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Black Mesa: Source Takes Community Feedback Surprisingly Seriously

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Two days ago, new gameplay footage from Black Mesa: Source’s “On A Rail” was leaked to the Internet. The footage came from a mod build about 4-5 weeks old, but in a testament to the BM:S team’s perseverence and dedication, it appears they will be changing a great deal in the mod, based off community feedback to the leaked video. Read on to find out more!

Black Mesa: Source Takes Community Feedback Surprisingly Seriously

Reactions were mixed overall, but there was also a surprising amount of constructive criticism to be found. In a forum post on the official BM:S forums, lead level designer Daniel “Raminator” Junek announced exactly what the team is changing and modifying within the mod itself, in order to address the feedback they’ve received as a result of the footage leak.

  • We’ve made the ironsights functionality an option that you can choose in the main menu, it’s on by default.
  • We previously had two sets of voices for human grunts; a deeper, more gruff one for commanders, and a younger, cleaner one for regular grunts and medics. We’ve now given regular grunts the badass gruff voice as well, and all voices have had a radio-static filter applied. As a result, all human grunts now wear gasmasks.
  • We are re-recording the human grunts scripted dialogue (i.e. scripted sequences, not their idle/combat chatter).
  • We have replaced the song in this battle with an alternate track, one that’s darker and more aggressive.

Later on, Raminator made a second statement, shedding some more light on the what, why and how of these new changes:

Will these changes delay the release of the mod?

No. Like I said yesterday, these changes have already been made. All of the things I listed were either already underway or very trivial to implement. Adding the option for iron sights involved a few lines of code, changing the grunt voices required a quick batch effect, giving the grunts gasmasks only needed a few lines of scripting to be removed, only a few lines of dialogue were re-recorded. The net effect on the release date is basically nonexistent.

Why are you suddenly caving in to the community?

It’s not a case of caving in to popular demand or compromising our own artistic vision. Some of the points that were brought up were either things we had considered ourselves, or things that we had not noticed. We wouldn’t have made these changes if we didn’t agree with them, or if they were contrary to what we had previously tried to do.

So what’s going to happen to the grunt’s voices?

I think people have mistaken what I said earlier about the grunt’s voices. There isn’t going to be any less variety in the voice acting; there were two voices before (commanders, grunts/medics), there are still two voices now (commanders/grunts, medics). Commanders and grunts now use the same gruff voice, while medics use the cleaner voice. Both sets of voices have the radio filter applied, irrespective of whether they are wearing a gasmask or not. If you need to rationalise it, the commanders and medics are wearing throatmikes.

What’s going to happen to the grunt’s faces?

  • All human grunts still use the face-creation system to randomly select their facial features, skin colour, equipment loadout, etc.
  • The vast majority of grunts wore gasmasks before, so it’s not a significant change for them all to have it. There isn’t really a sudden lack of diversity brought on about this change.
  • Commanders and medics will always have their faces visible.
  • You never get to observe the grunts up close like you do with scientists and security guards, what with them trying to kill you and all. If you feel the need to inspect dead bodies to make sure they’re unique, you’ve got bigger problems than a video game.

Will we be able to listen to or use the old song?

Yes. The song will be available for download alongside the rest of the soundtrack, and you can easily slot it back in to the game (it was designed to fit in here anyway).

Elsewhere on the forums, Joel Nielsen, sound designer for BM:S, explains that the changes are not being made simply due to overwhelming community pressure. They are being made because many of the community criticisms carried enough weight to provide the BM:S team with solid developmental reasons to apply the changes.

There’s nothing wrong with critique. The grunt ‘com static’ change is good for the game. Dehumanizing and separating the grunts from the other humans (sound wise) was something we should have already done.

And again, in another forum post, responding to a fan question about including all government soldier voice sets in the game:

I don’t think it’s wise. All the grunts should sound like a grunt. (which is what the static filter is doing) If you come to a corner, and you hear static chatter, you should expect to be doing some killing.

Well, sounds very good, indeed. Adding gasmasks to all government troops will not only give them a more distinctive and inhuman appearance, but will also ensure they are visually distinct from both squad leaders and medics. And while the leaders and soldiers will now sound the same, this will provide an interesting callback to Half-Life 1 itself. And besides, the grunts desperately needed manlier, more imposing voices anyway.

But as long as they get the classic radio filter sound back in there, making the military just as memorable and just as interesting as Valve made them back in 1998? I do think it’s all for the best!

