Locations in the Half-Life series

Locations in the Half-Life series

The "Half-Life" series of video games features many locations set in an dystopian future stemming from the events of the first game, "Half-Life". These locations are used and referred to throughout the series. The locations, for the most part, are designed and modeled from real-world equivalent locations in Eastern Europe, but also include science fiction settings including the Black Mesa Research Facility, a labyrinthine subterranean research complex, and Xen, an alien dimension.


Aperture Science Laboratories

The Aperture Science Laboratories are a research facility introduced in "Portal" and "". Its "Enrichment Center" forms the setting for the entirety of "Portal". The company is a direct rival to the Black Mesa Research Facility. The company's history, as revealed by in-game information and a web site for the fictional company, was initially building shower curtains for the US military, but due to mercury poisoning of its founder, shifted directions to create interspatial portals. The project was successful and Aperture Science's facilities expanded, including the installation of a new artificial intelligence named GLaDOS; however, shortly after its installation, GLaDOS turned on its creators and killed everyone in the facility.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=37&game=3|title="Portal" Walkthrough|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-09-29]

The areas of the underground Enrichment Center that the player sees during "Portal" include clinically-white "test chambers" overlooked by laboratories and office spaces devoid of life, and disused maintenance areas behind these chambers where an unknown person has left helpful messages to the player to be aware of GLaDOS' motives. The clinical feel was designed after the settings in the movie "The Island", aiming to reduce the amount of background detail to allow players to focus on the puzzles.cite web | url = http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3165930 | title = Beyond the Box: Orange Box Afterthoughts | publisher = 1UP | date = 2008-02-06 | accessdate = 2008-02-14 | first = Shawn | last = Elliot ] In "Episode Two", the player learns that the "Borealis", an Aperture Science research vessel, and a portion of the drydock it was moored to, was somehow teleported to the Arctic, and is a point of interest that the player is told to investigate. However, "Episode Two" concludes before this investigation.

Black Mesa East

Black Mesa East is a resistance base on the outskirts of City 17. The base is featured briefly in "Half-Life 2", where it acts as the base of operations for Eli Vance, the leader of the human resistance against the ruling Combine. Situated alongside a hydroelectric dam outside City 17, Black Mesa East is mostly underground, consisting of several levels containing laboratories, kitchens, recreational areas and maintenance facilities. Its population includes both humans and Vortigaunts. The base is the primary destination for the player in the early stages of "Half-Life 2", as after an attempt to directly teleport to the facility fails, Gordon Freeman must proceed there by conventional means. However, Freeman is tracked by Combine forces, assisted by Judith Mossman, who attack the base soon after his arrival, and consequently capture Eli Vance.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=16&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: Black Mesa East|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03]

Black Mesa Research Facility

The Black Mesa Research Facility is the primary setting for "Half-Life" and its three expansions, ', ' and "". The base is a decommissioned ICBM launch silo in the New Mexico desert that has been turned into a scientific research complex. The facility is depicted as a vast complex of underground research laboratories as well as surface constructions such as offices, chemical waste disposal plants and personnel dormitories, all powered by a hydroelectric dam and connected by a tram system.

Over the course of the series, Black Mesa is revealed to be conducting top-secret research into various fields, such as teleportation and experimental weapons research. Prior to the beginning of "Half-Life", scientists experimenting on teleportation discover Xen, a border dimension somehow intricately involved in the teleportation process. Creatures and crystals from Xen are consequently brought back to the facility for testing. At the beginning of "Half-Life" one such crystal, provided by the engimatic character of the G-Man, is put through an anti-mass spectrometer and causes a resonance cascade, tearing the spacetime continuum. As a result, the Xen creatures are teleported into the facility and attack its human inhabitants.

The resulting crisis is seen from several points of view in "Half-Life" and its expansions. In "Half-Life", protagonist Gordon Freeman is introduced to the facility in a notable sequence involving very little interactivity. [ [http://www.gamecareerguide.com/thesis/neubauer.pdf - The Gameplay Video Segmentation Method A heuristic method for gameplay analysis using video segmentation - Sandra Neubauer] ] This serves to foreshadow many of the challenges the player will face, as well as the labyrinth-like structure of the game. [ [http://www.itu.dk/people/mosberg/texts/SMI_thesis.pdf Struggling towards a Goal Challenges & the Computer Game - Sara Mosberg Iversen] ] Eventually, the player fights through the facility and teleports to Xen to try to seal the tear from the other end, where a Xen creature is keeping it open. "Blue Shift" shows the events from the viewpoint of a security guard, Barney Calhoun, who joins a group of scientists who use the teleportation technology to evacuate survivors from the base. In "Decay", another group of scientists attempt to close the tear through their own equipment, before calling in the US military to assist with the situation. The military situation is shown through the eyes of Adrian Shephard in "Opposing Force", where US Marines are ordered to kill the entire population of Black Mesa as well as the alien attackers, but are overwhelmed and forced to withdraw, allowing for black operations units to detonate a nuclear warhead in the facility, ultimately destroying it. However, the fracture in the spacetime continuum remains, allowing the Combine to invade and occupy Earth.

