You know what I haven’t covered in a while? A game mod. How about a game mod for Half-Life, one of my favorite games of all time? Sounds good.
I’ve always been fascinated by Half-Life‘s mod scene, which had some really creative stuff being made for it. Even to this day people are doing some outstanding work with the that 25-year-old game engine. But let’s jump back to 2005, when Half-Life 2 was new. Let’s talk about Black Ops.
No, not that one.
Not that one either. We talked about that one years ago.
There we go. Third time’s the charm.
BlackOPS (or Black Operations as it’s called in-game) is a Half-Life mod that covers the Black Ops soldiers, the reskins of the HECU soldiers initially introduced in Half-Life: Opposing Force. Released in 2005, BlackOPS was primarily the work of three folks: Stephan “little_otis” Grabenhorst, Volker “Thrillhouse” Schreiner and Daniel “DeeGee” Grabenhorst, who came from the German custom mapping scene.
By this time, Half-Life 2 had been released and the fancy new Source engine was starting to be one of the go-to engines to mess around with. Despite that, GoldSource — the old Half-Life engine — still had some legs in it, so much so that there were still mods being made for the seven-year-old game. Honestly, the Half-Life mod scene post-HL2 is really interesting to me, so let’s check it out.
The mod starts with an exposition of the creation of the Black Operations squad in game, and mentioning the Black Mesa incident that happened in Half-Life. Eventually we’re dropped into the Black Ops HQ as the protagonist, Declan Walker, is briefed upon his mission: Go to Metro City, find Dr. Gallagher, a rogue scientist, and procure a special case he was holding onto. Doing this while fighting off any aliens and soldiers along the way.
Initially armed with only a silenced pistol, Declan fights his way through the apartments of Metro City, fighting mostly headcrabs, zombies, houndeyes and even the Alien Controllers from later on in Half-Life. Declan’s journey eventually takes him to a subway, into the belly of a drug-addled club, through the obligatory sewer, before arriving in Chinatown.
If there’s one thing I need to improve on in my life, it’s to write something in the moment. I’ve bought plenty of games, played a bevy of mods, grabbed other assorted things for potential blog fodder…
Then I do nothing with it. This has happened more often than not, but only because I get the problem of being an ideas person and rarely act upon them. I’ve been slowly improving on this front, at least more than I was years ago.
Which brings me to this post about a game mod. I played this on a whim back in 2018, and thought it was pretty neat. While I’m currently wrapped in a few other things right now, I thought I’d write something quick for this month.
A few years back, I wrote an article praising the wonders of Red Book CD audio. CD audio tracks that would play in certain games, fromPC classics like Half-Life, to even Sega CD games like Sonic CD. Unfortunately, modern technology is not too kind to the concept, as it often struggles to work properly on modern devices. In some cases, digital re-releases of games like Starsiege: Tribes didn’t even come with the CD music, removing part of the ambience.
There have been solutions thanks to source ports and game updates. For instance, playing Half-Life on Steam has all its music files as MP3s, so if the game (or a related mod) calls for that CD track, it’ll play it without needing the CD.
Looks just as good as it did in ’96.
Which brings me to a classic in Red Book audio: Quake. One of the earliest PC games to use it, popping in the CD would fill your ears with weird ambient music by Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails. Modern source ports such as Quakespasm actually support playable CD tracks in MP3/OGG formats, which means one can rip the soundtrack from their copy of Quake – or just find it on the internet, I doubt id and Zenimax care these days – and play it easily, proper looping and all.
There’s a handful of Quake map packs that come with custom soundtracks tailor-made for the level pack, such as Travail. Others outright replace the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack with different ambient tracks, like EpiQuake or Quake Epsilon. But what if I told you someone replaced Nine Inch Nails music with Nine Inch Nails music?
Ha! Now I won’t be burned by hot slag. Take that! (Oh wait, now I can’t get out…)
“Ghosts I-IV for Quake” is an interesting mod. Replacing the original 1996 soundtrack with the entirety of Ghosts I-IV, an album by Nine Inch Nails with nothing but ambient instrumentals seems like a good fit. In a sense, Ghosts I-IV is a spiritual successor to the original Quake soundtrack, even if there’s little similarities in style.
The album itself is interesting: Frustrated by their record label, Trent Reznor severs his contract with Interscope Records and decides to go independent – for a while anyway – and released this under a Creative Commons license. This license is how the mod exists without lawyers getting involved, as it’s a free mod for a commercial video game.
Shooting switches with the power of magic pellets!
There is one other feature of this mod: There’s no monsters or weapons. Now there’s mostly empty levels with switches, lifts and other assorted things, but nothing to shoot. With god mode turned on. In a sense, this changes the perspective of the game entirely. No longer a straight explosive romp, it’s strictly an exploration-based affair.
When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.
So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.
I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I found this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.
This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time in Black Mesa.
“I was in a game modification. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.”
Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.
I remember when this sequence was pretty cool. A shame that nowadays it looks out of sync…
Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?
Well, I figure that making something like bullet time work is a complicated process unless the engine is made for it. Remedy’s engine for the first two Max Payne games – and presumably the engine that Rockstar used for Max Payne 3 – was built to handle slow motion on the fly. The older GoldSource engine that Half-Life uses doesn’t really have such an ability built in but the later Source engine that powers Half-Life 2 does (“host_timescale”). Surprisingly, thanks to Half-Payne’s creator suXin, they somehow found a way to make it work, and it works gloriously.
