Impulse 101 - Here's To Almost 20 Years Of Half-Life 1 And Its Mods


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You might not remember a little known game from 1998 called Half-Life. But I do.

I was 7 years old. My brother was 11. I can’t remember how he convinced our dad to buy it but I am so glad he did. I watched him play, as our older sister read aloud a walkthrough from either PCGamer or PCZone, I can’t remember which. Anyway - fuck “On A Rail”.

The sounds are maybe what take the strongest hold in my memory - the metal banging sounds, be they the crowbar, the footsteps, or the cacophonous tentacles from Blast Pit. The echoes. The fans. The raspy glock-17. The placement and activation of the tripmines. The weird fuckin’, accidentally-hitting-the-pan-on-the-side-of-the-sink-as-water-empties-out-ass grenade launcher on the MP5 (I do not know how to describe this I’m sorry). The health stations dying to have a beat behind them. That weird bug where the crowbar hits a corpse a million times a second. Whatever the fuck that noise was when you take fall damage.

And the textures, and the enemies, and the props, and the level design, and so many things which now feel dated but after countless hours spent in it, still feel like a consistent reality, a familiar home.

So what of other games that made use of the GoldSrc engine?

Of course, Opposing Force and Blue Shift had their own charms (it was all downhill for Gearbox from there). Somehow I didn’t realise these were puns until after I’d finished my Physics undergrad 14 years later.

Last year I gave myself the pleasure of replaying Gunman Chronicles - which had for what I thought for its time extremely cool weapon concepts, and also mashes together fuckin. Confederates in space with dinosaurs and rogue AI.

Mods! Mods! What do we want!!

Counter-Strike, before Global Offensive, before Source! When if you were too fuckin’ dogshit at the game to take it seriously, you’d wile away your childhood on fuckin’ Star Wars maps and other things with vehicles and barely functioning objects which could kill you just as easily your enemies if you so much as moved on them wrong. Setting sv_gravity to like 400 or whatever, sv_airaccelerate to -5, and jumping backwards to have a really good time flying around. I liked to do this on de_jeepathon2k especially.

Team Fortress Classic, where I spent hours a day either dying at this spot in dustbowl to an endless parade of cluster bombs, EMP grenades and spy pills, or being the asshole doing that and also occasionally hitting a sentry gun with a wrench. Where I spent many hours watching my brother play conc maps, where I spent many hours playing puzzle maps as:

This dipshit

Sven Co-Op! The magic, the novelty of playing Half-Life 1 with a dozen other people all at once! And many other incredibly buggy maps which required everyone’s co-operation to not press that button, to not open that door! Don’t forget to bind your h key to +hook!

Day of Defeat! The second world war! Stamina bars! Some shithead with an MG42 is ruining your day! Where are they! I can’t find them! I hate this game! I can’t believe I spent all day on this 40MB download! I never got very into this one actually!

And a very, very special personal mention to Natural Selection! This is maybe my favourite asymmetrical multiplayer game, and frankly I’m not sure if I didn’t make this thread just to talk about it. Marines vs Aliens! And the Marines get a fucking commander??? in an FPS??? who can drop ammo and health to them and order them around to build structures??? the aliens can evolve??? this was so wild to me!!! I spent most of my time on combat and siege maps, especially servers with the extra levels mod, but a good classic map could last an hour. I’m sad that I can’t get Natural Selection 2 to run very well on my laptop, and even sadder that there are no longer any active servers for the original. I would love to revive it somehow, I also just found out they released the source code for it.

Shout out to all those people who made maps and skins and models and sprites and HUDs because this game was so easily fuckin moddable. I fondly remember replacing my crowbar with a Pringles can.

“waypoint forums user hideokojima, please, this is a mess of a thread, you’ve just chosen one or two things about your personal experience iwth these things and not actually any of their strengths or weaknesses. not to mention its structured totally nonsensically”

okay you know what i tried really hard i give up im writing too many words im tired its 3.30am here please tell me everything you love about the things i talked about. thank u. half life 2: songs of liberty


Yes very good times. Natural selection was very good, and I’m glad 2 came out, but haven’t played it as much as I thought I would. I also really enjoyed The Specialists, which was basically just team death match but you could do matrix jumps and go into bullet time and everyone wore sunglasses. The vampire hunter mod was really weird/fun too. Honestly I think my favorite/some of the best asymmetrical multiplayer games were half-life mods.


This was my Christmas present in 1998. Despite our family computer running Quake 2 (my Christmas present the year before) suboptimally I was immediately blown away by the presentation of the game; the tram ride and subsequent pre-“resonance cascade” work day section, the colored lighting (!), the sense of narrative propulsion trying to make it to the surface only to dive back down as the military arrived. It wasn’t much of a actual story, but all of the little diversions off of the main path gave it such a sprawling, mysterious feel that it seemed like anything could happen.

