Half-Life is a science fiction first-person shooter video game developed by Valve Software, the company's debut product and the first in the Half-Life series. First released by Sierra Studios on November 19, 1998, the game was also released for the PlayStation 2 on November 14, 2001. In Half-Life, players assume the role of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist who must fight his way out of a secret underground research facility, whose research and experiments into teleportation technology have gone disastrously wrong.
Valve, set up by former Microsoft employees, had difficulty finding a publisher for the game, with many believing that it was "too ambitious" a project. Sierra On-Line eventually signed the game after expressing interest in making a 3D action game. The game had its first major public appearance at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Designed for Windows, the game uses a heavily modified version of the Quake engine called GoldSrc.
On its release, critics hailed its overall presentation and numerous scripted sequences, and it won over 50 PC Game of the Year awards. Its gameplay influenced the design of first-person shooters for years after its release, and it is widely considered to be one of the greatest computer games of all time. As of November 16, 2004, Half-Life has sold eight million copies. As of July 14, 2006, the Half-Life franchise has sold over 20 million units. Half-Life was followed by the 2004 sequel Half-Life 2, which also received critical acclaim. Half-Life, its cultural impact, community mods and sequels has spawned a large fanbase and cult following, especially in PC gaming.
Half-Life is a first-person shooter that requires the player to perform combat tasks and puzzle solving to advance through the game. Unlike its peers at the time, Half-Life used scripted sequences, such as a Bullsquid ramming down a door, to advance major plot points. While most contemporary first-person shooters relied on cut-scene intermissions to detail their plotlines, Half-Life's story is told entirely by means of scripted sequences, keeping the player in control of his or her first-person viewpoint. In line with this, the game has no cut-scenes, and the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, who never speaks and is never actually seen in the game; the player sees "through his eyes" for the entire length of the game. Half-Life has no "levels"; it instead divides the game by chapters, whose titles flash on the screen. Progress through the world is continuous, except for breaks for loading.
The game regularly integrates puzzles, such as navigating a maze of conveyor belts. Some puzzles involve using the environment to kill an enemy. There are few "bosses" in the conventional sense, where the player defeats a superior opponent by direct confrontation. Instead, such organisms occasionally define chapters, and the player is generally expected to use the terrain, rather than firepower, to kill the "boss". Late in the game, the player receives a "long jump module" for the HEV suit, which allows the player to increase the horizontal distance and speed of jumps by crouching before jumping. The player must rely on this ability to navigate various platformer-style jumping puzzles in Xen toward the end of the game.
For the most part the player battles through the game alone, but is occasionally assisted by non-player characters; specifically security guards and scientists who fight alongside the player, assist in reaching new areas and impart relevant plot information. A wide array of enemies populate the game including parasites of Xen such as Head-Crabs, Bullsquids, Head-Crab Zombies and Vortigaunts. The player also faces human opponents, in particular Hazardous Environment Combat Unit (HECU) Marines and black ops assassins who are dispatched to contain the extra-dimensional threats and silence all witnesses.
The iconic weapon of Half-Life is the crowbar, which can be used for melee fighting as well as for clearing obstructions and breaking apart boxes and crates, which sometimes contain useful items. The game also features numerous conventional weapons, such as the Glock 17 pistol, Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, MP5 submachine gun with an attached M203 grenade launcher, Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver, and rocket launcher as well as unusual weapons ranging from a crossbow to weapons from Xen and genetically engineered weapons; such as an organic gun and flesh-eating parasites called "Snarks". Two experimental weapons, the tau cannon (nicknamed the Gauss gun) and the Gluon Gun, are built by the scientists in the facility and are acquired by the player late in the game. With the installation of the High Definition Pack, the weapons' appearances are substantially updated, mainly due to a larger number of polygons in the models. Although their appearances have changed, they perform exactly the same as their original counterparts in terms of gameplay. The Glock 17, MP5, and SPAS-12 are the only weapons to be completely changed in appearance, being replaced by the Beretta M9, M4A1 carbine, and a version of the SPAS-12 with a stock, respectively.
