In the many years I’ve been writing about games, I try my best to broaden my horizons and check out stuff that’s not as well known, or written about. In some cases I just end up writing about obscure first-person shooters from the ‘90s most people don’t know about. Such as Operation: Body Count.
For those unaware, Operation: Body Count was a first-person shooter released in 1994 by Capstone Software. In it, you play as a nameless commando who has to stop the evil Victor Baloch and rescue world leaders. It had a fair share of interesting features like AI buddies you could control to help you complete floors, semi destructible environments, a map of the area to avoid getting lost, and a semi-realistic environment in the days when things looked pretty abstract.
The game gives a really bad first impression where Our Hero has to fight the dreaded sewer rats under Baloch’s brainwashing for the first several levels. It also doesn’t help the game looks like… well, this.
It looks like a bad Wolfenstein 3D clone, doesn’t it? Well, it uses id’s Wolfenstein 3D engine as a base, which looked pretty cool in 1992-93. Many games ended up using the engine for their games, including Apogee’s Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold and Rise of the Triad.
But then Doom happened. Basically any FPS that still had the 90 degree maze-like look of Wolfenstein looked extremely dated, especially by 1994 standards. Even Capstone’s other big FPS of the time, Corridor 7: Alien Invasion, didn’t fare so well either for the same reasons as Operation: Body Count. I wouldn’t be surprised if many FPS developers were swearing their heads off when the shareware episode of Doom hit in 1993, with its open areas, tall floors, and level geometry that went beyond 90 degrees.
Despite the game’s relative obscurity, a Doom modder by the name of Impie decided to take the fairly maligned DOS game and give it a Doom-style makeover. The result is nothing but amazing. Also called Operation: Body Count, the game is similar to the 1994 Capstone original, but with significant changes that make the gameplay more fun and exciting.
Doom 3 was a pretty cool game for 2004. I replayed it recently since it had been several years and I was initially down on it, but after replaying it, I have some newfound respect for it. While not as groundbreaking as Half-Life 2, it was still a good game. Though it’s hardly a “masterpiece of the art form” as the box quote says.
Alas, from what I gathered, the Doom 3 modding community was sparse compared to classic Doom, even compared to its competitors like Half-Life 2. But one particular mod stood out, and it’s not surprising it exists considering id Software’s legacy:
Classic Doom for Doom 3 was one of those hyped mods in its heyday. Boasting a small team of developers at Flaming Sheep Software, these guys aimed to remake the 1993 classic on a modern engine. Of course, what better way to show off the modding skills of Doom 3‘s engine than with a remake of the original Doom?
There’s only four difficulty levels in this one, similar to Doom 3‘s skill levels. Alas no Ultra-Violence, but I’ll play on Hey Not Too Rough, the equivalent of “Normal” difficulty.
Surprisingly the development team made an intro to explain why you’re going in. It’s so corny, filled with amateur voice acting and really jerky animation. Basically they give a reason for Doomguy to enter Mars and kill demons, eventually fending for yourself. Granted, the intro can be skipped, but it’s fascinating to put a story on why things went to hell. It’s a sight to behold.
Then you’re thrusted into E1M1: Hangar, with just a pistol. A remix of At Doom’s Gate starts blasting through your speakers. It’s time to kill some demons!
If you haven’t noticed, I really like maps and mods. Mainly because I believe in new content being made by creators rather than developers packaged into $15 chunks. But also because people make really good mods.
Some of my favorite mods tend to be ones that only change that gameplay slightly while leaving the original content intact. Stuff like Police Brutality: wildweasel presents Terrorists!, like I mentioned in my Doom mods article a while back. So this time, I cover yet another one of those kind of mods.
So what happens when you take the world of Black Mesa in Half-Life, and throw in the guns from Counter-Strike? You get Counter-Life.
I remember this mod in its early days, back when I used to lurk on a Half-Life mod forum. It makes sense that this exists, considering the popularity of both.