Man I loved that game. So much, I think, that the second game never really clicked with me and I have yet to finish it, let alone the Episodes. Black Mesa was such a compelling setting for me that City 17(?) never really felt like it was a proper continuation of the world I had been so engrossed in. That’s probably age and nostalgia more than the individual merits of either game, though.

Thanks for the excuse to remember it fondly!


Slightly less popular mods that I played unreasonable amounts of:

The original Zombie Panic: This was one of the first multiplayer mods that I ever remember letting you play as the zombie. I would not call the Half-Life 1 version of Zombie Panic a “good” game, necessarily. It was tough to get my friends to join me when I played Zombie Panic, because they’d often get frustrated and quit easily.

Being that first Zombie was an incredibly difficult experience, but there was real, legitimate JOY and TENSION in this game. When you’ve been stuck on the zombie team for most of the game and the tide finally turns, it was hard not to cackle as you all descended on the last remaining survivors. Similarly, BEING one of those last remaining survivors felt insanely harrowing.

The mod did some smart stuff to help this: carrying ammo and weapons weighed you down, making you slower. But at any time, you had a “panic” button that would instantly drop everything except for what was currently in your hands. When you’d panic, your player character would scream, but it was the exact same scream sound used when a player was also killed. Since Zombie Panic wouldn’t announce who was killed, you’d hear somebody shout on the other side of the map and never exactly know what went down for that person. Did they get away? Or did they join the horde?

Zombie Panic was later ported to Source, but ZP:S was never as fun as the original HL1 version of Zombie Panic. The tone was different, the balance was different, and it just never stuck quite as hard with me. Zombie Panic now lives on as Contagion, a paid multiplayer game, but as far as I’m aware, the servers are a ghost town, if any even exist at all. I’ll never forget you, Zombie Panic.

Swiss Cheese Halloween 2002: This one is purely nostalgia for me, because I’ll admit it’s pretty terrible. But back in 2004 or 2005 when I first discovered it, it was one of the only games explicitly about Halloween I could find. As Valve has updated the HL1 engine here and there, some fans have actually taken it upon themselves to modify the files not only to get it working on the newer version of the engine, but to add more ammo and more health to help balance the difficulty a little better. The current patched version is a little too easy, in my opinion, but it’s still a holiday tradition for me. (At least now I can consistently see the ending.)

The Specialists: For like four years, this was me and my friends’ JAM. If you ever played something like Action Quake, this is the Half-Life flavor of that (there was also an Action Half-Life, but in my opinion, The Specialists was better). Basically: a death match mod with flavors of John Woo and The Matrix. Particularly notable was how The Specialists handled Bullet Time; activating it essentially created a “bubble” of slowdown around the player, and any other players inside the bubble or looking at the bubble would also experience slowdown. There’s way more to it than that, of course, with Max-Payne-style dives, a simple melee system that’s sort of just Gunkata, and crazy power-ups that let you do super jumps and more. I’d kill for a version of this with modern graphics and populated servers.


Shoutouts to Action HL (as we migrated from Quake as the core of our LAN FPSs and so moved over from AQ2, which had hooked us the year earlier) & Science and Industry (the source of a lot of fun times and experimenting with tech tree directed progression in a shooter - only over the length of a game rather than as permanent unlocks).


Occasionally I get struck by the urge to jump on some vanilla HL1 deathmatch servers which are remarkably still active and I find myself laughing aloud at the 24-player chaotic nonsense on crossfire. So many modern shooters are geared around competitiveness, matchmaking etc and so it’s nice to just jump into something where literally nothing matters except how much fun you’re having.


Hey if you are ever interested in playing some ZP a few current and former devs still setup the occasional ZP night on the main Discord. That mod is still really good!

I played a ton of ZPS in high school (1,100+ hours) and fell in love with the community and eventually joined the dev team (right after the bad koth gamemode was added). It was the community that taught me people from other countries are just as awesome, that girls like to play video games as well and that there are people who were not comfortable with the gender they were born with. It was where I first saw goatse via a spray. Looking back on it even though I love it and it was a huge influence on me there are certain VO lines I really wish I had spoken up about and as they still exist in game I can’t in good faith recommend playing it.

BTW pro tip to any devs make a stickied weapons suggestion thread on your forums and it will soak up 90% of the low effort posts.

In regards to Contagion I will say I can not wait for that NDA to expire. If anyone is looking to buy that game please look into it’s development history and community interaction.

For those that like Action HL check out Double Action: Boogaloo on Steam. It’s a free total conversion hl2dm mod in the same style.