Timey Wimey: Lots Of Footage Of The Half-Life Alpha

His eyes NEVER change.
Way back in time, when the world was in 8-bit and we all paid for our cholera gruel with children’s teeth, Valve were working on Half-Life. It wasn’t very good, and Valve took the decision to rewrite most of the game. Somewhere in the multiverse there’s a universe where that version of Half-Life was released. The first difference between universes is that the 1997 alpha wasn’t improved. Valve and Steam are no more, and SiN is the game we all remember fondly. Games For Windows Live is the main digital distribution channel. We clearly have the better universe, but if you want a glimpse into the world that could have been, then I have videos of the original Half-Life alpha for you.

This was made possible by the hive-mind of Reddit. A CD image of the game has been posted there and the people got to work getting it to work. The result is it works! Work it! It’s the Half-Life Alpha v 0.52 from September 4, 1997, about a year before the game was released. It includes the tech demo, walkthroughs, and a multiplayer map. You want to see it, don’t you?

The first video is a walkthrough of the tech. Some of it is genuinely impressive for the time: the coloured lighting, the flocking mechanics, the glass effects. Some of it is laughable, with possibly the most bug-eyed NPC to ever appear in a game, and a demonstration of a high-poly model that looks a bit like a robot that’s going to wet himself. There’s dreadful animation and broken bits aplenty.

This is the developer walkthrough, recorded as as demo file. It might be Gabe! It has the ugliest UI you’ve ever seen, and everything just feels slightly off. A slower, less panicky version of the game that was released. The gun is particularly weedy, and the human enemies really sound like Mr T. It’s not dramatically different, but shows you the value of tightening everything up.

The final video shows an early iteration of the classic multiplayer map, Stalkyard.

Uh-oh. I accidentally spilled some blood on my keyboard, while reciting words from some eldritch parchment. The universes are merging! Oh no, what have I donnnneeee… ?


  1. Knightley4 says:

    I have this urge of touching myself right now, and it’s getting stronger.

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    • The Random One says:

      Must be the you from the other universe.

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  2. Kevin Costner says:

    Rather funny, but…

    “The first difference between there and our us is that the …”

    “…then you I have videos of the the original…”

    Type this up with your feet, mate?

  3. int says:

    It’s easier to spot the Quakeness!

  4. Lev Astov says:

    What, exactly, does weedy mean in this context? Some of us are from the colonies, remember.

      • DerNebel says:

        Weak, wobblylegged, like a puppy that hasn’t yet learned to walk but will still yelp at you.

        In gun terms it means it has a supersoaker feel to it. RPS uses it when they feel the guns don’t really have a sense of tactility to them, that it doesn’t feel like you’re “firing” anything.

  5. Trent Hawkins says:

    Oh no! Not the dancing baby animation!

    • CommanderZx2 says:

      For a while there I thought I was the only one that had recognised the dancing baby animation.

  6. cronach says:

    Excellent. I would now love to play some early Quake 1/2/3 alphas (not the publicly available ones).

    BTW I loved SiN! That game really was groundbreaking at the time…it did have horrible loading times though (pre-patch).

    • thecat17 says:

      I wonder if there are any Quake/II/III mods that do turn them into the unreleased alpha versions?
      I wonder if this has already been thought of, and found to be unfeasible?
      I wonder if the code for the alphas are also considered open-source?

      I loved SiN, too. Well, the demo. Never managed to get the full version. I found the manshooting to be extremely fun, in a way that I hadn’t played before. The guns felt powerful. Which in turn, made me feel like a total badass. I remember death animations being impressive for the time. I loved the amount of destructible objects in the environment stuff. Were they the first first-person shooter to do that? Or the first to have so much of it?

      I still have the tiniest urge to play the full version someday. And I’m sure that I will. That demo really made a lasting impression!

  7. yogibbear says:

    Whatever did happen to the episodes that were meant to follow SiN Episodes: Emergence?

    • Guiscard says:

      Ritual Entertainment was assimilated by the casual gaming industry, and then obliterated. It’s safe to say that SiN Episodes will not be continuing. The moral of the story must be that one should not attempt to develop an episodic series on the Source engine, everyone who has tried has failed.

  8. CaspianRoach says:

    This is actually Half-Life 3.

    • Fallward says:

      lmao. For some reason I found that hilarious. That is all. Goodbye.

