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"[21:15] {Hondo} Enigmatic Mapper Hondo is the title of the anime about me"
March 31, 2010 6:34 PM   Subscribe

Apparently, a lot of the custom maps for the Half-Life 1 mod Action Half-Life (download links here), especially those done by enigmatic mapper Hondo, had enormous hidden areas that in some cases dwarfed the actual level. Rock Paper Shotgun has a NGJ-style account of an effort by a group of people to unlock the secrets of one of Hondo's most infamous maps: AHL_5AM.
posted by Pope Guilty (48 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't they just load the map into a map editor and find out that way? (Yeah, I know it's no fun, but...)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:39 PM on March 31, 2010


"No player had ever seen the end of it, and trying to decompile 5AM to look at it in a map editor would crash whatever software you were using."
posted by danny the boy at 6:42 PM on March 31, 2010


From the article:
No player had ever seen the end of it, and trying to decompile 5AM to look at it in a map editor would crash whatever software you were using.
Apparently not!
posted by threetoed at 6:42 PM on March 31, 2010


Could God create a user-generated map so complex He couldn't load it in any editor?
posted by DU at 6:43 PM on March 31, 2010 [12 favorites]


I am telling you right here that every deathmatch map ever made is haunted as fuck. Got to be. That many men don’t die in one place without leaving some ghosts behind.

Shh. Don't say it aloud -- otherwise it mind end up in a Warren Ellis book!
posted by griphus at 6:48 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


DAMN IT POPE GUILTY

I HAD PAPERS TO WRITE!
posted by dunkadunc at 6:50 PM on March 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


"No player had ever seen the end of it, and trying to decompile 5AM to look at it in a map editor would crash whatever software you were using."

I hang out in an IRC with this guy. According to him,

[21:16] <hondo> no
[21:16] <hondo> that's incorrect all over
[21:17] <hondo> 1) people have gotten to the end, 2) if it crashed your map decompiler the software sucks, 3) I'veh ad the map source up on jtm for 7 years and linked it enough that it should have gotten around
posted by kafziel at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2010 [21 favorites]


Holy shit! I was always more of a TFC guy, but I played a bit of AHL (on ahl_5am what's more) and had absolutely no idea this existed!

Here's a Youtube video showing one group's attempt to make it through.
posted by pravit at 6:52 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a lot of really great memories of playing Action Quake 2. That was... god 10 years ago. What is the current state of the Action mod? I drifted out of pc gaming shortly after that, and I doubt I'll ever get back into it. But it'd be good to know the history of where it went...
posted by danny the boy at 6:53 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


New Games Journalism is like gonzo journalism- not lways accurate, but often interesting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:54 PM on March 31, 2010


[21:17] 1) people have gotten to the end, 2) if it crashed your map decompiler the software sucks, 3) I'veh ad the map source up on jtm for 7 years and linked it enough that it should have gotten around

Hahahaha. Well, the article was still an interesting read at least.
posted by threetoed at 6:55 PM on March 31, 2010


The weirdest thing about that video for me was the fact that you have to look at the world as something you must constantly be pointing a gun at while nervously glancing around in fear. Where's the market for the First Person Non-shooter?
posted by DU at 6:56 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


New Games Journalism is like gonzo journalism- not lways accurate, but often interesting.

It comes off to me as more of a sloppily-written stream of consciousness that, if you don't already know what it's talking about, is ultimately just completely uninformative and essentially masturbation on a page.
posted by kafziel at 6:57 PM on March 31, 2010


Here's a Youtube video showing one group's attempt to make it through.

"All right, don't go in that closet, 'cause it kills you."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:58 PM on March 31, 2010


Here's a Youtube video showing one group's attempt to make it through.

