Pretty 17 – Half-Life 2: Update Comes To Steam

a 620 wide image probably not the best way to demonstrate this stuff, eh?

Oho, ‘Half-Life 2: Update‘ is an extremely cheeky name for a mod. Write it on the internet and a few thousand ears will immediately prick up. “Is more Half-Life? Means Half-Life 3? Check file structure! One file will have a 3 in its name! Is Half-Life 3! Rabble rabble rabble!” So no, this is not an official Half-Life 2 update, but it has got the nod for a free standalone Steam release tomorrow.

Designed to take fuller advantage of what more recent updates to the Source engine can do, this apparently final version of the community-made mod includes graphical updates and ‘countless’ bug fixes, plus a new fan commentary mode. You’re probably going to want it.

Half-Life 2: Update releases on Steam tomorrow, which I suppose is a implicit Valve blessing of a sort. Here’s a couple of chest-thumping videos, including the all-important side-by-side comparison:

Very nice, though we’re talking subtle nip’n’tuck changes which (hopefully) broadly preserve the original artistic intentions, rather than slap-you-round-the-face stuff, which to my mind is preferable to some of the more aggressive visual overhauls out there. I guess it’s putting HL2 back in line with how we felt it looked at the time, making it so our over-entitled 2015 eyes will be less troubled by signs of ageing.

Here’s the full list of wot it does, too:

Complete lighting overhaul including enhanced lighting, more detailed world shadows, and full High Dynamic Range Lighting (HDR).
New particle effects and improved fog.
Countless bug fixes, correcting both visual and game-based issues.
An extensive Community Commentary Mode featuring the voices of well-known Youtubers, including Caddicarus, Brutalmoose, Ricepirate, Balrog the Master, ProJared, and Ross Scott from Freeman’s Mind .
Retains the iconic Half-Life 2 visual style and gameplay.

Primarily the work of HL2 uberfan Filip Victor, Update has also picked up sponsorship from the likes NVIDIA and EVGA. Hopefully it’s a good (and stable) as it appears. I really wouldn’t mind a good excuse to head back to City 17.

It’s out tomorrow on Steam, for free.


  1. Guvornator says:

    Looks lovely, although the light bulb at .48 probably shouldn’t be casting a shadow with a light shade on it.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Yes, I imagine about half the people watching this video found themselves looking at that particular weirdness and thinking “why on earth did they choose to highlight THAT in the video?!?”

    • Neosubu says:

      Haha. I was thinking the same thing while watching it. I knew someone would comment on it, without a shadow of a doubt.

  2. DailyFrankPeter says:

    So.. is it just me thinking that all the Half Life modders’ and rediscoverers’ energy would be enough to produce another one or two games in the series? So why go back and polish the HL2 airboat sequence again? Is it the relative undersupply of game story writers compared to CG artists?

    • kament says:

      I think you underestimate the difference between giving a game a bit of extra polish and producing a new one (or two). It’s kinda like hiring a housepainter to paint your house and asking him to build you a new house while he’s at it.

      • DailyFrankPeter says:

        But if this house has been given a paint job 10 times already (in fact painters, joiners and renovators come over to add bits on so often that you’re beginning to know stories about their family), it is not unfeasible to get them all to help on a small house extension in the garden.

        • LacSlyer says:

          You’re paint analogy oddly works here to explain how it’s so different. Having someone paint a house 10 times over is completely different to having someone create a whole new house. You can’t paint a house and learn how to create a foundation or how to meet structural, electrical and water requirements for a house. You’re seriously oversimplifying the difficulty in creating a game, and saying that just because people have been modding it for a long time they should be capable of doing so is ignorant. I hate to be rude, but there’s no other word to describe it.

          • DailyFrankPeter says:

            Yes, I am oversimplifying the difficulty. But hang on, wasn’t Insurgency a HL2 mod gone full-blown game?

            I’m going to go with joa’s post which says it’s the copyright issues then.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      There’s another aspect to it, which is if you can create a whole standalone mod, then you’ve got the sort of talents that can get you hired to make ‘real’ games. For example, Adam Foster/Cargocult, who created the HL2 mod Minerva (which is one of the best HL2 mods out there), ended up getting hired by Valve, fortunately he got to finish Minerva before he was swallowed by the almighty gaben.

    • joa says:

      First off it would be illegal. Half-Life is Valve’s IP. Going in to some maps and ramping up the shadows is one thing, using someone else’s intellectual property to create a derivative work is something else.

  3. tattiemuncher says:

    A couple of nice changes but nothing that impressive over the vanilla game imo. Cinematic Mod from fakefactory has spoiled me though. Looks stunning and you can choose what you do/don’t want installed. Can be a pain in the hoop to install but it’s worth it.

    • Buuurr says:

      Agreed. Seems like a great way to waste time for such a small, small change.

