Ever had a quandry?
October 03, 2016

The problem is I'm having a darned time turning it into a review. I've got more of a dissertation on the topic of narrative disappointment and lockdown than subject critique of the game's strengths and flaws.

HL2 isn't the sort of game you review. No, you experience it and then run around like a fool looking out for anyone who might possibly play it, or who already has. It's that Lord of the Rings moment when you know you've just got to pass on the experience, but you're not sure why.

Looking around at the current political climate, I can see why. As a writer, though, I am determined to do right by the review and ... get it right. Oh, and the key to HL3? A spoilerific change of cast members.

You know the one I mean.

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Nightfire Nightfire - October 03, 2016 (06:15 PM)
I think that you could easily pen a retrospective review for HL2 at this point; it is twelve years old now. You could talk about how well it stacks up against present releases (or not, depending on your opinion).

It's so weird to think that a few more years from now, we will have gamers in the young-adult age bracket who have never played it and weren't even born when it was released.

God, I feel old.
hastypixels hastypixels - October 04, 2016 (07:55 PM)
Thank you, I think that's a great direction to go in. As it happens, I ran into an article on Polygon written by one of the original writers of Half Life, who explained that Valve wanted to create a novel-style experience. That supports exactly the conclusion I've been reaching.

HL2 is in a strange place: Constantly updated by Valve and graphics mods to update the game to current standards puts it in a good place to compete against current offerings ... the community is part of it's story.

Meh. Age. It's a thing. I'll skip my birthday this year. Except the cake.
Nightfire Nightfire - October 05, 2016 (12:48 AM)
HL2 did have incredible writing, though I felt it was a bit constrained by Valve's tendency for perfectionism (as evidenced by the game's relatively short playthrough compared to the first game, and its plethora of deleted sequences). The competent character animations and voice acting didn't hurt, either.

I actually had no idea that HL2 was receiving continuous updates. I might have to reinstall it and see what it looks like myself...
hastypixels hastypixels - October 05, 2016 (05:55 PM)
There's always a trade off in density of content for the detail required. HL has much lower detail assets compared to HL2, so it makes sense that it's shorter. A remaster from the ground up would require dedicated team ... oh ... hey ... Black Mesa!

BM was pretty solid and more intriguing than fun, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. Combat balancing needs some serious work, but I haven't played the retail release, so I don't know if they improved it from the free version.

HL2 works with VR! I don't know why, but it does. While you're nosing around HL2, look up the HL2 Update - the graphic overall is really impressive and it feels authentic, as though Valve had actually overhauled the graphics engine.
Nightfire Nightfire - October 05, 2016 (09:51 PM)
I don't think the density of assets had much to do with it; they had a large enough team, budget, and development resource to do pretty much whatever they wanted after the success of HL1.

In fact, I owned the Half-Life 2 art & development book, Raising The Bar and read through it thoroughly; it was quite an interesting read. In that book they bascially said that they cut stuff from HL2 simply because certain elements weren't perfect, and they were under tremendous pressure to make the best game they possibly could.

However, I think if they had gotten over themselves and allowed their game to have some minor flaws, we would've gotten a much longer, more robust experience. Remember the Hydra, from the trailers? I was looking forward to that sequence. I was disappointed when it did not appear in the final product. Same with being able to drive the combine tanks, which was definitely in the game at some point, but was cut.

Their reasoning was that "driving the combine tanks wasn't as fun as driving the dune buggy". Seriously? If driving the combine tanks was even half as fun as the dune buggy sequence it should've been kept, even if just for the satisfaction of creaming those alien-human bastards with one of their own vehicles. They could've done a lot with a sequence like that, but instead they decided to nitpick, and so the game got shorter and a little more sterile as a result.

Granted, HL2 was still an extremely good game, I can hardly complain about what the final product was, but I was extremely surprised at its shorter length and the omission of many things that were present in the trailers and pre-release gameplay footage.

Black Mesa is one of those projects that sounded really nice on paper, but was terrible in execution. I played a few hours into it before I couldn't take anymore. It may have sold itself on its beautiful screenshots and ambiance, but the combat and enemy AI was abysmal. Overall I felt that it failed to capture the spirit of the original game, which is a shame, because now that it's been done once I doubt anyone else will step up and make a proper remake of HL1.

