Half Life is one of those rare games that's as much an historical event as a genre-defining moment in gaming. It's one of those things that many people can remember perfectly, including what they were doing when they first played, where they were - we were writing a preview for PC Authority when we received the first 20 per cent of the finished game from then unknown developer Valve.
And we finished it one massive, jawdropping session.
The part time devs behind the Black Mesa project get the importance of Half Life. You'd certainly hope they do, given the epic scope of what they're trying to achieve - a full, ground-up re-interpretation of the original using the current Source engine. Get something like that wrong, and you'll know about it. Get it right, and like many great mods teams you'll likely find your project to be an important step into getting fulltime employment.
Black Mesa isn't even complete or released yet, and already a lot of team have found themselves offered jobs at some pretty major development houses. What these guys are doing is making even the Source engine's creators scratch their heads. Which is pretty fair, we've played a goodly portion of Black Mesa now, and these guys are doing some amazing work.
We're pretty lucky here at Atomic. One of the Black Mesa team's texture wranglers is no less than our very own comment troll Orcone. He brought in the latest build for us to play with yesterday, and play with it we have. The game's more or less complete - albeit with lots of tweaking to go - right up to the Xen levels. We could have jumped into any part of the game, but really, you have to start at the classic starter level, Inbound.
The combination of attention to original detail, and new material provided by the modern team is impressive. If you've ever tried to go back to Half Life you'll know the old engine really isn't aging well; this, however, makes the game fresh and up to date.
It's also fiendishly self-referential - there's a newspaper on one of the chairs in your carriage called the Inbound Times... The Half Life sense of humour is very much intact and expanded upon.
But apart from that, this is all new material - new textures, new animations, even new voice work. It's all lovingly based off the original, but with a few twists that keep the story in line with the now much more expanded universe that subsequent releases have given us.
Full use has also been made of the Source engine's implementation of Havok physics. Most items can be picked up and thrown around, and the explosive action is much more chaotic than ever before. But it's the simple things that amuse, it seems - we spent more time than is probably healthy stacking chairs, folders and magazines on the Anomalous Materials reception desk during our initial run through.
Much to Orcone's dismay.
This is an outstanding effort from an obviously dedicated and remarkably skilled team. We can't wait to see more of the game.
EDIT: We did have a large gallery of images of the game, but the project leads have asked us to remove them. Due to a miscommunication, they were unaware of our intent in the article. Watch this space, however, as we're looking to see what we can do to cover Black Mesa in the future.