Haha, it's like being inside an 8 bit James Turrell. This is cool.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:01 PM on March 31, 2010


The article was entertaining; if not fully accurate, at least believable. The crazy thing is, it would have sounded totally absurd just, say, 25 years ago. It's amazing how gaming has changed the world, that this kind of story even makes sense at all (let alone, is compelling) for the first time in history.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:09 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


The author makes reference to "an guide to ahl_5am" [sic] "that got slightly further than us before the author’s team had encountered their own brick wall" but the Googles have no mention of that document and I want to read it. Rar.
posted by subbes at 7:13 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


It comes off to me as more of a sloppily-written stream of consciousness that, if you don't already know what it's talking about, is ultimately just completely uninformative and essentially masturbation on a page.

I dunno, he may have been objectively wrong on a bunch of points but I liked it as an anecdote about the power of mystery, and how it's underused in video games. Of course Hondo is a real dude who doesn't especially care anymore if you decompile his map, and of course there is probably a walkthrough all the way to the end on YouTube somewhere, but I guess what I got out of it was basically that if you know you're going to solve every single mystery by the end of a video game it becomes a sort of forgettable experience.

It reminds me of when I had pretty much beaten the entirety of Fallout 3 (side-quest spoilers ahead), only to enter the Dunwich building and make my way down to the very bottom, where an inexplicable statue registered faintly on my geiger counter. I circled it a few times, jumped on it, could not make heads or tails of it. As I told a friend of mine later, I liked it because it suggested there was something going on in the world that I was neither involved in or responsible for, a mystery entirely separate from the ones I could so easily solve fifteen different ways with all the guns and perks and skills at my disposal. And that's frankly the part of the game that most registered with me, a sense of mystery.
posted by Nomiconic at 7:19 PM on March 31, 2010 [5 favorites]


The article is a bit fawning, and innacurate, and confusing (and the screenshots don't help AT ALL) but the idea is really actually quite interesting. I'd suggest reading the article quickly and then watching the youtube vid pravit posted. It'll clarify things.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:24 PM on March 31, 2010


AHL was fucking awesome - Last Man Standing w/ random weapons FTW!
posted by Artw at 7:36 PM on March 31, 2010


Mods are why computer gaming will always be. Playing some mod crafted maps and levels I am blown away at how much care and craft went into them. And for free.
posted by vapidave at 7:39 PM on March 31, 2010


I remember when I was a kid, I used to play this first-person capture-the-flag type Windows game called "Hover", in which you zipped around in various environments in a little hovercraft trying to pick up the three enemy flags before the AI-controlled enemy drone hovercrafts picked up your flags.

I used to delight in finding ways to bust through walls, sometimes making my way outside the map entirely, where the crudely textured sky and earth met in bizarre infinities that the graphics engine wasn't prepared for. I especially prided myself in being able to bump the enemy drones into walls in just the right way so they got stuck halfway into the wall, pinned there like angry little beetles between windowpanes as they tried to follow me.

One time, I bumped one of the drones into the external map wall, and the drone popped all the way out of the map. On my radar, I saw it come to a stop and pause for a couple of seconds as though dazed, then turn resolutely away from the map and begin to move away. I watched it on the radar for as long as I could, then it was gone.

I remember feeling somewhat awestruck and disturbed - I closed the game and didn't play it for a long time. I still wonder about that little drone sometimes - is it still traveling out there in that unmapped wasteland, alone, looking for something it was never programmed to understand?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:42 PM on March 31, 2010 [48 favorites]


I loved playing Matrix Quake 2, which was the predecessor to AQ2, and later AHL. I didn't have good enough access to the internet to play when this was popular, and I'm sad that I missed this.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:55 PM on March 31, 2010


I still wonder about that little drone sometimes - is it still traveling out there in that unmapped wasteland, alone, looking for something it was never programmed to understand?

The virtual equivalent to the deranged penguin?
posted by regicide is good for you at 8:06 PM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Salvor Hardin—I don't wish to dull the poetry of your reminiscence but it did remind me of a similar story (recounted at "Real Life Tron on an Apple IIgs") which you might find interesting:
But this time was different – instead of firing at another trail, it [the AI player] fired at the game border, which looked like any other light cycle trail as far as the computer was concerned. The missile impacted with the border, leaving a cycle-sized hole, and the computer promptly took the exit and left the main playing field. Puzzled, we watched as the cycle drove through the scoring display at the bottom of the screen. It easily avoided the score digits and then drove off the screen altogether.

