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Entropy : Zero 2 - MEDIA TEMPEST!

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We've been working on Entropy : Zero 2 for three years - nearly four! Today we're giving you our biggest scoop yet.

For those of you that have been following our work, this article contains some major spoilers, so you might want to avoid it if you're hoping to be surprised. This is a HUGE article, and there's a lot of information in here that we have kept under wraps for a very long time.

If you're interested in learning more about what Entropy : Zero 2 is and our development process, read on!

spoiler alert


0) - It all Starts at Zero

Breadman:

During December 2020 we were busy fixing bugs and gauging reactions from our first few waves of alpha testing. Even at this initial stage of testing, the majority of feedback we were receiving was positive. However something that didn't feel quite right was the way we were presenting our story. There were a few bits missing from our narrative.

Entropy : Zero 2 is really a story about Bad Cop. And whilst we had a very clear direction for him from the start, as we worked our way through the mod we found that the motivations for his actions weren't entirely clear. In the mod's infancy, back somewhere in 2018 we decided that Entropy : Zero 2 would contain a dream sequence, inserted at the end of Chapter 1 to bridge the gap during Bad Cop's flight in a dropship pod. We revisited this idea in winter 2020 and decided that not only would the dream sequence serve to help us explain Bad Cop's motivations, we could actually use it as an improved launchpad into the game itself. After many discussions and some lengthy meetings, we began writing and building a new chapter - Chapter Zero.

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Chapter Zero now sits at the start of the game. It's the first chapter you'll play. We felt that Bad Cop's motivations and history needed to be made clear before players stepped back into his boots proper. This warranted moving the segment into its own chapter ahead of everything else that happens in the game, so it's fresh in players minds. This is what Bad Cop is all about. This is who he is.

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If you hadn't guessed already, Chapter Zero takes place in Bad Cop's past, back in the good old days of City 17. The synopsis for this chapter is as follows: It's another day at the precinct for Bad Cop. Today he's on crab duty - the miserable job of using a stunstick to clear headcrabs out of vents and crawl spaces. Things take an interesting turn.

Building Chapter Zero was a pleasure. The chapter is filled with atmosphere. Rain patters on overhead windows, cops wander on their patrols, citizens wander about their cells. We managed to work in some interaction with other cops too, and most of us have cameos fulfilling those roles. It's an awesome chapter that firmly cements a foundation for our protagonist.

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1upD:

As mentioned, the original version of Chapter Zero was a single map placed at the end of Chapter 1. Alpha playtesters were confused by that version of the story and didn’t seem to really register what happened or what it meant for the character.

Speaking with Breadman about the problem, we came up with the idea of Chapter Zero, a more interactive version of the same story beat that would take place before the first chapter. Helping him work on the chapter was a very enjoyable challenge. I tried to make sure that the story would be driven by the player’s actions rather than something passive.

Near the conclusion of Chapter Zero, there’s a big story beat that’s a defining moment for the character. The point itself did not change from the Chapter 1 version of the scene, but I worked on turning it from a scripted fade out into an interactive sequence the player takes part in. I’m especially proud of how the scene plays out organically no matter what actions the player takes. There is more than one way to go about that scene, but every option is something that Bad Cop would do, and will lead to the same outcome. We made sure that players experience that moment rather than being told about it, and I think that the results will speak for themselves.


1) - New Boots

Breadman:

Excluding Chapter Zero, Entropy : Zero 2 takes place after Half-Life 2 and before Episode 1. A few days pass between the two titles and it is within this space that the events of Entropy : Zero 2 occur. Coming from a place of wanting to write something fresh whilst staying true to Half-Life 2 and it's themes, having these few days between the two games really gave us the breathing room we needed to be plausibly creative.

There are elements to the Entropy : Zero 2 story beyond the sight of Bad Cop, that actually occur before the events of Half-Life 2. These things finally coalesce in this space between Half-Life 2 and Episode 1 to paint the picture we're calling Entropy : Zero 2. It's a blend of the currently accepted lore, inferred lore from sources such as the 'Laidlaw Vault', Breengrub and finally our own spin. We feel like we've been successful at creating something that fits whilst being bold enough to do some crazy and exciting things that make the mod unique and surprising.

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2) - Subject: Bad Cop

Breadman:

Bad Cop is named in Entropy : Zero 2. We won't spoil that detail here. The mod goes into full depth regarding his character. When I initially started writing for the mod I pulled inspiration directly from the responses and feedback received from EZ1. Lots of players simply wanted to know more about the protagonist, who at the time didn't really have much of a profile other than that of a wise-cracking killer.

Initial expeditions into writing had me building his character around the notion of him being a soulless killer, but a lot of these attempts failed to capture the imagination. To add value to this trait I instead focused on designing a backstory that would attempt to explain his behaviour; the reasons for why he is the way he is. I always try to draw contrasting parallels with Entropy : Zero, and in reflection of Freeman (an ordinary man turned hero), Bad Cop goes from being an ordinary man to being a monster. Once Bad Cop had a history, it was easy to translate that into future events that ultimately led him to his predicament in City 10 and onto his promotion in Entropy : Zero 2.

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In terms of Bad Cop’s true character, he is a damaged person. He despises humanity and wants to distance himself from it. His arrogance knows no bounds; he sees himself above everyone else at all times. Over the course of his troubled life, his frustration has evolved into violent anger. At his core Bad Cop lacks empathy.

As far away as Bad Cop wants to get from humanity, he fails to realize that it is his fixation on his past that continues to preserve it within him. The strife that is driving him away from humanity is the one thing keeping him human. Bad Cop is a monster humanity created. The Combine weaponized him.

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3) - Giving Bad Cop a Voice

Breadman:

Giving Bad Cop a voice was something I decided to do in EZ1 to (again) draw a contrasting parallel to Half-Life which obviously has a silent protagonist. To achieve this in EZ1 I worked with CW3D to recycle and re-splice existing lines that Valve had recorded. These were put together and written in a generic way so that I could employ them as I built the mod.

In Entropy : Zero 2 this was almost going to be the formula I used. In the early days, a fan reached out to me and showed me that creating a convincing vocoder for Bad Cop could be possible. It kind of partially convinced me to explore that more. I started by writing some very basic dialogue and using it for an elite at the start of the game. At this time I was still on the fence about giving Bad Cop a voice because I was stuck in the ‘lore-swamp’, convinced that he’s an elite, he can’t have a voice etc.


