Half-Life is a game developed in the late 1990s by Valve Software, a development team whose members include ex-Microsoft employees as well as Doom level-scene veterans. The game uses the original Quake engine, with the addition of coloured lighting, some simple reflection and translucency effects, and a heavily rewritten software renderer (which allows the game to be run at a playable framerate on pretty much any modern PC).

The sound engine is also greatly enhanced, and includes excellent and convincing positional audio and doppler effects. They most immediately apparent enhancements however are the convincing enemy AI and the liberal sprinkling of in-engine scripted sequences which are triggered as you enter new areas. The Doom mindset is apparent as well, with the first few areas of the game having a resolutely single-storey layout. There are a wide range of realistic weapons, and the by now de rigeur rock-solid networking code.

All these great features brought together in one place led to Half-Life having possibly the most active and ambitious mod community of any FPS. Mods such as Team Fortress and Counter-Strike totally reinvent the game for net play, and more recently the mod Gunman Chronicles has been expanded into a fully-fledged commercial game.

In the single player game, you play Gordon Freeman, a research scientist working in a secret government lab with strange alien materials. Very early on, disaster strikes and you have to fend off alien attackers and the US military. The plot, as it is, was raved about at the games release, but is in fact fairly humdrum, rigidly linear and doesn't make a huge amount of sense. No matter though, as it serves its purpose admirably.

HL is one of the best games of the 1990s, and reinvented the stagnating FPS genre. By combining great technology with professionalism and the good points of console and PC action games, Valve created a benchmark title.


/msg fondue But surely Half-Life used the Quake 2 engine...

As I'm tired of answering this, here is the answer as listed on the unofficial Half-Life FAQ (http://www.netdoor.com/half-life/downloads/HLFAQ.html#2.1.10)
Valve originally licensed the source for Quake from id Software and they began working on that code around October of 1996. Between that time and the time they finished Half-Life in October of 1998, they modified/removed/created something like 70% of the code.
Note: That's the Quake 1 source/engine. Nearly all the new modelling, animation, lighting and sound (and what-have-you) subsystems, in software and hardware rendering modes, were done by Valve. Purists would take this to mean that you can license an engine to get a good game, but you must build upon it to make a great one.

The constant time period required for the disintegration of half of the atoms in a sample of some specific radioactive substance. The half-life of cobalt-60, for example, is 5.3 years. Thus, after that interval of time, a sample originally containing 8 grams of cobalt-60 would contain only 4 grams of cobalt-60 and would emit only half as much radiation. After another interval of 5.3 years, the sample would contain only 2 grams of cobalt-60. Neither the volume nor the mass of the original sample visibly decreases, however, because the unstable cobalt-60 nuclei decay into stable nickel-60 nuclei, which remain with the still-undecayed cobalt-60. This term also applies to the decay of excited atoms by the emission of light

Symbol: T½
See also: radioactivity, alpha decay, beta decay, gamma decay, mean life

Aside from being the amount of time it takes a radioactive sample to transmute, it should also be noted that in quantum physics there are special rules for half-lives of singular atomic samples. After the given half-life, there is a 50% chance that the atomic sample has decayed completely, but there is no way to tell until the sample is checked. Until then, it is assumed that the atom is superposed, or rather in between existence and decay. If one were to hook up a device witch detects radiation emissions to some cyanide and thow the whole mess in a box with a cat, one could get something very interesting.

Half-life also refers to semi-sentient beings. This is something which acts independently, responds to stimuli and consumes nutrients, but does not act with thought as a Human or an animal might. Most insects live out half-lifes, as do the less intelligent animals (such as small fish). The sierra game Half-life is appropriately titled because the creatures which you combat live out Half-lifes.

You can use the following relationship to go between an element's decay constant, λ, and it's half-life:

T½ = ln2 / λ

The decay constant, λ, is the average number of decays per unit time. If λ is per second then T½ will also be in seconds.

λ doesn't have to be an integer - for example, λ=0.5 would mean that there is an even chance of a decay occuring within the next second.

Name: Half-life Format: PC CD-ROM Developer: Valve Software Publisher: Sierra (now Vivendi) Year: 1998 ELSPA rating: 15+

The seminal FPS developed for the PC by Valve Software, and published in Britain in November 1998.

The game, a sci-fi horror game, surpassed all games that had gone before it, and is still widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best First Person Shooter ever made.

