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Borealis (cut ship)

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Cut.png The contents of this article have been cut.

The subject matter of this article contains in-development information that was cut from the final version of an official and/or canonical source and appears in no other canonical source. It may also contain incomplete information since not all cut material is publicly known.

This article is about the location cut from Half-Life 2. For the Aperture Science ship, see Borealis (Aperture Science ship). For the cancelled VR game see Borealis (cancelled game).

Borealis infobox.jpg
General information

Combine occupation

  • Icebreaker
  • Research ship
  • Supply ship

20th century as an icebreaker


Damaged by the Combine in c. 202-


Sea of the Arctic regions, northwest of City 17[1] (Mid-game timeline)

Game information

  • nov_bor_001
  • borealis_full
  • borealis_full_untouched
  • demo_arctic
  • d3_borealis_0*
  • d3_tug_01_*
  • e3_meathook
  • e3_shiptest
  • e3_ship
  • devtest[2][3]

The Borealis[1] is an icebreaker that was cut from Half-Life 2.


The Borealis went through many changes during the project's development. Originally unnamed with the generic moniker "ship", it was first called the Hyperborea before being given the title Borealis.[3] It is believed to be one of the earliest levels that Valve created for the game. Work on the ship dates back to May 1999, six months after they published the original Half-Life.[4]

By the time it was cut, the Borealis featured a fully realized and realistically modeled interior, the intended gameplay taking place on the lower four decks and upper three levels of the vessel. The location featured the character Odell, the ship's engineer. Much of the combat on board focused on Combine Soldiers, although Stalkers, Headcrabs, and Zombies are also encountered.[2]

Throughout the evolution of Half-Life 2's storyline, the Borealis is known to occupy two distinct placements in the overall plot. In both iterations, Gordon Freeman would have entered the vessel and, with the help of Odell, made his way to the mini-submarine stored on board which would be used to travel to Kraken Base located under the sea.

Introduction appearance timeline[edit]

In one of the early versions of the storyline dated to 1999,[a] the game was planned to begin with Gordon initially standing on a bed of ice surrounded by a thick fog. The player would hear a ship bell tolling and follow it until discovering the source of the sound, the ice-locked Borealis. The player would then enter the vessel through a hole in the hull.[5][b]

Once on board, the player would meet the ship's engineer, Odell, who was to explain the backstory of the ship. It was used by the resistance to deliver supplies to an ice station and the underwater Kraken Base located in the Arctic regions. Many members of the crew were scientists acting undercover for the resistance while the rest were unaware of their affiliation.

The ship became ice-locked while delivering supplies to Kraken. Enemy warships[c] soon discovered their location and bombarded it with sacktick pods, killing most of the crew. Odell determined that the creatures were vulnerable to cold temperatures, so he shut off the generator to allow the vessel to ice over. He attempted to send a distress call but failed as the radios had been previously disabled by the scientists to prevent anyone from discovering where they were. The player would then work with Odell to eventually escape the Borealis in a mini-submarine down to Kraken Base.[3]

Although there is little supporting evidence, The Final Hours of Half-Life 2 article claims that the ship was headed towards City 17 in the first pass of the game's script.[7]

Mid-game appearance timeline[edit]

The Borealis' placement in this version of the story.

In its last known storyline incarnation which map development dates indicate lasted from 2001 to 2002, the Borealis was a scientific research ship[8] used by the Combine.[6][d] Later in development, it appears Gordon Freeman was to reach the Borealis via tugboat,[2] from which he would board the ship and meet Odell, working with him to pilot it towards the Arctic regions.[1] At some point during the trip, they are attacked by Combine forces, leaving the ship heavily damaged. They make their way through the interior, traversing many sections that are catching fire or already burning, and eventually escape in a mini-submarine to Kraken Base.

It is not certain what the Combine were using the ship for, but it wasn't necessarily for research purposes.[6] The vessel carries Zombies and Headcrabs kept in a freezer area, the corpses of several hung on meat hooks, and some live specimens stored inside shipping containers. One Stalker is found inside a hanging cage in the rear crane room. At the ship's front in a 2002 iteration is a large structure which appears to have pierced through several decks. Held in place by a myriad of chains and pipes, the structure holds a number of tanks which house several (apparently frozen) Alien Assassins or Combine Assassins.[2]


Half-Life 2 leak[edit]

The Borealis can be found in the WC map pack in many forms, including unfinished and partially playable maps with no interconnections, test maps, and demonstration maps created for promotional events which do not reflect the actual state of the level at the time.