But as the story developed I began looking at making Bad Cop a unique character. I stopped looking at the lore as we know it like a holy text. The lines in Half-Life’s lore are deliberately blurred, which is what gives the story it’s intrigue. This gave me further room to be bolder with my ideas. In the narrative, Bad Cop had privileges other units did not. He became the Combine’s ace up the sleeve. The attack dog they could unleash for direct and effective strikes. The idea of him being a fully voiced protagonist started to come back to me.

It was Trivvy that finally helped realize this. After chatting for an hour or so Trivvy provided me with some samples, and we decided right there on the spot that 1) Bad Cop would be a voiced protagonist and 2) Trivvy would be Bad Cop. That was in 2018. Since then Trivvy has recorded well over 900 unique lines of dialogue for Bad Cop and has done an excellent job at bringing the character to life.

During development, all dialogue has gone through multiple changes. We’ve had a few meetings regarding tonal balancing due to tester feedback. These have resulted in sweeping alterations to spoken dialog. Bad Cop also doesn’t talk as much now as he did in the earlier days of development. Access to response scripting has given us unprecedented control over our protagonist. It allows Bad Cop to comment in a dynamic way and react to the world around him.

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For me writing dialog and sequences has been one of the most exciting things about working on this project. I feel very lucky to be able to write stuff that will actually become moving and animated scenes. It puts a whole new angle on the process.

Trivvy:

I've always been a fan of games that let you play "the bad guy" and as a huge Half-Life 2 fan, Entropy : Zero became one of my favourite mods. I was eager to know more about Entropy : Zero 2, and just so happened to encounter a tutorial on how to create a convincing "beta Metrocop" vocoder using FL Studio, by Barion on YouTube. After managing to set it up with help from a musician friend, I reached out to Breadman on Steam with some samples, and just left an open invitation that if he ever needs a voice, that I'm willing to provide it if he thinks I'm good enough. Turns out I was, and just like that I was made part of the team as the official voice actor for Bad Cop. Neat.

How I actually voice him has evolved a bit over the years, not so much that it's immediately noticeable with the vocoder on, but I originally voiced him in a manner that was really taxing on my throat, I was basically tearing it up every time I did lines (and that in-character Q&A was very tough!). To begin with I did him in a very raspy, overly forced kind of voice, which sounds terrible without the vocoder, but played to the vocoder's strengths due to how it works. Now I do him much softer in comparison, I try to bring in a bit of the gravel where I can, but I found that you can't really hear the difference when it's vocoded, so I decided to save my voice the trouble!

You may notice that he sounds quite a bit different to how he does in the first game (at least outside of Chapter 0). There's both a practical reason and a lore reason for this. The practical reason is that the original voice is kinda hard to pull off, and due to the mouth/throat kung-fu required, would potentially limit my range. The lore reason is that he's not in his original body any more, his consciousness has been downloaded into a host body, which would be a different age, different vocal cords, etc. However, for Chapter 0 where you do play the original Bad Cop, I did do my best to make him sound like the original, how good a job I did of that is for you to decide!

Blixibon:

In the first Entropy : Zero, Bad Cop was basically a puppet. All of his lines were scripted and based on the levels Breadman created, so if you loaded up a regular HL2 level, Bad Cop would never say anything. The dialogue’s inner-workings were also really janky and, in the original version of the mod, the game would even crash if closed captioning was disabled.

At first, Entropy : Zero 2 was going to be the same way. However, with Trivvy giving Bad Cop a custom voice and 1upD giving the mod much better programming capabilities, the team started looking for a better solution. This happened to coincide with me joining the team. Since I had prior experience messing around with Valve's HL2 levels and seeing how their scripts work, I was able to bring something called the Response System to their attention. I think I was the only person on the team aware of its existence at the time.

The Response System is exactly what Entropy : Zero 2 needed. It's a flexible set of scripts which decide what a character should say, when they should say it, and how they should say it. It allows for dynamic responses to different events in any map or environment. For example, if the player kills an enemy, Bad Cop will know what kind of enemy it was, how far away they were, what weapon they were holding, or even what part of their body was hit.

In HL2, this system is mainly used by companions like Alyx or the citizens although Valve also uses it for player speech in games like Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, and even Half-Life: Alyx. With Bad Cop hooked up to this system, we were able to elevate him to a flexible character who accurately responds to what he sees. Since we could make Bad Cop say anything we want, we got a little crazy with all of the different situations Bad Cop can respond to. We even left a few cool easter eggs. Good luck finding them when the game is released!


4) - The Big Secret

Breadman:

Sometime in early 2019, I started to build Chapter 2. I still have some images from that time of early development. Chapter two in my mind was fully planned - three maps, with the last one taking place underneath Arbeit, and revealing a spooky secret: Aperture Science actually owned Arbeit Communications.

However, when we finally reached this last map of Chapter 2, we realized there was some untapped potential we could look into. CW3D suggested perhaps a puzzle involving turrets, darkness and a turret that could open doors. We did some experiments and ultimately decided this is the way we were going to go. A talking key would grant Bad Cop passage through the spooky basement.

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But by that point the idea had expanded so much, we couldn’t just shoehorn it into a single map. So Chapter 3 - Chamber Catacomb - was born. Running around in the spooky basement needed something extra, though. Something to get players super spooked. We looked into zombies and that naturally led us to our conclusion: Bad Cop would face a fearsome Gonome in the basement of Arbeit. For those who don’t know or don’t recall, the Gonome was a creature featured in Half-Life Opposing Force.

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I want to briefly gush about this moment in our development, because it’s one of our quiet milestones that changed the fabric and the trajectory of our production. Up until this point we were happy to make do with re-outfitting rebels to suit new purposes. We were happy to play things safe with what we had. The Gonome though, was an entirely new venture. A whole new NPC needed to be put together. From the moment we completed this monster, we as a team had transported ourselves into another realm of possibility. The gloves could come off. I felt like we could achieve almost anything at that time. We got more adventurous with our concepts from this point on.

With the help of Sergeant Stacker we managed to port a HL1 Gonome into Entropy : Zero 2. This served as the foundation for what has now become a fearsome NPC. The Gonome in Entropy : Zero 2 could not be what it is without 1upD, Blixibon, CW3D, Kralich and Sergeant Stacker. The Gonome is fully modeled (a brand new shiny model), animated, programmed, audio’d, textured and ready to scare the crap out of you. We’ve had him for ages now and we’ve kept him well under wraps.

