The alien world of Xen is the biggest part of Half-Life still to come to its fancy remake Black Mesa [official site], but developers Crowbar Collective have been working on plenty more. Over the weekend they released an update heavily expanding the ‘Surface Tension’ chapter, adding back areas that didn’t make the cut before. They’ve also added dynamic shadows to outdoor areas, revisited and polished-up some levels, massively sped up loading times, and… it sounds like a cracker of an update for a game which was already great.
Surface Tension, to refresh your memory, is the chapter where Gordon has escaped from the bowels of Black Mesa and jaunts around on the surface. It has the dam, the cliffs with the fly-by, big battles between the aliens and soldiers, that airstrike puzzle, and lots of other big set pieces. Three levels were missing before, and all in all Surface Tension is now about an hour longer. As the devs explain:
“Surface Tension did not feel complete without its later levels. The end of ST is the part where the H.E.C.U start to lose, and it sets up the events for Half-Life 2. It’s a very important part of the Half-Life story.”
LambdaGeneration had a good interview in January with Black Mesa mapper Chon Kemp about Surface Tension Uncut. He’d previously made new versions of the levels as an add-on for the free mod version of Black Mesa, and has good things to say about how and why they’ve expanded Surface Tension in the commercial release. The whole chapter is improved, rather than just boshing on the new levels, as by then they had made new assets and techniques for other areas of the game – which they could re-use here.
The patch notes also detail changes like adding Cascaded Shadow Mapping for crisp dynamic shadows on outdoors maps, level load times “up to 75% faster”, improved AI for alien grunts, a bit of weapon rebalancing, translated closed captions for a few languages, and plenty more. Look, here’s what that swish shadow system adds:
Xen, of course, is still to come. Black Mesa is still on Steam Early Access for £14.99.