Mods and maps: Half-Payne.

When I wrote about Half-Life: Before, I had realized that writing about such a mediocre Half-Life mod felt disappointing to me. I usually try my best to avoid going for easy punches and writing about bad stuff. Besides, there’s other people that cover bad stuff so much better than I ever will.

So I wanted to make good and write about a different Half-Life mod. After all, Half-Life is probably the game that got me interested in mods, after Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. So after playing and writing about Before, I had stumbled upon an existing mod that had recently updated, and decided to give it a whirl once more.

I always get a kick out of crossover mods. Counter-Strike into Half-Life. Mario platforming in Doom. That sort of stuff. I don’t remember how I read about this one, but last year I had stumbled upon one of the coolest crossover mods I’d seen. This Half-Life mod takes the concept and character from another iconic game franchise and transplants him into the original game.

This is why I said “grab your Berettas and painkillers” at the end of the Before article. We’re about to do some bullet time on Black Mesa.

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“I was in a game modification. Funny as hell, it was the most horrible thing I could think of.”

Half-Payne is pretty self-explanatory: It’s Half-Life but instead of the crowbar-wielding silent protagonist Gordon Freeman, you play as Max Payne, the pill-popping, dual-wielding protagonist from the titular series.

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I remember when this sequence was pretty cool. A shame that every time I see it it looks out-of-sync…

Sounds pretty simple on the surface. Max Payne’s primary gameplay feature was the “bullet time” mechanic, one of the earliest action games to use that feature. Go into slow motion and shoot enemies with your trusty Berettas. That seems easy to make, right?

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Steam Stoplight: Half-Life Before.

I remember a couple years ago when Steam Greenlight was a thing. A way for more independent publishers and developers to get their games on Steam, Greenlight was a simple voting system where one’s game could be published under the system if it got enough support.

Unfortunately this lead to a lot of fairly questionable works hitting Greenlight. A fair share of games using stock assets from Unity, Unreal, and such. Others were people not understanding copyright law and posting stuff like World of Warcraft to Greenlight. One game was a fairly unremarkable team shooter that got re-posted to Greenlight several times after the creator had difficulty taking constructive criticism, even changing the name to “Tactical Anal Insertion” in a fit of rage.

On the bright side, games like Divekick, Broforce, and Undertale were some of the more standout choices that made it to Steam thanks to Greenlight. So it wasn’t all bad, even if there were people spending the $100 to release a proof-of-concept game that wasn’t even in a playable state.

Though, not everything was a game. Sometimes software made the Greenlight seal of approval. Even community mods like NeoTokyo made it into the mix, which was nice for people to get their project noticed. Though, much like a majority of Greenlight submissions, not all of them were winners, such as this one.

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is it “artifact” or “artefact”? and what parallel world?

Half-Life: Before is a cheap free mod from developer Creashock Studios, a one-man studio who I hadn’t heard of until this game.

Now I’ve played a bevvy of Half-Life mods. Some of the best and most notable like They Hunger, Poke646, Azure Sheep and many others. Though for every good mod, there’s at least a dozen bad ones. Before falls into the latter category.

The thrilling introduction.

The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense: You play as Black Mesa scientist Andrew Winner as they’re teleported onto a cargo ship to… find something to go to Xen? The story isn’t that clear, and the brief amount of story given doesn’t explain much beyond what the Steam store page and the main menu gave me.

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One option when you start is using this machine gun in this helicopter to take down the headcrab zombies. Or you could just take them down with your normal weapons.

So it’s a Half-Life mod. Some mods try to make the areas look unique and different, changing up everything so it barely resembles what Valve made, like Poke646. Others are content with just giving the player new levels to play with while leaving the Half-Life formula intact. This is not a bad thing, I’ve played a fair share of decent level packs.

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Guess the creator didn’t like the Beretta from the HD pack. I can’t blame him, really.

Before is definitely in the “level pack” category. Short of changing the default pistol to some P226 model presumably taken off the internet, the rest are all stock assets from Half-Life, Opposing Force, Counter-Strike, even from Gearbox’s “HD pack” originally made for Blue Shift. Even the scientist model seen below is just a reskin with no moving mouth. It all comes off as extremely cheap.