Initially, the secrecy was born out of wanting to surprise players. Over time we’ve found it has become more of a burden not to disclose this. It’s held us back a bit from being more transparent with the community about our work and our progress. To preserve some of the mystery, we’re not going to fully visually present him. But now you know he exists!


The Gonome was only the beginning. It’s inception paved the way for Bullsquids, Pit Drones, Stukabats, Xen creature variants and... the mysterious miscreant agent.

Chapter three is three maps long. For us the real value came from committing to the challenge of designing something totally fresh. And I think we pulled it off!

1upD:

Is it really a gonome? Not unlike the name “Bad Cop”, “gonome” is a moniker never used in the game itself. (Of course, I suppose the same could be said of virtually any creature in the original Half-Life and Opposing Force)

It has taken on a lot of different names. npc_zassassin. The Chapter 3 monster. “The Beast”. Plan B. We like to call the variant covered in blue goo ‘the Glownome’. Some fans on our

Discord server even came up with their own name for it.

The monster is a large type of Headcrab zombie. Its appearance was inspired by the cut zombie assassin from Half-Life 2 but its animations were taken from the Opposing Force gonome, and its behavior was modelled after the latter. A stunning new model created by Andy Dawson was graciously provided to our team.

The original gonome code was created by Sergeant Stacker and donated to our team to use. Blixibon and I made extensive changes to the creature to fit the way it is used in Chapter 3. Based on the design of the chapter, the creature is not a conventional enemy. It was a joy to work on such a unique experience. I will speak more about our modifications to the provided gonome code below.


5) - Pacifist Companion Turret

Breadman:

Chapter 3 also gave rise to Wilson, a companion NPC that Bad Cop can choose to take with him for the rest of the game.

Wilson is a pacifist turret. He has a great big yellow sticker on his head that reads: ‘Obsolete’. But he’s far from that, because Wilson can open doors for you. This privilege now extends beyond Chapter 3.

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Very recently, Wilson’s character was given a revamp and now he has his own little quest: to be uploaded into the Arbeit mainframe. Players must deliver him to an AI upload station located at the end of the game. Players that choose to take Wilson with them will be rewarded with extra dialog, access to Wilson closets which contain supplies and a unique sequence at the end of the game for players who succeed in delivering him.

We didn’t want Wilson to be another garden gnome, so we’ve given him life with dynamic responses and reactions that compliment his scripted dialogue. Having Wilson around puts an introspective and occasionally hilarious spin on the rest of the mod. He can ride on top of your APC to make your life easier lugging him and we’re planning on implementing transport points which can be used to ship him around the facility.

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Wilson can die if you throw him off a cliff, or into some water, or if he gets too hot. But we think most players won’t have too much trouble lugging him around. (Even if he is a pain in the ass to carry!)

Bad Cop and Wilson make for an incredible (yet unlikely) duo. The contrast in their personalities makes for some hilarious exchanges, but at the same time you can tell a relationship is developing between the two outcasts. They occasionally have some serious conversations. We think the tonal balancing with them is just right.

I am reminded of a hilarious bug during Wilson’s early development, in which Wilson would scream continuously when placed on top of the APC.

Having Wilson around is great and I highly recommend players take him with them.


6) - Temporal Troubles

Breadman:

Arbeit is a strange and dangerous place. Aside from the rebels, Xen creatures, Zombies and Vortigaunts in Labcoats, there are also temporal anomalies to be reckoned with.

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Relating to time, these anomalies come in many flavours, some of them being deadly whilst others offer visual distortions and may present spectres of the past. Some distortions may alter gravity and in rare cases, bursts of temporal energy will ripple through the region in large sweeping waves. Players will encounter these anomalies sporadically from Chapter 2 onwards. You’ll also discover Temporal Headcrabs along the way. A unique NPC that is discontinuous in time.

As I said above, Arbeit is a strange place. It appears to be under the influence of a bizarre temporal rift. Players will make some interesting discoveries on their journey.


The element of these anomalies is interesting because it’s something that came about naturally during development. A suggestion was made in early development due to our planned trajectory, and that led to some dialog being implemented in Chapter 2 that described the rebels experiencing strange temporal disturbances.

Narratively, what could cause such anomalies? We explore some crucial moments in HL2's suggested Episodic lore that occur out of sight of Freeman. It is very exciting and I’m proud of what we have been able to achieve.

Blixibon:

The temporal anomalies around Arbeit have given us the opportunity to use a lot of obscure and specialized features in the Source engine which have scarcely been used outside of Valve's games. Many of them have hardly been used by anyone at all.

Chief among these obscure features is an entity called script_intro, which Valve used to create the G-Man sequences in Half-Life 2 and its episodes. This entity allows us to combine the player's POV with the POV of a separate camera, with several different ways for them to blend together. Valve used this to make the G-Man appear behind or in front of different objects and setpieces. However, one important use case was in Half-Life 2's ending, when the G-Man faded into view after stopping time. This trick uses another obscure entity called logic_measure_movement to make the camera’s POV parallel to the player's own view, therefore making the second view appear as though it's in the same space.

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Script_intro generally had too many issues to be used outside of very specific situations, but Mapbase applied a few fixes which greatly broadened its usability. After we started using Mapbase, I experimented with script_intro for a Chapter 4 map I was developing. Script_intro was originally designed around heavily choreographed G-Man scenes, but for our experiments, we recontextualized it to instead reflect ephemeral distortions in time. Using the trick from HL2’s ending, we could make it appear as though figures are standing in front of the player from a different point in time. In our take on the effect, the second view represents differences in time rather than differences in space. We called these “mirages”. We later improved the effect with additional visual overlays and sound effects which occur in tandem with script_intro to help emphasize the distortion.

Mirages were originally supposed to be specific to that one Chapter 4 map, but we quickly started using them throughout the game, thus creating a fundamental part of Entropy : Zero 2’s nonrelative activities.


7) - Creature Features

Breadman:

Aside from the rebels, Arbeit hosts plenty of Xen fauna. We had to have Xen creatures to give the player some combat variation. But after working to make the rebels more interesting, we wanted to do the same for the Xen crew. With Xen grenades, you can spawn creatures all over Arbeit at will!

