- "Run. Think. Shoot. Live."
- ―Half-Life tagline
Half-Life is a science fiction first-person shooter played from the perspective of scientist Gordon Freeman. Designed for Microsoft Windows by Valve Software, the game uses a heavily modified version of the Quake engine, called GoldSrc.
In Half-Life, players assume the role of the protagonist, Dr. Gordon Freeman, a recent MIT graduate in theoretical physics, and also a recent employee at Black Mesa. After an experiment that goes horribly awry when an unexpected Resonance Cascade (an apparently completely fictitious occurrence) rips dimensional seams that devastate the facility, Gordon must fight to escape the now alien-infested facility as creatures from another world — known as Xen — subsequently enter through these dimensional seams.
The game is set during May 200- in a remote area of New Mexico, USA at the Black Mesa Research Facility; a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51.
As Freeman tries to make his way out of the ruined facility to find help for the injured, he soon discovers he is caught between two sides: the hostile aliens, and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a military force dispatched to cover up the incident — including eliminating Freeman and the rest of the Black Mesa Science Team. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known as the the G-Man regularly appears, apparently monitoring Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Gordon uses the cooperation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way to the mysterious Lambda Complex, where a team of scientists teleport him to the alien world Xen, where he must destroy the Nihilanth, the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.
Half-Life's plot was originally inspired by the computer games Doom and Quake (both produced by id Software), Stephen King's novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland". Valve’s in-house writer and author, Marc Laidlaw, who wrote the books Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandela, later developed and expanded the plot. However, the most distinctive aspect of the game is not the plot itself, but rather the way it is presented to the player.
The game tells the story by flowing into scripted sequences that are integrated as part of the game rather than as cutscene intermissions. These sequences range from the introduction of major plot points such as the Resonance Cascade to bringing the player into a particularly difficult part of a level. Two of the intended results of this style of presentation were to increase immersion and to maintain a contiguous narrative that keeps the player's interest throughout. This differed from games at the time, making Half-Life distinct, as well as defining conventions that would last for years to come.
Valve implemented other factors to heighten the feeling of immersion, such as preventing the player from seeing or hearing their own character, who remains a silent protagonist throughout the game, and ensuring that the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, even during monologues. This constant experience of the game allowed players to totally fulfill and customize, almost, the role of Gordon, whilst letting them know who they were playing as. The scripted sequences maintain flow by keeping the player immersed in the game, whereas cutscenes in other contemporary games had often been a diversion from previous segments of gameplay. The levels for Half-Life were also divided into small sections to minimize long interruptions from loading.
There are fourteen weapons available to players in both single-player and multiplayer games. Many reviews of Half-Life mentioned the impressive functionality and "usefulness" of all the weapons designed. Each weapon's damage profile is distinct, none feeling superfluous or excessively powerful; each has a specific advantage in the appropriate situation. The weapons are:
Early promotional poster, with a Lambda logo
in a baby's eye.
Half-Life was the first product for Kirkland, Washington-based developer Valve Software, 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, and licensed the Quake engine from id Software. Valve eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support; a developer later stated that seventy percent of the engine code was rewritten. At first Valve had difficulties finding a publisher, 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 in an interview 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 lambda, which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation.
The first public appearances of Half-Life came in early 1997; it was a hit at the 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, story, and level design. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in November 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision.
In a 2001 "Making of..." (Issue 105) feature in Edge, Newell discussed 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" at the expo. The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.
The game had its first major public appearance at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo, where it was widely acclaimed.
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 first-person shooters for years to come, and it has since been regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. As of November 2008, Half-Life has sold 9.3 million copies. As of July 14, 2006, the Half-Life franchise has sold over 20 million units. According to GameSpy, Half-Life is the most played online PC game (excluding MMORPGs), ahead of Half-Life 2. In celebration of the game's 10th anniversary, Valve lowered the price of Half-Life from $9.99 USD to $0.98 on November 19, 2008 for three days.
The game was shipped with a free-for-all type of deathmatch. This was seen again is Opposing Force with the Capture-the-Flag mode. It was received very well by fans and has spawned countless mods and maps. It is much more faced paced than the campaign. It still has a large amount of players today.
