Talk:Cameo Era/Expansion

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- 2000-late 2001 (when airex was cut)

Concept art depicting Gordon, Alyx, Eli, Skitch and a rough D0g.

The Cameo era is easily one of the most recognizable and famous in Half-Life 2's development cycle, characterized by both concept art and an overall darker tone. There are quite a number of maps from this era in the WC Mappack, giving us clues on the progression of ideas at the time.


Much is known about this development period due to the large amount of work done by the development team, from story vignettes by Marc Laidlaw, a wealth of concept art from Viktor Antonov and Dhabih Eng, test and campaign maps from level designers, model, sound work on new NPCs, and so on.

Development background

Circular design philosophy

"The Citadel. Yes, it's a deliberate landmark that we want you to feel this relationship to. You go toward it, you go away from it, and you'll develop more and more understanding of it as the game goes on." — Marc Laidlaw[1]

The Cameo Era continued the process of simplification and sharpening of focus that began in the Hyper era, taking the existing elements towards a more specific and focused design philosophy that borrowed from Valve's own individual map design principles: seeing your goal near the start of the level and working towards that. The team adopted this paradigm at a macro scale by creating a location which would be the main area of the game and the plot — City 17, an alien-occupied metropolis with the central player goal at its centre. This would serve to give the game a more unified feel from beginning to end, while solving one of the biggest problems they the team saw with the original Half-Life, the disconnect between Xen and the rest of the game.[2][3]

The team was determined not to reproduce another Xen — the finale from the original game that was rushed due to time constraints — but no-one was to foresee that the development of Half-Life 2 would pose even more challenges than its predecessor.

"There was you and a bunch of other agents were like you. Your HEV suit would have become this weird, black leather stealth suit with all these devices latched on it. There was some kind of parasitic implant thing in his brain that would kill him if he went against orders." Gabe Newell took one look at it [and said]: "It's not Half-Life." "He was right ... We had some really elaborate stuff going on with agents and counteragents. That was really convoluted. Gradually the process was to simplify things to make them directly related. So it gradually changed from this globe-spanning thing to, 'Let's do a city, or a region, an area where you go out and come back in,' you end up kind of where you began. It was our little local level design philosophy on a larger scale. You can see your goal, and you had to thwart a bunch of obstacles that get in your way, and at the end of the level when you get there." — Marc Laidlaw[2]

Bun: these quotes are only here for posterity of info — I intend to move most of the first quote to the hyper era's development background section.

"We wanted the end of the game to feed directly into the beginning. For example, if there had been time in the development of Half-Life to fix it somehow, you should have seen the Nihilanth [the final alien boss] twice before you get to the end of the game. We should have made sure there was something coming about Xen, and you're trained in jumping puzzle before you get there!" Marc grins: "So it didn't feel like it was laid on with a trowel. So, those were conscious things like, 'Let's do something circular,' where you can see the end of the game from the beginning and create this unity so that you don't have anything at the end that you don't have a relationship with already." — Marc Laidlaw[3]

Continued floundering

Bun: introduce this concept in an earlier article like hyper or pre-pitch. Note that these problems became clearer in this era because of the more solid direction and larger amount of concept work done.

Unfortunately, while a vast amount of work was carried out, it was ultimately not building up to solid specs or goals. This was due to the parallel nature of development at the time, where programmers were still fundamentally working out the Source Engine; and so the concept side of the team tended to continuously iterate on different directions, rather than building a game around a set of solid technological limitations.

"There was a fair amount of spinning of wheels in terms of... 'Well, we can go in this direction or this direction,' and the people who could really answer the questions were like, 'Well, I'm still trying to get the shaders up and running,' so the people on the concept side tended to have to iterate a lot ... essentially we were trying to solve production problems when we were still in pre-production, which meant that they couldn't get a lot done, and it was also really frustrating. It's like you're trying to create an art direction when you still don't know what your polygon budgets are going to be, and you're still a year away from knowing exactly what sort of performance you can achieve in an area that's going to be critical to a set of artistic choices that you're going to make. So, there was a fair amount of thrashing." — Marc Laidlaw[4]

Known Information


An early map from this era.

Blah blah talk about the BETAA STORY:

  • Gman intro
  • Long train ride
  • Long C17 intro (trainstation, industrial, manhack arcade)
  • Meet Barney/Kleiner
  • - Bus chase
  • - Later teleporter shenanigans
  • Canals/sewers
  • Scrapland w/ Eli/Dog
  • Doin some train ridin', meet w/ Alyx
  • Airex w/ Vance
  • Owen/Odell on Borealis
  • Dr Mossman in Kraken
  • Arctic + Weather Control
  • - AC-130/Osprey back to C17
  • Vertigo
  • Streetwars
  • Citadel confrontation w/ Consul, Alyx n Mossman

Kids in factories

Captain Vance, the Conscripts and Younger alyx design

Manhack arcade

Gargantua train sequence, with the train ride being much longer


  • - Eli Maxwell Scrapyard
  • o Catch train, after a bit need to move on foot for some reason (todo, was this implied by the maps?)
  • Airex


  • Originally a prison
  • Gunship construction
  • Catch train to air ex
  • o Antlions attack with you but against you too

Citadel shit

Story Vignettes

Quarry town with monk, traps and mines (vignettes)

  • o Went into scurry mine field then encountered some antlions (talk about scurry mine art and map)
  • o Next place is a safe camp run by Captain Vance or eli

Antlion caves

  • o Much larger open spaces after eli den, planned to be even larger than the Antlion caves introduced with grub extract
  • o Antlion grubs were partially used but never fully as their purpose was still being figured out, left until episode 2 to be refined

i've always thought the antlion cave vignette was much later than the others, is it even from this era?? i have my doubts - bun

Bus chase (in story vignette?)

