The Fullness of Half-Life

This was a teachable moment.

Gaming Quotes Social Thoughts

3 minutes

Originally posted on Reddit.

Someone on Reddit asked why Half-Life should get a page in the history books of gaming. While gaming taste is certainly subjective, there are objective truths about the state of game development before and after Half-Life; clear, measurable changes that came about in the wake of its release. In any case I figured this was a teachable moment that I could actually give insight to, so I hope it helps the OP at least appreciate Half-Life a little more, if not consider playing HL games sometime.

I’m asking what made it so revolutionary. If you and I are writing a history book about gaming, why should the half life games get a page, other than their popularity?

The noclip documentary does a great job at explaining this while recounting the zeitgeist surrounding Half-Life’s development and release. They cover so much of what made HL such a groundbreaking game and can explain it better than I could, so I highly suggest setting aside the hour forty-five to listen.

In my own words though, what made HL an amazing experience for me was its writing, presentation, and modding scene.

Mark Laidlaw really put together such a rich world full of environmental storytelling as well as actually stimulating dialogue in an FPS game in 1998.

Every level was a setpiece for something new. The first time you see what a barnacle does to its unknowing prey, or the first time you witness a headcrab infest a scientist, are not just cutscenes but actual in-game events that you play through. You don’t just see the effect; you witness the cause, and in some cases, the victims of these horrible things that happened were NPCs you actually met prior.

And in my opinion there was no better time to get into PC mods than during the years shortly following Half-Life’s release. Games like Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Sven Co-op, Garry’s Mod, all got their start on HL’s engine. Well, maybe not TF but its popularity certainly was boosted and maintained thanks to HL. There were countless other smaller mods as well that made it such a golden age of modding, projects like Scientist Hunt, The Specialists, Pirates Vikings and Knights, Wanted… The likes of these games have never been seen since, so far.

If a lot of that sounds like, “so what” to you now, just keep in mind that there must have been a first time. And for a lot of today’s gaming conventions, you can trace their roots to Half Life. You asked, “If you and I are writing a history book about gaming…” Well, history books about gaming do regularly include Half Life in them for much of the same reasons. Examples include Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds by Jesper Juul, and First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game by Noah Wardrip-Fruin.