Monkey See, Monkey Do.

5th April 2010

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I am intrigued by the use of video games for uses other than entertainment. I’ve heard of treatment for arachnophobia with Unreal Tournament and I seem to remember something about vertigo too.

I have little doubt that lots of people have experimented with games for education, in fact there’s at least one HL2 mod that attempts to teach science and history called DoomEd. If I were 25 years younger this would probably be one area of study I would have focused on.


2009 seems to have been the year for the “alternative” mod, where instead of shooting, the player has other tasks to perform and reach a different objective than simply “beating” the game. Examples include Radiator and Dear Esther.

Whilst I haven’t added them to the site, that doesn’t mean I don’t think the authors have done a great job and I highly recommend you try them. Anything that changes people’s perspective of games and “First Person Shooter” games in particular has my humble approval.

Turing Test and Pattern Recognition

A while back I suggested a Turing Test for gamers, where the player had to guess whether the opponent he or she were playing was a human or not. I have a few other ideas in a similar vein and would like to present one to you now.

I would like to propose a mod that tests pattern recognition. Please allow me to set the scene with my crappy story writing and then discuss the details…..

The mod starts with a black screen with barely audible battle sounds. A bright flash of white light and a very loud crash interrupt your concentration. The player is standing in a semi-circle with a group of other City 17 Rebels. In front of them is the rebel commander. “Listen up people, your task in this semi-training exercise is to do EXACTLY as you are TOLD and SHOWN. Now separate, and go to your designated point. Good Luck!”

And so the mod starts.

Simon Says

So, what is the mod all about? It’s basically a test, a test of your ability to watch and follow patterns. Think Simon Says on Steriods.

Want an Example? I thought you might….

You follow your squad leader into a small clearing, with some destroyed buildings surrounding you. A warning siren sounds and a wave of Manhacks can be heard approaching. You are told to wait in the corner where you can see all the action. A few manhacks suddenly appear overhead bu the squad leader doesn’t shoot straight away. A second wave appear and he starts shooting. The wave is a very set pattern and the order of the kills important.

From one of the buildings come 3 Combine soldiers. The squad leader shoots the Elite Guard first and then the one carrying the shotgun and finally the last one. He then continues shooting at the remaining manhacks, who, by the way, have stayed in exact formation. These manhacks don’t attack the squad leader, just fly overhead.

He comes running back to you and shouts “You got that, soldier?”

It’s your turn and off you run into the centre of the clearing. As he said, good luck.

Easy Does It

If you don’t get the exact order right, it just starts again, there’s no death for failing, at least not at the beginning.

Now, in the early levels things happen exactly the way you saw them but in later levels the entrance of enemies change but the kill order must be the same. Don’t think it’s just in the simply clearing I describe but a host of indoor and outdoor situations.

The kind of patterns varying too. Maybe it’s kill order or perhaps it’s timing, but one thing is for sure, each new scenario is harder than the last. The patterns become harder and harder to distinguish.

One of the reasons I enjoy playing FPS games is that challenge of shooting moving targets. The manhack is perfect for that because it can move in any direction. Now, this mod uses shooting as the main gameplay mechanic, rather than simply pressing buttons or opening doors. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t include that, it’s just that shooting is the main element of pattern.

Free Order

There are things happening all around you and you need to consider many aspects. Some elements are “free order”, meaning it doesn’t matter what order you kill or do them in. Of course, they will be subtly noted, if you are paying attention.

I envisage a very simple start but a truly epic final level that takes at least 15 minutes to complete, of course, that means you have to watch for 15 minutes, so a way needs to be found of condensing it somehow.

I don’t want you to think that it’s simply a case of more enemies each time either. That will be part of it but the enemies will become stronger, making it hard to accomplish the order.

So, what do you think?


  1. Tyk-Tok

    I could envisage that taking on a bit of a puzzle mentality. Certain goals, such as deactivating a forcefield or deploying a light bridge. Only with such an enemy dead at the right time, a keycard is dropped or AR2 alt fire is used a la Human Error. Could be really interesting.

  2. Grey Acumen

    I love puzzles, but I find the simon says approach doesn’t really strike me as being terribly educational. I definitely like the concept behind DoomEd. The idea that you’re actually using historical facts as hints for how to play the game is a great idea, though hard to incorporate.

    Personally I enjoy the logic used in games like Portal, Research & Development, and The Trap; that of learning concepts in general. you are given an item and have to discover the ways in which it can be used, etc.

    Really, it’s not hard to make learning fun(or at the very least, enjoyable), it’s just a matter of demonstrating practical applications of the point you’re teaching. The less contrived the situation, the better.

    1. My idea isn’t related to learning directly, more to test your pattern recognition and maybe help improve it.

  3. Robert Yang

    I always meant to demand a better answer from you, actually — why don’t you list the experimental “art mods”? Let people decide what they make of them. It’s a lively debate that probably everyone has an opinion on. Plus, the site’s mission statement reads: “The site’s content is focused on single player maps and mods for the Half-Life series of FPS games.”

