Founded in 2009, The Axel Project aims to recreate the original Half Life 2 beta leak story line as envisioned by VALVe circa 2003. Their upcoming binary patch features numerous fixes to engine stability as well as the addition of retail engine features (such as background maps, bloom). For a full list of features and fixes, see The Axel Project blog!
Some key highlights:
* Updated water shader
– Fixed blackness
– Improved refraction
* Fixed several engine exploits
* Improved rendering performance
* Updated VGUI (transition effects and improved stability)
* Added FP16 HDR
– With luminance-based bloom
– Controllable via ConVars
* Fixed terrain morphing
* Added background map support
* Updated post processing shaders
* Fixed all reproducible bug reports from Alpha 1
* Fixed BSP V19 and V20 loading algorithm
* Improved overall security of engine and closed several exploits
Prospero is a cancelled PC game that was in development by Valve while they were working on Half Life / Quiver. Initially the game was meant to be an action adventure, with an “science fantasy epic” storyline, lots of exploration and a complex combat system with psionic powers, but after a while the project became a MMORPG in which Valve wanted to let users to create their own worlds to have an ever-expanding universe. Prospero was canned in 1997 when Valve decided to move their effort to Half Life. Key features that were planned for Prospero were later integrated in other Valve projects, as Steam and Portal 2.
In the Half-Life sound files folder (Steam version), the music files commonly known as “Dimensionless Deepness”, “Steam in the Pipes”, “Threatening (Short)”, “Traveling Through Limbo” and “Vague Voices” are named “prospero01” to “prospero05”, which could imply that the tracks were initially made for Prospero.
Thanks to an interview with Marc Laidlaw by François Aymes for Jeuxvideo.com, we can read some more details on the project:
The Prospero development was halted in 1998, was it because of Half-Life ? It was halted because some of us went to game shows and saw things that looked like Prospero, and felt that we weren’t doing anything that was going to make us stand out in the crowd. The project was flailing, struggling for identity, and there wasn’t a sense of great confidence. It was a natural thing to move more of our attention to Half-Life. Prospero was dead in the water well before Half-Life 2 came along.
Was Prospero supposed to feature a single player adventure ? Can you give us an idea of the plot ? It straddled the line between single player and MMO, which was not something we could have pulled off back then. There were all sorts of possible plots, but we never got far enough to have to decide which one would work for what we were building.
Thanks to Valve Time we are able to know more about this interesting project, check the video below!
Half-Life was the first product of Valve Software, which was founded in 1996 by former Microsoft employees Mike Harrington and Gabe Newell. They settled on a concept for a horror-themed 3D action game, using the Quake engine as licensed by id Software. Valve eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support; a developer stated in a PC Accelerator magazine preview that seventy percent of the engine code was rewritten. The company had difficulties finding a publisher at first, many believing their project “too ambitious” for a studio headed by newcomers to the video game industry. However, Sierra On-Line had been very interested in making a 3D action game, especially one based on the Quake engine, and so signed them for a one-game deal.
The original code name for Half-Life was Quiver, after the Arrowhead military base from Stephen King’s novella The Mist, which served as early inspiration for the game. Gabe Newell explained that the name Half-Life was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichéd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter λ (lower-case lambda), which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation. According to one of the game’s designers, Harry Teasley, Doom was a huge influence on most of the team working on Half-Life. Subsequently, according to Teasley, they wanted Half-Life to “scare you like Doom did”.
The first public appearances of beta Half-Life came in early 1997; it was a hit at Electronic Entertainment Expo that year, where they primarily demonstrated the animation system and artificial intelligence. Valve Software hired science fiction author Marc Laidlaw in August 1997 to work on the game’s characters and level design. Half-Life’s soundtrack was composed by Kelly Bailey. Half-Life was originally planned to be shipped in late 1997, to compete with Quake II, but was postponed when Valve decided the game needed significant revision.
In a 2003 “Making Of Half Life” feature in Edge, Newell discusses the team’s early difficulties with level design. In desperation, a single level was assembled including every weapon, enemy, scripted event and level design quirk that the designers had come up with so far. This single level inspired the studio to press on with the game. As a result, the studio completely reworked the game’s artificial intelligence and levels in the year leading up to its release. At E3 1998 it was given Game Critics Awards for “Best PC Game” and “Best Action Game”. The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year. [Info from Wikipedia]
Below you can see beta screenshots and videos from the early Half Life development, with many differences and removed content.
The book Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar revealed many of the game’s original settings and action that were cut down or removed entirely from the final game. Half-Life 2 was originally intended to be a far darker game where the Combine were more obviously draining the oceans for minerals and replacing the atmosphere with noxious, murky gases. Promotional shots and gameplay videos released before the game became available showed parts of these scenes, and also showed enemies that do not appear anywhere in the final game, such as the “Hydra,” a massive, gelatinous, translucent, neon-blue creature that lived in the sewers. It was planned as a massive bulk far below the city with tentacles that would reach up and spear through enemies, including Combine soldiers. The Hydra was apparently cut because its AI proved troublesome: while impressive when attacking NPCs, it was less interesting, and more frustrating for players to fight, and was also difficult to code.
