Was ‘Quake 2’ Half-Life before ‘Half-Life’ Released?

It's pretty rare for a game to be legitimately revolutionary. Often times when a game gets called revolutionary, it's probably over-hyped marketing and not really based on any changes the game is making to the idea of what games can be. Every so often though, there is a game that is generally considered revolutionary for expanding the space of game design. Valve's 1998 debut game Half-Life is considered revolutionary for the way it introduced narrative into the often fast-paced and story-light design space of the First Person Shooter. But in fact, maybe Valve had just hit the peak of a wave of games that were all collectively moving towards a more open, less level based design. Motherboard's own Emanuel Maiberg joins the Waypoint Radio crew to chat about Half-Life: Alyx, the franchise's legacy, and whether or not Quake 2 did Half-Life before Half-Life. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/g5xnww/quake-2-half-life-alyx-doom-eternal-waypoint-radio

I mean, I remember playing Quake 2, and I remember playing Half-Life… and Quake 2 certainly had a “hub-and-spoke” level system, but I found it hopelessly confusing and not immersive. (In fact, it was so badly done that I didn’t even realise I was back in the same level by a different entrance a few times). As Austin notes, Emanuel is hopelessly rose-tinting Quake 2 - in both the sense that there’s a bunch of precursors to Quake 2 with “continuous spaces without levels”, going back to things like Mercenary, and its sequel Damocles, in 1990; and also in the sense of how well this actually works.

It’s certainly true that what Half-Life did was “doing what other games had already done, but with polish”… but it’s also true that people have massively short memories about what games were trying do to in the 1980s and early 1990s, and somehow “the way Doom did it with levels” suddenly erases everyone’s memory of earlier games (sometimes not on PC) which did it differently. The zeitgeist sometimes erases the previous zeitgeist unfairly, and we reinvent its lessons and claim we’re doing something new.


Wow I saw this headline and knew I would have some THOUGHTS.

I think the Immersive Sim comparison is a bridge too far. System Shock is slow and ponderous compared to the fidelity and speed that Quake brought to the table when it came out, and it’s Quake that really gave the most lift to what Half-Life would become. With Quake came really robust 3D level design and the distribution of the tools so everyone could do it. That said, what we’re talking about with Quake 2 and Half-Life is not environmental storytelling 100% of the time, rather it’s just pure environment. Traversal is THE huge gameplay feature in both of these titles, tons of literal kinetic energy bouncing you through the space. That’s not really ascribable to System Shock.

Quake 2 did have one area lead into the next in a semi-plausible way that I think was distinct from the more RPG-ish verbs that proto-immersive sims used. (No maps in Quake or HL!) I think the real conversation is the growth in sophistication of 3D environments to create a sense of place. The contrast of Quake 2 and Half-Life is that Quake 2 continued to play around in the industrial fantasy worlds that id were famous for, and Half-Life went towards something like realism. I won’t deny that Valve was riding a wave in 1998, but I really squarely think it was id’s wave. Quake is kind of a monolith.

I still enjoy exercises like this, but I’ve found that if you wanna get really real with the precursor game when it comes to multigenres like System Shock, you start to find out that nearly everything draws back to cRPGs and the tabletop RPGs they were attempting to simulate. Those comparisons are endlessly interesting, but become useless if you fail to really account for things like growing graphical fidelity and increasing bandwidth for real time simulation. That stuff is closer to pure technological progress.


Small note but Half Life was ported to the Dreamcast but never released. That said you can definitely find playable Dreamcast versions out there and because it’s Half Life you can of course find a few mods that were also ported.

Hi it’s me, the only person in the universe who routinely replays the Half-Life 2 vehicle sections because they’re my favorite parts of the game. Especially the boat one. Love that goddamn boat.


I like Rob’s point about how graphically there “are no more worlds to conquer” so new consoles will never be exciting again. And I think Half-Life Alyx fits in here. VR is really the only big exciting frontier in gaming anymore. But, I don’t really want it or care for it. It being cumbersome and expensive and impractical keeps giving me excuses to stay away.

But I’ve always been a Luddite. I don’t know why we ever needed graphics better than the GameCube era to be honest.


Rob’s point struck a chord with me too.

I was really into PC hardware for a few years. About 5 years ago I was sitting at my huge fancy monitor and expensive PC playing FTL in a window taking up about 1/4 the screen and I came to my senses. It’s fresh and interesting gameplay that I was after not high fidelity graphics. These days I have a very basic PC and mostly play on Switch. Not sure there is much in the new consoles for me.


totally, me too. The last game I bought for it being super-awesomely-high-graphics-awesome was probably actually Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

I suspect that part of this, though, was the very long Xbox360/PS4 generation, which meant that anything with a console port also had to work on hardware that was increasingly old in expensive gaming PC terms (at least, if you were prepared to spend $1000s on it), so we got a lot of games which were graphically impressive and at least somewhat interesting otherwise?

also, I’m 40 now, and I was 17 when Quake 2 game out, my perspective has changed a bit [and I still try to game under Linux, which means that I actively don’t care about a cool new game if it doesn’t work in Wine or natively: that’s been good for setting my perspectives on the relative importance of things].

Off topic but how has your experience been with Proton? Ive heard from a few people now that it works well enough that you can play almost any Steam game reliably using it.

I don’t really know: I don’t think I’ve ever used Proton, even for things on Steam. I tend to use the (dev) branch of Wine, with DXVK (which does better Direct3D stuff via Vulkan, than the main Wine libs do) turned on. Most things work pretty well, there’s some janky things - often to do with bugs in the game which graphics drivers on Windows just patch around - and I’ve had to use a replacement Wine build specifically for League of Legends - but most things work pretty well nowadays.

There’s a really great Jacob Gellar video that runs sort of tangential to this idea.

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