  9. sockpuppetclock says:

    Oh my god was that robot doing the dancing baby? This is so late-90s it hurts

  10. DickSocrates says:

    It looks as crap as the game they ended up releasing. I honestly feel anxious and angry whenever I get anywhere near Half Life 1, I hate it on a deep level. Everything about it from the textures to the sound effects is off in some way. I’m very sensitive to atmosphere in games, and there’s something very wrong, bland, dead, soulless about Half Life’s. It’s a game that feels like no one made it, it exists without humanity.

    • deadly.by.design says:

      Really? I have the exact opposite feeling about it.

      It took the Quake engine from drab to believable. Vanilla Quake 2 seemed so goofy by comparison, though I think the biggest reason was the particle and explosion effects. They were both fun engines, and I played my share of Action Quake 2 & HLDM to prove it, but I ultimately preferred HL.

    • RakeShark says:

      You have not seen a game so devoid of life and Humanity until you’ve played the Atari Lynx’s Highlander game.

    • Armante says:

      wow – i felt the exact opposite. particularly in places like the air vents from the freezer section, when my awesome ‘3d sound’ card made it feel like I was actually in there, creeping around. HL is the one and only game that’s litterally made me jump back from the screen, knocking over my chair.. Groundbreaking at the time, the storytelling through 1st person was great. played it through multiple times :)

    • Low Life says:

      As someone who played HL through the first time almost 10 years after its release, I feel very different from you. HL is one of the few games that really makes me feel like I’m fighting for my life.

    • newprince says:

      You serious? I think context should be proper here. I mean, I liked PO’d, but look at that game compared to this, and it is a masterpiece. HL doesn’t hold up now, but compare it to what was out at the time.

    • gshauger says:

      You probably hate sex too. You remind me of the one guy you meet who hated the original Star Wars.
      You realize he’s telling the truth and genuinely hates it but at the same time his opinion is so outside the norm that you almost feel sorry for them. Somebody has to be that 1 guy out of a 100 and you’re glad it’s not yourself. You then wonder what other amazing things they hate. Like somehow that part of the brain that allows you to enjoy the finer things in life is inverted in their head.

      Half-Life is arguably the best PC game ever made. It routinely tops lists and received countless Game of the Year awards.

      • thecat17 says:

        Whoa there, buddy.

        I don’t necessarily agree with him, either, but there’s no need to launch personal attacks about his sexlife. And maybe even some of the other assumptions you made, though I’ll admit that’s perhaps colored by you bringing that awful, boring, dead, and soulless space war franchise into this discussion.

        I find his perspective interesting. I could even argue that the “bland” and “soulless” qualities that he sees in the textures and sounds are actually deliberate. For the setting is at a secret underground research facility, funded with military money. It ain’t exactly Burning Man all up in there.

    • Jehar says:

      Don’t worry – I’m with you entirely on this in terms of atmospherics. Especially sound design and lighting; the opening fights are so blandly lit that it was difficult to care very much about the monsters themselves. The over-use of filtering on textures that would have benefited from GL_NEAREST was apparent as well, which made everything mushy and indistinct.

      A big point to draw from this is that HL was a lot of people’s first experience with the genre. It was not mine. In my mind, everything HL said it pioneered was done better a year ago with Jedi Knight.

      • elmo.dudd says:

        Agreed. Half-Life only broke ground for people who didn’t play FPS games until it. Jedi Knight and Unreal alone trumped it in mechanics, environments, and story telling. The difference is Half-Life’s marketing harped on these things, and acted like it was different (and implied it was the first shooter that asked you to think – a laugh as it both underestimates combat in other games, and it was the first game I really felt like my hand was being forced at every turn). Locking me in a room with an NPC doesn’t make a good story, especially when that story is “Scientists tried to teleport things, uh oh bad guys. Shoot them first.”

    • wu wei says:

      Yes yes, you hate everything that everyone else enjoys, we get it, you’re superior to us.

      Why are you even here?

      • Brun says:

        Let’s ask this question:

        Why are *you* running around to every post you can find and telling people to “get out” for posting any sort of dissenting opinion?

        EDIT: No, you know what? Let me answer that. You think he’s just being a hipster, “hating” something popular just to stand out. But nothing he said really really implied that he believes he is superior to anyone, and you’re just reading into his comments what *you* want to see. Know why? Because you yourself believe you are some kind of special snowflake by being able to recognize and call out these “haters,” to fight against them. And like most people who have delusions of fighting for a cause, they tend to find it everywhere, even where it doesn’t exist.