Shortly after, the system crashed.
posted by yz at 8:09 PM on March 31, 2010 [6 favorites]


Back in my Doom days I played around with the available mapmaking tools and made an amazing level filled with secrets and other incredible easter eggs. But I couldn't figure out how to put in doors so what the level actually looked like from the ground will forever be a mystery.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:24 PM on March 31, 2010


I still wonder about that little drone sometimes - is it still traveling out there in that unmapped wasteland, alone, looking for something it was never programmed to understand?

I...you...this just actually made my chin quiver. What the hell man?
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:26 PM on March 31, 2010


Honestly, this was my initial experience of Shadow of the Colossus - instead of fighting the first Colossus, I wandered all over the world, climbing ruins, swimming around. I didn't realize the game spawned the Colossi in order- I just assumed the world was stupid big, and that, simply, all these awesome ruins were put there just to fill the player with FUCKING awe.

I was so disappointed to find out most of the cool places were actually fight zones, waiting to spawn.
posted by yeloson at 9:01 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't you be able to just noclip around to locate the hidden locations?
posted by ymgve at 9:15 PM on March 31, 2010


Where's the market for the First Person Non-shooter?

Wouldn't that be Myst and all that kinda stuff? Pretty, challenging sometimes, even. But kinda boring, IMHO. Although this kind of makes me wish someone would whip up a 'House of Leaves' Escherian, FPNon-Shooter, which this story brought to mind. Fear and narrative and increasingly limited actions you can take until the game just freaks you out.

Man, I remember making quake1 deathmatch levels back in the day and just walking through them when they were done, feeling a kind of awe combined with the geekiest sense of accomplishment. The first time I got a hold of BSP, between loving it, and how flukey and nonintuitive it was, I lost like a month of sleep or something.
posted by umberto at 9:22 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't you be able to just noclip around to locate the hidden locations?

In my time playing with the goldsrc engine that Half-Life was based on, noclipping out of map boundaries into areas with no textures cause that "wormhole" effect where the last displayed texture starts clipping into itself and causing all sorts of disorientating effects. Most of the places in this map were connected by teleporters (like the pathways under each roman numeral), so the actual map areas could be quite spread out. Combine that with not being able to see outside of map boundaries and it makes it very hard, if not impossible to find.

I'm sure a map designer of this genre and this talent took that into account and used it for his own purposes.
posted by Chan at 9:49 PM on March 31, 2010


That was a pretty cool story, I just wish the pictures were better. They seem to be practically random shots from the game, rather than anything specific he talks about. (Other than the hotel, I guess).
posted by graventy at 9:58 PM on March 31, 2010


Anyone else here find the giant, giant Easter Egg in Thief Gold where you're the size of a mouse?
posted by dunkadunc at 10:08 PM on March 31, 2010


Where's the market for the First Person Non-shooter?

You might be asking for Research and Development, a fantastic Half-Life 2 mod where the player has no guns (except the gravity gun, and not even that for the first half of the game) and the levels are full of nifty environmental puzzles and dangers. Super high-quality and very fun to play.
posted by straight at 10:52 PM on March 31, 2010


Oh, man. I used to love Action Half-Life. There was this level that was set in an empty office building, and one of the set pieces was a huge swimming pool in an atrium on an upper floor. The best part was that you could go all the way up to the top of the building, then shoot out a window and dive all the way down into the pool (being sure to shoot out the atrium glass if you were smart). It felt like being the star of your own personal Die Hard film.

Of course, there was also a valve next to the pool that could be turned to drain it in a couple of seconds, which led to many an "OH SHIIIIIIIIII--" moment on the way down.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:59 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Similarly, there's a bit in one of the raids in WoW where the floor falls out and everyone drops a couple of hundred feet into a pool of water. Many shamans and death knights enjoy turning on their water walking abilities on the way down, causing people who don't look down (which negates water walking) to splatter on the water. It's easy to circumvent (again, just look down), yet people still die over and over to the dreaded "water boss".
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:24 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


This guy needs to make a House of Leaves mod.

