Half-Life: Part 2, First Encounter of the Big Baddies [Half-Life]

Last time in Half-Life I had finally made it to the point of seeing the sky and was immediately forced underground into the facility again with the military on my heels and a target on my back. I am a wanted man, along with any living employee in the facility, too. Ventilation ducts and giant missile silos are the order of the day, tropes of pretty much any sci-fi shooter of it’s time.

Wait… missile silos? Is this Black Mesa group the backbone of some supervillain lair? Are they cutting secret agents in half with lasers in this place, too? Is this like a secret SpaceX facility? Maybe all that’s a little further in. It’s not long, maybe a few hops over some underground rivers of toxic waste (Black Mesa: Environmentally Friendly), before I hit this:

Well then. That looks… friendly.

Ahhhhhh, the first boss. I was wondering when I was going to fight one. Seemed a little long in coming, really. I like the surprise of it, though, with the fluidity this game has. Going from one point to the next without stopping there was no pause to suddenly say “Hey! Boss time!” This is a very good thing, though. I love the non-stop pace.

Anyway, I fire off some rounds at the claw monster, and it seems to have very little effect. Some squint nearby (sorry, the wife just finished a pretty big Bones marathon. Great show.) tells me I have to activate the conveniently placed rocket booster right above him. Gotcha. So, to fight the monster, I have to sneak by him and then… explore the surrounding level. Alright.

After jumping from a falling elevator above a toxic waste pool, crawling through more ventilation ducts, and beating on some aliens along the way, I activate the power generators (Where is this place’s backup generators?! You think one generator is enough for this facility?!), the fuel lines, and the oxygen lines. Hey! They got it right! Science! Usually rocket fuel is a combination of some liquid fuel, mostly a hydrocarbon and liquid hydrogen, then mixed with liquid oxygen. So they got it, at least in a basic sense. After getting all the lines primed and the power flowing there’s only one thing left to do.

Burn, Baby, Burn!

With the green-clawed baddie out of the way, I follow the tunnels he made to infiltrate the silo in the first place. After a small swim I wind up face to face with THIS guy.

Wait… is that the Smoking Man in the background  again?! What is this punk’s deal?

I take a few pot shots at the beast, but to no avail and just run around him to the surrounding tunnels, making my way up to where the Smoking Man was chilling. In here there’s a giant switch and a six-shooter. Well alright, pardner. Time to mosy on down to that big galoot and darn figure out a way to put him six feet in the ground… but that’ll just have to wait for next time.

// Ocho

Living the Half-Life [Half-Life]

I am Gordon Freeman, a recent Ph.D. graduate of MIT in theoretical physics, with an entry level position in a desert research facility owned by Black Mesa, and despite being ridiculously smart and disciplined enough to earn my Ph.D…. I am almost an hour late to work with no good reason why. Go figure.

A little over a week ago, I came out of my posting funk and hit it off with a poll of what you, my fantastic readers (You look really nice today, by the way. I love what you’ve done with your hair), think I should be playing. The reasons behind this are three-fold. One, it forces me to play something I’ve always wanted to play, but it never made the tops of my priority list. Two, it forces me to write by making me accountable to my previous decisions, thus giving me more practice at this whole writing fiasco. And Three, readers are more inclined to read an article they already have a vested interest in, such as by participating in a vote, so people will read this , and thus feel they have an interest in my blog in general, which then prompts me to write more. Consider this a social experiment and if you couldn’t tell, I’m big on the social experiments (and I hope you are, too!).

Winning by a very slim margin was, kind of a surprise to me, Half-Life, the 1998 award-winning sci-fi shooter that put the current-day behemoth Valve on the map.  And no, I wasn’t referring to Half-Life 2, I was specifically referring to the original Half-Life. I may get to 2 eventually, but I wanted to get through the story to the first game… well… first.

I started a game on Medium settings. I ain’t no hardcore, but I imagine my skill is above any easy modes, and with that, I found myself on a tram car. The tram was being taken through an underground desert facility, presented in as blocky an environment as could be. I know at the time, now 15 years ago, this was graphic intensive, but as a current-gen gamer it’s not the easiest on the eyes. However, I do hope the story could still stand the test of time. Seeing as how they have made a sequel with multiple expansions and spin-offs, my guess is it will.

After the long and intricate tram ride through the facility, I come to my stop, exit the tram car and proceed to mosey into work, pushing being almost an hour late. Man, my ego must be huge. After strolling in, having a few scientists scold me, seeing some of the guard crew to whom I am buddies with, I make my way to pick up my awesome EV suit. Being late doesn’t seem to phase me much as I stop by my locker, check out some personal effects, and finally meander my way to where I’m supposed to be.

Once locked inside the testing chamber, I’m told to head on up to the top and activate this giant machine. Cool… but odd considering it couldn’t be activated from the outside, If it’s so dangerous I need to be wearing an EV suit for it, why isn’t the ON button on the outside? No matter. I press it, watch as it bursts to life, and then am told our sample for the day, something very important, is waiting for me to clumsily push it into the path of the testing beam. We’ll just start with the entire sample. Sure, just shove it all in. No idea what it is. Are we sure these are real scientists? This does not sound like proper scientific method here. Ah well, I’m just the grunt. Who am I to argue.

And then all hell breaks loose.

