Black Mesa (video game)
Caption of Black Mesa
|Platform(s)||Microsoft Windows, Linux|
Black Mesa (stylized as BLλCK MESA, formerly known as Black Mesa: Source) is a first-person shooter video game, developed and published by Crowbar Collective. It is a third-party remake of Half-Life (1998), and was originally released as a free modification for Half-Life 2 on September 14, 2012. It received a standalone commercial release through Steam Early Access on May 5, 2015.
The gameplay of Black Mesa is reminiscent to that of the original game: the player controls Gordon Freeman, a scientist at the titular research facility in New Mexico, as he navigates through the complex after a botched experiment, with nearly uninterrupted control of the character. The main differences include: an entirely reskinned collection of textures, models, and NPCs; a noticeably longer runtime; and additional dialogue and story elements. The initial release excluded the "Xen" chapters from the original game. A staggered release is used for the Xen chapters, with the public beta release of the final chapters being planned for Q3 2019.
The project was initially announced in 2005, shortly after the release of the Source engine port of the original game. Over the course of its nearly decade long development cycle, the game has been overhauled several times, including redesigns of several components and effects, as well as an added multiplayer mode. It has been featured in several video game publications, including direct attention from Valve Corporation themselves. Due to its long development time, the modification became notable for its delays and dwindling updates on the status of its completion.
Black Mesa received highly positive reviews from critics upon its initial release, despite not being in a complete state. Praise was directed towards the gameplay and attention to detail, comparing it to that of an official Valve release. Due to its several delays, Wired included the game on their "Vaporware of the Year" lists in 2009 and 2010.
Black Mesa is a first-person shooter that requires the player to perform combat tasks and solve various puzzles to advance through the game. From a design standpoint, the core gameplay remains largely unchanged from the original Half-Life; the player can carry a number of weapons that they find through the course of the game, though they must also locate and monitor ammunition for most weapons. The player's character is protected by a hazard suit that monitors the player's health and can be charged as a shield, absorbing a limited amount of damage. Health and battery packs can be found scattered through the game, as well as stations that can recharge either health or suit charge.
However, unlike Half-Life: Source, which merely featured the original game's assets and geometry ported to the Source engine, Black Mesa has been purpose-built from the ground up to take full advantage of the newest versions of Source, not just for its graphical capabilities, but for its myriad updates to the game's physics engine, puzzle complexity, and platforming capability. In addition, several narrative and design changes have been made to account for the numerous story threads presented via Retcon in Half-Life 2.
The plot of Black Mesa is almost identical to Half-Life's storyline, playable through the "Lambda Core" chapter. As in the original game, the player controls Gordon Freeman, a scientist working at the Black Mesa Research Facility. He is tasked to place a sample of a strange material into an electromagnetic instrument, using the Hazardous Environment Suit Mark IV to do so safely. However, the sample material causes a "resonance cascade", devastating the facility and creating an interdimensional rift to an alien dimension called Xen, bringing its alien creatures to Earth. Freeman survives, finds other survivors, and makes his way to the surface with the protection of his hazard suit to get help. Upon reaching the surface, however, he finds that the facility is being cleansed of any living thing - human or alien - by armed forces. From other scientists, Freeman finds the only way to stop the alien invasion is to cross over to Xen and destroy the entity holding the portal open.
With the release of Half-Life 2 in 2004, Valve re-released several of its previous titles, ported to their new Source game engine, including the critically acclaimed 1998 game Half-Life as Half-Life: Source. The Source engine is graphically more advanced than the GoldSrc engine used for the original games. Half-Life: Source features the Havok physics engine and improved effects for water and lighting. The level architecture, textures, and models of the game, however, remained unchanged.
Half-Life: Source was met with mixed reviews. IGN liked the new user interface and other technical features, but noted that it did not receive as many improvements as Valve's other Source engine ports. GameSpy said that while it was a "fun little bonus", it was "certainly not the major graphical upgrade some people thought it might be". Valve's managing director Gabe Newell is quoted as saying that a complete Source remake of Half-Life by its fans was "not only possible…but inevitable".
Black Mesa began as the combination of two independent volunteer projects, each aiming to completely recreate Half-Life using Source. The Leakfree modification was announced in September 2004. The Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project was announced one month later. After realizing their similar goals, project leaders for both teams decided to combine their efforts; they formed a new 13-person team under the name Black Mesa: Source. The "Source" in the project's title was later dropped when Valve asked the team to remove it in order to "stem confusion over whether or not [it was] an endorsed or official product", which at the time it was not.
Originally based on the version of Source released with Counter-Strike: Source in 2004, the project switched to a more recent version released with Valve's The Orange Box in 2007. This new version included more advanced particle effects, hardware-accelerated facial animation, and support for multi-core processor rendering, amongst other improvements. The first standalone game came out in September 2012.
The team then stated that they had moved Black Mesa to Valve's new 2013 version of Source, with faster load times and Mac OS X and Linux support, as well as modifying it to be its own hybrid engine. The Black Mesa branch of the engine is a modified version of the Team Fortress 2 branch, as well as having features from games like Left 4 Dead 2, Portal 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. On October 27, 2016, the first Black Mesa Linux client was released to the public.
In addition to the modification itself, the game's thematic score, produced by sound designer Joel Nielsen, was independently released as a soundtrack in 2012. Nielsen released the score for the Xen levels in 2019.
Marketing and release
The developers released a teaser trailer in 2005, and a full-length preview trailer in 2008. They also released images, videos, and concept art during the project's development. Black Mesa was given an official release date of "late 2009" in the spring of 2009, but this date was changed to "when it's done" after the development team was unable to fulfill this date.