City 17

City 17 is an undisclosed city in Eastern Europe that forms the primary setting for "Half-Life 2" and its first expansion, "". The city features a variety of architecture types, from mostly Eastern European architecture dating from pre-World War II neoclassicism, to post-war revival of classical designs, Soviet Union modernism, and post-Soviet contemporary designs, as well as an amount of Combine structures. The city is considerably large, consisting of a train station, a dilapidated canal system, underground road tunnels and multiple communal living quarters and buildings. The city contains a large number of signs with written in Cyrillic. The city is run by the Combine Civil Protection, who police the streets and supress any dissent with brutality.

The city is the base of operations for the Combine on Earth, with its Citadel forming the headquarters of Wallace Breen, the human administrator for the Combine. The Citadel itself is an exceptionally tall structure of Combine design, reaching both deep underground and high into the clouds, forming an ominious presence on City 17's skyline. The Citadel serves as a reference point to help the player navigate, as well as providing a long-term goal to drive the player's action. [cite book | title = Designing Character-based Console Games | author = Mark Davies | page = 321 | publisher = Charles River Media | date = 2007] In "Half-Life 2", the player initally arrives in City 17 by train, but after being discovered flees the city by via its canal system. When the player returns later in the game, the city has been turned into a warzone as the citizens mount a fullscale rebellion against the Combine rule. The player eventually enters the Citadel itself to confront Breen, later destroying the dark energy reactor and teleporter at the top of the Citadel. This proceeds to destablize the Citadel's main reactor, which the player, accompanied by Alyx Vance, must temporarily stabilize in "Episode One" to allow for the population to be evacuated. The Combine try to accelerate the Citadel's collapse to send a message to their native dimension, requesting reinforcements. The Citadel eventually explodes at the end of "Episode One", destroying the wartorn City 17 and forming a super portal to the Combine dimension.

Highway 17

Highway 17 is a road featured in "Half-Life 2" that runs along a stretch of coast outside of City 17. The player, assuming the role of Gordon Freeman, travels through this area in a dune buggy to get to Nova Prospekt. The area is heavily occupied with antlions, large insectoid creatures that live in underground hives and violently defend their territory. The area around the road is mostly coastal with multiple boathouses and jetties, although the waterline of the sea is notably low, leaving derelict ships deposited on beaches.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=18&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: Highway 17|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] The road itself is in a bad state of repair, often littered with abandoned cars and in some areas is shown to have collapsed completely. Highway 17 is interspersed with various outposts under control of the human resistance against the Combine, although several of these are under attack or have already been destroyed when the player arrives at them.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=31&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: Sandtraps|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03]

Nova Prospekt

Nova Prospekt is a security and detention installation controlled by the Combine in "Half-Life 2". The facility is the player's destination for the middle parts of the game, as Gordon Freeman travels along the coast to get there and free the leader of the human resistance, Eli Vance, after he is captured by the Combine at Black Mesa East. Nova Prospekt is described as once being a high-security prison, set on a coastal cliff. Its interior is largely dilapidated, consisting of several unoccupied and badly damaged cell blocks, a number of interrogation chambers and numerous guard posts and checkpoints.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=32&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: Nova Prospekt|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] The core areas of Nova Prospekt incorporate Combine infrastructure, a teleporter and a large holding area for political prisoners, held unconscious in pods suspended from the walls. The facility is also shown to deal with processing humans through invasive surgery, either changing them into Combine Overwatch soldiers or into stalkers, dismembered slaves augmented with technology.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=33&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: Entanglement|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] The facility also incorporates an express train link from City 17. Nova Prospekt is heavily damaged during the player's incursion into the prison due to Gordon Freeman using antlions to break into the facility and rampage through it. The fight at Nova Prospekt is seen as the first strike against the Combine, and signals a major uprising in City 17.