    • kuddles says:

      I think the Cinematic Mod would be one of the “aggressive” visual mods mentioned in the article. Personally, I would prefer this to the Cinematic Mod. Even if you choose not to install the disgustingly puerile character models and nonsense combat balance changes, you’re still forced into textures that remove the feel of the original game and give you the art design decisions from what appears to be the mind of a 14-year-old goth kid, particularly in the poster and graffiti changes.

    • Hairball says:

      Didn’t those mods change the character design so they all looked awful and have textures which, when tiled, look really bad?

      • lokimotive says:

        Oh my god, the characters are horrible. They sexed everyone up to the tenth degree. Even the Professor looks like a beefcake.

        • Kreeth says:

          I’d never heard of Cinematic Mod before, but I had a quick look. The character faces are horrendous. Please tell me that Croydon facelift mannequin thing they put ON THEIR FRONT PAGE isn’t meant to be Alyx?

    • dethtoll says:

      Cinematic makes my eyes bleed.

  4. Not_Id says:

    Why add structures that weren’t in the original? They should add a blurb that reads “Now with extra structures!” I don’t mind new lighting/fog/particle effects being added but don’t bloody add structures.

    • Legion23 says:

      That got me thinking: Are water towers even common in Eastern Europe? I always thought they are more of a thing in the USA.

      • basilisk says:

        Relatively common I’d say, but not really in this design which is indeed quite American. Wikimedia Commons has a beautifully obsessive gallery:
        link to

        But bear in mind that Earth in the HL2 universe suffers from water shortages, so these may be intended as cheap post-invasion structures.

  5. Not_Id says:

    Look at the two pics at the top. That bastard “NEW” water tower is blocking Chimney 6! Chimney 6 is the best chimney of the 6 and wots his name, Update Bastard shall we call him, has added Water Tower that shouldn’t be there! Like HL2 needs more water towers. The first thing I’m going to do when I get my hands on this update is remove ALL WATER TOWERS from HL2. Plus I’ll add NEW GRASS EFFECTS where water towers were.

    • Not_Id says:

      He’s even added DEAD TREE between Chimney 2 and Chimney 3! Why The Fasterisks would he add MORE DEAD TREES?

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Thanks for the laughs!

        • Not_Id says:

          I was trying to make a point, albeit tongue in cheek, that updating a game graphically should be just that. If they’re going to change objects within maps then that’s not a graphical update. Would an art restorer add some extra figures here and there or in the case of the above comparison screenshots remove or change the content of a painting altogether?

          Long story short: where do you draw the line when graphically updating a game? Should they have removed, changed or added things?

  6. Ejia says:

    I was hoping for a complete conversion/remake of both HL1 and 2 into Source 2. Unless this already actually happened and I missed it.

    • tattiemuncher says:

      Source 2 was only just announced by Valve at GDC with no release date set. You’ll be waiting a few more years for a total conversion to source 2.

      But if it’s a more up to date HL1 you want then I would recommend black mesa which is a full remake of HL1 into the source engine. It’s very good.

      • Ejia says:

        For some odd reason I thought Source 2 had existed since 2012.

        Is Black Mesa the one without Xen? Admittedly it’s been over a decade since I last played HL1, but I do not remember hating Xen.

        • tattiemuncher says:

          Yeah they didn’t include Xen but had plans to include it later. Not sure if it’s been updated yet to include it or not. It’s still well worth playing. They didn’t tinker with it too much and kept pretty close to the original.

          • DelrueOfDetroit says:

            They were forced into releasing the game early because their game was leaked by a hacker.

  7. gbrading says:

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned but Valve have already done this at least once; they updated HL2 to include dynamic shadows like Episode 2, as well as prettifying the water textures.

    Still, these changes look very tastefully done so I might give it a look; never not an excuse to boot up the best game ever (by my own empirical standards).

    • joa says:

      The dynamic shadows are only used for the flashlight I believe. Other shadows are still computed offline, which gives a higher quality lighting look than dynamic shadows.

  8. Person of Interest says:

    Judging by the comparison trailer, the mod does a lovely job recreating “how we felt it looked at the time” by touching up the stuff that looks the most dated, and leaving the rest more-or-less alone. No obvious retexturing, remodeling (okay, they added one water tower to a backdrop), SweetFX enhancement, aggressive DoF, or anything else that would immediately look out of place.

    It’s impressively restrained. I can’t see any reason why I’d play vanilla HL2 rather than this update.

  9. fco says:

    what i’m interested in is if there’s a mod out there to make the game actually fun. been coming on and off of this game since 2009 and still can’t be arsed to finish it.

    • KenTWOu says:

      You should find Synergy mod on Steam, it will add co-op mode to Half-life 2 and its episodes. Almost any game is better in co-op, so Synergy mod should do the trick.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Only 2009? That’s strange, “Half Life 2 is overrated” posts have shown up on every messageboard ever created since 2005.

