Black Mesa is dreaming of a Xen Christmas

So committed is third-party Half-Life remake Black Mesa [official site] to emulation of its much vaunted inspiration that it has now fully embraced ValveTime. Black Mesa was first released as a free mod in 2012, followed by a spit’n’polished paid version two years ago, but still with the notorious jump’n’fail alien world section from Half Life’s final act missing. Plan was to rethink rather than merely remake Xen, in a planned act of historical revisionism to make people think Half-Life was brillo all the way through. (Note: Half-Life was brillo all the way through).

Last Autumn, the team declared the Gordon would finally be bouncing his away across fleshy coral oddities once away this summer. Well, no – there’s been a delay. The good news is, they are now showing off Xen’s great outdoors for the first time, as well as revealing a few changes planned for Black Mesa as a whole.

They’ve just announced that new date is this December, which hopefully means we’re all in line for a Black Christmas. The reason for the delay is, the devs say, “after taking a long and hard look at what we want to achieve, we have decided that this is for the best. We do not want to compromise on Xen’s quality in any way.” Which, I guess means, they don’t want to inadvertently give Half-Life a finale that loads of people moan about for a second time.

Happier news is that “that said, we consider December to be a do-or-die deadline”. I hope they’ll forgive my applying just a pinch of inter-dimensional salt there, given how long we’ve waited already – and, frankly, it’s been long enough that I remain happier to wait some more if Xen needs it. Should be noted that only the paid version of Black Mesa is due to be Xenified, by the way – so you’ll probably want to upgrade in December if you’ve only got the free mod version.

To soften they blow, the Black Mesa team put out the first screenshots of Xen’s exterior sections, “all running real-time, in- game, with no edits.” Click to embiggen these:

It’s attractive, but, as Alice worried about the Xen interior screen they put last Chrimbo, I’m not entirely convinced it screams “Xen.” Valve’s take on this far-flung planet was weird and fleshy and pastel, whereas this is gloomier and rockier and looks a bit more, well, Mass Effect Andromedan. I can see one of those flying Manta Ray wotsits in the second screen, which is arguably the only giveaway here that we’re looking at Xen as opposed to Alien Place #5464552.

Hopefully it’ll feel a bit more like the Xen of yore once we get to see scrotal spiders and angry hook-trees littered across it, though.

Also in the pipeline for Black Mesa as a whole is a new dynamic lighting system which “casts real-time light, shadows and god rays.” It’ll primarily be implemented in the new Xen sections, but they do plan to retroactively add it to specific locations in the earlier game, like so:

The whole game’s getting a colour correction pass too, “to better unify the game’s visual style and to add full screen effects during the more intense sections.” Apparently subtle in most cases, but here’s a more overt example.

Er. I prefer the ‘before’? Suspect all it means a slightly heightened sense of consistency in practice, though.

Also, soldiers will hold their guns properly, instead of having bits of the handle sticking through their hands. Is Half-Life without a little bit of shonkiness truly still Half-Life? Hopefully, come December, we will find out.


  1. felipepepe says:

    Yeah, that after/before shot looks like people fixing stuff so much they start to break them… I’d imagine they went “oh shit, rocks in HL1 were kind red, QUICK MAKE EVERYTHING RED-ISH!”. Contrast be dammed.

    Will their next step be color-correcting Xen so it goes back to pastel colors? :P

    • Shazbut says:

      Is that before / after shot glitching weirdly for anyone else or is it just me?

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      subdog says:

      The After shot looks a whole lot more like what I remember HL1’s exteriors looking like. Before is too sepia, very 2010.

  2. haldolium says:

    I really like what they’re doing with the visuals. They already did it with the Black Mesa facility and it was a good move, since the original design is still visible.

    Xen wasn’t particular awesome in the original. So I appreciate some modern design both visually as well as in the gameplay. The platforming was kind of annoying… oh and good luck if you were on low HP and stuck with your quicksave far away from the regen pools.

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    Oakreef says:

    Xen is great as it was and I’m still annoyed at them for “fixing” On a Rail while leaving the actual worst part of the game (Residue Processing) basically the same.

    • Marclev says:

      What needed fixing in On a Rail?

      And agree, I never see what people complain about with Xen, enjoyed it as much as the rest of the game.

      • Vandelay says:

        There is a two minute bit where you have to jump from a high pillar to one of those manta ray things, possibly making another jump or two. It was annoying and awkward.

        That is the only bit I can think of that can justify the hate Xen receives. Everything else was pretty good and I loved the contrast between the alien factory and Black Mesa. Plus, giant testicle on legs! What’s not to love!

        Big floating baby boss was a bit shit, but so are all bosses.

  4. Optimaximal says:

    I wish they’d bring back the original Force Recon radio voice-distortion – it dehumanised your opponents and made them more unnerving, especially if they were winning a fight.

    • Crusoe says:

      Agreed. They also re-recorded all the voice acting. While I can understand wanting to make this their ‘own thing’, I am going to very much miss certain things, like some of the scientists voices, which were often humorous and always tonally spot-on.

  5. Carra says:

    5 years ago since I’ve played Black Mesa… I’m gonna have to replay the whole thing once they finish it.

  6. Eleven says:

    I think the word “Brillo” is still technically copyright by Your Sinclair, they having successfully redefined it to mean “Excellent” rather than “Scouring Pad”.

    It’s also rumoured that the careless use of “Brillo” may cause the ghost of Farty the Warthog to rise up and smite thee.

    • Jay Load says:

      Oooo – you just prompted an internal squee-gasm by mentioning my first ever truly beloved magazine. Brillo, indeed. Still fondly missed.

      Funnily enough I was looking at one of those new-fangled, old-fangled Vega devices yesterday. And now this. I feel like a ghost of the past has just whispered something in my ear…(I’m not called Jay Load for nothing)

  7. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Ah, dynamic lighting like that still seems like a recently realised future. Was it Invisible War that first introduced it, back in…2004?! Wow.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      I think it was Doom 3 first. Never quite caught on it seems because of other limitations. I think it was mainly the lack of soft shadows (which were done by baking shadow maps at the time).

  8. lglethal says:

    Hey Alec, there is absolutely no need to be picking on Alien Place #5464552, it was a huge improvement over Alien Place #5464551 and well things really went down hill after that. At least until Alien Place #5465279, that place was neat.


  9. PancakeWizard says:

    I saw a similar comment on Steam about the ‘rockiness’. Maybe people are misremembering Xen? It was a bunch of floating rocks with organic matter clinging haphazardly to it. It was coral reefs and rock pools without the water.

    I’m glad they’re showing more scientist interloping as they were supposed to have been messing about in Xen for some time before the events of the first game.

  10. jeremyalexander says:

    Even the power of nostalgia can’t change the fact that the original Xen levels and game ending were complete and total rubbish. Until that point it’s brilliant, but Xen is so bad it almost, almost but not quite, retroactively made the whole game bad.

  11. Scandalon says:

    Looks nice – perhaps just a bit over the “like a fishtank/coral reef, but in space” line.

    Ridiculous wordpress image viewer plugin is still ridiculous, mind.

  12. DelrueOfDetroit says:

    These new screenshots of Subnautica look great!