seen before. By contrast, Oblivion was trite. There is no moment in Oblivion that rivals getting lost in the Ashlands, seeing your first Netch or Silt Strider or piecing together the island’s odd bit of slang (fetcher, enwah, serah).

Or, to put it another way: The familiar is fucking boring, and some of us will dig very deep to find something new.

Back in 5AM we’d now made it through hours 1, 2, 3 and 4. Hour 5 had stayed closed for some reason, but 6 was wide open.

Hour 3 taken the biggest bite out of our stamina so far. It turned out to be a maze (joy) where the floor, walls and ceiling constantly flashed through a seizure inducing pattern of the brightest colours the engine could muster. Every time I ended up back at the start of the maze I’d felt a spark of genuine panic, and finally escaping it to be deposited back on the clock’s face was like sinking my eyes, brain and soul into a warm bath. So far progress had been tough, but nowhere near tough enough. We were being toyed with.

Hour 6 dropped us into a giant chamber made entirely out of alternating red and white tiles. Again we scouted the perimeter of the room and started flinging ourselves against walls like moshers to find the way out, but this time it wasn’t so easy. Ten minutes later we were still stuck, and I decided to take a break to go pee. Looking away from the monitor it was with no small amount of gut-terror that I realised something was very wrong and turned back to type a message to my friends.

‘OH FUCK’, I sent, followed by ‘LOOK AWAY FROM THE MONITOR.’

My friends’ responses were almost instantaneous. ‘oh god’, ‘ARGH’, ‘No fucking way’.

Our real worlds had turned monochrome. Some optical trick involving those red and white tiles had broken our eyes, and we could only see in pea green, sickly yellow and all the shades in between.

Doing our best to ignore this exciting new disability we returned to the game and began spacking against the walls with a new, crazed meticulousness, each of us splitting up to check one wall. We found the exit five minutes later- a single tile you had to jump to fit through. That got us back on the clock with hour 7 now open, and we dived into it with the same ferocious emptiness that had driven us here in the first place.

The four of us found ourselves at the bottom of a pit then. A simple brown pit that was so small we were standing shoulder to shoulder. Looking up we could easily make out the opening at the top, but it was obscured by something big and green that filled the whole pit–

‘oh NO THE PEAR SMASH’ typed Snake as the rest of stared up dumbly. The shape was getting closer. For the thousandth time that night we scrabbled at the walls, but this time it was pointless. There was nothing to be found. AHL does let you lie down though, and we all expertly flung ourselves to the floor hoping the massive pear would stop before getting that low.

It didn’t stop. In one thundering crush we were all reduced to paste.

We respawned in deathmatch formation back in the level, guns out and separated, as if the game was trying to stop this nonsense and get us back to killing each other. And while we’d arrived at that special time of night where perseverance turns to idiocy in your head, we’d also reached the meat of Hondo’s secret.

‘Alright’, Indiana Jones typed from whatever corner of the map he was in. ‘Let’s try that again.’

And so we did, and again we got our brains caved in by the giant pear. We were missing something. And so, with exhaustion peering over all of our shoulders, we started looking.

I could tell you we found that something we were looking for. I could tell you Indiana Jones found the switch behind the exit of the epilepsy maze, and that Solid Snake spotted the one sticking out of a wall in the eye-ruining prison. I could tell you Mr. T hit the third switch on the ceiling of the swiss-cheese room and that I found the last one by riding the truck past all the Escher-like staircases to the end of the non-existent road.

I could tell you that once all those switches were flipped it opened up a means of getting on top of the pear if someone acted as bait and lured it down first.

And it’s tempting to say we did manage it all, just to make this into a proper story, but we didn’t. Not even a little bit. After another hour of searching we gave up. We only found out about the switches when we read a guide to ahl_5am, months later, that got slightly further than us before the author’s team had encountered their own brick wall.

And you know what? I don’t mind that we didn’t make it. Not because we got further than so many others before us, and not simply because we tried, and not because of all the horrific crap that lay in wait that the guide went on to describe- the ugly tanks, the Forbidden Street, the reversed gravity, the dismembered little girl you find in a briefcase and then have to leave one player alone with to progress.

None of that matters to me. The reason I don’t mind that we didn’t make it is because that leaves AHL_5am a mystery.

