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      Half-Life was such a literal game changer:

      • Going from 256 to 16k colours made a huge difference to the immersion
      • Much more varied levels than Quake and Doom
      • An intro worthy of a movie
      • It ran smooth as glass
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        Much more varied levels than Quake and Doom

        This is true, but in one respect there was one step backwards: the levels and overall progression became substantially linear.

        It ran smooth as glass

        Anecdote: when I launched it for the first time and played for half an hour or so I thought it looked and performed merely “pretty good”, and wondered if it was over rated. Later I realised it had launched with the software renderer, but I hadn’t noticed because they’d implemented stuff like coloured lighting in the software renderer, which even the Id games hadn’t done. Once I launched open gl my jaw was properly on the floor.

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          It was linear, but what I remember most, besides the incredibly spooky slow arc from clean right-angled rationality to goopy organic madness, is that there was no pause when a new level loaded. There were no stopping points, so it felt like a page-turner novel that won’t let you put the book down and go to sleep.

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            There are loading points and they’re noticeable. Sometimes they’re at the chapter transitions, sometimes they’re just at a chokepoint. They did a good job of keeping the loading pretty fast, and keeping things integrated so that the player isn’t thinking about going from one map to another, but it’s not actually seamless. There are five times in the initial train ride where the motion hitches and LOADING… prints across the middle of the screen. On a modern machine it’s maybe a tenth of a second, on contemporary hardware it’s more like a couple seconds each time.

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              The way I remember it, the standard for other games was to blank the screen with a progress bar for 30 seconds and then hop the player to a totally different context. So technically there was a tiny loading pause, but it was so much shorter and better integrated into the gameplay that it felt like there wasn’t.

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                Yeah, like I said. They did better than most. Better than some even today. But it isn’t “no pause” by any means.

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            Half Life’s level transitions were much much less jarring than other games. They hid most of them in corridors. They would have identical copies of that corridor in both the “from” and “to” maps and an entity in game that represents the location of the level transfer. That entity would be in exactly the same place relative to the corridors in both the “from” and “to” levels. They’d translate the player coordinates so the player would find themselves in the same location before and after the switch.

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              I’m disappointed that most of the games industry still hasn’t progressed beyond that. Half-Life had “seamless” level transitions in 1998, and in 2001, Jak and Daxter pretty much just didn’t have level transitions at all. But today, even open world games are still putting in loading screens or at least fastish “seamless” level transitions in many places. Basically no progress in 25 years.

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                No Man’s Sky is as open world as it gets, and has no loading screens even when e.g. descending onto a planet. The high-quality textures loading in is noticeable, though (at least on my Deck).

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                I’ve played some recent open world games lately ( Elden Ring, Far Cry 3 and 5) and while the loading times are obnoxious (FC5 compared to 3 especially), once you’re in the open world transitions are mostly seamless.

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                The new Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom has no loading screens (apart from when you’re teleporting). It is a pretty amazing experience to be able to skydive from the highest point in the map (where you can see from one end of Hyrule to the other) all the way down to the ground and through it further down to the underworld, all in one seamless motion.

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                There has definitely been progress, but I don’t think some studios really get deeply involved with it.

                I found Starfield especially jarring there, I refunded the game due to how bad it overall was put together but really the loading screens are doing a lot of lifting in that opinion. Doing simple side missions may involve going through 8-7 loading screens (4-5 for going to a location; location -> spaceship -> orbit -> other star system -> orbit -> planetary landing site -> dungeon).

                Meanwhile games like NMS, E:D, SC etc have no loading screens between scenes. Well, no visible ones, you can sometimes catch it loading stuff, but it’s well masked. The newer god of war games hide loading screens with crawl sections.

                Masking a loading screen is work but IMO its well worth it because it feels like wasting less of the players time (if done well, looking at you Calisto Protocol). But it’s way simpler and cheaper to just bring up the progress bar.

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        “It ran smooth as glass”

        100% …why did it feel so smooth? Did it run at a better framerate than others at the time?

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          Half-Life ran on an upgraded version of the Quake 1 engine, which was a couple years old at that point. In the 90s, hardware was advancing so fast (particularly graphics) that two years was a very long time. Upgrades included 16-bit color, skeletal animation, beam effects, much better enemy AI, and audio processing like reverb, so the burden was greater than Quake. But it came several months after the first release of Unreal, which was a technical showcase in all those ways and more and was expensive to run well. Half-Life was not as nice to look at in stills, but it ran better and had a mature feel and coherent narrative that made it the favorite.

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            Pretty sure it was using an upgraded version of the Quake II engine. It made heavy use of features like skeletal animation, something the Quake I engine didn’t have. Also the way lighting worked is a dead giveaway

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              They had access to the Q2 codebase but skeletal animation & lighting was entirely them: Half Life’s Code Basis

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              If my memory serves, and it doesn’t necessarily, Quake 2 used baked radiosity lighting and had colored dynamic lights in GL, while Half-Life still used Quake’s baked and dynamic lighting but the baked lights had color.

              Half-Life used skeletal animation (skinned meshes, vertices with bone weights) but Quake 2 did not; instead it would interpolate vertex positions between the same kind of vertex-animated frames that Quake 1 used. That was also true of Quake 3. It still didn’t use skeletal animation but did split character models into head, torso, and legs parts to get some of the benefit.


