Codex Gamicus

Black Mesa (previously known as Black Mesa: Source) is a game based on Valve Corporation's Source Engine, that attempts to remaster the original release of Half-Life using the Source engine, but keeping the gameplay close to the original game. The stated goal of the project was to recreate Valve's critically acclaimed Half-Life using the more advanced capabilities of the Source 3D game engine. The 38-person volunteer development team said they hoped to create a more engrossing in-game world with more varied, complex environments and more challenging, realistic gameplay. During its eleven years in development, Black Mesa has been featured in several video game publications and received direct attention from Valve. The developers planned to release the game as a free download when completed, but it later became a paid, fully-fledged downloadable game on Steam while still in Early Access.


With the release of Half-Life 2 In 2004, Valve Corporation re-released several of their previous titles, ported to their new Source game engine, including the critically acclaimed 1998 game Half-Life named Half-Life: Source. The Source engine is graphically more advanced than the GoldSrc engine used for the original versions. Half-Life: Source features the Havok physics engine and improved effects for water and lighting. The level architecture, textures, and models of the game however, remained unchanged.[1]

Half-Life: Source was met with mixed reviews. IGN liked the new user interface and other technical features but noted that it did not receive as many improvements as Valve's other Source engine ports.[2] GameSpy said that while it was a "fun little bonus", it was "certainly not the major graphical upgrade some people thought it might be."[3] Valve CEO Gabe Newell is quoted as saying that a complete remake of Half-Life by fans of the game using Source was "not only possible…but inevitable."[4]

The "Surface Tension" chapter as it appears in Half-Life.
The same scene, as seen in a development version of Black Mesa.

Black Mesa began as the combination of two independent volunteer projects, each aiming to do just that: completely recreate Half-Life using Source. The Leakfree modification was announced in September 2004. Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project was announced one month later. After realizing their similar goals, project leaders for both teams decided to combine efforts; they formed a new 13-person team titled Black Mesa: Source.[4] The "Source" in the project's title was later dropped when Valve asked the team to remove it in order to "stem confusion over whether or not [it was] an endorsed or official product," which it is not.[5]

The team now consists of 38 volunteer level designers, programmers, modellers, texture artists, animators, sound engineers, voice actors, and support staff.[6] They have stated they want Black Mesa to be similar to Half-Life in gameplay and story, but changes will be made to take advantage of Source's more advanced features. Changes to the story will not divert from, or alter, the overall storyline of the Half-life series.[4] Level designers have shortened or modified some areas of the game that "didn't make any sense," or were "tedious" in the original. Maps will also be of a larger scale, for instance the hydro-electric dam, which is now "twenty or thirty times" larger.[7]

Originally based on the version of Source released with Half-Life 2 in 2004, the project now uses a more recent version released with Valve's The Orange Box in 2007. This new version includes more advanced particle effects, hardware-accelerated facial animation, support for multi-core processor rendering, among other improvements.[8][9][10] The team has stated they do not plan on upgrading again to newer versions such as those used in Valve's Left 4 Dead (2008) or Portal 2 (2011) games.[5] The only software requirement to install the modification will be to already have at least one game installed which uses the Source engine.[11]

In addition to the modification itself, the game's thematic score — produced by sound designer Joel Nielsen — will be independently released as a soundtrack.[citation needed]

Black Mesa is planned to be distributed as a free download when completed.[12] The developers released a teaser trailer in 2005, and a full-length preview trailer in 2008. They have also released images, videos, and concept art during the project's development. Black Mesa was given an official release date of "late 2009" in the spring of 2009, but this date has since been changed to "when it's done", after the development team was unable to fulfil this date.[7]


During its eleven years in development, Black Mesa has received attention from several video game publications. It has been featured in articles from Computer Gaming World, PC PowerPlay, and PC Gamer UK magazines. Valve published a news update about the modification on their Steam digital distribution platform in 2007 saying that "We're as eager to play [Black Mesa] here as everyone else."[13]

The project was awarded Top Unreleased Mod by video game modification website Mod DB in 2005 and 2006.[14][15]

Mod DB gave the project an honorable mention in their choice of Top Unreleased Mod in 2007.[16]

After receiving a development version of Black Mesa in December 2009, PC PowerPlay magazine said that the game's setting "looks, sounds, [and] plays better than ever before." The "subtle" changes from the original Half-Life were said to have a "substantial" overall impact. They also noted the project's "frustrating" then five-year development time, and current lack of release date, but added that the developers are making progress.[7]



  1. Source: Belly of the Beast. (2004-06-21). Retrieved on 2008-12-06 “Since they licensed and integrated it into Source, Valve have been tweaking and adding to Havok to the point it's virtually a new animal. Almost every aspect of the Source engine follows on from the physics — including the sound, graphics, AI and animation. When asked whether or not they would be upgrading to Havok 2, Valve seemed to suggest they probably wouldn't, in part because H2 wouldn't be much of a step forward from what they currently have.
  2. McNamara, Tom (2004-11-18). Half-Life: Source: What's the big hoo-ha?. IGN. Retrieved on 2010-03-13
  3. Accardo, Sal (2004-11-17). Half-Life: Source. GameSpy. Retrieved on 2010-03-13
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Elliot, Shawn. "Black Mesa: Source". Computer Gaming World (Cambridge, MA: ZDNet) (257). ISSN 0744-6667. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hill, Jason (2009-02-16). Your Turn: Returning to the Source. The Age. Retrieved on 2010-03-13
  6. Team Members. Black Mesa Modification Team (2010-01-04). Retrieved on 2010-03-13
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Kim, Paul (2009-12-07). "Black Mesa: Why The Future of Half-Life 2... Is In The Past". PC PowerPlay (Macclesfield: Media House) (174). ISSN 1362-2722. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  8. Source - Rendering System. Valve. Retrieved on August 8, 2009
  9. Face-to-Face with TF2's Heavy. Steam. Valve Corporation (2007-05-15). Retrieved on 2010-05-23
  10. Interview: Gabe Newell. PC Zone (2006-09-11). Retrieved on 2006-09-20
  11. Montero, Carlos (2008-11-19). A celebration of the last decade!. Mod DB. Black Mesa Dev Team. Retrieved on 2010-05-23
  12. Black Mesa Official FAQ. Black Mesa Modification Team. Retrieved on 2010-03-14
  13. Friday, January 26, 2007. Steam. Valve Corporation (2007-01-26). Retrieved on 2010-05-23 “Congratulations to the Black Mesa for Half-Life 2 MOD team for picking up the Most Anticipated MOD Award for the coming year from Mod DB. Over 80,000 votes were cast for MODs built for a number of different games, and they have been crowned this year's most wanted. [...] We're as eager to play it here as everyone else.
  14. Reismanis, Scott (2006-01-26). Mods of 2005. Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd.. Retrieved on 2010-05-23
  15. Reismanis, Scott (2007-01-13). Mods of 2006 - Player's Choice. Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd.. Retrieved on 2010-05-23
  16. 2007 Mod of the Year Awards - Player's Choice Winners Showcase. Mod DB. DesuraNET Pty Ltd. (2008-01-28). Retrieved on 2010-05-23 “A honorable mention is due to the mod Black Mesa which continues to poll extremely strongly year after year, but misses out on a place in the top 5 because you cannot win a spot in the best unreleased category twice.

External links[]