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HL2 finally spawning free mods, maps

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 4, 2008
(Issue 2614, Shopping on the Internet)

One of the best things going for the original Counter-Strike mod for the original Half-Life game was the fact that since HL publisher Valve had released a map-building tool, all sorts of custom maps were floating around on the 'Net.

Actually, there was a complete software developer's kit, or SDK – so not only was there Counter-Strike – a free download written and developed completely by volunteer hobbyists before being bought by Valve, but other free mods as well. So long as you had a legal copy of HL, each of these mods (each free for the download, by the way) would run as their own stand-alone games on the HL engine. FrontLine Force, FireArms and Gunman Chronicles all had large and active user communities at one time.

Of course, mods went back before HL – Rocket Arena and the original Team Fortress were both standalone Quake mods, and quite popular as well as free.

With all of these mods, the number of maps increased exponentially once the SDK was released and users could create their own.

And while HL2 was released in 2004, it has taken awhile for the mod community to catch up. Of course, Valve has kept updating its Source engine for HL2 – rather than the previous practice of simply replacing a game engine after a few years, Valve has kept Source moving forward with releases of new chapters in the HL2 game, as well as Counter-Strike: Source and now, most recently, Team Fortress 2.

But in the months since TF2 was released, quickly becoming one of the most popular online games, users have begun creating their own TF2 maps. Some of them have been pretty clever: One puts all the characters into a giant child's room, so everyone is the size of a toy soldier (and that door knob is way up high!), while another has two flatbed trailers with missiles on them racing side by side through a desert gully, a catwalk connecting them. Another fun one sets the team vs. team action inside a Mario Kart track!

And once you've downloaded a map from a server (done automatically if you go to a server where a new map you've not played before is in use), you can then set up your own server with that same map.

Other mods

While TF2 is one of the most popular games period (and was included with Valve's Orange Box retail release, and is headed to retail as a stand-alone game in the coming months), it's not a free mod the way the original Team Fortress was. Like Counter-Strike, it got too big to be left to the hobbyists.

But there are still HL2 mods out there that are free.

One of the most promising is the beta build of Pirates, Vikings and Knights, a three-team multiplayer game! The name is self-explanatory – each map has three headquarters, with treasure chests to be found and hoarded. Get all the chests, your team wins.

Currently, each team only has two classes and two weapons per. But the maps and characters are professionally designed, and the gameplay is addictive.

Another is The Hidden, which features one invisible player against all the visible players. This one doesn't seem to have more than a couple servers active at any one time, and the gameplay isn't as addictive as in PVK. (The invisible players leaves ripples when running around, but still has huge advantages.)

And work on Black Mesa continues. Black Mesa is a "re-imagining" of the original Half-Life, done up in the HL2 Source engine. (Yes, Valve issued HL Source some years back, but apparently the Black Mesa crowd thinks they can do better.)

Finally, it appears that FrontLine Force may be close to being fully updated for the Source engine. Details at