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Let’s Speculate! Half-Life 2 Lighting Zoo

The Lighting Zoo, otherwise known as ‘lightingzoo’, is a level included in the pack of development VMFs that was leaked with Half-Life 2 back in 2003. It’s one of the lesser interesting levels in the pack of levels, but we’ll be covering it anyway just to quickly get it out of the way. Obviously on this occasion I won’t be bothering to produce a video but expect a number of screenshots demonstrating the level.

The map is marked as being last modified on the 6th of May 2002 but it’s hard to be sure as to who the original author was but it was likely produced by someone within Valve who didn’t work primarily as a level designer, more likely the work of one of the programmers at Valve. We can pretty much conclude this as the map features incredibly simplistic geometry, though includes a few different sections that seem to test the capabilities of the lighting tool, VRAD, at the time; displacements, animated lights and normal maps are featured in the different sections of the level.

Keep in mind that this obviously doesn’t reflect entirely how this level may have looked at the time as it was built using the Source 2013 level tools and of course the level was actually produced in 2002. My reasoning behind using the 2013 version of the Source Engine is purely just for stability and because I can make whatever changes as needed while demonstrating them. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see a build of Half-Life 2 from that period ever surface but we can dream.

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Overall there seem to be four different sections of the level as you can see from the screenshot above. The first two sections (left to right) appear to primarily be intended to see how lighting was working for displacements. At the time I would guess that displacements were more likely to have been using per-vertex lighting, rather than having their own lightmap but it’s also possible this level was produced to test the introduction of lightmaps on displacements. It’s hard to know for sure but regardless, there’s quite a lot going on towards displacements in this level and how the lightmap is applied to those displacements in general.

For the first section of the level, we’re presented with a rather simplistic room with a skybox and a sand texture using a normal map. It’s likely this was to ensure the lightmap also included the correct directional data for it to influence the normal map on lightmapped displacement surfaces but apart from that it’s not particularly interesting to look at. The texture used for the sand was removed at some stage before Half-Life 2 shipped, so that had to be pulled over from the leak.

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Moving on from that we also have the two middle rooms that contain a number of different displacements. I would expect that initially when displacements were first implemented in Source, Valve weren’t using lightmaps but instead used per-vertex lighting, though that’s purely speculation on my part but that being said it does seem like displacements didn’t support any kind of collision hull when they were first added to the engine as a few earlier maps also include brushes along with the displacements (thanks to H.Grunt for informing me about that). I thought it was worth pointing this out, as it might be easy to forget that a lot of the functionality, that we can sometimes take for granted in Source today, was very gradually introduced into the engine overtime through both development and prototyping with the rest of the development team.

The displacements included in these parts of the map aren’t your typical shapes, with displacements typically being used for terrain in Source (though they were also used for pipes and more in some circumstances) though this is also likely why the displacements included here are unusual in shape as it’s easy for issues to sneak past if level designers aren’t typically using displacements in this fashion, but I’d say more importantly is that it also lets you push and extend that functionality beyond the scope of what level designers might have been doing with that functionality at the time. Perhaps a good example of the influence that the programmers had on the design of the game, besides the actual designers of the game themselves.

In the section here, which is where the player initially spawns, we have a large displacement centered in the middle surrounded by a number of spheres at each corner and a number of lights at each corner as well. It’s an unusual set up, more unusual is the extra light on the bottom right of the room which you might be able to pick out from the overview earlier but it’s likely this might have been a simple mistake.

It’s possible this area was intended to test both displacements with environment mapping and normal maps as there’s a number of env_cubemap entities that have been intentionally set up in this section of the level, though for the material in question which was pulled from the leak, it’s difficult (or impossible rather) to see the environment map with how the material was set up, I changed this so that we can see the environment map on the surfaces more easily but I’m not quite sure why this was done; it could be that this was in error by someone at Valve.

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I guess Valve can be glad to know this all still works, heh. There isn’t much more to say about this particular section, it seems quite evident that it was intended to test both environment maps, normal maps and lightmaps on different displacement surfaces, either to check for any regressions or to ensure the initial implementation was functioning as expected.

The next section we’ll take a quick look at is very similar though a little more simplistic. It features yet another sphere but this time without a normal map or environment map and instead just a simple diffuse + lightmap, it’s essentially identical to the others but with a different texture. It’s likely the intention here is similar to the other section we looked at but just lighting generally with unique displacement shapes.

