Now Hear This: Half-Life’s Subtitles Mod

[Gordon Freeman: ]

Hold on a second, chums. Look at that screenshot again. That’s the opening scene of Half-Life with subtitles. Pretty important atmosphere-setting, isn’t it, that train ride narration? It makes Black Mesa seem so much bigger than us. Half-Life used an awful lot of speech to reveal what was going on, from our one-sided conversations with scientists to soldiers yelling at each other. Here I pull off an incredibly adept pull-back-and-reveal: those subtitles were added by a mod which only came out this year. A new version’s now out, with new ways to make this side accessible to folks who can’t or don’t want to hear it.

As well as, obviously, adding subtitles for all the dialogue in several languages, the mod tweaks NPC AI to stop them ruining things. They won’t blab their random barks when someone’s saying something more important, for starters, and are less likely to interrupt each other in general. A more polite Half-Life. Only speech within earshot plays subtitles too. The creators last week released the beta build of version 3.0 over here. Earlier releases were functional, but this sounds (hilarious, Alice) a lot more polished. While they were at it, they also fixed a few long-standing Half-Life bugs, so it’s built on a more solid foundation.

Valve’s closed captions are pretty great and comprehensive nowadays, though.

But gosh, I feel silly only now thinking what Half-Life is like without speech. Some scripted parts must be baffling. All the little objective reminders from NPCs are gone. That iconic train ride must be a little boring (“It’s pretty boring for everyone else too, of course,” adds our John, the wag!). Gordon’s continued silence might be puzzling.


  1. Foosnark says:

    I loved that train ride. The music, the overall atmosphere, the foreshadowing.

    • deejayem says:

      Confession time: first time I played the game I spent the entire train ride staring at one corner of the carriage, just a glimpse of brown wall and a corner of windowframe, wondering if the opening cutscene was broken. Nothing in my life up till then had prepared me for an opening sequence where you could Actually Walk Around.

      • Carr0t says:

        You are not alone. I waited for over 5 minutes after the intro had actually ended, wondering if my game had crashed and if I should Ctrl-Alt-Del and try loading it again. It was only because I accidentally knocked my mouse as I went for those keys that I realised I was in the game proper and had been standing like a lemon while Barney looked on.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      I recently replayed HL and I actually died my first time through the opening sequence. One of the bulkhead doors didn’t open when it was scripted to, but the train went through it anyways, crushing me inside of it.


    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I still remember going round a friend’s house, and being shown this brand new game called HalfLife.
      My friend started up the game, and we sat back to watch what I thought was quite a cool intro sequence, right up until my friend moved the mouse, shifting the view point and I realised that this was all in game and my young mind was blown.

    • Sarlix says:

      The train ride made the whole game for me. My biggest gripe with HL2 was the fact there was no train ride to speak of. There’s the part where you get taken through that transport area, you know in the body cage thing, that was kind of a nod towards the train ride, but really I was very disappointed. Actually While I’m here I’d just like to get something else of my chest and that’s OP4. brilliant! Why didn’t gearbox do an opposing force for HL2! You could have played as a combine soldier! got to see more of city 17 and all the stuff combine side. Plus drive them armoured cars, and lets not forget finally get to use one of those combine sniper rifles that always picked me off from a 1000 yards god damn combine awp whores.

      • Distec says:

        The absence of a train ride in HL2 is made all the more disappointing when you read Raising the Bar, where they talk about some of the scenes they had originally planned for such a sequence.

        You would have seen a Combine train demolish a Gargantua.

        Damn it, Valve.

  2. Borodin says:

    It’s days like these that I feel like a dimwit. Will someone please explain the “(hilarious, Alice)” aside. Is this Alice giving us a what I really mean is, or are they words from above, from an editor?

    • Nevard says:

      I think she’s commenting on her own pun

      • Borodin says:

        Ah, as in “sounds a lot more polished” for a subtitles mod. Got it. I’ll crawl back to my hole now.

    • Premium User Badge

      Arnvidr says:

      Alice mocking her own puns I assume?

    • Jurple says:

      I read it as an aside (from Alice’s internal editor, if you will) commenting on the juxtaposition of captions (replacing voice-over and dialogue) and ‘this sounds polished’. As in, it obviously doesn’t sound at all.

      Kicking the funny out of jokes is serious business!

    • Jeroen D Stout says:

      I think you’ll find that editors comment more like this:

      (Shurly Shome Mishtake? – Ed.)

  3. PsychoWedge says:

    Well, that sure could’ve been useful back in 98, when I played Half Life and understood barely anything… xD

    And of course I had to play the english version because who in their right mind would touch the butchered german atrocity they released here.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      The Italian version was decent enough instead, lucky me.

      Of course the voice actors were fewer so there was more “doubling” and here and there the translation had a few issues (noticed only when I played it inenglish, so nothing game or story-breaking), but for the time was quite good.

      I chanced to play the original version only by registering my product key with Steam a decade ago and there were indeed quite a few parts who could have used subtitles for us non-native english speakers.

      • PsychoWedge says:

        Well, I don’t know about the actual quality of the german translation and that. The big issue was all the censoring. No blood, all soliders were replaced with clunky robots, innards were replaced with screws and bolts, civilists couldn’t die, some human mp skins were replaced with robotskins (but not the same as the soldiers) and on top of that a lot of the sound effects were toned down. No screams of fear and pain and stuff like that.

        The german version of Half Life is like a novelty game you keep just to be able to say “Yeah, you’ve got a black missprint of The White Album? Look at this! I have the german version of Half Life on my shelf, motherfugga!” Like Lord of the Rings condoms with Frodo and Sam’s faces all over them… xD

        • Det. Bullock says:

          lol, I forgot about the stupid censorship laws for videogames in Germany, fortunately the incredible inefficience of the italian parlament has always put a stop to any attempt at doing something similar here, though they managed to make free wi-fi illegal for some time somehow.

      • Eukatheude says:

        Never tried the Italian version. Italian HL2 sure was funny though.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          I never thought the italian dubbing of HL2 was that bad for a videogame, I heard MUCH worse, thankfully digital delivery now usually allows to have the original language though.

    • The Sandwich God says:

      Anybody else get a malware when they download this?
      Because not long after I tried to install this I got an unpleasent surprised called Cryptowall 2.0.
      Thought it was a free mod.
      Looks like it might cost me $500 though :(

  4. Low Life says:

    They’re waiting for you, Gordon.
    In the test chamber.

    • Orillion says:


    • SheffieldSteel says:

      I still find myself repeating this line at random. Some people just don’t understand, but it’s worth it when they do :)

  5. OJ287 says:

    Are there any basic games for blind people? There’s some blind people who have learned to use tongue clicks like a bat or a camera on a pair of glasses to translate images into noises.

    • supermini says:

      Text-based MUD I played years ago (link to used to have blind players. I presume they were using a MUD client with text-to-voice, but that’s something that I always felt uncomfortable asking about. I assume you could do it in a lot of MUDs, but that’s the only one I have any experience with.

    • TiagoTiago says:

      You can probably use The vOICe ( link to ) with slower games that don’t have anything too important going on with sound nor small text; even 3d ones.

  6. dethtoll says:

    Considering this was one of the first games I played that had full voice acting, I had to really struggle to hear because of my hearing loss.

    I’ve played the game a million times since, and I know pretty much every line now. This would’ve been useful 15 years ago!