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After the Seven Hour War
During the uprising
- "She pointed out a mounded shape, just visible through the enveloping smog; it looked like the shell of a vast slumber beetle; a streamlined mountain of corroded metal. From the density of the fumes, the stink of the air and the burning in his eyes, he suspected he had arrived at what Eli had called, "The Air Conditioner"."
- ― Alyx vignette[src]
The Air Exchange, also known as the Air Conditioner, AirEx or the Combine's atmospheric reprocessor, is a location and chapter cut from Half-Life 2. It was to be set after the Depot, at the end of the Wasteland / Coast chapters, and before the Borealis, as the penultimate location of the third day. Prototyped and having all its maps made, it was never finalized in order to let the team concentrate on areas more fruitful for gameplay.
Similar on the surface to common Earth factories, it was to be a Combine facility guarded by Combine Soldiers and Stalkers that went cycles during the chapter's development. The Air Exchange had two debatable story changes during its development. One of them and the most known story draft is that the facility was supposed to replace the air with noxious, murky gases, with its main reactor powered by an unknown blue energy source, probably the storyline predecessor of the Dark Energy reactor. The transported air was designed to pollute the surrounding region breathable for Advisors but in the cost of making the air highly toxic for human life which made most of the City 17 inhabitants to wear gas masks. And the other prototype of the story draft for the Air Exchange is that the was meant to suck the earth's atmosphere through a portal to operate dimensional turbines to generate power for other dimensions, which could possibly explain the unknown blue energy being present in the facility's main reactor. As leader of the Conscripts, Captain Vance was to play a compromised and dangerous role protecting the facility (
airex_03040506 also features several visgroups named after Vance and a command center). Trucks of unknown use were to be found in the facility, along with refineries.
Early versions of the Air Exchange seemed to be much more focused on solving various puzzles with the facility's air mechanisms such as the vents. The map
airex_rough puzzles, apparently the first Air Exchange map created, contains several visgroups with various puzzle concepts, mostly revolving around using air jets to push the player to inaccessible places.
In this chapter, early concepts have Gordon Freeman arriving by train and crashing into a small depot located before the Air Exchange. There he was to meet Alyx and her pet alien Skitch. The three main characters would embark their journey towards the facility before being ambushed and assumed captured by a squad of Combine Elites.
While Vance and his Conscripts were to launch an attack on the Weather Control, three chapters after the AirEx chapter, it is likely that attack was to take place at the middle of the chapter, do to several visgroups named after Vance and a command center in
airex_03040506. Eli Maxwell was also to mention the AirEx existence to Gordon during his slideshow.
Inside the facility, Gordon was to reach the top of the industrial tower where there was located what seemed to be a control room and then jump into a pool of industrial solvents at its base. Then he was to go inside the main reactor of the facility, protected and operated by Stalkers, and sabotage its core (its design is almost identical to the Lambda Core from Half-Life), making the Air Exchange completely nonoperational and triggering the human uprising in City 17. Then, Gordon was to reach the shore, then the Arctic regions, and eventually reach the Borealis.
- The AirEx is a part of the storyline set between the Depot and the City 17 street wars that was completely cut, the game's timespan having been reduced to three days instead of the original four. However, some elements were recycled: destroying an important facility to trigger the uprising was merged with the Depot/Nova Prospekt levels in the final game.
- The AirEx was last worked on in February 2002; the last AirEx map to be modified,
temp3(an overview of the AirEx, with a different design of the reactor's exhaust), was last modified on that date.
- It is uncertain whether or not the AirEx exists in the final storyline of the game, but as there are no in-game references to it, it is quite likely that it does not. This is especially true as its effects were to force the remaining human population to wear gas masks apparently at all times, as seen in other related early concepts. The fact that no humans are witnessed wearing said masks means that the idea was almost definitely removed completely.
Razor Train running through the Wasteland near the Air Exchange (reused in the skybox).
Skybox and environment maps
Part of the map
airex_start, reused in concept art.
Fixed AirEx Truck.
Combine Soldiers near the Air Exchange reactor.
Tunnel conducting unknown energy near the Air Exchange reactor.
Ditto, with an unfinished model of the AirEx Truck parked on the highway.
List of appearances
- Air Exchange mod - complete chapter on the Half-Life Project Beta website (does not contain everything; requires the leak)