Half-Life Receives 25th Anniversary Update

To celebrate Half-Life’s 25th anniversary, it is free to keep on Steam if you claim it for the next few days, has received a large update, and a documentary about the game has been released as well.

half-life screenshot showing HL's original models for Gordon and Barney, a man with a big beard and a security person who looks very scared.

The update is exciting to me because it contains so much stuff that hasn’t been available for the long time. In addition to nice fixes like real widescreen support, looking better at higher resolutions, and a variety of bug fixes, Half-Life now contains content from the Half-Life: Further Data and Half-Life Uplink CDs that came out at the game’s launch to promote it through video cards, magazines, and retail stores.

Half-Life Uplink was a CD released through magazines and hardware manufacturers that contains a demo for the game with all new levels. Half-Life: Further Data was released through retail stores and contains new multiplayer maps and skins, including a fan favorite skin I used to play as, Too Much Coffee Man.

screenshot showing a skeleton and a man with really huge eyes.

There’s so other nice updates too. The game now includes the original models for Gordon and Barney from the Half-Life alpha as multiplayer skins, 4 new multiplayer maps by Valve developers, Steam Deck and controller support, and the original Valve logo video and menu from the 1998 release. Just a very nice update for a classic game that I’ve put so many hours into.

The Serious Sam/Duke Nukem Feud

I figured that during blaugust I could start dumping my memories of weird games forum drama as well so I could be free of this knowledge and have it preserved somewhere as well. Today I will talk about the great Serious Sam/Duke Nukem feud of the early 00s. In the early 00’s I was (and I still am) a huge fan of the Serious Sam series and even spent a ton of time on the forums for Seriously!, the biggest Serious Sam fan site in the world, where the dev team for the series would also often post. This is where I became aware of the feud, which I think was mostly playful but I’m not 100% sure, between the developers of Serious Sam and George Broussard, one of the creators of the Duke Nukem series and many other games before and after.

It all started in 2000, when Croteam was working on Serious Sam and just released a vertical slice to get a publisher interested in their game. It was getting a lot of positive praise because it was released at a time when the dominant FPS style at the time was the Rainbow Six style of game. That is, except for a comment by George

text from a post on a forum where george is critical of the game

To be clear, even though I disagree with it, this post is fine. It’s just a post on (I think?) the 3D Realms forums and I suspect that there was a thread about the demo and people were just discussing it. People are allowed to state their opinions online about video games. It still ended up coming to the attention of the Serious Sam devs, possibly during their interview with Old Man Murray, and rubbed them the wrong way, which is also understandable. Croteam ended up getting a publisher and releasing Serious Sam: The First Encounter, which was a big hit and Croteam started getting a following and developing a sequel. From what I recall, it ended up being discussed on the Seriously! forums in a thread and there were probably jokes about Duke Nukem Forever taking so long. I’m sure it’s been preserved on the Internet Archive but I’m not going to dig it up because I already found something tangential to it and it was a big oof.

As mentioned in the Old Man Murray interview, this is actually why Serious Sam: The First Encounter has a sewer level. It’s probably my least favorite level in the game but now you know why it exists.

Over the years, the Serious Sam series has made a bunch of references poking fun at the Duke Nukem franchise. The first actual reference to Duke Nukem appears in Serious Sam: The Second Encounter. There’s a secret phone booth you can access where Sam calls someone asking for a man named Blondie and saying he’s been waiting forever for him to show up. There’s also a very brief reference to Duke in Serious Sam for the X-Box, which is a combined release of the First and Second Encounters.

Things get a little weirder in Serious Sam 2. There’s a reference to Blondie again in a cutscene and you can find a skeleton of someone named Duke with another Duke Nukem Forever joke thrown in. There’s also a minor character named George B. Gnaar, who is named after George.

After this point Croteam moved on and it was basically forgotten. As far as I know, the only time anyone associated with Duke Nukem poked back was with the Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour where there is a secret in one of the new levels. Similar to the secret with the Doom marine in the original Duke 3D, you can find Serious Sam’s corpse and Duke will say “Why so serious….Sam?” I think this new episode was developed by Gearbox or a team outside of 3D Realms, which had been closed at this time before the name and IPs were acquired by folks that had nothing to do with the original studio.

The final reference I’ve seen was in Serious Sam: Siberian Mayhem, a standalone DLC released in 2022, which features a magazine referencing Blondie. I believe this was mostly by an external team but clearly fans of the game remember that original beef between the two studios.

Well, there you have it. There was a beef between two game studios that you now know about and I can dump this info from my brain.

Recent Games I’ve Enjoyed

Here are some new games I’ve been playing this last week

System Shock Remake

They actually pulled it off! I’m sure the development of this was a nightmare. They spent about 8 years working on it, had to restart development at one point because it wasn’t turning out the way they wanted it too, and other things popped up, but it’s great! The remake updates just enough so the game is much more approachable than the original, while still feeling like a faithful remake and an immersive sim with more fiddly bits than we’ve seen from other recent immersive sims. The art is so good too. If I recall, it’s similar to what they had for the demo they were making in Unity, then they switched to Unreal and went for a more realistic look, but then realized it wasn’t working at all and went back to the old art style but in Unreal. Go check it out, it’s really good.

