Half-Life: Blue Shift Q&A

Gearbox president Randy Pitchford answers our questions about this upcoming Half-Life shooter.

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There's no debating the fact that Half-Life is still one of the most-played first-person shooters today, even nearly three years after it was first released...yes, it has been that long. From Counter-Strike to Day of Defeat, Opposing Force to Firearms, and Team Fortress Classic to They Hunger, Half-Life and its engine continue to inspire designers to create new games and mods and compel gamers to buy and download them. This summer, fans of the classic shooter can look forward to another game based around the Half-Life universe. That game is called Blue Shift, and it was originally a separate scenario that was to be included in the upcoming Dreamcast version of Half-Life. Sierra and developer Gearbox Software, the same team that brought you Opposing Force, have since ported over the Blue Shift scenario onto the PC as a stand-alone product. We recently sat down with Gearbox's president, Randy Pitchford, to discuss Blue Shift for the PC in more detail.

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GameSpot: Randy, it looks like you get to play as a security guard in Blue Shift. What can you tell us about this character?

Randy Pitchford: Anyone who has played Half-Life is familiar with Barney the security guard. In Half-Life, Barney was sort of a generic security guard character that was used throughout the game. He was often helpful, but he also sacrificed quite a bit for the good of the original game's main character, Gordon. In Blue Shift, players take on the role of the Barney Calhoun. And it's up to the player to guide him in helping the other civilians of Black Mesa survive the alien invasion and the subsequent military cover-up.

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GS: How is the PC version of Half-Life: Blue Shift different from the upcoming Dreamcast version?

RP: Since the PC version is a stand-alone title, Blue Shift for PC includes a security guard hazard course, which is designed to teach new players how the game is played. Half-Life for Dreamcast has different methods of training new players. Also, there are various Easter eggs and hidden rooms, both of which are unique to each of the two versions. It will be interesting to see how the hard-core fans dissect the differences and report on them in their game FAQs. I know of a couple of secret differences that I doubt even the most hard-core will find...

GS: Does Blue Shift take place at the same time as the original Half-Life? Will you run into any of the old characters?

RP: Blue Shift takes place at the same time and place as both Half-Life and Opposing Force--all three games are intertwined in premise and chronology. Therefore, Barney will encounter characters and environments that are somewhat familiar. However, the entire experience involves completely new critical paths, challenges to overcome, and miles and miles of fresh Black Mesa environments that haven't been seen before.

GS: What kinds of environments can players expect to see in Blue Shift?

RP: The location is primarily Black Mesa, but the player will explore lots of unique areas. For example, at one point of the game, the player must sneak into the freight yards to rescue an important character. The soldiers there are rounding the civilians into boxcars and shipping them away to face a grim fate. At another point in the game, the player must actually transition to the alien world--not just to fight monsters in a new setting, but to accomplish a very specific task upon which the civilians of Black Mesa are counting on for their survival. Without giving away too much, I should say that along the way, there's lots of action, plenty of thinking and exploration, and a healthy dose of character development and back-story revelation.

GS: Are there any new characters in the game?

RP: There are a few all-new characters, including a very important scientist whom Barney will be working with for much of the game. There are also many familiar characters and creatures who reveal more about themselves during the game.

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GS: You won't be stuck with that sidearm the whole time, will you? What kind of firepower will you get to use?

RP: Barney is issued a new 9mm at the beginning of his workday, but soon, the accident happens, and aliens start attacking. Barney will resourcefully find all kinds of weapons to use against them. By the time the military shows up to slaughter everything, Barney will have some serious firepower at his disposal.

GS: Will there be any new gameplay puzzles that weren't included in the original Half-Life?

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RP: All of the specific events, puzzles, and challenges in Blue Shift are new. And everything was designed to fit within the existing Half-Life interface. Many of the puzzles in the Half-Life games are based on logical rules of physics and the freedom to interact with the environment in a lot of different ways. The basic rules of physics apply, but there are dozens and dozens of clever new ways to interact with the environment. I don't want to provide any solutions or ruin the player's sense of discovery, but in one case, for example, a metal barrel is used as a conductor of electricity. In another case, buoyant objects must be arranged in a basin before it's flooded in order to open a new path over the liquid. I'm very proud of the Gearbox designers, who, instead of just creating plain sewers with periodic ambushes from the enemy, went several steps further by constantly testing players with interesting combat while allowing lots and lots of interesting things to do with the player's surroundings.

GS: Can you talk a little about the High Def Pack? How many weapon and player models does it upgrade?

RP: All of them. The High Def Pack essentially replaces content from Half-Life, Opposing Force, and Blue Shift with more highly detailed content for the current-generation hardware. If you've seen any of the comparison screenshots, you'll see that the High Def Pack makes a huge difference and really brings Half-Life to the current generation of graphics quality.

GS: How long is the game compared with Opposing Force? How many levels does it comprise?

RP: The single-player game of Blue Shift has 37 levels that cover eight chapters. Opposing Force, by straight comparison, was 42 levels that covered 12 chapters. One of our goals in Opposing Force was to offer a very dense experience that offered an important event around every corner. With Blue Shift, we've pushed this even further while simultaneously upgrading all the weapons and models in the Half-Life saga via the High Definition Pack.

GS: Does the game include a cooperative mode similar to one in the PlayStation 2 version that you're concurrently developing?

RP: That stuff is under development for the PlayStation 2 only. Blue Shift, however, has a number of great multiplayer modes, including Opposing Force capture-the-flag. The premise with that mode is that the Black Mesa civilians fight against the Opposing Force soldiers with lots of serious weapons and some unique power-ups in the Half-Life setting. Opposing Force CTF is great because it's an official team-based game that uses the familiar weapons, environments, and characters of Half-Life.

GS: Will Blue Shift require an original Half-Life disc to run?

RP: Blue Shift is totally stand-alone. Users don't need anything but Blue Shift. But, if you've got the original Half-Life, you can apply the High Def Pack's enhancements to it.

GS: How long have you been working on the game?

RP: Blue Shift was initially developed months ago for the Dreamcast version. We recently spent an additional couple of months on it to bring it to the PC. That involved creating some PC-specific content and code and doing all the necessary installation and front-end work.

GS: When can we expect to see this game on store shelves?

RP: It will be on shelves everywhere in June.

GS: Thanks a lot, Randy.

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