There’s also two adjacent displacement planes we can find near the entrance which are slightly slanted from one another, with a light slightly shifted to the side of just one of them. From a glance it’s pretty unclear what the intention here was but my guess is that it was to check that the lightmap between two separate lightmap planes was smooth, as if they were a single surface; with displacements there aren’t any ‘smoothing groups’, instead the tools essentially treat any adjoining displacements as one surface and the normals are calculated automatically so that the lighting smoothly transitions over them (or that’s the intention anyway), this is likely why the light is shifted more so to one side.

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There isn’t a whole lot more to this room so we’ll be moving now to the final section which is basically made up of two adjacent rooms which seem to mirror each other but feature different texture sets, one with a simple diffuse and lightmap, and the other with the diffuse, normal, environment map and lightmap that we saw earlier. Within these rooms there’s one coloured light in the corner, and then on one side we have a brush positioned above a displacement with an animated spotlight above it (likely checking that a shadow is correctly cast down onto the displacement), and finally a cylinder with smoothing groups applied and a spotlight cast through a slit made of brushes.

I guess we’ll start off with the brush placed above the displacement. Like I said, it’s likely this was to check that shadows were being cast onto the displacement correctly but otherwise there doesn’t seem to be any other purpose. The fact that there’s an animated light was also likely to ensure that the lightmap was correctly updated on the displacement.

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I don’t think much more can be said about it so we’ll immediately move over to what’s on the other side of the room near the entrance (and we’ll skip the light in the corner). This isn’t so much to do with displacements this time but seems purely just for smoothing groups, typically for complex geometry like this you would change it to a detail brush to avoid any issues with CSG splitting the geometry up too much but interestingly this isn’t the case here which seems to have a negative impact on how the geometry ends up being lit.

From the screenshot provided below you can likely see how the different junctions produced during CSG have effected the overall lighting of the cylinder, with VRAD seemingly unable to completely trace some of the lighting to the rest of the geometry and also failing to keep the appearance of a smooth surface because of it, though the larger lightmap might also partly be to blame in this instance.

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I would guess that this was intentional as it’s unlikely this was any different at the time but I’m unsure what the intended goal of this was, whether a solution was being explored or just to demonstrate it in general. The rest of the cylinder is otherwise fine and not effected by this (there is some issue with the light incoming from the hallway being applied to the cylinder). The same issue also appears on the cylinder in the second room but that’s unlikely to be surprising.

I think that’s about everything I can think of covering in this map, the only other thing noteworthy is that the map seems to use the same hallway structure found in other ‘zoo’ levels though slightly modified like the two larger rooms were slotted into it, but it’s very much just your typical hallway otherwise but as with most of these levels you’ll find it easier to use the ‘noclip’ function rather than walking through them.

If you found this interesting then do let me know and I’ll continue on with it, I know this is one of the least interesting levels in the leak but I like to cover things that most people would otherwise overlook. There’s a lot more than meets the eye they often say, though we can only really speculate on most of what we find in the leak and levels such as this. If anyone else has any comments or suggestions, or hell, anything, do let me know and I’ll update this accordingly but I do hope it was insightful!

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Invasion Commander Mode

This is a short video demonstrating the, currently buggy, Commander mode in Invasion. This essentially gives you an overview of the level, letting you select units and issue them orders etc. A lot of this additional functionality currently hasn’t been restored, so that’s the next task.

For those not aware of what this project is, feel free to check out the project page available here. In summary, this project aims to port the codebase for an earlier iteration of Team Fortress 2 from 2003 over to Source 2013 and update it into a playable state. I stopped working on this a while back but decided to kick things back into gear this weekend.

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Half-Life 2 Prison Evolution (10th October 2002)

This is part of a video series showing the gradual evolution of the Prison in Half-Life 2. It’s not intended to demonstrate gameplay, as most of these levels, in their original form, weren’t playable. Because of the number of levels to cover and the amount of time it takes to clean them up enough to be viewable, these will be kept as quick glances.

This level is produced from the VMF, prison. The level was likely created by David Sawyer.

The prison level you see here is huge and is one of the larger levels that was leaked in 2003. This level is essentially the prison in its entirety at the time, which includes a very different layout from that seen in the final game and also includes sections seen in previous videos albeit mostly iterated upon.

This level also includes an incredibly early version of the shower section seen in the final version of the prison.

While not covered in this video, the level is also unique in that it includes a scrolling cloud layer within the skybox.

Credits to H.Grunt for cleaning up the level so this video could be produced, without his help this video would probably have taken far longer to finish than it should have.

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I’m not dead.

This is a quick update and firstly I’m not dead, and secondly the next video is still on its way. A lot has happened recently which has meant I have less time to focus on my personal pursuits, namely I’m working at a software company now and this means I’ve been pretty much occupied with work.

This also means I’m likely to take the Patreon offline.

