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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Why Do We Bother? -

Enrique Colinet (Baxayaun) at SDK Project makes games in Source using only the Hammer level editor and configuration file changes, without any actual game programming. It's impressive, but I think it's a waste of his talent.

He's not solving any game design problems or posing any design questions. He's just recreating some (relatively simple) games without the use of programming. Why bother making a Breakout clone in Source when one can play an arguably better Flash version on a website within a few seconds? Even when assuming that you absolutely must get your Breakout fix in the Source engine, it would be a relatively simple matter for a programmer to code it directly into the game. Why bother imposing these artificial production constraints on yourself? To earn "street cred?"

READ MORE: a discussion about why we mod »

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MBWPG: Punch the bidet! -

The first victim of the ModMatic Beta Watch Press Gang is Project: Secret Weapon by a certain Степаненко Дмитрий, who has allowed us to punch bidets with our bare hands and get machine guns in return. If that's not reason enough to give this mod a lash, I don't know what is!

  • It's like the telly in the 50s: tap ALT for the Black-and-White-Visiorama
  • Eyesore: HDR is a killer in indoor areas.
  • Evil eye: iconoclasts are in for a surprise.
  • Eye in the sky: fly that funky stalker-cage chopper.
  • Bloodshot: a certain secondary fire is lethal.
  • Cotton-eye Ivan: most in-game texts appear as place holders, the html tasks are in ANSI encoded cyrillic
  • Wink-wink: it's mad and fun and buggy and nicely tactical in some areas and doesn't take itself too seriously. Plus we're certain we've seen most of the models elsewhere...
  • Punchline: drop everything and punch the bidet!

Download the Beta!

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Day 15, and Frustrating or Fun? -

Semi-regular updates on ModMatic? Heresy! Well, don't get too used to them. In the meantime: Chris Fox continues his "Day" series with the venerable Day 15 for Half-Life 2. While in some ways it seems like a step backwards from his previous Day 14, it's interesting enough to warrant your time.

  • The good bits: Custom NPC speech is always a welcome addition; some intriguingly weird architecture that seems to be Chris Fox's forte; an interesting set-piece or two.
  • The not-so good bits: It's easy to get stuck by solving a particular puzzle with an obvious (but unintended) solution; the intended solution to said puzzle is unintuitive and unclear; levels are shrouded in darkness, but it seems more out of laziness rather than purposes of atmosphere; lazily designed street war segment at the end with bunched together Combine soldiers lining up to get shot.
  • The confusing design bits: The plot seems like it could've been interesting if it were developed more; why cram a street war segment at the end?
  • Download! Originally released on April 18, 2007

And now, a possible discussion topic to debate, if people would care to indulge me: In Day 15, an in-game NPC tells you NOT to expect the level design to make any sense, which is a strange request - especially coming from the designer himself! Indeed, some of the design isn't logical, and Day 15 can be frustrating at times... Which is an interesting approach to compare to Valve redefining the goal of successful level design with all their focus on playtesting and re-iteration: essentially, to not frustrate the player, but to lead the player and get him/her to finish the game.

The Episode 2 game completion stats suggest that Valve wasn't as successful as they hoped with under 50% of players reaching the last map. Though there are many reasons why players don't reach the end, we can assume a large proportion simply aren't motivated to finish - maybe they are frustrated, maybe they are bored. Either way, it leads us back to several design questions:

  • Should we strive for frustration-free level design? Is frustration a valid emotion to draw from the player? In other forms of media, works are often purposely obfuscated to force the reader/viewer to become more involved with their interpretation: for example, it can be difficult to extract meaning from various modern art pieces. Oh, and I dare you to try reading Finnegans Wake sometime.
  • What should successful level design entail? As designers, is "fun" the chief response we should target from players? Indie game developer Jonathan Blow suggests that there are unethical forms of "fun" that infantilize players, and that such gameplay mechanics should be avoided by designers. Must level design serve some sort of "higher purpose" - to educate, to train critical thinking, to promote discussion?

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Residual Error -

ModMatic continues that unstoppable end-of-year onslaught with a second article - this time about the inexplicable, Korean Residual Error for Half-Life 2. Or, to give it its full name, Residual Error: City 34 Vol. 1. What's this, an episodic single-player mod? Wonders shall never cease!

  • Good bits: quite a few maps of intrigue, shooting and travel from a Combine citadel into the desolate, zombie-filled wastelands surrounding it. The lines of fortifications are almost certainly referring to the Korean Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, but...
  • Confusing bits: ... no exposed plot whatsoever. The installer displays large tracts of (presumably) Korean text, complete with a broken text encoding removing all trace of legibility, but beyond that? There's definitely something interesting going on, with an apparent coalition of rebels and Combine defending themselves against both the environment and the player, but it's sadly been lost in translation.
  • Bad bits: starts rather drab, but slowly ramps itself into some much more interesting environments - with potential framerate issues. I blame the (admittedly lovely) volumetric fog effects. And the untold billion crates chock full of supplies.
  • Legal bits: a lengthy End-User Licence Agreement, displayed entirely in garbled, broken Korean! We hope we haven't sold our trousers into slavery or anything unfortunate like that.
  • What-is-the-answer-and-why bits: where are we going? Why doesn't the Combine like us any more? What's with the horribly-beweaponed Kleiner-clones? Why does the game end incredibly abruptly?


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I don't want to go to Toronto -

ModMatic has briefly roused itself from Christmas feasting to bring you the first of a number of mods. To start off this end-of-year micro-extravaganza, we first bring you City 7: Toronto Conflict...

  • Good bits: key locations of Toronto recreated in Half-Life 2, with new music, voices, props, textures and what have you - created thanks to the Game Design program at George Brown College. See the real world, digitalised!
  • Unfortunate bits: we haven't actually seen this part of the real world up-close, so our impressions of the noble city of Toronto must be derived entirely from this mod.
  • Mandatory bits: behave yourself, or you shall be shot. Go in an off-limits section of a public park? Get shot by the Combine. Dare to look over a handrail? Get shot by the Combine. Step in the ornamental water feature? Get shot by Combine snipers! Canadians must behave themselves. It has been decreed.
  • Missing bits: intensive playtesting, properly implemented skill levels (play on Easy if you want to live), and a decent signposting of routes and puzzles. Any chance of a tourist map? I'd like to visit the Overwatch headquarters, please! Which Metro train must I catch? And will buying a ticket protect me from being gunned down by the Combine?
  • Unexpected bits: there's a rebellion. I wonder why? Perhaps it's the whole no-stepping-in-the-fountains thing which tipped them over the edge? Or the separate-your-litter-for-recycling bins everywhere? Who knows!
  • Obscure bit: there's a tower which controls people's minds!
  • Possibly-read bit: walkthrough, for when the strange Canadian civil edicts get the better of you.

It's an interesting piece of work - but do play on Easy, don't take it in any way seriously, and you should get some fun from it. Then do what we did, and look up pictures of the real Toronto, to see how accurate this version is. If we ever do go to Toronto, we'll no doubt get terribly confused - as we were when we visited the undoubtedly Deus Ex-inspired Battery Park in New York. No underground hide-out? Disgraceful!

Download now!

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