Half-Life: The Forgotten Innovations of the PC Shooter


This article is a component of our History of PC Gaming sequence.

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When launched in 1998, Half-Life was so forward of its time that it truly hardly ever will get credit score for all of the improvements it launched to the shooter style and gaming as an entire. Things like scripted story sequences that play out with out cutscenes have lengthy been related to Half-Life, however there’s extra to Valve’s PC shooter than simply its game-changing method to storytelling. From grenade throwing to mods, Half-Life modified the way you play video video games in methods that you could be not even understand.

In phrases of affect on PC gaming, Half-Life stands as one of an important titles ever launched. Valve’s PC shooter isn’t just one of the titles that outlined gaming in your pc within the late ’90s, however an expertise that few builders of that period that might match in phrases of artistry and high quality. For years, you can argue that there was actually just one Half-Life

To have a good time the upcoming launch of Half-Life: Alyx, the primary main installment within the sequence since 2007, let’s check out some of the forgotten improvements launched by Half-Life that make it one of an important PC video games ever made. 

A Surprising Degree of Realism

“Realism” most likely appears like an odd phrase to make use of when speaking about Half-Life. At a time when some shooters drive us to remain hydrated and take our nutritional vitamins, that’s most likely not the way in which trendy players would select to explain an FPS that ends with a visit via an alien dimension.

Yet, so many of Half-Life’s greatest touches are grounded in realism. The most notorious instance of that is humorously highlighted within the game’s handbook, which boasts that in-game weapons are present in sensible places reasonably than simply floating within the air. Titles like GoldenEye 007 performed with related concepts, however there actually is an inside logic to the situation of almost each gun and merchandise in Half-Life that goes past whether or not a gun is floating magically or laying in wait. 

On high of that, you have got spectacular particulars like the truth that crossing right into a physique of water that’s touching an uncovered electrical supply will electrocute the participant or enemies. It all sounds easy, however at a time when shooter the style was nonetheless making an attempt to flee the “Doom clone” label, that is one of the ways in which Half-Life confirmed that much more action-oriented FPS titles may nonetheless profit from a dose of real looking design. 

The Logic of the HEV Suit

Prior to Half-Life, the idea of well being and armor in most first-person shooters (and lots of different video games for that matter) was fairly easy. You would simply decide up well being packs, armor, and power-ups as you went alongside, and also you didn’t ask any questions. Half-Life modified all that by introducing Gordon Freeman’s HEV swimsuit in the course of the game’s notorious opening sequence.

Not solely did the HEV swimsuit serve a sensible function within the game’s story (it’s used to guard Freeman in the course of the experiment that units the story in movement), however it assigned a logic to in-game gadgets, which on the time have been normally handled as in the event that they have been magic mushrooms in Super Mario. Health was what stored Freeman’s physique alive, whereas the swimsuit, which functioned as extra armor, wanted to be charged so as to proceed defending Freeman from hurt. Health and recharge stations have been additionally present in places that typically made sense to the setting and narrative. It additionally featured a toggleable flashlight, which was both the primary look of that mechanic in an FPS or a really early instance of it.

You may argue that the connection between Gordon and his swimsuit would even result in issues just like the rechargeable defend in Halo: Combat Evolved. Interestingly, video games variety of went the opposite method in some unspecified time in the future by permitting characters to only “magically” heal by discovering cowl or resting, however there was a interval when assigning logic to how a participant’s in-game well being labored in FPS titles was all the craze. 

Enemies, Grenades, and You

Much has already been mentioned about Half-Life’s revolutionary enemy and companion A.I. Yet, the methods through which Half-Life modified the artwork of PvE first-person fight can greatest be summarized by what occurs when somebody within the game throws a grenade.

If you throw a grenade at human enemies in Half-Life, they’ll normally run away. If you are attempting to cover behind a wall or field within the game so as to lure troopers to you, they’ll usually use a grenade to flush you out or outright kill you. Non-human enemies are much less prone to run from grenades, however that is as a result of they do not actually perceive what they’re. 

It all sounds easy, however Half-Life’s use of grenades showcases two ideas you didn’t usually see in different FPS titles. The first is that your enemies even have a need to reside or, on the very least, reside lengthy sufficient to kill you. The second is that you simply gained’t be capable to struggle a highly-trained soldier the identical method you’d struggle a shuffling zombie.

Combined, these two particulars alerted gamers to the truth that profitable each battle on this game wasn’t only a matter of circle-strafing an enemy whereas firing your largest weapon. Instead, Half-Life’s grenade mechanic pushed gamers to make use of a little bit creativity to outlive probably the most intense fight sequences.

A Cohesive FPS Environment

The most notable first-person shooters launched earlier than Half-Life (Doom, Unreal, Hexen, and many others.) didn’t essentially endure from lackluster degree design, however few of them actually offered the concept that each degree was half of a bigger world. Half-Life completed this in just a few notable methods.

On the technical facet of issues, Valve created a pretty big in-game world the place a lot of the loading occurred behind the scenes. This meant that gamers didn’t must recurrently stare at loading screens and skilled noticeably much less loading as they moved from space to space. As a end result, you felt such as you have been actually navigating a big and immersive analysis facility reasonably than bouncing between conventional gaming ranges that felt unrelated to at least one one other. 

However, this innovation is about way more than simply technical accomplishments. The Half-Life group designed every space of the game’s map to really feel like a spot that existed for a function, even when that function did not instantly affect your path via the game in a notable method. There have been break rooms, labs subsequent to labs that have been finding out related topics, and quite a few situations of objects and environmental occasions that made the Black Mesa analysis facility really feel extra actual.

