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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Interview and Looking Ahead to ... Tomorrow, 6pm! -

The domain name transfer thing seems to have finally been set in motion (it's now listed as 'Status:PENDING TRANSFER' in the whois output), so I might eventually move on to new web hosting. Note to self: seriously, set the DNS stuff before initiating the transfer in future.

But still. There's an interview with myself up at Halflife2.net which could be interesting reading, and will be continued when they send me the questions for a second part; some very childish behaviour which I greatly approve of; and finally and most importantly, Half-Life 2: Episode One gets unlocked over Steam in less than 23 hours.

I'm still looking forward to playing it, despite having played it already. Yes, I'm a fanboy. I admit it.

Update 2006-06-03: Please be warned - the comments in this article may contain spoilers!

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Cease and Desist! ... -

... posting comments on this blog, that is. Hopefully I'll get the new hosting up and running sooner or later, but with a database backup taken a few minutes ago.

Anything posted on here from now on will be lost. Forever!

...

Maybe. ;-)

Edit: 2006-05-31: or maybe not...

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Quiet, too quiet -

Facts.

  • When away from work right now, my only internet access is via a small, Apple external USB modem.
  • Dialup is slow.
  • Windows XP doesn't have drivers for the modem.
  • I haven't posted much to this blog.
  • Hammer only runs in Windows XP, not Mac OS X.

While you're cogitating over all that, a release date? Hmm. No idea - probably late summer if I'm lucky. Yes, I'm in the mapper's block stage of development, and hopefully things will free themselves sooner or later.

Finally, if anyone spotted a couple of hours of downtime - it's because I'd neglected to pay a £1.50 fine for excessive bandwidth usage. Oops. I've ordered some turbocharged hosting from another company, which should keep you all happier...

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Trip to Valve: Crate and Barrel -

Literally just a few minutes walk from the Valve office:

Now I know where they get their standard-issue FPS supplies from. Apparently it's actually like a posh IKEA, but I don't believe that.

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Trip to Valve: Episode One -

Yes, I visited Valve. Yes, I played a work-in-progress version of Episode One. Congratulations on figuring it all out - it seems my clues weren't too cryptic this time...

Anyway. The meat of the matter.

Episode One: don't go in expecting a whole new game. Do expect six or so hours of varied, incredibly polished Half-Life 2 action - while you certainly could finish it in a single sitting, a couple of pauses to catch your breath could be recommended. In places, it's seriously intense gaming - and roughly a third of the way in is the most disturbing, shocking scripted sequence I've seen in any Half-Life game yet. All I can say is ... poor Alyx...

Something I noticed is that it seems a lot more plot-driven than previous Half-Life content - there are various story elements introduced that I'm really looking forward to seeing resolved. Yes, it adds yet more mystery to the Half-Life universe (well, it wouldn't be a Half-Life game without that, would it?) - but does so in a manner that suggests some things will be answered sooner or later. Anyone trying to derive plot elements from filenames in the encrypted GCF might have a rough idea of the overall events which occur in Episode One, but not the reason for them. If that makes sense.

The version I played was somewhat unfinished, and the ending seemed a little disappointing - however it did require a fairly major feat of imagination to see beyond the broken visportals to see the true intention behind it. It seems Valve builds the intros and endings to their games last of all - so I have every faith that it'll be tidied up into something visually spectacular.

It's really interesting to see how successfully Valve has separated gameplay design from the visuals. The oft-mentioned orange-maps aren't so much for removing the visual design, they're more to tell the playtester that the visuals aren't finished, so can be ignored - even if the designers might have a good idea how the final map could actually look.

Over lunch with a bunch of map designers one day (a very good steak in the restaurant at the top of the building Valve is in - although still overcooked by my continental European standards!), I happened to mention that, having seen the grid-like nature of Seattle, I'd become particularly impressed by the authentic European non-grid design of City 17, and how it seemed drastically different from American cities. They took this as a serious compliment - it turned out that few, if any of them had ever visited a European city, and were simply working from reference designs from the art department. They might as well have been building some completely alien world - they had concepts and references, and worked from those. In my opinion, the system most definitely works.

Conversely, they seem to really admire my slightly bizarre way of doing the whole lot, simultaneously. Which is great, too!

I had a long chat with Randy Lundeen and Robin Walker right after playing Episode One, bringing up various maps in the game and making minor suggestions while they made notes. Since I got to playtest fairly late in the development, I knew I couldn't suggest any major changes - but I wouldn't be surprised if I get to see some minor changes in the final product. Often of the minimalist, continuity variety - or of changing lighting colours to better differentiate between different locations in the same building. Still, I'm really proud that they asked - and I'll be even more proud if they listen...

I also had a long chat with Ken Birdwell and Kelly Bailey on world design, and how it influences MINERVA - and all I can say is that I now know why Valve is so successful. There's some serious intellectual talent behind the team, and it seems to have infected my little project with some minor, pivotal plot points. Minerva now has a true home, and MINERVA has a true story arc. There is now weight behind my little project.

Valve going 'episodic' seems like a big experiment - there doesn't appear to be some Grand Scheme written in stone for everything Valve will do in future, rather everything is fairly fluid and capable of amendment. I'd say this is a good thing - multi-million dollar budgets seem to have introduced a serious fear of risk in the gaming industry, so if a major games company is willing to try out new things, then that's good for us all.

A couple of other people to thank, in no particular order: Greg Coomer, Kathy Gehrig, Erik Johnson, Jeff Lane, Dhabih Eng, and a load of others I've forgotten the names of (I'm hopeless with names) - so thanks!

On a more random ending note, have a link to the Wikipedia article produced by my faithful acolytes on this blog. It's a bit gushing in places, so please, maybe you could smooth things out before I slap a lovely {{NPOV}} template on it?

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