his HEV suit and sits down with Carlos Montero...
What do you do in your
spare time? You
play games – that’s pretty much a given.
Maybe you write about them, or even dabble in
creating small user mods for your favourite titles on the
occasional day off. But
for Carlos Montero and his 70-strong team of amateur
developers, it’s a completely different story.
For the past few years, their downtime has been eaten
up by a mammoth of a mission.
1998, Valve released a thirty-hour epic of an FPS, a
genre-defining statement of storytelling possibilities, and
a feast of wonderful design.
was, undoubtedly, one of the finest videogames ever made.
For Carlos and co, however, the limitations of its
dated graphics engine don’t cut the mustard any more.
So, naturally, they’re making the whole game again
It’s important not to understate the enormity of this
development team includes a whole host of industry artists,
designers, voice actors and programmers, but Black
Mesa is their side-project: a hobbyist, unpaid body of
work that far exceeds the scope of most professional
such, it’s been in the making since the public release of
the Source Engine with Half-Life 2 in 2004 – but now, finally, they’ve put a date on
it. By the end
of 2009, Black Mesa will be unleashed upon the world.
Mesa is a Source Engine
‘mod’, built in the public version of Valve’s
code, meaning players will be able to download and play the
game for free, providing they own another Source Engine game
Mesa will then use the engine code of this existing
game, alongside the new tweaks, to bring the world of Gordon
Freeman back in all its glory.
Valve has become renowned for this community
development support, and Black
Mesa is an astonishing example of what can become of it.
“Valve have said themselves that they’re excited
to see the finished product,” Carlos tells us, “but
we’re not really in contact with them.”
Black Mesa is very much an independent project, but how many other
major development houses would allow people to remake their
games without kicking up a fuss?
How many would actively encourage it?
and steady wins the race..."
Montero, Project Lead, Black
is one of the many professional games developers involved in
the Black Mesa
project, and is currently working on upcoming XBox360 and PC
title Champions Online.
professional, funded team,” Carlos explains, “you can
see a ton of work done in a very short time, by a team who
can dedicate all of their time to something.
On a mod team, that’s just not how it works.”
The team all have day jobs as well, which - as
expected - take priority.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” Carlos muses. “While
sometimes we can pull together and do something quickly, we
have to depend on our steady progress over time, and take
note of and rejoice smaller milestones.”
But Carlos is keen to also point out the advantages of
working in such a way. “I
know for a fact that the team is full of people who are
extremely passionate about the project they are working on.
That's a luxury that’s not always afforded on professional
projects, but it’s the kind of thing that makes working
with others really great. Everyone is really
enthusiastic and excited about our day to day progress, and
eager to do whatever it takes to make things go smoothly.”
also believes that the key to smooth development is a
careful management of tasks and responsibilities between
different team members.
In the case of Black Mesa, these team members are based in bedrooms and studies all
over, instead of under one roof.
“One person can't be in charge of everything,
because they quickly become the bottleneck,” Carlos
team has leads for each department, who then keep track of
their mini-teams. I work at a higher level and lower
level. At a high
level I keep track of mod business such as PR, finances and
game planning, and assist the leads in making sure
everything is running smoothly. At a lower level, I
help out in each of the departments where needed - solving
tough problems, encouraging communication, teaching people
how to do things, actual asset creation, etc.
“I make a distinct point in not managing against the
leads. They have
their responsibilities and roles and I let them handle
those. If I have a problem I go to the leads, not the
individuals on the team. In many ways, these guys keep
their teams running, I keep them
running, and together we keep the entire team running.”
tried to learn from Valve..."
Montero, Project Lead, Black
far, the result of all this effort is looking utterly
Black Mesa team
recently released a theatrical trailer that appears to
showcase a product more flashy and cinematic than almost any
mainstream videogame that springs to mind.
It looks like Hollywood.
Carlos discusses this aspect of Black
definitely want action and excitement, and we've taken our
notes about how Valve used cinematic physics to really
enhance specific scenes and moments in Half-Life 2: Episode 2. It's really taking those key points of
the story, the ones they want to stand out in your memory
when you think back about the game, and amping them up even
certainly helps that there’s clearly been a fair bit of
graphical advancement going on.
The Source Engine is four years old now.
looks about as next-generation as you can get.
It’s clear that Black
Mesa is a real labour of love for its team, founded on
the principle that Half-Life was a wonderful game that still deserves the utmost
attention today. Carlos
reminisces: “It’s all the things Valve did to keep the
player entertained. Even
the best story in the world will suck if it’s read to you
in a monotone voice over the course of twelve hours.
Valve knows how to keep immersion at an incredibly
high level, and how to keep the player engrossed in their
tried to study and learn from all of that, and definitely
aim to keep that tradition true in Black Mesa.
Black Mesa seems like a game for all those
disappointed with Valve's straight engine port, Half-Life:
Source, and certain things have been tweaked from the
original game. “It is ‘merely heavily based on the original’ rather
than a completely faithful reconstruction,” Carlos says,
“but that feels like an understatement.
We’ve made plenty of alterations, but it’s all
with the goal of keeping it fun, exciting and challenging,
but still nostalgic.”
It’s certainly true that the FPS genre has moved on
a long way in the past decade, and the Black
Mesa team clearly understand this.
“There are elements of Half-Life
that still work, and elements that don’t,” admits
Valve themselves don’t make games in the same way as they
used to. Things
have evolved exponentially over generations of games.
We’re doing everything we can to keep the core of Half-Life,
which we feel is still awesome, and bring to it new
innovations and gameplay that will keep it fresh and
exciting for modern gamers.”
I don’t think anyone could ask for more than that.
DEVELOPER: Black Mesa
PUBLISHER: Black Mesa Team
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