Tagged: modification

Mods and maps: Half-Payne.

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 every time now 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?

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Half-Life Before: A mod that should’ve gotten the red light.

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?

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 thrilling introduction.

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.

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Operation Body Count: A little-known FPS reborn.

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.

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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.

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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.

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This guy couldn’t stop walking into me until I backed up so we could even hit each other. Quality product, right here.

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.

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Ah, 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.

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Goldfinger 64: The Game with the Midas touch.

It’s been a while since I covered a modification, but that’s because I don’t pay a lot of attention to the various mod scenes. It also doesn’t help that lately I haven’t played anything new, and often getting myself into a rut. But did you think that a Nintendo 64 game from 1997, one of the biggest first-person shooters of that era, would have a mod scene?

No, I’m not talking about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – besides, the mod scene is strictly on PC these days – I’m talking about Goldeneye, Rare’s groundbreaking first-person shooter released on the Nintendo 64.

Goldeneye isn’t my most favorite James Bond game – that’s Nightfire, specifically the console version – but I still respect it as a good game that made a huge impact for first-person shooters on home consoles. So I was surprised to see that the game had a modding scene. Definitely not as big as the ROM hacks of Mario or Sonic, or even the thousands of Doom mods; but significant enough to be noticed.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a “separate the wheat from the chaff” problem, as this video proves:

(video credit: The Kins)

Thus I didn’t pay too much attention to the scene, since it seemed to be fairly amateur. But then a friend brought this mod to my attention, and suddenly my interest in Goldeneye modding scene was piqued.

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Not the real film sequence but an incredible simulation!

Enter Goldfinger 64, a total conversion for Goldeneye that covers the story of the 1964 James Bond classic, Goldfinger. Goldfinger isn’t one of my favorite Bond movies either, but I understood that it was the turning point for the film franchise. A little less grounded in reality, with goofy villains, iconic film quotes (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), and a time where you could have a character named “Pussy Galore” and not it be the butt of a terrible joke.

While I’m more a fan of the latter eras of Bond films – partially because I don’t like Sean Connery as a person, regardless of his acting ability – Goldfinger is a goofy romp and a good starter James Bond film for a new fan. So let’s see how this team of modders took the engine of a 1997 game and based it on a 1964 film, shall we?

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Wolfram: A Wolfenstein 3D remake that’s somehow not fun.

id software’s amazing run of first-person shooters in the ‘90s are in some of my top games of all time: Doom, Quake, even Quake III Arena was pretty good in spite of Unreal Tournament’s more fun, absurd nature. But one game I had a fondness for was Wolfenstein 3D.

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Wolfenstein is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies, and strafing around arenas like operatic ballet. What happens when you take most of that away and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that don’t fit? You get Wolfram.

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Already we’re off to a great start with this menu…

I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which introduced me to this game. Being a fan of Wolfenstein and some of its other games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original. The answer is no. Not by a long shot.

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Just like the 1992 original!

Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode of Wolf3D. Levels are the same blocky shapes they were in ‘92, wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, even the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds worse.

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Oh hey, colored lighting! This would’ve been cool in like, 1997.

So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.

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Wolfenstein 3D involves using the doors a lot to funnel enemies and dodge fire. Doors become your best friends here.

Wolfenstein 3D’s combat is fairly simple. Outside of some bosses, all the enemies are hitscan – once the enemy shows a certain frame of animation, the game determines if that was a hit or a miss, and if it hits, it calculates for how much damage you take – As you progress, you learn the better tactics of the game involves ducking inside rooms and strafing back and forth at an opened door to avoid getting hit as much. It’s fairly simple and arcade-like these days, but it worked well in the era when Wolf3D came out.

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Aftershock for Quake: Most terrible pun name ever?

PC gaming in the ’90s was a real wild west affair. When games like Doom took off, everybody started making shovelware compilations of anywhere from hundreds to thousands of levels. Most of them were downloaded off BBSes without crediting people, which is pretty scummy in itself. But if you had no internet connection, this was a way to get levels with ease.

