In ancient Japanese culture, there exists a subset of shunned individuals who sneak around in the dark, hoping not to be seen by the light of day. When in the safety of their lairs, these individuals look for comfort in all things nerdy. They are called otaku, and their obsessions define them. In Japan, being called an otaku is not considered a positive, unlike being called a nerd in 21st-century America. Like being a nerd, being an otaku in the States is a badge worn with honor — and no one can claim the mantle of otakuness more than the team behind the Half-Life remake, who recreated the classic title bit by bit out of the kindness of their own obsessive hearts.
Developer Valve’s Half-Life, released in 1998, featured the now-iconic scientist Gordon Freeman as he attempted to escape from a laboratory experiment gone terribly wrong (or awesomely right, depending on your view of science). Armed at first only with a crowbar, Freeman whacks his way through head-chomping crabs and bizarre, but probably friendly if given a chance, humanoid monsters. You see, a portal has been opened to another dimension where nightmarish creatures freely cross the para-dimensional boundary sans passports, which technically makes it an illegal act as well as a Lovecraftian horror show.
The Black Mesa Modification Team began in 2004 with the sole purpose of re-creating a game that had been released six years prior. With the release of the Source engine — Valve’s secret to success: a powerful tool capable of rendering fantastic images and intuitive game play mechanics — everybody from the stay-at-home mom to the stay-at-home nerd could make whatever they pleased, if they had the skills.
This is how Team Fortress, Counterstrike and Dear Esther were all created.
So what is Black Mesa? A remake? A re-imagining? An entirely new game altogether? It’s a little from column A, a little from column B and a bit from column C.
Black Mesa is a total conversion, meaning that everything from the original Half-Life is re-created here, but instead of graphics from the ’90s, Black Mesa offers updated imagery and interaction with the environment. In the ’90s, it was next to impossible to pick up an object and toss it at a dead body. With the miracle of science, now you too can desecrate the dead with pieces of chairs or rocks! Not to mention the awe-inspiring smoothness of the game, updated from a bit of a choppy mess. Black Mesa is the answer to a question long ago answered: can classic games survive in a hyper-realistic gaming market?
The answer is definitively yes, with a little tweaking from a dedicated team of super-geniuses.
Once again, the choices you make have come full circle in The Walking Dead: The Game. Telltale’s story-driven adaptation of the now massively popular comic book and television series will soon rise again in episode three. You may recall at this year’s E3 being subjected to a 15-minute demonstration via this column — as it turns out, that was a mere peck on the cheek. The reality of the game is much, much grander.
The choices made in previous episodes (there have been two before — get caught up via Xbox Live’s marketplace) will dramatically affect the outcome of episode 3. Remember: Zombies do not discriminate, but you do. The game delves into your psyche to ask you tough questions: With only two pieces of food, who do you feed in your party? The kid? The brute? The clown? There is no clown, but you may start hallucinating from a lack of food.
Of course, with zombies running around, people are going to die. Just make sure it isn’t you.
The Walking Dead: Episode 3 is available for the Xbox 360 via its Marketplace for 400 MS Points (roughly $5), and Black Mesa is free via release.blackmessource.com.
Chris O’Neal has eaten the entirety of the American Southwest. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.