  11. Kefren says:

    Argh, a hybrid!

  12. maximiZe says:

    Jesus Christ how horrifying.

  13. RakeShark says:

    Man, not only a product of the time with the Quake-y-ness, but a Zentraedi Battle Pod as a polycount example. I feel old all of a sudden.

  14. Quatlo says:

    Oh my, that’s the Stalkyard map. The long hours I’ve spent playing it on my neighborhood’s lan. That influx of memories. Damn you nostalgia, I say damn you!

    *reinstalls it again*

  15. SuperNashwanPower says:

    First video

    So thats where Bethesda got the idea for the f***ing ENDLESS dwemer ruins

  16. Kemuel says:

    Am I absolutely crazy, or does that Deathmatch map look exactly like one of the ones from Hidden: Source?

  17. Rusty says:

    Of all the posts that deserve a “Staring Eyes” tag, this is the stare-iest.

    • Low Life says:

      To be honest, it’d rather deserve a “Kill me” tag.

    • Scumbag says:

      Indeed. Not so much as staring as KILLING EVERYTHING WITH STARE

  18. Fallward says:

    “Half-life Alpha, now using the TETRIS gaming engine”

    For proof, see still shot of second video – clearly a tetris block of blood on the bottom right corner.

  19. ResonanceCascade says:

    They realized partway through development that they were smoking way too much pot and decided to lay off a bit.

  20. spectone says:

    Barney looked so much better after the reconstructive face surgery and why couldn’t they have added the Robotech mecha to the game?

    • Exuro says:

      Am I the only one that thinks the robo-mech thing REALLY seems like the hunters that eventually made it in to episode 2? I get strong hunter vibes from that thing. The general aesthetic, the movement, everything.

  21. Tinman says:

    Funny how an alpha, tech demo version of a game is less linear than most AAA shooters being released today. Also sad.

  22. Tinus says:

    Let me hear you say it one more time.

  23. Dowr says:

    It’s funny to see this pop up 15/16 years later.

  24. matveev.sergeev says:

    Okay that’s awesome =) agter playing black mesa you can see how far the technology and desaighn thought had come =) aqwwerfrtgyyhujik@inbox.ru

  25. LionsPhil says:

    That tech demo’s actually pretty damn impressive. (Odd hall-of-mirrors here and there where the vis code isn’t quite right yet either.)

    The really interesting part is how close so much of that is to the remade version—most of the cast are recognizable—and yet the player model’s hands are bare. Even the really old concept art I’ve seen with little stumpy dwarven Gordon has him wearing his HEV suit.

  26. Muzman says:

    This’d be pretty awesome in 1997, or even early ’98. People often kid themselves that graphics were wildly different than that back then. It’s impressive they managed to turn it into a new generation defining standard in a little over a year really.
    I don’t think people would remember SiN any better really, if Half Life had come out earlier. Maybe more people would have played Thief and been appropriately blown away instead.

    • LionsPhil says:

      SiN was pretty cool, and I say that without nostagia since I only played it recently. It’s actually got quite a lot more to it than Half-Life; just not the continuous-single-viewpoint sense of place. It swaps it for a Duke-style inventory, a globetrotting plot (including the obligatory ’90s sewer levels—Half-Life wasn’t immune either), and all kinds of neat hey-why-not tricks like usable computers with their own little DOS-ish environment.

      Bit like Dark Reign vs Total Annihilation really: a good game with neat ideas being completely overshadowed by an even better one.

      The one that really slaps you in the face is how fast and fluid either of these games are. What happened to the FPS, gaming? (Answer: gamepads, “realism”, cover systems, and drunken dudebros.)

  27. GallonOfAlan says:

    I think SiN gets an unfairly …

    Actually no, it was bobbins.

  28. Michael Fogg says:

    The MP guy is a homage to the Head of the Navigator.

  29. LionsPhil says:

    2:34 into the gameplay one—a knife, instead of the now-iconic crowbar?!

    What a different game it was at this stage.

    Awful lot of cut areas.

    Heh. That skull gib was in back then, though.

    • thecat17 says:

      4:14 into the tech demo video—I can see why they broke up the maps into smaller sections for the final version.­

  30. soundofsatellites says:

    while watching the first video two thoughts stuck on my mind:
    1) Crate review system
    2) High poly Macross mecha!