In Praise Of Valve

1st July 2009

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3Valve has its faults. No organization is perfect. I’m still a little angry with them for falling into the Episode pitfall, but that’s another matter.

What Valve excels at are details. One of the reasons I keep playing the games and mods are those details. The details are everywhere; in the story, in the design, in the environments and, as relates to this article, in the enemies.

Just think about the range of enemies in all six games released (HL1, BS, OP, HL2, HL2: Ep1 and HL2: Ep2) and you will see that the player is presented with variety at every stage. Let’s take the example of Headcrabs.

In Half-Life 1, the humble horny headcrab (Sorry I had a bet with somebody about alliterations) appeared for the first time. Even this seemingly insignificant enemy had its own details. Not only did it move slowly but it possessed a determination that would see it follow you to the end of the world. Not only that but if it got close enough it would lunge at your head as if its life depended on it, which it usually did!

Now, think about this for a second. This enemy provides a level designer with lots of possibilities. Putting them scattered around areas to keep you wary, drop them from vertical air ducts when you least expect it (Well, at the beginning of custom map making anyway!), put them on narrow ledge somewhere around Black Mesa and you have another obstacle that makes you poop your pants if done in the right way.

What I am trying to say is that even the simplest of behaviour can give rise to great gameplay with careful consideration.

Now, jump forward to Half-Life 2 and suddenly these happy hairless headcrabs (Ha!, I told you I could do it!) start appearing from the ground or being fired into action via a canister, adding another dimension to their versatility.

But wait, it doesn’t end there, oh no! We now have relatives. The poison headcrab that moves in a similar way to its cousin the honest healthy headcrab (Yes, I know but it’s fun!). This time the poisonous headcrab runs away on getting hit the first time. Not a big difference but enough to add variety and finally we have the fast headcrabs. They again add something different to an already expanding enemy list. Of course I could have talked about the way they sometimes fall from Zombies but that’s another story.

Let’s hope that Episode 3 introduces the Icecrab!

My point? Valve Does Details! Yes, capitals. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra.

So, if you are still with me at this point, (Phew, thanks btw!) make sure that whatever you do, think about the details. Think about everything, from every angle, and don’t limit yourself to what others have done. Of course be realistic but reach, reach for something new and special.

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16 Comments

  1. Jasper

    Brilliant, You’re getting your sense of humour back.
    I was a getting a little worried that you might be turning into a huffy puffy iffy sniffy pussy wussy cat. Just an example of “consonance” not be taken seriously at all

  2. reaper47

    Interesting.

    The 3 different kinds of headcrabs/zombies might actually be an example for my biggest gripe with HL2. Let me explain:

    I fist realized it when I heard that Valve scrapped the “combine assasin” in favor of the fast zombie. WTF? The assasins in HL1, although only showing up twice in the game, are still among my favorite enemies and a good reason for why HL1’s enemy design is so good. They’re smart, stealthy, deadly… Now they got rid of this type of enemy- in favor of a third zombie type whose primary strategy is… running towards you, fast and screaming.

    The differences between the 3 types of zombies and headcrabs are meager at best. Basic, stronger, faster… it’s like in the early 1990ies where the same sprite was used with a different color and more HP to print “over 50 different enemies” on the back of the package. Next: The “3” types of soldiers. Pointing out the differences between combine police, combine soldiers and elite soldiers is almost ridiculous. They’re the same enemies, with different hit points and weapons. HL1 had as much variety in just one class: the grunts. Another example: combine gunships and helicopters. They, again, are basically the same (even both using a rotor to fly, thus moving similarly). Their primary weapon is the same. They look different, have different secondary attacks… but calling them “two completely different enemies” would almost go too far.

    From there on, it’s a downward spiral. With the exception of a few iconic ones, many of my favorite HL1 enemies were abandoned in HL2. I wouldn’t have any problem with that, would even welcome the new variety and updates to old enemies– if there were enough new and original replacements. But that’s simply not the case:

    Striders, manhacks, friendly turrets, roller mines… hmm, I’m struggling already. Antlions are cute, but essentially, over-sized snarks (with a bit of tentacle-style sensitivity to sound thrown in at the beach levels). Alyx, Gregori and the citizens are just barneys with better writing, but gameplay-wise, insignificant. And can we really call those scanner things an enemy?

