The Infinite Zenith

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Yui Needs A Weapon: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 with Halo Weapons

“I need a weapon.” –Spartan John-117, Halo 2

Having now finished the original two Left 4 Dead campaigns, the only thing that was Cold Stream and The Last Stand, two community missions that rounded out the game. Cold Stream sees the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors fighting through a forest in the mountains to reach a helicopter to evacuate them before a forest fire catches up with them, while The Last Stand represents an alternate interpretation of what had happened in Death Toll had the survivors gone a different route. After abandoning their truck at a roadblock, the survivors make their way into a junkyard and eventually reach a lighthouse. Here, the survivors signal for rescue from a boat, fending off hordes of Infected while awaiting the boat. These community missions are quite unrelated to the stories portrayed in the regular campaigns, providing players with a remote forest setting to explore. At this point in time, the mechanics and objectives were simple enough: having beaten the last two campaigns (and fighting with the community workshop directory, which had been giving me some trouble with the character name plates), getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 to finish off the single player experience was not particularly tricky, and I ended up wrapping up both of the community campaigns with time to spare. As noted in my previous posts, the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 had been remarkably entertaining, completely altering the aesthetic and mood in Left 4 Dead 2. However, this time around, I’ve decided to further increase the mods introduced into the game: as amusing as it had been to run Left 4 Dead 2 with Houkago Tea Time characters, even new models and sound files can get old to write about. As such, I decided to introduce an additional set of mods into the game which would modify the experience somewhat without conflicting with the K-On! mods.

This mod takes the form of Halo weapon skins to replace the original weapons. While the weapons still function identically to their original forms, the weapons look and sound different. The end result is simple: I am now running with the automatics, pistols, shotguns and long-range rifles from Halo, rather than more familiar weapons. In addition to a new, highly-detailed skin, the Halo weapons also have new firing sounds. Altogether, these new weapons feel considerably more powerful and reliable than any of the classic weapons. Every shot fired feels powerful. The base pistols and Tier 1 weapons, which had felt diminished in power compared to the Tier 2 weapons in their original form, suddenly gave the impression of being viable, lethal tools that could hold their own against the hordes of Infected. The suppressed MAC-10 felt inadequate against special infected, but when replaced with the M7/C submachine gun, players suddenly appear to have a better fighting chance. The hunting rifle is replaced by the DMR, firing rounds with a slow but reliable outcome. The Tier 2 weapons themselves feel even more effective, and when the mods are properly applied, even the introductory pistol becomes a more entertaining weapon to use. I’d first heard about the Halo weapon mods from a friend who’d been interested in asking about why the modders had removed a particularly unique skin from the marketplace. I’d speculated it might’ve simply been because the mod needed more work and suggested said friend get in touch with the modders to inquire about it. After checking out the modders’ workshop, I became intrigued, and subsequently resolved to try the weapons out for myself. The end result was highly entertaining, and after ensuring that the new mods did not conflict with or modify the way my previous mods worked, I set about finishing off Left 4 Dead 2‘s remaining missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I figure it would be appropriate to open with the dual M6H pistols: the original pistols felt quite weak despite being useful weapons in practise, but upgrading them to the pistols seen in Halo completely changes the impact they have. In this post, not only do I have Halo weapons, but I have Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi wielding Halo weapons. I imagine that with this mod, once Google properly indexes my content, I’ll have the first result whenever one does a search for “K-On! Halo” or similar. All of the Halo weapon mods in this post are supplied by Adorabirb!, whose done a phenomenal job of rendering the weapons and ensuring they sound identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • The suppressed MAC-10 is replaced by the M7S suppressed submachine gun seen in Halo 3: ODST. While one cannot use the reflex sights, and the weapon handles otherwise identically to the MAC-10 in Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something incredibly reassuring about using the M7S against hordes of Infected. The Uzi is similarly replaced by the M7/C with the right mods, and with the Halo submachine guns, I suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about fighting Infected. There’s a psychological boost that results from using cool-looking and cool-sounding weapons.

  • Cold Stream was a particularly fun campaign mission – despite being non-canon, its setting makes it the next best thing to being out in the mountains for myself. It’s now been over a year since I’ve taken a hike in the mountains and had any poutine from the best poutine shop this side of the country, and I do miss it greatly. While games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Skyrim do allow me to visit the mountains and their beautiful forested trails, there is no substitution for a full day spent hiking the mountains for real, followed by a hearty Montreal Smoked Meat poutine and spruce soda afterwards.

  • My yearning to return to the mountains means that I have recently returned to Skyrim with the aim of finishing the main story off: a year ago, while writing about KonoSuba, I mentioned an interest in playing Skyrim again, and it is only now that I’ve managed to do so. Returning to Skyrim, I am impressed with how immersive and detailed the game is. I will be sharing a full post on my experiences once I am finished: at the time of writing, I am pursuing Alduin through Sovngarde, and expect that in a few weeks or so, I should be done with things.

  • Before then, however, I determined it would be best if I wrapped up my thoughts on Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! and Halo mods first. Here, I’ve picked up the DMR: it replaces the Hunting Rifle, a weapon that I typically did not play with much on my old play-throughs on account of its poor firing rate and small magazine size. Again, the psychological changes brought on by a Halo skin were profound – the DMR’s firing rate feels faster than that of the Hunting Rifle even though the weapon stats remained unchanged, and I had a blast using it to pick off distant foes.

  • The fact a simple re-skin completely changed up the way Left 4 Dead 2 feels, despite having no actual impact on gameplay, speaks volumes to how something as simple as changing up a weapon’s appearance and sound could completely refresh an experience to the extent where Left 4 Dead 2 could feel like an entirely new game. Prior to switching out the Hunting Rifle for the DMR, I’d never used the weapon simply because its low rate of fire and limited situations where a long-range weapon made it less useful to have. However, in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the DMR is intended more of a precision weapon filling the range between the sniper rifles and Battle rifle.

  • I ended up swapping out the FN SCAR-L for the Battle Rifle: the Combat Rifle in Left 4 Dead 2 fires in three round bursts, and while dealing less damage per shot than the other assault rifles, it compensates for this with a good accuracy. With this in mind, given how often engagements were close quarters, I generally preferred the AK-47 or M-16 where available. The Battle Rifle I ran with is the Halo 2 variant, which is my favourite iteration of the Battle Rifle in any Halo game. The mod lacks the original’s heavy-hitting sound: besides performance, the Halo 2 Battle Rifle feels solid and sounds lethal.

  • The one weapon I was most impressed with in the mod was the SRS99-AM sniper rifle, which is seen in Halo 3. This weapon excels at long range combat, and equips an advanced optic for sighting distant foes. I chose the weapon to replace the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, with the end result that what was originally an anti-materiel rifle with a four-round box magazine now could hold thirty rounds. The weapon sounds powerful and looks even better: the optics will depict the same view, just as the sniper rifle in Halo 3 did.

  • One of the things I needed to get used to was the fact that I’m technically still using the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, which behaves more similarly to the DMR than the Halo sniper rifle. If I were to go purely for accuracy, the Hunting Rifle would be better represented by the Halo sniper rifle, and the semi-automatic rifle would be replaced by the DMR skin. This would allow the mods to be more faithful to their original weapon’s roles.

  • While crossing the bridge, I ended up picking up a grenade launcher: the M319 grenade launcher is a single-shot break-action grenade launcher that functions identically to its real-world equivalent, the M79. In fact, aside from a superior construction and digital display, the weapon is more or less a M79: the M79 is the original weapon in Left 4 Dead 2, and this Vietnam-era grenade launcher was intended to give platoons additional firepower. The M79 proved effective and reliable, but being a single-shot weapon left operators at a disadvantage, limiting how much firepower they could put out downrange.

  • Moreover, carrying a dedicated launcher meant grenadiers were limited to their sidearms as a ranged weapon. In Left 4 Dead 2, this is definitely to one’s detriment, unless they were carrying dual pistols, as well. While fantastic for clearing out hordes of Infected and even making short work of the Special Infected, the grenade launcher’s utility is quite limited, and the weapon itself is also quite rare: I only encountered the grenade launcher a handful of times while playing through the original campaign.

  • Conversely, the M60 (replaced by Halo 4‘s M739 SAW) is an excellent special weapon, and when outfitted with a laser sight, becomes the ultimate weapon for taking on common and special Infected alike. Halo 4‘s SAW features a 72-round drum magazine and, while firing the same calibre rounds as the assault rifle, had a higher rate of fire and accuracy, on top of a larger ammunition capacity, making it a straight upgrade to the assault rifle. Spartan Ops missions went more smoothly the instant I picked one up. In Left 4 Dead 2, the M60 is similarly powerful, limited only by the fact that its belt cannot be replenished.

  • At the time of writing, the mod did not replace the weapon icons for the M16 or AK-47. The M16 is replaced by the MA5C assault rifle, which was featured in Halo 3 and for the first time, felt like a proper assault rifle. While the MA5C’s skin does not accurately reflect on the actual amount of ammunition remaining, the modders have taken the effort of ensuring that the digital display uses an emissive texture: in dark environments, the display will glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

  • Towards the end of the final chapter, I picked up an M90 shotgun with a reflex sight, which replaces the SPAS-12. However, since the final part of the mission entailed pushing through a horde, the shotgun proved inadequate and I ended up dropping it for any faster-firing weapon. Shotguns have always had a limited utility in Left 4 Dead 2, and in Halo, I found them more useful against the Flood rather than the Covenant. With this being said, shotguns have always been fun to wield against the Elites, and my strategy in Halo games has always been to use the battle rifles, assault rifles and marksman rifles against weaker foes, saving shotguns or other powerful weapons for swiftly putting away groups of tougher enemies.

  • The last segments of Cold Stream requires that players reach a tall tower for extraction, and unfortunately, during my run, I ended up losing Tsumugi to the Infected. In spite of this, I still finished the mission in a reasonably efficient manner, earning myself a nifty achievement for my troubles. My best friend has indicated that there is an elegant and simple way to get the toughest achievements in Left 4 Dead 2 without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure if this is something I’ll seek to be doing in the foreseeable future just yet.

  • The last of the community missions, The Last Stand, returns perspective to Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nadoka’s perspective, as well as the grim and foreboding dark of a coastal forest. This mission starts players off with the Uzi, which the mod switches out for a M7/C Submachine gun. Insofar, I’ve referred to the Halo weapons mod in singular, but it’s actually a collection of mods one can download. Like the M7S, the M7/C feels distinctly better than the Uzi, even though the damage model remains completely unaffected.

  • It’s reassuring to know that the modder behind the K-On! mod made certain that the smaller details were properly rendered – I half expected the character models to clip or be hollow underneath, but thankfully, this is not the case. When I first played the K-On! mods, I’d heard that the modders even took into account the special attributes surrounding Mio, and while I’d never had the characters walk up onto a higher surface in campaigns with Yui and the others, I have played as Mio before. Being ensnared by a smoker demonstrated that those rumours surrounding Mio were true, and this level of attention to detail is commendable.

