You have to admire the work of dedicated modders, really; putting in a significant amount of work to a free add-on for a popular game and not expecting anything in return is the very definition of "doing it for the love."
And there have been some truly impressive mods over the years, too, for a wide variety of games; it's a long and proud tradition that extends back to the earliest days of PC gaming. Hell, I even made $200 for making some Wolfenstein levels one time after a random encounter with a guy on CompuServe's Gamers' Forum. (Ah, GO GAMERS, how you are missed.)
One of the most impressive mods there has ever been is the ambitious Black Mesa project, which aims to remake the entirety of the original Half-Life with more up-to-date graphics, physics and other goodies. Valve had already released a Source Engine version of the original Half-Life, of course, but this didn't upgrade any of the visual assets, just the engine; Black Mesa is a complete remake based on the very latest version of Source.
Black Mesa's free incarnation was one of the first ever games to be accepted through Valve's Greenlight program, but the original intention was only ever to release it as a free download -- it is a mod, after all, based extensively on a game that is already commercially available. However, things took an interesting twist yesterday with this update from the developers, who confirmed that Black Mesa would be coming to Steam as a full commercial product at a "relatively low price."
"We never developed Black Mesa with money in mind," developer "Comrade Badger" wrote. "Our team is made up of average, hardworking people, and no-one joined the team to make money. For us, Black Mesa is purely a labor of love. We believe this philosophy has significantly contributed to the overall quality and feel of the game."
There are two main reasons why the team has decided to accept Valve's offer of selling Black Mesa as a standalone product on Steam: firstly, they believe it will provide the opportunity to make the game better by having full access to the very latest version of the Source engine, allowing them to directly fix limitations rather than having to work around them. Secondly, they admit, they could use the money.
"Purchasing the Steam version of Black Mesa is more about supporting the team and our efforts than anything else," continues the announcement. "However, the Steam version will include features that the free version simply cannot have. We will be paying careful attention to feedback, and you'll have a very real say in how the final game turns out."
There's still work to do, though. Although the current free version of Black Mesa already includes most of Half-Life, it does not yet include the oft-derided ending portion on the alien planet of Xen. The team is keen to do a good job on remaking Xen and turning it into a "stunning and worthy conclusion" to Black Mesa, but it'll be a while before it's ready. In the meantime, the plan in the short term is to release the paid version of Black Mesa on Steam without the Xen portion, and add smaller "interesting additions" to the game prior to the major update that concludes the game.
Black Mesa going commercial doesn't mean you need to go and frantically download the free version before it disappears, however; the team still intends to support it, and will release a new free version of the game around the same time as the premium Steam version. Not only that, but they're planning on open-sourcing the maps and some of the game assets to the modding community, which means the game has the potential to grow and evolve over time through community input, much like Valve's various Source games have.
There's no firm release date set for Black Mesa on Steam yet, but we can apparently expect it "soon." Keep an eye on the Greenlight page for the latest news.
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