Half Life 2 Special EP19:
Set Piece – The GAME

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 20, 2012

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 65 comments

Link (YouTube)

This is a good spot to end for the week. Next week the plan is to have the final two entries, which will end Half-Life 2. After that, we’ll have the second half of 8 by Zombies.

The timeline of Half-Life 2:

You arrive early in the morning on day one. Note that because the Valve artists know what they are doing, you can tell it’s morning just by the angle and color of the light. Fight your way through the canals, do the water hazard thing, and arrive at Black Mesa East just before sunset. Then after that strenuous day you have a hot meal and sleep for ten hours go through Ravenholm.

You emerge from the mines at the start of day two. There’s the trainyard and then you get in the buggy. You get to New Little Odessa and get the rocket launcher, then drive more buggy. Then you do the crane puzzle and drive more buggy. Then you do the huge bridge section and drive more buggy. The dark tunnel, then more buggy. Then the battery puzzle and more buggy. Then a little more buggy, and you finally arrive at the lighthouse. Then you tiptoe through the sandtraps, fight the big antlion, and arrive at the refugee camp at sundown. At the refugee camp, you eat a can of cold baked beans and sleep for twelve hours learn how to shepard antlions and charge off to Nova Prospekt. We can’t see the sun from within the combine base, but I think it’s safe to just assume that you teleport away near dawn.

Ignoring the skipped week, you arrive at the lab at the start of day three. At the lab, you collapse and sleep for sixteen hours team up with dog and go charging off into the city. Urban combat. Strider combat. Refugees. Urban combat. Manhacks. Striders, etc etc etc. You arrive at the horse (just where today’s episode ended) in the late afternoon. You enter the Citadel and ruin everyone’s day with the super gravity gun. Your confrontation with Breen takes place right at sunset at the end of day three.

Judging by the opening of Episode One, SPACE MAGIC saves you from the exploding tower and Gordon finally gets a good night’s sleep at the bottom of a pile of rubble. Alyx and dog dig you out at the start of day four. Refreshed and feeling jaunty after your rubble nap, you fight through the bowels of the city and escape the exploding Citadel by train just before sunset on day four.

Episode Two begins in the morning, so we can assume Gordon got another good night’s sleep, this time in a tangle of twisted metal at the back of the railcar. Episode Two seems to mark the passing of another day, ending once again at sunset.

Someone give that guy an energy bar or something. He must be starving by now. Then again, the game never explains how you apply those medkits. Maybe you… eat them?


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65 thoughts on “Half Life 2 Special EP19:
Set Piece – The GAME

  1. Irridium says:

    Maybe the HEV suit is just continually pumping him with a mixture of red bull and cocaine?

    That’s how I like to imagine it, anyway.

    1. psivamp says:

      It’s obviously keeping him upright and allowing him to move at all in his hunger-weakened state as it drains a capacitor bank to make him run.

      1. Klay F. says:

        After Old World Blues came out, I made up my mind that the HEV suit is basically another version of the Trauma Override Harnesses. It actually makes since in universe. Maybe that’s why Gordon doesn’t talk? Because he is basically a brain dead vegetable made ambulatory by the HEV suit’s inability to recognize that he is a lost cause.

        1. Stash Augustine says:

          Wasn’t that the plot twist in Crysis 2- the hero was basically dead and the suit was the only thing keeping him alive?

          1. HBOrrgg says:

            Yeah, it’s kind of weird seeing all the things like that which Half-Life clearly stole from the plot of Crysis 2.

            1. rayen says:

              if you’re being sarcastic; lol
              If you aren’t; switch those

          2. Kdansky says:

            Yes, that was about the only thing about the plot that Crysis 2 managed to do well. “Why can I survive so many bullets in my body? Technically, you didn’t survive them.”

        2. MrWhales says:

          Maybe the suit makes all this running/movement easier on him? So he isn’t actually tired, and the constant rush of adrenaline is keeping him from thinking about his hunger.

  2. UTAlan says:

    Those health packs must be filled with Sports Beans. Obviously.

  3. Piflik says:

    Well…since Gordon is obviously a vegetable, he survives solely by photosynthesis.