To this day I’m not sure anyone’s made it to the end of the secret. No-one but Hondo himself, and he’s dropped off the internet since. That means that any group of gamers on the planet can still be the first team to make it through, write a guide and immortalize themselves in gaming history, defeating Hondo and turning his nightmare into a tourist attraction.

Maybe it’ll be you. What are you afraid of? Action Half-Life can still be found on the internet, and the 5am is still out there, still waiting. It can wait all day.


  1. StenL says:

    Incredible article. I love the maps that have these “little” secrets in them. Of course most of the time it is a tiny room with a boot in it, not a sprawling hidden maze.

  2. Ian says:

    Oh. My. That’s your video game writing, right there.

    the 5am is still out there, still waiting. It can wait all day.

    Echoes of The Haunting of Hill House, too, in that tidy little sentence. Splendid.

  3. Ian says:

    I’m happier just knowing it’s there rather than trying it myself. It’s bad enough when ‘normal’ gaming content makes me feel like a chump.

  4. Baltech says:

    Ha, I remember those. There was never anything like those maps ever again. There were so many little lovely things in this mod, like the composite map that consisted of the sets of three different John Woo movies. I actually never saw, what Quintin described above, but there was another strange secret passageway in the map with gas station I think. The Milkman Conspiracy of Psychonauts reminded me of this.

    Damn, I miss this game.

  5. Quasar says:

    See, articles like this are why I routinely buy PCG. Very entertaining stuff.

    I’m tempted to download AHL, if only because I used to love it – I clocked up probably a hundred hours or so, back in the day.

    • Baltech says:

      I tried it recently but I dunno, the flash seems to be gone somehow. Maybe I’ve changed but I rather think that the crowd is different today. It would only be fun if I got all the old buddies and clanmembers to play again. Fat chance…

    • Richard Beer says:

      Articles like these should be the reason you subscribe to RPS! Go, subscribe now! You can afford $2 a month!

    • Nihilille says:

      @Richard Beer
      Recycled articles are why I should subscribe to RPS?

    • Jayt says:

      Way too miss the point, you fuck.

  6. Loomchild says:

    Great article. Thanks for the time I spent reading it, it was well invested.

  7. sana says:

    Someone’s been abusing their sharpen filter!

    • Quintin Smith says:

      It’s not abuse! The sharpen filter and I have a healthy, adult relationship based on the last-minute realisation that screenshots of an empty Half-Life 1 level look miserable.

    • JohnArr says:

      I thought the filters we getting odder the further you spiraled into madness…

      Also, Vangers was fucking weird.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Sven co-op had several maps made for it which were similar to these secret areas like you described, except instead of the pretense of being a ‘secret’ in an otherwise-normal map, they _were_ the entire map. I was pretty rubbish at finding the secrets, but exploring in the areas opened up by other players was great fun.

    Here is a video of someone playing through a few of these maps:

  9. says:

    ‘OH FUCK’, I sent, followed by ‘LOOK AWAY FROM THE MONITOR.’


  10. Purple0limar says:

    Actually, AHL 1.0 isn’t around anymore. The old download page is gone. But that does sound like fun.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      AHL: Director’s Cut is the latest release. Arguably it’s not the best, but it’ll do you. And it comes with the ahl_5am!

      Here’s a bunch of download links: link to

    • Wilson says:

      @Quintin – Does that definitely have the 5am map in it? Because I’m pretty sure I have that installer, but I don’t have the ahl_5am map. I’m going to download use the installer you’ve linked to, but the file name is the same as the one I have. Also, great piece, very evocative.

    • Purple0limar says:

      Ack! My fault. Or, perhaps, my ISP’s. Both of those pages (the US download links) brought up errors: The old one, a 404, and the new one, a DNS error of no description. But the UK link works just fine. My bad!

  11. Barnz says:

    Long live, Hondo Corporation.

  12. Tei says:

    You could probably open the map in Quark, and see for yourself all the *bsp models (Buttons) and things.

    • Barnz says:

      You can use RipEnt to get a list of all entities.

    • Vandelay says:

      Could you not just no_clip?

      Would kind of defeat the point though. Only some miserable bugger would do such a thing.

    • Inigo says:

      You called?

    • robrob says:

      You called my father, prepare to die!

    • DrazharLn says:

      If you noclipped you might find out what the end of the map looked like (if it even worked) but you wouldn’t work out how to get there. You wouldn’t actually solve the puzzle.