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artifact. artifact. the word is spelled “artifact.” also why aren’t your lips moving

Before was originally made in 2009 according to the store page, so 11+ years of amazing single player level packs had come out since. There isn’t a lot of effort put into the customization, and the mod maker probably would’ve been just fine leaving the models alone.

This uses the “Spirit of Half-Life” technology that modders made to make the GoldSource engine do things that it couldn’t do previously, but if the mod maker used it, I don’t really see it being used here, short of the boss fight on the second level.

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Never thought I’d have to circle-strafe to fight a boss in 2018…

Much like the rest of the confusing mod, the “boss fight” is a modified Nihilanth from the base game, except he now has a magic tongue like the game’s Barnacles. Alongside a bunch of Alien Controllers, Winner must dump a bunch of ammo, grenades and other assorted things to destroy the weird monster. Get sucked in, Winner dies and the game restarts, forcing the cutscene that shows off this monster to replay. The fight isn’t even that interesting, as circle-strafing while shooting it full of holes is enough to kill it.

This is certainly an awkward credits sequence.

Once finished, there’s an epilogue cutscene doing a pan across a facility as a makeshift credits sequence, followed by a scientist (presumably Winner) finding the yellow crystal, the same one the boss alien monster absorbed for some reason. Presumably, this is meant to be part of the crystal that starts the events of Half-Life, but it certainly isn’t clear.

Half-Life: Before is not that long, in fact my played time was about 15-30 minutes. Even some of the more passable Half-Life level packs at least get a few hours of entertainment, this just feels more like a proof of concept than something ready for prime time.


What baffles me more than anything about this mod is that this was something Valve thought was worthy enough to put on Steam. There were likely so many other projects that possibly got skipped over for this extremely mediocre mod.

This was the main problem I had with Greenlight: There wasn’t much of a vetting process for quality, where several games only got on Steam because they enticed gullible Steam users with free keys for other games just to get their work on the service.

Towards Greenlight’s end there was so much trash that it was impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. It just became a punching bag for Jim Sterling and Twitter accounts like Steam Greenlight Gold, highlighting why Greenlight was more of a trash dumping ground than the place to find hidden gems.

Imagine putting in a lot of effort to make something good only for mediocre trash like Half-Life: Before to get the go-ahead. It would certainly discourage one from making games, that’s for sure.

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A lot of this mod screams “My First Half-Life mod” rather than something really outstanding.

The ratio of good-to-bad games is probably why Valve abandoned Greenlight for Steam Direct, which skipped the voting process entirely, allowing anyone with $100 to publish their own games. Unfortunately, this just skipped the middleman Greenlight had, and now Steam is filled with trash asset flips from other games, games with malicious software in it, even garbage that touted having 5,000 Steam achievements for the explicit purpose of making bank off the trading cards.

One of these games, Abstractism, had items that resembled the most valuable items in games like Team Fortress 2 and DOTA2 for people to swindle unsuspecting traders. Worst, it also had a cryptocurrency miner secretly installed alongside the game. It took a fair share of outrage before Valve removed it from the store. But by then the damage had already been done.

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So. Many. Snarks. They’re all stuck together, too!

Honestly, this makes me want Greenlight back. At worst you would just have mediocre games that would do Steam key giveaways for votes, which is less scummy than cryptocurrency miners and stuff that wouldn’t even pass Newgrounds’ muster in 2001.

As for Creashock Studios, the studio released one more game, the dull-looking Telepathy Zero, which looks like something from the bygone Xbox Indie Games era. However, that’s not the only game the guy has made. Under his real name Andrii Vintsevych, he made a fair share of boring, unremarkable horror games, including Gynophobia, a horror game where the protagonist has a fear of women.

…Now that I think about it, Half-Life: Before is probably the best thing he’s ever put out.

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At least the custom texture work is passable?

Writing about this bad Half-Life mod is a bummer, really. I don’t like being cynical that often, but there was a small amount of potential for this to be good, and it wouldn’t even get coverage in PC Gamer twenty years ago. I wrote about some damn fun mods over the years, like Counter-Life.

There is another Half-Life mod I’ve been playing lately that’s damn good, similar in spirit to Counter-Life. I’ll probably write about that next. Grab your Berettas and painkillers.