  4. Annie Moose says:

    Well, if the total lack of sleep or food bothers you, there’s a few places you could retcon sleep/food in. Black Mesa East is one, but you could’ve also hung out with Father Grigori in Ravenholm for a while, or stayed at the Resistance camp where you take down the gunship, or the camp after the Antlion Guard like you mentioned. Just assume they cut out those bits because it’d be really boring to watch Gordon sleep for eight hours–or, as it’s a first person game, stare at blackness for eight hours.

    Also, bunnyhop to victory!

    Finally, funny story relating both to this portion of the game and to cover. I realized a while back that I’d stopped partway through a playthrough of HL2 and decided to go back into it. It happened to be this section (the part where Josh was crowbarring everyone), and I realized that playing cover shooters had completely destroyed my ability to play this game. You just can’t hide in cover and pick them off one by one, the AI is WAY too aggressive for that! And I got to learn all over again why I love HL2 so much, and why cover shooters bore me to tears. Except for Mass Effect, but that’s because I play as a Vanguard and “cover” isn’t really in a Vanguard’s vocabulary.

  5. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

    We have a LAN party tradition, it’s been around for ages.

    The game is Counter Strike. One man is on the terrorist team with ~30 bots. All of them have knives.
    The other team is the rest of us with pistols only.

    We call it ‘The Rat King’ and the King is always the same person. Better than L4D in that the King can actively tell the NPCs what to do (Hold Position, Storm the Front, etc.)

    Alternate rule: If you get killed by a rat, you must join the rat team. If you kill a CT, you can go back to the CT team. Continue until there are no CTs left.

    1. Irridium says:

      Sounds a bit like the zombie mod for Counter-Strike: Source.

      Pretty fun mod.

    2. Steve Online says:

      If i recall L4D’s commentary nodes correctly, something similar to that is actually where the idea for Left 4 Dead came from.

      1. Kell says:

        Indeed it is. The initial idea was to have that “small group of physically weak yet powerfully armed” versus “infinite group of physical-only enemies” set-up in the Source engine. Worked like a charm.

  6. Hal says:


    Is this relevant? I don’t know. It’s what I thought of with all the talk of Gordon’s ability to forgo sleep.

  7. rayen says:

    HEV = power armor therefore Gordon = space marine. And my vast knowledge of 40K lore tells me that space marines do not require sleep. They rest half their brain at a time keeping them awake for several days. So basically the right half is sleeping when josh is conserving ammo, using the correct weapon and keeping an eye on his health. the left half is asleep when he’s gracefully bunny hopping firing rockets at single soldiers, trick shotting crossbow bolts and finding new and creative ways to make the combine die.

    1. Eruanno says:

      And both brain halves go into a very short self-induced coma during the brief seconds when Josh breaks the Source engine.

  8. Klay F. says:

    Chris, I’m just guessing, but I think Shamus is talking more about Mass Effect, than DX:HR there. Sure, apart from the conversation bosses, everyone in Human Repossession has a face made of plastic whose expressions never change.

    But Mass Effect, by comparison, has Shrek. Which is far more grievous and unsettling in my humble opinion.

    1. Annie Moose says:

      I always theorized that was intentional, that all the genetic modifications she was supposed to have gotten ended up making her just look unsettling. Because boy howdy, does she ever look unsettling at times.

      1. Thomas says:

        Miranda remains a mystery, I just don’t know what went on there, they get it right with most of the characters and the other ladies all look pretty attractive, but they screw it up on the one person whose attractiveness is made a thing of? They even based it on a pretty actress

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          They really should have just created a model based on her likeness from scratch instead of doing the whole face copying thing.

          1. Thomas says:

            I was reading some background on her design and it was like I was reading about another character, they were talking about her sultry qualities and I’d never even realised that that was where they’d meant to go.

  9. Jakale says:

    I think the answer is clear, Gordon invented glasses that can interface with the HEV suit and do his work for him back before HL1 so that he could sleep on the job without being caught. Half of this game is us playing as those glasses while Gordon gets some shut eye.

    1. IFS says:

      Gordon wakes up surrounded by dead combine, “Not again! Stupid glasses.”

