MINERVA: Episodic, Single-Player Half-Life 2

Yeah, so you've looked behind the curtain, only to discover the whole world is a carefully manufactured lie. But to what ends?

Well, I'm Adam Foster, and these are my experiments in Half-Life 2 mapping!


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Juvenilia 4 - Vex Not His Ghost -

A ghost story, written for a competition but (I imagine) never submitted. I probably still have the original digital copy somewhere, trapped on a 230MB SCSI hard disk. I'd boot the old Atari ST up again, only it has no ports or disks in common with my current computers. Floppy drives are so passé, you know? But here it is, retyped just for you from my carefully, lovingly typeset 1996 original...

Vex Not His Ghost

Gareth Marshall closed the door, shutting out the torrential rain. He fumbled for the light switch, uneasily staring into the darkness. Upon finding the switch, an old, brass dome, he pushed the lever down. A single, bare light bulb hanging from the high ceiling lit up, casting a dim, yellowish light over the hallway. He had been living here for some months now, ever since he had left home. It was an old, semi-derelict farmhouse, built out of stone and brick, perched upon the side of a large, empty hill. According to one of his friends, it was the site of some sort of Neolithic settlement, although Gareth could not be bothered. He hated the place, but it was much closer to the town than where his parents, Arthur and Janet, lived, and it was all he could afford.

He began to mount the narrow, steep stairs, wary of the rickety handrail, cursing the rain which had begun to drip through the ceiling. He looked up, to check the extent of the leakage, when there was a huge, blinding flash. He stumbled, the after-image filling his vision, and a deafening crash shook the house. He fell, banging his head on the rotten handrail, and came to rest at the bottom of the stairway.

When he came round, there was complete darkness, and the relentless hiss of the rain outside. He picked himself up, balancing himself on the old, wooden chair near the doorway. 'Oh, damn you. fuse box!' He cried out loud, feeling his way along the hallway towards the kitchen door. The darkness made everything seem strange, and unreal, as if he was in a dream.

His already aching head hit the door with a resounding thump, and he cried out in pain. He opened it, recoiling against the damp, musty smelling air. He had never been able to remove the smell from the kitchen, despite cleaning, air-freshener, and keeping the window open whenever possible. He opened a cupboard door, and took out an old torch, and turned it on, its faint, yellow light barely reaching the wall. Then he knelt down on the floor, his knees resting in a small puddle from the ceiling. He pushed his fingers into a gap between two of the bare floorboards, and began to lift.

Several miles away, Arthur Marshall closed his newspaper, and settled back into his armchair, the distant rumble of thunder filling the air. His dog began to whimper uncontrollably, its eyes flickering towards the door leading outside. 'What's up with you, Stan?' He heaved himself up, patted the dog on its back, and dragged himself towards the door. When he got there, he looked out through the small, stained-glass window, straining to see if anything was there. A sudden flicker in the corner of his eye made him start, when suddenly the door broke open, as if something very heavy had been thrown against it. Arthur fell backwards, amid a huge flurry of splinters, rain and leaves, and landed heavily on his back. 'Janet!', he cried, as something shadowy billowed into the room, almost like smoke.

Gareth had discovered that the fuse box was ruined beyond repair, the old bakelite casing burnt and distorted. He put the floorboards down again, after deciding there was no risk of fire, and got back up. The smell was getting quite strong, he wondered whether some dead animal was rotting beneath the floor. A distant flash of lightning filled the kitchen with light, and he saw for the first time that the door of the refrigerator was open, and that something dark was inside it.

Janet heard her husband's cry as she was climbing the stairs to bed. She turned around, careful not to twist her arthritic leg, and began to go back down again, putting most of her weight on to the bannister. 'Coming, Arthur. What's wrong with you this time?' There was no reply. 'I said, what's wrong with you?' Her thin voice echoed around the stairwell, but there was still no reply. She suddenly felt cold, for a damp, musty-smelling draught blew around her feet.

Gareth froze. What could it be? A cat that has got in without him noticing? A badger? A rat from the sewer? He slowly bent down, without taking his eyes off where the fridge must be, and picked up the torch. He turned it on, and pointed it towards the fridge. The bulb flickered, and faded, leaving him in complete darkness. He began to tremble, and backed towards the door leading back into the hallway. Perhaps it was just food he had left there? He couldn't remember doing so, as the fridge was generally used for drinks, as he ate almost exclusively out of tins. He began to move slowly towards the fridge, determined to overcome his fear. His feet standing in a puddle of water, he lifted up his arm, and put it inside the fridge. His mind crowded with thoughts concerning what it could be. He felt around, noting everything he came across. A small, vacuum pack full of bacon, a packet of sausages, a tub of margarine, something cold, and hairy. Gareth was still determined to find out what it was, so, gasping for breath, he plunged his other hand into the fridge. With this had, he felt another part of it. It felt smooth, and soft, and a large lump with two small holes at the base of it.