This is one thing of an odd innovation as even the nice FPS titles that will comply with elected to stick to a extra conventional “level/mission-based” construction. Still, Half-Life raised the bar in phrases of environmental design in methods which are nonetheless noticeable immediately.

Different Kinds of Action Puzzles

Many of the FPS video games launched after Doom adopted that game’s playbook in phrases of puzzles and non-combat obstacles. In different phrases, most of these titles required you to gather keys or passcards so as to progress to the subsequent space. It was a easy technique to throw in some hurdles with out forcing the participant to drop out of fight for too lengthy.

Half-Life did issues a little bit bit otherwise. The most blatant examples of its method to a greater class of puzzle design contain notorious sequences such because the one the place it’s essential to discover a technique to launch a missile so as to take away an in any other case unbeatable enemy that’s drawn to sound and can immediately kill you if it hears you. Most FPS titles from the ’90s didn’t function such elaborate obstacles that expertly mixed stealth, multi-step options, and even a splash of horror-based pressure.

Yet, Half-Life’s greatest (and most influential) puzzles have been discovered within the fight itself. Half-Life pressured you to adapt to what your enemies did and likewise contemplate different methods to outlive encounters past blasting every thing in your path. Such encounters adhered to the primal pleasures of the style whereas nonetheless requiring the participant to make the most of a little bit brainpower now and again. Obviously, Half-Life 2 would develop on this idea with its use of physics-based fight (particularly within the legendary Ravenholm sequence). 

For a game that’s typically implicated within the loss of life of the “pure” FPS, Half-Life’s fight sequences and organically built-in puzzles sections confirmed that fetch quests weren’t the one method so as to add puzzles to the style. 

A Smarter Weapon Progression System

In many of the FPS titles that preceded Half-Life, weapon development was pretty easy. You normally used no matter gun you picked up till you discovered a greater one. There have been exceptions (Doom’s shotgun was a considerably notable instance), however the thought was that weapons have been nearer to power-ups that step by step improved over the course of a game and have been typically solely restricted by ammo.

Half-Life‘s introduction of the crowbar was its earliest and clearest declaration that it meant to interrupt the weapon wheel. Despite being the primary weapon you obtained within the game, you find yourself utilizing the crowbar all through Half-Life as each a device for breaking bins and arguably one of the best weapon towards sure enemies (equivalent to Headcrabs).

While some weapons in Half-Life are arguably changed by higher variations of an identical idea (the MP5 pretty simply replaces the pistol), you’ll find yourself utilizing most of your weapons till the tip of the game. It all relies on what you’re combating and what the state of affairs requires. A rocket launcher is nice towards a helicopter, however it’s not likely sensible in lots of of the game’s confined areas. Trip mines may be devastatingly highly effective, however in addition they require intelligent placement. Shotguns work nice towards lumbering monsters that get in shut, however they do much less towards troopers who hold their distance.

Not each FPS game that adopted Half-Life walked this path, however right here once more, we see one other instance of how Half-Life helped present there was a distinct technique to do issues.

Improved Sequence Scripting and Set Pieces

File this one below “controversial innovations,” however Half-Life actually raised the bar in relation to scripted in-game occasions (particularly in a first-person shooter).

Half-Life‘s personal GoldSrc engine could have relied closely on the Quake engine, however Valve managed to tweak that technological supply in fascinating ways in which tremendously superior the potential of the style. One of their most essential tweaks was the creation of a brand new scripting device that made it simpler for builders to not solely create extra elaborate scripted sequences however to permit the participant to work together with their setting like by no means earlier than.

While probably the most optimistic examples of this innovation are Half-Life’s grand setpieces, it’s actually the smaller moments that safe the game’s place in historical past on this respect. For occasion, the ways in which you work together with NPCs and small environmental parts on this game really feel commonplace now, however it was something however again in 1998.

Some say that Half-Life’s improvements on this area finally led to an period of overly-scripted shooters, however Half-Life truly discovered a pleasant stability between providing setpieces and permitting the participant to really feel like they have been organically experiencing a journey.

More Accessible Modding

Doom will at all times maintain a particular place in PC gaming historical past because the FPS title that helped modding attain the mainstream. However, Half-Life’s precise contributions to the mod scene are sometimes ignored even though Half-Life mods like Counter-Strike arguably rank among the many most essential PC titles ever.

Valve made the choice early on to permit the Half-Life neighborhood to simply entry the design instruments that powered the game. This not solely led to extra folks taking part in round with modding however skilled mod creators having fun with almost unprecedented entry to a developer’s toolbox.

Not lengthy after, different studios began to catch on to the concept that the neighborhood isn’t simply there to purchase your game and perhaps swap some textures round. Instead, it’s attainable that they can’t solely repair points current within the base game however create experiences that the unique growth group would have by no means dreamed of, tremendously develop the lifespan of the title within the course of. 

Matthew Byrd is a workers author for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days making an attempt to pitch deep-dive analytical items about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an more and more perturbed sequence of editors. You can learn extra of his work right here or discover him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014

Read our full History of PC Gaming sequence on the hyperlinks under:

Part 1: 25 PC Games That Changed History

Part 2: The Greatest PC Gaming Innovations

Part 3: The Legacy of Baldur’s Gate

Part 4: How EVE Online Evolved from Online Game to Real Life

Part 5: The Return of FMV Games

Part 6: What Role-playing Means to the Creators of Fallout

Part 7: The Legacy of World of Warcraft

Part 8: Revisiting The Matrix Online

Part 9: The Forgotten Innovations of Half-Life

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