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  • Game Narrative Review: Half-Life

    - Tyler Buser
  •  [GameCareerGuide here presents the latest in a series of narrative reviews written for a contest supported by GDC Austin in association with the IGDA Writers' SIG. The goal is twofold: to encourage students to look at game narrative and writing with the intensity and depth that they do other aspects of game development, and to reward the students who excel at game narrative analysis. To read the first entry, and an in-depth explanation of the contest, click here.]

    Game Title: Half-Life

    Platform: PC

    Genre: First Person Shooter

    Release Date: November 19th 1998

    Developer: Valve

    Publisher: Sierra Entertainment

    Game Writer/Creative Director/Narrative Designer: Marc Laidlaw


    Half-Life follows the events of Dr. Gordon Freeman, a newly-employed theoretical physicist, at the Black Mesa Research Facility in New Mexico circa early 2000s. The plot commences with the day to day duties of Freeman, such as analyzing experimental and unknown alien artifacts, until one such alien artifact is analyzed and triggers the creation of a dimensional rift within Black Mesa bridging it with an alternate alien universe. This bridge between universes allows aliens, sophisticated and feral, to swarm the Black Mesa facility resulting in the death of most of its personnel.

    Attempts to close the dimensional bridge are unsuccessful and a government contingency plan is enacted, which sends waves of specialist U.S. Marines to Black Mesa to eliminate everyone; hostiles, scientists, and any other survivors. Safely escaping from the test chamber where he accidentally caused the dimensional bridge, Freeman fights through the massive Black Mesa complex through many detours where he encounters many types of alien hostiles and meets several scientists on the way.

    The remnant science team concludes the only way to stop the invasion is to send Freeman through the dimensional rift to the alien world of Xen. There, on Xen, Freeman fights through many bizarre environments and creatures and eventually destroys the alien overlord. Impressed by Freeman's utility, the G-Man, a mysterious figure seen only in passing throughout the game, seeks to employ Freeman for future such events. Freeman, faced by death or employment, chooses employment and is put in a time stasis for later use.


    Dr. Gordon Freeman - Gordon Freeman is the player's character, the silent protagonist and a theoretical physicist who is forced to defend himself and ultimately the human race against an onslaught of alien aggression due to a dimensional rift he inadvertently initiated in a botched experiment. Freeman is Caucasian, 27 years of age, has no dependents, is a graduate of MIT in theoretical physics, and becomes a near-mythical resistance hero and ultimately drives the alien aggression back.

    Barney Calhoun - Barney Calhoun is a Black Mesa security officer who often assists Gordon Freeman and other characters throughout the game. His duties include guarding designated Black Mesa facilities, performing general maintenance, and assisting the Science Team as required.

    Dr. Eli Vance - Eli Vance is a physicist and researcher, who is an African-America in his late 50s, at the Black Mesa facility. He encounters Gordon Freeman only a few times where he foreshadows the events to unfold with concerns, to tell Freeman to go to the surface to seek help, and to facilitate Freeman on his long journey to expel the invasion.

    The G-Man - The G-Man is a silent character who is seen often throughout the events of Half-Life and the incident at Black Mesa. With a few exceptions, he is only seen from a distance and out of reach of the player. Several times the player may see the G-Man arguing with certain scientists or quietly observing Gordon Freeman. Little is known of the G-Man except for his eerie movements, government standard suit, and always apparent briefcase. By the end of the game, the G-Man appears to Gordon Freeman on the alien world Xen and, in an unnatural voice, offers Freeman employment.


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