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1upD:

Creating Xen wildlife has been one of my favorite contributions to Entropy : Zero 2. When I first volunteered to help with the project in 2018, I believe bullsquids were discussed as a possible new NPC. This was before there was any talk about the gonome, and long before any other xen creatures joined the mix.

From what I remember understanding at the time, Breadman wanted to populate the arctic wastes with Xen life different from what we encountered in Half-Life 2. It would have been simple to just update antlions to use snow instead of sand, but that wouldn’t have been very creative. Instead, the long lost bullsquids from the original Half-Life would make a return, alongside other creatures that were not decided at the outset.

Bullsquids began as simply an update to the leftover code which already exists within the Source SDK 2013. We started from the Half-Life: Source HD pack model for the bullsquid, slightly tweaking it’s model data file and the code to work together. (Eventually, that model was replaced with an overhauled version created by Kralich) The featureset and behaviors of the bullsquid evolved from there.


During the initial development of Chapter 3, the gonome’s code provided by Sergeant Stacker was tweaked substantially by myself and Blixibon. Since the gonome and the bullsquid have very similar code, I eventually refactored their shared code into a common base class called the “predator” NPC. Predator code defines bullsquid-like behaviors such as feeding and fighting with both melee and innate ranged attacks. This predator class became the basis for the stukabat and pit drone NPCs which joined the roster later on in development.

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The Pit Drone was created by accident. The first step I took in trying to create stukabats was to create a new predator variant that used the stukabat model from Half-Life: Source. I decided to give it a spine-throwing attack that would repurpose Half-Life 2’s crossbow bolts as a projectile, instead of bullsquid and gonome spitting attacks. Once I had this NPC working ingame, I realized how similar it was to the Pit Drone. As an experiment, I decided to try to convert the Pit Drone model from GoldSrc to Source and use that. It worked like a charm, and Breadman loved it. We ended up deciding to keep it. Eventually Kralich gave the Stukabats the same treatment as bullsquids, and a brand new model for the Pit Drone was donated by Omi.

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Over the course of Entropy : Zero 2’s development, I have experimented with trying to make the Xen wildlife more like animals rather than adversaries. In Half-Life, some alien NPCs would eat outside of combat. I expanded this from a purely decorative feature to a gameplay behavior: Xen predator NPCs will eat to restore their HP. Additionally, I played with adding the ability to breed and expand their populations. This happens over a rapidly accelerated time scale - I will leave it for you to decide whether this is normal for alien biology, the result of temporal anomalies, or simply representational gameplay which does not scale 1-1 with a realistic interpretation of the story. Bullsquids lay eggs, impressively modeled by Kralich, which hatch into tiny baby bullsquids. Stukabats at the moment give birth to live stuka-pups. We haven’t implemented any spawning for Pit Drones yet. I will leave you to wonder whether or not the gonome might also share this ability somehow.

For Halloween 2019, I created a video showcasing bullsquids in Entropy : Zero 2:


8 ) - Music

Breadman:

Entropy : Zero 2 features over 40 tracks for it’s OST. That might sound excessive, but it’s something that has occurred naturally over the course of development (Entropy : Zero 2 is a long mod.) These tracks range from being full length features, dynamic segments and small ambient tracks and stingers.

Spencer has been our main composer for Entropy : Zero 2’s entire development process and he has made some amazing new music we know fans are going to love. Myself and CW3D have also had fun in putting together some of the more ambient tracks that pull from HL2 and the Episodes to instil a sense of fresh nostalgia whilst highlighting tense moments or underline important scenes in the mod. I really enjoy mixing these ambient tracks.


Spencer:

The music I've done for EZ2 has mostly been the combat tracks.

My approach to making music for the project has changed a lot from EZ1. The music for EZ1 wasn't actually created for EZ1 specifically. Back then I just wanted to create a few tracks that had a similar feel to the music in HL2. Breadman came across my music and asked to use it for EZ1. Fast forward to the beginning of EZ2 development and Breadman wanted me to create music specifically for EZ2. This was the first time that I got to make music specifically for a game project which had me quite excited to say the least.

My approach to the music definitely changed, because I now was able to get some general context as to when and where the music would play. Over the course of development Breadman would give this context to me and I would start drafting out the track. I would often send the team work in progress bits of the track just to make sure I was headed in the right direction. The sound of EZ2 is a bit different from EZ1 as well. I've tried to give the tracks a bit of a harder/meaner sound to fit Bad Cop's personality a bit more while still sounding like it fits into the half-life universe. I believe I've found a good balance of this.

I've also introduced motifs with the soundtrack. A motif is a melody that plays that repeats several times and usually becomes associated with something. Badcop’s motif is "Low's" little melody that plays at the beginning. A number of tracks have this melody but I've been careful not to make it too apparent. It's subtle but there, and I think it really ties the soundtrack together quite nicely.


Another thing we've done is dynamic music. A few pieces have been made loopable meaning the song will continue to play indefinitely until a trigger is used to end it. We found in a few places the music would abruptly get cut off so a script was made to solve this. Keep in mind the majority of the soundtrack will not be using this method though.

Overall the music of Entropy Zero 2 is some of the best work I've done and I can't wait for everyone to experience it.



9) - Will Entropy : Zero 2 be on Steam?

Breadman:

We sincerely hope so. This question is always difficult to answer because whilst we have a lot of confidence in what we have made, ultimately the folks over at Valve get to decide if Entropy : Zero 2 will be on Steam. This is the case for every product that goes on Steam.

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After releasing EZ1 I found there were a lot of misconceptions regarding getting a release on Steam. I was asked questions such as “What makes your mod so special?” or “Why did Valve let you release EZ1 on Steam?”. To clear up some of the misunderstandings surrounding the process, I’ll try to explain how it works. That way you’ll be able to better understand why we can’t directly answer the question “Will Entropy : Zero 2 be on Steam?” at this time.

Rather than thinking of Steam like a platform for a moment, think of it like a virtual supermarket. Valve own the supermarket and they sell shelf space for producers. A producer can buy a space on their shelves, and their product can sit in that space and be purchased by consumers. Imagine you’ve invented a new cereal (Lambda Crunch anyone?) and you want to sell your cereal. You know that everybody shops at Valve-mart (Steam) so you decide you want to sell your cereal there. So you go to Valve-mart and you pay for a space on their shelves. Valve say they’ll let you sell your cereal in their store, as long as you go through their approval process first.