On June 10, 2012, the Black Mesa development team announced that new "media" would be released once their Facebook page reached 20,000 likes. This goal was reached on June 11, 2012 when 8 new screenshots were released, along with an announcement of the start of a "social-media campaign" towards their first release.
The first section of Black Mesa was released on September 14, 2012, distributed as a free download. It has been confirmed that Black Mesa will also be distributed via Steam; the remake was among the first ten titles whose release on the platform was approved using Valve's crowdvoting service Steam Greenlight. The initial release consists of remakes of all Half-Life's chapters except those set on the alien world "Xen", which the team intends to expand for inclusion in a future release. The development team estimates that the initial release of Black Mesa gives players eight to ten hours of content to complete. In November 2013, the team confirmed they have been given the go-ahead from Valve to release a commercial version of the Black Mesa product via Steam. The team plans to use the additional funds to improve the game's implementation in Source and to include additional features; the free version will continue to be offered.
Black Mesa was released on Steam's Early Access program for Windows on May 5, 2015, lacking the Xen sections as previously described. On October 27, 2016, the first beta client for Linux platforms was released to the public.
The release of the Xen part of the game has been difficult, since the Black Mesa team wanted to redesign the levels to overcome their poor perception that they had in Half-Life's original release. The team said, "We want our version of Xen to feel like it really belongs with the rest of the game in terms of mechanics, cohesion and progression," while at the same time, they wanted "to push the boundaries and explore this unique and varied setting; to build an experience that feels both fresh and familiar to players from all walks of Half-Life veterancy." They have had to push the release of Xen off a few times; initially planned for a December 2017 release. On November 19, 2018 the first trailer for Black Mesa: Xen was released, with a release date for the second quarter of 2019.
On June 16, 2015, the first content update (version 0.1.0) for Black Mesa was released. It featured a new deathmatch map (dm_stack) and added a number of player models for the game's multiplayer component. It also fixed many bugs in both singleplayer and multiplayer.
On December 22, 2015, version 0.2.0 was released, dubbed "The Crossfire Update." The update added a new multiplayer map (Crossfire), new weapon models, graphical improvements (god rays), localization improvements, a Steam Controller configuration, and map balance updates across singleplayer and multiplayer.
On May 15, 2016, version 0.3.0 was released, dubbed "The Surface Tension Update". The update integrates a popular mod, Surface Tension Uncut, into the game (the mod's developer, TextFAMGUY1, had previously been added to the development team). The new content adds about an hour of gameplay to the game. The update also adds high definition shadows (using Cascaded Shadow Maps), faster map load times, and translation support for 5 additional languages. As with previous updates, 0.3.0 additionally contains game balance and level design changes across singleplayer and multiplayer, as well as programming bug fixes. Notably the game's Artificial Intelligence was modified in singleplayer.
Three playable levels of the new Xen area were released as part of a beta version on June 26, 2019. This beta is intended to help stress test the newly designed Xen, check game performance, and include other bug fixes. It is anticipated that this is the final interim release before the full game where the complete Xen areas will be released.
In Surface Tension Uncut, an unofficial mod for Black Mesa, the Surface Tension chapter was expanded to include certain areas of the original game that were not released along with the remake, as the developer had left before his work was finished. The developer, Chon Kemp, known on the Black Mesa: Community Forums by the pseudonym TextFAMGUY1, also modified the On a Rail chapter to include the areas cut from Black Mesa, to make gameplay less tedious. Kemp was later hired by Crowbar Collective to remake Surface Tension Uncut for the Steam release, while the uncut version of On a Rail was published on Steam Workshop. Today, Kemp continues his work to finish the Xen chapters.
During its development, Black Mesa has received attention from several video game publications. It has been featured in articles from Computer Gaming World, PC PowerPlay, and PC Gamer UK magazines. Valve published a news update about the modification on their Steam digital distribution platform in 2007 saying that "We're as eager to play [Black Mesa] here as everyone else."
The project was awarded Top Unreleased Mod by video game modification website Mod DB in 2005 and 2006. Mod DB gave the project an honorable mention in their choice of Top Unreleased Mod in 2007.
After receiving a development version of Black Mesa in December 2009, PC PowerPlay magazine said that the game's setting "looks, sounds, [and] plays better than ever before". The "subtle" changes from the original Half-Life were said to have a "substantial" overall impact. They also noted the project's "frustrating" then-five-year development time, and current lack of release date, but added that the developers were making progress.
After the mod was released, early impressions of the game were very positive, receiving a score of 86/100 on Metacritic, based on nine reviews. The game was praised for its high polish, with many critics comparing its quality to that of an official Valve game. Destructoid praised the game for the improvements it made over the original Half-Life, saying it was "something that felt very familiar, [but also] very fresh."
- [BMS] Adam-Bomb (July 6, 2019). "Some Release Dates".
On August 1st we will roll out the complete Xen AND Gonarch's Lair chapters to public beta. Soon after (think weeks, not months), we will release the concluding chapters, Interloper, Nihilanth, and Endgame to public beta.
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Congratulations to the Black Mesa for Half-Life 2 MOD team for picking up the Most Anticipated MOD Award for the coming year from Mod DB. Over 80,000 votes were cast for MODs built for a number of different games, and they have been crowned this year's most wanted. [...] We're as eager to play it here as everyone else.
- Reismanis, Scott (January 26, 2006). "Mods of 2005". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on April 19, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- Reismanis, Scott (January 13, 2007). "Mods of 2006 - Player's Choice". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on October 28, 2008. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- stenchy (January 28, 2008). "2007 Mod of the Year Awards - Player's Choice Winners Showcase". Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
An honorable mention is due to the mod Black Mesa which continues to poll extremely strongly year after year, but misses out on a place in the top 5 because you cannot win a spot in the best unreleased category twice.
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