[UPDATE: I have updated the article with further information on the upcoming first release of BM: Source. Check it all out, within!]
You may or may not know that the work I do, especially here, tends to demand some pretty crazy late night hours of me. Consequently, I might sleep in worse than Gordon Freeman himself (after all, we can all imagine why he was late for that faithful experiment).
And sometimes, it so happens that the universe itself will directly conspire against my sleepy ways.
In an official announcement on the BM:S forums, project leader Carlos “Cman2k” Montero announced that after almost eight years in development, the first release of Black Mesa: Source is actually nearly upon us. No, seriously.
We’re freaking out over here! It is so exciting to share this news with you!
- You can now Download the Black Mesa Soundtrack, courtesy of our very own Joel Nielsen, at the very generous price of whatever you want! Enjoy and share!
- In the near future you’ll see our Website, Wiki and Forums all taken down temporarily for renovations.
- On September 14th you will see the first release of Black Mesa! This will include our re-envisioning of Half-Life all the way up to Lambda Core. We believe this is a great way to provide a complete-feeling 8-10 hour experience with a solid ending, make our fans happy and help us make the best overall game possible.
We are still working hard on Xen and BMDM, but instead of making you wait we are giving you Black Mesa as soon as it’s ready! We’re doing our best to help bring the immense vision of this project into reality, and we are very excited for what the future brings!
Carlos Montero – Project Leader
I am now getting reports of new pig species capable of short-range flight, and blizzard temperatures somewhere within the lower regions of Inferno.
The official Black Mesa homepage now shows a large countdown, ticking down to Friday, the 14th of September, at 2:47 PM UTC/GMT (which is 3:47 PM in BST). It also features a re-written rendition of Gordon Freeman’s original Black Mesa employment letter, now featuring a number of very clever references to the mod itself, as well as its release status.
The rest of the site is undergoing renovation, and trying to access other sections will bring you to some outlandish 404 pages. The BM:S forums themselves have been renovated, with a very fancy new theme that cycles through different never-before-seen images of the mod itself.
So, yeah! A pseudo-episodic release, splitting the game up into a large Earth section, and a Xen section. That is what we’ll be getting on the 14th of September: the whole thing, starting from Black Mesa Inbound, and ending at precisely the moment the player enters the portal to Xen at the top of the Lambda Complex. The second release, containing everything past that point (so all of Xen, including the mod’s actual ending), will come at a later, yet-undisclosed date.
Well, I’d definitely say it’s a great idea. Separating these two almost entirely different chunks of the game as much as possible, is something which should certainly have been attempted even if work on Xen had already been completed. Because Xen is not only an entirely different part of the game’s progression, it represents a completely different dimension!
The gameplay, the stylistics – almost everything in Xen stands on its own. It is completely different from everything that comes before it, and with that in mind, turning it into a distinct section of the mod will work a lot better, especially in terms of game pacing. They’re not forcefully amputating the mod’s ending, simply doing what’s necessary: separating two completely and fundamentally different sections of the game in a more distinct and cohesive fashion than just a chapter title and a mapload.
It makes a lot of sense, both from a logistic standpoint (work on Xen is not yet done; and feedback from the Earth section of the game will help improve the Xen component), and from a game design standpoint (as I have explained above).
Besides, we’ll probably still get that first glimpse of Xen during the Anomalous Materials teleport sequence! And it’ll probably make for a lovely sneak peek at what’s to come in the future.
Meanwhile, on the HL2 Steam Forums, level designer Chris “Stormseeker” Horn also gave some extra detail regarding this upcoming release:
It is precisely to avoid cutting corners on this that the decision was made to split the game here. The assets for Xen are so fundamentally different from the ones in the earthbound sections of the game, we would have had issues with consistency and focus whilst finishing up the non alien stuff.
He also says that the 8-10 hour timeframe offered within Carlos’ statement is a more conservative estimate of how the average gamer might go through BM:S.
He adds that his most recent playthrough took him about 14 hours. And let’s consider the fact that he’s previously played over 500-600 hours of the mod, as well as having done work on pretty much every single map within the mod itself.
So don’t fret! I’m almost certain that Black Mesa will be just as long, if not even longer than the original Half-Life.