So the story is identical to Half-Life: You play as Gordon Freeman, except instead of an HEV suit, you have a kevlar vest and you get to fight with more realistic weaponry. Basically this is more of a weapons mod than something like They Hunger, which not only had new weapons, but new levels and enemies as well.
The arsenal from Counter-Strike 1.6 is in full force here, from the classic USP, AWP, and Deagle; to the lesser-appreciated TMP and M249. Though there are some new weapons, such as the M4A1 having the M203 grenade launcher like in Half-Life, as well as a rocket launcher that almost resembles a LAW.
In addition, some of the weapons have features not in CS, such as the P90 having a zoom in scope, or the Glock 18 actually functioning like its real-life counterpart as a fully-auto pistol and not the weird Glock/Beretta 93R hybrid it’s been since the beginning. So while it’s not a 1-for-1 conversion of CS‘s arsenal, it works. Hell, in older versions, you could have akimbo USPs and Deagles, in addition to the Dual Berettas. Man, those would’ve been fun to use…
So how do you get these guns? Well, in Counter-Strike, you’d go to a buy zone and buy weapons with money you earn. In Counter-Life, killing enemies give you cash that you can go to a Health Unit or an HEV Charge station to buy guns, ammo and other important things like health and armor. There’s also money strewn all over the place, so you’ll likely have plenty of cash to buy what you need. When you get to Xen, the Longjump Module in Half-Life doubles as a mobile buy zone, where you can refill ammo when you need to, but by then you can’t buy new guns, so make sure you got the weapons you want before you jump to the border world.
There is a catch to this weapons system, though: You can only have one of each weapon type. One pistol, one shotgun, one assault rifle, you get the picture. This means like in CS, you have to drop weapons to buy new ones. I’m not a big fan of this, because I believe in having bottomless pockets to hold practically everything. But it’s not a deal-breaker, it just means planning for what weapons to use in the next area. It doesn’t take long to adjust.
The only other gameplay difference involve the NPCs. Barney’s been upgraded from using a dinky Glock to a more powerful SPAS-12, and the grunts have powerful assault rifles and shotguns. I’m not sure why they made the changes, but I approve.
While I enjoy the mod, there are problems. In addition to the weapons system, ammo has to be bought at the health stations, which can be frustrating when there’s long gaps between finding those to refill. Not only that, with their new guns, grunts are literal aimbots and will kill you extremely quickly with their new inventory. Armor ends up being ineffective in these cases, which sucks having to fight them in later sections.
That’s Counter-Life in a nutshell. There’s a multiplayer mode that converts some notable CS maps like Assault, Oilrig and Prodigy as well as one of the billion Dust clones that came out during its heyday, but any multiplayer for GoldSrc/Half-Life engine games these days are deader than a dodo. It also seems redundant considering Counter-Strike in itself is a multiplayer game. Perhaps if it had a co-op/survival mode instead, maybe then it would’ve been fun to play.
Thankfully the mod is not lost to time, it’s on ModDB and was updated to be Steam-compatible around 2008. The developer has moved on to other projects, though I can’t see what else you could add to this besides support for other Half-Life levels. It’s worth a look, even though Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes is basically this but with extra polish. On the other hand, Counter-Life is free and requires only Half-Life to run.
Eh, I hate making choices. They’re both great, give both of them a spin. It’s a shame there was never a Counter-Life 2 for Half-Life 2. I’d totally play that with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s weaponry…
I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.
I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed…
Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and were ignoring Doom for some reason, this was one of the few ways to get more digital nazi killing. That, along the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, gave you seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.
Both episodes have similar stories: Hitler recovered the Spear from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime and recover the Spear twice more before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but back in those days FPS games were never known for having great stories.
So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.
Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Naturally, video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.
So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. This will hopefully be the start of a new series where I delve into the oddities and bits of inane trivia of music in games.
Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as well as Poke646 did. One day, I should write about Poke646 and its sequel Vendetta, they’re some of the best Half-Life mods out there.
The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient tune.