  10. Robyrt says:

    That teleporter is actually very restful. Gordon slept for a week, ate a hearty breakfast, did some stretches, and listened to some calming classical sonatas in there.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      Unlikely, since according to the CufbertCannon he was teleported with a dozen or so autoturrets.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Well, yeah. What do you think he ate for that hearty meal? :P

  11. zob says:

    I don’t like HL2. But watching this reminded me of how consoles destroyed the FPS’ by dumbing them down.

    1. ENC says:

      Not sure if serious or just dumb.

    2. Thomas says:

      I think this is generally what is meant by consoles ‘dumbing things down’ http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=1667
      It’s pretty much the correct position to be on the issue, cos it makes sense :D I’m not sure if that applies to FPS’ though. The console change was auto-aim and maybe some gameplay changes to allow for more fluid actual movement and much worse aiming. Whilst the common hates like regen health and cover were popularised on consoles, that’s just because this was the console generation where consoles were generally more popular. The reasons for regen health, less reason to fear being attacked, no need for health bar, encounters could all assume the the player was fully prepared to deal with them, don’t seem to be console specific.

  12. guy says:

    I recall hearing that the Episode 1 ending battle does spawn infinite striders if you cheat, probably for a similar reason.

    I kept getting lost in the “head for the horse” section. Everything was grey and bits of broken concrete.

    1. Annie Moose says:

      Yeah, I never actually could see the horse. They’d be like “Head for the horse!” and I’d be like “WHAT HORSE YOU MORONS?! WOULD IT KILL YOU TO POINT AT IT?!”

      1. rayen says:

        I killed all the enemies but all my allies were dead too, so i had no clues whatsoever. i must of run circles in that area for like 30 minutes before i basically just trial and error-ed my way onto the correct path.

  13. Zlan says:

    OK Shamus I did the same thing on one of my runs, but after getting stuck I used my smg grenades to jump over everything. It is the same way I do highway 17 without the car.

  14. silentlambda says:

    The rebels seem pretty keen to follow Gordon into danger headfirst no matter what. There is that recurring “couple grieving on the couch,” but every other rebel is eager to eat as many bullets as possible. So why does not a single person think that you need backup in the Combine’s personal hangout?

    Whatever fanon exists, I think it’s because no NPCs can be there to tell Gordon not to take a ride in the prisoner conveyor belt.

  15. Gerid says:

    What article was Mumbles talking about?

  16. HBOrrgg says:

    On the subject of lemming allies (and enemies for that matter). Yeah, it seems like even a lot of the good games haven’t managed to figure this out yet: if you want realistic, relatable human characters then you can’t have just waves and waves of them blindly charging into their deaths.

    I really feel sorry for Josh trying to keep all the resistance members alive. These days frankly games could introduce a bunch of old ladies wielding butter knives if they want, but if none of them get the hint once bullets start flying then I literally do not care.

    1. ENC says:

      What’s sad is that L4D is a step backwards for the AI; the only usefulness they have there is that they are (usually) psychic when you get attacked and will only let you get hit a few times before helping, as well as aimbotting al ot of it.

      Otherwise, they just hug your arse, waste your medkits, don’t pick up grenades (I just want you to HOLD it, not use it!), and sit out in terrible spots then bitch constantly over how incapicated they are as you sit in the safehouse waiting for them to die so they can respawn at 50 hp in the next level.

  17. newdarkcloud says:

    I will say that I’m glad I’m not the only one who got lost after fighting the Striders on the roof and had no idea where to go. I spent half-an-hour looking for the exit.

  18. Gruhunchously says:

    I haven’t done a no-death run, but one time, I actually managed to keep one guy, the first guy that I met, alive till the end of the plaza standoff. I was so proud.

    Also, with relation to Josh’s near death experience at the hands of the stair well, did anyone else, when returning to Half Life after playing Portal for a bit, forget that you weren’t immune to fall damage? ‘Cause that did me in a few times, if I recall.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Forget the food and sleep,the hev suit must smell like a cesspit.And not just because you went through a bunch of different sewers,but because of all the bodily fluids gordon left in it.

    Man,what gman did to him in the void mustve been quite a thing.

    Also,you managed to kill everyone there?Huh.I thought they were constantly respawning.