An explosion rocks the facility to it’s core, a green energy burst with lightning bolts rips around the room. The world goes black. Suddenly I’m in an alien swamp. Black again, I’m chilling with some green dudes. Black again, then back to the facility where I have, miraculously, survived. Making my way out, the calm research facility is now in shambles, and escaping is the only option. I must find my way to the surface and get some help. Even if I get there, in the desert this may be easier said than done.

Running my way through the facility, I pick up what appears to be the godsend of all weapons, a grail of awesomeness, the crowbar. I know I’m wicked smart and all, but the alien face-jumpers I keep coming across, the mutated scientists, and green dudes seem to have a weakness to a good throttling with this bad boy. Brains I got in spades, but braun it shall be.

As I run through the facility, I keep spying a dude who looks awfully smug and quite satisfied with what has transpired. It has hints of X-Files, with a shadowy, suit wearing guy watching the progress of the travesty befalling the facility. Along with X-Files, Fringe, The Secret World, and many other forms of entertainment have that same suit-wearing shadowy corporate menace backing a disaster feel to them. It’s a trope that works, playing to the conspiracy parts of our minds that we are just pawns in a much larger game we aren’t aware of. Paranoia is something we all have to differing levels (except those with pronoia, of course), and when made manifest strengthens our mistrust of the huge powerful corporations. As they say, beware the power you give to the soulless.

Finally, I make my way closer to the surface, and am told the military is on their way to assist… only to find them gunning our scientists down. Welp, a crumbling facility behind me, and a gun-toting army in front of me. Looks like the only way to go is forward. I finally make it topside only to see helicopters dropping off more troops and a huge bullseye on my forehead. It looks like a higher-up gave the order to cover-up whatever is going down here, but I won’t give up without a fight.

I played a decent stretch and made it half-way through Chapter 5. I love that there doesn’t appear to be any stopping point in between levels. No loading screens, no wait, no cutscenes. This gives the game a very fluid motion, one that I am in full control of. Even during scripted events, I am still in charge, capable of running around as they talk. This leads to a very heavy immersion level. Not once has my complete control of the character been taken away. Seeing as this is 15 years old, and our immersion is still being pulled away to load screens, this feels revolutionary. I can see why it won the awards. Finding a stopping point is tricky, like having a continuous book with no chapter points, but that’s okay. What’s not okay is my inability to jump on small boxes.

Seriously, just pick up your damn feet, Freeman!

// Ocho

A Plan to Chip Away at my Gaming Backlog

Ack! Zombies!

Have you ever taken a look at your Steam list of games and thought “Damn. By the time I get to playing all of these, we won’t even have computers anymore! We’ll be downloading games directly into our brain-chips!” I think this a lot. And yet, it doesn’t stop me from seeing that great 80% off deal and adding onto the list. There is some tricky psychology at work here, and I’m sure it’s pretty obvious, something like False Scarcity or The Sunk Cost Fallacy, but hell if I’m powerful enough to stop it.

To that end, I need to get to playing some of these eventually! And what better time than the present. But how do I go about it where I get the most out of the limited time I already have available?

Syp over at Bio Break has his gaming time scheduled down to the day. I like it, but then what happens if real life responsibilities or just other events cause you to miss a day? Do you then have a two week stretch in between sessions? Can you even make progress at that rate?

Nicole over at Mama Needs Mana takes a different turn with scheduling ahead of time, but still keeping it loose. This also has lots of merits, but sometimes I find it even harder to schedule even what I’m going to play tonight! If there are other people involved, I tend to back off as I know how flaky I can be.

And finally, the prolific Rowan at IHTTS tends to just play as long as a game holds his interest. This is how I normally roll as well, but at this rate, I’ll drown in my backlog. If I wait until I’m jonesing to play a game, it’ll never happen as something new and shinier will have surely come along.

So to recap so far, I want to play different games, not to have too long of a stretch in between game sessions, not schedule ahead of time (as I know myself pretty well), but still make some progress. Seems like a tall order.

Well, this may not be perfect (but what first attempts usually are), but based on all of this I’ve devised a system that I think will work:

1) To start, on the first day, play whatever game you like. Anything.

2) On your next play session, you can’t play any game you played the previous session, but you can play any other game.

3) Quick maintenance sessions, like a holiday daily ala Star Trek Online, or setting up graphic requirements after installation Do Not Count as a play session.

4) Enjoy as you start ticking games off your list.

So, as my above spreadsheet shows, I started off on the 29th with The Secret World, so on the 30th I couldn’t play TSW. So I played Bully instead. On the 31st, I could play TSW again, but decided to give Torchlight a shot, as its a quick easy game and I didn’t have a lot of time. On the 1st, I only couldn’t play Torchlight, but the next chapter in The Walking Dead was calling me. Friday and Saturday I didn’t have any time to play, although I did buy the last Skyrim expansion, Dragonborn, so on Sunday I played that.

The way I see it, it could roll that I then end up switching off on two separate games as I get hooked on them, but then I’ll be making headway in two games. If I’m really getting into a particular game and have the dopamine flowing nicely when I play it, it’ll only be a single day minimum in between when I can play it again, and during that time I can make progress in other games. I see this as a win-win.

Of course, the saying that keeps flashing through my head is “The best laid plans of mice and men / often go awry.” We’ll see if this works for me in the long run, but I think it’s a good start.

// Ocho

P.S. – Voting has concluded on what YOU think I should play, and at 20 votes, it ended up being a really tight race, but with a majority of 5 votes, Half-Life ended up the big winner! So, on my next play session, Half-Life it will be! Thank you to everyone who voted!! Ended up being a few more than the 3 votes I thought I would get. 🙂