ModMatic: SP HL2 Map and Mod News

Single-player modification and map reviews for Valve's Half-Life 2, with more than the occasional diversion and distraction. If we like it, it's here. Do not argue with the system!

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A Beach Party with Mission Improbable -

Awakening briefly from our collective slumber, we are excited to present a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 modification called Half-Life 2: Mission Improbable, created by the talented Magnar Jenssen.

  • A Simple Plan: Mission Improbable presents the good Doctor Freeman with a simple and familiar task: find the button/the plug/the switch, push the button/put the plug in the socket/flick the switch, kill everyone standing in the way. The formula is a right classic with many incarnations. What distinguishes the so-so GoldSource and Source mods from their more memorable siblings are, among other things, the originality of the design and the verisimilitude of the adventure's environment. Unencumbered by grand ambitions, magical architecture or swarms of instantly "teleported" enemies*, Mission Improbable simply does the job as a believable, well-designed piece of action set in, and compatible with, the Half-Life universe.
  • Enter the Dragon: The first frames of a game are often essential in setting the adventure's mood and hinting at the upcoming challenges. In some mods, our character appears out of thin air in the middle of an enclosed space and starts hunting for the trusty crowbar. In Mission Improbable's opening moments, we are taken on a spectacular boat trip along the coast by the base of a huge rock formation supporting the lighthouse, which we will explore later in the game. We splash down into an interestingly lit (if somewhat geologically unusual) cave and start the mission. For this reviewer, this is one of the most spectacular game introductions he's experienced so far.
  • A History of Violence: Smart and balanced placement of enemies and power-ups provide for fun and challenging combats. Frontal assaults will get impatient players either killed or severely wounded fairly quickly. As larger groups of Combine soldiers can usually be heard or seen well in advance, the design rewards sneaky and attentive players, while the few opportunities to recharge the suit's batteries will leave the running-and-gunning players quite vulnerable after the first encounters.
  • Vertical Limit: While the area explored in the mod is fairly small, the judicious usage of vertical structures which we explore across 4 levels (sea, base and top of the lighthouse and port level) creates a good mix of (briefly) claustrophobic "indoor cleaning" with vertiginous open air exploration.
  • Serenity: This reviewer had a lot of fun wandering around the set of Mission Improbable and would love to see more from Mr Jenssen's digital foundry. May his Real Life not get in the way too much.

* See our Ten silly sins of mod design for more information.

Download it from the author's site or from LocMirror.

This article posted by Trurl, 'cause Klapaucjusz currently has much more important things to be doing. Congratulations!

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Ph'nglui mglw'nafh ModMatic R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn -

Is ModMatic dead? Possibly. Can it still post articles? Probably.

We're kind of absorbed by other projects right now, but that still won't stop us posting links to things those amongst us have made. So, let us present Radiator, a splendidly experimental mod for Half-Life 2:

So now you know.

Hello, you either have Javascript turned off or an old version of Macromedia's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.

It even has a download mirror. Enjoy.

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Decay(ed)? Hardly! -

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, two of ModMatic's reviewers exchanged their walking boots for computer keyboards and ventured boldly into the recently released Decay mod, a PC port of the 2001 PS2 game. Four (or more) deaths, a hasty dinner consumed on either side of the Channel and plenty of desperate "low on ammo" messages later, we emerged victorious and quite exhausted from an enjoyable co-operative trek through Black Mesa. So, how fresh is Decay?

  • Transbodying and transgendering:
    In an exquisitely unique fashion, we were given the choice of playing Dr. Gina Cross or Dr. Colette Green or, at the (sometimes inadvertent and unnoticed) push of a button, we could become switch places and become (irreversibly, we initially assumed) the other scientist. We must admit to becoming somewhat confused when the latter occurred and we asked each other to take good care of the body in which we had started. It would appear that players can grow attached to avatars and body images in computer games. A puzzling occurrence, indeed.
  • Gordon who?
    As courageous HEV-clad scientists, who happened to display an uncanny knack for all kinds of assault weapons, we blasted and thought our way through the Black Mesa complex and ransacked Gordon Freeman's room. As much as we would have would wished to get our capable hands on that lazy and taciturn MIT graduate, we were both relieved and disappointed each time a mangled corpse we stumbled upon didn't sport the familiar goatee. Having worked in a tightly bureaucratic organization for many years, we knew that disciplinary reports are a dish best served cold.
  • Meta-meta-gaming:
    In a vertiginously bizarre fashion, we experienced a genuinely hazardous hazard course in which a hologram of one of the heroines engaged in a race with the said heroine. Weaker minds are enjoined not to think about it.
  • Save the bullets for greater justice:
    A rather smart placement of foes, human and alien alike, rewarded conservative and cooperative play. Despite careful exploration of the areas, we have found ourselves with few bullets to spare at the end of several missions. Some of the weapons we found did not always carry over to the later missions, which could suggest that we didn't want to burden ourselves with excessive quincaillerie (or that the designers had found an insurmountable barrier when marrying traditionally single-player map changes with a multiplayer aesthetic).
  • Crowbar placement:
    Best and worst ever. Word.
  • But we were not trained for this!
    Osprey the Chopper-with-Infinite-Grunts is (1) meant to be killed and (2) has a very peculiar weak spot. We checked the walkthrough once (1) to find out how to resolve the quandary without playing again through a grisly I'm-stuck-in-an-elevator-and-I-can-hear-my-colleague-is-on-a-rampage episode. We feel no shame.