The oldest version available in the map pack is "nov_bor_001" by Aaron Barber from January 5, 2001. There are even older versions by Randy Lundeen referenced in the batch files for compiling the maps "hyper" and "hyper_fog", both batch files being dated July 29, 1999. The prefix "d3", a designation that represents the third day of the storyline, was first used on March 27, 2002.[9]

ai_guide1 and devtest[edit]

Odell only appears in two Borealis-related maps. In the map "ai_guide1" (July 2002), a test level for the engine's "tour guide" AI design, Odell leads the player through various areas as he performs a series of scripted sequences.[10] The player begins on a side deck alongside Odell who seems to be unaware that the crew has been killed in an attack. Odell attempts to enter through a locked door and calls for anyone inside, but after receiving no response, he takes out a welding torch to forcefully cut it open.

Inside, they discover a tape recorder in the captain's room with a message left on it. The machine plays a distress call from Kraken Base, although this is likely a placeholder left over from a previous iteration of the storyline.[e] The internal name for the sound entity calls the message the "captain's log". After listening to the recording, Odell wonders out loud what the crew might have been carrying, then suggesting that they head to the submarine and escape. In the next and final area, the two witness a Stalker[f] quickly race by, startling Odell.

Odell is present in another test map called "devtest" (October 7, 2002) where he is found in a Level 2 hallway. He simply walks up a ladder to the room on the Main Deck. The script and the intended dialog, which doesn't play, for this encounter appears to have been copied directly from the previous "ai_guide1" map, thus they don't fit the scene in question.

demo_arctic and coastline[edit]

The Borealis can be seen in an Arctic-themed map called "demo_arctic" which was last edited on September 9, 2001. The ship is shown to be fully ice-locked near a small encampment composed of prefabricated buildings and hangars. A cave that houses a small cabin is also close by. The ship emits a warning bell sound from its bow, but it cannot be climbed into as it has no interior. The camp may related to the ice station mentioned in the earliest timeline by Odell.

According to Marc Laidlaw, the map was created as a concept test for building this type of Arctic environment. It did not have any gameplay associated with it. While the level appears similar to the description of the game’s starting point from the original timeline, Laidlaw denied this theory.[11]

The Borealis, along with other partially sunk ships, appears in two prototype maps called "coastline_map01" and "coastline prison", both last edited in July 2003. These levels show an overview of Gordon's journey along the Coast on the highway. The Borealis is placed past Lighthouse Point near Nova Prospekt. It is unknown if this appearance is related to the story or was simply used as a placeholder.


The Borealis in Episode Two.

The Borealis, along with the rest of the locations in the Arctic regions, is believed to have been cut from the game in late 2002. The last edited Borealis-related maps are from August of that year.[2][g] Some of its prop models can still be found in the final game, such as the floating blue barrel and one of the ship's doors, the latter becoming featured as the entrance to the Vortigaunt Camp. Certain props originally kept in the "props_borealis" folder were moved to generic prop folders, such as the various pipe models and the meat hook from the freezer, though the latter was remade. Odell's face was recycled for Odessa Cubbage. In Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the vessel was brought back for an unrelated role in the storyline as an Aperture Science ship.

Behind the scenes[edit]

The creation and successive iterations of the Borealis maps are attributed to Randy Lundeen, Aaron Barber, and Dario Casali with the assistance of Marc Laidlaw and John Guthrie, the latter of which worked mostly on the test and demonstration variants.[2] Josh Weier implemented the Fire Extinguisher mechanics that were included in the maps.[12]

The Borealis was based on the Polar Star, a real world icebreaker owned by the United States Coast Guard.[6] During the development of Half-Life 2, Valve had traveled to Seattle's docks to do research and found that the ship's crew members happened to be fans of the original Half-Life. They allowed the developers to enter and take photographic reference material.[13][14] Pictures of the trench art made by the members of the ship's various aviation detachment units (AVDET) were used as wall textures in the game.


In 2002, the development team created a set of demonstration maps which included the Borealis to present segments of Half-Life 2 for upcoming promotional events. When Gabe Newell was shown the footage, he decided it wasn't good enough to exhibit publicly, so the team decided the game would not appear at that year's E3 event.[15] While the game would eventually appear the following year at E3 2003, the Borealis still did not receive a public demonstration. However, the ship was shown in private meetings at the time to display the engine's particle effects[16] and water technology.[17]

Some of these maps can be found in the WC map pack. They are very detailed and include several unique additions such as dead Borealis workers, who don't appear in any other version of the ship, and extra props to show off the engine's physics. These demonstrations feature a Combine Gunship, an encounter not present in any of the main development versions of the maps.

Team Fortress 2[edit]

In 1999, Valve released two screenshots of Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms, an unpublished early incarnation of the game, to showcase the detail possible in their character models using Intel's multi-resolution mesh technology.[18] These screenshots show the characters in what appears to be the interior of an early version of the Borealis, as confirmed by Marc Laidlaw.[19]


The map "d3_tug_01_011" (June 20, 2002) would serve as an entrance to the ship in the second timeline. It is believed that the player would get on board through a starboard side deck from the tugboat, hence the name of the map. The submarine used to escape only appears within the ship itself in the map "d3_borealis_01", dated March 27, 2002, located in the Level 3 Hangar. It is possible that the player was to use the ship's crane to lift the submarine out of this hangar room and place it into the sea.

