Last evening, Valve and Sierra Studios came into town with one singular focus - get editors to play the multiplayer levels of Half-Life. So a group of editors from GameSpot (first a small group, then a horde of other GameSpotters who crashed the party) had some expert instruction from Valve founder Gabe Newell and his group of programmers, designers, and others to discover how Half-Life has a life beyond the single levels.
When completed, the final version of Half-Life will support up to 32 players via LAN or Internet connection - and we noticed that the dedicated server was running as a native Window 32-bit application contrary to the clunky looking DOS interface Quake II has. Valve said that it is working on a Linux version so all of you running Linux servers won't need to worry.
Valve had full versions of the game on hand. The game we played last night was specially equipped with unique publication logos so you could make your mark - we left a lot of decorative GameSpot logos everywhere we could. One would think that Half-Life would play somewhat like Quake II but Valve has built in some options that only seasoned player could ever think of. The most interesting addition to the game is that the players have been sectored off into zones. Sure, a body can only take so much lead or explosions but Valve has taken it to a more realistic level. Accuracy is key and once you master one technique you can win any match - aim for the head. Sounds easy but it isn't.
Concerning weapons, multiplayer matches take on some interesting strategies. First, one of the Valve level designers showed off a technique he used when he was being pursued. He quickly dropped a satchel charge and from a safe distance, pressed the remote detonation device and his opponent exploded. It feels a lot like the pipe bomb in Duke Nukem but the effect is bigger and the overall look is much better executed. The laser guided rocket launcher was probably the hardest to use. You use a laser dot to aim the device and the after a second or two after you press, the rocket is off. Those few seconds make you a little vulnerable though since you have to continue aiming. If you suddenly move, you can accidentally shoot the rocket into the ground and take yourself out with it.
One weapon resembled a Zerg ship from Starcraft. The weapon itself looks biomechanical and at the end of the device, three tentacles flex as they fire small pellets that home in on a target. While the damage from the pellets isn't that great, they leave light effects as they come at you from the sides making escape difficult. After you launch the pellets, the trailing effect is amazing to look at as several of the pellets display different patterns of approach as they zing around like sparrows.
There was also a lightning gun, a gauss gun that fires a highly concentrated laser that can blast though walls, laser equipped trip mines, a crossbow with a sniping feature, a shotgun, a machine gun, a .9mm pistol, and a crowbar.
Editors played two multiplayer levels of Half-Life against players from different gaming publications. After customizing all the configurations, we were off. At first, the levels seemed too open for deathmatching, then they began to make more sense. There are ample areas at different heights that make for deadly perches, and the lay of the maps also gives generous areas full of open windows, doors, dropping bridges, and small craters that can launch players high into the air.
As we watched some of the Half-Life's game designer and development engineer, Robin Walker, toss satchel charges onto the craters, watch them fly up to greet a player perched high above, and explode the satchel right in front of the sniper. It may take a while for gamers to master the placement of the satchel and launch it into choice locations but its one of the more advanced skills that we're sure multiplayer addicts would love. We asked one Valve employee who ruled as king of the deathmatch back in Washington and he pointed to Robin, "He's good."