At one time there was a question, and that question was who will be the Quake Killer. In 1998 the potential answers to that question included Sin, Requiem, Prey, Daikatana, Duke Nukem 4 — yes, it’s been that long — and a relative upstart on the FPS stage, Half Life. To be honest, the idea of a Quake Killer was becoming a little stale, and while first person shooters were the hottest market around, it was pretty obvious that no one was going to do it better than id.
Then, I took a tram ride through Black Mesa Research Facility, and that all changed.
A lot of people liked to imagine that eventually a video game might be able to put forth the kind of cinematic experience that seemed as deep and engaging as a film, but to date that was still something of a pipe dream. There had certainly been games to incorporate full motion video and other gimmicks to create a sense of magnitude, but no one had really done it organically in game until Half Life came along.
It’s a little difficult looking back to see how game-changing Valve’s opening salvo was, because we take for granted now the things that Half Life did with level design, AI and narrative. Even now I look back and am amazed at how seamlessly the apocalypse of Black Mesa took place, and how it slowly changed over the course of the game from teaming with scientists to becoming a war zone. Looking back, I remember iconic moments that include triggering the accident, my first firefight with the military that was supposed to be saving me, scaling a cliff-side while being hunted by an attack helicopter, and of course that opening tram ride.
It was a game for the ages.