smoketetsuo: (motoko)
Black Mesa
My Black Mesa Icon click on it to see my Deviantart release page for it.
Maybe Black Mesa, that was a joke ha ha fat chance! Is what the lyrics in 2007's Portal said. Well, it turns out not too much of a fat chance because Black Mesa has been finally released! This long in the making total conversion mod of the original Half-Life in the Source engine which debuted with Half-Life 2 and Vampire The Masquerde Bloodlines has been highly anticipated by many people on the internet including myself. Tonight I will talk some about what I liked, what I didn't like and how I feel the game faired as a whole.

 Their achilles heel is they used Microsoft Operating Systems. ;)

First a little background. The original Half-Life which this is a remake of was released in 1998 and was one of the first games I played on my then new computer with one of the first truly high performance consumer graphics cards with 3D acceleration, the 3Dfx Voodoo. I'm not sure which 3Dfx card I used whether it was the first one or a Voodoo2 but it was a 3Dfx card nonetheless. Back then Half-Life was a brand new cutting edge game made on a heavily modified Quake engine now known as GLDSRC. The Source engine still has tiny bits of code harking back to the quake engine but has been modified enough to be its own thing and kept up to date with the latest effects. The GLDSRC engine did back in the day push my Pentium 2 with Voodoo2 card to its limits.

This fan based outing like the original game runs mostly with good performance although there are bugs that will crop up here and there especially if you are like me and are running the game via WINE since there's no natively compiled version for your platform of choice. In this situation the platform of choice is the Mac. Valve has released most of their games in mac native form and continuosly upgraded them for more performance and stability. However, the state of the Software Development Kits for the Source Engine isn't at a place that is conducive for the Black Mesa team to compile Black Mesa for the Mac it seems. So that leaves someone like me with WINE as their only alternative other than using bootcamp or virtualization and installing a whole full fledge copy of Windows just to play a game like this. All the screenshots on this page where taken on a late 2009 27 inch iMac running the game via a wrapped copy of WINE with Steam, Source SDK 2007 and Black Mesa.
The GMan in Black Mesa

How does it run in WINE you ask? Fairly well for the most part. Setup correctly one can play through long stretches of it with just a few hiccups here and there. However, currently it seems there might be some kind of memory leak somewhere in the game as sometimes the perfomace degrades and one has to restart the game to get it back and every once in a while there's a crash due to a memory allocation error. 

Getting to the game itself. The original game for all the things it pioneered or innovated in the first person shooter is rather crude when it comes to the shooting mechanics as far as I'm concerned. Black Mesa shares more of its gameplay with source engine based games which is quite the improvement in my opinion. Additionally it has some extras I appreciate like unlimited sprinting and I'm not even sure the flash light has a limit. In Half-Life there was no sprinting and in Half-Life 2 Gordon had a weak battery that ran out quickly whenever he sprinted or turned on the flash light... something Alyx Vance in Half-Life 2 Episode 2 commented on saying they need to get Dr. Kleiner to replace the batteries in his suit some time.
It was intersting hearing the sciensts talk about things like the value of derivative works.

The best part of the game in my opinion are the models and level artwork that seem to be lovingly crafted and the attention to detail in most of the areas especially the office areas is quite good. There's no small detail they didn't leave out or expand upon making it seem more like a real laboratory rather than the more spartan empty gamey levels the original game had. There's still some restraint as we still don't have unlimited resources on our computers and the source engine still does have its limits but the facelift was quite good. High resolution textures, detail textures, normal mapping, reflection mapping, etc. almost everywhere was well as well done lighting highlighting all those things. Some of the effects are greatly improved over the original games such as the blasts from the houndeye creatures which now do a shader based shockwave style warping effect. 

I appreciated all the little touches like the fake brands various products littered throughout the base although I did spot at least one real product, "Mr. Pibb" soda. 

The sound is quite good and nothing was skimped out on there. It doesn't sound like someone recorded all the sound effects with a cheap mic in their garage. It sounds quite professional. Each surface you run across seems to have its own high quality sound effects attached to the material and the sounds that play when one runs over the different types of grating are especially good and varied. The music was also very good and professionally done.. the music in the original game was pretty good but the music in the new game sounds a lot more like the style Valve has evolved their style into which is welcome by me. 

Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance in Black Mesa
Even the voice acting is quite good despite being from "amateurs" some of the voices are pretty spot on such as a young Dr. Kleiner although the voice for Eli Vance wasn't quite as authentic. In the original game most of the scientists where just generic scientists and all had pretty much the same set of voices. In Black Mesa there's more variety to them and the two scientists I mentioned here do have their own unique voices and look. But again, Eli Vance's voice isn't quite spot on... his voice from Half-Life 2 was done by the actor who played Bensen in the epinomous television show. Here he sounds more like some guy trying his best to do an authentic imitation of some kind of southern american voice. It doesn't bring the game down per say especially since his appearance is rather brief... but it is a tiny chink in the armor. 

They forgot to stick to canon for a few things though like they didn't include Dr. Magnusson in the break room tending to his casserole in the microwave which you overcook and blow up. Although the scientist and guard did say Gordon should make a hasty retreat hinting that Magnusson would come in and yelll at him or something.
The fated casserole in Black Mesa

Also Barney never showed up and offered to go have a beer with Gordon later on which is a little more canon breaking because in Half-Life 2 when he re-introduces himself he says, "Now, about that beer I owed you!" which doesn't make much sense if he didn't say it in the previous game. The only mention of him is the guard at the entrance saying his beer tab must have caught up with him and some people say the guard knocking at the door you pass by in the tram in the beginning is him. 

There's still some repetition in the scientist and guards faces but not nearly as much as in the original game. The same thing could be said for the game design as a whole. There's more variety in the looks of the levels this time around and in fact some of the later areas I hardly recognized at all... but they still for the most part followed the same layouts as the original game. Except there seems to be more environmental puzzles to bring it up to and past Half-Life 2 level that was enough in there to keep me guessing.
The Machinery that started it all.

Now onto some things I didn't like about the game. Even though this game has been worked on for three extra years over the original release date some bugs seemed to have slipped in. For example, there's a part where one has to run out of a tunnel with one of the bosses called a "gargantua" chasing after. One has to get ontop of a tower with a radio strike computer at the top and order an air strike on the Gargantua... then use the same device to open up a path to get out of that area.

Well, the first part was difficult because the way they made the tower you stand on shake a lot when the Gargantua shakes it making it hard to keep the computer interface activated and use it. Then, after you managed to do that the computer wasn't working for me at all I couldn't order any more air strikes so I ended up briefly turning on cheats and noclipping may way past the gate to the area I needed to get to. Also the tunnel where he came out of stayed clear but they put up an invisible barrier so one can't go back inside... if they really wanted to make it so a person can't return in there they should have made the tunnel collapse I say.
Picturesque Devastation 

Another thing that bugged me was some of the physics they put into the game. Some jumping puzzles where finnicky and required a lot of crouch jumping to get through. Although at least that sort of prepares you for usins the long jump module later on. There's a part where you run across the top of a dam and an apache helicopter attacks you. I forgot that one has to use the tau cannon to scare the helicotper away and I jumped into the water with the helicopter continuing to attack. What bugs me about that is... especially after seeing the Mythbusters episode about firing into water I know that bullets should always break up on the surface and lose a lot of energy. In Black Mesa (and to be fair other games and also movies) they can shoot you in the water just as easily as they can if you are above the surface. 
One of the bugs in the game... Soldiers floating in mid-air after being dropped off by rope from a helicopter.

Later on there's a part where you are in a warehouse full of laser trip mines and the beams for them where way too sensitive and if you activate even just one the entire building blow up taking you with it. The laser trip mines in for example the Duke Nukem games where never that sensitive in Black Mesa one has to jump extra high over them in order to avoid blowing the whole place up. I had to use quicksave liberally in that area to get through it and it was quite maddening. 

Overall even with the few crashes and bugs I've had with the game my impression of it is very high and I look forward to the final chapters being released which are supposed to be improved and expanded upon so I look forward to that. Also, it would be great with the the steam greenlight stuff if the game would be run through QA and compiled for Mac. But at least I got to play it in the meantime and had a good time. 

{   View more screenshots by me of Black Mesa running in WINE on the Mac.   }


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