Download it now!
Official page

Images from the field trip

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Guildhall mods: Deja Vudu -

(This is part of an on-going series examining the single player Source mods produced by game development students at Guildhall. While we'll still look at the level design, the work process is just as interesting - they're consistently releasing stuff while the rest of the Source modding community is largely languishing. What are these "academic modders" doing differently, how does that affect their design, and what practices should we modders emulate, if any?)

Team Deathosaurus' Deja Vudu is a first person puzzle game about escaping a decrepit mansion by chasing and defeating ghosts. And it's pretty good.

  • No combat: Okay, no punny title for this one, but I had to mention it - there's no combat here in the usual sense. Sure, you technically have to kill some things, but they don't really fight back. Why is that notable? Most single player mods revolve around combat and gunfire.
  • Easy on the eyes: Loads of custom props and textures with mostly tasteful lighting. Overall, some very polished visuals, especially when compared against the other Guildhall mods. Kudos.
  • Cohesive: The mansion floor plan is laid out and designed... like a mansion! Many designers often forget to incorporate their level theme into their map layouts - often you'll see claustrophobic warehouses incapable of storing anything larger than a cat - so it's rather pleasant when the level follows the tropes of its setting convincingly.
  • Back to the future: There's a time travel mechanic that hasn't been done before in the modding community, though I feel like the team could've done more interesting puzzles with the idea (see Day of the Tentacle) - but then again they were under a time limit, which we'll discuss after the review.
  • Quite trite: Some of the puzzle design is very "game-like," focusing on prying nails off of conveniently unstable beams. It's amazing how many things are boarded up in this house. You'll be willing to suspend your disbelief until you're prying nails off of a beam for the sixth time - and you thought the physics puzzles in Half-Life 2 were contrived.
  • Unstable and buggy: Maybe it's just my machine, but I get all kinds of graphic corruption / crashing issues with Episode 1 SDK Base mods. Guildhall students should start using the Orange Box SDK Base. Also - the voodoo doll doesn't talk. Also - I've had to noclip a few times.
  • VERDICT: A somewhat polished puzzle game. Nothing mind blowing or incredibly innovative here; but like everything we post here, it's still worth examining.
  • Download! at (currently unavailable)
  • Download! at (temporary mirror)

Originally released in March 2008.

Interestingly, you can download the Deja Vudu asset / devplan document to get a closer look at their work process; although it's unclear how much of it was actually put into practice and how much of it was merely schoolwork to appease teachers. Still, there are some good ideas in there, namely:

  • A team contract. Although obviously non-binding and useless from a legal standpoint, it could help to make expectations clear.
  • Defining milestones and time constraints. This one can be more difficult to implement outside of the academic setting, seeing as most modders are hobbyists and missing a self-imposed deadline results in no penalties or consequences.
  • Playtesting early. 'nuff said.
  • Short game length with no feature creep. They had a small, manageable amount of content to create - and they did it.
  • No cargo culting or resources diverted to publicity. I'd say most people don't even know this mod exists - but then I guess that's what blogs like this are for? - and they didn't waste resources trying to create a community or fan base... and guess what? They've released in a timely fashion!

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Dear Esther: esoteric epistles -

Dan Pinchbeck's Dear Esther is an "experimental narrative" under the guise of academic research. Indeed, it really isn't much of a game: there's nothing to do but walk around the huge environments and listen to the narration - which turns out to be good and bad at the same time.

  • Walk this way: Very large environments, linear but with no clear direction, slow pre-HEV-suit walking speed. You do the math. While the sheer massiveness of the level design forces contemplation on the player's part and evokes shades of Ico / Shadow of the Colossus, the result is some very slow and tedious pacing. It also weakens the narrative in some ways because you'll forget a lot of what you've heard, wandering around for where to go. Smaller, tighter, more navigable environments would've helped.
  • Talk this way: The (rather well-performed) voice over narration is randomized, though it's better if you play it without knowing that... oh, and blah blah blah it furthers the cause of games as art in some esoteric way, blah blah blah blah.
  • Run away: Fellow level designers will cringe at the jagged landscape / displacement geometry. The "smooth tool" is there for a reason!
  • Pent up, painted up: Probably one of the more creative uses of overlays in the Half-Life 2 single player community, especially in the last level.
  • The British are coming: Rarely do you get non-American or non-City 17 settings in Half-Life 2 single player. The whole mod has a certain "British wistfulness" that seems appealing and exotic - to this Yank, at least.
  • VERDICT: Unorthodox and interesting storytelling, unfortunately marred by less-than-interesting level design. It tries too hard and gets some basic things wrong in the process. Still, credit is deserved for trying something new in a rather dormant single player mod scene.
  • Download! at ModDB.

Originally released on June 19, 2008

And now, an extra credit discussion topic for you to debate in the comments: esotericism. I use the word somewhat in a derogatory sense because I really wanted to like Dear Esther but I couldn't. The narrative - apparently a letter dictated to someone named Esther? - is purposely chopped into pieces and fragmented. It's up to the player to piece together something coherent.

READ MORE: a discussion about coherence and level design ยป

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