 Macintosh version
Though more or less complete and ready for mass production, the Macintosh port of Half-Life was scrapped because of incompatibility with the PC version's multiplayer mode. Additionally, concerns over the task load associated with providing technical support on more than one platform at once may have contributed to its demise. A full port with complete multiplayer was eventually released on January 25, 2013 on Steam, one day after the Linux port was released.
 Dreamcast version
Gearbox Software was slated to release a port to the Sega 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 attended to show it off and give interviews to the press. However, despite only being weeks from going gold, it was never commercially released; Sierra announced that Half-Life on Dreamcast was canceled "due to changing market conditions" (presumably the first-party abandonment of the failing Dreamcast).
 PlayStation 2 version
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. Also added in was a head-to-head play and a co-op expansion called Half-Life: Decay that allowed players to play as the two female scientists Gina Cross and Colette Green at Black Mesa.
A version for Linux was released on January 24, 2013, making it the first time Linux users are able to play the game officially through Steam without third party software (ex:PlayonLinux). Both the Linux version and the Mac version (which was released the day after) were never officially announced, until Febuary 14, 2013 when the Steam Linux sale had started, was when both versions were announced.
To experience first-hand 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 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 an improved dynamic lightmap, vertex map, and shadowmap system with cleaner, higher resolution and specular texture and normal maps. They also utilized the use of the render-to-texture soft shadows found in Half-Life 2’s Source engine, along with polygonal 3D skybox replacements in place of the old 16-bit color prerendered bitmap skies. Also redesigned was the Crossbow that will pin its targets to a nearby wall (if they're close enough). The Source engine itself, however, is not perfect. Certain control issues are generally regarded as being a problem, such as ladder bounce (where disconnecting from a ladder gives a sideways vector boost, which can be highly undesirable when trying to move near a ladder on a platform over a fall), fall push (where moving off a platform into a fall gives a sideways vector boost), and jumping from platforms (where the graphics engine tends to lead the player to think a jump can be made later than it actually can). Naturally, the Half-Life port possesses the Source engine's control weaknesses as well as its graphical strengths. Half-Life: Source is available with special editions of Half-Life 2 and on Steam. This port has been criticized, however, for not utilizing many of the features of the Source engine found in Half-Life 2, as it still used textures and models from the original game. Due to this, a third-party remake called Black Mesa was under development, and was released as a free mod on September 14, 2012, and later as a Steam game on May 5, 2015.
On June 10, 2005, Valve announced through their Steam update news service an upcoming port of Half-Life Deathmatch: Source, 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 May 1, 2006, Half-Life Deathmatch: Source was released.
On September 12, 2013, Half-Life Source and Half-Life Deathmatch: Source were ported to Mac OS X and Linux.
Two expansion packs made by the developer Gearbox Software have been released for the PC version: Half-Life: Opposing Force (1999) and Half-Life: Blue Shift (2001). Opposing Force returns the player to Black Mesa during the events of Half-Life’s storyline, but this time from the perspective of the U.S. Marines sent to cover up the incident. It introduced several new weapons (most notably the M249 SAW LMG and a Barnacle grappling gun), new non-player characters, both friendly and hostile (Otis Laurey the security guard and the Race X aliens, respectively) and new, previously unseen areas of the facility. The expansion is much shorter than Half-Life, having eleven chapters to the original's nineteen.
Blue Shift returns the player to Half-Life's storyline once more, this time as one of the facility's security guards. Originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version, Blue Shift came with an optional High Definition Pack that could update the look of Half-Life, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. In particular, the models' polygon count and texture resolutions were increased, and some changes were made to the in-game sounds, most notably the Shotgun. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few models (jacket-less scientists and security guards, Otis, and Dr. Rosenberg), all content was already present in the original 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 co-operative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles and fight alongside against the many foes in Black Mesa.
In 2000, a pack titled the Half-Life: Platinum Collection was released, with these games included:
In 2002, the pack was re-released with Half-Life: Blue Shift included.
Today it is known on Steam as the Half-Life 1 Anthology without Counter-Strike.