    As a result, there are hardly any “three party fights” anymore (like human soldiers vs alien soldiers vs player+barney in HL1). There are entire chapters consisting of just 2 or 3 types of enemies. It’s HL2’s biggest flaw.

    The gravity gun (almost) made up for the lack of enemy variety. But IMO, just almost. The same thing, by the way, is true for weapons. I would have gladly traded the second machine gun for something totally crazy and fun like the gauss, tripmines or the hornet gun.

    Don’t get me wrong, Valve does detail and I love them for it. But with HL2, they lost focus. And fell for the “quality over quantity” trap that made so many developers of this decade believe there can’t be both…

  3. Senator33

    Guess I must be contrary, but I like the third type of zombie. He(it) is a suicide bomber, reflecting a monster seen all too often in real life, particularly in the Middle East. Highly relevant!

    As for the gravity gun, where can I buy one?

  4. Jasper

    Reaper47 Not good in my view.
    I think your may be having a laugh – but that’s good and ignore the rest of this. If not I’m appalled.
    The “”combine assassin” was silly

    “They’re smart, stealthy, deadly” Rubbish, they just jump about impossibly – are you fan of those silly and impossible to believe martial arts films?
    “third zombie type whose primary strategy is… running towards you, fast and screaming.” Yes, and they can take a lot of life if you do not get it right first time – unless you play easy skill all the time.
    “From there on, it’s a downward spiral.” WRONG WRONG WRONG. HL2 and EP2 are hugely superior to HL. However HL was the seed for the far better games. Do not get me wrong, I loved HL in its time – it was brilliant.
    “”two completely different enemies” would almost go too far” How silly is that? What are you getting at?
    “HL1 enemies were abandoned in HL2” Hooray Steam/Valve grew up.
    “if there were enough new and original replacements. But that’s simply not the case:” Oh but there are. An analogy -They are in the stone age compared to modern man but both are were/are men nonetheless.
    “Striders, manhacks, friendly turrets, roller mines… hmm, I’m struggling already” with what? Besides I’m very fond of Striders.
    “Alyx, Gregori and the citizens are just barneys with better writing, but gameplay-wise, insignificant” Your right but with the exception of Gregori who is very significant. Alyx and Barney are wastes of space, Alyx in EP1 was a huge in-your face irritation.
    In addition, why do we need Gordon? Alyx always gets there first any old how.
    “”three party fights” anymore (like human soldiers vs alien soldiers vs player+barney in HL1). There are entire chapters consisting of just 2 or 3 types of enemies.” Have you been playing the same game as the rst of us?
    “But IMO” there you go again, hiding behind some sort of cliquey cypher.
    “But with HL2, they lost focus” Rubbish, they improved the focus – and the game play intelligently.
    “”quality over quantity” trap ” So you want quantity in preference to quality – I find that hard to believe.
    EVOLUTION. HL evolved to HL2 which evolved to EP2 and evolution will lead us to even better games to come. I welcome evolution, without it we wither and are consigned to rest with fossils.
    No evolution, no HL2, No ep2, No EP3, worst of all No Strider Mountain!!!!
    Finally, I ask, were not the Hunters a brilliant new concept. Deny that if you dare.
    Remember always that HL and HL2 and EP2 were games with humour and fun – why else in HL2 do we spend a vast of amount of the game desperately leaving the place we started from only to struggle to get back to it!!!!
    A modern (and evolved) game player strikes back against an obvious HL modder, player and fanatic.
    Meanwhile, the moo cows are about to give birth and need help. Someones got to do it and guess who drew the short straw. This means I’m in a field where you cannot find me! Brill.

  5. Robspace1

    It wouldn’t bother me a bit if Valve got rid of all enemies other than the Combine. I prefer fighting someone that fights back with their own weapons and has the ability to use logic, not just jump out and bite or attack in a vent.

    The zombies, headcrabs as well as the antlions are not a fun enemy to take on in combat. To be shot at is much more realistic and challenging.

