In 1996 the newly set up Valve Software began work on a 3D action game using id Software's Quake engine as the basis. After modifying huge amounts of the engine they eventually created GoldSrc which gave them the ability to create an incredibly detailed 3D world. This allowed for skeletal animation, direct 3D support creating believable environments and a level of artificial intelligence in enemies that was astonishing.
With the potential for an incredibly strong game, Valve wanted to ensure that the plot could match it. Drafting in author Marc Laidlaw to help with the game's story, characters and plot helped to create the distinctive atmosphere combining sci-fi horror with slick action.
It seems hard to believe now, but Valve initially had difficulty finding Half Life a publisher. Many companies felt that this was a far too ambitious project, especially one headed by a small studio. Eventually Sierra On-Line took a chance and signed them for a one game deal.
When the game was released on November 19th 1998, it took the gaming world by storm. Half Life was a first-person action game like no other. From the very beginning you knew that this was a special game. The opening sequence carefully crafted a believable environment and introduced the characters and story perfectly. From here things just got better.
The entire game is played in first-person creating an incredible sense of immersion, making each confrontation tense and each challenge memorable. The lack of cut-scenes and distinct levels meant that Half Life stood out and played like a continuous unbroken story. The use of scripted events was also previously unseen, which kept the gameplay tense and exciting. There are so many unforgettable moments: the military clean up squad, the mysterious appearances of the "G-Man" and an outdoors level full of set pieces.
Half Life continually refused to resort to conventions. Bosses were rare and usually could only be defeated by turning their environment against them, essentially becoming a puzzle. Enemies were unique and provided a significant challenge. They worked together against you and some even teleported in behind you, leading to desperate last stands as you frantically tried to find effective cover.
Rarely had a game been this exhilarating. With a perfect selection of weapons ranging from crossbows to energy weapons, there was always a tool for the job at hand. Half Life was complex grown up gaming with a story to support it and it worked magnificently.
There were occasional missteps. The later levels, set on the alien homeworld featured some torturous first person platforming sections. The inclusion of a few conventional bosses towards the end seemed a little out of place, but these were minor imperfections in an incredible game.
The game was unanimously praised for its innovation in virtually all departments. To date it has been awarded with over 50 Game of the Year awards, consistently maintains very high positions on greatest game ever polls and has sold over 16 million copies. The critical reception and huge popularity meant that the Half Life series was bound to continue.
Third party mods were encouraged by the developers and many led on to successful series of their own, Counter Strike, Team Fortress and Day of Defeat being key examples. After four years of hard work, Valve released Half Life 2 and is continuing to develop the series through expansions. Half Life captured the imagination of the gaming community and the range and frequency of mods helped to propel it to one of the most played online games of all time.
Now arguably the biggest PC franchise, the Half Life story began as an ambitious 3D action game that struggled to find a publisher. Having revolutionised an entire genre as well as an enormous number of games, Half Life is an undoubtedly the PC classic.