The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, since I don’t know much about the composer of the ambient music, and there’s little information about it or the mod’s soundtrack online.
Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded familiar…
(WARNING: Plot spoilers for Splinter Cell: Conviction within.)
Yep. It’s the same song. Until then, I had thought that credits music was a unique track made for Poke646. In reality, it was a licensed song: DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” from his 1996 debut Endtroducing…..
Ubisoft had licensed “Building Steam…” to play over this part of the game. Since it had been years since I had played Poke646, I had realized the tune sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place it until I replayed the mod much later. After knowing this fact, I bought the song not too long after, naturally.
Games using licensed music is hardly new, think of the many music games that have come out over the years. But most games usually have a composer do all the incidental music, rarely do they use a licensed song unless it’s made specifically for the game, like Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” and “Survival” from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Ghosts, respectively. Why Ubisoft thought the DJ Shadow tune fit this particular scene is a mystery that we’ll probably never know.
Speaking of DJ Shadow, he has contributed remixes to a few games himself, such as the “El Dorado Megamix” he did for the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune soundtrack, and two tracks for Motorstorm Apocalypse. So he’s contributed music to the video game world, both directly and indirectly.
To bring it back around to Poke646, “Building Steam…” got a remix when Vendetta was released in 2006, adding some rocking guitars over the game’s credits. In a way, adding additional instrumentation to a song that heavily uses samples is interesting, because it’s using a song with samples as a sample for a new song. It’s fascinating, really.
Thanks to these mods, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has become the Poke646 theme in my mind, which was used in some big budget game. Its inclusion in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems quite bizarre to me, especially since I first heard the song through a game mod many years before. Still a good song, highly recommend you give it a listen. Can’t say if the rest of Endtroducing….. is as amazing, but I’m willing to bet it’s a solid album.
I don’t follow many hip-hop or electronica DJs, but after hearing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” I could probably get into this kind of music. Hell, I loved Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was mostly Amon Tobin’s work, as well as enjoying most of Crackdown‘s licensed music which was the same kind of style. Time to broaden my tastes in music…
Speaking of game music, I recently updated an old article from 2013 comparing the tunes from NES game show games to their real-life counterparts. No longer using volatile YouTube videos, I replaced them with convenient MP3s. Check it out here if you wanna read more of me getting nerdy about video game music.
Half-Life is my most favorite game of all time. How I got to experience it for the first time is a story for another time, but one thing that really caught my eye was the mod scene for Half-Life. Much like Quake and Doom before it, people were messing around in WorldCraft making maps for the internet masses. Some were interesting, others were bizarre, then there’s the classics. The mods that did really interesting stuff for Half-Life, and end up being the must-play mods for the game. Such as today’s entry. Since Halloween is around the corner, let’s look at the zombified single player mod They Hunger.
They Hunger was originally released in 1999 as a PC Gamer demo disc freebie, followed by two additional episodes in 2000 and 2001. Neil Manke, who had made the Half-Life mod USS Darkstar for PC Gamer earlier in 1999, was already familiar with game modding for promotional purposes such as Coconut Monkey Adventures for Quake II and Soldier of Fortune for Quake. (Not to be confused with Soldier of Fortune by Raven Software, this SOF was based off a TV show.) Naturally, They Hunger looked to do something most Half-Life mods didn’t do at the time, and it definitely succeeded.
As much as I love the mod scene for old PC games, I realized I haven’t touched Quake‘s mod scene that much in the past few years. The last mods I played for Quake was stuff made for speedruns, like Quake Done Quick with a Vengeance. So for today, we’re gonna tackle some Quake mods that tried their best to be more like tactical shooters before that was even a popular thing. Both of these were released around the same time, and share a few similarities but both have their own unique quirks.