Most of the game is set in a remote desert area of New Mexico in the Black Mesa Research Facility, a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51, at some point during the years 2000 to 2009. The game's protagonist is the theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, an MIT graduate. Freeman becomes one of the survivors of an experiment at Black Mesa that goes horribly wrong, when an unexpected "resonance cascade"—a fictitious phenomenon—rips dimensional seams, devastating the facility. Parasites from another dimension known as Xen subsequently enter the facility through these dimensional seams (an event known as the "Black Mesa incident").
As Freeman tries to make his way out of the ruined facility to find help for the injured, he soon discovers that he is caught between two sides: the hostile parasites and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a United States Marine Corps Special Operations division dispatched to cover up the incident by eliminating the organisms, as well as Dr. Freeman and the other surviving Black Mesa personnel. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known (but not actually referred to in-game) as the "G-Man" regularly appears, and seems to be monitoring Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Freeman uses the cooperation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way towards the mysterious "Lambda Complex" of Black Mesa (signified with the Greek "λ" character), where a team of survivors teleport him to the alien world Xen to kill the Nihilanth, the semi-physical entity keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.
The game's plot was originally inspired by the video games Doom, Quake (both PC games produced by id Software), and Resident Evil (published by Capcom), Stephen King's short story/novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland". It was later developed by Valve's in-house writer and author, Marc Laidlaw, who wrote the books Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandala.
Gordon Freeman arrives late for work at the Black Mesa Research Facility at 8:47 a.m, using its tram system. He acquires his Hazardous Environment suit (or HEV suit) before proceeding to the test chamber of the Anomalous Materials Lab, to assist in an experiment. He is tasked with pushing a non-standard specimen into the scanning beam of the Anti-Mass Spectrometer for analysis. This creates a catastrophe called a "resonance cascade, opening a portal between Earth and a dimension called Xen. Freeman is sporadically teleported there and catches glimpses of various alien life-forms, including a circle of Vortigaunts, shortly before blacking out.
Freeman awakens in the ruined test chamber and surveys the destroyed lab, strewn with the bodies of scientists and security personnel. Finding survivors, Freeman learns that communication lines to the outside world are completely cut, and is encouraged to head to the surface for help, because of his suit. His journey consists of sidestepping Black Mesa's structural damage and defending himself against hostile parasites suddenly teleporting into the area. Other survivors along the way claim that a rescue team has been dispatched, only to discover that the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, which has taken control of Black Mesa, is killing both the organisms and the employees there as part of a government cover-up. Freeman fights the Marines before reaching the surface of Black Mesa, where he learns that scientists from the Lambda Complex may have the means to resolve the problems created by the cascade. Gordon travels to the other end of the facility to assist them.
However, Gordon encounters several hurdles throughout the facility, such as reactivating a rocket engine test facility to destroy a giant Venus flytrap-like Tentacle, uses an aging railway system in order to launch a crucial satellite rocket, and fighting a group of Black Ops soldiers, before he is captured by Marines and dumped in a garbage compactor. Gordon escapes safely and makes his way to an older part of the facility where he discovers an extensive collection of specimens collected from Xen, long before the resonance cascade.
Reaching the surface once more, Gordon finds that the area has become a warzone. Despite calling for reinforcements, the Marines are being overwhelmed by bio-mechanical, semi-sentient organisms enslaved to the Nihilanth, a God-like entity keeping the portal to Xen open. Through scaling the cliffs and navigating destroyed buildings, Gordon reaches safety underground.
The Marines begin to pull out of Black Mesa and airstrikes begin, while Gordon goes through underground water channels and encounters alien soldiers picking off the remaining Marines. Freeman arrives at the Lambda Complex, in which scientists developed the teleportation technology that allowed them to travel to Xen in the first place. He also encounters another group of Black Ops. After meeting the remaining personnel, Gordon is told that the satellite he launched failed to reverse the effects of the resonance cascade because an immensely powerful being on the other side of the rift is keeping it open. Gordon must kill this being to stop the wave of Xen parasites. The scientists activate the teleporter and Gordon is transported to Xen.