  13. Schmung says:

    Splendid stuff. I had no idea about this stuff and I spent a good amount of time playing AHL. The edge enhance and sharpen is brutal though.

  14. Radiant says:

    Action Quake 2 [and QWTF] took up a mighty chunk of my life.
    It was like prison but we had the guns.

  15. disperse says:

    I was an Action Quake 2 fanatic. There’s nothing like sending throwing knives flying down a hallway to catch your sawed off shotgun wielding opponent in the forehead. When Half-Life came out, Counterstrike took up all the time that games like AQ2 and Team Fortress used to, I probably tried AHL once or twice but didn’t stick with it…

  16. tome says:

    An excellent piece, but that’s not even saying anything nowadays – basically everything Quintin writes has been supercondensed gold for a while now.

  17. M says:

    Thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed that. More of this sort of thing please.

  18. Lambchops says:

    Foiled by the pear smash. Oh dear. Well at least you tried – and it’s nice to think that potential glory awaits a group of people with the patience to figure out the map’s secrets.

  19. Sobric says:

    Excellent article, really, really great. Can’t say I’ve ever played AHL, but those secrets in the map appeal to me a lot (especially as I’m trying to complete Psychonauts at the moment, and have fully embraced it’s weirdness. Also Fuck the Meat Circus level).

    On Morrowind/Oblivion – argh yes yes yes. I loved Morrowind’s strangeness (in it’s world and storyline) and was massively disappointed by Oblivion (although its a vastly better game in many ways). This is especially true as prior to Oblivions development, in-game Lore had Cryodill as a hot jungle/rainforest type area. So it would (should) have looked like Roman Knights in the Amazon, not Roman Knights in the Cotswolds.

  20. Ginger Yellow says:

    I played a ton of AQ2, but I don’t think I ever played much AHL. Not sure why. Sounds like I missed out on a lot of fun.

  21. Player1 says:

    I loved AHL! And WHAT?! 5AM had an easter egg? Didn’t know that… hmm… I tried AHL2 and I think it could become a really good mod, but AHL is still one of the best for any game out there. Are there still any servers playing it?

  22. Dave says:

    Puts me in mind of Diamond Dogs

    • Cuchulainn says:

      My thoughts exactly – for those who don’t know, “Diamond Dogs” is a novella by Alastair Reynolds and is well worth a readthrough.

    • amishmonster says:

      Yes, great stuff there. Like The Cube but much more interesting.

      I almost typed “Like The Room” but caught myself. I don’t know how I keep confusing two such dissimilar movies.

    • Thants says:

      You are tearing me apart, amishmonster!

  23. Arsewisely says:

    If anyone wants to try AHL_5am, I’m the kind of obsessive that would be up for it.

  24. Helm says:

    Excellent article, wish there were more secrets like these in gaming. Thanks for posting this, Quinns.

  25. BooleanBob says:

    Oh my. This is the hot porridge, right here.

  26. Dave says:

    Sounds like something from a Cyberpunk novel, it would emerge the map’s audio-visual effects cause real brain damage, or the secret holds clues to a real-life conspiracy.

    • amishmonster says:

      This is what I thought was going to happen when he said “OH FUCK, LOOK AWAY FROM THE MONITOR”. Like it had burned some kind of negative image into their retinas that was part of the puzzle.

  27. Soundofvictory says:

    @Arsewisely I am definitely the type who would be up for this.

  28. Ush says:

    A user-made map for a popular user-made modification that is also a disturbingly surreal interactive horror story that also reaches out of your screen to fuck with your perception of reality…
    I am… stunned by this article, and I’m going to be a right annoying fecker to everyone I know for the next while until they read it and can be stunned too.

  29. Sporknight says:

    I’m surprised House of Leaves hasn’t been mentioned yet. That’s all I could think of while reading about this hellish descent into the eye of madness…Excellent writing, both here and there. I really felt a sort of gut-clenching terror of the unknown.

    • Ush says:

      That was one of the first things it reminded me of, but compared to this it seems… weak, almost. Compare for instance the part near the start of House of Leaves where the author asks you to imagine a monster standing behind you (or even the text arrangement), with the wall pattern in the game literally changing the way you percieve your reality, your mental safety-net, so to speak. Has there ever been a novel or a film that has been able to do something like that so subtly?