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After a few years of this, publishers like WizardWorks started making their own unofficial expansions for games like Quake, Descent and Warcraft II. While this was an improvement – level designers could actually license their stuff for commercial use – the internet was really starting to bloom in the late ’90s, making these unofficial “expansions” obsolete.

Today, I’m gonna look at one of these unofficial expansions for a little game called Quake

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This looks like something I’d see as a background of some pick up artist’s vlog channel.

Aftershock for Quake is a terrible pun, but one of several expansions made to capitalize on Quake‘s success. Published by Head Games, this featured “advanced levels”, adding three episodes and a bevy of deathmatch maps.

Unlike the official expansions – Scourge of Armagon and Dissolution of Eternity – these have no new monsters, powerups or weapons. These are vanilla Quake levels, designed to run with a registered copy of the original Quake. The episodes are drastically shorter than vanilla Quake, only having five levels for each episode.

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There isn’t much of a story to these maps. Hell, with the exception of episode three, there aren’t any credits to who made this. It’s unfortunate, because I was hoping to find a “before they were stars” moments with this expansion.

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Mods and Maps: Classic Doom for Doom 3. You got original Doom in my Doom 3!

Doom 3 was a pretty cool game for 2004. I replayed it recently since it had been several years and I was initially down on it, but after replaying it, I have some newfound respect for it. While not as groundbreaking as Half-Life 2, it was still a good game. Though it’s hardly a “masterpiece of the art form” as the box quote says.

I even have that PC Gamer issue, they were actually serious with that quote!

I even have that PC Gamer issue, they were actually serious with that quote!

Alas, from what I gathered, the Doom 3 modding community was sparse compared to classic Doom, even compared to its competitors like Half-Life 2. But one particular mod stood out, and it’s not surprising it exists considering id Software’s legacy:

It feels like 1993 and 2004 combined into some freakshow.

It feels like 1993 and 2004 combined into some freakshow.

Classic Doom for Doom 3 was one of those hyped mods in its heyday. Boasting a small team of developers at Flaming Sheep Software, these guys aimed to remake the 1993 classic on a modern engine. Of course, what better way to show off the modding skills of Doom 3‘s engine than with a remake of the original Doom?

So much for doing a UV-Max run...

So much for doing a UV-Max run…

There’s only four difficulty levels in this one, similar to Doom 3‘s skill levels. Alas no Ultra-Violence, but I’ll play on Hey Not Too Rough, the equivalent of “Normal” difficulty.

Surprisingly the development team made an intro to explain why you’re going in. It’s so corny, filled with amateur voice acting and really jerky animation. Basically they give a reason for Doomguy to enter Mars and kill demons, eventually fending for yourself. Granted, the intro can be skipped, but it’s fascinating to put a story on why things went to hell. It’s a sight to behold.

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Then you’re thrusted into E1M1: Hangar, with just a pistol. A remix of At Doom’s Gate starts blasting through your speakers. It’s time to kill some demons!

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Counter-Life: Mixing two of my favorite games together.

If you haven’t noticed, I really like maps and mods. Mainly because I believe in new content being made by creators rather than developers packaged into $15 chunks. But also because people make really good mods.

Some of my favorite mods tend to be ones that only change that gameplay slightly while leaving the original content intact. Stuff like Police Brutality: wildweasel presents Terrorists!, like I mentioned in my Doom mods article a while back. So this time, I cover yet another one of those kind of mods.

So what happens when you take the world of Black Mesa in Half-Life, and throw in the guns from Counter-Strike? You get Counter-Life.

Gordon Freeman is a cold-ass motherfucker.

Gordon Freeman is a cold-ass motherfucker.

I remember this mod in its early days, back when I used to lurk on a Half-Life mod forum. It makes sense that this exists, considering the popularity of both.

“FOR GOD’S SAKE, OPEN THE SILO DOORS! SOME CRAZED MADMAN WITH A MAC-10 WANTS ME DEAD!”