Now here’s where most of the misconceptions arise. Stepping out of our analogy for a moment, it’s important to note that Valve do not QA products made by other producers. They do not ‘test’ games made by other studios nor do they approve them based on their quality. Perhaps content is considered to a degree (I doubt Valve would want a game about murdering puppies on their shelves), but Valve are mostly just making sure that players will be able to download, install and play your game. That’s mostly it. So the next time you see somebody saying “Why did Valve allow this on Steam?!” the answer to that question is usually always “Why wouldn’t they?”

Going back to our analogy. You’ve got your cereal and you’ve agreed to go through Valve-mart’s approval process. Valve want all the information you have on your cereal. If you were the owner of Valve-mart, you’d want to know what you were putting on your shelves too, right? Of course you would. So Valve get as much information from you as possible.

What kind of computer does your cereal run on? What age should your consumers be? Is your cereal violent?! When do you want to release your cereal? Once you’ve given Valve-mart all of this information, there’s one final step. Valve-mart must approve your cereal (as explained above).

Can people buying your cereal open the box? Is there actually cereal inside the box? Does the cereal contain RAZORS?! Is the box offensive? These are the kinds of things Valve-mart will look for when reviewing your product. Finally when this review process is complete Valve-mart will either disagree or allow you to sell your cereal on their shelves. If they say yes, your cereal will appear on their shelves on your chosen release date.

The beauty of this system is that anyone can purchase shelf space. I would argue that this is key to Steam’s success. You could be a AAA studio or mod developers (like us :D!) Everybody gets a chance at having a spot on Steam.

Hopefully by using this crazy analogy, you’ll understand why it’s hard for us to answer the question. We really sincerely hope Entropy : Zero 2 will be on Steam, given the amount of work we’ve put into it. Only time will tell.


10) - Playtests

Breadman:

On August 1st 2020, we began private testing. Testers are selected by us based on several criteria such as: do they know about Entropy : Zero? Have they played the first game? Do they have experience in modding? This list goes on. We try to select our testers in a varied way so that we can get data from a broad audience.

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Overall impressions from testing have been very positive, with most players clocking in a playtime of around 7 hours. This is without achievements etc, as at the time of this article those have not yet been implemented. This process and the data we are receiving has been invaluable to us.

As of writing this article, we are only just starting to have discussions regarding beta. In order to be useful, beta also needs to provide us with testing data in return.

11) - There are a few things HLA does that we were doing in 2018.

Breadman:

Shortly after the announcement of Half-Life Alyx we became aware of some pretty spooky similarities to some of the stuff we had been doing way back in 2018. I don’t have any explanations as to how or why we were doing similar things, but I wanted to address this because I know this is going to become a Gonarch in the room once Entropy : Zero 2 has released. Half-Life Alyx and Entropy : Zero 2 have some similar concepts and I want to quickly address the things we were working on before the announcement of HLA. That way when people tell us we took things from HLA I can quickly point them here!

In the very first maps of Entropy : Zero 2 in early 2018 I designed a Combine battery puzzle. These were strikingly similar to the Combine battery puzzles you see in HLA. These were eventually dropped as battery puzzles suck.

HLA Battery



Glowing antlions: Again in the very early days of development, the Nova Prospekt areas in Chapter 1 required some kind of beautification. Initially we referred to the antlions there as ‘Bloodlions’ and they were a greyish colour with blood splatters on them. We reckoned at the time that they would be fiercer than their Half-Life 2 brethren.

But due to the much needed visual overhaul of the first chapter, I decided to play with glowing red / orange hives dotted around the maps. This quickly ended up being reflected on the antlions themselves. I chose those colours to contrast the chapter from the rest of the game. We adopted glowing antlions sometime in 2019.

ez2 c1 30004


Video of glowing antlions from a previous stream:


Shadow Crabs: Prior to full development for Entropy : Zero 2, in 2018 I put together a new NPC (which at the time was literally all done through Hammer logic). This NPC was called the Shadow Crab. It was a headcrab that could teleport randomly which made for some interesting encounters. You can see it’s very first iteration in the video here:


As Entropy : Zero 2’s narrative changed though, the Shadow Crab lost its relevance. I didn’t want to lose the NPC so code was written for it and we gave it a new twist. The Shadow Crab became the Temporal Crab. With that change came some visual improvements. We gave the Temporal Crab an electrical appearance to compliment it’s time shifting behaviour. This work was done in February 2020.

We showed it off in March 2020, amazingly just four days after the announcement of Half-Life Alyx. The Temporal Crab was immediately mistaken for a Reviver crab. The similarities in the visuals and behaviour are an interesting coincidence.

You can see the temporal crab in action here:


Since it’s announcement and release, we’ve been careful not to borrow things from the HLA playbook. We’ve always tried to make Entropy : Zero 2 our own thing and go in our own direction. The examples above are curious coincidences.

1upD:

I like to think of these spooky coincidences as 'convergence'. Different creators working in the same Half-Life space, the same universe, driven by the same inspirations, can independently produce similar ideas. Just look at Chapter 3 of Entropy : Zero 2 and Chapter 7 of Half-Life Alyx. We had Chapter 3 fully playable before Alyx was even announced! Great minds think alike.


12) - Having ideas is easy. Writing is hard.

Breadman:

We have managed to pull off a lot of ambitious things with Entropy : Zero 2. Being bold in terms of our direction is a stance I’ve upheld from the very start. Even with EZ1 I believed in doing things a little differently to give players a unique and memorable experience.

Story-wise, Entropy : Zero 2 explores some crucial moments suggested by Half-Life’s ‘existing lore’ (I use that term loosely). Because of that, we have paid extra attention to detail when writing. The process has been painstaking. Because of our diligence with this, we have been able to tailor a story that stays true to the established lore but also incorporates a ton of new and exciting elements.

When people ask me what I found to be the hardest part about making Entropy : Zero 2, I’m going to say writing. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent equal amounts of time mapping and writing for the project. A metric ton of effort has gone into writing the story and dialogue.