Continued tomorrow!

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Juvenilia 3 - Anniversary -

Last story from the first half of 2003 (it's increasingly obvious I was taking a creative writing course around then, isn't it?) - anniversary.kwd, a happily ambiguous tale about something...


Laughter drifted out through the trees, the sound of children playing and adults quietly talking. An early evening in autumn, a warm breeze ruffling the streamers and flags hung across the paved yard. Every so often someone with a glass wandered over to see him, where was resting on a wicker armchair. His age meant he tired easily. A celebration for him; a celebration of him. His birthday. The blur in his eyes made everything diffuse, a warm glow enveloping the yard. He looked around as a gust of wind blew some dry leaves off one of the trees, and

fragments of leaves drifted down, torn into shreds by the guns. The firing started again, and he crouched down further, away from the vengeful zip of bullets flicking overhead and pushed himself further into the sodden undergrowth. The musty smell of rotting leaves entered his nostrils, purging them of the acrid pepper of his own odour, his lacerated body unwashed for months, fresh wounds hiding old scars. The few remaining tatters of his uniform clung to him, soaked through, a constant reminder of what he was. He turned his head round, as

his daughter walked up to him, clutching a bowl of salted nuts. She was smiling, and held the bowl out towards him. He slowly shook his head, politely declining the offer. She waved at him, and hurried towards the crowd where younger faces beckoned. Someone hooted with laughter, the

screams without echo in the dark forest. Another shot, another scream, this time one which slowly ebbed away into nothing. Did he approve of this? It was becoming difficult to judge such concepts. The dull moan of those around him began again, and he retreated into himself, pushing back into

his wheelchair. His daughter wheeled him towards the trees, his family gathering around him. So many faces, so many memories. Too difficult to forget. Now heading for the table, they walked together, joking and cajoling each other, following the wheelchair like some figurehead at a parade. The setting sun cast long shadows across the wall, the sudden creation of new shadows causing flies to buzz away,

landing on the open wounds. They would lay their eggs which would hatch, turning into maggots which would inch their way through the still-living body, consuming the dead and dying flesh. So be it. There was little one could do about such things, they were unfit for working anyway. Used, and to be discarded - surely no strength left left to be wrung from these bodies. Did he approve? He could no longer tell, surrounded by the noise, the smell and the reality. He could remember a speech, where

his grandson held up a glass, wishing everyone well before returning to his seat. Nothing too formal, the informality was reassuring. A reminder of what they could be, without the uniform, without the uniform behaviour. When in a crowd, you conformed with it. And when that crowd was happy, you might as well smile back. A cheer rose as the door was pushed open, a large platter of roast meat followed by his daughter. A rich, meaty fragrance rose with the steam and

the smoke, the body still convulsing on the ground. No uniform, a civilian? Perhaps a spy. In this situation, it was best to ask questions afterwards. Any hint of betrayal or uprising had to be crushed, the risk of it overwhelming the labour camp's meagre defences was too great. Could it happen? He looked backwards, the faces crowding behind him. He doubted it, but maybe he underestimated

his family. Another present? His son handed him the envelope, oblivious to its contents. It was large, rectangular and slightly textured, the expensive paper with an official stamp on it. He carefully opened it, his veined hands shaking due to his age, or his nerves. Old wounds. Unfurling the letter, he began to read. He had expected this, but never thought it would take so long.

His body relaxed, and he tipped his head backwards. Tears emerging from his clouded, rheumy eyes, he sat back in his chair. Could it happen, after all these years?

Only following orders? It wouldn't work this time.

Please excuse the purple prose. Tomorrow, we go backwards in time!

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Juvenilia 2 - Eidetic -

Here's another; eidetic.kwd, also dating from early 2003. It was an idea which had been stuck in my head for ages. I still don't know where to go with it.


It wasn't the same as reliving an experience, it was altogether more detached. A recording, but one with terrifying, bewildering yet flawed accuracy - it was only when re-examining the output from the human senses could the hidden details be appreciated. There was a darker side, however. Unobserved details permanently out of sight, missing information that could never be recovered. She could see the individual phosphenes, disguising what she saw like a grainy mesh of pixels.

"Are you completely sure this is the man who mugged you?"

With a tired expression, the police officer pushed the drawing back over the desk towards Anne.

"Yes, as I've explained..."

"... You have a photographic memory. We know."

"I prefer the term 'eidetic'." Not photographic, which implied fixed, perfect snapshots. Not the complete, multifaceted recall which she possessed.

"You said. I ask again, is this the man who mugged you?"

There had been no need for a police artist, as she had drawn the likeness herself. A haggard, lean face with close-set eyes, short cropped hair and an unshaven chin. A simple description might have matched any of thousands of people, but she didn't deal with such large-scale, anonymous features. To her, the precise location and length of a stray hair was equivalent in magnitude to hair colour; the exact positioning of wrinkles and creases in the skin replacing apparent age. Drowning in detail.