              GoldSrc (pronounced “gold source”), sometimes called the Half-Life Engine, is a proprietary game engine developed by Valve. At its core, GoldSrc is a heavily modified version of id Software’s Quake engine.

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                Wow, that makes it all the more amazing what they managed to do with that tech!

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                  Absolutely. They didn’t just use the engine off the shelf, they used it as a starting point and got busy turning it into what their game needed. Compared to most game creators I think of Valve as vertically integrated in the same way as Apple and Nintendo—they’ll own and operate as much technology as they need to in order to satisfy a novel product vision. Although they didn’t invent all the pieces they integrate, no one can make the same end result they do.

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          It might have been the first 3d-accelerated game you played. Quake, for example, was usually played without any 3d-acceleration (was opengl support there at release or did it come later? I don’t even know)

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            OpenGL support came half a year after initial release as a separate executable, GLQuake.

            Maybe you know this but I can’t resist a history lesson since it was such an exciting time:

            Quake became established as the killer app that justified a consumer’s first purchase of a 3D accelerator card, as we called them. In that way, Quake was a major factor in OpenGL finding support at graphics card manufacturers in the first place. Carmack was communicating with manufacturers and telling them what capabilities would be of best benefit to offload to hardware in their next product.

            Along with Glide and Verite, OpenGL was one of several early 3D APIs supported by Quake, with the notable exclusion of Microsoft’s Direct3D. The Quake engines’ ultimate dedication to OpenGL was a lever intended to prevent Direct3D from becoming the de facto standard 3D graphics hardware abstraction layer—a very good thing in light of Microsoft’s domination of the software market.

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              Thank you for answering. I couldn’t find it through googling.

              Boy do I remember wanting a graphics card for glquake. Good times!

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      I owe my online presence to Valve, as Steam was the first “social media” I had as a kid. Half Life begat Half Life 2, Half Life 2’s modding scene begat Garry’s Mod, and YouTube circa 2007 showed off Garry’s Mod to a curious kid.

      The rest is history. Half Life has a special place in my heart. I remember speculating about the lore with friends in Steam group chats. Memories..

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        I was in a TFC clan with Garry. He seemed fun. He was kicked out, but I can’t remember why.

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        The GMod Idiot Box and it’s ilk is probably the only reason I’m a programmer today.

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      Really glad they brought back the original main menu. I haven’t seen it in forever and I missed it every time. A taller order they don’t seem to have attempted is a 64-bit Mac binary.

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        I presume they haven’t done an aarch64 one either? I haven’t checked

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          Valve really doesn’t care about Macs anymore. The Steam client still isn’t ARM native, and a ton of their games are still 32-bit executables despite Apple screaming that they would drop support for years (and eventually did). Counter-Strike 2 also dropped support when CS:GO supported it.

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      Half-life was a seminal experience when it was released. Having as much voice acting as it did was amazing and immersive. It was closer to a move-like experience than other games of the era. You weren’t just plopped into a level with the objective of getting to the end switch. You were trying to survive the story and figure out what the heck is going on. Previous games were games, Half-life was an experience.

      As important as the “campaign mode” in Half-Life was, The multiplayer support was also so, so important. I had first played “multiplayer” FPS with Doom, and using a null modem serial cable to connect to another PC. But Half-Life was the first game I played a significant amount of time in various multiplayer games.

      For the free-for-all “slayer” games we had some great maps, though one of my favorites was very simple, just a giant hollow cube with some platforms and walkways. If you could get up to the very top one with a rocket launcher, you could kill players as they spawned on the lower corner platforms. You’d have to watch your back constantly too. Some of the other maps based on the original Half-Life levels were also a bunch of fun. Lots of nooks and crannies to hide in and pop out of in an ambush.

      Team Fortress Classic: Great maps. One of my favorites was a homage to the movie “The Rock” where you are trying to break into the opposing side’s prison, and set off the VX gas to kill everyone. There was another control-points map where, as a demolition guy, you could effectively guard the approaches to the control point with remote detonated mines.

      The VIP escort map in TFC was also so much fun. There were places to hide while you waited for the VIP to come by, but we eventually learned to fire rockets preemptively into them as we approached. Sniper rifles in TFC had a laser light for aiming while holding down the trigger, which could also alert the victim that they were being targeted. One trick on this map was to put the laser on the tail-light of the SUV that the VIP was headed towards. So you could fire off a shot relatively quickly without giving away that you were ready to fire.

      One of the most fun times I had in TFC was on the big sprawling “Invictus” map (I think that is what it was called). The server had a high player limit, maybe 15 people per side. Friendly fire was ON! It was kind of chaotic, but our team was actually working together and was able to push in to the flag.

      Fun times, fun times.

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        A neat easter egg on this site is if you scroll down, click on the crowbar at the bottom :) Then click on the zombie and headcrab.

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      Well now I know what I’m doing this weekend. Looking forward to watching the documentary, too!

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      FYI, because of the anniversary, Half-Life is free this weekend and the entire franchise is ~90% off, at least here in the US.

      I don’t know if this is mentioned in the video since I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m guessing at least a few other people will do the same thing as me and read the comments before watching the entire documentary :P

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      Some of my first experiences with computer networking came from the lan parties me and my friends started hosting back in ’98. Half life Deathmatch played a big role in those gatherings once the game had launched.

      It is also great seeing NoClip’s offshoot production company getting such a high profile project as their firat one.