Manhack arcade


Trench coat metro cop older icon stunstick


Slightly updated Bullsquid, higher res than hl1 but still cartoony

Man hack from this era only has textures and sounds

Early Dropship

Particle storm

  • Only limited particle system remains
  • Sounds for forming, dissipating, hovering and lightning strikes
  • A node for “particle storm rock spawn”, possibilities include
  •  Something for it to grab and throw
  •  Something that is a consequence of it attacking, allowing you to attack it
  •  Something for it to protect and for you to attack
  •  Something for it to spawn from
  • If not a proper enemy it is Possibly a method to keep the player within the playable area, like leeches or piranhas in the ocean, somewhat similar to the guardians in halo multiplayer maps

antlion guard

Sand Barnacle? texture is more realistic than this era


the Scanner designed for this era is only in concept art and sounds

Computer Chips plot element in spire/weather control

  • Weather controlling related?
  • Allowing use of combine weaponry? (this is Specifically alluded to in audio from skyscraper between combine units)
  • if the above what they were for, it might have been explained at the start of the game in relation to the physics manipulator

key dates

(Note (bun): oh yeah americans this is in dd/mm/yyyy deal with it 😎 - should change to yyyy-mm-dd in final article)

  • 19/05/2000 tank plus diesel engine loop sounds
  • 22/05/2000 first reference to trans.txt and 'v' (valve) tools as opposed to 'q' (quake), in gary/buildnew.bat

(Note (bun): keep in mind oldtrans.txt does reference lab_ textures (which are actually very similar to the earliest lab maps we have))

  • 02/06/2000 timelapse opening vignette
  • 15/06/2000 first combot sounds
  • 21/06/2000 to 23/06/2000 sounds/c17/ wavs

(Note (bun): it occurs to me that these sounds could have been for siggraph/gyftvs)

  • 23/06/2000 to 28/06/2000 siggraph 2000, private/closed-room valve tech demo
  • 16/08/2000 to 17/08/2000 testlevel sounds
  • 24/08/2000 to 29/08/2000 testcitadel sounds
  • 09/10/2000 to 06/12/2000 sound/ambient/areas/borealis wavs
  • 10/10/2000 sound/ambient/areas/sky_scraper (vertigo) sounds
  •  01/11/2000 soldier vert lines (plus heli_way.wav)
  • 16/10/2000 to 01/11/2000 airex sounds
  • 11/10/2000 stalker sounds
  • 17/10/2000 all headcrab bite sounds
  • 23/10/2000 binocular signal sounds
  • 28/10/2000 alyx voice lines (misc, cache, citadel and skyscraper

[14/11/2000 vert lines were re-recorded with a different voice actor]

  • 29/10/2000 much more sounds for flying apc turret
  • 21/11/2000 to 06/12/2000 kraken ambient sounds
  • ricochet release date
  •  idea for city logo from platform designs
  •  possible reuse of content from tf2 development
  • • heads from realistic tf2
  • • armour is similar to space romans
  •  slight possibility of late development aleph character model
  • 8/11/2000 new bullsquid sounds
  • 14/11/2000 first mention of town, phys town zombie town trap town
  • 15/11/2000 to 14/12/2000 manhack sounds
  • 17/11/2000 to 22/11/2000 ice axe sound
  • 30/11/2000 soundscape_test sounds

(Note (bun): possible approx. soundscape implementation date?)

  • 8/01/2001 first manhack test room
  • 12/01/2001 to 16/01/2001 vortigaunt voice
  • 23/01/2001 vort test map
  • 9/03/2001 first wasteland scanner sound
  • 19/03/2001 first haz (hazard course) voice lines
  •  later, kleiner lines recorded (04/02/2002) and gman lines re-recorded (27/02/2000)
  • 27/03/2001 alien assassin ball sounds for tripwire
  • 30/03/2001 gunship sounds
  • 30/05/2001 to 6/11/2001 roller and roller bull sounds
  • 6/09/2001 roller mine sounds
  • 21/09/2001 to 26/09/2001 Particle storm sounds
  •  ??/11/2001 vampire: the masquerade -bloodlines starts development
  • o barely updated the sdk once downloaded, forced into crunch so no time to deal with changes in how source worked
  • o Old console variables for charged gravity gun
  •  Sounds for this still exist

Previous section:
Hyper Era
HL2 - Eras Next section:
Pre-Retail Era


Previous section:
Cameo Era
HL2 - Eras Next section:
Cameo Era 2 — Refinement