Elsewhere, in another post on the Steam Forums, Stormseeker talks more about why Xen has been separated from the main game, and how it will function in a standalone manner:
We decided to hold off on releasing Xen with it, as it differs so much asset wise from the main game. We’re already working on Xen, and it will be more of a complete game in its own way, greatly expanded in detail and purpose, whilst retaining the original storyline accurately. Think of it as an episode along with the Black Mesa Deathmatch release.
Sounds great! I always thought Xen deserved to be fleshed out more!
And lead level designer Daniel “Raminator” Junek, posting on the official Black Mesa forums, also offered us some insight into the how and why of the Xen divide.
Development on xen is already underway and we hope to have it finished up in a reasonable timeframe. Xen is going to basically be a complete game in its own right, it’s not going to be just an epilogue to the game; more of a whole new chapter. It’ll be pretty well expanded.
Which sounds very promising, indeed! I’d actually say that the only problem is… well, what are they going to call this thing?
Let’s see… Episode Xen? The Xen Encounter? Black Mesa: Xen? Just “Xen“? Maybe… Black Mesa 2? I wouldn’t be surprised if naming that thing turns out to be harder than actually developing it!
In any case, alongside this glorious announcement, Black Mesa: Source’s soundtrack has gone live. It has been released for free, but you can include an optional donation – and I encourage you all to do so. You can also find the whole soundtrack on Joel’s official YouTube channel.
Downloading is currently understandably sluggish, however, so hopefully Joel and co. offer us some more mirrors relatively soon. Here’s his statement concerning the soundtrack’s release:
“After seven years, hundreds of hours and too many song revisions to count, the Black Mesa Soundtrack is finally released. Faced with the impossible task of creating a soundtrack that will pay homage to Half Life 1 and the millions of fans worldwide, I have made production choices that some will most likely question. From a slightly different perspective, I have tried to bring what I feel is the essence of Half Life, to Black Mesa.
I had no prior experience composing soundtracks. Creating the sound effects was a challenge all on its own, but the music was a far greater task than I initially anticipated. Luckily for me, the lengthy development cycle gave me time to learn and experiment with a lot of different ideas.
I wanted to try new musical genres and styles in Black Mesa, while still maintaining a Half Life “feel”. A few song re-makes were attempted, but there is no point in re-making something that is already a classic. I know I risk much composing a soundtrack so different, but I am hoping the community will come to like it almost as much as the original.”
- Joel Nielsen
I’ve listened to quite a few songs so far. It’s definitely not what you’d expect from a Half-Life soundtrack; there’s a greater variety of musical instruments being used, and they are used in a much more pervasive manner. This gives it a completely different tone and style from both Kelly Bailey and Chris Jensen’s works. If you load it up expecting electro-industrial, then you might be more than a bit disappointed.
But then again, is electro-industrial really that important to Half-Life? As long as it meshes with the game’s fiction, its visuals, its stylistics, and the on-screen action… does everything really need to sound like it came out of a computer? Is it that imperative to the overall Half-Life experience? I very seriously doubt that.
I mean, as much as I absolutely adore electronica and industrial in general, I also realize that a more human-sounding style is not only more appealing, but also more varied, more diverse, and more interesting overall.
In any case, the BM:S soundtrack actually employs the use of many different styles, and borrows elements and motifs from many different musical genres. You may recognize a few of the songs from some of the older samples that were posted online by the team long ago, though they’ve been changed up and modified extensively – for the better, I’d say.
Needless to say, I do quite like the soundtrack. It’s very well done, and you can tell a lot of effort and a lot of thought has been put into its creation. Above all else, it’s absolutely awesome to listen to.
But the jury is still out on how it’ll actually function within the mod itself, and whether or not it’ll mesh as well with the game fiction and gameplay as well as Kelly Bailey and Chris Jensen’s works did. Let’s hope it does!
Still, if you think you can wait it out, I would actually suggest not listening to the soundtrack, and simply waiting until the mod is out. It’ll definitely help keep your experience as fresh as possible, and after over a half-decade of waiting, I’d say we all deserve the best experience we can possibly get out of Black Mesa!
What else is there to add? Well, not much. However, just a few days ago, the team released 6 awesome new screenshots, alongside the release of a brief interview with Polygon – that’s something you may or may not have missed. Funny how no one had any idea that days after that interview went live, this would happen!
But I’m sure we can expect more media over the next two weeks, including some official gameplay video. Stay tuned, as we’ll keep you updated on any and all new developments regarding the mod’s release.