Free Version of Half-Life Remaster Black Mesa to Get Limited Support, No Xen
Technical constraints will prevent the free mod from seeing extensive updates.
A playable, but incomplete version of Black Mesa was released as a mod in 2012 (only requiring you own a Source game to play it). When plans were announced for a commercial version a year later, the developers promised they would not stop supporting the free version.
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With the $20 Early Access version now available, continued support of that free mod version was a question the dev team was asked about repeatedly in a Reddit AMA this week. While they reiterated the mod won't be abandoned completely, it isn't likely to ever become the complete experience that the paid version will.
"Since the paid version is on a newer engine, we aren't able to back-update the mod version with some of the features of the paid version," explained level designer Joseph Radak. "That being said, we are looking into porting bug fixes onto the mod version that are found in the paid version."
Specifically, this means the revamped Xen portion of the game--which has been missing from both versions of Black Mesa--will not be added to the mod. "Xen will only be available for the Steam Version. This is for purely technical reasons," Radak said. "The features we are implementing into Xen require access to aspects of the engine that the Steam version is running. As such, it'll be impossible for Xen to be ported back to the mod version."
In a separate response, he added, "In order to make Xen look the best it possibly can look, we need to upgrade the engine with new features. These new features will make it incompatible with the mod version."
Fellow level designer Jordan Fanaris offered some further details on exactly why this is, saying, "Organic environments are not something the Source engine does particularly well. Making Xen look as good as we want it to requires lots of improvements to the way the engine handles rendering and lighting. We can't port these changes back to the mod because we don't have source code access to that engine version."
That leaves those hoping to check out the improved version of Xen--regarded as the original Half-Life's weakest section--with no choice but to buy Black Mesa. Fortunately, Fanaris clarified that the currently $20 price won't be going up once it's out of Early Access, as is the case with some games.