Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rather-Dark Mesa

Two weeks now and I still feel healthier than I have in months. I am afraid to change anything. Was it the different breakfast? The different shampoo? Half-Life 2?

So I've started playing the "Black Mesa" mod; a port of the original Half-Life story to the newer Source engine and graphics from Half-Life 2. I've also got the "Miranda" mod waiting in the wings.

And it was a nearly black mesa until I went into the Wine config options and turned on artificial gamma compensation. Spent more than a few hours staring at the computer trying to figure out what was killing me -- not helped by the fact that there is a well-known texture glitch involving the flashlight (or any other in-game rendered bright light).

The toughest part was getting the Windows version of the Steam client to run correctly on my Mac. Even if the game had been a wash, that would have been worth it for the understanding I gained in how to use Wine to run PC software. After that, the game has mostly run smoothly with only a few crashes. Frame-rate is great and the graphics are gorgeous. The Vorts look particularly cool.

I'd be happier fighting Vortigaunts and HECU full-time, though. Not fond of creepy-crawlies like the Barnacles and Headcrabs. Not fond of the kind of level design favored by Valve, either. It is very dogmatic room-at-a-time stuff; trying to control the situation to present a specific number of enemies in a specific juxtaposition, which they achieve through a combination of triggers, spawns, and of course ludicrously confined paths (the "I have weapons that can turn a tank into fragments but I can't get through a locked wooden door" problem).

My favorite levels so far have been largely within Episode Two, where the playgrounds at least give the illusion of being open to more variety of approach and tactics.

The other downside (in my opinion) to trigger-ridden level design is it can turn play into memorization; "Touch the medkit to trigger the enemy spawn, turn and run down the hall to the left, wait two seconds and throw a grenade which will get the three packed troops just entering the doorway..."

Just crossed the dam, and so far "Surface Tension" has been my favorite chapter.  All the way from the big fight in the lobby. Wide-open spaces, lots of tactical options.

For the technically inclined (or the retro-gamer), I'm running the latest patch from Steam, through the Steam client. That is inside a winewrapper built around the 1.7.8 engine, set to WindowsXP, with the -no-dwrite EXE flag. Mac Driver worked as smoothly as X11 but there were sometimes issues with black banding and oddly-positioned window so I'm back to X11. There were some crashes in "Questionable Ethics"; I dialed down my resolution slightly and that appeared to help.  I was also running in "Test Mode" most of that time which is itself rather questionable!

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