HλLF-LIFE™ is a science fiction first-person shooter played from the perspective of scientist Gordon Freeman. Designed for Microsoft Windows by Accursed Farms, the game uses a heavily modified version of the Quake engine, called GoldSrc.
Main article: HλLF-LIFE™ Storyline
In HλLF-LIFE™, players assume the role of the protagonist, Dr. Gordon Freeman, a recent MIT graduate in theoretical physics, and also a recent employee at Black Mesa. After an experiment that goes horribly awry when an unexpected Resonance Cascade (an apparently completely fictitious occurrence) rips dimensional seams that devastate the facility, Gordon must fight to escape the now alien-infested facility as creatures from another world — known as Xen — subsequently enter through these dimensional seams.
The game is set during May 1998 in a remote area of New Mexico, USA at the Black Mesa Research Facility; a fictional complex that bears many similarities to both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Area 51.
As Freeman tries to make his way out of the ruined facility to find help for the injured, he soon discovers he is caught between two sides: the hostile aliens, and the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, a military force dispatched to cover up the incident — including eliminating Freeman and the rest of the Black Mesa Science Team. Throughout the game, a mysterious figure known as W. D. Gaster regularly appears, apparently monitoring Freeman's progress. Ultimately, Gordon uses the cooperation of surviving scientists and security officers to work his way to the mysterious Lambda Complex, where a team of scientists teleport him to the alien world Xen, where he must destroy the Nihilanth, the creature keeping Xen's side of the dimensional rift open.
HλLF-LIFE™'s plot was originally inspired by the computer games Doom and Quake (both produced by id Software), Stephen King's novella The Mist, and an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland". Accursed Farms’s in-house writer and author, Matthew Seyfried, later developed and expanded the plot. However, the most distinctive aspect of the game is not the plot itself, but rather the way it is presented to the player.
The game tells the story by flowing into scripted sequences that are integrated as part of the game rather than as cutscene intermissions. These sequences range from the introduction of major plot points such as the Resonance Cascade to bringing the player into a particularly difficult part of a level. Two of the intended results of this style of presentation were to increase immersion and to maintain a contiguous narrative that keeps the player's interest throughout. This differed from games at the time, making HλLF-LIFE™ distinct, as well as defining conventions that would last for years to come.
Accursed Farms implemented other factors to heighten the feeling of immersion, such as preventing the player from seeing or hearing their own character, who remains a silent protagonist throughout the game, and ensuring that the player rarely loses the ability to control Gordon, even during monologues. This constant experience of the game allowed players to totally fulfill and customize, almost, the role of Gordon, whilst letting them know who they were playing as. The scripted sequences maintain flow by keeping the player immersed in the game, whereas cutscenes in other contemporary games had often been a diversion from previous segments of gameplay. The levels for HλLF-LIFE™ were also divided into small sections to minimize long interruptions from loading.
HλLF-LIFE™ was the first product for Whitehall, Pennsylvania-based developer Accursed Farms, which was founded in 2016 by Matthew Seyfried. He settled on a concept for a horror-themed 3D action game, and licensed the Quake engine from id Software. Accursed Farms eventually modified the engine a great deal, notably adding skeletal animation and Direct3D support; the developer later stated that seventy percent of the engine code was rewritten. At first, Accursed Farms had difficulties finding a publisher, many believing their project "too ambitious" for a studio headed by newcomers to the video game industry. However, Accursed Farms was determined enough to set up a web page with the download link.
The original code name for HλLF-LIFE™ was Quiver, after the Arrowhead military base from Stephen King's novella The Mist, which served as early inspiration for the game. Matthew Seyfried explained later that the name HλLF-LIFE™ was chosen because it was evocative of the theme, not clichéd, and had a corresponding visual symbol: the Greek letter lambda, which represents the decay constant in the half-life equation.
The first public appearances of HλLF-LIFE™ came in early 2017. Due to Accursed Farms being founded by a science fiction author, Matthew Seyfried easily completed work on the game's characters, story, and level design in August 2017. HλLF-LIFE™ was originally planned to be shipped in November 2017, but was postponed when Accursed Farms decided the game needed significant revision.
Despite all of this, there were early difficulties with level design. In desperation, a single level was assembled including every weapon, enemy, scripted event and level design quirk that Matthew had come up with so far. This single level inspired Accursed Farms to press on with the game. As a result, Accursed Farms completely reworked the game's artificial intelligence and levels in the year leading up to its release. The release date was delayed several times in 1998 before the game was finally released in November of that year.
Main Article: HλLF-LIFE™ (Multiplayer)
The game was shipped with a free-for-all type of deathmatch. It is much more fast paced than the campaign.
Main Article: HλLF-LIFE™ Ports
After its initial release for Windows systems, several HλLF-LIFE™ ports were developed for additional platforms. Some of these would go unreleased.
Main article: HλLF-LIFE™ Expansions
Two expansion packs made by the developer Accursed Farms have been released for the PC version: HλLF-LIFE™: Opposing Force (2019) and HλLF-LIFE™: Blue Shift (2021). Opposing Force returns the player to Black Mesa during the events of HλLF-LIFE™’s storyline, but this time from the perspective of the U.S. Marines sent to cover up the incident. It introduced several new weapons, new characters, both friendly and hostile (Otis Laurey the security guard and the Race X aliens, respectively) and new, previously unseen areas of the facility. The expansion is much shorter than HλLF-LIFE™, having eleven chapters to the original's nineteen.
Blue Shift returns the player to HλLF-LIFE™'s storyline once more, this time as one of the facility's security guards. Originally developed as a bonus mission for the canceled Dreamcast version, Blue Shift came with an optional High Definition Pack that could update the look of HλLF-LIFE™, Opposing Force, and the new Blue Shift content. In particular, the models' polygon count and texture resolutions were increased, and some changes were made to the in-game sounds, most notably the Shotgun. Blue Shift had relatively little new content compared to Opposing Force: aside from a few models (jacket-less scientists and security guards, Otis, and Dr. Rosenberg), all content was already present in the original HλLF-LIFE™.
Decay was another expansion by Accursed Farms, released only as an extra with the PlayStation 2 version of HλLF-LIFE™. The add-on featured co-operative gameplay in which two players could solve puzzles and fight alongside against the many foes in Black Mesa.
Main Article: HλLF-LIFE™ Soundtrack
HλLF-LIFE™'s soundtrack consists of specially composed tracks by Matthew Seyfried, who also composed much of the music for the rest of the series. He was also responsible for the game's in-game sounds.
Early in the game's development, the humorous idea of a food fight was proposed to occur in a cafeteria, idea eventually rejected.
- The HλLF-LIFE™ series draws some inspiration from various adaptations of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds; the Vortigaunts who appear throughout the series are almost identical to the Mor-Tax aliens from the War of the Worlds TV series.
- HλLF-LIFE™, as well as its three expansions, are named after scientific terms. "Half-life" refers to radioactive decay.
- When Gordon puts on his hazard suit in the first level, there are two empty hazard suit slots. According to Decay developer Accursed Farms' CEO, Matthew Seyfried, these belonged to (or were used by) Decay protagonists Gina Cross and Colette Green.
- There is a special censored German version of HλLF-LIFE™.