    And yes,half life did cover way before and way better than cover shooters today.

    Also,the only game with better facial animation I can think of is la noire.

    1. Deadyawn says:

      The problem with LA Noire is that while the facial animations are quite good, the faces themselves are just a bit too…uncanny. They’re about halfway up the other side of the uncanny valley, good enough that they look very lifelike but there’s just something about them that you can’t really shake. Maybe thats just me though.

  20. Thomas says:

    If Gordon wasn’t first person and silent, sleeping and eating would have been nice little story points to add. It would emphasise the realistic time, give some pacing and character and make the world more solid, and then it would help emphasise the attacks when you’re sleep gets interrupted etc. Not many games have a coherent sense of time or progression and it would have really capitalised on how HL does have that

    But Freeman isn’t that sort of protagonist, he can’t really do that sort of thing, because any independent action he makes violates the player=freeman thing. It’s that tradeoff where to create that situation they also have to strip him of complex actions/motivations because they might interfere with the players own reasoning.

    Lighting was especially cool this episode, as soon as a criticised the art, they do that and there were one or two nice shots of buildings too

    1. ENC says:

      It’s usually not necessary; not many shooters have such a linear experience as half-life as to have the majority playable without a timelapse except for at the end of Nova Prospekt.

      Also bearing in mind that this is a 6-10 hour game here, and to have 3 days pass within that isn’t very realistic. Most games would just have it set from Morning to Night, or Afternoon to Evening.

      1. Thomas says:

        The thing is, they did do that, which is a fantastic thing to do, they just weren’t in a position to utilise it.

        Best example of this done right is Arkham Asylum, which is meant to be fully realtime of 20 hours and he doesn’t eat or sleep as per norm but this time it’s deliberately there to show just how wearing the process is

        1. Scrub Ninja says:

          One of my favorite “Oh, cool!” moments in Arkham Asylum was when I realized that as the game progressed, Bruce’s facial hair was growing. The battle damage on the Batsuit was one thing, but realizing that Batman had five o’clock shadow really made it feel like time had been passing.

  21. Alex the Too Old says:

    “learn how to shepard antlions and charge off to Nova Prospekt.”

    Not to grammar-nazize, but I was just amused by that spelling error / malapropism since it’s so obvious why it occurred.

    1. James Pony says:

      Yeah, C-H-A-R-G-E is not how you spell “wrex”.

    2. Deadyawn says:

      Yeah, I have actually caught myself doing that once or twice. Whatever else you could say about Mass Effect, it certainly has sparked a lot of discussion.

  22. Psithief says:

    Ooh, I like this – you’ve invented a new term!
    Rubble nap: When you take a well earned rest that causes people to think you’re dead.

  23. Ateius says:

    That courtyard outside the city hall/museum/whatever was the absolute nadir of the game for me. The first time through I took forever to find the unremarkable, unmarked door that lets you proceed, so when I came back out I was already annoyed with it. Then I spent a good 10 minutes dodging Striders and being unable to shoot back because I’d exhausted the placed ammo and couldn’t find the infinite rocket box. I think I eventually looked up a walkthrough for it – I knew there had to be one somewhere but kept missing that passage behind the rubble. I finished it frustrated and annoyed.

    Fortunately I had the good sense to save and exit, so when I came back for more street fighting I was refreshed and enjoyed myself.

  24. Daemian Lucifer says:

    About episode one,I liked how they got you out of that predicament because:
    1)Vorts start being awesome
    2)Someone actually gets to stand up to gman,which is nice
    3)Both games ended,and second one started with space magic,so I dont mind that.

    As for how this game ended,it was sufficiently good for the first playthrough.And it was a nice change of pace from the previous sections.But the whole thing broke on subsequent replays,which wasnt the case with many other parts of the game.

  25. Johan says:

    Towards the end about Half Life 2’s face system

    Yeah, it’s great, but a large part of that is:
    A. you only VEEEEEEEEEERY rarely see them close up
    B. they don’t need to do as much work as other games

    Other games need faces for people crying about some tragedy, being in agonizing pain, being in white hot hulk rage, laughing long and hard at someone else’s misfortune, grinning about how much they ripped someone off, or any number of esoteric things. Many RPGs will need to do ALL of these at some point.