The game was released on one CD, and has been available now by itself in both a cardboard box and a DVD case, (both with similar orange artwork incorporating the lambda symbol), as a "Game of the Year" edition (the artwork was the same, but overlaid with a picture of Gordon Freeman in his Hazard Suit, carrying a shotgun) and now as part of the Half-life Generation compilation pack, which has artwork of a similar design, but using black as the main colour.

It was given over 50 Game of the Year awards by magazines and web based publications, and the British Publication PC Gamer awarded it the title of "Best Game Ever". The same publication put Half-Life at #1 in their list of the top 100 games ever for the second year running, in their September 2001 issue.

In the game players take control of a scientist, named Gordon Freeman. He is employed at the top secret "Black Mesa" complex, researching anomalous materials. After a confidential experiment on an unknown material goes wrong, all hell breaks loose in the Black Mesa complex. Aliens teleport in and proceed to kill most of Gordon's comrades, and generally destroy the complex.

This leaves Gordon restricted to using unorthodox method of getting around - eg. lift is broken = climb inside the lift shaft and use ladder. This style of gameplay was something that FPS gamers had rarely if ever seen before and so Half-Life was a huge success. In Britain, Half-Life is the second best selling PC title ever, behind The Sims. Half-Life, including Half-Life Generation; a pack which features the original game and it's two commercial add-on packs, Half-Life: Opposing Force and Half-Life Blue Shift; has sold approximately 470 000 copies in the UK alone, (data accurate to around July 2002).

Reasons for Half-Life's success

  • Half-Life ran on a comprehensive engine based on the Quake code from Id Software which was easy to use, and once the mod community got hold of it, there was no stopping them. There has been an endless stream of mods of various levels of quality, with perhaps the most notable and fmous being Counterstrike which continued the internet multiplayer revolution that Quake and more specifically Quakeworld had started. Some mods like Counter strike provided a multiplayer world to fight in, and some provided more user made levels for Half-Life, with perhaps new weapons, or a different theme. Both these kinds of mods have given professional style output, with Gunman Chronicles from Rewolf being an amateur mod which went commercial after Valve decided they liked it. Other examples of mods include They Hunger 1-3 by Neil Manke (single player), Deathmatch Classic / DMC (multiplayer) and Team Fortress Classic (multiplayer) by Valve themselves, and Poke 646 (single player).
  • Innovative and amusing weapons. Half-Life featured FPS staple weapons such as pistol, machine gun, rocket launcher, shotgun, grenades, but then wowed players with some of the most original guns seen so far. An alien's hand which shot out homing bees (named the hornetgun) was amusing, but the true alien weapon classic were the snarks. These were little alien walking/scuttling bombs which once picked up could be thrown out into the world to wreak havoc. They could be used to distract soldiers while you shot them, but the a more amusing game involved throwing snarks into an empty room (at which point they realised there was no enemy and turned to run at Gordon). The thrill of avoiding death at the hands of a room full of snarks was excellent. Other weapons of note include the satchel charges, laser trip mines and the sniper's favourite, the crossbow.
  • The enemies. The variety of enemies were not just something you gazed at, in the split second before you wasted them, because usually they ran away, took cover, got their mates to lay down support fire, and killed you before you got the chance. The days of strolling into a room and shooting enemies one by one were over - and nowhere was this more aptly illustrated than when you fought the assassins. The twisting plot of the game basically has the government send in the marines and black ops teams to clear up the Black Mesa mess, but the twist is that they have also been ordered to silence all personnel, because an illegal experiment has been carried out. If they got free and managed to tell anyone, then the government would be in trouble. Naturally, twisted government logic dictates that all Black Mesa personnel must die. Fighting the marines is fun, but ultimately easy(ish). But when the player meets the Black Clad assassins, who hear every sound the player makes, can jump over 4 metre high crates, and are almost invisible when stationary, they quickly realise they are in for the fight of their lives. Another amusing aspect of fighting was that occasionally you met a group of aliens and a group of marines at the same time - and if you kept hidden, you could stand by and watch them fight, leaving you with very little work to do. The AI of enemies does look a little suspect these days, but at the time nothing came close. The different forms of aliens, from tiny headcrabs (heavily influenced by H.R. Giger's Alien design, to huge blind tentacle beasts who tracked you by sound, all the aliens (and all the characters in the game in general) were excellently modelled and animated.
  • Immersion. As previously mentioned, in Half-Life you see everything from one point of view, and so it is all one seamless transition. Players feel like they are Gordon Freeman, and in this respect Half-Life was unique.