So the story is identical to Half-Life: You play as Gordon Freeman, except instead of an HEV suit, you have a kevlar vest and you get to fight with more realistic weaponry. Basically this is more of a weapons mod than something like They Hunger, which not only had new weapons, but new levels and enemies as well.

The arsenal from Counter-Strike 1.6 is in full force here, from the classic USP, AWP, and Deagle; to the lesser-appreciated TMP and M249. Though there are some new weapons, such as the M4A1 having the M203 grenade launcher like in Half-Life, as well as a rocket launcher that almost resembles a LAW.

This is the weirdest rocket launcher I've ever seen...

This is the weirdest rocket launcher I’ve ever seen…

In addition, some of the weapons have features not in CS, such as the P90 having a zoom in scope, or the Glock 18 actually functioning like its real-life counterpart as a fully-auto pistol and not the weird Glock/Beretta 93R hybrid it’s been since the beginning. So while it’s not a 1-for-1 conversion of CS‘s arsenal, it works. Hell, in older versions, you could have akimbo USPs and Deagles, in addition to the Dual Berettas. Man, those would’ve been fun to use…

Silly Barney, why are you just leaving stacks of cash lying around?

Silly Barney, why are you just leaving stacks of cash everywhere?

So how do you get these guns? Well, in Counter-Strike, you’d go to a buy zone and buy weapons with money you earn. In Counter-Life, killing enemies give you cash that you can go to a Health Unit or an HEV Charge station to buy guns, ammo and other important things like health and armor. There’s also money strewn all over the place, so you’ll likely have plenty of cash to buy what you need. When you get to Xen, the Longjump Module in Half-Life doubles as a mobile buy zone, where you can refill ammo when you need to, but by then you can’t buy new guns, so make sure you got the weapons you want before you jump to the border world.

This probably looks weird to everyone but Gordon, just seeing a floating menu where you could buy stuff.

This probably looks weird to everyone but Gordon, just seeing a floating menu where you could buy stuff.

There is a catch to this weapons system, though: You can only have one of each weapon type. One pistol, one shotgun, one assault rifle, you get the picture. This means like in CS, you have to drop weapons to buy new ones. I’m not a big fan of this, because I believe in having bottomless pockets to hold practically everything. But it’s not a deal-breaker, it just means planning for what weapons to use in the next area. It doesn’t take long to adjust.

The only other gameplay difference involve the NPCs. Barney’s been upgraded from using a dinky Glock to a more powerful SPAS-12, and the grunts have powerful assault rifles and shotguns. I’m not sure why they made the changes, but I approve.

Man, this place has heavy god damn protection...

Man, this place has heavy god damn protection…

While I enjoy the mod, there are problems. In addition to the weapons system, ammo has to be bought at the health stations, which can be frustrating when there’s long gaps between finding those to refill. Not only that, with their new guns, grunts are literal aimbots and will kill you extremely quickly with their new inventory. Armor ends up being ineffective in these cases, which sucks having to fight them in later sections.

Get your quicksave buttons ready, cause you'll be using it a lot.

Get your quicksave button ready, cause you’ll be using it a lot.

That’s Counter-Life in a nutshell. There’s a multiplayer mode that converts some notable CS maps like Assault, Oilrig and Prodigy as well as one of the billion Dust clones that came out during its heyday, but any multiplayer for GoldSrc/Half-Life engine games these days are deader than a dodo. It also seems redundant considering Counter-Strike in itself is a multiplayer game. Perhaps if it had a co-op/survival mode instead, maybe then it would’ve been fun to play.

Your 5.56mm bullets are no match for the Gargantua's massive flame arms!

Your 5.56mm bullets are no match for the Gargantua’s massive flame arms!

Thankfully the mod is not lost to time, it’s on ModDB and was updated to be Steam-compatible around 2008. The developer has moved on to other projects, though I can’t see what else you could add to this besides support for other Half-Life levels. It’s worth a look, even though Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes is basically this but with extra polish. On the other hand, Counter-Life is free and requires only Half-Life to run.