    By contrast the number of HL2 characters that express emotion, and the number of emotions they express is quite small, it isn’t focuses on (your camera will never center on someone’s face unless you make it), and it’s incredibly rare. Part of the reason you might notice a weird facial animation in another game is that you’ll see it so many times, while you will barely see any in HL2, just because almost the entire game is combat with faceless animals/mooks/zombies.

    Taken together, this really means that we’re comparing apples to oranges (in my opinion) comparing valve facial animation to say an RPG, because valve only needs a few faces that will be looked at for a few seconds, RPGs need many faces that will be stared at for a few seconds to a few minutes depending on the conversation. And those faces used in RPGs will probably need to be recycled for many different faces on many different characters, and overall on at least some of them will look weird or uncanny valley-eque

    1. Ringwraith says:

      “A. you only VEEEEEEEEEERY rarely see them close up”
      Most conversations with a major characters come from them being visible (and you have a zoom function anyway), so you can pretty clearly see their facial expressions. The start of episode one is a very good example.
      “B. they don't need to do as much work as other games”
      They didn’t need them too, but they went ahead and did it anyway. Seriously, very few games today can even match Half-Life 2’s facial expressions, and these are the kind of expressions that are also implemented in Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead, where you have even less reason to have them there.

      1. Johan says:

        “”B. they don't need to do as much work as other games”
        They didn't need them too, but they went ahead and did it anyway”
        The point of that line is that the characters in Half-Life 2 show far fewer emotions than the characters in say Deus Ex: Human Revolutions. They have a very small number of expressions you will see only once or twice, while DXHR needs a large number that you will be seeing all the time (since the game is more dialogue than fighting at times). So HL2 “looks better” in large part because you never get tired of the animations, and you never get tired because you so rarely see them.

        1. Shamus says:

          Have you ever played with with face poser in Garry’s Mod? It has a really remarkable range.

          The other thing Valve has going for them is that they understand how posture and face expressions interact. Too many games (thinking of Bethesda here) have these growling, angry-faced people in a neutral stance.

          The expressions Alyx gives are actually pretty subtle, if you watch her face. You can see her getting annoyed with Mossman, shy with you at the first meeting, or concerned just as you head off to face Breen.

          That said, it’s true that Human Revolution is a much bigger problem, just in terms of sheer hours of dialog.

  26. Newbie says:

    I’ll put this here. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ermahgerd

    I am disappoint Mumbles.

  27. Slothful says:

    I always thought that you were meant to assume that Gordon stops and rests at various intervals, and it’s just not shown, just like how Gordon Freeman isn’t actually mute, they just don’t have his dialogue written up.

  28. Artur CalDazar says:

    I’m a little surprised so little is said about the Striders. There is something about them that I find really interesting. To fight, to watch, anything about them is neat.
    You kill many of them in the game but they always pose a credible threat.

    1. Jonathan says:

      And, of course, they are actually the Tripods from War of the Worlds, complete with the hooting noises.

  29. /Rude/ /Aim/ says:

    Watching this reminds me of why I never finished playing HL2. The small fov with having to focus on different distances in various directions in rapid succession literally makes me nauseous.

    I almost never suffer motion sickness from shooters first or third person but this game every time, nausea.

  30. Spammy says:

    Small comment on how no one who stays near Reginald Freeman survives: I started Mass Effect for the first time recently, chose Colonist and Sole Survivor. So Shepard’s colony is wiped out, and their squad is wiped out. And in Me2 the Normandy is wiped out.

    It makes all the times when you’re the only one alive a lot funnier.

  31. Kronopath says:

    If you were surprised at that Strider’s AI in that destroyed building, I’ve got another cool tidbit for you. I played through that just yesterday, and I noticed that if you hide behind the walls long enough, the Strider loses track of where you are. It’s not until the camera-bots take your picture that it sees you and finds an angle that it can shoot you from, and if you’re diligent about taking aout the camera-bots you can hide there without getting shot at.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      This is the kind of simple elegant AI that we need more of. Straightforward stuff like information degradation, ignorance, and scouting. Sweet.

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