With his first Half-Life game, Valve stepped into the gaming world, and with the sequel, he engraved his name in the history of this corner of gaming culture and the touch point of the technology and entertainment industry. The virtues of Half-Life 2 gameplay are almost unnecessary, as the game set a standard for FPS games in 2004 that lasted a decade and left a deep mark on game design that will stay with us until a generation of developers is enchanted by a lonely theoretical excursion. physicists in the urban wasteland City 17.
In addition to meeting enemies in the now recognizable Valve arenas and solving puzzles with HAVOK physical drive, Half-Life 2 can also boast a very interesting science fiction story. This story, in addition to dialogical exchanges and oral exposure, is framed by a visual narrative, which is revealed in locations, the environment through which the player passes incarnated as Gordon Freeman, the above-mentioned theoretical physicist, and graffiti and facades of buildings and buildings behind them.
The main scene of Half-Life 2 is, of course, City 17 - and we already have a narrative thread with that. Why City 17? This is far from the usual toponym and quite close to the mark for an exhaustive enumeration of items on a list. City 17 is a new administrative name that has replaced the forgotten name of the Eastern European capital. Its new managers do not need the old name and the history that accompanies it; they only need a convenient location and infrastructure, as it turns out.
Immediately after getting off the train that takes us to the platform of City 17 train station, the player encounters the design of Viktor Antonov, the main visual artist behind HL2, whose engagement will in many ways complement the story from the pen of Marc Laidlaw, the lead writer. Laidlaw is credited with the characters, dialogue, and action of the game, to the extent that Valve's unique way of developing games and giving credit allows, but Anton is a painter, so to speak, who applied colors and textures and transferred the action from the script to a three-dimensional environment. finds after getting off the train.
If he had not already chosen the location of the plot, Antonov gave it an
impressive trick, which is well-matched with the theme of the game and the
very core of the story. Back in 2004, City 17 was now an exotic place for
players from Western Europe and the United States - a metropolis designed and
built by cultural, economic, and ideological rivals. Strange, gloomy, and
inhospitable to the western eye, City 17 is a very famous sight, and even in a
strange way warm, for the inhabitants of our climate, even those of the former
USSR and countries that once gravitated to the socialist giant.
Concrete, steel, right angles, and the intrusive absence of decorative elements on unobtrusive, very uniform buildings - this is the signature of socialist construction in the Soviet design and the concrete soul of City 17.
The architectural expression in Half-Life 2 provides an insight into the most interesting city as well as its appearance. The game itself is its theme, and the environment introduces us to the story of the game, the war zone, and the brutal concrete dystopia. This kind of architecture is also visible in real life because it is not said in vain that the environment itself speaks of the failures of the past. But he throws some of the failures of the present into complete relief. The visible Soviet brutality presented in the play represents technological experimentation and its application in the everyday life of an imaginary character. This attempt at modernism to this day is interesting to all, especially the peoples of Eastern Europe, which can be seen in the players of this game. Most of these players feel at home. Most of them enjoy Half-Life 2 from their warm home in the eastern block, and practices continue to live virtually in it.
And while players from Eastern European regions feel at home, the duo of
Laidlaw and Antonov wanted to provoke the exact opposite with most other
players. Laidlaw presented in his story a lone hero who fights dystopia and
despotism, phenomena traditionally associated with the Eastern European
continent. Antonov embodied the described phenomena in a dilapidated (post)
socialist metropolis, located anywhere on the meridian of influence of the
USSR - from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Foreign and seemingly aggressive architecture is accompanied by a feeling of uneasiness and a foreign letter, and finally the inhuman influences of the new managers of the city and the planet. Shortly after arriving at City 17, the player and the character he manages are confronted with a large screen through which citizens are addressed by a chief human administrator, modeled on Big Brother from the pages of Orwell’s great literary work, “1984”. After that meeting, all doubts about the reality in which we find ourselves were removed - we stepped into dystopia.
One of the guides of Viktor Antonov in creating the visual aesthetics of the game was the merging of the "old and the new". Since the game takes place in the first decades of the 21st century, this merger is at least on the one hand a combination of socialist construction with new structures built on Earth by its new rulers - the Universal Union.
The name in this case is a sign because the Union is a postbiological, or at
least transbiological group of several alien species, which conquered our
planet by invading a parallel universe and managed to subdue the human species
in just a few hours of the war. The symbol of victory and supremacy of the new
governors is located in the very center of the city, and that is the Citadel -
a huge kilometers high structure built very likely of extraterrestrial
materials, which contains all the administrative and military capacities of
the new regime.
The Union does not care about the remaining human population, except to the extent that it thwarts the possibility of disrupting or interrupting its main activity on Earth, which is the extraction of its raw materials. This is manifested in the general neglect of the city and its surroundings. City 17 is the cold and empty shell of a city, and the player’s footsteps echo the stairwells of long rows of buildings and streets. The buildings and blocks of City 17, as described by Cukor, are colloquially called "Khrushchev" and "Brezhnev", after the Soviet leaders who marked a certain era of construction. This is, again, an old part of the old-new connection, but where the opponent's activities exist, the surroundings have been adapted or rather augmented with new technology.
Interesting in all this is how the creators of the game inserted a post-Soviet city with Eastern European architecture and blended it fantastically with the theme of the game. Every building follows the building, every shape of the window follows the neighboring one, all the openings are of the same dimensions, and the question arises - are we all the same in that city? Blocks of low buildings, leaning against each other with the only color difference. This kind of architecture of the past, which still exists in all parts of the former Soviet Union and the countries of the Eastern bloc, is left to itself and the time that flows, so we see the same kind of urban decay in the game. Cheap construction, concrete or brick with residential buildings of 3 to 5 floors left to themselves. Low communal apartments with poor conditions and without any luxury.
