Talk:Cameo Era/Expansion

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

The Expansion cycle is the first of the two chronicled halves of the Cameo era, starting from:

  • Early 2000 — adoption of a 'circular story' that sharpened and solidified the game's focus and areas;
  • To late 2001 — when the Air Exchange, a hallmark of the game up since early '00, was cut — along with the conscripts and polluted atmosphere.

This period of Half-Life 2's development is popular among fans for its overall darker tone and stylised art, which had a heavy influence on the game's style by bringing a heightened feel to environments, particularly City 17. It heralded in the foundations of the Half-Life 2 we recognize today, albeit with a much larger scope that provided the team with a wealth of experience that would be brought forward to subsequent development.


The Expansion cycle began sometime in 2000 (June at the latest; the "proposal date" of the 'Timelapse Opening' script[1]) with the adoption of a 'circular story' design philosophy, centering around a single area/region which the player exits then returns to over the course of the game: City 17. Many new concepts and areas were solidified during this era, including the Air Exchange, an opening train ride, gasmasked citizens and the return of the Black Mesa Science Team. Gordon's journey was marked by 'cameos' with ally characters for each major section, with a select few like Alyx and Captain Vance defining the broader plot — these cameos are articulated in Marc Laidlaw's per-chapter story vignettes, which detailed much of the game at this time. Prompted by these grim vignettes, the team's concept artists — Dhabih Eng and Viktor Antonov — created numerous pieces of concept art for the era, featuring an overall darker tone, more stylistic color choices, and somewhat exaggerated character designs.

Much is known about this time in development due to the large amount of work, aforementioned, done by the development team.

Development background


A location map from this era, note the characters named for major areas.

A major reaffirmation of the team's intent to invest in characters, and the namesake of this era, came with the concept of the 'cameo' — dramatic interaction with a friendly, location-specific character, who would accompany them for either a short time or throughout a specific section[2]. The concept fit perfectly with the design methods honed during the earlier production of Uplink (a demo released after Half-Life, made to streamline the 'cabal' system by sorting members into defined roles like level designer and animator[3]), as in theory the new structure would allow each section cabal to create an NPC to define every major chapter. Although companion characters had been discussed at length up to this point as part of the overall thinking on characterisation, it's likely cameos fully materialised here as much of the documentation for the concept is from this one — such as the map on the left, which parallels Marc Laidlaw's vignettes for the era.

Cameos can be seen in action in retail, however only in a very limited form, with just two cameo characters — Odessa and Grigori — making the cut, as by 2004 there was simply not enough time to fully implement the feature [2].

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[4]

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.[5][6]

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[5]

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[6]

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[7]

Get Your Free TV's

Known Information


For an article documenting in-depth the evolution of the Cameo Era's maps, see coming soon.

A vast amount of documentation exists covering the Cameo era's plot, with various contradicting story ideas and vague gaps intersecting or co-existing with one another across the era. It's also the era that represents the largest number of map files in the 2003 leak, hence, extensive and detailed data is available for various set pieces/locations which mappers created for each given area.

So, the following outline tries to (when relevant and noteworthy proposed) give a broad overview for each story point's various proposed concepts and areas.


In the same vein as the original game's introduction, this was to be a long section heavy on worldbuilding, introducing the player to the new world via exposition and visual storytelling. At the same time, this unfolding narrative would also provide a chance to demonstrate the capability of Valve's new Source Engine[8].

Eli's slideshow
Earlier concept
G-man briefing
Train ride

City 17

Train station

First a part of the industrial map, then a separate, large area.

Manhack arcade
Kleiner's lab

BUN: Very unsure if only the bus ride or the teleport too were from this era. Investigate!



Outer wastes
Air Exchange


The Borealis
Kraken Base
Weather Control

City 17 Uprising



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

WAD textures

fprintf (f, "{\n\"classname\" \"worldspawn\"\n");

fprintf( f, "\"mapversion\" \"220\"\n\"sounds\" \"1\"\n\"MaxRange\" \"4096\"\n\"mapversion\" \"220\"\n\"wad\" \"vert.wad;dev.wad;generic.wad;spire.wad;urb.wad;cit.wad;water.wad\"\n" );[11]

- BUN: thanks to jaycie aka jackathan for finding this originally


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

(BUN: i always thought the combot model moved and looked like a piranha, not the anomalous concept scanners — and I would say based on the fact it's a monster_ NPC it existed this early in more than just concept form, plus it appeared at GYFTVs which imo almost certainly confirms it's the combot model which is what's referred to as piranha-like)

(BUN: additionally, the old combot model doesn't even have any lods — it's old alright)

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

(BUN: more likely just a McGuffin for the short vignettes?)

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


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