    Dear Esther and Radiator and Korsakovia and the many many others:
    Single player? Check.
    Half-Life? Check.
    Maps and mods? Check.

    I just find it slightly insulting when we put just as much work into our stuff yet we don’t get acknowledged by what is probably the most authoritative single player HL2 database on the net. We’re part of the community too, you know — and it’s your responsibility not to exclude us just because we’re kind of weird. 🙂

    1. The reason I don’t add “art mods” is because I don’t enjoy playing them. Long before you visited the site I used to add maps and mods for about 20 different SP FPS games. I never played the mods because just keeping up with all the releases was incredibly hard. I also posted detailed information about those games and ones in development.

      Eventually I had a “gaming breakdown” and decided it was time to change the site or go crazy.

      I realized that I only really enjoyed the Half-Life mods and so chose to focus on that. At that point I still added concept maps, in development mods and other non-traditional maps; like the windmill background map.

      The problem was that I didn’t enjoy playing them, so adding them to the site was seen as a chore, instead of a pleasure. Again, I made the decision to focus on combat maps and mods, set in the HL universe.

      For me it really comes down to this: I run the site as a hobby. I spent more hours doing that than most modders spend making their mods. I make no money from the site (any income is spent on improving the site) and don’t want to get into a situation where I dreaded updating it.

      You are right the mission statement is exactly as you quote it but adding the “Combat with the HL universe” seemed overkill. I have explained the content in the Content Guide and hope that new readers take the time to read the guides.

      I question the “probably the most authoritative single player HL2 database on the net” because I know of no other site remotely as detailed as mine. Even ModDB doesn’t have the same number of released maps and mods.

      I truly respect and admire your work but I don’t enjoy playing it. For me gaming is about story AND puzzles AND shooting AND incredible locations.

      Lastly, sorry for sounding so formal, it’s not my intention, but I have NO responsibility to anybody but myself. As a modder, do you have any responsibility to make traditional mods? No, you make what you enjoy making. I run the site for fun and admit its focus is incredibly small, but that’s what I like.

      Obviously, you are part of the modding community but that doesn’t mean your mods should be added automatically. All the MP mods are also part of the modding community too but I don’t add those.

      It certainly wasn’t my intention to insult you or your work.

      I have long considered having a section of maps and mods that didn’t fit the site’s criteria and I even created a page but never had time to add items to it. I have a list of tasks related to the site as long as my arm and decided not to take a proper Summer holiday this year to attempt to do those tasks. Adding more work is just not the answer.

      The forum does have a thread called What does not cover that attempts to list mods like yours.

      In light of your “demand” I promise to give serious thought to creating a new category called “Art Mods” or similar where I add mods like Radiator, Dear Esther, Curse etc. I will only add mods that are proper mods and not anything and everything not covered by the site’s criteria. Mods that I feel deserve wider attention.

      I trust that answers your questions and if I seemed rude or slightly aggressive, I apologize. I am rushing out and wanted to reply immediately.

    2. Hi Robert.

      I think you are being a little hard on Planetphillip. In your checklist you did include

      Single player First Person Shooter? Check.

      And by the way this is not what the original question is about.

      Planetphillip in all the time I have been visiting it is about one thing ” Single player First Person Shooters” nowadays specifically Half Life 1/2/ep1/ep2 Single player First Person Shooters.

      Dear Esther and Radiator and Korsakovia have their place when it comes to level design but they do not fit into what Phillips site is aiming at. However you should thank Phillip, as for many of us who visit the site we probably would not have heard of Dear Esther, Radiator and Korsakovia until they were mentioned in previous posts.

      You talk about Phillip’s ” responsibility not to exclude us just because we’re kind of weird.” What responsibility are you talking about? is one person whose site is his hobby with one site. According to a Whois you own about 47 other domains

      Unless you think is a secret government organisation, you owe Phillip an apology.

      The mods/maps are not weird (I’ve played them), just not what I want to play.

      1. According to a Whois you own about 47 other domains

        I wouldn’t believe that if I were you, it says I own about 18 and I own about 5.

        Unless you think is a secret government organisation, you owe Phillip an apology.

        In Robert’s defence, I don’t think he was being too serious, and I don’t expect any apology.

        Perhaps it’s best if we got back on topic and ripped my mod idea apart and find fault with that.

        1. Agreed.

          But as former member of the Royal Academy of Arts, pretentious people get right up my nose and I can’t resist telling them so.

          I’m not going to apologize for what I said in response to Robert and I still think he owes you an apology.

          Anyway back to topic, within the constraints of the various ways of editing/modifying the Half life software I cant see any way to include a Turing test. The complexity of the artificial intelligence coding may be possible but only if it can reach a mass audience (enough to judge results).

          The problem with the Turing test is that it relies on the belief that you believe you are interacting with another human (sentient being). Bots in games such as Counter Strike only are believable for a short while if you want to believe in them.

