I'm Chris. I've been working with the Source Engine for around 6 years now, and GoldSrc a year or so before that. I'm currently working as a level designer on the Black Mesa Hazard Course, as well as a level designer and texture artist at Tripmine Studios.
Hey, Chris here, level designer on the Black Mesa: Hazard Course! There's a lot of stuff we notice the community has to say, and some of it is pretty common confusion, and I'd just like to clear some of that up. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but more information to go in before making a final judgement can't hurt, right? So, you can think of this blog post as a sort of Q&A, or FAQ-type deal. Some of it you might already know if you're a HC fan. Other stuff is a bit more behind the scenes. Anyway, on to the words:
Concern: Why aren't you working on Xen instead?
Believe it or not, we get this a lot, probably the most. It's flattering in a way, but we aren't working on Xen for one reason: We are not the original Black Mesa developers (Crowbar Collective). We are a team of 6 long-time Black Mesa Fans.
Additionally, even if we were, games aren't created chronologically, and there are different subgroups withing a team to focus on different sections of the project.
Concern: Why does it look like the Hazard Course is being used for something other than a training course? How come some parts look (in-universe) make-shift or cheaply made?
One of the things we wanted to do was explain the weird environments encountered throughout the course. Wouldn't it be reasonable that if it was a dedicated training course, it would be a series of directly connected, similar-looking rooms to explain things? Yes, yes it would. But Half-Life's Hazard Course isn't like that at all.
After some discussion, we took some clues from the original maps and noticed two main apparent themes: Warehouse and Sewer. So this gave us the idea, what if the Hazard Course isn't originally built to be a training course? What if Sector A was just disused, or mostly disused, and many parts were just retrofitted with some new parts, and forced a path through some old water treatment facilities and warehouses in order to create a make-shift course? We thought the idea explained everything well enough, and it's what we went with. It allowed us to use the strange environment types and still make sense of it being a course. This was one of our attempts to add some of our own little history to the area.
Concern: Development has taken forever, what gives?!
We know, and holy crap, we think it sucks, too. Project Lead DKY will actually be writing a very detailed postmortem that goes into detail on why this has taken as long as it has, so if you'd like to read it, look out for that post release. But if you want the short version: We started off disorganized and with a lot of bad development habits. By the time we were able to kick them (or most of them), Real Life™ had started eating away our time.
Concern: Why go through all the effort just for a training level?
Honestly, just because we wanted to. None of us have ever had a totally serious project before this, and thought the combination of nostalgia, and learning to work with a team would be fun. It was. We all had fun (even though we've come to dread working on the project for so long,) and we've all improved our skills massively since we started. Top that off with the fact that we're now a bunch of friends and know how to manage a small team at least, it was totally worth it! Thought his brings me to my next point...
Concern: Isn't this just a training level, though?
Personally, I would say no. It certainly used to be just a training level. But over the years, we started to realize more and more than just a series of instructions wouldn't really appeal to everyone. Most people know how to play the game, and if no one else gets a nostalgia high like we do, what's their real incentive to play? So we put a lot of effort into making it feel like a complete chapter, not just a training level. We created an introduction somewhat based on the one included in the Playstation 2 version of Half-Life, an outro sequence, and just a huge amount of additional stuff to make it feel more present in the story and universe, than just teaching the player how to jump around. If you ask me, and I'm sure the rest of the team, this isn't just a tutorial level anymore, you're experiencing Gordon's training as a level. If you learn how to nail a crouch-jump, that's a bonus.
Concern: Can I haz Alpha/Beta?
No, not yet! We've got a great testing team who have been invaluable for ideas, opinions, bugs, everything we could ever want to make our mod better. We're leaving the unfinished builds to them.
Post release, we plan to release some older builds which you can check out if you want to see how much the Course evolved over the years. We're not sure exactly what we'll be releasing, but they will most likely be the first internal version of each Alpha build (4 Alphas). We get amazed every time we look back at Alpha 1 and remember that we were happy with a lot of it.
Concern: What's going on with the Steam release? What are the plans there?
This is a lot sketchier now than we thought it would be. Initially we were thinking we could probably have a Steam version up shortly after the mod version. But at the time of this writing, there are a few obstacles:
Firstly, Black Mesa currently has a 100MB workshop limit. This is a relic of times past, and the BM guys are working to fix it. Our Course far exceeds that limit, and we're not really okay releasing it in a bunch of parts. Yuck.
Next, for some inexplicable reason, some entities that are required for our Course are broken in the Steam version of Black Mesa. This will need to be addressed by the BM guys as well.
Additionally, some stock BM files that our mod modifies can't seem to be overridden properly by Workshop mods, meaning a number of things will be broken.
Lastly (off the top of my head, anyway), we'll need to revisit a lot of our assets and make sure nothing is broken. According to the BM guys, a huge amount of their models were busted and needed recompilation once they switched to the new engine. We'll need to make sure we don't have this issue, and assess all the damage if we do.
That said, bringing The Course to Steam is something we'd love to do. If these obstacles can be surmounted, then we'll definitely work on adding it to the Workshop.
Well, that's all I've got for now. I hope I've kept your attention this long! Kudos to you if you put up with all of the above text. We really hope you guys like the Course, but no hard feelings if you don't (maybe!).
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