(NOTE: When I originally published this, the screenshots I took were accidentally using a field-of-view setting that was too “zoomed in” for 16:9 resolutions, presumably an oversight by Valve. The original screenshots were replaced with ones with correct FOV, though I didn’t get perfect one-to-one recreations.)

Operation Body Count: A little-known FPS reborn.

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.

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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.

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I knew I had to get my hands dirty, but I didn’t think they literally meant it…

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.

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This guy couldn’t stop walking into me until I backed up so we could even hit each other. Quality product, right here.

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.

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Ah, what could’ve been…

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.

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Goldfinger 64: The Game with the Midas touch.

It’s been a while since I covered a modification, but that’s because I don’t pay a lot of attention to the various mod scenes. It also doesn’t help that lately I haven’t played anything new, and often getting myself into a rut. But did you think that a Nintendo 64 game from 1997, one of the biggest first-person shooters of that era, would have a mod scene?

No, I’m not talking about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – besides, the mod scene is strictly on PC these days – I’m talking about Goldeneye, Rare’s groundbreaking first-person shooter released on the Nintendo 64.

Goldeneye isn’t my most favorite James Bond game – that’s Nightfire, specifically the console version – but I still respect it as a good game that made a huge impact for first-person shooters on home consoles. So I was surprised to see that the game had a modding scene. Definitely not as big as the ROM hacks of Mario or Sonic, or even the thousands of Doom mods; but significant enough to be noticed.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a “separate the wheat from the chaff” problem, as this video proves:

(video credit: The Kins)

Thus I didn’t pay too much attention to the scene, since it seemed to be fairly amateur. But then a friend brought this mod to my attention, and suddenly my interest in Goldeneye modding scene was piqued.

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Not the real film sequence but an incredible simulation!

Enter Goldfinger 64, a total conversion for Goldeneye that covers the story of the 1964 James Bond classic, Goldfinger. Goldfinger isn’t one of my favorite Bond movies either, but I understood that it was the turning point for the film franchise. A little less grounded in reality, with goofy villains, iconic film quotes (“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), and a time where you could have a character named “Pussy Galore” and not it be the butt of a terrible joke.

While I’m more a fan of the latter eras of Bond films – partially because I don’t like Sean Connery as a person, regardless of his acting ability – Goldfinger is a goofy romp and a good starter James Bond film for a new fan. So let’s see how this team of modders took the engine of a 1997 game and based it on a 1964 film, shall we?

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Wolfram: A Wolfenstein 3D remake that’s somehow not fun.

id software’s amazing run of first-person shooters in the ‘90s are in some of my top games of all time: Doom, Quake, even Quake III Arena was pretty good in spite of Unreal Tournament’s more fun, absurd nature. But one game I had a fondness for was Wolfenstein 3D.

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Wolfenstein is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies, and strafing around arenas like operatic ballet. What happens when you take most of that away and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that don’t fit? You get Wolfram.

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Already we’re off to a great start with this menu…

I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which introduced me to this game. Being a fan of Wolfenstein and some of its other games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original. The answer is no. Not by a long shot.

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Just like the 1992 original!

Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode of Wolf3D. Levels are the same blocky shapes they were in ‘92, wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, even the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds worse.

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Oh hey, colored lighting! This would’ve been cool in like, 1997.

So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.

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Wolfenstein 3D involves using the doors a lot to funnel enemies and dodge fire. Doors become your best friends here.

Wolfenstein 3D’s combat is fairly simple. Outside of some bosses, all the enemies are hitscan – once the enemy shows a certain frame of animation, the game determines if that was a hit or a miss, and if it hits, it calculates for how much damage you take – As you progress, you learn the better tactics of the game involves ducking inside rooms and strafing back and forth at an opened door to avoid getting hit as much. It’s fairly simple and arcade-like these days, but it worked well in the era when Wolf3D came out.

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Mods and Maps: Classic Doom for Doom 3. You got original Doom in my Doom 3!

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.

I even have that PC Gamer issue, they were actually serious with that quote!
I even have that PC Gamer issue, they were actually serious with that quote!

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:

It feels like 1993 and 2004 combined into some freakshow.
It feels like 1993 and 2004 combined into some freakshow.

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?