  • The darkness of The Last Stand meant that unlike Cold Stream, the weapons I pick up won’t be in sharp relief for everyone to check out. With this being said, having seen the M7S’ model, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince readers that the M7/C is equally as well-designed as the M7S. Besides the same report when fired, the modder had also ensured that the submachine guns’ reloading sounds are identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to swap out my dual pistols for the Tactical Magnum. In any real cooperative matches, such an action would be unthinkable: dual pistols offer firepower and accuracy nearly equivalent to that of an assault rifle, and so, players will hang onto dual pistols for the duration of a match if they can find them. However, since this isn’t a match with other players, I am able to switch things up for the sake of discussion.

  • I replaced the basic pump action shotgun with the M45D Tactical Shotgun. This weapon, I’ve never actually seen in a Halo game for myself before, but it’s supposed to be a straight upgrade to the shotguns seen in earlier Halo titles. I’ve heard that it is unlikely that Halo 5 will ever come to PC: of the Halo games, Halo 5 had suffered greatly from a series of decisions that dramatically altered the campaign, and this in turn led the game to receive poor reception. 343 Industries’ decision to leave Halo 5 without a PC port was likely a consequence of knowing that Halo 5 wouldn’t sell very well if brought to the PC, and instead, it appears 343 chose to focus their efforts into Halo: Infinite.

  • Because shotguns aren’t really my jam, I ended up switching it out for the MA5D with the reflex sight. Informally referred to as the recon assault rifle, this weapon differs only from the M16’s replacement in that it has a reflex sight. I’ve always wondered how Halo weapons would look with contemporary weapon attachments: in Halo, the presence of smart-link scopes means that soldiers don’t really need dedicated attachments to aim with, as a computerised system would do the work for them. Of course, with Halo 5, when the Battle Rifle was given a reflex sight, people took to complaining about it loudly online.

  • In Left 4 Dead 2, since there’s no aiming down sights for weapons without a magnifying optic, the presence of a reflex sight is purely cosmetic, and I chose this rifle purely to differentiate it from the MA5C replacing the M-16. Like the MA5C, the digital ammunition counter doesn’t actually reflect the amount of rounds one has left to them, but in the dark of The Last Stand, the glowing display is rather more visible: here, I make my way through a burning forest with Ui, Azu-nyan and Jun after fighting my way out of a junkyard to reach the safehouse.

  • The Last Stand was so-named because the original mode was about the survivors fending off wave after wave of Infected, at least until ammunition and supplies ran out entirely, leaving them to be overwhelmed. Conversely, in the campaign, players actually can escape successfully after reaching the lighthouse. Here, after exiting the safehouse, I came across a warden’s outpost.

  • Curiosity soon led me to ascend the watchtower, and I picked up another machine gun for my trouble. Whenever holding a special weapon, I’ve always found that having the dual pistols is most effective, giving me enough firepower to deal with the horde. This leaves me free to save the special weapon for the situations that demand it the most. Of the special weapons, the M60 (SAW in my case) is my favourite: possessing the same accuracy as the AK-47 and dealing the same damage as the magnum pistol per shot, the M60’s 150 round capacity eliminates the need to reload.

  • I wasn’t able to do so in The Last Stand, but locating a laser sight and equipping special ammunition dramatically increases the M60’s accuracy and damage further, to the point where it can destroy tanks and witches in the blink of an eye. On my play-through, I wound up saving the SAW for the final confrontation, anticipating that I would need its firepower.

  • This turned out to be a good decision, since a few tanks did crash my party, and with the damage the SAW deals, they were quickly eliminated. Looking around, I’ve noticed that there are also weapon mods for the melee weapons, but because I’d been interested in keeping Yui’s Les Paul Gibson, I chose not to install anything that could conflict with them. The challenge about running a large number of mods at once is that conflicts could be introduced, and it’s up to the players to choose which mod they’d prefer.

  • The mod prioritisation function in Left 4 Dead 2 is actually pretty well-written in this area: if a conflict is detected, the game will automatically load the one that’s higher up on the list, but if this doesn’t produce the desired result, one can always go into the mods menu and deactivate the ones that one isn’t interested in running. There is one more nuance about running the K-On! mod: by default, the game won’t always show the modded names correctly. Online, people suggest moving the mod .vpk files out of the workshop directory into the addons directory, which prevents Steam from automatically fetching newer versions, but also allowing all of the data to be read.

  • I’ve actually found that this doesn’t work: if one is subscribed to a mod, the game will automatically query the server for updates every time it loads. This means that every time I started up Left 4 Dead 2, a fresh copy of the mod .vpk would be downloaded into the workshop directory. Instead, to preserve my settings, one only needs to subscribe to the mod to download it, then move the .vpk out, and unsubscribe. This method is a bit cumbersome, but it does allow me to keep my settings as I like them.

  • Of course, having now completed every campaign and bonus set of levels in Left 4 Dead 2, I’m not too sure if I’ll be returning in the near future: while it could be fun to get those special achievements my friend mentioned and also re-run the game with Halo weapons, there’s quite a bit on my plate, and I’m just glad to have finally gotten the game done. Towards the end of my run, after depleting the SAW’s ammunition, I returned to the trusty BR-55 rifle to round things out.

  • Unlike my Cold Stream run, this time around, I managed to escape with everyone. Having brought back K-On! into my life in a big way, I am inclined to write one more K-On! related post before the month’s out. Once that post is done, I’ll enter May with a clean slate, ready to go through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: while perhaps a bit pricier with respect to how much time I get out of them, I’ve always had a blast going through them.

While Left 4 Dead 2 is very much a squad-based game that is best played with friends, mods like K-On! and Halo weapons transform the way the game feels, while simultaneously leaving the central mechanics intact. This seemingly minor set of changes alters enough of the look and feel such that Left 4 Dead 2 appears as a completely different game. Admittedly, the base Left 4 Dead 2 never really appealed to me in terms of its aesthetic, and I’d only picked it up because the sale price was excellent: my friend is very big on Valve games for their ease-of-modding, and I imagined that we’d spend more time messing around as a two-person team once I’d picked the game up. While we did spend a few fun-filled hours blasting zombies, the base game never really excited me to the same extent as I imagined. However, with things like the K-On! mod, Left 4 Dead 2 became considerably more entertaining, to the point where I can say with confidence that it would be worth buying Left 4 Dead 2 solely for the K-On! mod alone. At that point, the variety of mods available in the Workshop means that, were one so inclined, they could completely transform the way Left 4 Dead 2 handles: particularly well-done and extensive mods allow players to replace the existing Infected with Halo‘s Flood, and similarly, the very same techniques for using K-On! characters as character models allow for one to run with Spartans. Such mods even provide a means of changing up the HUD to closely resemble the Mjolnir armour system, customised for Left 4 Dead 2‘s inventory system. There is no ceiling on what is possible with the mods in Left 4 Dead 2, and while Valve currently has no plans for a continuation, the ability to change the experience via mods has meant that Left 4 Dead 2 has proven unexpectedly fun: what had initially been little more than a curiosity became a full-fledged, meaningful experience that was well worth the price of admissions. Thanks to mods, I’ve now finally completed Left 4 Dead 2‘s single-player experience in full, and while my friend and I are unlikely to co-op in Left 4 Dead 2 with any frequency owing to our schedule, knowing that I’ll be able to retain a highly customised setup should we take this up means that I’d be happy to co-op if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

Azu-nyan startled the Witch: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 and the Classic Campaign

“But, you can always count on her in the end.” –Azusa Nakano

Left 4 Dead 2‘s campaigns also holds a pleasant surprise for players, in the form of the original Left 4 Dead campaigns being available for players to check out. This campaign sees the original group of survivors fighting their way to a hospital, where they hope to catch a ride from a news helicopter. After the helicopter crashes, the survivors make their way to a turnpike and find an armoured vehicle, which they use to reach the town of Riverside. Here, they fight through the sewage system, through a church and the town itself, eventually reaching a boathouse. Later, the survivors make it to a city and decide to head for the airport, fighting past Infected-infested city streets, a construction site and eventually, the airport terminal itself. Upon successfully refuelling a C-130, they manage to escape. The survivors land in a heavily forested area and make their way past a train-yard, arriving at a farmhouse. Upon radioing the military, the survivors manage to escape when an armoured personnel carrier arrives to pick them up. It turns out the military had been interested in capturing them, as the survivors are asymptomatic carriers of the Green Flu, and seek to study them. However, when the military base is overrun, the survivors escape, making their way to Georgia and eventually, the Florida Keys, where it is hoped that they can find a new home. That Left 4 Dead 2 comes with the complete Left 4 Dead campaigns and its original survivors in a refreshed environment was most enjoyable indeed, and being able to play through the original game’s levels with the additional weapons, consumables and infected from the newer game demonstrated that the Left 4 Dead mechanics have worked very well. As with my last play-through of Left 4 Dead 2, I’m running with the K-On! mods that allow me to substitute the base survivors for Azusa, Jun and Ui: the model for Nodoka remains incomplete at the time of writing, but the mod has seen additional improvement to voices, resulting in a doubly entertaining experience. As with the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, having K-On! characters means improved visibility and differentiation between allies and infected, making the missions a bit easier to go through.

Unlike Left 4 Dead 2, whose campaign was largely set in the Deep South, more levels of Left 4 Dead‘s campaign is set in environments by nightfall, creating a much more compelling and gripping environment where enemies’ appearances are more unpredictable and terrifying: everything is shrouded in darkness, necessitating slower, more methodical movement. Left 4 Dead may have a more generic set of locations in urban areas, but the familiar setting, in conjunction with a zombie outbreak, creates the sense of unease that the unfamiliar is lurking around every corner. More so than the humid, muggy conditions of the Deep South, Left 4 Dead‘s choice of location and lighting results in a more convincing atmosphere. With the updated graphical style and visuals of Left 4 Dead 2, classic environments are sharpened and made more detailed without compromising their original aesthetic. The end result is that the Left 4 Dead campaigns end up being rather more successful in conveying terror through its ambience far more than the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns, which ended up being a little more corny and humour-driven by comparison. The sharp contrasts between the aesthetics of Left 4 Dead 2 and Left 4 Dead levels are noticeable, but the actual campaigns themselves still handle as one would expect from Left 4 Dead 2: for folks who became accustomed to playing the original, they’ve remarked the originals are more challenging and rewarding to beat. Conversely, as someone who’s still relatively new to Left 4 Dead, I found that Left 4 Dead 2‘s inclusion of the original campaigns greatly extended the sequel’s replay value, as well as giving new players a chance to play old and new maps alike depending on their inclinations. On top of smoother mechanics and more options in-game, Left 4 Dead 2 remains the game of choice to pick up owing to its support for mods, which was the primary reason why I ended up returning to check out the Left 4 Dead campaigns to begin with; it’s not every day one gets to slaughter zombies with Azu-nyan, Ui and Jun as squad mates, after all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Altogether, I found the atmospherics and aesthetics in the original Left 4 Dead campaigns to surpass those of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns: it is a badly-kept secret that I am no fan of the festering, dank swamps of the Deep South and their unparalleled ability to conjure up images of swamp monsters and the Slenderman. While Left 4 Dead‘s campaigns are set in a more generic urban area located near the mountains of the United States, the setting actually works better for a zombie outbreak. There’s a solid combination of rural and urban combat, and to kick this post off, I’m rocking the G3SG/1 semi-automatic rifle.