Ravenholm is an Eastern European mining town depicted in "Half-Life 2". The town was a hidden location housing refugees from City 17 until it is discovered and attacked by the Combine, using artillery shells filled with headcrabs. Consequently, the town was massacred and its survivors infested by the headcrabs, and its linking tunnel to Black Mesa East is sealed. The town's sole survivor, Father Grigori, is shown to be slowly losing his mental health, and is killing the infested residents in order to save them from their torment. Working from the church, Grigori also rigs numerous traps and overhead walkways to keep himself safe from the infested populace. The mines are equally infested, and its structures have been heavily damaged. The player journeys through Ravenholm to get to the coast, after Black Mesa East is attacked by the Combine.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=HL2Walkthroughs.Detail&id=17&game=3|title="Half-Life 2" Walkthrough: We Don't Go To Ravenholm...|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] Ravenholm has been noted to be a cross-over of the science fiction and survival horror genres, as the player encounters the level at night, and many dark areas allow for surprise attacks from the zombies and other creatures within the town. [http://nzerik.googlepages.com/073-DekkerChampion-DiGRA2007.pdf Please Biofeed the Zombies: Enhancing the Gameplay and Display of a Horror Game Using Biofeedback - Andrew Dekker] ] Ravenholm is challenging for players to navigate due to its open nature, as well its overall circular path. [ [http://friendlymedia.sbrl.rpi.edu/heuristics.pdf Heuristics for Usability in Games White Paper - Schaffer] ]

White Forest

White Forest is a fictional mountainous region in Eastern Europe that forms the setting for "Half-Life 2: Episode Two". The area also contains a Soviet-era missile silo that acts as the base of operations for the human resistance against the Combine. White Forest is the only area of gameplay in "Episode Two", and is depicted as a largely forest-land region near the base of several mountains. The area consists of several villages and minor resistance bases, connected by a road in a state of disrepair with a number of abandoned cars. Various other structures include radio stations, industrial warehouses and bridge houses, which are often infested with headcrabs. In addition, there are several mine shafts, which are shown to have been colonised by antlions. White Forest is also home to a ICBM launch silo, which has been converted by the human resistance into their primary headquarters. The silo is the primary destination for much of the game, with the player travelling the forest roads in a 1969 Dodge Charger to reach the base. The base itself is used by the resistance as a platform to launch a satellite containing codes to shut down a Combine superportal that is opened in the wake of the destruction of the Citadel at the end of "Episode One".


Xen is an alternate dimension and is the adopted home of the Vortigaunts. A collection of asteroids hanging over a nebula, Xen is briefly featured in "Half-Life" and its first two expansions, "Opposing Force" and "Blue Shift". It is often referred to as the "border world", as it is somehow involved in the teleportation process used by the Black Mesa Research Facility. The player encounters multiple types of fauna such as headcrabs in Xen, in addition to its sentient inhabitants. The asteroids are linked with their own teleporter system,cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=hlstrategies.detail&id=15&game=4|title="Half-Life" Walkthrough: Xen|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] and a number of asteroids are shown to include underground factory-like areas, where Vortigaunts work to create or mature Xen's military forces.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=hlstrategies.detail&id=17&game=4|title="Half-Life" Walkthrough: Interloper|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] Gravity on Xen is substantially lower than on Earth. Xen forms the setting for the closing parts of "Half-Life", where Gordon Freeman travels to Xen to kill the Nihilanth and seal the spacial fracture to Black Mesa. The player briefly visits Xen in both "Opposing Force" and "Blue Shift" as well, in the former Adrian Shephard is forced to travel to Xen to escape an otherwise enclosed area,cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=ofwalkthroughs.detail&id=6|title="Opposing Force" Walkthrough: We Are Not Alone|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] while in the latter Barney Calhoun goes to Xen to align some equipment to allow Black Mesa to be evacuated using the teleporters.cite web|url=http://planethalflife.gamespy.com/View.php?view=bswalkthroughs.detail&id=10&game=10|title="Blue Shift" Walkthrough: Focal Point|work=Planet Half-Life|publisher=IGN|accessdate=2008-08-03] After the death of the Nihilanth in "Half-Life", the fracture is destabilized further, causing large amounts of Xen's wildlife to be teleported to locations across Earth.