Let’s understand that BM:S remains unreleased for the time being, and that the team certainly seems to still be commited to providing a worthy re-imagining of the original Half-Life, through continually applying meaningful changes to the mod itself. Therefore, anything can, and quite possibly will change in the interim. Remember that these guys have no budget at all – time is their only resource, and they need as much of it as they can get in order to offer us something worthy of the Half-Life mantle.

And at this point, I’d dare say that the video leak might have actually been a good thing for the mod itself, believe it or not. Otherwise, I’m not so sure the team might have realized just how important applying these changes is. Especially when the feedback comes from the fan community that they’re developing the mod for in the first place.

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37 Comments

  1. > We’ve made the ironsights functionality an option that you can choose in the main menu, it’s on by default.

    What a pointless thing. Can’t players just not click right mouse button?

  2. As much as I really understand why some people might dislike some of the features displayed in the video material, I think the response, essentially the way it was put forward, was almost a tad too aggressive.

    People tend to forget that they’re not, by any stretch of the imagination, in position to demand changes, as if they were entitled to this mod, rather than it being something they have the option to try out for free as a result of the creative effort and hard work of a few ambitious people with comparably little resources.

    • I don’t think anyone (or at the very least, anyone taking themselves seriously) actually demanded changes from the team. They were simply voicing their concerns, in a number of different ways. And I won’t deny that the overall response was, yes, quite aggressive, but let’s not forget that just because BM:S is a free mod, does not mean it is exempt from all forms of criticism.
      And clearly, the criticism voiced by the community as a result of the video leak, did have some value to the BM:S team. Otherwise, they would not have taken it into account as much as they did. So on the whole, I do believe that everything was for the greater good, so to speak.

      • yup…the criticism at the BM forum came from the loudmouths…still I think a majority of the people that saw that clip were happy with what they saw. So it’s like a cuckoos nest.

  3. Happy they’re taking the fans so seriously, so far everything seems solid, very excited indeed.
    I think I might play my first play through with no iron sights though, you know, to complete the nostalgic feel.
    What about you Vic?

    • The .357 ironsight feature is nothing more than a zoom mode, which already was in HL1′s multiplayer mode to begin with. I’m not that bothered – people are way too jumpy about ironsights to begin with.

      • Agree.
        I thought they did add it to most weapons when I read the part it said you could turn off the iron sights functionality in the options.
        But just for the .357 magnum? I think everyone is either confused or is overacting way too much.
        I would like if they added a lean option too, but it will probably be panned by the community too before it even saw the break of day and given any chance on.

        • There’s nothing wrong with leaning, and as a matter of fact I think it’d work pretty well. Generally, there’s a lot of excessive purism (I’d go as far as too call it fundamentalism) regarding how Half-Life should or shouldn’t play, for no good reason at all.
          I dare say this might be a consequence of Valve repeating the Half-Life 2 formula for the Episodes, 3 games in a row; 3 years in a row. Some people have gotten too used to how HL2 plays in its purest form, and they’re afraid of change, in any form it may take.

          • Half-Life was always about realism to me anyway.
            If adding those options to gameplay will increase innovation of immersion to ones perspective, then why not? Isn’t that what everyone is expecting anyway, complete evolution to gaming? How are they supposed to do that when their limited to the boundaries of what the fans has set up for them, restricting their creativity.
            “Not taking risks” isn’t in the vocabulary of Valve.
            They’ll blame Valve afterwards of a repeative game, when they should be blaming themselves for not being optimistic about opening up to more realistic ideas, even bringing in new ones that’ll change FPS genre again (gravity gun).
            Nope, stay old-school they said.
            They’ll hate them at first, but it’s Valve, they won’t stay mad at them forever, they’ll realize they’re stupidity, and they’ll love them all over again.

  4. I should point out that I assumed from the video they had taken the approach of using a radio static filter in situations it would make sense, and not using it in situations like the video showed where all the grunts are in the same area. This isn’t a difficult concept.

  5. So wait, they’re reapplying the radio static effect to voices that logically shouldn’t have it, and then changing up the models to imply that the voices should in fact have an effect (which would not be a radio static effect, by the way) simply because the original game also had this inconsistency and people yelled at them for fixing it?

    Way to stick to your guns, team.

    • I understand keeping it in for the sake of nostalgia, but I personally would prefer if they wouldn’t add the radio static effect.