  • Over the past little while, I had a few conversations with my friends, and they wondered why the Hunting Rifle was classified as a Tier 2 weapon. It turns out that the Tier 1 and 2 weapons differ primarily in damage, with Tier 1 weapon requiring a few shots to take down common infected, and Tier 2 weapons can smash special infected in as few as five shots. The Hunting Rifle deals the most damage on a per-shot basis in Left 4 Dead 2, but is offset by a low rate of fire that leaves its damage-per-second as being the lowest of the weapons in the game. I’ve never run with the hunting rifle for this fact.

  • Back in the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, there was a bonus mission called “The Passing” which saw the new survivors meeting the old ones. Playing through one of the other bonus missions allow players to see what things looked like for the survivors in Left 4 Dead: the mission is called “The Sacrifice” and ultimately requires that one of the survivors die to keep the others alive. Since I was playing as Bill (Nodoka), I ended up making the sacrifice to conclude the game. Throughout my entire run of the Left 4 Dead campaigns, I played as Bill simply because the model for Nodoka had not been completed in the K-ON! mod.

  • I appreciate that the modders are busy people, and for me, having three of the four survivors completed was all I needed to push forward: I can’t see my own character model, so playing as Bill/Nodoka meant being able to see everyone else as Jun, Ui and Azusa. Since I last wrote about Left 4 Dead 2, the K-On! mod has undergone a few more updates, adding voices to the characters. This is a minor but hilarious addition, since the characters now speak in squeaky anime voices, making them more distinct from Left 4 Dead 2‘s aesthetic. Here, I make use of a mounted 50-calibre MG to shoot the rock from a tank, earning me a rare achievement.

  • I begin the Left 4 Dead campaign proper here in the streets of Fairfield, a fictional city named after Pennsylvania’s Fairfield: unlike the Left 4 Dead 2 Fairfield, the real Fairfield has a population of around five hundred people, and Left 4 Dead‘s Fairfield looks like a city of at least a quarter million prior to the infection. The game starts on a moody, rainy night that feels perfect for a zombie apocalypse, and here, I equipped a suppressed MAC-10 to start things off. Where given a choice, I’ll almost always pick a submachine gun over a shotgun in the campaign, since it gives me a bit more RPM and reach over a shotgun.

  • The eternal question of equipping a pistol or melee weapons is the subject of no small debate amongst Left 4 Dead 2 players: my buddy believed that the best weapon in the game to fill one’s secondary slot was the combat knife, which had no delay between strikes and dealt solid damage. For me, I typically prefer holding onto the default P220 pistol and then pairing it with a Glock if one can be found: dual pistols offers solid all-around performance and allows one ranged capabilities should they ever run out of ammunition for their primary weapons.

  • I will switch out for a shotgun if it’s the only option available and I’m running low on ammunition for my primary weapons. While devastating at close range, the shotguns’ general lack of use at long ranges, and lengthy reload times mean that they’re only really useful in a limited set of situations. I have heard that with a shotgun, one can one-shot a Witch with a body-shot if their aim is true and all of one’s pellets connect. Witches were the one opponent I was absolutely terrified of fighting, and since they blocked access to critical areas at times, I often was forced to startle the Witch, become incapacitated and then dump magazine after magazine into it while hoping my AI teammates would help finish the job.

  • As I got increasingly familiar with Left 4 Dead 2‘s mechanics, I was able to detect Witches more easily and do around them, or else engage it from at range using a combination of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. Here, I’ve finally entered the hospital and cleared out an entire horde of infected. Early in my time with Left 4 Dead 2, special infected would always give me trouble, and I was always wondering how the AI teammates would always melt them so quickly. A part of the reason why this was so common was because I’d originally treated Left 4 Dead 2 as run-and-gun shooter, causing the Director to spawn more special infected.

  • By playing more cautiously and sticking with the team, I ended up setting off the Director less often. After fighting through the hospital, I reach the rooftops and signal to a news helicopter for evacuation, making use of an M134 on the rooftops to fend off the hordes. Left 4 Dead had the M134 Minigun in place of the M2 Browning 50-calibre heavy machine gun: both mounted weapons are powerful, but oftentimes are placed in strategically meaningless locations, so one can’t hop on and mow down infected en masse. However, they can still be useful.

  • Owing to how the campaign missions were, I ended up playing them in order, and here, I played through Crash Course, another DLC mission set between the No Mercy and Death Toll missions. Set in a rural small town just outside of Fairfield, the objective is to secure a vehicle and get on to Riverside. Like Fairfield, Crash Course is set during the night and has a similar aesthetic to Half-Life 2‘s Ravenholm: set purely in an industrial area, the eerie blue lighting creates a very cold feeling that brings to mind the narrow alleys and empty miner’s residences.

  • Of course, having K-On! characters around completely changes the aesthetic – I previously commented that there is a practical reason this mod is so enjoyable, and this was because the characters stick out so much, I have no trouble spotting them difference between them and the infected during a given firefight. Like Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi, Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nodoka stand out from the hordes with their unique look, and in between combat sequences, small animations the characters have add to their authenticity.

  • Since I already wrote about a Jockey riding Mio previously, this time around, I’ve opted not to title the post after a Jockey riding Jun. Jun is Ui and Azusa’s friend in K-On!, having joined the jazz club after the light music club felt a little unusual to her. After hearing Azusa’s adventures with Yui and the others, Jun becomes jealous and in her final year, ends up joining the light music club. She didn’t really stand out too much in K-On!‘s first season, but took a greater role during the second, and becomes an integral member of the Wakaba Girls after Yui and the others graduate.

  • A common enough occurrence in Left 4 Dead 2 is that every time a powered door needs to be opened, or a radio call be made, the noise will draw the hordes of infected out. In general, I find the Molotov Cocktail to be a better throwable than the pipe bomb, since its large area of effect allows it to act as an area denial weapon, perfect for blocking off one direction of attack whenever holding an area. Pipe bombs are better used for pulling infected away from certain areas, making them a better distraction tool, and I’ve never really been too effective with the bile jar. Of course, players with more hours (and correspondingly, experience) will probably have different experiences and remarks.

  • The Riverside campaign, Dead Toll, has a distinct Alan Wake feel to it: a dark, foggy night in an eerie town. However, unlike Alan Wake, my arsenal is greater, and without a shield of Darkness surrounding the infected, it becomes a simple matter of blowing them away. I have heard that the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 is not without controversy – the exact original creator of this iconic mod is disputed, at least from what I read. If it was the case that there was a previous creator, it would’ve fallen on them to ensure they’d done a satisfactory job of maintaining and advancing things, otherwise, one can hardly fault new modders from taking up the mantle.

  • With this being said, this is not particularly relevant to me; the fact that the mod is actively being worked on and improved is what matters, and so, when I received word of the mod a few months back, I was more than happy to return to Left 4 Dead 2. Back in the sewers of Riverside (a small town quite unrelated to Riverdale, home of Archies’ Weird Mysteries), I managed to pick up a .44 Magnum, modelled after the Desert Eagle Mark VII chambered for the .44 rounds. The weapon’s large size and chrome-plated finish speaks volumes about its stopping power per shot, although most players have noted that the magnum is inferior to the P220 on the basis that it cannot be dual wielded, has a slower firing rate and a lower rounds per minute compared to the P220 or the dual-wielded P220 plus G17.

  • Making my way through Dead Toll, the grim atmosphere really creates a proper sense of horror. The dark night-time setting makes every encounter unpredictable, and conceal enemies that would otherwise be easily spotted during the day. Both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 make extensive use of forests in their settings to great effect – whether it is the swampy forests of the latter or the Appalachian forests in the former, there’s something unsettling about a forest by nightfall that evokes imagery of the Slenderman or similar. Left 4 Dead‘s choice to use the night creates a more compelling atmosphere; in Left 4 Dead 2, the daytime setting diminishes from the horror piece.

  • With the Dead Toll mission resembling the original Alan Wake, I recall that it’s been about eight years since I played through Alan Wake, having purchased it for five dollars during the Steam Summer sale. I’d been intrigued by TheRadBrad’s playthrough of it – one of my friends had sent me gameplay of Deadly Premonition, and at the time, the game was not available on Steam (curiously, it did release a few months later). While watching TheRadBrad’s Deadly Premonition videos on YouTube, one of the recommended videos was one of his play-throughs for Alan Wake. The concept in Alan Wake intrigued me and I ended up picking the game up along with the spin-off, American Nightmare.

  • At present, I can’t say I have too much interest in playing Deadly Premonition for myself; TheRadBrad’s play-through was very comprehensive and gave me a solid idea of what ends up happening. With respect to Alan Wake, I’ve yet to actually beat American Nightmare despite the game being in my library for over eight years; it typifies my tendencies to procrastinate when it comes to entertainment, and Left 4 Dead 2 is proof of this, as it took me eight years to finally sit down and complete the game. To be honest, my Steam library’s grown larger than I have time to game on account of the Steam sales, and in recent years, I’ve not bothered partaking in sales, knowing I’ve got enough titles to last a very long time.

  • Towards the end of the Dead Toll mission, after arriving in Riverside and reaching a boathouse, the goal will be to fend off the hordes again. I’ve switched off the G3SG/1 to the M16A2: while my favourite weapon in Left 4 Dead 2 is the AK-47, for being a slow-firing, hard-hitting weapon, the M16A2 is reasonably versatile and its large 50-round magazine and rate of fire makes it a great choice for both CQC combat and medium range firefights against common infected.

  • Here, I’ve equipped a laser sight for my M16A2: this weapon mod greatly improves a weapon’s accuracy, transforming the assault rifles into makeshift marksman rifles. They’re able to improve hip-fire accuracy on all weapons, but on the shotguns and grenade launcher, they’re not as effective. Offering tremendous advantages when equipped, laser sights also indicate where allied players are pointing their weapons. To offset their usefulness, laser sights are incredibly rare, and players usually go through entire campaigns without finding one. Having the laser sight made the final fight to keep the infected away while waiting for a boat at Dead Toll proved useful.

  • The Dead Air mission entails fighting through the city streets until reaching an airport, which is host to a range of aircraft the survivors could use to fly out of town to the next area. Of the Left 4 Dead missions, I enjoyed Dead Air the most owing to its setting: there is something unsettling about an orange-tinged night sky that implies the world is burning now, folding from the weight of the infection. The survivors start on a rooftop greenhouse and must make their way over to the airport, which appears to be located very close to the city if one could simply walk up to it.

  • Most airports are located away from urban areas so the noise from air traffic do not disrupt residents and businesses, but smaller airports are often located in the heart of a city to act as an auxiliary facility for domestic flights. En route to the airport itself, this is the moment that lent itself to the post’s title: because one of the AI teammates had startled the Witch, the Witch’s attention was focused on them: a swift finger on the screenshot button landed me this screenshot, and I subsequently dumped a few magazines into the Witch before it could take me out.

  • The Dead Air campaign marked the first time I’ve been in a video game airport since my previous unsuccessful attempt to explore the Washington National Airport in The Division 2. I fought through a concourse area before entering the parts of the airport with the gates: the saferoom is located just inside the gate before the sky bridge. The K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 adds the riff, Kendama-kun, as the song for whenever a chapter ends, and I keep thinking in my head, in Yui’s voice, “Keion!” upon successful completion of each chapter.