So much for doing a UV-Max run...
So much for doing a UV-Max run…

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.

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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!

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Counter-Life: Mixing two of my favorite games together.

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.

Gordon Freeman is a cold-ass motherfucker.
Gordon Freeman is a cold-ass motherfucker.

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.

“FOR GOD’S SAKE, OPEN THE SILO DOORS! SOME CRAZED MADMAN WITH A MAC-10 WANTS ME DEAD!”

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.

This is the weirdest rocket launcher I've ever seen...
This is the weirdest rocket launcher I’ve ever seen…

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…

Silly Barney, why are you just leaving stacks of cash lying around?
Silly Barney, why are you just leaving stacks of cash everywhere?

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.

This probably looks weird to everyone but Gordon, just seeing a floating menu where you could buy stuff.
This probably looks weird to everyone but Gordon, just seeing a floating menu where you could buy stuff.

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.

Man, this place has heavy god damn protection...
Man, this place has heavy god damn protection…

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.

Get your quicksave buttons ready, cause you'll be using it a lot.
Get your quicksave button ready, cause you’ll be using it a lot.

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.

Your 5.56mm bullets are no match for the Gargantua's massive flame arms!
Your 5.56mm bullets are no match for the Gargantua’s massive flame arms!

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…

From a game mod to Splinter Cell: How I discovered a song by accident.

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.

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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.

6 great Doom mods not called “Brutal Doom.”

I’m not a big fan of list articles. At best, you could find interesting stuff that might intrigue you and maybe share to your friends on Facebook. At worst, you find terrible click-bait articles that seem to be written more for a paycheck than any informative value. It’s something I’ve refrained from doing here, as I prefer writing interesting long form stuff instead.

Seriously, this is what Cracked is now. I weep for our future.
Seriously, this is what Cracked is now. Remember when they actually wrote parody articles? Probably better than “11 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know About Your Pants,” anyway.

One particular list article by Cracked irked me considerably. A recent list, “6 Awesome Hacks That Did Mind-Blowing Things With Old Games” featured some cool stuff like Iron Man or the Incredible Hulk in Grand Theft Auto IV, or the entirety of The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind in Oblivion‘s engine. Even Just Cause 2: Multiplayer Mod, where you could go crazy in the world of Just Cause 2 with hundreds of people, made the list. But what was number one? Brutal Doom.

I won’t go too much into Brutal Doom as it’s made the internet rounds everywhere over the past couple of years, but it’s championed as the “definitive way to play Doom,” with more gore, violence, Mortal Kombat-style fatalities, even a key that’s simply dedicated to flipping off enemies. It’s amazing at first, but it outstays its welcome pretty quick.

I’m gonna be honest: I think Brutal Doom is an overrated, mediocre mod. The only thing it has going for it is the ridiculous macho factor, and that seems to be championed by every average dude who always writes about the Doom mod scene. Brutal Doom is usually mentioned as “the way Doom was meant to be,” but it really isn’t. Brutal Doom isn’t the way Doom was meant to be played, it’s Doom if it was a terrible caricature of itself. It’s the Doom comic in game form.

Seriously, I wonder if there's people who love this sort of stuff.
All this does is make Doomguy look like a god damn psychopath who should be in a mental asylum, not fighting monsters.

So, as a response to the article (as well as breaking my own personal rule of no lists), I’m making a list of 6 awesome Doom mods that aren’t called Brutal Doom. These are ones that the Doom community swear by, and are more worth your time than Brutal Doom any day of the week.

As always, these require Doom to run. You can get Doom II on Steam for the low low price of $5. After that, you’ll need a source port to play these. I recommend GZDoom (for Singleplayer) and Zandronum (for Multiplayer). While these mods will work perfectly fine with the default Doom II levels, I do recommend playing these with custom PWADs, which I’ll link to as well. Unless stated otherwise, these are meant to be played in single player.

Police Brutality: Wildweasel presents Terrorists!

(idgames link)

Ever wanted to be an action hero? Terrorists! will live out your dreams of being the next Chuck Norris. Armed with only a pistol and the ability to kick dudes in the face, this mod adds real life weapons and enemies for you to fight in.

Stopping crime the only way possible: with a six shooter and a bunch of bullets.
Stopping crime the only way possible: with a six shooter and a bunch of bullets.