  30. mcnostril says:

    Keep TIm Burton away from this.

    He’ll probably make this into a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp (and Helena Bonham Carter as the pear).

  31. Red says:

    Great article. I, of course, read the sentence after ‘pear smash’ as ‘we were teleported onto a giant luminous cock’.

    You can’t begin to imagine my disappointment when I reread that sentence.

  32. Kaider says:

    Great article, brought out some nostalgia in me. Also reminds me of Desert Crisis (HL mod) that had a ton of secrets hidden in its maps.

  33. msarge says:

    I also really enjoyed this article. I miss the HL1 mod scene.

  34. H says:

    Noclip wouldn’t work, I made it (mostly?) immune to that by hiding areas until you unlock them. I think it disables the logic entities too.

    Great article by the way, it’s awesome seeing those old maps still have such an impact on people almost 10 years later. I stopped making them though because games started to get ahead of my skill level really quickly and I never found another FPS I liked with the right modding conditions.

    • Bret says:



      Well, well, well. Well.


    • Quinns says:

      Jesus fuck! Badass.

    • Senethro says:

      Is there any chance you could “spoil” the ending sometime? I think we’d be on the cusp of nostalgia vs. people forgetting about the mod completely right now.

      Better a re-release with directors commentary than fading into obscurity, right?

    • Mr_Day says:


      Surely that would spoil it. Better to mount your own expedition, non?

      If you do, give us a shout. Reading this made me grab the director’s cut Quinns linked to, but I couldn’t find any servers up.

      i used to play this quite a bit, but thought the only odd hidden stuff was a room with a television playing some twee song over and over.

    • Wulf says:

      I have to second Bret. Well well welly welly well well… well…


      I do have something to say to H, though: If new games are too much to deal in the scope of modding, why not just create some new mods for older games? It just seems to be time, and by that I think that PC gamers are now even more open-minded, I don’t think we’d mind installing an old game for some new content with brilliantly fresh ideas.

      You could make a surprise comeback! You clearly have a name, and an important one, a new mod/map by you would certainly draw crowds, regardless of which technology it was based on. You could fuck with the minds of all of us once again!

    • H says:

      @Senethro – Plenty of people have reached the end before. There’s a red herring or two that might make you think you haven’t.

      @Wulf – That seems too calcuated, I dunno. A lot of what I did was just me wanting to entertain my friends + me enjoying the game and that was my source of inspiration, so I don’t think I could just pick a game and do something. But I understand your point. I actually did make a bunch of weird crap for Operation Flashpoint & Armed Assault later but I never ended up releasing any outside of my friends. I regret missing the window on those, actually. A lot of it was pretty stupid and/or unfinished though.

    • Wulf says:


      Ah, I get’cha, that makes sense. The inspiration needs to be there. I do hope that a suitable time and game rolls around again though, as I’d love to once more be embroiled in the fruits of your morbid labour. …what an odd sentence. But I digress.

      Regardless, I wish you all the best, and I thank you for what you have given us! Good times were good.

  35. Five says:

    Are there any puzzle FPS games that capture the spirit of this map?

  36. simkas says:

    After reading this article, a group of people (including me) on Facepunch (another forum) decided to go and check out what this map is about. We probably spent a couple of hours and actually managed to go way past where you guys stopped. We got the arrows on the clock to both point at 5, got a room with a bunch of white squares, a big smiley face and a few blue blocks. Sadly, we couldn’t get any further. Is there more, or is it the end of the map, we have no idea. Does anyone know what the end actually looks like?

  37. Wilson says:

    Does anyone actually have ahl_5am that they could upload somewhere (with .wad files)? The installer Quintin linked to doesn’t seem to have it included (for me it has a 5am.wad, but no map. I found a map pack which included 5am_2, but no hondo1.wad which the map needed. I really quite fancy trying this, but it’s not easy to track down.

  38. DMcCool says:

    And suddendly I’m reminded why I got into this whole video game nonsense. Brilliant article.

  39. simkas says:

    H? You’re Hondo? Could you please tell us what the actual end looks like? At least something about it, so we’d know if we still didn’t finish it.

    • H says:

      The “goal” is to get low gravity and return with it to the main map area. That’s not what the secret is about or anything that’s just the condition you should shoot for.