Eh, I hate making choices. They’re both great, give both of them a spin. It’s a shame there was never a Counter-Life 2 for Half-Life 2. I’d totally play that with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s weaponry…

Doom modding in the ’90s: My recent fascination.

One day, I was checking out some YouTube videos, until I had stumbled upon this one by RottKing/Pordontae:

I was gonna write something about that Doom level set featured in the video, but I realized there wasn’t anything particularly unique about it. Some of the levels feel bland and featureless, other levels don’t have a sense of balance, that sort of thing — E2M9 has a fight between one spider mastermind and three cyberdemons, for crying out loud! — This is the epitome of a 1994 level. But that’s not the main reason why I liked this level set. It was the random sounds that the creator replaced.

Playing this level made me realize how amazing the Doom mod scene was during the mid-to-late ’90s.

Modifying an existing game wasn’t really new, but Doom was one of the few to openly embrace it in its early days. This lead to many creative levels, some made by people who’d later become famous in their own right.

Though this wasn’t always the case. Since the tools were fairly new, most people were making fairly dreadful levels, usually plagiarizing parts of the original Doom levels, or in some cases created tutorial levels.

(video from rybacksda on YouTube, playing through it with all secrets and all kills on Ultra-Violence, aka “UV-Max.”)

This above is an example of what most people had to offer. For 1994 standards, it was great to have another level to play, but it’s very tough to play today unless you’re like me and have a liking for crap. 😛

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From a game mod to Splinter Cell: How I discovered a song by accident.

Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Naturally, video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.

So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. This will hopefully be the start of a new series where I delve into the oddities and bits of inane trivia of music in games.

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Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as well as Poke646 did. One day, I should write about Poke646 and its sequel Vendetta, they’re some of the best Half-Life mods out there.

The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient tune.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv-PuH6BNiI]

The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, since I don’t know much about the composer of the ambient music, and there’s little information about it or the mod’s soundtrack online.

Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded familiar…

(WARNING: Plot spoilers for Splinter Cell: Conviction within.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNhxKNzeOHc&start=2155]

Yep. It’s the same song. Until then, I had thought that credits music was a unique track made for Poke646. In reality, it was a licensed song: DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” from his 1996 debut Endtroducing…..

Ubisoft had licensed “Building Steam…” to play over this part of the game. Since it had been years since I had played Poke646, I had realized the tune sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place it until I replayed the mod much later. After knowing this fact, I bought the song not too long after, naturally.

Games using licensed music is hardly new, think of the many music games that have come out over the years. But most games usually have a composer do all the incidental music, rarely do they use a licensed song unless it’s made specifically for the game, like Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” and “Survival” from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Ghosts, respectively. Why Ubisoft thought the DJ Shadow tune fit this particular scene is a mystery that we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of DJ Shadow, he has contributed remixes to a few games himself, such as the “El Dorado Megamix” he did for the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune soundtrack, and two tracks for Motorstorm Apocalypse. So he’s contributed music to the video game world, both directly and indirectly.

To bring it back around to Poke646, “Building Steam…” got a remix when Vendetta was released in 2006, adding some rocking guitars over the game’s credits. In a way, adding additional instrumentation to a song that heavily uses samples is interesting, because it’s using a song with samples as a sample for a new song. It’s fascinating, really.

Thanks to these mods, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has become the Poke646 theme in my mind, which was used in some big budget game. Its inclusion in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems quite bizarre to me, especially since I first heard the song through a game mod many years before. Still a good song, highly recommend you give it a listen. Can’t say if the rest of Endtroducing….. is as amazing, but I’m willing to bet it’s a solid album.

I don’t follow many hip-hop or electronica DJs, but after hearing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” I could probably get into this kind of music. Hell, I loved Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was mostly Amon Tobin’s work, as well as enjoying most of Crackdown‘s licensed music which was the same kind of style. Time to broaden my tastes in music…

Speaking of game music, I recently updated an old article from 2013 comparing the tunes from NES game show games to their real-life counterparts. No longer using volatile YouTube videos, I replaced them with convenient MP3s. Check it out here if you wanna read more of me getting nerdy about video game music.