Countless articles have been written on the importance and influence of Half-Life’s single player campaign but it’s crucial to identify what is arguably the larger aspect of PC FPS games, multiplayer.
It’s incredible to consider the fact that 15 years ago we were in the middle of probably the most important time period in PC gaming and the FPS genre . From 1997 to 1999 Quake 2, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Quake 3 Area, Tribes, and Unreal all released on PC. It’s amazingly to think about the likelihood of such influential multiplayer games being released in such a short time frame. A truly perfect storm of technological improvements in the hardware, software, and networking combined to usher in one of the greatest video game franchises of all time, Half-Life.
On the 19th of November Valve’s classic FPS Half-Life turned 15. For those that are too young to remember 15 years ago Half-Life was a pretty big deal at the time and still is to this day. To celebrate the birthday it was announced that Black Mesa, a fan created remake of the original game would be sold as a retail product on Steam alongside the free source mod and original Half-Life.
Built on a heavily modified version of the Quake source code Half-Life was released on November 19th 1998 putting it squarely in between id’s releases of Quake 2 and Quake 3 Area. Originally Valve’s game was met with little anticipation and had heavier PC requirements than some gamers had at the time. After release gamers began to buy Half-Life and try out the Half-Life: Uplink demo. As the game grew in popularity modders began to transition from Quake 1 and Quake 2 directly to Half-Life and have pretty much stayed on Valves engines ever since. It goes without saying that Half-Life and Valve itself owes a lot to modders as a whole and most importantly to the Counter-Strike developers who largely carried the community and game on it’s back in the early days. Interestingly if you jump back a bit further in that time line you land directly on possibly the most important and influential FPS mod of all time that went under a lot of radars (apart from possibly Desert Combat for BF 1942), Action Quake 2. Action Quake 2 experienced a moderate level of success at the time overall but is also credited as the first fan based mod to be sold at retail. Action Quake 2 developers transitioned from Quake 2 over to Half-Life and quickly whipped up the immortal Counter-Strike mod and pretty much created the modern FPS community that we have today.
With the exception of popular N64 title Goldeneye released in 1997, prior to Counter-Strike the FPS genre was largely popularized with sci-fi themed games such as Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Tribes. Counter-Strike took the FPS genre in an entirely different direction with a reality inspired team based shooter. Countless games today owe their existence to the success of Counter-Strike and Half-Life. Without the vision of a small band of amatuer developers taking a chance to leave their established fan base with AQ2 and risk everything to make Counter-Strike on the new and unproven Half-Life engine.
Half-Life’s success directly contributed to the longevity of Valve as a company and it’s almost certain that without Half-Life being a success Steam would not exist today. It’s scary to consider Steam simply not existing as availability on the platform today can make or break a developer. Where would FPS games be without Counter-Strike? Would we be playing Quake 10 by now? Would Battlefield 1942 have been released with mod support? If Steam didn’t exist today would there be a comparable platform and who would own it? All scary questions and thankfully we don’t need to answer any of them because Half-Life came out 15 years ago.
Peter Downey is an American video game writer, technology expert, and web designer living in Winter Park, Florida. Born in 1983 he is fortunate enough to have experienced life before and after the internet and spent his teenage years playing games such as Quake, Starcraft, and Everquest.