  • The final step of the campaign is to wait for a C-130 to finish refuelling. There’s a mounted M134 available here, but as most of the infected will come from different directions, I didn’t find it to be particularly helpful. I’ve got the SPAS-12 equipped here: known as the Tactical Shotgun in-game, the SPAS-12 has the least spread. While dealing slightly less damage than the Benelli M4 Super 90 (Auto Shotgun in-game), the reduced spread means it reaches out slightly further with more reliability. Finale missions always provide an endless supply of weapons and ammunition, allowing one to freely switch between different weapons to get the job done.

  • The final campaign is set in a forested area by daybreak that brings to mind the areas seen in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, specifically the White Forest, even if the forest seen in Left 4 Dead has deciduous trees (and White Forest, being modelled on forests in the Pacific Northwest, are largely coniferous). The early morning light represents a departure from the night settings in the previous levels, but this is only an aesthetic – the sky may be illuminated, but the land is still somewhat dark, and one must remain vigilant. The site is modelled on Allegheny National Forest in eastern Pennsylvania, which is located just south of Lake Erie in the Appalachian Mountains. It becomes clear that any other time, the park would be a fantastic place to go for a day trip of sorts.

  • A glance at the calendar will find that we are two-thirds of the way through March, and that today is the Vernal Equinox. On this first day of spring, the days will only continue to lengthen as summer approaches. I am very glad that light and warmth are returning to this side of the world. The first day of spring also coincides with the city-wide youth science fair – a few weeks ago, I helped with the science fair for the most prestigious secondary school in the city: my old secondary biology instructor took up a post there and invited me to help out, and it’s always been fun to see what the brightest young minds in the area are up to.

  • Like last year, this science fair is virtual: this is for the safety of all involved, and while I very much prefer to see projects in person and ask questions after a presentation, I understand that the virtual science fair format is necessary. With this being said, the plus side about a virtual science fair is that I can review projects at my leisure while rocking my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey. As soon as this post is done, it’ll be time to turn my attention wholly towards the judging.

  • Now that I’m coming close to finishing off the original Left 4 Dead campaigns, and having finished Left 4 Dead 2‘s base campaigns, the thought of a potential Left 4 Dead 3 did cross my mind. It turns out that Left 4 Dead 3 and Half-Life 3 were projects that were permanently suspended in 2017 as work continued on the Source 2 Engine: only a handful of games, including DotA 2 and Half-Life: Alyx, have been developed in the Source 2 Engine so far. With Valve still tight-lipped about their future projects, the only constant is that speculation is quite meaningless, since there’s next to nothing in the way of facts surrounding the future of the Half-LifePortal and Left 4 Dead franchises.

  • The last segment of the Left 4 Dead campaign has survivors holding out near a small farmhouse: once the radio is called, the military will deploy an APC to the site, and until it arrives, the survivors must survive wave after wave of infected. Unlimited ammunition and several first aid kits are available for use inside the farmhouse, and I ended up going with the M16A2, since this was a scenario where RPM and sustained damage was helpful. In the end, I succeeded in fending off the zombies, and as No Thank You! began playing, I watched the end-of-campaign stats roll, revelling in the fact that I finally finished both the major Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns. At the time of writing, the only Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns I have left are the community-made ones.

  • Towards the end of the mission, I ended up picking up a tonfa and killed an infected to earn the “Club Dead” achievement, which requires players to get a melee kill on common infected with each of the game’s melee weapons (axe, chainsaw, cricket bat, crowbar, guitar, frying pan, golf club, katana, machete and tonfa, plus a pitchfork and shovel on PC). While most guides call this a nightstick because it is modelled after the Monadnock PR-24 police baton with side handle, the baton itself was based off the Okinawan tonfa. I’ve been training with a tonfa for some years, and they’re usually used in pairs. While I’m not as skilful with tonfa as I am with sai or nunchaku, I am sufficiently versed to know that in Left 4 Dead 2, the player is not holding the weapon as one would traditionally hold a tonfa.

With all of the major Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns now finished, this journey has been one that’s been a shade under eight years in the making: the presence of mods has been an instrumental piece of my inclination to pick Left 4 Dead 2 back up, with the end result that I managed to finish a game that I’d all but forgotten about. The presence of K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2 also had another side effect: it brought back numerous, pleasant memories I have of the K-On! franchise, leading me to check out the K-On! Come With Me concert and revitalise my interest in the franchise’s music, in turn helping me to relax and keep focused during a somewhat stressful February. Familiarity with Left 4 Dead 2 also means I’m now able to keep up with my friends where conversation turns towards this game: for the longest time, said friend had been hoping I’d complete the game to an extent where I’d be able to offer insights on the mechanics and provide thoughts on why Valve might’ve made certain decisions in the development process, which results in interesting discussions well beyond what gaming discussion today typically consists of (i.e. the best cosmetics and memes, or complaining about games endlessly for not catering to the individual). At this point in time, I’ve now completely experienced the K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2, which was an impressive and commendable effort into bringing one of my favourite franchises together with a survival shooter: the process to get the mod set up and running has been effortless, and really adds dimensionality and fun to a game that I otherwise would’ve just left in my backlog. Having now seen what the K-On! mod has done for Left 4 Dead 2, I do plan on taking things up a notch for the two remaining community missions, Cold Stream and Last Stand. Hopefully, getting those last two community missions done won’t take me another eight years to wrap up this time around!

A Jockey is Riding Mio: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 and Returning Impressions

“Now that I think about, I’m always causing trouble for you, and it’s always at important times like this.” –Yui Hirasawa, K-On!

After a group of survivors are left behind in Savannah, Georgia amidst a zombie outbreak, they might their way to a mall and escape on a stock car, headed for New Orleans. However, the highway they travel along is blocked by vehicles, forcing them to continue on foot. The survivors reach a derelict amusement park and use a rock concert to signal for rescue. Despite being successfully extracted, the pilot becomes infected, causing the helicopter to crash. The survivors make their way through a swamp, fight through a plantation and make contact with a boat captain. However, the boat begins running out of fuel, forcing the survivors to stop in Ducatel, Mississippi. Securing the fuel needed in a sugarcane factory, the survivors return to the boat and reach New Orleans, fighting their way through the city and reaching a bridge. After crossing said bridge, the survivors come in contact with the army, who suspect them to be carriers, but evacuates them anyways: the military are leaving New Orleans, which is overrun, and head towards the Caribbean to escape the outbreak. This is Left 4 Dead 2‘s original campaign; Valve released this survival horror shooter in 2009 and over time, added further content to the game, including the entire original Left 4 Dead campaign. With its AI system, Left 4 Dead 2 procedurally generates levels based on the player’s style, creating a highly unique experience. While the original game received acclaim, my experience in Left 4 Dead 2 was greatly augmented by the installation of clever and creative mods which change the game’s aesthetic without altering the core experience: through the community, my Left 4 Dead 2 experience was shaped by going through the campaign, but with members of K-On!‘s Hōkago Tea Time standing in for Nick, Coach, Rochelle and Ellis.

Installation of this mod alters the player models, substituting Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi in place of the usual survivors; these models are surprisingly well-crafted and fits extremely well into the game. While this does not change how Left 4 Dead 2 handles, there is one additional advantage about running this mod beyond being able to laugh at the idea that a Jockey is Riding Mio: Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi stand out from the background, making it much easier to spot team mates. In settings where it is dark, and where a Witch’s presence precludes the use of a flashlight, having visually distinct character models make it much easier to know where allies are. The K-On! mod is ultimately a fun addition to the game, creating a ludicrous and amusing contrast with the situation at hand, and there is one additional feature that really sets the mod apart. During the concert chapter of Dark Carnival, modders have swapped out the Midnight Riders’ music for Hōkago Tea Time’s music, and similarly, their posters are exchanged for posters of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. Fighting the infected while jamming out to U & I, Don’t Say Lazy, Gohan wa Okazu and No Thank You! was an experience quite unlike any other: I’ve long had a fondness for the songs of K-On!, and despite the dramatically different aesthetic of Hōkago Tea Time’s light and fluffy songs, they fit the moment unexpectedly well. The end result is a mod that proved remarkably fun to experience, bringing one of my favourite anime series with the thrill of blasting zombies. At the time of writing, the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign is completely ready to play, and the modders are still working on getting Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nodoka working; Nodoka still needs a character model, but beyond this, the classic campaigns and bonus side levels are largely ready.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before I continue further into this post, I remark here that I was actually rocking a combination of K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2, and as it turns out, there is a single package that includes everything, from the character names to the modified concert posters and skin for Yui’s Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitar. However, multiple conflicting mods meant that I had the shortened name for each of Yui, Mio, Mugi and Ritsu, although for this post, they work to my favour on account of the joke I’ve opted to use as the post title. Here, I begin on the rooftop of a hotel in Savannah, Georgia, a moderately-sized city of around four hundred thousand people.

  • Every mission has players start with the Sig Sauer P220, which is equipped with a tactical flashlight. Despite being intended as a backup weapon, the pistol does offer unlimited reserve ammunition and is a great secondary when one is using a slower firing long range weapon. This first mission at the hotel sets the tone of the remainder of Left 4 Dead 2 – players fight through hordes upon hordes of zombies to get to a safe room, and some missions entail fetching resources or waiting for a vehicle to arrive. Conventional FPS tricks are not as effective in Left 4 Dead 2, since the procedural generator will adjust itself to challenge the player’s style.

  • Over the course of a level, one will find weapons and equipment scattered about. After picking up a suppressed MAC-10, it becomes possible to shred zombies more easily, but the weapon’s high rate of fire means one can burn through their reserves quickly. Left 4 Dead 2 also has an unsuppressed Uzi: the differences between the two weapons are that the MAC-10 hits slightly harder, while the Uzi is more reliable at ranges. The MAC-10’s suppressor is purely cosmetic, doing nothing to lessen the zombies’ sensitivity to weapon fire.

  • After exiting the hotel, it’s onto the streets of Savannah; the musty brown-yellow light suggests it’s late afternoon, and combined with the hazy, smokey skies, really conveys the feeling of a Deep South summer. The aesthetics of Left 4 Dead 2 brings to mind memories of TV Tropes, a site I disparagingly refer to as “Tango Victor Tango”: oppressive, fetid weather creates an image in my mind’s eye of site’s users, sitting in a dimly-lit basement tapping away at their keyboards instead of capitalising on the summer weather. While perhaps understandable (hot, humid days make it very unpleasant to be outside), there is also a melancholy about this vision.

  • As I made my way though the level, I acquired a Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 semi-automatic marksman rifle, which is probably one of the best weapons for long-range combat: it is second only to the hunting rifle in accuracy, but with a decent rate of fire and magazine capacity, it allows one to maintain a distance from the zombies. As players move through missions, increasingly powerful and effective weapons become available. I typically prefer the M-16 or AK-47, as they are versatile weapons that allow me to hold my own at most ranges. On a team, I would have no qualms about equipping dedicated CQC or long-range weapons.

  • In one of the bonus missions, “The Passing”, I found an M60: this LMG is a unique weapon in that it has a non-reloadable 150-round belt, and hits particularly hard at close range (although its spread makes it less useful in long range engagements). However, once depleted, players will drop the weapon. In my original Left 4 Dead 2 post about the K-On! mod, I remarked that my experience would be complete once I got my hands on an M60, and having used it, I found it to be an amusing weapon to use, tearing through horde of zombies with ease. However, I ran out of ammunition for it before I could take down a Witch with it.