The initial draft for Entropy : Zero 2 had Bad Cop waking up in a citadel fragment after Episode 2. His mission was to retrieve an arming key from Breen’s corpse, and use that to open another super portal at Pillar 10 in City 10.

az2 c1 10003


For various reasons, that story changed dramatically in mid-2018. Since then, Entropy : Zero 2 has sat closer to the Half-Life 2 narrative than its predecessor. The narrative design process has not been easy. I started with a foundation arc which established where the protagonist would be going. I kept this arc fuzzy so that the story could evolve as we built it. Major story beats were identified as we went and we tried to carry this theory through from start to finish.

story board


But this approach has not been without its problems. We learnt that in some cases, just tweaking one narrative element in one area in the game could have consequences for every other narrative element. At times when tweaking our story, we noticed that the entire fabric of the story would change, so dialogue would need to be re-written and re-recorded. We have learned to tread very carefully. It’s a painstaking process.

Writing dialogue is more of a process of editing and refinement. You kind of have to throw out your pride and accept that a lot of the time, your first lines in a scene are going to be trash. But rather than taking that to heart or letting it defeat you, you have to work with it whilst considering the characters, their mannerisms and the context of their predicaments to write something valid. And when you’ve got something valid you need to be able to contextualize and form it in a way that is presentable to the player. You have to consider the information you want to grant your player through the conversation. Usually by this point I found that my scenes were simply too long for gameplay, and then had to work on making them shorter.

line sheet 1

We have spent countless hours refining dialogue. It’s not something I could have done without the help of the team who have been excellent at providing their opinions throughout this process. Not all lines were written by myself, I should add. Trivvy at times has ad-libbed his lines for Bad Cop, as has CW3D for Wilson. Blixibon has written dialogue for all of the characters at certain points in the game and 1upD has had a large involvement in the refinement of dialogue across the board.

It really takes a team to refine the dialogue to the point we have. You need multiple pairs of eyes on the drafts to make things happen in an elegant way. Knowing your characters is just part of the puzzle when it comes to writing dialogue.

Aside from the difficulty of writing, it has been an amazing experience. To be able to write dialogue and know that it will become animated and experienced in game is a huge privilege.

Blixibon:

As Breadman said, Entropy : Zero 2’s story and its writing have gone through many, many changes since its inception and it has been a very difficult journey.

I want to use this topic to briefly touch on my own personal experience of this journey.

It takes a team to get different perspectives on a story like this. Unlike most of the other team members, I did not join the Entropy : Zero 2 team specifically because I was a fan of Entropy : Zero. In fact, when I joined the team, I hadn’t played Entropy : Zero at all. I had only watched a walkthrough. I originally joined the team because I was interested in using my knowledge of Source to help tackle Entropy : Zero 2’s growing scope. I was able to help out with various miscellaneous things which could use my expertise, but I was not experienced with working in a team. I normally just built my own maps and mods with total creative freedom. However, as the weeks went on, I slowly involved myself more and more in the mod’s development and, consequently, its universe.

As someone who had different interests and a different mindset from the other devs, I always had a lot of trouble enjoying the story for many reasons. This was particularly a problem earlier on, when Bad Cop was infamously edgy. I have friends who still avoid Entropy : Zero 2 because of how edgy he used to be. It was most certainly supposed to have a serious underlying plot, just like the original Entropy : Zero, but trying to be serious with an edgy protagonist seemed like a recipe for disaster, especially considering it wouldn’t have been the community’s first.

I wanted to “fix” this somehow. I could sense problems in Entropy : Zero 2, but I was terrible at describing them, let alone coming up with solutions. Instead of finding needles in haystacks, it was like my mind was actively building completely unrelated haystacks around the needles. I technically had a lot of creative freedom when writing dialogue out of Breadman’s focus, like response lines or dialogue in my own maps, but I wanted to stay within the bounds of Breadman’s characters (or at least how I interpreted them), so I usually ended up extending the edginess with my attempts at ghost-writing Bad Cop, or at least that’s what it feels like looking back on my earlier lines.

As we got closer to building the final chapters, we narrowed our narrative focus and slowly started crawling away from our 2D characterization of 3650’s complex personality. No line of dialogue was spared from the intense scrutiny of spreadsheet reviews. Thanks to all of our combined input, we effectively eliminated a huge chunk of his edginess and managed to turn Bad Cop into a much more genuine and relatable character. However, even so, my dissatisfaction overall with Entropy : Zero 2’s story and characterization just never went away. I could never “feel” for the characters we carefully wrote for and reviewed. There was always something bothering me, even with our characters being better than ever. I still sensed problems. There was eventually a point where I was ready to give up and just start ignoring the story. I felt like the other devs often didn’t understand the problems I saw and I was done trying to come up with bad solutions to them. I didn’t want it to bother me anymore.

That has changed.

Figuring out how to eliminate Bad Cop’s edginess has given us magical writing powers. We’re suddenly in the position to create a much more complex and serious story, but that doesn’t mean we had one right away. It took some time, but our efforts are paying off. We’re well on our way to achieving greatness if we haven’t already.

Over these past few months, Breadman has integrated some narrative pieces which were much more important than we realized. This includes the new Wilson subplot (e.g. the Wilson idle conversations Breadman has been showing off recently) and some backstory elements in Chapter 3. These elements should have been present already, but they were not. Certain introductions (including Wilson’s) were almost completely rewritten to make them more coherent with the present storyline. Scenes which previously made me wince now contain their own compelling dialogue which helps me resonate with and understand the characters.


These changes removed most of the needles my imaginary haystacks were built around. After years of attempting to develop and write for this mod from my relatively detached perspective, the problems are finally going away. I have finally immersed myself into the world of Entropy : Zero 2. I cannot describe the joy I feel from that. It’s awesome and I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

There’s still some rough edges and we have a relatively long road ahead of us before we’re truly ready, but we’re on track to get Entropy : Zero 2 to the point where even the most critical skeptics (like me) can enjoy the story we’ve created.


13) - We have become comfortable and creative in the no-man's-land between Portal and Half-Life.

Breadman:

There’s always been this grey area between Half-Life and Portal, despite the pair residing within the same universe.

In part of my stance of being bold, I wanted to explore this. There’s plenty of Portal related jargon, Aperture science signage and story involved with Entropy : Zero 2. It quite literally blurs the lines between the two titles and I think we’ve done it in a pretty seamless way.

ez2 c3 30005


The events of Entropy : Zero 2 take place at an old communications facility called ‘Arbeit Communications’. Arbeit was quietly procured by Aperture in the past - the reasons for which you’ll discover when you play the game. Because of this narrative element we have really been able to bring Portal to the front of the stage during Entropy : Zero 2. You’ll get to walk through test chambers, push big red buttons, haul portal cubes and play with turrets. It’s all written to fit within the story we’re telling. Aperture has a huge role in Entropy : Zero 2 and it has been amazing seeing how well the themes of Half-Life 2 have blended.