First on our list is a mod called Navy Seals Quake. This mod features a bevvy of new weapons such as the Mark 23 SOCOM pistol, the MP5 (and its silenced variant), a Mossberg tactical shotgun, even an M16 assault rifle with grenade launcher. There are three unique levels made for Navy Seals Quake, though selecting New Game oddly takes you to the default Quake start level. The levels all feature you going in and killing everything while completing objectives like destroying a jet and disarming “RADEK” bombs. You can also play through regular Quake with these new weapons, giving you a different taste of the game, but only a handful of characters were replaced, leaving you with custom marine models mixed in with default Quake enemies like Ogres and Scrags.
(This is a blog post I originally wrote in late 2010 on my original blog. I’m reposting it here.)
I’ve always considered myself a fan of PC gaming. The best thing I’ve loved about PC gaming can be summarized in one word: Mods. Ever since the days of hex-editing levels in Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, mods have been prevalent in PC gaming society. While gaming has shifted more towards a console focus in the past five years, mods are still present today. Two years ago, I did a dedication to Half-Life‘s tenth anniversary by covering a bunch of Half-Life mods. While I never got to cover every single one due to time constraints, I always wanted to go back and record some new videos for some of the mods I didn’t cover. Maybe later this year.
So on a Friday afternoon, bored with little to do, I decided to rewatch Mathew “Film Brain” Buck’s review of Mission Impossible II. Remember that action flick that got parodied a lot in the media around 2002? Yeah, I never saw it and don’t intend to any time soon. But that film reminded me of this mod for Max Payne 2. It was called Mission Impossible: New Dawn.
Unlike other games like Half-Life or even Quake, Max Payne modding wasn’t as prevalent. Most of the mods I saw just added music tracks and Matrix-like action movie moves to the core game. Or, in the first game’s case, the famous Kung-Fu mod. I remember Mission Impossible: New Dawn being a big freakin’ deal back then, it was going to be a complete Total Conversion of Max Payne 2 to resemble the Mission: Impossible movie series. This was made around 2004 or so, before even the third movie was in planning stages.
Now that I reinstalled Max Payne 2 recently, I decided to downloaded the mod, to see if it held up after all these years. And… it didn’t, really. Although, I expected that to be the case. Since games evolve at such a rapid pace, games tend to age faster than other mediums like TV shows or movies. But in the case of this mod, it’s about average quality when it came out, and still average today.
The cutscenes look really stiff. Even by 2004 standards, they look stiff. Models standing around, barely moving their mouths, awkward camera angles, and models not even animating properly. I know something’s wrong when the first Max Payne did animation better than this. I do have to give the mod team some credit, there’s a lot of homages to MI2. There’s some decent voice work in here as well, despite the voice over for Ethan Hunt does a crappy job at sounding like Tom Cruise. It even has music from the films, and oddly enough, music from Crimson Tide, Paycheck, and Metal Gear Solid 2 of all places. Now if only I could make sense of the plot, which is more action movie than it is Mission Impossible.
So I decided to record some footage of me playing it to give you an idea on what this mod looked like. This is from about halfway through the game, and is on the easiest difficulty (Medium). As you can tell, I suck at Max Payne. But oh well, I just wanted to show you the quality of the mod, not my “l33t gameplay skillz, dawg.” Look as it even takes the Gunkata concept from Equilibrium, but it doesn’t work well at all in the game and is absolutely dumb.
Unfortunately I cannot tell if the mod team worked on anything before or since this project. But it’d be funny to know some guys who worked on a dinky Max Payne 2 mod now work in a development studio working on some recent budget Xbox Live Arcade title or something.
You can give the mod a shot here. It requires Max Payne 2 to run, and since Valve had their Steam summer sale recently, there’s probably a bunch of gamers who want to find new ways to enjoy the Max Payne games. The Fileshack mirror works and that 2-3 of the others don’t, not sure on the rest.
Man, this makes me want to find some other mods and write more about those. I used to play PC game mods like a madman, it was my way to extend the replay value out of these games. Hell, my early blog posts back in the days of Livejournal mention me covering some Wolfenstein 3D mods back in 2001. That shows you how old I am and how long I’ve been on the internet.