In Borderworld, Gordon encounters many of the organisms that had been brought into Black Mesa, as well as the remains of HEV-wearing researchers that came before him. He fights against Gonarch, a huge Head-Crab with a large egg sac, fights his way through an alien camp, and arrives at a massive alien factory, which is creating the Alien Grunt soldiers. After fighting his way through levitating creatures, he finds a giant portal and enters it.
In a vast cave, Gordon confronts the Nihilanth, the God-like, semi-physical entity maintaining the rift, and destroys it. As the Nihilanth dies, it explodes in a giant green blast which knocks Gordon unconscious. Gordon awakens, stripped of his gear, in the presence of the G-Man, who has been watching over Gordon, appearing at least once in each chapter. The G-Man praises Freeman's actions in Xen. He explains that his "employers," believing that Gordon has "limitless potential," have authorized him to offer Freeman a job. He is also given a choice to refuse, but is told that should he refuse this offer, he will be given a battle where he has "no chance of winning." While this is taking place, the scenery they are standing in warps to various Xen locales and other dimensions, ending in one of the tram cars from the beginning of Freeman's day, flying through the Multiverse. After accepting, the screen goes black and the G-Man is heard to say, "Wisely done, Mr. Freeman. I will see you up ahead. Players who decline G-Man's offer find themselves unarmed and surrounded by hordes of hostile creatures, as G-man says, "Well, it looks like we won't be working together. No regrets, Mr. Freeman."
Half-Life was the first product of Valve Software, a software developer based at Kirkland, Washington, which was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. They settled on a concept for a horror-themed 3D action game, using the Quake engine as licensed by id Software. Valve eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support; a developer stated in a PC Accelerator magazine preview that seventy percent of the engine code was rewritten. The company had difficulties finding a publisher at first, many believing their project "too ambitious" for a studio headed by newcomers to the video game industry. However, Sierra On-Line had been very interested in making a 3D action game, especially one based on the Quake engine, and so signed them for a one-game deal.
The original code name for Half-Life was Quiver, after the Arrowhead military base from Stephen King's novella The Mist, which served as early inspiration for the game. Gabe Newell explained that the name Half-Life was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichéd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter λ (lower-case lambda), which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation. According to one of the game's designers, Harry Teasley, Doom was a huge influence on most of the team working on Half-Life. According to Teasley, they wanted Half-Life to "scare you like Doom did".
The first public appearances of Half-Life came in early 1997; it was a hit at Electronic Entertainment Expo that year, where they primarily demonstrated the animation system and artificial intelligence. Valve Software hired science fiction author Marc Laidlaw in August 1997 to work on the game's characters and level design. Half-Life's soundtrack was composed by Kelly Bailey. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in late 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision.
In a 2003 Making Of... feature in Edge, Newell discusses the team's early difficulties with level design. In desperation, a single level was assembled including every weapon, enemy, scripted event, and level design quirk that the designers had come up with so far. This single level inspired the studio to press on with the game. As a result, the studio completely reworked the game's artificial intelligence and levels in the year leading up to its release. At E3 1998 it was given Game Critics Awards for "Best PC Game" and "Best Action Game". The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.
Two official demos for Half-Life were released. The first demo, Half-Life: Day One, contained the first one-fifth of the full game, and was meant only for distribution with certain graphic cards. The second demo was released on February 12, 1998. Entitled Half-Life: Uplink, the demonstration featured many of the weapons and non-player characters in Half-Life. Set 48 hours into the game, Uplink's levels are heavily revised variations of levels cut during Half-Life's development phase, and are not present in the end version of the full game.