  • When I made my way through the campaign, I didn’t know that “The Passing” was a DLC mission, but was surprised to see Azu-nyan in the mission. The mod I originally had installed in 2013 was complete to the point of having Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s models ready, as well as Azusa’s, so on this mission, Azusa felt a bit out of place with the others. With the K-On! mod currently missing only Nodoka’s model, it means that if I were to play the other campaign missions with the original Left 4 Dead survivors, assuming I picked Nodoka, I would have a sufficiently complete experience.

  • I do plan on venturing into the other campaign in the future, so for now, we return to the base Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, which sees the survivors reaching an abandoned amusement park. For all of my missions, I decided to play as Ritsu: there is a reason for doing this that I will show off later in this post. The amusement park mission was easily my favourite of the lot – it covers a bit of turf, taking players through an empty roadside motel into the amusement park itself.

  • Here, I’ve swapped out my P220 for a katana: melee weapons in Left 4 Dead 2 are more varied than its predecessor, and are a last ditch option for taking out zombies. Common zombies and some special zombies can be defeated in one stroke, while Witches take four strikes, and Tanks take twenty. For CQC, melee weapons can cut down multiple zombies at once, and are most useful when one is being rushed or wading into a fight. Conversely, pistols are preferred if one wishes to have a second ranged weapon. On a team, players should pick the weapons that fit their loadout, and I’d be comfortable carrying a melee weapon if my primary weapon is an automatic, otherwise, if it’s a shotgun or rifle, then carrying the pistols has served me better.

  • Of the weapons in Left 4 Dead 2, the M16 is the true jack-of-all-trades, being accurate enough to pick off enemies at range, while at the same time, having a decent fire rate and capacity for close quarters firefights: the weapon has a 50-round magazine. Like all other weapons, it is best used in short, controlled bursts, as firing on full-automatic will deplete a magazine very quickly. Left 4 Dead 2 features enemies of three different categories: the common enemies that rush the player are easily dispatched, and there are uncommon enemy types that deal special kinds of damage (but once recognised, can still be taken out). Finally, Witches and Tanks are the most powerful and durable enemy types in the game, usually demanding coordinated firepower to deal with.

  • The incredible contrast between running K-On! characters in Left 4 Dead 2 was an endless source of humour – for one, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi are ill-dressed for the terrain and climate of the deep south, and furthermore, their manner do not correspond with Left 4 Dead 2‘s original survivors: the members of Hōkago Tea Time are students, after all, preferring to spend their days practising with their instruments and unwinding with tea after a day’s worth of classes.

  • After I pushed onto the rollercoaster, a Jockey began attacking Yui, and the on-screen prompt indicates that a Jockey is riding Yui. Upon seeing this message for the first time, I realised that a lame joke could be made regarding the mod, and this is what lent itself to the post title: I’m fond of all the characters in K-On!, but Mio particularly stands out with her serious, no-nonsense personality (and humiliation when things don’t go the way she’d like). Mio thus became my favourite character in K-On! on very short order, and I further found that her songs were among the best to listen to (although in later years, I did come to appreciate everyone’s singing equally).

  • While a subtle, simple touch, the K-On! mod replaces the concert posters in Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! characters, further immersing players into the idea that Left 4 Dead 2 was really made for K-On! characters with this mod. During this particular play-through of the concert chapter, I ended up picking the SPAS-12 (the stock is folded up, and it’s known as the combat shotgun in-game). Shotguns in Left 4 Dead 2 are situational weapons, and playing solo means not being able to have teammates cover off ranges that I’m ineffective at – the SPAS-12 is the second most powerful close range weapon available to players on a per-shot basis but is not useful at longer ranges.

  • Because I retain the classic concert mods on top of the updated mod, my version of Left 4 Dead 2 has the iconic U & I and Gohan wa Okazu as the main songs played during the concert. Upon removing the duplicate mods, No! Thank You and Don’t Say Lazy play instead. I actually prefer the first set of songs, as they have a happy, energetic feel that would be completely out of place while fighting zombies (whereas the ending songs have a more traditional rock sound about them). Here I’ve equipped the guitar as a weapon – the mod retains the original model, but is re-skinned to have the same finish as Yui’s Gitah/Giita.

  • Bashing zombies with Gitah and listening to the sounds made on every stroke, in conjunction with listening to classic lyrics from U & I while Yui, Mugi and Mio fight around me was the apex of the experience this mod confers. For the whole of this mission, it truly felt like K-On! was brought into Left 4 Dead 2 completely – everything fits seamlessly together to yield a load of fun and even more laughs. In 2013, I was completely satisfied with this experience. Back then, I had multiple mods active to recreate this experience, whereas now, thanks to a new modder taking on the project, a single install is all that’s needed.

  • After finishing the concert, I originally set Left 4 Dead 2 aside and was expecting to return later. However, “later” never came, and I ended up leaving much of the campaign unfinished. However, two things recently compelled me to resume this hitherto unfinished journey: the first was that the modder who’d picked up the project had invited me to give it a go, and the second is that I’ve been trying to make a more serious effort about finishing off my backlog before it becomes unfeasible to do so. Of course, with the trend in contemporary games towards battle royale and loot-box driven experiences, I’ve had very little incentive to play the more recent games.

  • Returning to older titles, like Left 4 Dead 2, was a breath of fresh air precisely because a decade earlier, games were made to be replayed in small groups. I’ve never really enjoyed the battle royale genre because it encourages techniques like camping and dance emotes. Similarly, I do not believe that micro-transactions create an enjoyable experience; previously, games rewarded players for investing time into them and improving, and cosmetics were a part of this progression system, an indicator of this dedication. Purchasable cosmetics and mandatory DLC, on the other hand, degrades progression.

  • Here in the swamps of Louisiana, I fight my way across festering, dank bayous: here, I half expect to come across Slenderman. It was in the far-flung woods of Alabama that Marble Hornets‘ operator appeared in, haunting a group of individuals in what has become one of the most well-known (and well-crafted) alternate-reality games. There is an eeriness about the Deep South that makes the area conducive for spooky-sounding stories, and long before the internet and Slenderman, the Deep South was home to numerous legends surrounding swamp monsters and the like.

  • I eventually reach an abandoned town made up of shacks, and for the briefest of moments, my thoughts strayed back to Tango-Victor-Tango – it is not tricky to imagine the likes of Fast Eddie, Fighteer or Madrugada occupying one of these rickety dwellings, dealing out moderator judgment to those who disagreed with them in the cool of their basements, away from the muggy, humid summers of the American Deep South. Curiously enough, none of these moderators actually live in the Deep South: Fast Eddie is from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and Madrugada calls Davenport, Iowa, home. Fighteer, on the other hand, is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Despite its age (Left 4 Dead 2 turned eleven back in November of last year), the game still looks and handles like a modern game would, save a few places where things can be a little uneven. Lighting and visual effects still look great.

  • For the most part, the piece of Left 4 Dead 2 that feels the most dated for me are the weapon mechanics: while the weapons still deal good damage against enemies, there isn’t much in the way of feedback to know when I’ve actually hit something. This could just be a consequence of modern games offering things like audio or visual feedback (such as hit markers) per shot landed, and overall, is a very minor gripe about an otherwise solid game that has aged very well. K-On! is likewise an anime that aged extremely well: a decade after its airing, the lessons and discoveries remain fresh, and the music of K-On! is still very much enjoyable to listen to.

  • The hapless Yui gets ridden by a second Jockey in this post here as I make to call the boat to bring the third set of missions to a close. There’s a 50-calibre mounted gun on the second floor, but the placement is such that the weapon isn’t too helpful: on paper, having access to a weapon that can fire continuously for fifteen seconds at a time to thin out hordes of zombies and even do damage to tanks is great, but in practise, being stuck in one spot with a weapon whose firing angles can’t reach all of the enemies is risky.

  • This is the moment readers have come for, and after seven plus years, I’ve finally gotten the screenshot that gives this post its name. During my play-through, Mio was the one character who seemed to be immune to Jockeys – the AI players are typically attuned to the uncommon zombies and killed them long before they got into range for this to happen. Hence, after spotting a Jockey, I would deliberately back-petal and try to bring it into where the AI players were fighting, but more often than not, Mio (or anyone else) would melt the Jockey in the blink of an eye. During the sugarcane plant mission, however, I finally managed to get a screenshot of a Jockey riding Mio, a phrase that remains hilarious even today.

  • As a rainstorm pushes in, navigating the sugarcane plant became a nightmare. The mission is infested with Witches, which I found to be the trickiest enemy to deal with. Armed with ferocious-looking claws, Witches can down players in an instant. I typically try to avoid confrontations with Witches where possible, since I’m not a sure enough shot with a shotgun to take out a Witch with a single headshot. In a team match, having four human players and strategy would allow a better weapons distribution, as well as map management.

  • Here I equip a pipe bomb for no apparent reason. Equipment items in Left 4 Dead 2 are used to restore lost health, provide temporary boosts or create a tactical advantage during a firefight. In general, I prefer Molotov Cocktails, since they act as powerful area-denial tools. For most situations, carrying a first-aid kit is preferred as my primary healing item, and while I usually save them for myself in single-player campaigns, I have used them to bring the AI back to life to ensure everyone makes it out of the mission in one piece.

  • In the streets of New Orleans, I gear up for my final mission in what appears to be the famous Bourbon Street of the French Quarter. It was in this area where I’d realised how much I’d missed out on over the years after getting sidetracked by other things: New Orleans looks fantastic, and the mission is set by day, so visibility is good. I did mention that the K-On! mod helps with visibility, allowing me to see teammates better than the original models, which were more realistic and blended in with things better. One touch I particularly liked was that the K-On! models still carry their gear properly.

  • Left 4 Dead 2 released in November 2009, five months after K-On!‘s first season finished airing. At the time, I imagine that something as ludicrous as mashing the two together was initially not on anyone’s mind, but the combination of K-On!‘s popularity and the extensive mod support for Valve games meant that sooner or later, something such as the K-On! Left 4 Dead 2 mod was bound to appear. K-On!‘s runaway popularity was a result of Kyoto Animation’s excellence in bringing the manga to life, and excellent voice acting (as well as singing) from Aki Toyosaki, Yokō Hisaka, Satomi Satō and Minato Kotobuki.

  • Back in those days, it seemed hardly possible to take a step without someone criticising K-On!. One wonders how those folks would’ve handled news that such a mod exists. By the time I got to checking the series out in 2011, a second season had finished airing, and criticisms of the series began fading from view. While negativity surrounding K-On! began dissipating, it was clear that there were more people who enjoyed this series than those who did not. At a special live concert in Saitama Super Arena, to a sold-out audience, it was announced that K-On!‘s movie would begin screening that December. Like Left 4 Dead 2, I never did get around to watching the concert, Come With Me!, until recently. Having now done so, I intend to write about it at the ten year anniversary to when the concert was held.