          In my opinion what we call the Turing test is still far from perfect. In laboratory conditions it can seem to work. A test that can react to pattern recognition is just that, it can, with a small degree accuracy suggest POSSIBLE outcomes/solutions to a problem. What it cant do yet is cope with the most important factor “WHAT IF?”

          1. Robert Yang

            Haha, I have no idea what I did wrong or what the Royal Academy of the Arts is or what you’re accusing me of, but okay I apologize for whatever you’re accusing me of…?

            I mean, yes Phillip, you’re right — this is your site — but in some respects you’re a public figure now. You’re a regular fixture on Podcast 17. You offer a centralized location for discourse on mods. No one else maintains a site about single player HL2 mods. In the immortal words of Peter Parker’s uncle — “With great power comes great responsibility.”

            You’ve now become a sort of gatekeeper, whether you like it or not. Your “personal opinion” carries a lot of weight.

            It’s like IMDB rejecting short experimental films because — what, they don’t fit the definition of a “movie” because they aren’t conventional enough? But they now list everything. They want to serve the community. They even list games because that helps you connect actors to their roles.

            And just so we’re clear on this, in case anyone thinks I’m attacking Phillip or anything — I’m not questioning Phillip because I’m desperate for coverage. I get coverage on much bigger websites already (no offense, seriously!) but like how Phillip respects my endeavors, I respect his and want to critique them so he can improve — or at least improvement as I see it.

            1) I’m interpreting the spirit of this site’s mission as “serving the community” by serving as an archive of all the community’s work.

            2) The art mods are part of this community and represent some really influential work, even if they’re not to your taste. What is taste? Where do you draw the line between “too experimental and pretentious” and “just right”? What would I have to do to get listed on the site — make sure I set it in City 17? Make sure you spend 5 minutes fighting some combine soldiers like every other mod?

            3) I think this is a pretty bad mod idea because there’s no room for error. If you’re fighting an NPC and you’re losing, you know to correct yourself and change your tactics. But here, if you don’t hit the NPC in the right order, you lose instantly and have no chance for self-correction. Instant failure doesn’t allow you to learn or adapt.

  4. Zekiran

    I think that “repeat this action” is what most games are already about. You learn earlier and apply later – Portal being the primary example of this.

    Pattern recognition is nice, but… meh, I don’t think it’d have too much going for it in this case, since each and every one of us plays in a different style.

    Manhacks? The first thing I do is grab my grabbity gun and toss those little chits into a nearby wall. I don’t care what order they came in, or even if they’re not attacking … Unless they’re under my control (as a combine), or have some significant story-telling use. It’s how I’ve been “programmed” to see them, and many other enemies, in games like these.

    Breaking out of that mold might also be important to this kind of challenge, but I don’t know that it’s what I personally would WANT to do. I like these games and I’m getting better at them, so the last thing I really want to do is mess that skill set up or interfere with it with “too much” thinking. I thought the goal of learning to play in the game, is to get better at it. 😉

    As for Phillip’s not taking on the “artsy” mods… that’s fine by me. I’ve been trying (trying. trying. trying.) to play through some of them and am left wondering why in the world I’m even bothering. They’re not “fun” for me. They are neat to look at and I can appreciate the work that’s done on them, but if he doesn’t want to post them in his site, that’s his business. It’s HIS site after all. And it’s not like they aren’t available elsewhere already – including your own sites, right? I prefer to find *action* and actual “shooter” mods here, and while I like the very occasional diversion into things like Korsakovia, I’m finding myself looking at deleting it entirely off my hard drive, in frustration. Whether it’s that the “storytelling” isn’t clear (enough/at all) or the modding is sub-par, either way, I haven’t gotten anywhere and noclipping around is hardly how I imagine that mod should be played. I’ve got a very high IQ, I’ve “gotten” things in the game that obviously one reviewer clearly didn’t. But it’s still *not fun*. So… Phillip can stick to what he believes is more fun for HIS site, and I think I will too.

  5. I’m with Bolx on this. Both on and off topic. Bolx has put it more lucidly than I can. As has Phillip with his reply.
    If Robert Yang wants exposure, I recommend clicking the links tab at the top of the page where he can find loads of forums and upload/download sites which Phillip has gathered for us to use. This means that both players and developers can satisfy tastes not catered at PlanetPhillip.

    I’ve always been good at spotting patterns,since school. I was lucky to have a Maths teacher who was fascinated by the subject, both maths and non-maths, and passed it on to us pupils.
    I doubt that this type of mod would interest me but those much younger than I, might. It would certainly be better for some rather than the puzzles of the IQ test type.

  6. Grey Acumen

    actually I’d love to see a multiplayer game where there were 3 objectives:

    1) Kill the opponent

    2) Determine whether your opponent was human or not

    3) Convince any human opponent you face that you are/were a bot

    Provided you have a properly random selection of AI, then part of the game strategy would be studying bots without getting killed so that you could try to imitate their patterns to fool other players, which first requires you to be able to tell the human players apart from the bots.

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