As you’ve probably noticed, visually we’ve gone for the Portal 1 look (excluding Wilson). There’s something melancholic about Portal’s style that appealed to me more and I found it easier to incorporate a lot of the aesthetics and blend them with our own. In short, Portal 1’s style was a better fit for Entropy : Zero 2 and the story we’re telling.

1upD:

I first got into the Half-Life series shortly after the launch of the Orange Box, and in my recollections the connection between Half-Life and Portal was the center of a great deal of fan excitement at the time. I remember wondering how the game Portal would be integrated into the larger story of Half-Life. We all know that didn’t happen, Half-Life 2: Episode 3 never developed into something that would meet Valve’s standards.

I feel a sort of catharsis working on a mod that really brings Portal and Aperture Science back into the wider Half-Life universe. This setting and story are the sort of thing I would have only dreamed of back when Portal was a new game.

Mods can be an opportunity for fans to explore interpretations of new corners of the universe described by the game they’re modding. Half-Life games have always hinted at a wider fictional universe of interdimensional intrigue that we have only gotten the barest glimpse at. I have enjoyed helping to carve out a new unexplored corner of the fictional world created by the Half-Life and Portal games, or at least our interpretation of it.


14) - When CFLU Hit.

Breadman:

The last year or so has been wild. The Entropy : Zero 2 team includes members from England, America and Australia. We’ve all experienced our own lockdowns during the COVID19 pandemic.

Lockdowns didn’t really affect our development. In some cases I would go as far to say that it gave us more time and flexibility to work on the project. We had been working on the project remotely from the very start, so we didn’t have to change our workflow or alter the way we conducted our meetings. Everything kind of just carried on as normal within the development space. We certainly weren’t impeded by the pandemic.

We’re all trying to do our best to stay safe and healthy.


15) - Coping with burnout.

Breadman:

I think we all get a little weary from time to time. I’ve come to accept my burnouts as part of the process rather than looking at it like a barrier. I know the other members of the team have learned to do the same. Creativity ebbs and flows and we all feel the drag from time to time. Four years is a long time to be working on a mod.

ez2 c1 10001


Working on a mod like this gives us the freedom to accept downtime. We all have our own circumstances. Sometimes we have tough weeks or busy months. The team has developed a mutual understanding regarding this and because we’re all passionate about the project we can take time away from the production space without feeling bad about it.

At the risk of sounding like a project manager, throughout development I have tried to uphold a non-toxic production environment. I’ve tried to keep us aiming at attainable goals to sustain morale. Alongside that, I personally drove the forward motion of development in the early days by creating maps in a chronological way. In this way the team were able to have the confidence to complete tasks, whilst seeing the immediate effects of their work in the mod during weekly builds. This production methodology has really helped keep things moving and whilst we certainly have encountered barriers, I would say Entropy : Zero 2’s development has never really been in a place of stagnation.

ez2 c1 20002


Because of the way the team has been working all these years, the mod has been worked on 24/7. At times where myself or others have been on a break, work would still continue in some form by other members of the team. The production train literally has not stopped moving since 2018.

Whilst it’s true that you need some form of personal discipline to work on a project like this, If you’re fighting burnout in your own projects, I would suggest allowing it to happen rather than fighting it. Plan for your burnouts and give yourself enough time away to recharge.


16) - Beta is on the horizon but we have no idea what that looks like or how it's going to work yet.

Breadman:

I get asked about beta all the time. We still don’t know exactly what it will look like. With beta, we will need a larger testing pool but we don’t want to just hand it over to everyone. Beta for Entropy : Zero 2 isn’t going to be like a ‘soft’ release. There’s too much story and content for us to just hand it out before we’re happy it’s ready to be released.

ez2 bg night alpha0000


Beta will be another development journey for us; another period of collecting and responding to player data. The difference between our private alpha testing and beta testing will be the way we limit our response. A lot of the game’s core narrative will be nailed down by that point and barring any emergencies it won’t be likely to change. Beta is likely to focus more on bugs and making the game playable without issue.

During the beta process we may look to start working on achievements and developer commentary - both of which are planned for Entropy : Zero 2. When we know what’s happening with beta, we will be making lots of noise.


17) - Future Modders

Breadman:

From the very start, I’ve wanted to place a focus on a future for Entropy : Zero 2 past it’s release. To achieve this we’ve put a lot of effort into making sure the appropriate SDK bits and code can be passed on easily to modders.

Hammer grab


We’ve put down the foundations for a map selection dialog in Entropy : Zero 2’s main menu in the hopes that we can drive future content for the mod, by providing ease of access to community made content. We’re calling these ‘deployments’ and it’s likely we’ll be adding our own to the roster prior to and after release.

Our current tools give us a lot of flexibility. We want to give developers options. For example, with our current tools it’s possible to be a Metrocop again just like in EZ1 using our SDK.

Entropy : Zero 2’s new NPC roster, AI and weapons make for some extremely chaotic and fun encounters. If you enjoy mapping I highly suggest you explore our SDK content when we finally reach release.

Hammer grab2


1upD:

One of my main goals in working on programming for Source mods was to provide more tools, features, and ultimately content for the community to use in other mods. From the outset when I began helping Breadman work on Entropy : Zero in 2018, we were both in complete agreement that providing a toolset to fans to make more experiences like Entropy : Zero 2 is a requirement.

However, before long we ran into a predicament that has haunted me ever since. Entropy : Zero 2 is first and foremost a narrative experience. The story is more than the most important part of the game, the story is the game. We found ourselves stuck with a tradeoff: the more information we give about the development of Entropy : Zero 2, the fewer elements of the plot we can keep close to our chests. In order to try to protect players’ first impressions of the game, we made a decision early on not to publish our source code.

In hindsight, this was a disaster. I’ve regretted our choice ever since. We wanted to protect our story, but in doing so we gave up valuable opportunities to contribute to the community for other mods, as well as for other modders to help us out with pull requests.

