Half-Life 2


Life Forms




Concept Art

The Story

Of course, Gordon Freeman is back, but nothing we’ve seen so far indicates a trip back to the Black Mesa Research Facility. Instead, most of what we saw focused on an Eastern European locale called City 17. When asked about other locations for the game, Valve Managing Director Gabe Newell wouldn’t give out any other specific locations, but he did reveal something of interest, saying “the entire game will be set on Earth,” and that gamers won’t be visiting the alien world of Xen this time around.

Even so, it’s clear this isn’t any Earth we’re familiar with, at least not with all these aliens running around and such. How much time has passed since the events at Black Mesa? Valve wouldn’t tell us for sure, explaining that figuring out what’s happened to Earth in the past few years (and what Freeman’s been up to) is something you’ll learn over the course of the game. True to the game’s lineage, you know no more or less than Gordon Freeman: he’s just as lost as you, and you’ll discover the history of this brave new world right alongside him. You see the entire game through his eyes, there are no third-person scripted sequences, there are no movie-like cinematics, and you never even hear Gordon speak. As Newell states simply, “You are Gordon Freeman.”

As in the original game, you’ll have some help this time around. One of the key figures is girl named Alyx Vance, who, as it turns out, is the daughter of one of the scientists from Black Mesa. (“A child of this new world,” says Lombardi.) You might remember her father, Eli -- he was the only scientist “of color” to appear in the game -- and he returns for Half-Life 2 as well. It turns out Alyx’s mother was killed during the incident at Black Mesa, and she’s well aware of who Gordon Freeman is … although you may not be entirely sure yourself. Also returning: our buddy, Barney the security guard, who we last saw successfully escaping from Black Mesa at the end of Blue Shift.

Although nothing substantial, we were able to glean a little more info from Valve on a variety of topics. At points, you’ll be fighting with aliens from Xen, for reasons that have yet to be revealed. And, just as you fought the military in Half-Life, you’ll find yourself in combat against City 17 personnel. Vehicles will be present and play a major role, and they won’t just be preprogrammed objects on a rail; you’ll be in full control and will need them to get from one area to another quickly.

The Game

Half-Life 2 is developed by Valve Software the creators of Half-Life. In conclusion, Half-Life 2 WILL set new standards for every game that precedes it to try to brake, what more can you ask for in a game?

The Technology

Half-Life takes advantage of licensed technology from id Software, but adds a whole new level of proprietary technology. Just a few of the technological advancements include:

  • Version 2.0 (and below) shaders, bump mapping, LOD on models and world
  • Author shaders with HLSL
  • Cube and environment mapping
  • Dynamic lights, vertex lighting and light maps, many light types including flickering, pulsing etc.
  • High-Dynamic Range lighting
  • Water with refraction and fresnel effects
  • Advanced particle system that can emit sprites or models
  • Projected shadows allow for a large number of characters per scene
  • Occluder entities for visibility blocking
  • Indoor/Outdoor environment
    • Deformable terrain
    • 3D skyboxes extend the horizon and add parallax on distant objects
    • Dynamically rendered organics (grass, trees etc)
  • Subdivision surfaces, diffuse & specular bump maps
  • Real-time radiosity lighting
  • Effects include but are not limited to: particles, beams, volumetric smoke, sparks, blood, environmental effects like fog and rain
  • Scalability
    • Dx6-Dx9 hardware supported

Materials System

  • Instead of traditional textures, Source defines sets of materials that specify what the object is made from and the texture used for that object.  A material specifies how an object will fracture when broken, what it will sound like when broken or dragged across another surface, and what that object’s mass and buoyancy are.  This system is much more flexible than other texture only based systems.
  • Materials can interact with objects or NPCs such as mud or ice for vehicles to slide/lose traction on.

Multiplayer Network Code

  • Time and gamer tested by millions of gamers around the world
  • Support for both LAN based multiplayer and Internet based multiplayer games
  • Prediction analysis for interpolating collision/hit detection
  • Optimizations for high-latency, high-packet loss 56k connections 

Advanced Characters

  • Detailed and believable characters
  • Realistic eyes
    • Focus on player/object, not simply parallel views
    • Proper eye “bulge” for realistic eye reflections
  • Simulated musculature provides outstanding emotions, speech and body language
  • Language independent speech, characters can naturally speak in many languages
  • Skeletal/bone system for animation
  • Layered animation system can synthesize complex animations out of several pieces


  • More responsive world with realistic interactions
  • Sounds & graphics follow from physics
  • AI characters can interact with physically simulated objects
  • Ropes/cables, machines, constraint systems, ragdoll physics
  • Can be controlled by level design
  • Kinematic animated bone followers
  • Custom procedural physics controllers
  • Vehicles
    • Wheels slip and skid
    • Realistic suspensions with springs on each wheel
    • Realistic leaning during acceleration/deceleration and turning
    • Individually tunable parameters such as horsepower, gearing, max speed, shift speed, tire material, tire friction, spring tension/dampening etc.
    • Multiple players in a vehicle in multiplayer
    • Hovercraft support for cheaper simulation

Advanced AI

  • I/O system allowing level designers to control AI
  • Sophisticated navigation: characters that run, fly, jump, crouch, climb stairs and ladders, and burrow underground
  • AI senses things using sight, sound, smell
  • AI relationships determine friend/foe status of other entities
  • Battle AI allows squads of AI characters to operate together, know when to advance, retreat, lay cover fire, etc. 
  • Sound
  • 5.1 surround sound, 4 speaker surround
  • High-quality 3D spatialization
  • Custom software DSP
  • Automatic DSP based on environmental geometry
  • ADPCM decompression
  • 16-bit 44KHz, stereo wave data with all features
  • MP3 decompression (requires Miles license)
  • Support for audio streaming on any wave
  • Real-time wave file stitching
  • Pre-authored Doppler effect encoded waves
  • Pre-authored distance variant encoded waves


  • Server browser - Displays all active game servers and allows a player to choose which one to participate on.  Players can filter and sort server lists in order to speed up the display and selection of a server.
  • Friends instant messenger - Allows players to message each other both in and out of the game as well as join friends in existing games.  No more confusion about what server your friends are on, you can easily join with this feature.
  • VGUI – Valve’s custom GUI interface mimics most of the windows controls but is rendered using the Source engine for both in game and out of game uniform UI display.  VGUI is platform independent and is Unicode compliant for ease of localization


  • All code written in C/C++ using Visual Studio 6.0.  Easily and quickly derive new entities from existing base classes.
  • Internal context sensitive performance monitoring system
  • Graphics performance measurement tools built into the engine
  • Modular code design (via DLL’s) allows swapping out of core components for easy upgrading or code replacement
  • Dx9 shaders all written in HLSL


  • Faceposer
    • Facial expression tool used to craft speech and emotions
  • Valve Hammer Editor
    • WYSIWYG World editor
    • Create world brushes
    • Terrain editor
    • Place detailed world models and AI NPCs
    • Set navigation points/paths for NPCs
    • Place triggers, clip brushes, logic etc.
    • Allows level designer to hook up I/O between entities to control AI within the game|
  • Half-Life Model Viewer
    • Full model previewer
    • Rotate models in any direction
    • Setup hit boxes
    • View physics hull
    • View normals
    • Wireframe, shaded or textured view modes
  • Studiomdl
    • Model compiler
  • Vbsp, Vrad, Vvis, VMPI
    • Map compilation tools (bsp, lighting and visibility)
    • VMPI – distributed compilation tool allowing level compiles to be spread across many pc’s greatly reducing compile times
  • Exporters
    • XSI, Max and Maya .smd exporters for exporting 3D models