"Is there a problem? I've tried to get the drawing as close as I can."

The lighting was unusual, to say the least. Illuminated from the side by a streetlamp, it was too difficult to subtract the deep shadows without losing information, without extrapolating from nothing. She dealt with details, not generalities.

"Well, you see, we have a bit of a conundrum. We know who it is you've drawn, we can identify him from this. Are you sure about everything you've said? The time, the place of the attack?"

Earlier that evening. She had been walking to her car from the office, leaving later than usual because of a delayed fax. A quick glance at her watch, then the rapid sound of footsteps behind her, splashing through the rain. She had turned round, and -

Anne put her head in her hands, resting her elbows on the table, and nodded. Her descriptions had been good; given the circumstances, it was unlikely anyone else could have done better. The adrenaline, the fear - all combined to reinforce the memories. Unlike others, her mind did not create false details in times of stress. Perfect recall became ever more perfect, a permanent record of the event. A blessing, or a curse?

"Are you sure you're describing the right person? Maybe in the confusion you mixed up the negatives, put the same film through twice?"

"It's not bloody photographic, as I keep telling you." She'd been at the police station for five hours already, it was almost midnight. Hadn't they got enough?

"Okay then. Is this the man?"

He took a piece of paper out of a folder and showed it to her. A fuzzy, black-and-white printout of what looked like CCTV footage, with a date and time corresponding to more than a day before the mugging. A man in a jacket, glancing towards the camera, waiting in line at a bank.

"That's him! The jacket's got five buttons down the front, with the bottom one missing. It's got a small tear in the left sleeve, and..."

"Right. Is this him?"

Another printout, this one in colour. A photograph, the same man. A view of his head. Blue, broken skin, almost the same colour as the stainless steel beneath him. An autopsy, not a mugshot.

"Yes, but..."

"Oliver McCullagh, brought in yesterday afternoon. Decided armed robbery would supplement his income, but some joker thought pepper spray would calm him down. Ran out into the street, was hit by a car. Died almost instantly. I ask again, is this the man who mugged you?"

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Juvenilia 1 - Mole People -

Quiet day of work. So I'm clearing out various old documents and things. Interestingly, I've uncovered a load of creative writing stuff. By me. Unsurprisingly, unpublished.

So, with a captive audience pandering to my every whim, I thought I'd have a week of posting stories and things to this very blog.

Here's a deliberately cheesy snippet of an unstarted, unfinished story, circa March 2003:

... hatch, the rusty metal scraping against the concrete. He stopped, panting. Could they be following him? The surface should be too exposed for such beings, but what about this deserted industrial district? No time for such questions, it was time to get moving.

Brian got up, his ankle a knot of pain, and started to stumble towards the street. Silence. The orange streetlights strobed behind the wooden fence, a constant stacatto in the corner of his eye. Then movement. He threw himself to the ground, and fumbled in his pocket. His gun, or his camera? The breeze picked up, blowing the paper bag further along the path. He relaxed, pulled himself to his feet, and reached for his phone.

"Brian?" Claire's voice was almost deafening in its normalcy. "Have you found it?"

"Yes, but they found me." A whole subterranean world, edited from society's collective consciousness. "I'll get back as soon as I can."

A helicopter pulsed in the distance, its searchlight faintly visible in the smog-laden air. The police, chasing or abetting criminals. A fragment of his world, now shattered by the discovery he had made deep beneath the cruel city streets.

Brian jogged towards where he had left the van, limping due to the jump he had made in his bid for freedom. Two metres? Ten? The darkness, the ...

That's the entirety of mole-people.txt. Lucky you.

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High Dynamic Range -

An updated version of the Source SDK was released on Friday. So, I spent the weekend converting MINERVA to HDR, with a skybox liberated from Day of Defeat: Source...

It's not yet finished (neither is it available for download), but here are some screenshots nevertheless:

It's currently running as a mod of Episode One, which could be very useful in many ways - there's lots of extra content which might prove beneficial, along with basic things like proper HDR support, materials fixed for HDR and the like. Also, the Combine AI is much better. Seriously. I'm going to have to tone down the beefed-up MINERVA skill.cfg to compensate. All this will get released with the third and final part of Metastasis, which is scheduled to happen at some vague point in the distant future. Honest.

Complaints about the unavailability of Episode One will no doubt be found in the comments for this article. Any thoughts either way?

Incidentally, many thanks to Tom Edwards for getting me up to, erm, steam on the new SDK stuff. He's like a merry little bug-finding, issue-resolving micro-acolyte!

Update 2006-08-09: Also thanks to acolyte Al3xand3r, who pointed out the CVG/PC Zone interview I did a while ago, but which hadn't been published until now. Annoyingly, they 'corrected' my spelling of Dogme. How am I supposed to be a pretentious auteur now? ;-)

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