  6. Rolando

    You forgot about Decay, Phillip

  7. reaper47

    I love HL2. Love it. One of the best shooters of this decade and worthy successor to the legendary Half-Life (which means a lot to me). I even agree that with Episode 2 (partly already with Episode 1), Valve found it’s one-step-beyond-awesome pace again.

    I’m just rating it at a higher standard. And you have to admit, enemy and weapons variety is lower in HL2. And that always disappointed me, personally. It disappointed me so much, I post the above rant (sorry for the length) every time this topic comes up. I didn’t realize what an uproar it could cause, I didn’t want to offend anybody or discredit Valve, if that is how you feel.

    Striders, manhacks, friendly turrets and roller mines are the only enemies that I can come up with, that are quite as fresh in HL2 as the enemies in HL1 were in 1998. Most others are remakes or remixes of HL1’s portfolio (nothing wrong with that, but not quite as fun and new).

    I thought the term “wtf” is as common as “lol” on the internet, I apologize, if it confused you (it means “what the fuck”). I used it as an expression of startled surprise towards the fact that the assassins from HL1 are in any way related to fast zombies in HL2. Same for “IMO”… it means “in my opinion”.

    Also, if you think of it, you will find hardly any “three party fights” in HL2. Maybe an occasional zombie or headcrab jumps out of a corner and attacks a combine soldier, but it’s rare compared to HL1. I just always liked those scenes… Note that I mean 3 rivaling factions, which excludes citizen fighters, for example (who are a bunch of barneys, in comparison).

    I also just don’t buy the “we’re having better enemies because we just have 3 instead of 5” explanation anymore. You can make combine soldiers as perfect as you want, I love them, but I’d rather see one new enemy instead of adding a third skin/weapon/hitpoint to an existing enemy (elite soldier).

    All in all, man, I really wasn’t prepared for this response. I don’t want to become your personal, HL2-hating, “cliquey-cypher-using” enemy or something… Seriously, I didn’t kill your cat or anything. And I don’t appreciate you calling yourself more “evolved” than me. I also haven’t done anything for HL1 in about 6 years.

    Lastly, I deny that the Hunters were a brilliant new concept. They’re small antlion guards with a gun. They’re also pretty cool and a reason I like Episode 2 so much (that and the fact that you can fight along with Vortigaunts). More new stuff like that for Episode 3, please!

  8. Jasper

    No enemy here reaper47. Your right, I’m right, we are all right. Just a myriad of different views of evolved society (sorry, could not resist that one). The cat survived – darn it.

  9. Daniel

    I miss the houndeyes from HL1. Also, it’d be nice to see some of the enemies from Opposing Force being used again.

  10. Wesp5

    I completely agree with reaper47, I couldn’t have said it better myself! In my eyes too, although HL2 is a great game in itself, regarding the enemies it was a huge step back compared to HL. I almost suspect that with all the delay trouble going on at the time Valve just choose to do three types of enemies to finally get the game out of the door faster: Three headcrab types, check! Three zombie types, check! Three combine types, check! Sadly, gone were all the really creative animal enemies we saw in HL and OF!

  11. Jasper

    I thought I would have a little count of HL2 + EP2 sorts of enemy and the types:
    Barnacles. 1
    Mines. 1
    Headcrabs: Normal, Fast, Poison. 3
    Zombies: Normal, Fast, Half-Fast, Poison, Zombine(or Combie). 5
    Combine: Police (or whatever), Standard, Combine Elite, Sniper. 4
    Combine hardware: Striders, Hunters, Gunships, Dropships, Helicopter, Hardened Helicopter, Manhacks. 7
    Antlions: Standard, AntlionGuard, Poison, Poison Antlion Guard. 4
    7 sorts and 21 types.
    Can anyone think of anymore?

  12. hl2-fan

    reaper47 seemed to be saying that both hl1 and hl2 were (are) great games. totally true. what he misses in hl2 series that was present in the 1998 game were: 1) certain enemy – mainly the girl assassins, 2) certain weapons – mainly trip-wire mines and snarks. I agree completely, and wish they were back too. Throwing snarks into a room full of assassins was fun, and presetting trip-mines before fighting a battle was part of the strategy.

  13. Hoyy

    This phrase: “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra.” 😀

    1. Hoyy

      means a lot

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