Finished: Half Life 2 – Lost Coast*

The best thing about asterisks [*] in titles is that they convey this: ‘There’s something else you need to know about this statement which will probably lessen the impact and therefore we want to hide it away at the bottom of the page in a tiny font, which you either wont go looking for, or wont find’. So, in that theme, here’s the caveat for those who don’t know, Half Life 2 – The Lost Coast is a single level, and more than that, it’s a technology demo to boot, in this case, for Valve’s implementation of High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting effects.

I say their implementation, because other game engines have done it differently. Bit-Tech did a nice summary of the Valve system, and why it’s different to say, Far Cry here. Basically, HDR makes bright things look brighter, adds contrast, and gives you that ‘blinded’ feeling when you do from a dark to light area, which of course in me provokes random gun fire in all directions, which I think is a left over from playing too much Counter Strike.

Tech bits aside, it’s just a level, and a short one at that. After I stopped playing with the HDR and looking around, you can finish the level in about 30 mins. Seriously, there’s not much to it, it’s a fairly straight HL2 level-ette. Where it does score is via it’s HDR as you might expect, the church at the top of the cliff looks amazing inside, really nice. One other interesting feature though is that in the options panel for the level, you can select ‘commentary’ and when you start the game, there are several small speech bubbles dotted around which you can activate and listen to one of the design team explaining how and why they did things the way they did. I have to say that I quite like this, kind of like the director’s commentary on a DVD. You should definitely try this after you finish the level, but it is pretty funny shooting Combine troops through little which spinning speech bubbles.

OK, so given my enormous lack of gaming talent, I’m claiming this as my first ‘finish’ of 2006. Lost Coast will also pave the way not just for HDR on the Steam engine, but also for Valve’s ‘episodic’ release of chapters extending HL2, paid for and distributed via Steam – not full games, but chapters. The first of these will be ‘Aftermath’, and though I don’t know how much it’ll cost, I’m already wondering whether I’ll be buying into this system.