The "Hyper" (abbreviation of Hyperborea) era of Half-Life 2 development was the earliest known period of "full-scale" (i.e. assets were created) development on HL2.
Around the Hyper era's time, several plot elements began to take shape, including the existence of chapters on a boat in the arctic, the Combine, and Odell. Only a little information has been compiled over time, mostly through the efforts of the leak community (who collectively scoured the HL2 2003 leak), along with information from Valve figureheads such as Marc Laidlaw and David Speyrer.
According to information given out by the Half-Life series' writer Marc Laidlaw as well as files found within the 2003 leak shown below, the general story of the era was to go something like this:
You start on an icebed, as you hear bells in the distance. You make your way to the source of the bells, as the fog clears, revealing the ice-locked Hyperborea. You enter in through a hole in the side of the hull, as you encounter Stalkers, Soldiers, Headcrabs, and Sackticks. Eventually you meet up with Odell, and you both go in a submarine to Kraken Base. You encounter many Stalkers doing labor, and eventually meet up with Elena. However, the base gets flooded, and you narrowly make your escape from Kraken, rescued by some Rebels using an escape pod. You make your way to Weather Control, where you got on a C-130 and made your way to the city, where it gets gunned down and crashes into a skyscraper. Once inside, you make your way down to the streets and fight your way to the Citadel, where you have a final confrontation with the Consul.
According to Marc, they never built most of this. The story was always changing. None of it was ever set in stone.
In the materials directory of the Half-Life 2 leak, there is a standalone text file named oldtrans.txt, containing what appears to be a vast assortment of material designation changes most likely from an older era of development, it is possible that this file was auto-created after Valve switched texture formats from bmp (or something similar) to vmt/vtf.
Inside the large amalgamation of texture designations are file locations, most referencing abbreviations of old story segments: "deep" (which is the nickname for the Kraken Base chapter), "spi", aka Spire (which is presumed to be the name of an early arctic segment, judging by the snow textures referenced), "obj", aka object(s) (which references the brush prop textures present in the game), "urb", aka Urban (the early designation for City 17), "waste" (the nickname for the wastelands of Earth in HL2), "vert", aka Vertigo (the designation for the chapter in which Gordon scales a large skyscraper down into the streets below), and finally, "hyp", aka Hyperborea (one of the earliest known chapter segments of Half-Life 2's development).
This text provided has proven more than useful to the community of leak mappers wanting to implement proper texture fixes/replacements to many older maps present in the WC mappack.
Leftover Pre-VTF references
Some leftover references to the pre-VTF texture naming system are present in the WC Mappack thanks to copy-pasting of geometry from pre-VTF maps. This confirms that oldtrans' textures were used at one point. Known references are listed below:
The sound folder within the 2003 leak contains some of the oldest assets to date within the entire build - a few of which even date back to 1999. Within the "\ambient\hyper" directory are many ambient sounds indicative of a ship's deck in a windy environment, one of these "wind" files even being a direct rip from Half-Life 1. An interesting file to note is "kraken_radio.wav", a long stream of dialogue referencing both the Hyperborea and Kraken Base. The transcript can be found below:
"Hyperborea, come in please, this is Kraken Base, do you read? Our situation is critical down here, we thought you were sending someone! I repeat, this is Kraken Base calling Hyperborea, is anybody up there? We are in serious trouble!"
Another intriguing sub-directory is the standalone "\odell" folder, which contains quite a bit of information on both the old story and the location itself that the dialogue was supposed to be implemented in. The most intriguing file is "odelltest.wav", the transcript of which can be found below:
"I knew this trip was gonna end in a bad way. Old days you'd never take such a risk with a ship like this, but they were desperate. Runnin' supplies out here to the ice station and that place underneath us. They didn't listen to me- half the crew were scientists anyway, up to god-knows-what. Wouldn't listen when I told 'em it was time to pull out! Captain turned a deaf ear too, guess you can't blame him- desperate times. Once we were ice-bound, we were no use to anybody. Some of the men laid out across the ice, right around then those warships found us. That was pretty much the end.. but they pelted with these.. tick pods that came flyin' down all over the deck. They hit ya, you were dead, that wasn't such a bad way to go considerin'... thought they were bombs- duds, y'know.. 'till they started hatchin'. Once I figured out these sacktick things didn't like the cold too much, I shut off the generator, let the whole ship ice over. That did the trick, mostly- there was no-one left to hang a medal on me. I tried to send a distress call, radios were messed up. Scientists didn't want anyone knowin' we were out here, guess I shoulda known they were resistance.. is that what you are? That outfit assures you ain't no spy.. looks like it hurts getting in to it. Makes this gumby suit look cozy by comparison! Haha.. ha.."