Although the Flare Gun does not appear in any of the leaked maps, there are pyrotechnic lockers found in various areas of the ship. It is possible that the player was to acquire the weapon and ammunition from these lockers. The player was to use the Fire Extinguisher to put out spreading fires and use special chargers found around the ship to replenish it.

Several cardboard boxes with the company name "Arbeit Laboratories" ("Arbeit" meaning "work" in German) can be found in the storage areas of the Borealis. According to Marc Laidlaw, this was just a temporary texture from an artist, the name bearing no storyline significance.[20] These boxes are also present in early versions of City 17's Terminal.[2]

Easter eggs[edit]

Although it does not appear in any of the maps, a photo of a puppy in a picture frame can be found in the props folder for the ship. The dog in the photo, named Moosh, belongs to Valve artist Dhabih Eng and was three weeks old when it was taken.[21] Another notable unused prop is a map in a tube. The label on it reads "Travis is cool", which is most likely a nod to Travis Brady, another artist who worked at the company at the time.


The name Borealis comes from "Boreas", a wind god in the Greek mythology. "Borealis" is related to the term "aurora borealis", the northern polar lights only visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Hyperborea, the early name for the ship, was the name of the land of the Hyperboreans, a mythical people who lived far to the north of Thrace where it was said they lived in paradise. "Hyperborea" means "beyond the Boreas", thus beyond the land of the wind god Boreas.



Half-Life 2 leak[edit]










Skyboxes and environment maps[edit]


List of appearances[edit]

Main games[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. The ship was still called the "Hyperborea" during this storyline era, and no references are made to that name in the following years as the "Borealis" name took over and account for the ship's subsequent mid-game storyline placement.
  2. The Half-Life 2 leak includes a "liblist.gam" file, a data file used by GoldSrc-era games to load various engine settings. It defines the map "Hyper_001" as the starting point of the game, affirming the earliest known storyline that began on the Borealis, then known as the Hyperborea.
  3. At this point in the game's development, the game's antagonist force, which ultimately became the Combine, had yet to be fleshed out or even named.[6]
  4. The map d3_borealis_01_017.vmf includes several Combine machinery props built into the ship, the models of which are specifically located in the folder "models/props_borealis/".
  5. In the distress call audio file, the person on the line states the base is in critical condition thinking the ship was going to send someone down to help, unaware of the ship's situation. The file is found in a folder for Hyperborea sounds from May of 1999. It is unknown where it was to be used on the ship.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Stalker's entity name in this sequence is "breeder", suggesting it's actually a placeholder for an Alien Assassin.
  7. While some Borealis-related maps in Aaron Barber's folder are indicated to have last been edited on December 12, 2002, this file modification date does not reflect actual map development.
  8. In one incarnation of the ship, the freezer includes a metal container with a frozen Zombie inside it. This container blocks the ground hatch entrance of the room.[22] The frozen Zombie uses a unique model, Frozen_zombie.mdl, not present in the leak.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 The tugboat that would take the player to the Borealis is not present in any related map. The following variants were taken from various Wasteland maps found in the WC map pack. These tugs are combinations of brushes and several modular models found in the Borealis props folder.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, page 177
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 WC map pack
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Half-Life 2 leak
  4. In Half-Life 2 leak, the sound files in the folder "ambient/hyper" are dated May 1999.
  5. Half-Life 2 Cut Content on Facepunch (April 17, 2016) (archived)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Marc Laidlaw on the Borealis (February 4, 2017)
  7. The Final Hours of Half-Life 2 on GameSpot
  8. Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, page 128
  9. WC map pack (d3_borealis_01) (March 27, 2002)
  10. Info received from Valve on ValveTime (January 24, 2009)
  11. Marc Laidlaw on the Arctic base (February 9, 2017)
  12. WC map pack (jweier/firespread) (August 8, 2002)
  13. Half-Life 2 preview on IGN (May 8, 2003)
  14. Half-Life 2 preview on GameSpy (May 8, 2003) (archived)
  15. The Final Hours of Half-Life 2
  16. Half-Life 2 preview on Computer and Video Games (May 28, 2003) (archived)
  17. Half-Life 2 preview on Shacknews (2003) (archived)
  18. Team Fortress 2 official website (archived)
  19. Marc Laidlaw on the Borealis maps being used in Team Fortress 2 (November 14, 2014)
  20. Marc Laidlaw on Arbeit Laboratories (March 2011)
  21. Dhabih Eng's post on Facebook (April 24, 2009)
  22. WC map pack (d3_borealis_07) (May 29, 2002)

External links[edit]