Slayers X: Terminal Aftermath: Vengance of the Slayer

Slayers X is a spinoff of Hypnospace Outlaw where you are playing a “lost” FPS from the 90s created by a character from that game who recently found his missing code and is releasing the game today. I think what really impressed me with this game is how much more faithful it is to the 90s style of FPS and Build engine era of games than everything else in the recent retro FPS trend. For better or worse this also includes the bits likes levels being weirdly designed and disorienting, but I think this is part of the charm of that style of FPS so I’m glad it’s been kept in. It also happens to be very funny, as you would expect for a Hypnospace Outlaw related game.

Queer Games Bundle 2023

I already wrote about this last week but just wanted to bring it up again. There’s a lot of great games in here and it’s only $60, which is the price of a AAA game. There’s also a version of the bundle that’s $10 if you can’t afford that at the moment.

Indiepocalypse 41

There’s a new one of these. It’s good! If you never checked out an issue of Indiepocalypse, consider picking one up. They are all good starting points and each has some great games in them. It’s just a fantastic place for curation and discovering new games and game devs.

An Intro Guide to Marathon

This is a spoiler-free guide for people who wish to check out the Marathon trilogy, a series of FPS developed and published by Bungie in the mid-90s. Since we are apparently getting a new PVP-focused Marathon, I thought I would write up this intro for people who want to check out the original trilogy and see why it has so many fans even decades later. The Marathon trilogy is a sci-fi FPS series that starts with you playing a security officer trying to repel an alien invasion of your colony ship. The three games, Marathon, Marathon: Durandal, and Marathon: Infinity, were released in 1994, 1995, and 1996 respectively. With the exception of Durandal, the Marathon games were exclusive to the Macintosh. Due to it being technically superior to the Doom engine and the Macintosh being known as a platform with less games, this was seen as a big win for users of the platform and partially why it has a devoted fan base to this day.

screenshot from marathon of guy running from a creature shooting lasers and someone with a flamethrower

Why Should I Play It?

If you’re a fan of Bungie or older FPS, I would strongly recommend this game. The comic book-like artwork for all the characters is very charming, the gameplay mostly holds up, and Bungie fans will enjoy the story told in these games, which was a novel feature for FPS during this time.

How Do I Get Started?

Luckily it’s very easy to get these games for free. In 2005, Bungie said it was ok to freely distribute these games and the open source engine Aleph One makes these games playable on Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can download all three games here and it’s very easy to install the games and get them running.

Tips for Playing Marathon

There’s a couple things to keep in mind while playing the game that will help you from getting frustrated since it is an older FPS and doesn’t follow all the FPS conventions that we know today. First, please look at the keyboard mapping in options before playing. Some of the key mappings are a little odd and you might want to change them. Using terminals, doors, and switches is essential to completing the game and understanding the plot, and by default it’s at the Tab key. The game also relies on Save Terminals for saving your game, so you are unable to save at anytime through options. Terminals are also used for other things like advancing the plot and restoring health. At the bottom of your screen are two bars, a red health bar and a blue oxygen bar. At parts of the game you have to travel through areas with no oxygen and you will have to quickly move through them as your bar depletes. Hopefully knowing these quirks ahead of time makes it easier to get into, because it’s a fascinating trilogy and I think Bungie fans who like retro games will enjoy it.

An Intro Guide to Blake Stone

This is a spoiler-free guide for people who wish to check out the series Blake Stone, two first person shooter games developed for DOS by JAM Productions and published by Apogee. This is not a walkthrough and is just meant as an intro to the series to help people get started playing the games. The two games are sci-fi first person shooters made with the Wolfenstein 3-D engine where you play as a British spy named Blake Stone and must stop the evil Dr. Goldfire. The first game, Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, was released one week before Doom in December, 1993. The second game, Blake Stone: Planet Strike, was released a year later in 1994. Planet Strike is a sequel similar to how Spear of Destiny is a sequel to Wolfestein 3-D, where there are not any major overhauls but it changes the graphics for the enemies and makes a variety of little changes. The first game had strong sales until the technically superior Doom came out and Planet Strike struggled to sell with it still using the dated Wolfenstein 3-D engine. The development studio shut down fairly soon after the release of Planet Strike.

screenshot of the player shooting a gun at the guard

Why Should I Play It?

Even though it was quickly overshadowed by the superior game Doom, I think there’s still a lot to appreciate about this series. It has a lot of features that weren’t in either Wolfestein 3-D or Doom such as vending machines, friendly NPCs you can interact with, a silent weapon for not alerting other guards, being able to travel back to previous levels, and it did some things before Doom like an auto map and textured floors and ceilings. If you’re a fan of retro FPS, you will probably enjoy playing this series.

How Do I Get Started?

It’s easy to get the games running on modern computers. If you don’t have the series, you can buy them on GOG or Steam. While they run well in DOSBox, I recommend the BStone Source Port. This adds a some nice features like customizable key bindings and improves the graphics a small amount. Just download the latest release here

Tips for Playing Blake Stone

There’s a couple things to keep in mind while playing the games that will help you avoid some headaches people can run into with this series, and to fully appreciate them.

Search for Secret Walls
If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s FPS, one important thing to know is that they frequently had secret rooms filled with health and ammo hidden behind walls. The way to discover these is pretty much by spamming the Open Door button while walking along walls.

Save Often
You will want to save regularly. Encounters with enemies can go poorly and may require reloading, especially since there are some enemies that can drain your health very quickly.

Read the Manual
There’s nothing too important in here. I just think the comic they included as the backstory is kinda neat.