Some members of the PCGH community still remember 1998. It was the heyday of 3D fast-paced action games (Epics Unreal was also released in 1998), and Voodoo developers at 3dfx were also to blame for that. Valve’s first game was released in the US on November 19, 1998, and the groundbreaking first-person shooter was also released in Europe on November 27, 1998. PCGH remembers.
The beginning of Half-Life
Valve was founded in 1996 by two former Microsoft employees, Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. With a license for the Quake engine obtained from ID Software, work on Half-Life began in late 1996. The actually scheduled release date of late 1997 was not reached, but the time came in late 1998. By current standards, it is difficult to imagine such a short development time. To date, 9.3 million games have been sold at retail alone. There are also sales via Steam, which cannot be quantified.
Speaking of Steam: although Valve’s gaming platform didn’t launch until a few years later, Half-Life naturally ended up there at some point. As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, Valve is distributing Half-Life 1 for a short period of time – so it pays to be quick. There’s also a surprising update to the shooter with new content (four maps plus mini-campaign) and technical improvements (UI scaling, revised effects and Steam Deck verification).
Of half-lives and indices
The title of the video game has an important meaning: there is a direct allusion to the technical term half-life from nuclear physics. The game symbol is a lambda (λ), the symbol for the decay constant in physics. Lambda can be seen in many Half-Life artworks. German players haven’t had normal access to the original version of Half-Life for a long time. After a short time, the shooter ended up in the index: according to Wikipedia, violence against human enemies was classified as “brutalizing and socio-ethically disorienting”.
Consequently, in the German version, the player fought against robots, “the aliens no longer bled, the corpses of dead opponents slowly dissolved, and in this version the researchers who were shot sat on the floor shaking their heads.” In April 2017, almost 20 years after publication, the indexing was deindexed.
What stuck in the story?
It is well known that the player, like MIT physicist Gordon Freeman, conducts secret research at a secret missile testing base called Black Mesa. When a daring experiment fails, hordes of aliens invade the facility and make life difficult for more people than just Gordon Freeman. The player encounters the mysterious G-Man on his way through Black Mesa. His unclear role and mysterious appearances in the game have led to a lot of speculation and theories among fans.
The main character is named after a real Valve employee and his appearance is based on that of several Valve employees who served as models for the character’s design. Freeman has no speaking role, a conscious decision to increase the player’s immersion and identification with the character. The omission of cutscenes can be explained in a similar way: the entire story is explained within the gameplay, which contributes to a more immersive gaming experience. The enemy’s AI was revolutionary for the time: generic soldiers sought cover, threw grenades and managed to position themselves strategically. The puzzle and platform elements were certainly notable in Half-Life. Clever interaction with neutral NPCs and the use of secondary fire modes for weapons also worked.
Half-Life as the basis of many mods
Through various mods, the community has ensured that Half-Life and the Quake engine form the basis for other games. The best known are certainly Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic and Day of Defeat. At this time, Valve took over many developers and modifications and continued them as commercial products. It wasn’t until 2004 that Valve switched to its own Source engine with Half-Life 2. In 2015, several branches of the new engine were released, including Counter-Strike Source, Team Fortress, Portal, and more. In 2015, Source Engine 2 was announced and used in Dota 2 for the first time.
On page 2 of the article, after reviewing the gameplay and meaning of Half-Life, it’s all about technology. How should the 1998 Half-Life engine be classified? What else can you get out of the 25-year-old ham in 2023 with path tracing and crazy anti-aliasing? Keep reading, because there’s so much more for you on page 2.