To bring you guys up to speed, the map being featured in the upcoming video was giving me a lot of grief and because I was struggling to find the time to work on it, in the end I asked a friend to take a look at it for me. That map is now ready to be filmed and now it’s just waiting on me to finish, which will either happen over this week or by the weekend. The new video is also using Source’s demo smoother, rather than how I was previously doing it, but let’s just say it can be a little unreliable at times and there’s a lot to cover in this map and I’m also using Source 2013 to preview the maps, rather than trying to do it within the leaked 2003 build.

Additionally, there’s still about 40 maps left for me to cover just for the prison alone… Obviously I’m questioning how much I can retain my sanity at this rate, so we might cover random levels in the future instead and I might move onto covering different games for a little while too.

In the meantime here’s a few random screenshots I apparently captured without realising it. This version of the map is starting to gradually shape up to what we saw in the final game though there are some pretty obvious differences in the design of some areas, plus the layout is still very much incomplete and it very much still feels like a cluster of areas just slammed together.

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Half-Life 2: Episode Two Unused Particle Effects

This video demonstrates a number of particle effects that went unused in Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

During Episode Two’s development, Valve were working on overhauling the particle system within the Source Engine to replace the previously hard-coded particle system that their previous games had utilised.

One of the changes Valve worked on in addition to this was overhauling the impact effects to use their new particle system. However, unfortunately, this didn’t see the light of day for Team Fortress 2, Portal or Episode Two and instead was disabled by the console variable ‘cl_new_impact_effects’ by default.

In addition to this, the new impact effects themselves were broken in Episode Two’s release, so even enabling the console variable would fail.

As a side-note; Ignore the HUD, level and other oddities in this video, this is my own custom modification that I’ve been using to produce future upcoming videos in relation to the ‘Prison Evolution’ videos. Apologies for any confusion.


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Half-Life 2 Prison Evolution (25th September 2002)

This is part of a video series showing the gradual evolution of the Prison in Half-Life 2. It’s not intended to demonstrate gameplay, as most of these levels, in their original form, weren’t playable. Because of the number of levels to cover and the amount of time it takes to clean them up enough to be viewable, these will be kept as quick glances.

The level you’re seeing here is from a VMF named cafeteria, which appears to have been produced by David Sawyer; who was a designer at Valve, who produced most of the iterations of the Prison that we’re going to see.

This is a relatively small level, which seems to be an early version of a cafeteria portion of the Prison. The purpose of this level was likely to establish gameplay dynamics and general themes.

The control room is unusual, as it features a glass panel embedded in the floor, of which the player can look through. This was likely to show the result of pulling the switch but it’s difficult to tell.

There’s also a control room hidden in the middle section of the level, which isn’t accessible typically. It’s not clear why this is.

A few of the models and textures used in this level were missing and hence had to be replaced. Obviously this means that this isn’t 100% representative of what the levels may have looked like back when they were originally created, but it’s probably pretty darn close.


Music was produced by Chris Jensen as part of “Mishaps in the Reactor Chamber.” A collection of songs originally intended for Opposing Force that went unused.


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Half-Life 2 Prison Evolution (30th July 2002)

This is part of a video series showing the gradual evolution of the Prison in Half-Life 2. It’s not intended to demonstrate gameplay, as most of these levels, in their original form, weren’t playable. Because of the number of levels to cover and the amount of time it takes to clean them up enough to be viewable, these will be kept as quick glances.

The level shown in this video was given the VMF name, prison_block. It appears to be a level produced by David Sawyer, who was a designer at Valve, who produced most of the iterations of the Prison that we’re going to see. This is part of a collection of levels produced by Valve during the development of Half-Life 2, that were leaked onto the internet in 2003.

This is the earliest revision that I’m aware of, which represents the prison that we end up seeing in the final game in its earliest form.

The level appears to be a collection of different sections of what was likely intended to become or part of, a much larger level which we’ll see in a later video. This was likely done to experiment with different gameplay dynamics and establish a general theme for the levels.

Development of the level also seems to have otherwise been somewhat progressive, with some portions of the map seemingly appearing less polished or using older assets than some other areas. Each area seems to have been cordoned off for testing and its development, so portions of the level were likely created independently from one another as time went on.

Very little of this level survived into the final game, but some of the overall design survived in a heavily revised form.

Many of the models used in this level were missing and hence had to be replaced. Obviously this means that this isn’t 100% representative of what the levels may have looked like back when they were originally created, but it’s probably pretty darn close.


Music was produced by Chris Jensen as part of “Mishaps in the Reactor Chamber.” A collection of songs originally intended for Opposing Force that went unused.


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