The titles of Half-Life and its expansion packs are all named after scientific terms. Half-Life itself is a reference to the half-life of a quantity (such as a radioactive material), the amount of time required for the quantity to decay to half of its initial amount. The Greek letter lambda, which features prominently on the game's packaging and story, represents the related decay constant, as well as the Lambda Complex featured in the game. Opposing Force, while it could be named because the player assumes the role of one of the enemies in the original game, is also a reference to Newton's third law of motion, while Blue Shift refers to the blue shifting of the frequency of radiation caused by the Doppler effect or Special Relativity, in a similar parallel reference to the name of the shift your character takes. In Half-Life: Decay, the title again references the half-life equation with the lambda symbol being the decay constant. It has also been speculated that the Lambda symbol was chosen as it somewhat resembles a very simple picture of an arm holding a crowbar, the first weapon acquired by Gordon Freeman, and a weapon the Half Life series is famous for.
Half-Life was ported to the PlayStation 2 by Gearbox Software and released in 2001. This version of the game had a significant overhaul in terms of both character models, weapons, and more advanced and extended levels and general map geometry (see Half-Life High Definition Pack for a model comparison). Also added in is a head-to-head play and a co-op expansion called Half-Life: Decay that allowed players to play as the two female scientists Dr Cross and Dr Green at Black Mesa. Another interesting feature allowed players to use a USB mouse and keyboard, a feature previously unmatched on the platform.
Versions for the Dreamcast and Mac OS were essentially completed, but never commercially released. The Dreamcast edition was eventually leaked onto the internet. The Dreamcast version uses early HD models.
Gearbox Software was slated to release a port to the Dreamcast under contract by Valve and their then publisher Sierra On-Line near the end of 2000. At the ECTS 2000, a build of the game was playable on the publisher's stand, and developers Randy Pitchford and Brian Martel were in attendance to show it off and give interviews to the press. However, despite only being weeks from being available, it was never commercially released; Sierra announced that Half-Life on Dreamcast was canceled "due to changing market conditions" onset by third-party abandonment of the Dreamcast. That year Sierra On-Line showed a PlayStation 2 port at E3 2001. This version was released in North America in late October of the same year, followed by a European release just a month later. Around the same time, Half-Life: Blue Shift, which was intended to be a Dreamcast-exclusive side story, was released on Windows as the second Half-life Expansion Pack.
Two expansion packs by outside developer Gearbox Software have been released for the PC version: Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999) and Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001). The former returns the player to Black Mesa during the events of Half-Life's storyline, but this time from the perspective of Adrian Shephard, one of the Marines in the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit sent to cover up evidence of the incident. It introduced several new weapons, new non-player characters, both friendly and hostile and new, previously unseen areas of the facility. The expansion is shorter than Half-Life, having 11 chapters to the original's
Blue Shift returns the player to Half-Life's Black Mesa timeline once more, this time as Barney Calhoun, one of the facility's security guards. The expansion was originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version. Blue Shift came with the High Definition Pack, that gave the player the option to update the look of Half-Life, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few variations on existing models, all content was already present in the original Half-Life.
Half-Life: Decay was another expansion by Gearbox, released only as an extra with the PlayStation 2 version of Half-Life. The add-on featured cooperative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles or fight against the many foes in the Half-Life universe.
In 2000, a compilation pack titled the Half-Life: Platinum Pack was released, including (with their respective manuals) Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic, and Half-Life: Opposing Force. In 2002, the pack was re-released under the new titles Half-Life Platinum Collection and Half-Life: Generation. These new iterations also included the Half-Life: Blue Shift expansion pack. In 2005, Half-Life 1: Anthology was released, containing Steam-only versions of the following games on a single DVD: Half-Life, Half-Life: Opposing Force, Half-Life: Blue Shift, and Team Fortress Classic.
The sequel, Half-Life 2, was merely a rumor until it was finally revealed at E3 in May 2003, which ignited a firestorm of hype surrounding the game. The player again takes the role of Gordon Freeman, this time 20 years after the Black Mesa incident in the dystopic Eastern European "City 17" where he must fight as part of a rebellion against an alien regime. After a series of controversies and delays, Half-Life 2 was released on November 16, 2004.