As part of this press release, we’ve made our source code available. We are not yet providing any sort of mod template to go with it - we may do so in the future, and we absolutely will after the game launches. But for reference, Entropy : Zero 2’s source code is available here: Github.com

Entropy: Zero 2’s code is on a branch of the Entropy : Zero repository called ez2/mapbase. To see the code, check out the ez2/mapbase branch from our repo. Please bear in mind that the code could give away details that might spoil the story for you!

unknown



18) - Making Guns Move

Cyonsia:

From when I joined the team in early April of 2020, one of the main goals I had for the new animations was for them to be fast and fluid. Not only does this incentivise an aggressive playstyle, but it characterises Bad Cop’s efficiency and skill in combat. The decreased draw times made switching weapons during combat a more viable option. Of course, Bad Cop isn’t always very serious, so I kept and added some flair to the animations to reflect this, for example I kept the signature revolver spinning from the old revolver animations and gave the MP5K the iconic HK-slap.

Some new additions were made to the animation sets, mainly the first draw sequences and the command animations. The first draw plays whenever Bad Cop acquires a new weapon and those sequences really gave us opportunities to insert character moments into those sequences. The MP5K and 357 first draws are perhaps the most distinct ones that show Bad Cop’s character the most, since I animated these sequences alongside the voicelines. The command animations were something new to me and it’s typically done as a blended animation like in games such as Modern Warfare. Since base HL2 does not support this, I have to animate the sequences for each weapon manually, which isn’t ideal.

I was also responsible for animating the kick, which was a new mechanic that was conceived of to address the feedback we got regarding the lack of melee. We decided to go with the kick instead of a weapon melee animation since the team thought it fit Bad Cop’s character more and to streamline development. There were a few hitches while trying to implement the animation, namely the foot disappearing in the middle of the animation, but exporting it with different start and end frames somehow solved it.

There’s only a few weapons left to animate, those being the RPG, Crossbow, AR2, and S.L.A.M. charges. NOSML, who did the SMG1/MP7, is currently working on the RPG and Crossbow. I’m currently working on the AR2 and collaborating with 1upD on reworking the SLAMs. There are also a few additional sequences to some weapons that I plan to add as well.


NOSML:

As the assistant to Cyonsia in the animation department, it’s an awesome opportunity for me to be able to work on some of the more “out of the ordinary” weapons, such as the Crossbow and the RPG, as well as the SMG1. Since Cyonsia already established the pacing of the animations, I try my best to stay close to what is already there in order to keep a consistency throughout all weapons. Fortunately, my works are also in the similar style so this poses little challenge for both of us.

With the SMG being my first contribution to the project, I aimed to have the handling of the weapon at a fast pace, while also keeping a natural flow from one action to another. Thanks to Cyonsia’s constant guidance, I’m pretty happy with how the gun currently feels in the game!

On to the more “sizable” firepower such as the Crossbow and RPG, my goal is to still keep to the fast pace of the animation style, but also incorporate the “weight” of the weapons into how they are handled. This means that the animations in general will be slightly slower compared to other weapons, but not by a large margin. Additionally, I will do my best to stay close to the key poses of the original weapons from Half-Life 2 so they feel familiar, but also elevate the weapons with more interesting poses, so the overall weapon handling experience would feel new and refreshing.

Overall, I am excited to contribute more to the project, and I hope that you would feel the same and look forward to experiencing the weapons that I will be working on!


19) - No release date set yet. Aiming for winter but likely to overshoot that.

Breadman:

You may be disappointed to hear it, but we don’t have a release date set yet. All year we have been tentatively aiming for winter (2021), but it’s August already and we are still refining the experience. It is likely we are going to overshoot our target.

ez2 c6 10000


ez2 c6 10003


The good news is that we’re finding we’re becoming more and more comfortable with the majority of the game’s content. We will gradually reach a point where adding things or tweaking things is no longer desirable or efficient. From that point we can start looking at achievements and developer commentary.

To us, 2021 has almost disappeared. Going forward we will continue to work as diligently as we have these last three years.

Trust us when we say, we want this released as badly as you do.


20) - Final words

Breadman:

Thanks for joining us for this enormous update and a BIG thank you if you managed to read it all. We’ve spent the last few weeks collating our experiences into this so we can move forward with greater transparency.

I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved. The EZ2 team and I have worked hard to put together a mod that is seriously special. We cannot wait to share it with you all.

Comments
mujo70
mujo70

Le epique

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AidenDemon
AidenDemon

One of the best HL2 mods ever. Hope Valve will give you a job after release.

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Musie_(MyCbEH)
Musie_(MyCbEH)

Wow, many new unique things, these features make your mod really memorable.

Reply Good karma Bad karma+6 votes
P3droncio
P3droncio

i believe in wilson supremacy

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flippedoutkyrii
flippedoutkyrii

This is the biggest media dump I've ever seen in modding, period. It was a journey just to get to the end of the article! ;)

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Hyperly26
Hyperly26

Wow, that was a really long article. Everything looks amazing.

also sho

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Jonex.
Jonex.

Thanks for the massive update! Keep doing the great work you're doing. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we're really looking forward to this release!

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SweetJuleka
SweetJuleka

Everything about this looks so good! 😸

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leevee123
leevee123

i cant wait to play this when it comes out. i can tell its gonna be worth the wait. i really dont wanna read the whole thing because i dont wanna have the story spoiled. anyways good luck on the mod

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ElephantsDoingCrack
ElephantsDoingCrack

OH BABY, this is a long one....

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GreenTH-Mac
GreenTH-Mac

The Gonome will return nice! I can really see this and the 1st game as official expansions to HL2. You are doing an amazing job. Good luck!

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Ashtimus
Ashtimus

I feel this is going to be THE Half-Life 2 mod, its got everything i look for hl2 mods. Best of luck

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DarkShift
DarkShift

Impressive.
This is the "Human Error Episode 2" we never had.

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Serious_Samsung
Serious_Samsung

This will be memorable for sure.

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AudioMaker
AudioMaker

Out of some mods I played so far, I can tell this one is gonna be the best.

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Guest
Guest

Awesome! By the way, will the Arbeit part contain portals?

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Captain_Hell_Knight
Captain_Hell_Knight

Gotta say, that's looking pretty damn good. The return of old cut favourites was certainly enticing. Can't wait to actually play it, AND get all the achievements again, should this masterpiece come to Steam again.

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K_J
K_J

Wow! Felt like I read a mini book.
Good luck!

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Mdisk64
Mdisk64

I am beyond excited for this mod.

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