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December 29, 2004



"Half-Life tries its darndest to answer the question, "If we accidentally opened a dimension for alien creatures, what would it really be like?""
While I generally agree with this statement, I would also say:

"... the guns are real-world guns;..."
Well the guns are real-world-like, but only the pistols and the shotgun are copies of real world counterparts.

"... powerups always have a reason for being where they are..."
Erm, Half-life suffered from goodies-in-crate-o-philia as much as any game.


"The answer, I'm pretty sure, is no: the game triggers the cutscene when you're close enough. Still, the illusion is convincing."
To maintain that illusion it's vital that the player not see the scene more than once, the mechanisism gets revealed then. HL2 avoids this by putting lots of autosave points in. (prolly they put them in just after any scripted story event, I haven't checked)


"Once upon a time there was a game called Trespasser that boasted the most realistic physics yet seen in a computer game. The game was universally reviled: "a crate stacking simulation" it was called. After its release, physics was avoided like the plague by game companies. It wasn't until recently that Havok made physics desirable again."
Hmm are you sure that it was Havok that was pushing physics? I would have said that extending ragdoll physics to the rest of the game, was more of a driving force. Certainly all the interest in physics predates Havok (at least the usage thereof).


"Half-Life 2 is the first game to make physics a part of the gameplay, with the creation of (admittedly contrived) physics puzzles."
Hmm I'm not too sure that HL2 was the first game since Tresspasser to do physics in gameplay, although I cannot think of any off the top of my head. It's almost certainly the first FPS since Tresspasser to do so though.


"Half-Life 2 tests the theory, by giving you an incredibly powerful gun that makes the final level and boss fight pretty much a cakewalk,"
Hmm powerful, but it's a 'wierd' weapon, which I think detracts from the climacticness.


Oh and let us not forget the rather bad Team mate AI, which is ok as long as they do not try to go into buildings, where the flaws are revealed. IMHO dropping those parts of the city section might have been a good idea, or perhaps making them more open (limiting combat to the streets perhaps?).

William van der Sterren


(as an AI developer) I don't think your statement "both [Quake2 and Half-Life] had the best enemy AI to date" does justice to the Half-Life's AI, and to the big step forward in game AI it represents.
Compared to Quake2, Half-Life added:
- friendly NPC's who successfully followed the player around, added to the atmosphere with their comments, and provided some assistance
- (the illusion of) squad behavior, with grunts (seemingly) cooperating with another to suppress, flank or throw grenades
- "idle behavior": most NPC's are doing something fitting and believable in the game world when the player first sees them
- replayability, because much of the AI (individual and squad) behavior really responded to the player's actions
- a seemless mix of scripted and autonomous AI

This made the Half-Life AI a benchmark for FPS game AI, and in the following years many games have struggled just to match Half-Life's AI.


Dave Johnston


Regarding the AI, it's probably important to note that since HL1 came out, there have been lots of games with far far more powerful AI. The thing was that in HL1, the AI that was there was good, and fun. It reacted and performed in a way that made playing the game fun. I think too many people picked up on how good the AI was and tried to 'beat' it by making 'cleverer' AI.

HL1's AI wasn't great because it was clever. It was great because it was clever enough, and worked both for and against the player. It could trick the player occasionally, but the user could 'trick' it. It was just right. Lots of games consider AI as something for the player to beat, when in fact, the AI should give the user a challenge and work with the user to make the challenge fun.

Good AI in games is more about the combination of good AI and good game logic than smartness and intelligence.


A great article! You're right, HL1 excelled because it tried to simulate reality as much as possible. I remember in the first level you could walk into a public washroom and use the sink, turn on the hand dryer, even flush toilets. Pickup items weren't animated, hovering icons. The puzzles were always logical (as opposed to hitting random switches, humping walls to find hidden rooms and grabbing keycards). And imagine, a rocket launcher that carries a limited amount of rockets and needs to be reloaded!

HL2 upheld the tradition of simulation, but in the process doesn't feel as revolutionary compared to today's games.


I agree generally, but I just had to say one thing:

Metal Gear Solid isn't overwrought drama because it doesn't take itself serously.


Interesting to see that you only mention good things about HL2; I believe that it has significant game design flaws as well and so it isn't The Game of the year, at least IMHO... a few examples:

Weapons are very limited in their numbers (the combine rifle is the only new gun, and all the alien/energy weapons are taken away); and they aren't properly balanced. The magnum is overpowered for both close range and as a sniper gun. The capacity of the rocket launcher is far too limited with 3 rockets and thus the player is forced to leave cover and search for ammo during the gunship/strider fights far too often. Forcing the player to use the gravity gun only in Ravenholm can be quite frustrating for those who don't like that weapon.

