Not everyone agrees on how bad the Xen levels of Half-Life were, but we’re all of one accord in saying that it’s the worst part of an otherwise unimpeachable classic. That’s why the wait for the fan-made, Valve-approved Black Mesa to be finished has been so bizarre. All the best parts of the game are already there, now we’re just waiting for Xen - though in fairness, this is a redesigned version of the alien world that should be a bit more pleasant to play.
With the holidays coming up, now is a perfect time to remember how Half-Life ruined Christmas.
But Xen won’t be done in December, contrary to the developers’ previous estimates, which in turn was already a delay. “We are truly sorry for getting everyone's hopes up and then delaying... again,” they say in the official update. “We worked very hard to make December, but we are not yet ready. As a team, we take FULL responsibility for that. We have an internal deadline we are confident in, and we will be getting everyone more details as we get closer to that date.”
While Xen won’t be playable in December, there’s still going to be an update which will introduce lens flare, dynamic lights, four-way texture blends, image-based ambient lighting, and improved performance on cascade shadow maps and godrays. I understand roughly half of those terms, but I can certainly tell you that all those fancy lighting effects translate to a good-looking batch of screenshots.
The new graphical bells and whistles were put together for Xen, but they’ll be publicly tested as part of an update to the main game in December. Given the delays, I might say this team is truly Valve’s second coming, but I don’t want to dismiss Black Mesa’s quality or the effort put in to bring Xen back in an improved form. It looks to be worth the wait.