  10. lokimotive says:

    It’s funny, I was mostly struck by how good the original still looks. Obviously, the enhanced version looks better, but it’s pretty impressive that a game that is more than ten years old still holds up pretty well.

    I think that has a lot to do with Valve’s impeccable design. There’s no doubt that the technology of Source was impressive at the time, but it wouldn’t really matter without Valve’s set building, which goes a long way especially in the levels outside of the city.

    • dethtoll says:

      I’m certain that 90% of why HL2 still looks good is a combination of impeccable lighting design and texture work.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Clever design and/or a good art style will always, always trump superior tech. The latter will age, the former will not. HL2 was one of those rare gems that had both the tech AND the design to match.

    • Urthman says:

      As far as I’m concerned, Half Life 2: Lost Coast is when video game graphics became officially “Good Enough.” Any game that looks as good as HL2:LC is fine and I’m just as glad to play it as a game with any other graphics engine that looks at least that good.

      I might (and frequently do) choose a game because of the art direction and style. But after HL2:LC, I’ve never thought, “I wish someone would port this to a better game engine.”

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        I’d be interested to see what different people’s “good enough” points are, actually. And when those people started gaming – i.e. is it just what they’re “used to”? Or did they spend years thinking “damn, these games are ugly” before reaching a point they were happy with?

        Mind you, judging by some of the steam reviews out there, some people STILL haven’t reached that point…

        • lokimotive says:

          That’s an interesting idea, but I’m not really sure if I could pinpoint any technical point because it’s difficult for me to divorce technical factors from aesthetic factors, especially now. It’s hard for me to say, does this game look the way that it does because of technical limitations, or because that’s how the designers wanted it to look. Of course, it’s usually a combination of the two, but it only really becomes a problem if those factors don’t match up. I mean I doubt anyone’s saying, Oh, man, Super Mario World sure looks dated. That’s what Super Mario World is supposed to look like, right? Of course, a lot of that has to do with games that are trying or not trying to be “realistic”, or, perhaps a better word would be “cinematic”.

        • Urthman says:

          I’m mostly thinking games where you move around in a 3D-type world, beginning with Ultima Underworld and Doom and ending with Half Life 2: LC and later.

          I think part of what I mean is that, for instance, comparing HL and HL2, the first game has some stuff with such blocky geometry and/or textures that it’s still kind of abstract and not always obvious what exactly it’s supposed to be, but everything in HL2 is sufficiently photorealistic that everything just looks unambiguously like the thing it’s supposed to be. For instance, in HL1 the red wheels you turn to shut off a steam valve are (I think) supposed to be round, but they’re represented in the game by a mesh that is clearly not round. Is it possible that Black Mesa just has weirdly-shaped valve wheels that are angular? Maybe. Your mind has to choose whether or not to take that shape literally or to interpret it as a circle. The red wheels in HL2 aren’t perfectly round, but they’re round enough that your brain accepts them as round without needing any interpretation.

          Later engines are prettier, but they don’t really offer any more immediate recognition of what’s what in the environment.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            Definitely get your point. To use your example though, I don’t think I’d even realised that the red wheels in HL1 weren’t round. Or I guess to be more accurate, I must have, because I’m well aware of how practically impossible it is to do a perfect polygonal circle, but I hadn’t NOTICED it while playing. My mind’s apparently just willing to go further out of its way than yours when it comes to interpreting things I guess, that’s not really news.

            You’re objectively wrong about Doom though.

  11. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I’ve been playing the original the past week and it still looks remarkably stunning at times. Sure, there’s some obviously low polygon rubble and some low-res textures along the walls, but the characters are still impressive and what can’t be changed by adding some light shafts, lighting and fog (or water towers) is the exceptional composition of the visuals. HL2 is just art at times, and I mean completely independent from technical accomplishments. So like with Grim Fandango and Homeworld (which I haven’t played) a restoration which just touches some bare essentials is preferable to re-doing the thing in a more intrusive way.

    One reason for me to prefer original HL2 to this would be the savegames, it’s a long game. does anyone know if savestates can be preserved in this mod?

  12. xcession says:

    I’m surprised how bare some of those maps levels look despite this sprucing-up. All those beaches and open roads with practically no features look like someone was meant to add trees or terrain decal, then just forgot to.

    • Jinoru says:

      That is by design. As the story goes in the HL universe, after HL1 you had the 7 Hour War where humanity surrendered and let the Combine take control in exchange for humanity’s survival. What ensues inbetween HL1 and 2 is 20 years of extreme resource farming and mining etc etc, causing the earths resources to be depleted and all the oceans to recede. So what exactly where you expecting? more trees? metal objects? there’s plenty of things on the roads already and it fits what happened in that world.