The 'goodies in crates' sickness is very disturbing by now. Many sequences are almost impossible to complete without health loss, and thus the player will always come upon a large supply of medpacks/shields after getting out of these areas. This feels very artifical and takes away from the immersion of the game, especially because the player also has to break the crates somehow to get the goodies.

I have to mention Halo as a game that managed to invent new and better solutions for these typical FPS game problems. Valve should've copied the recharging energy shield concept, and the ammo consumption/resupply balance (especially for the rocket launcher). And I consider Halo's AI (both enemy and friendly) to be better than what I've seen in HL2. The zombies and other monsters were OK to be dumb, but the soldiers seemed to be stupid, too - probably even worse than their HL1 predecessors.

I also didn't like the total linearity, complete with invisible walls and invulnerable characters, but I can accept it as a possible direction for gameplay, considering the increasing demands of asset creation. But I'd still rather have more games of the Thief/Deus Ex/GTA kind, where you aren't traveling on rails...


"The capacity of the rocket launcher is far too limited with 3 rockets and thus the player is forced to leave cover and search for ammo during the gunship/strider fights far too often."

Um, isn't that the point? You get a lot more exciting moments out of the desperate dash to a rocket crate than you would if you let players just sit in a corner and hide. I really liked the alternation between fight and flight - a theme that persisted throughout the game.

The other weapons also work well because they are orthogonally differentiated and so each have their own uses. In how many other games would you still be using the SMG right up until the end?

Ravenholm exists to teach players to use the gravity gun, so that seems fine to me. Goodie-holding crates were always very clearly marked - a big step up on the original.

I had no problem with the health-kit-abundance. At the end of the day, Valve is aiming to provide an experience, not a challenge as such, if you get what I mean. The objective isn't to stop the player progressing but to make them feel what you want to feel as they move through the game.

I think I sound like a Valve-fanboy having written that. Don't get me wrong, there are things I don't like about the game, but I don't think there's anything bad about those issues.


I disagree about Half-Life 2's final boss being good. In fact, I also disliked the first game's final boss greatly.

I'm going to generalize even further. I haven't yet played a PC first-person shooter that had an enjoyable final boss. Wolfenstein, Doom I and II, Quake I, and Half-Life 1 have bosses that are either mundane puzzles or just bigger, stronger regular enemies. And Half-Life 2 had a final "challenge" that was far too easy, then they gave you an ending that was a total cop-out.

My favourite FPS final boss? 006 from the N64 Goldeneye 007. It was frantic, challenging, and not a puzzle; not too mindless (it did require skill) yet not a total mind-boggler. More FPS's need a final boss that has that much excitment and satisfaction.


The boss (queen alien) at the end of the Marine campaign in AvP one was quite entertaining.

Anyone who didn't play it:
You can't kill her. She stomps and charges at you and also hurls boxes at you from around the environment. You have to complete a sequence of events around the cargo bay it's set in, in order to flush her out into space, but not get sucked out yourself.


Jamie...I think your very last comment in the article sums up why HL2 (and HL) were such a success. It feels like Valve was able to strip away all of the extraneous shite that typically keeps most good games from being great. I think this is akin to the editing process in films or writing. I don't know anything about the actual development of HL2, but I'd guess that Valve edited a lot of content to end up with the polished, shiny gem they ended up with.

Great article!

Kevin Mandeville

Great site. I really enjoyed reading your comments about Half-life and HL 2. Although, I got a bit peeved when you started discussing the ending of the game. I quickly stopped reading so I wouldn't spoil it for myself. I haven't completed the game yet! Maybe include something in the beginning of your posts that says you include spoiler information. Otherwise, I like the site, and I'll be adding it to my blogroll, and my site feed list. I'll be back.


the best final boss i ever met, ever, was at the end of 'contra' for the super nintendo, seriously, get one, and the game (costs less than the gold package of hl2, lol) and see what i mean.


Yea this game was great, alot easier than Half Life, but far more better graphics and story line, i really wish there was a better boss but the end does have a good lead into a possible half life 3, altogether i love both of em cant wait till the next one

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Jamie's Bragging Rights

  • Spider-Man 2
    The best superhero games of all time Game Informer
    Top five games of all time Yahtzee Croshaw
    Top five superhero games of all time MSNBC
    Top 100 PS2 games of all time Official Playstation 2 Magazine
    1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die Nomination for Excellence in Gameplay Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
  • Schizoid
    Penny Arcade PAX 10 Award
    Nominated for XBLA Best Original Game
    Nominated for XBLA Best Co-Op Game