The environments of both "Half-Life" and "Half-Life 2" and their expansions have been well received by critics. The locations in "Half-Life" have been praised as "self-contained, believable, and thoroughly engaging" by GameSpot, who also noted the "distinct looks" used in different areas throughout the game.cite web|url=http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/halflife/review.html|publisher=GameSpot|title="Half-Life" for PC Review|first=Ron|last=Dulin|date=2008-11-20|accessdate=2008-05-26] The moment when the player arrives at the alien world of Xen towards the end of the game in particular has been praised for inspiring a sense of awe and astonishment. [cite book | title = Screenplay: Cinema/videogames/interfaces | author = Geoff King, Tanya Krzywinska | publisher = Wallflower Press | date = 2002 | page = 42] In addition, several reviews praised the way that players progressed through the areas of Black Mesa and the loading points in between as "largely seamless",cite web|url=http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=3045|title=PC Review: "Half-Life"|work=PC Zone|publisher="Computer and Video Games"|first=Steve|last=Hill|date=2001-08-13|accessdate=2008-05-26] with "Computer and Video Games" commenting that this made level loading "a thing of the past".cite web|url=http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=8349&skip=yes|title=PC Review: "Half-Life"|publisher="Computer and Video Games"|date=2001-08-15|accessdate=2008-05-26] However, some aspects of level design were criticized: IGN in particular, despite describing the locations as "logically linked and fun to explore" noted that in the middle of the game "the tension seriously sags, as [the player is] forced to wander around some dreadful tunnels looking for switches in retro-gaming land, as jumping puzzles, switch hunts, and all the tedium of a dozen other games returns in force".cite web|url=http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/153/153107p1.html|title="Half-Life" Review|publisher=IGN|date=1998-11-15|accessdate=2008-05-26]

"PC Zone" described the environments in "Half-Life 2" as "breathtaking, diverse and immense",cite web|url=http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=111902|title=PC Review: "Half-Life 2"|publisher="Computer and Video Games"|work=PC Zone|date=2004-11-16|accessdate=2008-05-26] while GameSpot praised the locations as "simply stunning, from the plazas and streets of City 17 to the rusted interiors of an abandoned factory" and stated that the game featured "excellent level design".cite web|url=http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/halflife2/review.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=gssummary&tag=summary%3Bread-review&page=3|publisher=GameSpot|title="Half-Life 2" for PC Review|first=Jason|last=Ocampo|date=2004-11-15 |accessdate=2008-09-29] In addition, IGN noted that "the [game's world is] immaculately crafted and rendered".cite web|url=http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/153/153107p1.html|title="Half-Life 2" Review|publisher=IGN|first=Dan|last=Adams|date=2004-11-09|accessdate=2008-09-29] City 17 has been noted for its aesthetic use of 3D sound. Sound is used to remind the player of the trashy style of their train as they arrive in the city, while the sound of the surveillance camera in the large resonant space creates a generally unpleasant feeling. [http://www.aestheticsofplay.org/breinbjerg.php - The Aesthetic Experience of Sound: staging of Auditory Spaces in 3D computer games - Morten Breinbjerg] ] Although some reviewers felt disappointment at the lack of new locations in ',cite web|url=http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/710/710967p1.html|title="Half-Life 2: Episode One" Review|first=Tom|last=McNamara|publisher=IGN|date=2006-06-01|accessdate=2008-05-26] cite web|url=http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/halflife2aftermath/review.html?om_act=convert&om_clk=tabs&tag=tabs;reviews|title="Half-Life 2: Episode One" for PC Review|first=Jason|last=Ocampo|publisher=GameSpot|date=2008-06-02|accessdate=2008-05-26] the entirely new rural environments in ' were significantly praised by critics. The "Computer and Video Games" magazine stated that "Episode Two" contained "wonderful art design and the odd bit of technical spit-shine",cite web|url=http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=173331|publisher="Computer and Video Games"|title=Review: "Half-Life 2: Episode Two"|first=Andy|last=Robinson|date=2007-10-10|accessdate=2008-05-26] while IGN praised the "expansive" outdoor environments and "claustrophobic" tunnels featured in the White Forest.cite web|url=http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/826/826067p1.html|title="Half-Life 2: Episode Two" Review|first=Dan|last=Adams|publisher=IGN|date=2007-10-09|accessdate=2008-05-26]

Fumito Ueda, lead developer for "Ico" and "Shadow of the Colossus", both games praised by critics for their environments, has stated that "Half-Life 2" incorporates a "natural setting", and "the puzzles are incorporated in that natural setting, and the players don't get lost. And that's something we put a lot of effort into for Ico, so I understand what went into that." [cite web | url = http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060214/cifaldi_01.shtml | title = DICE: Climbing The Colossus: Ueda, Kaido On Creating Cult Classics | publishesr = Gamasutra | first = Frank | last = Cifaldi | date = 2006-02-16 | accessdate = 2008-10-07]


External links

* [http://half-life.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Locations Locations in the "Half-Life" series] at Combine OverWiki, a "Half-Life" Wikia

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