Trying to track down a list of “five game mods you must download right now” is a lot like trying to choose your five top games of all time. Sure, your list might be impressive—maybe even awesome—but you’re still going to get a heap of contenders sobbing in the corner at your refusal to acknowledge their almost-noteworthy existences. And nobody likes bawling boxed titles.
So let that be a warning to you, fun-loving gamer who continues to read this article. I’m covering freeware game modifications this time around—freeware, obviously, because I doubt your average enthusiast is going to risk the wrath of a developer’s fury because he or she is selling blood, sweat, and tears in the form of a $5 game add-on. As well, I’m not just looking at maps, or other whip-dip little tweaks. I’m talking about huge transformations that range from, “making this game playable in the modern era” to “wow, I want to go back and revisit this title because it is now sweet.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you get the idea.
But as I mentioned, narrowing down to a list of five is near-impossible. So if you don’t have an affinity for the Infinity Engine (including Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment), Sins of a Solar Empire, Fallout 3, TIE Fighter/X-Wing Alliance, or Half-Life 2… you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, let’s get real.
Valve's track record with “surprises” is a bit dodgy – for every one Alien Swarm, there's a Portal 2 on PS3 – but it's still hard not to get a little giddy when Valve's Gabe Newell starts throwing around the S-word.
"I can guarantee you people are going to be surprised at stuff we do. That isn't going to stop any time soon. I'm just laughing because... people will be shocked again," Valve boss Gabe Newell told PC Gamer.
"We have three pretty big surprises in the next 12 months at least."
Shocked, sure, but will we also be awed, or will we roll our eyes and let out an exasperated “awww”? Knowing Valve, we're expecting the former. We've also got our fingers crossed for the most shocking Half-Life 2: Episode 3-related surprise announcement possible: “It's coming out eventually.”
These days, it seems like every videogame and its Atari 2600 grandmother is getting a movie tie-in. But hey, games are awesome and so are movies, so where's the problem? Well, see, as it turns out, game movies are not awesome. Not in the slightest. So, is it Game Over for gaming's star on the Hollywood walk of fame? Not necessarily, says Valve's Gabe Newell. We just need to change up our approach, is all.
“Where we got into this direction was after Half-Life 1 had shipped. There was a whole bunch of meetings with people from Hollywood. Directors down there wanted to make a Half-Life movie and stuff, so they’d bring in a writer or some talent agency would bring in writers, and they would pitch us on their story. And their stories were just so bad. I mean, brutally, the worst. Not understanding what made the game a good game, or what made the property an interesting thing for people to be a fan of,” he explained to PC Gamer.
“That’s when we started saying ‘Wow, the best thing we could ever do is to just not do this as a movie, or we’d have to make it ourselves.’ And I was like, ‘Make it ourselves? Well that’s impossible.’ But the Team Fortress 2 thing, the Meet The Team shorts, is us trying to explore that.”
And so, on this day, our dream of Jason Statham playing an illogically acrobatic, crowbar-kung-fu master Gordon Freeman – while wearing a phony beard, of course – died a quick death. We're not sure whether to be happy or incredibly depressed about that, honestly.
Gordon Freeman’s a bit of an odd duck. He’s fended off aliens, won the hearts of millions, and – most mystifyingly of all – graduated from MIT, all without making a peep. In this day and age of highly cinematic videogames, though, has the idea of a “silent protagonist” worn out its welcome? Not according to Valve’s Gabe Newell.
"We're not philosophically opposed to this, but we don't have any good reasons to do it,” Newell replied when asked if he’d ever consider unzipping Gordon Freeman’s lips. “Right now making your companions more interesting and compelling seems a more fruitful avenue to explore."
In addition, when asked if Valve has considered giving Gordon Freeman a better sense of “embodiment” – ala Mirror’s Edge – Newell stuck to his guns.
"We haven't had a reason to change that. Most of what I've seen to date has been gimmicky and is entertaining for just a minute or so."