    • H says:

      PS you can get all the maps and editor files here link to

      If you want to play the rest or find out the horrible truth behind any of them or whatev. They all got secrets except for Cliff2Snow. I hope including the source doesn’t ruin any mysteries but that’s how I packed them up and those have been uploaded there for years.

    • Barnz says:

      Thanks Hondo. I have something for you. This was made by a friend of mine:

      link to

  40. subenji says:

    I managed to find a full copy of the map here:
    link to

    But,as I was with the Facepunch group, we got as far as the 5:00 room. Still cannot get into 9:00, and we’re quite sure we haven’t found it all.

    • Wilson says:

      @subenji – Great, thank you! I found it mentioned in some big TFC map pack, but all the links to the pack were dead. Anyways, cheers!

  41. DvNC says:

    That was a great, great article. It’s incredible when video-games take you to places like this, because they do it like no other media can

  42. Vitamin Powered says:

    Man, I love the idea of using visuals to fuck with the actual player’s eyesight (well, the player’s perception). You could probably mine some books on Optical Illusions for more things to do in this area.

  43. amishmonster says:

    Great article – you certainly captured how surreal that must have been.

    Reminds me of a Warcraft 3 custom map we played once at a LAN. It was called Mayo Fight or something like that. It definitely involved mayo. You had a few heroes defending a key structure from waves of creeps – nothing special there. But the structure was a Mayo Factory, and made Mayo Eggs. Which you had to combine into sandwiches via a recipe that took us 45 minutes to figure out.

    You used those items to combine into further items, some of which could only be acquired via minigames, like running a peasant through a Frogger maze (only the cars had been replaced with stegosauruses/storm lizards). Nothing made sense, nothing was explained, and we played it for probably two and a half hours.

    When we finally finished, we all felt like we had just slogged our way through someone’s fever dream – possibly brought on by a bad egg salad sandwich. It was a great experience, and sounds a lot like this one.

  44. KP says:

    Wow, I need to try out AHL. Now do one on The Specialists! :D

  45. Wulf says:

    Oh the memories! Vaaangers! I want to play Vangers again! Roulette! And Anachronox! …what’s this? An unofficial patch that allows one to play Anachronox without the disc in the drive? Perhaps it is time.

    And Action Half-Life, aaahhh… Gods damn, thank you. PC gaming has always been this insane, hasn’t it? So gloriously fucking insane, and there’s nothing else like it. The kind of insane that leaves me wanting to reinstall a bunch of bloody old games that I probably have no time for, but I’m going to pick up Anachronox again, at least. I might even try 5AM… but I’ve become a big old wuss over time. What didn’t freak me out back then probably would now. That’ll be a fun experiment! I must exact it.

    The best line of the article for me?

    “The familiar is fucking boring, and some of us will dig very deep to find something new.” Yes. A thousand times yes!

    You know what all this reminds me of now, too? Breaking old games, and finding the crazy shit that developers would hide in their levels, unfinished stuff, just random things, from old to new. Though I never was quite as good as Tapewolf at finding that stuff, he’s a legend when it comes to breaking games and finding secrets. A legend, I say!

    This article really put a smile on my face. Thanks, Quinns. You should definitely write more for RPS! >.>

    • Wulf says:

      Oh and in regards to that one line I really liked, I have to say that that’s something I’ve been preaching for many years now, too many to count. It’s just a shame that there are more imaginative developers than gamers, or at least there were, that balance might be changing a bit today, and the gaming collective might finally, finally be open to some new experiences, things that they haven’t experienced themselves or seen on telly.

      A future filled with games like Vangers, Psychonauts, Anachronox and so on would be an absolute golden era, and I can only hope that’s where we’re headed right now. It’s funny, I’ve played more games than I can remember, and so many strange ones, too. Though it only takes the drop of a name to make the memories come flooding back. Perhaps that’s why I’m so hooked on the strange today, because the home computer, and then the PC always had such delectable oddities on display.

      Also: Vangers remake/sequel. That should happen.

    • Mr_Day says:

      Ah, Anachronox! That game is cursed for me. Everytime I install it and get it running on a new machine, that machine dies a horrible, over heated agonising death.

      All cursors should house a soul. I think I’ll try and get it going again.

    • Wulf says:

      Well, new life has been breathed into it thanks to semi-official patches! That might help exorcise whatever evil gremlins lie within.