  6. Vic I have to say thanks. I thought that this was bad news when I read it up on the Black Mesa froums, But when you said grunts, and I saw the word Grunts and not Medics, I was relieved, lol. I was thinking at the time of the release of the statement that the Medics, grunts, and leaders weren’t going to be different from each other.

  7. In Other News:
    CS:Go is available on Steam for pre-order.

    • Thank you. Can’t believe I didn’t hear about that. Just wish I had the spare change currently to buy it. =P

  8. Dota 2 DLC http://cdr.thebronasium.com/app/586

  9. From the thread on the BMS forums:

    For the people asking… I will make the old song available on my website along with the rest of the soundtrack at the time of release.

    (and those of you that want to can replace the new song with the old one.)

    cheers (Joel Nielsen)

  10. I wonder if those guys who modeled the grunt faces are pi**ed about this decision… All those time they invested in modelling would’ve been wortless, lol.

    • The grunts (alongside the scientists, security guards, medics and government squad leaders) used the Black Mesa team’s custom-built and rather revolutionary Face Creation System, so there wasn’t a lot of work put into modelling those guys, and all of it is going back into the rest of the mod’s characters through the system itself.

  11. I, for one, was amazed by the new gameplay video. It’s the number 2 thing that got me hyped for this mod, behind the trailer. I have no opinion either way on the soldiers’ voices. I’m fine with that either way, as long as they sound funny.
    But I AM complaining that they want to change the music for that section. I don’t remember if they music in the original Half-Life at that section was light or dark, but I really liked that track playing in the video.
    Let’s just say I’ll be annoyed if they don’t have that song somewhere in the game. But that’s the problem with changing every single thing that gets a negative comment. Just nut up and create something.

  12. Sounds like they need some testers.

  13. Great to hear. I will admit I was disappointed with the leaked footage. Although it seems as if they are fixing/changing the parts which I had a issue with.

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  15. As cool as this is that they take community feedback so seriously, this will also prove to be their downfall if they aren’t careful. These guys WON’T be able to please everyone. They’ll have to live with that and release it someday, whether or not it’s “perfect.” Can’t they work on fixes and upgrades like this AFTER the release anyway?

    • Oh, absolutely – but they do still have time to respond to certain concerns from the fanbase. But they obviously won’t get to do things like this after the release, though… as Gabe and Miyamoto once said: a game can be late for a while, but a game will suck forever.
      Post-release support isn’t meant to radically improve on a game experience from the ground up, especially when you don’t have the benefits of auto-updating for your players. Besides, they’ve worked this hard for all these years – I’m pretty sure they want their first release to be the last.

  16. Well that will take another 6 years then, no such luck for it appearing this year then.

    • Well, it’s just some small aesthetic change to some of the grunt models and some audio replacement. That actually shouldn’t take to long at all. Especially since most of that audio has already been recorded.

  17. Good to hear, now they only need to fix the revolver.

    • Maybe it’s an Australian revolver.

    • Yeah, a close look on the video shows the revolver has some issues in the ‘zoomed-mode’ when the cylinder started to rotate for no apparent reason – the player didn’t even touch the hammer.
      In addition, the revolver could be equipped with the goofy scope/Laserpointer-whatnot known from the HL1-MP-game.

      • Yeah, a laser pointer would help make the zoom mode more logical, distinctive and would also be a memorable callback to HL1′s MP (and it was supposed to appear in the SP mode anyway), but I suppose that might be too significant a change by this point.
        But yeah – the revolver has some really nasty issues. If used normally, the chamber/cylinder doesn’t appear to spin at all. But when used in zoom mode, then not only does it actually spin counter-clockwise, but it also spins several seconds later than it should… again, exclusively in zoom mode, so as to ensure a slower rate of fire for proper balancing. And of course, there’s no speed loader for the reload.

        • Yeah, we all know, Valve doesn’t take weaponspecifications and functions that serious (eg. altfireing the Shotgun, magazinesize of the SMGs, altfire of the MP7, etc….), but I think, the BM:S-team should stick closer to the real counterparts in at least the way those guns are supposed to work. The actual weapon-handling and behavior is a different story.

          • That’s true – as fantastical as Half-Life can be, those elements which are non-fictitious need to be more firmly grounded in reality – otherwise, the seams come apart and the illusion is destroyed.
            Besides, that firmer grounding in reality will only help accentuate and complement the sci-fi elements of the continuum, in a more interesting way than otherwise.

  18. Will they release the old song along with the new?

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