Only in videogames can one of our greatest heroes be a mute disembodied floating arm. Well, unless we’re counting the Addams Family, anyway.
If you just dropped a massive chunk of change on Doom creator id Software, what would you do next? Huh? Did you just say “Buy Valve”? No? No takers? Yeah, we’re not exactly waving our hands about and shouting “called it” on this one either. But, according to the latest stink-raising piece of scuttlebutt over at Eurogamer, Bethesda could very well be in the market for the house that Gordon Freeman built.
“However, it's also worth watching closely what happens to Steam in the coming months. Unconfirmed industry scuttlebutt suggests that Zenimax - the parent company of Bethesda, which made headlines back in June when it acquired legendary PC studio id Software - is still on the acquisition trail, and has been making eyes at Half-Life creators Valve across the bar,” reads the article.
We’ve contacted both Valve and Bethesda for comment, but so far, our questions remain unanswered. We’ll be sure to let you know if we hear more.
Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta’s opening scenes were absolutely out of this world. Within a span of ten minutes, I was torn from the Wasteland, poked and prodded with 100 haystacks’ worth of needles, stripped of the near-impregnable safety blanket I call “Power Armor,” and unceremoniously tossed into a prison cell. Upon awakening, my ragged, desperate human cellmate cowered in fear as some unknown force approached our cell, only to change course at the last second and perform its unspeakable act on some other hapless sap. The poor guy emitted a blood-curdling howl as his frail flesh clunked around in what sounded like a super-powered dryer.
I was absolutely thrilled. Fear, curiosity, and vulnerability hooked me. Adrenaline reeled me in. “Who are these unseen, all-powerful beings?” I wondered. “Why are they doing this?” My interest piqued when my cellmate mentioned our captors’ penchant for tampering with people’s brains. Then I actually saw them. Tiny, green, big heads, round eyes. Beaten and beamed up by God after only two strikes from my pithy 23 unarmed skill. Thrill and intrigue, it was nice knowing you.
What followed was roughly four hours of good old fashioned alien-blasting. Fun, but nothing special. No mind-blowing ulterior motives, no unsettlingly foreign alien culture; the mean, green abducting machines were just a new skin for everyday Fallout 3 enemies. Really, there was nothing "alien" about these aliens. After such a promising opening, I felt more than a little let down.
Black Mesa, a Source engine recreation of the original Half-Life, has sported an unwavering "in development" status for the past four years. After a while, we just started lumping it in with Duke Nukem Forever, Alan Wake, and the apocalypse as signs that God does exist -- but that He's one hell of a procrastinator. After checking out the latest Black Mesa trailer, though, we're belting out a different tune. Or at least, we're trying. The cascading tidal waves of drool blasting out of our mouths -- fire-hose style -- make it kind of difficult.
Fortunately, the mod will apparently scale the walls of development hell within our feeble lifetimes. According to a post on the official site for the unofficial remake, "the days this mod stays in development are truly numbered. Hang tight, because at long last, it is coming."
That’s right Valve faithful, just this week Gordon Freeman celebrated his valiant service at the Black Mesa Research Facility for the 10th time. That’s a whole decade of butt that Mr. Freeman has been kicking, and he’s opened up the door for tons of other great games.
It was the release of Half-Life that really put Valve on the map, and the video gamer’s world is a better place because of it. Games like Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, Team Fotress (2!), Natural Selection and Left 4 Dead have all come out thanks to Half-Life's humble beginnings. If it weren’t for the release of Half-Life 2 and the extremely flexible and stable Source engine, much of the landscape that we all love to shoot up from the first person wouldn’t be here today.
So give your best wishes to all the fine folks at Valve that have kept a strong decade of gaming alive. Without them, without Steam, without Gordon, we wouldn’t be spending so many countless hours (well, counted on our Steam profile pages) blowing out zombie brains and cursing those clever Spies.