To experience firsthand the processes mod-makers would have to go through with the new engine, Valve ported Half-Life (dubbed Half-Life: Source) and Counter-Strike to their new Source engine. Half-Life: Source is a straight port, lacking any new content or the Blue Shift High Definition pack. However, it does take advantage of vertex and pixel shaders for more realistic water effects, as well as Half-Life 2's realistic physics engine. They also added several other features from Half-Life 2, including improved dynamic lightmaps, vertex maps, ragdolls, and a shadowmap system with cleaner, higher resolution, specular texture and normal maps, as well as utilization of the render-to-texture soft shadows found in Half-Life 2's Source engine, along with 3D skybox replacements in place of the old 16-bit color prerendered bitmap skies. The Half-Life port possesses many of the Source engine's graphical strengths as well as control weaknesses that have been noted in the Source engine. Half-Life: Source is available with special editions of Half-Life 2, or separately on Steam.
Half-Life: Source has been criticized for not fully utilizing many of the features of the Source engine found in Half-Life 2, as it still uses textures and models from the original game. Due to this, a third-party mod remake called Black Mesa is also under development.
On June 10, 2005 Valve announced through their Steam update news service an upcoming port of Half-Life Deathmatch, the multiplayer portion of the original game, much in the same fashion as the earlier released Half-Life: Source. No exact release date was given, simply the words "In the coming weeks..." On July 2, 2005 Half-Life Deathmatch: Source was released.
On June 1, 2006 Half-Life 2: Episode One was released. It is part of a trilogy of episodes, of which the second was released on October 10, 2007, as part of The Orange Box.
From its release in 1998, Half-Life saw fervent support from independent game developers, due in no small part to support and encouragement from Valve Software. Worldcraft, the level-design tool used during the game's development, was included with the game software. Printed materials accompanying the game indicated Worldcraft's eventual release as a retail product, but these plans never materialised. Valve also released a software development kit, enabling developers to modify the game and create mods. Both tools were significantly updated with the release of the version 126.96.36.199 patch. Many supporting tools (including texture editors, model editors, and rival level editors like the multiple engine editor QuArK) were either created or updated to work with Half-Life.
An SDK for Half-Life has been released and is being used as a base for many multiplayer mods such as Counter-Strike. Other multiplayer mods include Team Fortress Classic (TFC), Day of Defeat (DOD), Deathmatch Classic (DMC), Adrenaline Gamer (AG) Action Half-Life, Firearms, Science and Industry, The Specialists, Pirates, Vikings and Knights and Natural Selection. TFC and DMC were developed in-house at Valve Software. Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and others that began life as the work of independent developers (self-termed "modders"), later on received aid from Valve. There was even a free team-based multiplayer mod called Underworld Bloodline created to promote the Sony Pictures movie Underworld.
Numerous single player mods have also been created, like USS Darkstar (1999, a futuristic action-adventure onboard a zoological research spaceship), The Xeno Project 1 and 2 (1999–2005, a two-part mod starting in Xen and again including spaceships), Edge of Darkness (2000, which features some unused Half-Life models), Half-Life: Absolute Redemption (2000, which brings back Gordon Freeman for four additional episodes and another encounter with the G-Man), They Hunger (2000–2001, a survival horror total conversion trilogy involving zombies), Poke646 (2001, a follow-up to the original Half-Life story with improved graphics), Someplace Else (2002, Side story to the original Half-Life), and Heart of Evil (2003, Vietnam war with zombies).
Some Half-Life modifications eventually landed on retail shelves. Counter-Strike was the most successful, having been released in five different editions: as a standalone product (2000), as part of the Platinum Pack (2000), as an Xbox version (2003) as the single player spin-off, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004), and the newest addition, Counter-Strike: Source, which runs on Half-Life 2's Source engine. Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat and Gunman Chronicles (2000, a futuristic Western movie-style total conversion with emphasis on its single player mode) were also released as stand-alone products.
A remake of Half-Life named Black Mesa has also been in development for some years now. It is based on the source engine which is used by the Half-Life sequel Half-Life 2.