      I’ll write up a quick guide to what I did to get it running on my machine.

      The aforementioned semi-official (a few Anox devs were involved) patches are the best way to go, as they provide a large number of fixes, auto-saves, and a way to workaround the copy-protection so the disc doesn’t have to be in the drive. So, first of all, do a full install (important) and then grab these patches:

      link to
      link to
      link to

      Install the 1.02 patch, then copy the files from the build 45 patch to your Anachronox folder, then install the build 46 patch.

      The next thing we need to look at is what you’re using to open the game, be it a Steam link or just a normal link, open up the properties and change the exe line to this:

      “C:\[Your install directory.]\anox.exe” +set gl_driver opengl32 +set u_gl_mode 7 +set gl_mode 7 +set vid_fullscreen 0 +set u_vid_fullscreen 0 +set cddir C:\[Your install directory.]

      Important to note are the two instances of 7. If you find the windowed resolution is too large, lower the number, and likewise, if it’s too small then increase the number. The max number is 9.

      With all this done, that’ll provide the most optimal Anachronox experience that can be had on a modern computer!

    • Lilliput King says:


      Do you know if all that is necessary for the GOG release or if they fixed it up in some way?

    • Wulf says:


      I don’t know, maybe it isn’t. It seems like they’ve removed the copy-protection, so they might have included the unofficial patches. But if they haven’t, it’s worth following the above steps (barring the full installation from CDs, of course) to get the many fixes they bundled into it, you know?

      The only way to check really would be to see what version number the GoG download reports in game. If it’s 1.01 then it’s the original sans copy-protection. If it’s 1.02 then it’s got the unofficial patches bundled in (at least up to build 44).

    • Vinraith says:


      Err, where are you seeing Anachronox on GOG? They have Aquanox, but I don’t see Anachronox anywhere. If I’m missing it somehow, do let me know, I’d love to play this one.

  46. Stu says:


  47. knifethrower says:

    We need to crack this, lets make it happen.

  48. Ergates says:

    Wait, wait. I remember PEAR SMASH!

    I remember cruel hours spent with Oeuf et. al being crushed by giant fruit, going blind looking at primary colours.


  49. Vinraith says:

    Hell, I’ve never even heard of Vangers or Anachronox, and I was completely unaware of Outcast in its own era. Part of the problem games like these had was that in the days when they were released quite a few of us weren’t even aware games journalism existed. I remember with mild horror the days of having to judge the contents of a game based on the back of the box. Yikes.

    • Wulf says:

      I’d heartily recommend Anachronox to just about everyone.

      And if anyone needs any convincing, check out the movie!

      Yep, it was so popular that fans of the game went and made a movie of its cutscenes and parts of the game, this was one of the few games that this has happened to. Anachronox really was a cult classic, back in the day. Amazing stuff. And in what other game would you have an entire planet (shrunken down) join your party? Or find yourself embroiled in a Victorian mystery? Or on the spaceship of a mad comics-collector (with appropriate onomatopoeia!)? Or on the endlessly moving plates of a mechanical planet trapped inside an inverse-dyson sphere sort of thing? And all in the space of the same game? Plus, it has a particularly wicked sense of humour, too. I remember one NPC fourth-walling and ranting about he hated being an NPC. Well, not so much fourth-walling, but complaining that his every action was written in stone, and how every move he made was directed by the code of existence and whatnot, and that every single thing he said was written down on some great script, just waiting to be said.

      What a game!

    • Lambchops says:

      @ Vinraith

      Strangely enough I got Outcast because of a review. If I remember rightly it was a review in PC Pro (because my dad used the computer for serious things!), which just relentlessly compared the game to Tomb Raider and had a couple of pretty pictures. Having just finished Tomb Raider 2 (which I still hold to be an utterly fantastic game and the best of the Tomb Raiders I’ve played and would gladly fork out money for a remake of!) and easily being impressed by pretty pictures I immeddiately went out and bought it. So not only did I buy I good game but I knew never to trust a PC Pro review again! Outcast wasn’t like Tomb Raider at all (apart from being a third person game where you shot things). It was even better. I was a happy young lad indeed.

    • Vinraith says:


      Sounds fantastic, I’ll definitely give it a try if I can find it. I gave it a vote on GOG, here’s hoping they make it easy for me.