I've always thought Navidson Record: The Movie would be great if done well, but if somebody could create a compelling video game version? It could be something great. Wandering down infinite ashy black hallways with a shotgun flashlight shaking in your hand, carefully rationing your food and water, getting lost in the impossibly vast spaces of a constantly-shifting labyrinth, snapping the occasional photo as the mysterious rumbling echoes in the dark... As prolific as the modding community can be, I can't believe it hasn't been done yet.

I'm hoping The Unfinished Swan manages to capture this sense of abstract horror, but it's been unfinished for going on two years now...
posted by Rhaomi at 11:41 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I'm guessing the article got the idea that the map is too complex to be decompiled from this 2003 forum post, which is the first result when Googling "ahl_5am." Now that's some damned fine journamalism!
posted by Rhaomi at 12:42 AM on April 1, 2010


This brings back memories of my brother and I making a huge HL 1 map of our high school back in 2002. When we finally loaded it for the first time after two weeks of work, we realised that we'd got the scaling wrong and made each tread on the stairs man-high.
posted by atrazine at 2:12 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rhaomi: "This guy needs to make a House of Leaves mod."

That was exactly my thought as I was reading through this. I'd love a cooperative exploration game; it's just a shame it's a concept that'll probably never be explored by an established developer.

But then I guess youtube and gameFAQs would render it pointless to the easily tempted.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:36 AM on April 1, 2010


When I asked about a First Person Nonshooter, I was actually thinking about a game I've been thinking about for a while but don't have the chops to make myself.

It would be like those engineering games (Incredible Machine being an early example, Fantastic Contraption being a more recent one) where you have to build a machine to $X, where X varies by level. Except it would be first-person and 3D. And of course multiplayer.

For challenges, I was thinking of a few options. One is the $X machine as above. Another would be something like the strategy games we have now, only instead of military tactics it would be more of an arms race where each tried tries to build machines to disable/destroy/coopt the other side's machines.

Except now we are talking about aggression-based gaming again. So perhaps another idea is a collaborative type game. Something like the Lego Rube Goldberg "contests" where each person builds a unit with a defined entry and exit point and then you link them all together and celebrate the madness.
posted by DU at 6:17 AM on April 1, 2010


You guys are just going to end up recreating Myst.

Also: does Portal count?
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on April 1, 2010


That sounds like Garry's Mod. Only with goals.
posted by graventy at 9:17 AM on April 1, 2010


That was exactly my thought as I was reading through this. I'd love a cooperative exploration game; it's just a shame it's a concept that'll probably never be explored by an established developer.

The Endless Ocean games have online multiplayer. They're one of the purest versions of the exploration game out there. The biggest problem with them is that they get old fast. It is great to swim through a large ocean environment and find new things, but there are only a limited number of such things, ultimately, to find. To make exploration work as a long-term play mechanic, it seems, a significant portion of the development time would have to go into secrets and hidden awesomeness, and then to keep it special and avoid the player finding it all at once, either it'd have to be hidden really really well or have it doled out by a time-release system.

A problem with exploration as its own play reward is that it's extremely heavy on development resources. Creating an area worth exploring takes up a not-insignificant amount of development time. If you don't do anything more than look at it, though, then it's a lot of time spent on content creation for rather a little time spent consuming it. It is an interesting problem though, and one I'd love to see some real effort put into solving (hell, I've thought about it myself a bit), but the asset resources required to make it work may demand big studio funding, and there aren't a lot of big guys looking into it.

Also, what is it about exploring that is engaging? Just seeing new sights? If you just want that Flickr is filled with that kind of thing. Exploring combined with some kind of resource management metagame is more interesting, perhaps, as it provides a limit to the player's ability to consume content that doesn't feel artificial (provided the developer isn't stingy).