  • Going through Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! mods inspired me to rewatch the anime and films alike, and also got me wondering as to whether or not other mods for series I’m fond of exist. As it turns out, there’s a music mod that plays Girls und Panzer music during the concert, but that’s about it – nothing exists for GochiUsa, which I consider to be the successor to K-On! for offering an incredibly cathartic atmosphere and adorable antics amongst its cast of characters. Like K-On!GochiUsa is immensely popular and has had live concert events of their own, although the music in GochiUsa is, if it were possible, even more saccharine than anything from K-On!: while pleasant to listen to, it would feel decidedly out of place in the rock concert mission.

  • Here, I equip the SIG SG-552 assault rifle for the final push across the bridge, the last of the chapters in the original Left 4 Dead 2‘s campaign. Until last September, German weapons were only available in versions of Left 4 Dead 2 sold in Germany, but an update brought the SG-552, MP5, Steyr Scout and Accuracy International AWSM rifles into the game. These weapons now randomly spawn in the game, and have been updated to have slightly unique attributes that make them viable (rather than being reskins of existing weapons). It speaks volumes to Valve’s dedication that they still provide support to games that are more than a decade old, and a part of this hope is that Valve might one day provide more information on developments to their most famous franchise, Half-Life.

  • With the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign finally in the books, I will be looking to complete the other missions, which now feature Azusa, Ui, and Jun thanks to the mod. In between Left 4 Dead 2, there are a few other things I have on the gaming front – I will also need to create an opening to write about Black Mesa, which I picked up during the Winter Sale, and wrap up, then write about, the first season of Spartan Ops, which has proven to be surprisingly enjoyable. On top of this, The Division 2‘s fourth manhunt season is coming to a close, with Faye Lau becoming available come February. I hope that there’ll be bit of a break in the Manhunts: while fun, and allowing me to earn gear that I otherwise wouldn’t get, they are a bit time-consuming, and I am admittedly more interested in returning to my backlog, having gotten what I feel to be more than my money’s worth in The Division 2.

I’ve got a very strange relationship with the games I pick up, and Left 4 Dead 2 probably exemplifies this: I originally bought the game for five dollars on a sale back during March 2013, towards the final days of my undergraduate semester, and intended to co-op with my friends. A half-year later, I’d found the mod, and beat the campaign up to (and including Dark Carnival). However, thoughts of Left 4 Dead 2 soon faded, and I never did finish the original campaign in full. Moreover, it appeared that the mod had hit a sort of hiatus. A few months ago, it turns out that one of the developers working on the mod had personally reached out to me and alerted me to the fact that the mod had now resumed development, some eight years after I’d first heard of the project. This update was a bit of a reminder about the way I roll: I tend to procrastinate big time on my hobbies. While this isn’t necessarily detrimental (I make it a point to be on top of my other endeavours), it does mean that I occasionally miss out on the hype and energy surrounding the latest big thing. With this being said, I’m not terribly bothered by this, and prefer to enjoy things at my own pacing. This approach has its pluses and minuses; in general, I tend to avoid spoilers well enough so that my experiences are not diminished, so even years after something is released and discussed, I still can find surprise and excitement when I go through it for myself. With the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign now in the books, it looks like I’m ready to continue on my journey in Left 4 Dead 2 to complete the remainder of the campaign missions: it is pleasant to know that there’s still an entire story to experience with a different set of characters, and I look forwards to checking out more settings beyond the Deep South that featured in Left 4 Dead 2‘s base campaign alongside who would become the Wakaba Girls in K-On!‘s manga continuation.

Half-Life 2 Update: A reflection

“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.” –George Foreman

A full sixteen years after its initial release, I returned to City 17 on what is my sixth play-through of one of the most iconic shooters of all time. This time around, however, I played through a mod of the original Half-Life 2: titled Half-Life 2: Update (Update for brevity). This conversion provides players with a redone visual experience. Lighting is overhauled, shadows are more detailed, and the game has been improved with full high-dynamic range (HDR lighting). With superior particle effects and fog, Update represents a considerable improvement to the visuals of the original Half-Life 2. Volumetric lighting creates a mustier sense amongst the dated buildings of City 17. Improved reflections in the canals gives water an even cleaner, true-to-life sense. The skies over Ravenholm are even moodier and intimidating, evoking memories of Halloween. Despite being identical to the original Half-Life 2 in gameplay, Update lives up to its name, breathing new life into an old classic by means of its improved visuals: familiar places are vividly rendered, and old memories came flooding back. However, these modifications are generally subtle, and the mod has been praised for being the Half-Life 2 Valve would have implemented had they gotten around to giving Half-Life 2 the same visual improvements that Episodes One and Two possess. Despite being a purely campaign-driven game, Half-Life 2 has managed to enthrall and immerse players for the past sixteen years: the game is endlessly replayable, even in its original form. Revisiting Half-Life 2 through Update, makes one thing about older titles apparent: gaming was at its finest during the 2000s, a time when improving technologies allowed games to immerse players in new worlds more completely than before, while simultaneously, still encouraging players to have fun and improve over time.

The design paradigm in Half-Life 2 had been to create an experience for players, such that every play-through felt distinct and fresh. The game used verticality to surprise players, dropped in the original jump scare to keep players on their toes, and encouraged players to be creative in how they approached a scenario. There was thus a myriad of ways one could solve challenges Half-Life 2, and this in turn meant that Half-Life 2 offers nearly infinite replay value. Back in 2004, games were intended to maximise replay value, and developers prided themselves on creating captivating single-player experiences that gave players incentive to revisit their games. The consequence of this were highly innovative games that continued raising the bar for what was possible. The paradigm in Half-Life 2 also carried over to Halo, where the campaign had been meticulously crafted for the player’s enjoyment. These early games represent video games at their finest, creating a combination of an experience for players to traverse a world unlike our own, and then giving players incentive to hone their skills and find new ways of improving their runs. By comparison, an increasing number of contemporary titles are written with revenue in mind, over the players’ experience. In particular, the emphasis on micro-transactions and cosmetics has come at the expense of gameplay: studios are forced to spend more time devising micro-transaction systems and cosmetics over ensuring a smooth, enjoyable product for the player. Nowhere is this more apparent than the current fad for Battle Royale games. Mechanically, these games are simple: a group of players are dropped into a world and then battle it out until a squad or individual is the last standing. Along the way, players can customise their characters to ensure their wins are memorable by means of cosmetics. Rather than writing captivating stories for the players, games are all about creating memes out of a moment now, and for this, they have suffered. Modern video games emphasise memes over substance, but the fact is that older games like Half-Life 2 and Halo, still remain immensely entertaining: it is a blessing that these older games, developed during a time when discovery was valued over memes, are still available for players to experience.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • My curiosity in Update came from the Chinese New Year Steam sale, during which I was recommended a variety of titles to try out. Half-Life 2: Update was among these recommendations. I ended up deciding to check it out shortly after Thanksgiving ended, and right out of the gates, I was impressed; the lighting updates are subtle, but noticeable in the improved volumetric lighting everywhere in the game. After exiting the train station onto a city plaza, these updates became apparent.

  • For this post, I’ve opted to feature screenshots from areas of Half-Life 2 that I did not have in my original reflections talk for the original game. I’ll kick things off with a moment of Dr. Kleiner’s lab, prior to my acquiring the Hazardous Environment (HEV) suit. Lighting effects in Kleiner’s lab are similarly improved, and I immediately set about trying to wreck Kleiner’s mini-teleporter, as I had done during my original play-through.

  • The last time I wrote about Half-Life 2 would have been in 2017, when I gave the mod Downfall a go. It had been a particularly cold and snowy December then, and I’d just gone on a drive into the mountains without any survival gear. It was a hazardous drive, and in retrospect, not exactly the brightest decision in the world. However, I did enjoy the crab-and-asparagus omelets that I had at a mountain restaurant prior to the drive. After brunch, we pushed into the mountains and noticed abandoned vehicles on the side of the road, an ominous sign.

  • After reaching Peyto Lake, the time had come to turn back around. On that day, there had been a heavy snowfall in the area, depriving the world of colour. Of course, winter in the mountains is beautiful, but I’ve never really been favoured with the sort of luck required to visit the mountains on a sunny day by winter. Today, the weather is a more hospitable overcast, and there is no snow on the forecast. Of all the levels in Half-Life 2, Water Hazard is my personal favourite: featuring the perfect combination of vehicular combat and on-foot moments: here, I pass by the first stop: players can spot the mysterious G-Man here, and curiosity will drive players to explore, leading them to find supplies.

  • Update‘s water effects are a slight improvement over those of the original’s: I was particularly fond of the reflections because they really give a sense of how clean the water of the canals is. In this post, I’ve opted to showcase more of those screenshots; interiors of the buildings remain more or less as they appeared in the original game, and while fun to move through, do not offer much in the way of interesting screenshots.

  • Travelling along the canals, players catch glimpses of Soviet-style apartments and factories. City 17 is distinctly said to be modelled after Eastern European architecture, and is set somewhere in Eastern Europe. There has always been a sense of mystery and intrigue about this side of the world, and it is for this reason that Half-Life 2 is something I’ve found so enjoyable. Since Half-Life 2, I’ve been curious about games with levels set in Russia. Together with getting Metro: Exodus free with my GPU, this led to my interest in the Metro series.

  • For much of the Water Hazard mission, the airboat will not have a pulse cannon mounted to it. As such, players only have the option of pushing further on into the canals towards Black Mesa East, eluding the Hunter-Chopper as best as they can. During one segment of the mission, Combine forces will close the canal locks, forcing players to disembark from their airboat and re-open them. In the control tower, a pair of automatic guns can be found. They’re powerful enough to damage the Hunter-Chopper and drive it off, giving players some much-needed quiet.

  • Having already showcased the final confrontation with the Hunter-Chopper, I’ve decided to skip that section and instead, show off one of the puzzles here. While solving the puzzles in Half-Life 2 now is a matter of trivial difficulty, I still remember that the first time my friends tried this game out for themselves, they’d gotten stuck at some of the puzzles. Ultimately, they’d never made it past the final puzzle leading to the showdown with the Hunter-Chopper: the reason we had been visiting then was because of a group project we’d been working on, and owing to our progress, we had time to spare for checking Half-Life 2 out.

  • Ravenholm received one of the most dramatic changes in Update: rather than a deep navy blue, the sky has a more greenish tinge to it. The lighting from lamps, however, is also warmer. Ravenholm is iconic in Half-Life 2, for changing up the game’s dynamics and capturing the horror aesthetics. To accentuate this, ammunition in Ravenholm is rare, and players are encouraged to utilise the Gravity Gun to lob saw blades, explosive barrels and cinder blocks at the zombies.

  • Like the remainder of Update, the exteriors are where the mod’s visual improvements are most noticeable. Inside the apartments and warehouses of Ravenholm, the game looks more or less identical to the original. The interiors of the buildings in this mining village have a very austere, Spartan feel to them that contributes to the sense of unease that the town conveys. According to the original E3 footage showcased in 2002. players were supposed to arrive in Ravenholm by boat and reach the docks, but in the final product, players travel here via a tunnel from Black Mesa East.

  • There is an achievement for completing Ravenholm with nothing but the Gravity Gun. I had gone through Update with the intention of doing the Gravity Gun challenge again, but evidently, my skills have deteriorated since 2013, and for the last bit of the mission, I was forced to abandon the challenge and fend off a few waves of fast zombies. Conversely, whereas poison zombies gave me considerable trouble back in the day, my trick of luring the poison headcrabs off them and finishing them off individually meant now, poison zombies are easy to deal with and no longer require an inordinate ammunition expenditure.

