My Top 100: #5 – Half-Life

1998 - Valve (PC, PlayStation 2)

1998 – Valve (PC, PlayStation 2)


In Grades 10 and 11, I was so obsessed with all things Star Wars that everthing else that happened in those years seems like a blur.  I don’t remember the NASCAR races all that well, which, if you know me, I’m sure you know is a big deal.  I honestly don’t remember any games that I played those years either, other than Ocarina of Time, but they were probably mostly Star Wars games.

I had gotten my friend Ken to burn me a pirated copy of The Phantom Menace, and I watched that so many times that I actually had the entire first half of dialogue from the movie memorized, word for word.  In between “important” note-takings in Grade 11 History class, I even wrote it all down in my notebook.

Obi-Wan:  I have a bad feeling about this…
Qui-Gon:  I don’t sense anything.
Obi-Wan:  It’s not about the mission, Master.  It’s something elsewhere, elusive…
Qui-Gon:  Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan.  Keep your concentration, here and now, where it belongs.
Obi-Wan:  But Master Yoda said I should be mindful of the future.
Qui-Gon:  But not at the expense of the moment.  Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan.

By the end of the semester, I had everything until the pod racing scene written up.

Yes folks, it was that bad.  I wish it weren’t the truth, knowing now that the dialogue in that movie was in fact quite dreadful…  but it is 100% true.  I didn’t look up that dialogue I wrote just above, so evidently, it’s still all fresh in my mind.


It was in this same History class that my friend John mentioned that he had started playing this amazing little game called Half-Life.  I had heard about it on GameSpot TV, a show with Adam Sessler on ZDTV that eventually became the popular X-Play show on G4.  I assumed it was something along the lines of Quake or Unreal Tournament, and as was the case with other PC games, I didn’t have much interest in seeing what Half-Life was all about.

John had a copy of the game burnt on a CD (which was pretty damn amazing, at the time), and he lent it to me.  He wasn’t that much of a gamer, but I figured I’d give this one a shot.  I had just gotten a new 3DFX video card, so why not let it stretch its legs a bit?

This was the first time I ever played with the ol’ keyboard and mouse combo, and the controls felt great.  The Black Mesa research facility had texture and depth, and felt a heck of a lot more realistic than what I had seen before.  NPC’s were talking to me, and although I had seen this sort of thing on console games before, interactions with Half-Life characters just seemed more genuine.

Things had changed quite a bit since Doom, that much was certain.

The narrative was much deeper, and you could associate with Gordon Freeman a heck of a lot more than…  DoomGuy, was it?  Even though Doom blew my mind for putting me in the shoes of an angry dude carrying a gun, needing to kill everything in sight, Half-Life made me experience something completely different.

I mean, the first part of the game has you showing up for work, and doing Gordon’s job.  That was friggin’ brilliant!  It connected you to the story, and made you feel as though you were as much a part of the journey as Freeman himself was.

From the moment you step off that hover train at the beginning, you’re sent through this amazing inter-connected space that sends you to every corner of Black Mesa.  While the weapons all looked and worked pretty damn awesomely (not to mention how great they sounded), you needed more than just firepower to get past certain situations.  There was always some kind of obstacle for you to overcome using your noggin, rather than brute force.  I appreciated that, for sure.

Even though I’ve said time and time again that PC games are just not for me, Half-Life is one of those games that I need to re-play on PC again, some day.  Sure, the PlayStation 2 version was quite nice, but I’ll never forget the awesomeness that was Half-Life for PC, and how it got me off that Star Wars kick.

I needed that…  thanks, John.



The first memory I have about Half-Life comes a few years after I first played the game, on my second or third playthrough.  What might seem like an incredibly happy memory is actually somewhat bittersweet.  I know I’m usually pretty open about things on my blog, but I won’t get into the details, this time around.

I actually didn’t know it at the time, but the winter storm brewing outside my window that day was being hailed as “White Juan”.  Hurricane Juan had rocked the Maritimes a few months earlier, and this blast of weather was the winter version of it.  Luckily, I wasn’t working that day, so I settled in for my favourite snowstorm activity – playing lots of games.

That morning, we had gotten the call from Moncton, saying that my sister was driven to the hospital.  She was going into labour!  Before the day was out, we were hoping to have a little niece or nephew, and my parents would have a grandchild for the first time.  It was very exciting!

They didn’t determine the baby’s sex beforehand, so everyone told my sister she was having a boy.  Weird cravings?  Yep, a boy.  Belly has a certain shape?  A boy.  Blah blah blah.  A boy.  Mom and I were the only two people that ever told my sister we thought she’d be having a girl.  It wasn’t by looking at her, or anything superstitious like that – although, maybe there is some science behind all that stuff, who knows.

It was just the simple fact that we saw her raising a little girl, and not a little boy.  That was it.

I was at the part in the video above, where you travel down that massive elevator shaft with the green acid at the bottom, when we got the next call from the hospital in Moncton.  I paused the game, headed out into the kitchen and soaked in all the details.  We were both elated at the news that both the mommy and baby were healthy, but it was made even sweeter by the fact that it was a girl!!  Mom and I were right!  Take that, everybody!

Mom didn’t have much time to celebrate, since she had to venture out into the storm and go to work.  That had me a bit worried, but she ended up making it just fine.  I stayed home and played Half-Life for the better part of the afternoon.

What a strange, surreal day that was.

For memory number two, let’s fast forward almost three years.

I had been dating Anita for a bit more than six months when her roommates bailed on her just after Christmas.  I wasn’t sure what she was going to do with her living situation, so I spent a lot of time with her at her place.  I didn’t know if I was going to move in, or what, but I wanted to be there while the departing roommate and her boyfriend moved all her stuff out.

It’s not that I didn’t trust them…  but…  yeah.

Anyway, even when she was at work, I was at her apartment.  No cable TV, no internet…  just the PlayStation 2 I had brought over to watch movies with.  Naturally, I brought a few games along, as well.

There were nights I played games in complete darkness on her little 14-inch TV for hours, waiting for what seemed like forever for her to get off work.  The majority of the furniture belonged to the departing roommate, so it really was quite eerie in that place.  Of all the games I played, Half-Life was the one that I played the most.  In complete darkness, it was a pretty intense playthrough!

We ended up moving in together into a different apartment a month later, but there were definitely some memories from that old place that neither of us will ever forget!


Halifax after "White Juan", February 2004. Good times in the Maritimes.

Halifax after “White Juan”, February 2004.
Good times in the Maritimes.

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