One of the most interesting games in which raw exploration is a significant element is the original Legend of Zelda, which is rather a purer version of it than the more recent Zelda games (except maybe Wind Waker). Yet just visiting new screens in Zelda isn't as interesting as finding secrets and bonuses in them, and the game has them everywhere. It also has challenging combat and lots of items to purchase, which give the player some compelling reason for finding them. One of the biggest flaws with the later Zeldas is the player doesn't really need to find most of those awesome little bonuses scattered around the game world to win. I've won Ocarina of Time with just the three hearts I started with, without picking up a single Heart Piece or boss-clear Heart Container for the whole game, and I didn't really have that difficult a time doing it. The game gives you so many other ways of surviving (fairy bottles, damage reduction, easy combat)... I didn't even have to resort to using Nayru's Love, which is a flat-out invulnerability spell, until the last fight with Ganon.

I've expended all these words on the issue because I love the idea of a game that's all about exploration. I don't think it'd necessarily be Myst, not by a long shot, but just looking around, all by itself, I don't know if it's quite enough.
posted by JHarris at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys are just going to end up recreating Myst.

The nifty but not-sufficiently-successful Myst MMO, Uru Live (which allowed user-created content) was just released as a free open-source game thing. It contains a whole Myst-game worth of beautiful single-player exploration and puzzle content, plus some areas and puzzles that can only be solved by groups of players cooperating.
posted by straight at 9:40 PM on April 1, 2010


Also, what is it about exploring that is engaging?

Usually, it's a couple of things tied together. Aside from Awesome Scenery stuff, there's:

- the joy of uncovering a secret if the way was locked/blocked/hidden
- the joy of overcoming an obstacle if you had to work to get there
- the anticipation of new items/power ups that might be hidden in the area

Co-op really makes the difference though. My friends and I played Halo the first time by going through co-op- it let us build up the "WTF!/WOW!" exploration parts together, and that was worthwhile.
posted by yeloson at 1:13 PM on April 2, 2010


the most interesting thing about all this is that the map author has managed to redefine the gamer's objective through the manipulation of space. you find the portal and suddenly you consider your omnipresent gun worthless. you're working with the people you were previously trying to headshot to explore and conquer not each other but the space itself. and it's an autonomous choice you aren't even aware of. you haven't quit half life and booted myst. your objectives and desires have been changed merely due to the architecture of a virtual space.

that and it looks real trippy.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:06 PM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the things like this that I myself discovered is in the Dreamcast RPG Grandia II.

There is one character in your party who comes and goes at scripted moments. She is one of the more interesting characters in the game (well, interesting for a fairly standard JRPG, although one with much better-than-average dialogue). A lot of her dialogue is pretty funny.

In case you didn't know, often these games will have different dialogue for people you talk to depending on where you are in the game when you talk to them. At its worst, you talk to everyone once before completing the local dungeon, then again after. The Grandia games are a bit better at this; every time your party roster changes, all the town dialogue usually changes. This must have created a substantial amount of text to write (and, thus, translate).

There is one town you go to that has a dungeon beneath it. There's about 30-40 people in that town you can talk to, each with their own little back story to give you. Pretty standard really, although a bit better-written than most of these games. After you complete the dungeon, all their stories change again.

There is a boss at the end of the dungeon. In the room right before the boss, Ms. Mystery Character shows up. When you beat the boss, she leaves again.

The trick is, at the point after she shows up, but before you go into the next room where the boss fight begins automatically, to instead leave the dungeon, fighting your way back out through all the encounters (which thankfully aren't random). They wrote new text for everyone in town for the very slim percentage of players who did that, and it's some of the funniest in the game.

Another bit no one's mentioned yet, the secret ending for Chrono Trigger. Yeah I know, the game has a dozen endings in New Game + mode, but one of them is substantially more secret than the others. It involves winning the game at a super-specific part of the story, very much like the Grandia II trick I mention above. You get an item that you're supposed to use in the next room, but instead of using it you instead backtrack to the world map, then go to the End of Time and fight and beat ol' Lavos to win the game. That brings up the "slide show" ending where the female characters comment on the attractiveness of the various male characters....
posted by JHarris at 7:07 PM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


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