Experience Sierra Half-Life!

By Toh Boon Kiat
25/11/98
Hardware One

Introduction
Think I must have been too gung ho yesterday and took too much bad food... *owwwwww* so now, my tooth/gums are acting up again and i decided to stay home (good thing the MC for the tooth extraction was up till today). Anyway, been playing around with Wymun's box of Half Life. The game itself seems nothing more than the usual Quake II FPS genre. Here are just my 2 cents worth:

1. Graphics:
The graphics are a little uneven in my book. In some aspects, they look much better than even Unreal, while in others, it actually seems worse than Quake II. I could choose to run the game in 3 modes: (A) 3Dfx miniGL (B) default OpenGL (C) D3D (using TNT).

With the V2SLI, the 3Dfx miniGL is incredibly smooth, even at 1024x768 (and feels more fluid than Unreal at that resolution, even with the latest 2.19 patch). The default OpenGL (on my TNT) runs just fine, but a little dark. As usual, it is a lot darker than the 3Dfx version, but this can be tackled by creating a opengl.cfg file with the correct gamma and brightness settings.

Since default OpenGL was running a little less fluid than the 3Dfx, I reverted to the 3Dfx miniGL (Btw, Munwei, apparently the Half Life miniGL works better than the previous miniGLs for Banshee, even 3Fingers', and you can try copying to other games like Quake II, Sin, etc. that use the miniGL driver)

1.1 Lighting
This is very well done, and it looks like they implemented volumetric lighting, a la Unreal, but the effects are not as apparent as in Unreal.

1.2 Textures
This is where I had some problems with the engine. What I felt was lacking was that the game engine did not seem to optimise for the increased texture memory of the TNT. Some of the textures (on the walls, computers and even NPCs) seemed as grainy and lores on the TNT as the 3Dfx's (remember Quake II without any of the refined autoexec.cfg files?). I just hope 3Fingers will give us another autoexec.cfg file that will improve on this. Yet, the textures on some other 3D models were immaculate. In the rolling intro, when the credits start, you are treated to a most sumptious display of incredibly intricate 3D models (watch out for the ballistic rocket and the forklift)

1.3 Models
Again, there was some unevenness in the game. Most of the levels looked blocky. I know this criticism can be levelled at almost all games, including Unreal. An arch/hallway still looks like it is made of segmented planes. But for some of the 3D models (again the rocket, forklift, etc.) are modelled with great detail.

2. Sound
Supposedly, this game has A3D and EAX support. I can attest to the EAX reverb support. In the training level, where you practise in your mech(?) suit. The sound changes when you move into your suit and when your footsteps are clanging on the metal floor. The echoes accompanying the shells from your gun are also very well done.

But the 3D surround sound was a little dodgy. I just couldn't tell if it was there. Sounds seemed to come from both the front and rear speakers. I just read this morning that you need to "calibrate" your speakers in order to fully appreciate the 3D sound. To calibrate the 4 speakers, you need to adjust the rear/front fader level (in Creative's SB Live mixer, the default Windows mixer does not have this option) until the sound is balanced (equal volume when you move from centre front to centre rear). You need to open up the following applets in your AudioHQ

  1. Environmental Audio (click Test on chimes.wav or something)
  2. Speaker (so you can move the WAVE device around the pseudo audition room)
  3. Mixer

I did just that (all I ended up doing was to shift the fader from default middle to one notch or so towards the rear), and must say that the 3D effects seem a little more pronounced before.

"I can attest to the EAX reverb support. In the training level, where you practise in your mech(?) suit. The sound changes when you move into your suit and when your footsteps are clanging on the metal floor. The echoes accompanying the shells from your gun are also very well done."

I suppose that is one of the problems with EAX. Because the sounds undergo reverb/reflections, the same source is played back through both front and rear speakers (although one should be slightly softer than the other)

I think Thresh's Firing Squad article made a similar criticism of that. In real life, I suppose it is more difficult to place the source of a sound especially in a reverb-filled room, but it does make it harder in a game when you need to pinpoint where a monster is coming from. =)

3. Controls
The controls are quite intuitive, and can be mapped easily to Quake-2 diehards. There are some additional keys, like:

  • Alternate fire (like in Unreal), so far, this means firing grenades from the machine gun
  • Going up and down ladders use the up-arrow and downarrow keys, instead of jump/crouch which is actually an improvement to me
  • Unfortunately, you also need to configure new keys to "use" a particular object, you can't just push against the object (like in Shogo)
  • You also need to configure swimming up and down keys (haven't needed it yet)
  • You can even reload the gun before running out of ammo which I thought was a neat feature

The good thing is that the mousewheel is supported, so I can configure the third mouse button to "alternate fire", and wheel up to "use" and wheel down to "reload".

4. Storyline
I won't spoil the storyline for you, but suffice to say that it is reminiscent of Doom/Quake II and what have yous? =) I still prefer Shogo's immersive storyline to Half Life's. Unlike Shogo, where I kept going for more, Half-Life made me stop because I just didn't know how to proceed. Maybe I should go look at the manual =)

"I still prefer Shogo's immersive storyline to Half Life's. Unlike Shogo, where I kept going for more, Half-Life made me stop because I just didn't know how to proceed."

(BTW, Wymun, the game also comes with "another" 4 months' subscription to Singnet. How many of these mini accounts will you have already!??)

5. Overall
The graphics are much better than Shogo's but the storyline seems a little hackneyed. Even so, what I have seen of the game so far, makes me want to proceed further... Now... how on earth am I supposed to get out of the damned lab... Catch you all later. =)

 

Content

  • Introduction & all