  • In my original post for Half-Life 2, I did not write much about Highway 17: this mission is similar to Water Hazard in having a substantial vehicular component, mixed in with on-foot segments. It is set under a grim, overcast day, and I first set foot on this mission at another friend’s place while visiting for leisure. With no science project to deal with, we conversed and played through the driving missions while enjoying Mac ‘n Cheese. Despite the skies washing out the land in white and offering little of note in the way of lighting, this mission nonetheless captures the sense of hopelessness in humanity’s war against the Combine.

  • While I cite an evening at a friend’s place in 2005 for a science project as my earliest exposure to retail Half-Life 2, I’d actually heard about Half-Life 2 as early as 2002; back then, the local Radio Shack had been running videos of the 2002 E3 demo for Half-Life 2, showcasing the Nova Prospekt bug-bait segments and engagement with the gunship along Highway 17 on their then-cutting edge 1024 x 768 resolution monitors. I watched in fascination, impressed with how realistic everything had looked and how the game had appeared to use a very sophisticated physics engine.

  • The Highway 17 missions also bring back memories of my undergraduate graduation; I’d picked up Half-Life 2 for my own Steam account to celebrate my finishing the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme, and reached this point in Half-Life 2 on the day of my graduation ceremony. Looking back, it was a bit of a sad time, as all of the friends I’d made in the past four years were headed their separate ways. Here, I ready the crossbow to grab the Targetted Advertisement achievement, noting with some irony that for me, targetted advertisements aren’t actually all bad: I’ll sit through food and entertainment ads without impatience kicking in, but pick-up truck and beer commercials are those I do not bother watching.

  • Upon reaching Nova Prospekt in Update, it was late October, and here, I do have a bit of a personal story to share regarding the ongoing pandemic; as the month reached an end, it turned out that I had been in close contact with a positive case, and immediately set about scheduling a test while observing isolation protocols. While thoughts of the pandemic ran through my mind, I pushed through Nova Prospekt. I eventually got stuck in the final part, and it took a bit of effort to clear it. Fortunately, I was able to clear it (my gaming skills might not be what they were seven years earlier, but they’ve not left me yet), and in the end, I tested negative, to my great relief. The incident was a reminder of how important it was to keep safe and healthy.

  • The Pheropods (informally, “bug-bait”) were a pleasant addition into the game, allowing players to command the Antlions. These insects were a nuisance during the Highway 17 and Sandtraps missions, but once acquired, they allow players to direct Antlions to attack Combine soldiers or follow. The Pheropods are most useful during the Nova Prospekt mission, allowing one to save ammunition by ordering Antlions to attack. However, even after the Pheropods are rendered useless, they can still stun Combine soldiers, and appear to regenerate on their own, making it a useful tool for creating minor distractions.

  • In what appears to be a laundry room, I prepare to engage a host of Combine soldiers. The improved lighting conferred by Update is visible here, as moonlight streams into the hall. A major part of the appeal in Update was the fact that these minor updates accentuated the atmosphere of each area. In The Master Chief Collection, 343 Industries’ anniversary version of Halo: Combat Evolved was an example where visual updates altered the tone of an environment. The original had been suspenseful because of the dark, sparsely decorated corridors, whereas in Anniversary, once-dark locations were now brilliantly lit. Conversely, Halo 2: Anniversary was a straight upgrade, respecting the aesthetics of the original while giving everything a fresh coat of paint.

  • Update is more in line with Halo 2: Anniversary, respecting the original Half-Life 2‘s aesthetics while bolstering lighting somewhat. I’ve skipped ahead to the part where players return to City 17 after rescuing Eli Vance. In the two weeks that passed owing to time anomalies resulting from the teleporter. Nova Prospekt is destroyed, the Resistance has come out in force, taking this as a sign to begin fighting the Combine. The Combine respond by sending in heavy weapons, including APCs and Striders.

  • With City 17 now a battlefield, the players’ goal is to assist the Resistance and eventually reach the Citadel. The remainder of Half-Life 2 features urban combat, and it is here that Update really is given a chance to shine. It is outdoors that the new lighting effects are most visible: the original game did not have a  slight fog, whereas here in Update, a slight bit of haze can be seen, accentuating the ferocity of the battle: it turns out that the Combine and Resistance have been at it for over a week, and despite lacking the same armour as the Combine do, by scavenging weapons, the Resistance are doing a fairly good job of repelling the Combine.

  • As I make my way through one of the tunnels underneath City 17’s surface streets, I stop to consider the fact that two walkthrough-driven sites, Mahalo Games and Visual Walkthroughs, are now both offline. These two resources were once indispensable for gamers looking for tips and tricks to get through certain areas of games, and I remember specifically that Visual Walkthroughs had some of the most extensive collection of screenshots around: their guides actually inspired my format here. Mahalo Games, on the other hand, were better known for their videos, although I never made extensive use of their materials.

  • While I provide covering fire for the Resistance as Combine forces swarm a plaza, Alyx will work on overriding a Combine terminal to expose its energy core. Once the core is exposed, a blast from the Gravity Gun will dislodge the core, causing the gate to power down. For the final segments of Half-Life 2, the Overwatch Pulse Rifle becomes plentiful enough so that players can use this as their primary. Until now, the MP7 would’ve remained my weapon of choice simply because ammunition for it was more common. Despite having a high recoil, the Pulse Rifle also has a higher damage-per-shot, and where ammunition is plentiful, this is by far the superior weapon.

  • Players eventually a vast underground tunnel beneath City 17. I’ve always been fond of this segment of the game: the massive warehouse players end up in reminds me of the local Convention Centre’s south building. Leading into this area, players must traverse a Manhack-filled hallway. At the end of the hallway is a window that fills the corridor’s end with light, but owing to limitations, I’ve never really figured out whether or not this was a window or a light fixture. Once I fight my way through the warehouse, I will return to the city streets, ready to take the fight to the Combine Nexus building.

  • Combine Snipers cover the streets of City 17, but fortunately, they can be destroyed with a well-placed grenade. There’s an achievement for taking out all of the snipers in City 17, and during my play-through of Update, I secured this achievement without effort. I missed one sniper on my original run because of how the spawns worked, and never bothered going back for the achievement. At the time of writing, I’m missing this, plus the Defiant (throw the can at the Combine officer instead of into the bin) and Lambda Locator (locate all caches) achievements.

  • For better or worse, the Combine Nexus building reminds me of the Great Flood of 2013: it had been a warm summer evening three days after the flood waters had receded, and after making a donation to the Red Cross for flood relief, I fought my way through the Nexus, clearing out the energy projectors locking the facility down. Because the university had been closed as a result of the flood, my plans for a kokuhaku were shelved, and I ultimately spent a week on the hunt for games to try out. I ended up going with Vindictus and Tribes Ascend, and while both games were fun in their own right, neither had staying power.

  • Fighting through the interior of the Combine Nexus, there was one spot that always stood out to me: there’s a room filled with explosive traps, and tripping any of these beams with set the explosives off. I’ve tried this previously: even with cheats enabled, one will not survive the blast. The only solution is to navigate through the room and find a switch that deactivates the beams. Once this is done, and the building is cleared, it’s time to hit the roof, destroy a handful of gunships and rejoin the battle on the ground, where Striders have entered the fray.

  • Striders are among the deadliest opponents in Half-Life 2, and aside from a pulse cannon, possess a powerful laser cannon that warps the space around the weapon. I’m guessing that a shader is applied to a sphere that is generated when the weapon is fired to create this highly distinct effect, and as soon as the cannon discharges, the sphere is deallocated and removed from world-space. While I’m not a game developer, I have had some prior experience with both the Unity and Unreal engines as a part of graduate school, so there are some things that I can still speak to; the warp effect is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a video game, and for the longest time, I’ve had no success in capturing a screenshot of such a moment.

  • After fending off an armada of Striders, I finally reach the building rooftops and prepare to hop into the streets below, where Dog and Barney are waiting. After Dog opens one of the Citadel’s walls, players drop into a sewer pipe that leads to the cavern housing the Citadel’s foundation. Having seen the Citadel for most of the game, it is at Half-Life 2‘s climax that this Combine fortress is visited. Resembling a skyscraper several kilometres high, the Citadel is shown to house manufacturing units for the Combine’s war machine along with a dark energy core.

  • In the grim corridors of the Citadel, players are stripped of their weapons, save for the Gravity Gun, which allows it to pick up Combine Soldiers and vapourise their weapons. This results in some hilarity as players can finally dispense punishment on the Combine. No matter how many times I return here, the super-charged Gravity Gun never grows old, and one thing I’d love to do is to see what the super-charged Gravity Gun’s effects on Barnacles are. I imagine they’d get vapourised, since this is the effect that energy balls from the pulse rifle’s secondary fire do to them.

  • After reaching Breen’s office and confronting him, players can only watch as Breen attempts to escape. However, Alyx suggests overloading the Dark Energy core, causing the entire system to fail. Once the Dark Energy core is destroyed, Half-Life 2 draws to a close. Update was overall, a solid experience, giving me a chance to go back through Half-Life 2 again. My experiences in Half-Life 2 have always been overwhelmingly positive, and so, during this year’s Steam Winter Sale, I picked up Black Mesa, a remake of the original Half-Life. This remake began its life in 2005, released as a mod for players in 2012, and the Xen segments were finished in 2019. In March 2020, the game finally released in full for players.

  • Thus, my next journey in the Half-Life franchise will be a step backwards in time as I fight through Black Mesa: I lack the proper hardware to play Half-Life: Alyx, and despite some suggesting that Half-Life 3 could return, I’m not optimistic about the series receiving a conclusion on account of an interview which suggested that the original Half-Life 2: Episode 3 was delayed because of work on the Source 2 engine, and over time, scope creep and expectations made it exceedingly to develop a sequel. Only time will tell what happens in Half-Life, but in the meantime, it’s time to go ahead and experienced a game I’ve wished to play in full since 2012.

Going through Half-Life 2: Update, I found a superb title that shows how even subtle changes can shift the way a game feels. Update was overall, a smooth and solid experience. Moreover, this mod is free to players who own Half-Life 2: aside from a bit of a download, installing the mod is a seamless process. As a Half-Life 2 mod, Update represents modding at its simplest and cleanest level, leaving Half-Life 2‘s base mechanics intact while simultaneously providing players with a new experience. However, mods do not end here; Valve has always encouraged modding, with the intent of allowing players to create their own content, stories and mechanics. The modding community surrounding Source Engine games is therefore especially active, and indeed, some of Valve’s own smash hits came from mods to Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Mods are an integral part of gaming, and while I do not play too many mods myself, I am aware of their impact, as well as their enjoyability. One of my friends plays Source mods almost exclusively over more traditional game modes, citing the unpredictability and community’s enjoyment as the reason for sticking around. A glance at where modern gaming is going indicates to me that my ability to keep up with the latest trends is probably drawing to a close; instead of grinding it out for the latest Battlefield or Division title, I see myself returning to older games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Sim City 4, capitalising on the fact that I have entire worlds to myself, open to discovery and exploration as their developers had intended, long before skins and emotes overtook creativity and fun as the primary reason to play games. With a host of these older titles left to experience, I believe the time has come for me to take a step back and finish some titles that I’ve yet to complete (such as Skyrim). This is going to be my resolution for the upcoming year as far as gaming goes: rather than delving into newer titles, my aim will be to make some progress with my backlog, starting with Left 4 Dead 2, Black Mesa, Skyrim and Go! Go! Nippon!.