(Update: After I published this, suXin, the mod creator, responded to me on Twitter by clarifying that the GoldSource engine does have support for slow-motion, it’s just not something that can be accessed normally compared to the Source engine:)
Similar to Counter-Life, Half-Payne gives you the dialogue of Max Payne from the previous games in the series, alongside some of the iconic weapons like the Berettas, the Desert Eagle and the Ingrams, alongside the normal Half-Life weaponry. Painkillers replace medkits, and since Max Payne is just an ordinary guy in a coat and not a scientist in a futuristic suit, all instances of HEV chargers and batteries are gone entirely.
It even says his name! How considerate of them.
Even all the enemies are unchanged from Valve’s classic game, which I can understand. I mean, replacing all the enemies with mafia goons or killer suits from past games would look even more tonally inconsistent than the mod already does. Maybe for a custom campaign, perhaps?
For additional tension, try playing the Black Mesa Minute mode throughout the campaign. It’s quite tough.
It’s got all the essentials of Max Payne: bullet time, some of Max’s iconic arsenal, even lines from the game. But it doesn’t end there. suXin added bonus modes from the Max Payne games, like a Black Mesa Minute mode based on New York Minute from the first game, and a score attack mode like in Max Payne 3. That and the existing game is good enough to make it fun to play through.
I may not have enjoyed VVVVVV, but having a mode based on it is good for a laugh.
But it doesn’t end there. Wanted to play the game more like SUPERHOT where time moves when you move? Wanted to play through the game but only shooting can make Max move? There’s a lot of bonus game modes in the game that while don’t completely fit with the theme of Max Payne or even Half-Life, that they give endless replay value beyond playing through the Half-Life campaign once through.
Surprised the scientists are pretty chill with a gun-wielding maniac helping them out.
They didn’t have to do that, really. Just having Max and bullet time would’ve been nice for me. But going the extra mile like this gives the mod a unique flavor despite being a “what if X was in Y” crossover mod on the surface. Even small touches like letting CD/MP3 music play through level transitions and having Max Payne 3-styled subtitles for everything are nice quality-of-life features that I wish all Half-Life mods had.
Someone should tell that alien to look behind him…
Something I hope they add in the future would be support for Opposing Force, Blue Shift or other notable Half-Life single player campaigns. I mean, they already use the Opposing Force Desert Eagle model, might as well go all the way.
If you wanna check it out, it’s available here. I will stress that this only works on the Steam release of Half-Life.suXin says this version is required, presumably because of updates in the GoldSource engine that are unsupported or missing in pre-Steam releases. I know there’s very few people out there still using the pre-Steam (or “WON”) version of Half-Life these days, but it bears mentioning.
Now I wonder if anyone’s ever done a mod where Gordon Freeman is in Max Payne. Bashing mafiosos with a crowbar would be hilarious to play at least once.
I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.
Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.
On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.
Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.
is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world are we talking about here?
Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.
Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.
The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.
One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.
So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.
In the many years I’ve been writing about games, I try my best to broaden my horizons and check out stuff that’s not as well known, or written about. In some cases I just end up writing about obscure first-person shooters from the ‘90s most people don’t know about. Such as Operation: Body Count.
Gotta say this is a rather dull title screen.
For those unaware, Operation: Body Count was a first-person shooter released in 1994 by Capstone Software. In it, you play as a nameless commando who has to stop the evil Victor Baloch and rescue world leaders. It had a fair share of interesting features like AI buddies you could control to help you complete floors, semi destructible environments, a map of the area to avoid getting lost, and a semi-realistic environment in the days when things looked pretty abstract.
I knew I had to get my hands dirty, but I didn’t think they literally meant it…
The game gives a really bad first impression where Our Hero has to fight the dreaded sewer rats under Baloch’s brainwashing for the first several levels. It also doesn’t help the game looks like… well, this.
This guy couldn’t stop walking into me until I backed up so we could even hit each other.
It looks like a bad Wolfenstein 3D clone, doesn’t it? Well, it uses id’s Wolfenstein 3D engine as a base, which looked pretty cool in 1992-93. Many games ended up using the engine for their games, including Apogee’s Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold and Rise of the Triad.
But then Doom happened. Basically any FPS that still had the 90 degree maze-like look of Wolfenstein looked extremely dated, especially by 1994 standards. Even Capstone’s other big FPS of the time, Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, didn’t fare so well either for the same reasons as Operation: Body Count. I wouldn’t be surprised if many FPS developers were swearing their heads off when the shareware episode of Doom hit in 1993, with its open areas, tall floors, and level geometry that went beyond 90 degrees.
Ah, to think of what could’ve been…
Despite the game’s relative obscurity, a Doom modder by the name of Impie decided to take the fairly maligned DOS game and give it a Doom-style makeover. The result is nothing but amazing. Also called Operation: Body Count, the game is similar to the 1994 Capstone original, but with significant changes that make the gameplay more fun and exciting.
I can’t see this without hearing him go “YOU LOSE!” at every opportunity.
Our Hero now has a name, Hector Juarez. The villain’s still Victor Baloch, but now instead of taking place in a single building, Juarez now must stop Baloch’s evil terrorist activities, killing big bads, and destroying anything in their path.
Sometimes you gotta kill a few big bads to save the day.
Since this is a Doom mod, it still has a lot of Doom’s trappings. Still gotta find keycards, hit switches, and shoot your way through occasional maze-like areas to make it to the goal. It’s still got some of the elements of the original, from the mod’s weapons to the hostiles you fight.