A number of emails discussing this era are available.
hyper.bat and hyper_fog.bat
Located within the "\hyper" and "\randy" sub-directories of the WC mappack are these two batch files. They are both the oldest known files within the entire leak, with their modification dates each going back to 7/29/1999, the key date of the Hyper era. Inside "hyper.bat" is some brief code indicating map compiling preferences and perhaps early fog technology (when it was still a new feature to the Source engine). Not much can be told from these files alone, but hyper_fog does reference the .map file format, potentially hinting at what format older Half-Life 2 development maps used. It is possible that these batch files were used to compile ancient HL2 maps, such as the elusive "Hyper_001", which is discussed below.
Liblist.gam is normally used to specify basic aspects of HL1 mods, such as the map the player starts off in (after clicking "New Game"). It appears in the Half-Life 2 leak, under
\hl2\scripts\. Among other bits of text, it references the "startmap" being "Hyper_001".
The full text of the file is below:
// Valve Game Info file
// These are key/value pairs. Certain mods will use different settings.
game "Half-Life 2"
hl2_scripts.dsp is a C++ project solution file that offers a look at the scripts folder during an earlier point in development. A number of interesting listings are contained within it, including a mention of the infamous sacktick. Something else of note is the mention of AI schedules, which is unusually placed both in the scripts folder and as a separate .sch file (normally, NPC schedules are indicated directly within the source code). A compilation of file references is below:
|AI Schedules||AI Schedules (npc_)||Weapon Scripts||Misc. Files|
effects.cpp is the following comment:
// func_precipitation - temporary snow solution for first HL2
// technology demo
This suggests that func_precipitation (a brush entity used to simulate snow and/or rain) was used in some form for Half-Life 2's earliest demonstration. This comment seems to be referring to the infamous demo_arctic map from the leaked mappack, however, there are no references to func_precipitation within the map.
Odd Team Fortress 2 Shots
In June of 1999, two screenshots were released. These were screenshots of what was then "Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms" to display a few old player models of the then more militaristic and grounded-in-reality era of the game. What's interesting to note in these screenshots is not the models, but the backgrounds they're shown in.
They are present what appears to be the hallways of a ship. According to Marc Laidlaw as a response to an email from ValveTime, the screenshots are actually early Borealis interiors. Due to the time they were released, it is believed to be from the Hyper era of the game. Something interesting to note are the textures; Most of the textures shown in these screenshots are unavailable in any leaks, however three textures are notably present within the 2003 leak, those textures being pictured below.
Within the "demo\" sub-directory of the WC mappack lies a very interesting map: demo_arctic.vmf. Within this level is an arctic environment, the only one of its type within the entirety of the map collection. It depicts a camp seemingly abandoned next to an ice-locked ship - whether or not this particular vessel is either the Hyperborea or the Borealis is unknown (but, because of the lack of ocean around the ship, which tends to coincide with official Borealis maps, it's theorized to be the Hyperborea). Off to the side of the camp is a cave, with what seems to be crudely implemented icicles and a path of planks leading to another shed. Within the ship itself is a barren observation deck and a raised watchtower, along with a few segments of very incomplete interior hallways.
The chosen skybox of the map under its properties is "sky_spire01", and while its intended use is unknown, the "spire" surname perhaps indicates the arctic (or possibly even the Weather Control) portion of the game, ergo, it was to be used solely for the arctic environments of the game. In addition, there are ambient sound entities present in the map, all using sounds from within the "hyper\" sub-directory of the sound files.
Some factors contradict the map belonging to the Hyper era however, such as the modification date: 2001, long past the earliest drafted story. In addition, Marc Laidlaw stated in one of the many emails regarding the early stages of development that the map supposedly had nothing to do with the era, and was only used as an environment and displacement terrain test.