After a few chapters of wandering through the city labyrinth, the player and
Dr. Freeman approach the outskirts of the city and then, albeit briefly, leave
City 17. The road takes us to one of the smaller places that gravitate to the
big city - a small mining town, Ravenholm, perhaps the most prominent game.
Here, too, Valve presents the story using an environment from which the player can infer what is happening in the environment and beyond, without dialogue exchange. This is another example known to players from our region - a ring of residential buildings and settlements that are located close to the economic heart of the city, which in this case is a mine. Unlike City 17, Ravenholm is uninhabited, or at least not crowded. The regime from City 17 does not operate in a mining town, which is probably a low item of new planetary rulers. Instead of spending resources on patrols and base maintenance, Universal Union uses Ravenholm as a training ground for its biological weapons, which has turned the remaining population and unfortunate wanderers into zombies, through which the player must break through, saving as much ammunition.
We arrive in Ravenholm at night, which only exacerbates the feeling of
claustrophobia as we move through residential and industrial buildings.
Furthermore, the night does not hide the grayness and hopelessness of crowded
buildings and winding streets. The only building that stands out from this
gray is the place of worship, turned into a fortress by the only human
inhabitant of the city who leads us through traps and obstacles to the mine
Following the symbolism of the hero's journey, the mine shaft is a counterpart to the hatch of the underworld, and we have to go through the underworld to get out of Ravenholm with the main one on our shoulders. The exit from the mine is the railway connection, with which the mine and the town were once connected to the transport plexus of the nameless region in the hinterland of City 17.
The plot of Half-Life 2 can be conveniently divided into three acts. In the first, we are in a dystopian city and we have to leave it urgently, while the better part of the second act we spend on the outskirts of the city. In the third, we finally have to return to the city and face the main antagonist. In the narrative and geographical sense, the movement of the player, ie the main character, corresponds to the motive of the heroic journey - Dr. Freeman returns to City 17 intending to settle accounts with "Big Brother", whose office is located in the Citadel.
From the first moments of the gameplay, the Citadel, a huge, miles-high structure, is visible in the background. According to Anton, the decision was made to serve Citedela as a visual landmark for the player, but also as a hint of the scene of the final meeting of the game. But now in the third act, in the final sequences of the game, the player must gather courage and step into the Citadel.
As was the case with earlier locations, Valve and Antonov let the surroundings speak for themselves, and the smooth, bare walls, deep abysses, and huge open spaces in the Citadel speak volumes about its builders. Earlier, we faced the Universal Union, ie the "Combine", mainly in meetings with their human representatives in environments where their forces took over and adapted to extraterrestrial technology. On the other hand, the Citadel directly represents "Universal Union".
Descending deep below the ground and rising above the clouds, the Citadel is the handiwork of the conquerors of the Earth - a multi-purpose structure, which is the administrative, production, energy, and military center of the regime. Its outer shell is cylindrical, but only to the extent that this shape meets the practical requirements of the space and its functionality. Aesthetics and ornamental are non-existent.
Things only get worse once we step inside. The citadel has been adapted for human presence more than it is intended for the same, which is reflected in the fact that the operational parts of the structure, in which human beings are supposed to operate, are connected by galleries connecting platforms above deep abysses. Other areas are completely inaccessible to humans and probably intended for other species that serve the Universal Union.
"Cold" is the best description of the ambiance, and the cold appropriately
describes the indifference of the builders of the Citadel, who do not care
about the comfort, atmosphere, or even the convenience of the environment of
their buildings. This trend is also evident in their other creations, whose
shapes are mostly accompanied by simple geometric formulas. Even the official
symbol of the Universal Union is a simple, even abstract, geometric design.
Finally, at the very top of the alien alloy colossus, is the office of our antagonist, Dr. Breena. The good doctor was our superior at his former job, and he secured his new job by collaborating with "Universal Union", which made him the main boss on the screen scattered around the city and the face of the regime, or at least the human face of the same. That is his biography, and his office speaks best about his personality.
Located at the crown of the Citadel, the office of Dr. Breena looks at City 17 from an almost bird's eye view, so one gets the impression that a good doctor watches the city like Zeus watches ordinary mortals from the top of Olympus. It is a large area, but mostly empty. The walls are bare, as is the floor, except for a pair of oriental rugs leading to a raised pedestal on which rests his desk, decorated in detail, and a comfortable leather chair. Behind the desk, a few meters above also, there is a communication system and a screen through which Dr. Breen takes his orders.
Approaching the table, the statement of power is clear - at the bottom is a praying man, above him is a good doctor, and above him are his alien leaders. The structure and arrangement of the mode are clear even without a single spoken word by one of the characters in the game.
Of course, only a few examples of Valve's use of the environment in the interpretation of narratives are given. Half-Life 2 and its two expansions, Episodes 1 and 2, are full of this way of presenting the story. However, in the main game this method stands out more as though the better part of the game the main character travels without company, while in Episodes 1 and 2, we have a companion who was too much of a trump card for Valve to miss the opportunity for a little more exposure through "dialogue". between companions. Although not without flaws, this method of presenting the story is uniquely suitable for games, as it allows the player to scratch below the surface of the event, going at their speed, without interfering with the pace of gameplay.