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Dhabih Eng (concept art for the early versions)
A Breencast is a regular broadcast made by Dr. Wallace Breen, delivered to the populace of City 17 through a public address system. Its name is an obvious portmanteau of the words "Breen" and "broadcast".
At several points during the game, Dr. Breen uses these Breencasts to deliver propaganda announcements and messages to the Citizens of City 17, the soldiers of the Combine Overwatch and, later in the game, to address Gordon Freeman himself. They can be seen and heard via private televisions and, more commonly, large video monitors, comprised of several holographic layers, mounted on walls in public places such as town squares and railway stations.
The G-Man can sometimes be seen on the large rectangular monitors used for Breencasts; in these instances, they will flicker a ghostly version of his image. This can be seen in the Half-Life 2 chapters Water Hazard and Anticitizen One. Moreover, the mysterious man can also be spotted in a boxcar near Station 1, where he is seen on a television screen operated by a Vortigaunt.
Behind the scenes
Just like Wallace Breen himself, the Breencast device went through different aspects before its final version. Two early versions, designed by Dhabih Eng, show the device hanging above the ground, covered with screens, and attached to the surrounding buildings from its top. As a concept it was meant to be located on the Trainstation Plaza early on, but other locations were tested, as seen in the maps found in the leak's WC map pack.
One version was designed in cluster-like compound eyes, with the old City 17 logo in each screen when idle, and bearing some similarities with the screen moving around the Consul's chair in the early version of his office in the Citadel.
Another version featured many screens from different sizes, showing the Consul making his speeches in a noisy, sepia image. Its mapped version is found farther in the game's journey, between the Trainstation and Kleiner's Lab, in the WC map pack map "
c17_04" and variants, near a "Metropolice" station in the Manhack Arcade neighborhood. In the map, the stream was apparently to consist of a very basic animation made with three different images of the Consul speaking, mostly a concept art image with changes made to his eyes and mouth from one image to the other. This design resembles steampunk films such as 1984 (and its original novel) or Brazil. Indeed, Breencasts bring to mind the image of Big Brother himself in that they reflect a figure meant for purposes of propaganda and absolute control.
Typically, both Breencasts and Kleinercasts use a separate model of Breen and Kleiner respectively, featuring only the top half of their bodies (as well as Lamarr in the second case) standing in mid-air, although sometimes the standard, full model is used, sitting on an invisible chair. They are located in a distant, inaccessible, out-of-map room. This system was addressed by Doug Wood in the developer commentary of Episode One, in which he explains that such scenes aren't pre-rendered video but actually unfold live and are projected onto the monitor screens, through the entity "
point_camera" filming Breen's model in real-time, and the entity "
func_monitor" serving as the screen. Indeed, any player intervention in the inaccessible room through console codes (placing objects, spawning NPCs or leaving bullet holes) will be seen on the monitors. Breen and Kleiner can also be "killed", definitively ending the speech for the remainder of the player's presence in the map. This process is used again in Portal 2, for the video broadcasts of the Aperture Science Announcement System.
According to Marc Laidlaw, the lead writer for the Half-Life 2 series, one thing the developers try to do when they are integrating storytelling and gameplay, something that has become a hallmark of theirs, is to include non-linear bits of narrative - things that action-oriented players don't have to sit through, but that are available to players who want to learn more about the background of the story. Kleiner's broadcasts on the public address monitors are a good example of this method. Apart from the strong visual image of Dr. Kleiner replacing his former boss on the giant screens, his speech conveys a lot of dense information about the state of the world and how things have changed due to the events of Half-Life 2. The location of the first Kleinercast seen by Gordon and Alyx when they leave the City 17 Underground was chosen as one of the few logical places where players can watch it in peace or move on to the next encounter. Laidlaw states that "it's essentially a footnote embedded in the world. Which makes this a footnote on a footnote.".
Breencast seen in the APC garage in the Canals.