Half-Life 2- Downfall: A Reflection

“Prepare for unforeseen consequences.” —The G Man, Half-Life 2 Episode 2

Gordon Freeman is tasked with retrieving a resistance weapon capable of destroying Combine Citadels in a mission whose timeframe relative to the other events of Half-Life 2 are not known. After arriving at a sawmill, Freeman fights his way through hordes of zombies to reach a derelict mine guarded by a veritable armada of Combine soldiers. Entering the mine, Freeman begins his descent into the bowels of the earth itself in search of this weapon. Released earlier this year as a Half-Life 2 mod, Downfall is an excellent fan-made addition to the Half-Life 2 universe that remains highly faithful to the mechanics and visuals of the Half-Life 2 games. Set in the White Forest area, the atmospherics and visual effects are top-tier, matching those of Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in most areas and surpassing it in others. The mod is incomplete at present, and two more chapters are planned. The first chapter is a ways longer than Half-Life 2: The Lost Coast. The mod is comparable to a single chapter in a Half-Life 2 episode, taking around three-quarters of an hour to beat on standard difficulty, but it’s an immensely thrilling ride, being the next best thing to a proper announcement about the likely non-existent Half-Life 2 Episode 3 and Half-Life 3 itself.

What makes Downfall such an entertaining mod is the fact that, while the level design is structured consistently with what is seen in the actual Half-Life 2 titles, Downfall introduces a new twist on things: players are only equipped with the legendary Zero-Point Energy Manipulation Device (Gravity Gun) to begin with. Upon arriving at the sawmill, zombies begin appearing en masse to attack the player, forcing players to get creative with the objects available in the environment. Even after a crowbar is found, things remain quite tricky – clearing an area of zombies and moving onwards is an especially rewarding feeling. One of the more exhilarating moments was fighting a poison headcrab zombie in one of the houses: I’m accustomed to having some heavy firepower in the form of under-barrel grenades and a good stockpile of hand grenades when taking these monstrosities on, but Downfall only provides players with a pistol at this point. Running out of ammunition will occur before one can take down the poison headcrab zombie, so players are forced to bait the zombie into throwing the poison headcrabs at them, and then dispatch each individual poison headcrab with the crowbar. As players acquire more weapons, the gameplay in Downfall begins feeling more like a traditional Half-Life 2 mission; engaging Combine soldiers and other enemies become rather more straightforward.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Downfall opens with a casual Sunday drive to a location where a beacon signal is transmitted, under what appears to be the setting sun. Downfall could hypothetically be set in the moments following Episode 2, after Eli Vance is killed by a Combine Advisor; Freeman must then regroup with additional members of the Resistance before they set off for the Borealis. Once players reach the sawmill, the muscle car must be abandoned.

  • There’s a definite calm in the atmosphere as Freeman begins exploring the area, and there’s an abandoned boathouse adjacent to a lake. Of all the existing instalments in Half-Life 2Episode 2 stands out as having some of the most memorable scenery, being set in the remote forests of Eastern Europe rather than the close-quarters of City 17. I’ve heard that Episode 2 was inspired by forests of Oregon.

  • The moody skies in Episode 2 bring to mind the mood of my area shortly after the Great Flood of 2013. The Royal Family visited the area shortly after, and I recall listening to a news programme covering the event while I was fighting my way through the White Forest Inn ambush. The quiet beauty of the area is offset by the fierce onslaught, so after the fighting died down, I spent a few moments exploring the area.

  • Because players only start out with the Gravity Gun and find a crowbar early into Downfall, the first segments of the mod handle similarly to the Ravenholm mission. To encourage creative play, Valve implemented an achievement called “Zombie Chopper” for using only using the Gravity Gun. While seemingly a difficult task, ammunition was already quite scarce in Ravenholm, and bullets are actually less effective against zombies than large objects.

  • The crowbar is a fantastic weapon against leaping headcrabs and can kill one in a single hit, including poison headcrabs. A large number of zombies, including zombines, appear here, but the abundance of objects that can be thrown means that there are no shortage of options for dealing with zombies. The tire swing on the left of image can be used to great effect; it is hilarious to send conventional zombies flying with it, but there is also a risk: I lost thirty points of health because the tire swing swung back at me after one use.

  • In the sawmill’s attic, players will come across the control panel for opening the flood gate, allowing Freeman to move into the next area. There’s also a large ammunition cache here, plus several computer terminals, indicating that the sawmill was probably used as a Resistance outpost before the Combine overwhelmed them. For the time being, there’s no way to actually get into the ammunition cache, which is present purely for aesthetic purposes.

  • The house here is infested with poison headcrabs and a poison headcrab zombie: while I’m accustomed to using heavy firepower to deal with them (burning them with explosive barrels, or otherwise using a combination of hand grenades and the MP7’s under-barrel grenades), these are not options in the house. Instead, Freeman must bait the poison headcrabs into leaping off the zombie, and then beat them down with the crowbar. After all of the poison headcrabs are expended, the zombie itself can be pummeled to death using physical objects, and the cinder brick found in the cellar of this house is particularly useful for that task.

  • A quick glance at the calendar shows that it’s been five days since Christmas, and six days since I posted anything. This is because it’s been a bit of a relaxing, if somewhat busy Christmas: on Christmas Day this year, the day began with a fantastic breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns and Belgian waffles. After the opening of gifts, I took a walk on the nearby hills by afternoon despite the -20°C weather, where I found some Christmas ornaments hanging on one of the aspen groves, and then spent the rest of the day playing Overgrowth. We finished the day with prime rib and the remarkably flavourful beef bones.

  • They definitely aren’t kidding when the say that the Icefields Parkway is a remote stretch of road with reduced maintenance in winter. The drive back home was as treacherous: a blizzard had began in earnest when we began making our way back. Last evening, temperatures reached a low of -31°C before windchill and a fresh snow had fallen. It’s expected to be -32°C later tonight (-43°C with windchill), making me extremely appreciative of being able to rest in a warm place. I’m sure readers are not here about the cold, so we’ll return to Downfall, where the mines are warm, even if inhabited by barnacles.

  • Upon exiting the first of the mines, Freeman comes across a rail line covered by a Combine Sniper. There’s practically no cover leading down the tracks, and while there is another path that allows Freeman to close the distance between him and the sniper, I chose to make use of a log and well-known limitation in the AI to close the distance more quickly. The sniper will throw back the first grenade, but will not do anything about the second grenade Freeman throws at them.

  • The Colt Python pistol, for all of its incredible power, is constrained by a small ammunition pool, and I’ve typically not run into situations where I’ve required it. It’s best saved for Combine elite soldiers and Hunters; in Downfall, these enemies do not appear and so, it can be used to quickly deal with the first wave of Combine soldiers Freeman encounters. Here, I look back at the train tracks and the scenery.

  • With the sniper now cleared out, I take a look around at the setting and marvel at the details of the mining structures. This mine forms the setting for the only firefight against Combine soldiers in Downfall, and while players are armed with only the pistols at this point, use of cover and a little bit of creativity will allow for the first wave of soldiers to be cleared out in a relatively straightforward manner.

  • I finally acquire the MP7, which is probably my most-used weapon in all of Half-Life 2 and its episodes simply because of how plentiful ammunition for it is. The weapon is used extensively by Combine, and ammunition crates for the weapon are easily found. While ineffectual at longer ranges owing to its spread, its large magazine capacity and carrying capacity makes it a solid all-around weapon for most close range engagements.

  • I cannot quite put my finger on what it is about the lighting and assets that give Episode 2 environments such a unique feel to them, but overall, the presence of open wilderness as opposed to urban build-up meant that, had Half-Life 2 Episode 3 ever come out, I would have been hoping for more rural settings. With the story hypothetically set to take place in the arctic, it seems that players would have had the chance to explore non-urban settings.

  • There’s a restrictor here that keeps the Antlions away. These insect-like aliens can spawn indefinitely and overwhelm players with their numbers, but they can be kicked back using the gravity gun. Enough hits from the gravity gun will kill them, although their numbers makes the technique viable only with solitary antlions.

  • The elevator here leads to the control room with the energy orb powering the Combine defenses here, and disabling it will lower the force field covering the path Freeman needs to take. Antlions begin swarming the area, although now that Freeman’s got the MP7 and SPAS-12 Shotgun, taking them on becomes a bit more straightforwards.

  • While there’s been no official news of Episode 3, some dedicated folks have begun working on an unofficial continuation using the Unreal 4 Engine, which powered my Master’s Thesis project. This continuation, titled “Project Borealis”, is being undertaken to build a game from the story that Marc Laidlaw provided back in August, outlining what Episode 3 would have entailed. The project’s lead manager has industry experience and seeks to create the best possible experience for fans of the series and presently, the story is around half finished.

  • Some interesting concept art has also been provided for Arctic headcrabs and a new model of Strider. Enemy AI and weapon concepts are also entering testing; while no news of when Project Borealis’ release was provided, the team did mention that they will be keeping the community updated as they continue with the project. This is quite exciting, and it seems that, even if Valve has no interest in continuing the Half-Life franchise, dedicated and devoted community members can and will keep things going. I’m curious to see where things will end up, and with the Unreal 4 Engine driving things, the game could look quite refreshed once completed.

  • After entering the main mine shaft and descending deep underground, Downfall comes to a close. The bitterly cold winter evening is upon us, and after a warm dinner of fried chicken, I’m watching the mercury plummet. The weather is expected to warm up as we enter the New Year; before 2018 sets in, I’ve got one final post for 2017, dealing with Nekopara‘s OVA. 2017’s been a bit of an interesting year for the blog, and while I can’t say that my numbers are particularly strong a motivator for continuing this blog, a strong reader-base and the associated discussion means I’m not quite ready to call it quits fully yet.

It typifies Valve’s ability to create suspense and horror in games whose aim is not solely horror, and Downfall makes excellent use of Valve’s techniques to create a mod that feels as though it is a proper instalment in the Half-Life 2 universe. While faithful to Half-Life 2 in design and concept, subtleties in the gameplay show that there remains some room for improvement still: besides cleverly forcing players to adopt different strategies, there are other minor surprises in store for players, with the most notable being the Combine Sniper that returns a grenade players throw at them, requiring players use a second grenade to defeat the sniper. This moment was completely unexpected and shows that the Source Engine, in spite of its age, can still be made to throw off players to create refreshing moments. While there’s been talk of Half-Life 3 and Half-Life 2 Episode 3 sporadically in the years since I first beat Episode 2, my intuition tells me that the expectations for these two items is one of the contributing factors to why Valve is not actively pursuing a continuation of Episode 2. With this being said, Downfall isn’t quite finished yet, and it will be interesting to see as to whether or not its continuations will come out as the modder has suggested – if there are indeed to be future instalments of Downfall, I will definitely be interested in seeing where things are headed.