The Game of the Year edition of Half-Life came packaged with 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 several years after the Black Mesa incident in the dystopian City 17, where he must fight as part of a rebellion against an oppressive alien regime. After a series of controversies and delays, Half-Life 2 was released on November 16, 2004.
Half-Life 2: Episode One continues the story plot, along with Half-Life 2: Episode Two which was released in October 2007. No date has been set for the release of the final episode, which will end the Half-Life 2 story arc.
After 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 materialized. 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 18.104.22.168 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.
Half-Life's code has been released and is being used as a base for many multiplayer mods such as the immensely popular Counter-Strike. Other popular multiplayer mods include Team Fortress Classic, Day of Defeat, Deathmatch Classic, Action Half-Life, Firearms, and Natural Selection. Team Fortress Classic and Deathmatch Classic were both developed in-house at Valve Software. Some mods, such as Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat, 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 film Underworld.
Numerous single-player mods have also been created, such as USS Darkstar (1999, a futuristic action-adventure on board 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: Redemption (1999, 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), Poke 646 (2002, a follow-up to the original Half-Life story with improved graphics), and Xen-Warrior (2002-2004, based on Half-Life: Chronicles, the player controls an Alien Grunt, similar to Point of View in which players take on the role of a Vortigaunt and Half Life: Zombie Edition, where the player plays as a Headcrab).
Some Half-Life modifications eventually landed on retail shelves. Counter-Strike was the most successful, unexpectedly becoming the biggest selling online game to date and having been released in five different editions: as a standalone product (2000), as part of the Platinum Collection (2000), Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004), and the newest addition, Counter-Strike: Source, which runs on Half-Life 2's Source engine. Team Fortress Classic has had a visual upgrade to the Source engine, becoming the stylized Team Fortress 2. Day of Defeat also received the Source treatment becoming Day of Defeat: Source. Gunman Chronicles (2000), a futuristic Western movie-style total conversion with emphasis on its single-player mode) was also released as a stand-alone product.
Half-Life's soundtrack consists of specially composed tracks by Kelly Bailey, who also composed much of the music for the rest of the series. He was also responsible for the game's in-game sounds.
- Director Quentin Tarantino (who is said to be a Half-Life fan) has reportedly considered the possibility of directing a movie adaptation. Valve has stated however that they have had no contact with Quentin Tarantino or any of "his people". Valve went on to comment that, "We've had many conversations with folks in Hollywood, but have no commitments for a HL movie at this time." Also, many Hollywood scripts for a Half-Life movie have been sent to Valve, but turned away, as Valve said they all "sucked".
- The Half-Life series draws some inspiration from various adaptations of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds; the Vortigaunts who appear throughout the series are almost identical to the Mor-Tax aliens from the War of the Worlds TV series.
- Half-Life, as well as its three expansions, are named after scientific terms. "Half-life" refers to radioactive decay.
- When Gordon puts on his hazard suit in the first level, there are two empty hazard suit slots. According to Decay developer Gearbox's CEO Randy Pitchford these belonged to (or were used by) Decay protagonists Gina Cross and Colette Green.
- Due to censorship, in the German version of Half-Life, the HECU grunts have been replaced with Robot Grunts, the Robot Grunt blood is now changed to oil, and there are machine part gibs for the Grunts. In addition, blood and other violent parts have been removed, and Scientists and Security Guards now sit down and shake their heads, rather than dying.
First page print ad for Half-Life, slated to appear in the April CGW and PC Gamer.
The two-page fold out revealed when opened.
Early main menu background used at E3 1998.
Original main menu, used before Steam.
Main menu, used during Steam beta test.
Current version of the main menu.
Destruction reigns, moments after the catastrophic resonance cascade.
Unforeseen consequences: aliens start entering the facility.
The scientists are still in shock after the explosion.
More aliens get in, forcing Gordon to take to the maintenance areas.
Scared scientists try and keep hidden.
The aliens just keep getting bigger.
Glowing vats of radioactive waste.
Security measures start trying to kill the wrong people.
Precarious leaps and narrow ledges are all that's between Gordon and death.
What have those scientists been doing in secret?
A descent into new, mysterious territory.
The hidden Lambda Complex, where Gordon finally enters Xen.
Strange alien worlds that float by some unknown means.
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 External links
 E3 1998