UPDATE!!! Valve have just recently (April 2003) announced Half-Life 2. Details are sketchy, but apparently it will appear at E3 this year, and then Magazines will be allowed to release pictures. I'm gonna have to get a new PC for this one...


There are a ton of Half-Life nodes on E2, and it's time to get organised. Presenting...

The Half-Life metanode

Tadaa etc.

If I've missed any (which is very likely) please msg me and let me know about it.


Thanks to MightyMooQuack for some additions to the metanode, and for telling me about HL2's announcement before I found out any other way.

In order to explain the importance of Half-Life, I'd like to take you back in time to Doom. Witness the formula of Doom: You begin a level. You have a pistol. There are monsters. As you progress through the level you might find more weapons. You might find some locked doors and some keys to open those doors. Eventually, you hope to find the switch at the end of the level. Flip it, and the level ends. Isn't that a nice screen of statistics?

Repeat. Many, many times. As you get farther in the game, the enemies will get larger and more numerous, and your weapons will get bigger, too. This is the entirety of Doom; in fact, it's also the formula used in the earlier Wolfenstein 3D; in fact, it's a formula that goes back to 2D gaming.

Jump forward a few years, to Quake. Now take the formula of Doom and add a much more advanced 3D rendering engine, capable of such amazing feats as polygonal monsters and rooms on top of other rooms. Nothing like it has ever been seen before1. Also add far more advanced Internet multiplayer options. The fact that the basic formula of Doom hasn't changed one iota is barely noticed, let alone questioned.

Jump forward a few years and a few sequels again. Those multiplayer options have turned out to be the driving force in the computer gaming industry, and the existing major FPS series are moving more and more in the direction of focusing on the multiplayer content exclusive of all else. By estimation of most at this time, certain new multiplayer-only titles would become the meterstick by which all other games would be measured.

Then Half-Life came out and dominated the market. Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament were successful, but they would never hold the top spot.

It did so by offering a single-player campaign that told a coherent story. When you start the game, you're not thrust into some moon-base with a pistol in hand, evil demons lurking around the corner; no! You are on your way to work. You pass your co-workers, a security guard offers to buy you a beer, and you go about your day. Only then does hell break loose, and even then you still have an objective (get to the surface, get to the Lambda Complex, etc). Scripted sequences helped, too: never is the player removed from Gordon's head, and only once (with excellent reasons) is control removed from the player's hands. Perhaps the biggest thing Half-Life did was to introduce very nearly seamless level transitions. Gone are the post-level statistic screens of the Doom formula. Instead, Gordon just keeps moving through the Black Mesa complex. And all of this is simply done in the confines of a first-person shooter. There are no subscreens, no inventory, no objectives screen. Just a man with a PhD and a gun.

[I've received some /msgs to the effect of "There are other story-driven FPSes that pre-date Half-Life, like System Shock," so I think this last point bears repeating: Half-Life is just an FPS and nothing else. It has no cutscenes, no text to read, no in-game emails to peruse, and yet it still does everything it does. This was its accomplishment.]

The effect of Half-Life on the first-person shooter has been approximately as big as when movie directors first realised they could move the camera around. Nearly every FPS since Half-Life has adopted some of its features or has attempted to improve on them.

If this weren't enough, Valve went and added support for user-made mods that would be the envy of all the other offerings of the time. Quake's classic mod Team Fortress would see a remake in the Half-Life engine that would quickly supplant the game's mindlessly simple built-in deathmatch mode. Valve would later take TFC into itself, and the game would later be included in a patch. Later, a little user-made mod called Counter-Strike would be the single most popular action game on the Internet for a period of years. (A new version of Counter-Strike would later become Half-Life 2's built-in default multiplayer mode.) The effect of these mods was to prolong the game's popularity until the sequel came out six years later, a timespan utterly unheard of in the gaming world.

As I write these words, Half-Life 2 is fresh on the scene, and the days of Half-Life's glory are something of a memory. Most of the major Half-Life mods have announced plans to move to the Source engine, and the popularity of Half-Life online has waned with the rise of so many newer games. But Valve has every reason to hold on to the top spot. Hail to the king.


1 Note that this is not strictly true: many of Quake's features were seen in previous games (Descent leaps to mind), but no previous FPS had packaged all of its major features into one package as it did, and none had Quake's mod support.

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