For a long time, I wanted to create my own games.  Lacking the skills of a game developer, and to some extent the time and patience to figure it all out, I turned my attention to map making and level design, as the really hard work has already been done.  There are also plenty of tutorials around the web, taking even more of the pain out of it.  So far, I’ve not devoted the time required to create anything I’d want to show beyond my closest friends though..

Others though, have the time and patience (and the skill!), and there are some great works out there.  I’ve been recommended a few HL2 mods over the last week or so: Awakening, MINERVA: Metastasis, and Dear Esther – and the latest in the list, Korsakovia, is downloading now.

Awakening was described to me as a good game with awful voice acting.  You play as Adrian Shepard, from Opposing Forces, somewhere between Half Life and Half Life 2 in the timeline.
It starts off with a rather long trailer – Combine troops attacking some kind of facility – which pans around the fighting then inside the base, and eventually comes to rest where you wake up from stasis..  Simple enough game – shoot them all!  It’s quite a short game too – I completed it in about an hour.  The level design was great, and battles seemed to be well balanced, although I found myself seriously low on ammo for quite some time..  but yeah.. the voice acting was somewhat amusing.. 🙂


MINERVA: Metastasis really stuck in my mind as the best of the three mods, although all three were quite different from each other.
You begin the game strapped to the underside of a stolen Combine helicopter, being shipped into an island to spy for Minerva.  She communicates with you only via radio messages which appear as text – no dodgy voice acting here, although the language is strangely poetic and could put some off.   Exploring the island, and finding out exactly what the Combine are up to, requires plenty of shooting and some puzzle solving.

The map design here is very open, and although there’s really only one way to go to further the story, you’ll return to the same places a few times during exploration.   I was also quite impressed with the quality of the graphics – at least on a par with the official game itself.


Dear Esther is a strange sort of interactive ghost story, rather than a game.  Had I come across this myself, without recommendation, I might not have paid it much attention – especially as it started off so slowly, and you’re confined to a very slow walk – but that wouldn’t have done it justice.

The game begins with a portion of a letter being read out, to “Esther”, as you look on a deserted building.  Exploring the island triggers other portions of letters, or rambling thoughts, which only seem to become more rambling, more confused as you get deeper into the island, and markings on the walls only add to the atmosphere.

I discussed this with a friend afterwards, comparing notes on our understanding of what happened – an accident on a motorway, drink driving, the loss of a loved one, self-imposed isolation.. mixed with long lost shepherds, stolen bibles, monks and syphillis – all ramblings of a man delirious with a broken leg who somehow feels he deserves his fate..

Having looked around the internet for this one, I find that parts of the script are actually randomised, so if someone else were to play through this, they might have a slightly different interpretation.  Dear Esther made me feel rather sad, stirring up memories of my own, but that doesn’t stop me from admiring it.


I also mentioned I was downloading Korsakovia..
This is another mod from The Chinese Room, the team who created Dear Esther.  This game – experience? – is not meant to be enjoyable.. the whole intent was to explore what happens when you push boundaries and subvert what people expect from a game – with flashing lights, disturbing sounds, and the oh-so-creepy tagline:

The paramedics report that they were unable to find his eyes. We think he may have eaten them.

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