I still haven't reinstalled HL2 yet, I'll install it tonight and give it a look over the next few days.
Nightfire Nightfire - October 06, 2016 (05:21 PM)
I gave HL2 a whirl today, I ran it vanilla, put every graphics option up to full... I didn't notice too many differences in graphics quality from what I remember. The "Very High" textures might look a bit sharper, but it's hard to tell. I did notice the option for VR support though, which is pretty interesting.

The game is starting to show its age a little bit, particularly with the lighting, which is a little on the flatter side. Also, the character animations, which were groundbreaking at the time, actually feel a little bit stiff by today's standards.

Still, it's a great game that I'm sure will remain timeless. It was so well-made that I doubt it will need much in the way of revision going forward, at least not for a long time.
hastypixels hastypixels - October 09, 2016 (12:51 AM)
Make sure to give Half Life 2: Update a poke while you're sniffing around. They've overhauled the graphics and even smoothed out issues like load times. If they did more than that I didn't notice, but it brought it nearly up to part with Episode One.

I understand they cut quite a bit from HL2, and in my opinion were a little too focused on the puzzle elements of things, without enough raw shooting sections. They addressed this in the following episodes, but the Valve team had this tendency of letting excellence get in the way of potential fun.

I had no idea piloting combine tanks was cut, but it wouldn't have fit as well with the up-close-and-personal feeling that HL2 has. As for the dune buggy, that was a ... questionable choice. How something that fragile could have survived the punishment you put it through ... highly doubtful.

Then we get the 6 cylinder beast in Episode 2 and have a chance to really put it to good use. Now that was fun!

Half Life wasn't my jam for so many reasons, I literally missed the run of hardware that it performed well on, and it hasn't been maintained well at all. I did have a chance to try it once, but can't be convinced to put money into something that is basically unplayable.

Black Mesa did seem easy to me, but the puzzle elements were interesting, and the environments engrossing. I don't play many FPS and I've had to push my skills to deal with current expectations. For example, it was something of an adjustment when I played Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the first time.

Now I play older FPS and dance around enemies like some kind of ninja because my skills are that much more advanced. HL2 is a game I can beat almost by muscle memory alone.

HL2 is showing its age like any game that chooses a realistic art style, and its natural for the textures to look dated. I don't forsee much movement into 4K for the majority of players anyway, not over the next five years, at least.

PS4 developers are more excited about HDR than they are 4K, and who can blame them? The payoff is advantageous with HDR already in their pipeline, and for many just a bit of code away for a difference that everyone will be able to see.

HL2 is going to continue to impact players, even with moderate updates. Not quite to the degree of Mario, but ... you get the idea. :)
Nightfire Nightfire - October 11, 2016 (02:35 PM)
Ah, I didn't know that the update you spoke of was a separate download. I installed it and tried it out today. Suffice to say, I didn't really see much of a difference. The textures, unfortunately, appear to be the exact same ones from the original game simply with some filters slapped on top of them. They look a little sharper at a distance but are the same blurry pixels up close.

I will admit that the lighting is sharper and nicer, though. That includes the shaders and reflections. I suppose the overall effect is that does dial up the visual quality a notch, but still, for a 12 GB download I expected more.

I think if we are to get a proper update, we would probably need Valve to release the original textures at a higher resolution and actually let the community work with them. Unfortunately it seems that Valve is too busy swimming pools of money from their Steam sales to even work on HL3, so revisiting old projects may be out of the question entirely.
hastypixels hastypixels - October 12, 2016 (11:11 PM)
I think that actually sews everything up for everything I'll need ... the retrospective will take some time to fabricate, and I may well wind up reviewing all three releases as a multi-part write up.

12GB didn't seem to be worth the changes, either ... I did notice some improvements, but not enough to warrant running back to grab the Update every time I want to dabble with HL2.

You're thinking like I am; expecting more of a Black Mesa scale update instead of a few prettier things here and there. I've seen some truly impressive mock ups with other engines, but who wants to spend the time remastering a game that already sells so well, and runs so nicely on modern systems?

It just makes business sense to leave it alone.

I have the sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons they keep putting of HL3 is because the technology jump they expect to make just hasn't been realized by modern hardware ... or so they may imagine. Valve seems to be able to imagine alot, and I can relate to that. Scale can beat you down.

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