In addition to the weapons and enemies, there’s also a new feature where you level up your guns by killing enemies with them. Upgrades start out simple, like faster fire rate, but as you level them up, they get more crazy, like a Beretta that converts to burst fire, or a revolver that becomes a long-range rifle. Even your melee and grenades can get upgrades, from electric grenades to explosive roundhouse kicks.

Our hero, kicking robots like it ain't no big deal.
Our hero, kicking robots like it ain’t no big deal.

Wildweasel’s made some other great mods, like the WWII-inspired Nazis! (which goes great with the Egyptian themed EPIC 2), and the action packed Diaz. Terrorists became one of my favorites, only because of the weapon upgrades. The three I just mentioned are all pretty good mods for Doom, and give enough gameplay changes to make it just as fun. For those who want to live out their action movie dreams without actually getting hurt, Terrorists! will do the job nicely.

(Disclaimer: I might have a slight bias as I am friends with the guy who made this mod. It’s still high quality, though!)

Samsara

(ZDoom forum link)

Ever wanted to play through Doom campaigns with characters besides Doomguy? Well, Samsara adds characters from many old games of the era, from Duke Nukem, to B.J. Blazkowicz, even the heroes from Chex Quest and Marathon make an appearance here. Now playing as each character will allow you to use only that character’s weapons, so you can’t run around with 4-5 weapons from different games, sadly. However, that’s a compromise I can deal with considering the variety of classic characters involved.

Yeah. I'm the Ranger, a friend of mine is the Chex Quest guy, and we're fighting a Baron of Hell. Welcome to Samsara.
Yeah. I’m the Ranger, a friend of mine is the Chex Quest guy, and we’re fighting a Baron of Hell. Welcome to Samsara.

I’ve always loved crossovers between different game series, official and non-official. Samsara scratches that crossover itch. Playing as the various characters gives a much different take on Doom. Nothing’s more fun than ripping through Chex Quest as Duke Nukem, or playing custom levels like Community Chest 4 with Ranger, or bringing firearms to the world of Heretic. There’s even mods that add the enemies from those games, giving us an unusual mix that you normally don’t see in games like this.

B.J. Blazkowicz, Duke Nukem, and the guy from Marathon, all fighting on the same level. What's not to like?
B.J. Blazkowicz, Duke Nukem, and the guy from Marathon, all fighting on the same level. What’s not to like?

Samsara is meant to be played online, either fragging with friends in deathmatch or working together in co-op, with each person choosing different characters for each situation. Though you can play this single player in GZDoom, it’s not the recommended way to play this. Get some buddies together in survival co-op and rip through as many levels as possible. Just make sure you put it on random character for the ideal Samsara experience.

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Mods and Maps: They Hunger for Half-Life.

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.

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Mods and Maps: Sonic Doom II: Bots on Mobius.

I love Doom. The fast-paced action, the creative levels, the large variety of weapons and enemies. It’s no wonder it’s held up as a classic in the first-person shooter genre. In recent times, people have made Doom last longer by way of modding – changing Doom‘s weapons, levels, even adding stuff never before seen on the Doom engine. Some of these mods, like Alien Vendetta and Doom the Way Id Did, take an existing spin on the tried-and-true formula, while others like Brutal Doom change the game drastically. Those mods are famous and well-known among the Doom community for their good quality. I wish I could say the same thing about the mod I’m featuring: Sonic Doom II: Bots on Mobius.

It’s like I’ve hopped back into 1998! and not in a good way!

Sonic Doom II was the work of one SSNTails, a Sonic the Hedgehog and Project GeeKer fan. (Don’t be surprised if you had to Google search that last one, I don’t remember that show either.) Back then, mashing existing franchises with Doom was pretty common – there was the Aliens TC for Doom, as well as Batman Doom, made by the guys who would later go on to make Zeno Clash. Naturally, SSNTails decided to mix the speed and fun of Sonic with the run and gun tactics of Doom and see if he could make something truly amazing in the Sonic fan games realm. Unfortunately, he didn’t succeed in that.

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Mods and maps: A tactical Quake-stravaganza!

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.

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Mods and maps: Mission Impossible: New Dawn

(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.