Other enemies cut from the game included Combine assassins (their AI was salvaged to form the Fast Zombie; they were females, very similar in attitude to the Half-Life black ops; they are included in Half-Life 2: Survivor), a newly skinned bullsquid, houndeyes, various Synths and Combine soldiers. There was also a planned creature called the Cremator who would clean the streets of bodies after a skirmish with a massive acid gun called an Immolator, which would double as an offensive weapon when the Cremator would become an enemy. The Cremator’s head would eventually be featured in Eli’s lab in Black Mesa East, encased in a jar of formaldehyde, which Eli will make comments about when the player nears the jar and views it.
The game was originally intended to be much more diverse in settings (to the extent that the game felt almost overblown, and little time being spent on developing existing characters; one of the key reasons for it being cut). Parts of the book detail how Gordon would fight alongside characters such as Odessa Cubbage, albeit under a different name and in a different place, as well as fighting together with Colonel Vance – a character that was later merged with Eli to become Doctor Eli Vance – and Vance’s forces. Originally, Eli and Alyx Vance had no relation, and Eli’s lab was originally intended to resemble a form of scrapyard and town in a cave than a better equipped laboratory within a hydroelectric power station; the scrapyard area where the Gravity Gun tutorial takes place resembles the original concept; being an auxiliary area as opposed to the bulk of the lab. The Citadel also looked very different, it was more round than the bulky Citadel from the final version.
Other cuts from the game included a drivable jetski, which was eventually replaced by the airboat in the final game because it was too much like running around on foot. Another vehicle to be included was what looked like a large mining device, to be used in Ravenholm. Also, many weapons were cut.
The E3 video “Traptown” shows that at some point in the game’s development it was also possible to shoot any gun while using the HEV suit’s zoom function and that the player could discard weapons, indicating they could only carry a specified amount of firearms at a time. Traptown was to be a section of the Ravenholm chapter. It seems to share some similarities with a section from the Ravenholm chapter from the released version of Half-Life 2, mostly the setting of the section. The trailer also showed the ability of Combine enemies to try to break down doors, which did not make it in the final release.
This is thought to be a scripted sequence for the E³ video. At the end of the video, the player shoots an explosive barrel that was behind an old car, which made the car explode and jump into a nearby zombie. This wasn’t possible in the final version, although there is a roadblock in the Highway 17 chapter of the finished game where the player does something similar to a barrel-toting truck. Also, Ravenholm (or probably only the Traptown section) featured both Combine soldiers and zombies in its beta stage, as well as Father Grigori, which, according to Raising The Bar and the leaked sound files, was to be tougher and less humorous.
Initially a small mining town called Quarrytown, which was more of a puzzle solving section of Half-Life 2, with zombies added as the town’s pests, Valve liked the idea of having a town full of zombies, so Quarrytown eventually became a big town, which was full of traps, made by Father Grigori, the town’s priest and only remaining survivor. The E3 video, Traptown, featured both Combine Soldiers and zombies, the soldiers being added probably because Valve thought that the video wouldn’t have been as interesting only with the zombies, which are slow and easy to kill.
It remains unknown if most of the cut Half-Life 2 scenes will eventually be completed and released, or if they are lost forever. A removed section of the original Half-Life was eventually released as the Half-Life: Uplink demo; a similar situation was in place with the HDR technology demo, Lost Coast, which was based on a scene that was cut from the sequel. It is possible or even likely that more removed sections of HL2 will be seen in future expansion packs, as Half-Life 2: Episode One didn’t contain any of the aforementioned content. There’s a possibility that Kraken Base might be in the further episodes of Half-Life 2 because Doctor Judith Mossman is only seen in Episode One on a monitor in the Citadel reporting from an Arctic base. This might mean that Kraken Base (possibly under a different name) is being put back into the storyline.
Episode Two includes areas of gameplay based around the “Antlion hive” areas cut from Half-Life 2, and the presence of the cut “Antlion King”, now renamed to be an ‘Antlion guardian’. Episode Two also makes references to the Borealis icebreaker that was cut from Half Life 2, a research vessel revealed to have been created by Aperture Science for some unknown purpose. It is likely that players will explore the Borealis and related arctic base in Episode Three.
Two very similar prototypes were leaked months before the game came out. Obscene amounts of Half Life 2 development data have slipped out of Valve’s grasp and can easily be found on the internet. This includes concept art, sound files, models and countless maps. Thanks to this we can see just about every change ever made to Half Life 2. To read about its original story and see pictures not featured here check out Half Life Wikia.
A mod for HL2, know as “Missing Informations” add some of the beta / unused stuff back in the game. You can download it in here. Some videos with unused models and beta stuff can be found at HL202 Youtube Channel!