Black Mesa Trailer Teaser

There’s a fan remake of the original Half Life underway, going by the name Black Mesa. The site for the mod is utterly blitzed under the traffic, but here’s the trailer they just put out.

Tell me that doesn’t look pretty sweet, eh?

You may be thinking there was something similar already released. It’s true that the original Half-Life was re-released under the modern Source engine, but aside from a few minor special effects facelifts, the game looks more or less the same, using as it does the same models and textures as the old one.

As you can tell from the trailer, this is a remake from the ground up. The dialog has been re-recorded, clearly. My goodness, the scientists don’t all have the same four heads now! Some of them are women, even!

Look at the attention to detail on the blind tentacle bursting through the test fire room, bending and breaking railings as it goes. That’s the definitive moment of Half Life, recreated beautifully.

The mod is supposed to be out sometime in 2009, and would work for anyone with a regular Source game already installed, like Counter-Strike: Source, Half Life 2 or Team Fortress 2.

Until the site is back up, you might still be able to glean some information out of the forums or this interview at Planet Half-Life.

Left 4 Dead is out, and it’s good.

Left 4 Dead unlocked last night on Steam, and I can safely say that it’s fun times.

A brief summary of the game if you’ve been under a rock: Four people play cooperatively against hundreds of zombies, reenacting a horror movie as they try to make it to the safety of an extraction point.

Players take the roll of one of four horror movie archetypes: Bill, the grizzled veteran; Francis, the tattooed biker; Zoey, the cute girl; and Louis, pulling double duty as both the yuppie and the black guy who dies first. (I don’t know if the AI is rigged for it or what, but it seems like Louis is always the one startling the instant-kill witch zombies or getting sprayed by a boomer or what have you, regardless of who’s playing.)

The AI “director” changes up the placement of the zombies depending on how the game is going, effectively managing the pace of the experience and making each play through of the four scenarios different each time.

I was a little worried when the demo earlier this month didn’t grab me, but the full version seems much more fun, though I’m having trouble putting my finger on why. It seems like the difficulty has been tweaked up a bit, which might account for some of it. The demo was a little on the easy side on advanced mode, while expert mode was a suicide run.

I said it before, but it bears repeating that there’s some impressive animation work in this game. The zombies may be running abominations, but they look great when they dash, leaning into turns and bouncing off walls. Plus, there’s a lot of them at once, a vital component of any zombie experience, not that you’d know from looking at Dead Rising for the Wii. There’s also a particularly impressive “man is the real monster” moment during the Death Toll scenario.

One thing that fell flat for me, however, was the one feature I was most looking forward to. The versus mode where you can play as the zombies isn’t necessarily bad, but all the careful pacing of the co-op campaign goes right out the window in favor of a more deathmatch-y experience. I was looking forward to being the monster that jumps out of the closet, but that’s not really an option. (Seriously, I spawned in a closed closet before remembering that zombies don’t know how to use doorknobs.)

I have to wonder, however, if Valve has priced themselves out of sales on this one. It’s not that the game isn’t worth a full $50 necessarily, it’s that they gave us three games for the same price in the forum of the Orange Box, and each one was every bit as good as Left 4 Dead. They may have raised expectations a wee bit high.


Left 4 Dead: Zombies or something else?

In Left 4 Dead, the monsters are refered to as “infected” and still have blood pumping through their veins, despite the title. It’s an action game first and foremost, and the “dead” are actually speedy screamers. Like most zombie movies, they don’t actually use the “zed-word,” as Shaun of the Dead once put it.

Speaking of Shaun of the Dead, Simon Pegg makes a compelling argument for the slow zombie in The Guardian while discussing Dead Set, which, despite the use of fast zombies, he says is quite good.

More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.

However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them – much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares – the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.

That’s an excellent examination of the zombie, but I don’t think it means the speedier mutation is bereft of potential. The ragezombie, if you’ll permit the use of the term, is an animal. So are human beings, of course, but we don’t like to be reminded of that. The ragezombie is what is lurking in all of us. When we see some atrocity on the local news, we’re repelled and attracted at the same time. We ask how someone could have done such a thing, but deep down, we know. If the zombie is the end of life, the ragezombie is the end of humanity.

Well, just a thought.

The fast “zombies” seem to work pretty well for video games, and even the classic Resident Evil had plenty of agile variants to throw at the player. Still, we may have to come up with a different name for them to satisfy the purists.


The Left 4 Dead demo is out for preorder customers

Well, it’s definitely a Valve product: A potentially great game hidden behind technical glitches and launch problems. At least unlike Team Fortress 2′s debut, I can play this one without my whole computer locking up in ten minutes.

The big problem right now seems to be a lack of dedicated servers to play on. Trying to set up a game on a player’s computer will just get everyone else a lot of lag, stuttering and disconnecting. I’ve managed to play two full rounds, and been dropped or unable to connect from many more. Single player works fine, but that’s not really the point of the game.

So, how’s the game itself? It… seems all right. The demo is really short, so it’s hard to say. It’s got some impressive bits, like the animations and movements of the ragezombies, not to mention the sheer number of them that can come at you at once. Like all co-op, it seems like it’s begging to be played with friends as opposed to Internet strangers.

Until I can actually play the demo more than trying to get it to work, I’ll have to withhold a verdict. With the little bit I’ve tried, I’m not really wowed yet.

One interesting thing is that they’ve gone to a Halo 3-style matchmaking system. You get put in a group, then the group looks for a game. Looks like they’re going to be relying heavily on the Steam friends list to connect people to each other. I wonder how that’s going to go over with PC players.


A Meet the Sandvich retrospective

Since the release of Meet the Sandvich in August, several people have asked us how something we’d boasted would be “our magnum opus,” “over four hours long” and “make Citizen Kane look like something dumb a complete idiot would make,” ended up being one un-dramatic minute spent inside a refrigerator.  

I have a big gay crush on Erik Wolpaw, writer at Valve. With this blog post on the making of the Team Fortress 2 sandvich video, my forbidden love grows ever stronger.

The suits took issue with every brave, authority-questioning page of our Meet the Sandvich script-specifically that there were supposed “similarities” between it and the 1987 action film Predator, and more specifically that it was word for word the 1987 action film Predator.

“Could you explain to us how your script is in any way different from Predator?” asked one of the suits.

“Predator takes place in Guatemala,” Erik Wolpaw explained, using his I’m-explaining-something-idiotic-to-a-child voice. “Meet the Sandvich takes place inside a refrigerator in Guatemala.”

“Where you can hear Predator happening outside of the refrigerator,” clarified Jay Pinkerton.

You may know Erik from his work on such games as Portal and Psychonauts, as well as one half of Old Man Murray. His intro to the 2000 E3 travelouge is still one of the best things on the Internet.

We won’t be getting any Team Fortress 2 updates for a while until Left 4 Dead is all wrapped up, but I’ll take some more of these blog posts in the meantime.