Half-Life is one of the most popular games of all time, not only for its immersive setting, story, and graphics, but also for its modding ability. Long after people played the Half-Life campaign, games and mods from the GoldSrc engine itself continued to amaze and entertain us. Now almost twenty-five years after the original release comes a new mod for Half-Life: a fully ray-traced version of the game, courtesy of modder Sultim Tsyrendashiev, who previously also produced ray-traced versions of Serious Sam, Doom. and Quate.
He has completely reduced the game using the fire path type, but keeping the original values and thereby taking an alternative to the modern Half-Life compared to, say, the popular Black Mesa will reform. A transformative upgrade comes with experimentation, so we played the RT version to see exactly what the mod does, how it compares to the 1998 original, and how it performs on today’s graphics cards.
Fortunately, getting started is quite easy: install Half-Life on Steam, and then include the necessary files on Github, following the instructions provided there.
Interestingly, Half-Life RT is a fork of Xash3D instead of GoldSrc, an open source 3D engine that maintains excellent compatibility with GoldSrc resources. The RT version builds on that by replacing the rendering part with a Vulkan powered track. The art, the texture, the models are very much the same; the key difference is how those things are lit and dimmed.
The original Half-Life was designed with CPU, GPU, and RAM time limitations in mind, so real-time lighting was minimal, limited to the in-game flashlight. Most of the lighting was calculated offline and then projected into the world of textures, usually stationary, but sometimes quickly on and off to give a sense of dynamic lighting. In general, paintings show how light is emitted from the sun, light bulbs, and other sources, and even currents of light can be considered scientifically to produce realistic results.
Valve’s attention to detail in defining the lighting consistency keeps the game looking reasonably good in 2023, but also makes the game perfect for a track-based conversion.
For the RT Sultim mod, he ensured that the light, in the same style and intensity, emanated from the same light sources as in the originals. This makes the way that the lighting track looks incredibly true to the original, only with more detail and above all with greater dynamism.
For example, in the original game there were lamps from the original that produced colored light in their surroundings, as you would expect, and in the RT reform you have almost identical color and directionality, now only the lighting is pixel accurate and fully dynamic. . If the scientist moves the lamp in front, they will now have their own shadow. It is a similar, but even more dramatic, effect with the light shot behind the moving bowls, which now casts a moving shadow across the room. In the original there was often a noticeable discrepancy between character and setting due to differences in lighting, but now both types feel equally realistic in the game world.
The current version was present in the original game, as we have shown before, but the number of items included in it and the higher quality items were expensive at the time of offline rendering. This means that in the RT version the current of the light is increased exponentially, producing more realistic results, with the light emission spreading multiple times into the scene. This, for example, causes the blue color of the sky to have a greater influence in the regions of the shadow color, and provides a softer look with greater directional appeal in scenes that are strongly lit by a single source, such as rooms. skylights Since the directionality and intensity of global lighting effects are much sharper, we also see changes in smaller indoor settings, where even a small lamp can shine on a wooden panel if it is the only light source. .
The sources of light are also handled very well, with a pile of toxic waste producing a terrifying ambient afternoon if emanated or extraneous movement of moving objects, which were in the original game. He also often uses these light sources, such as lighting a few “fake” models in the original lighting, lighting pipes with a pile of toxic waste. I love how this fits into the Half-Life theme, but still allows his magic to work.
In addition to recreating real-time lighting with higher fidelity, track trac RT also adds reflections to objects that had light textures in the base game, such as the Colt Python revolver, Gordon’s HEV suit or Barney’s helmet. Gordon’s iconic bar is also significantly brighter, and the geometry is more complex. There are some subtle changes, such as the edges of the shotgun shells being more reflective than the matte box housing, or some early models of the weapon having their own reflections faked with physical storage. Also, metals, water and glass now produce realistic reflections and refraction with correct perspective.
Half-Life RT adds an illuminated fog module, something that titles released around the same time as Unreal, but Half-Life didn’t have. For example, the rays of visible light in a series of openings in a train of geometry used in a clear hand. But the game now uses a light beam approach that produces much more realistic (and distinct) results. This is one of the more obvious art changes from the original, and it’s also a nice surprise considering what it must cost to add to each scene.
Finally, the track renderer includes a subtle post-processing, for example with a flower, which can be adjusted in the graphics options menu. It is also possible to vary the variables more, such as the intensity of the sky, the color of the water or the flying lighting through the console or with the autoconfig file, with which you can make the game more suitable to your tastes if you are not convinced by the default. You can also render the game using the original lighting, which keeps all the new views of the rendering track, but ditches all the new additions of the road that is illuminated, illuminated and more led. If you don’t like the new additions, you can still play Half Life while using some aspects of the newer radio type.
When it comes to performance, FSR2 and DLSS are the only two ways to improve, because this is a mod and not a full game, so there are no other good tynkker with these two scales. By the way, we recommend that you don’t use the version of DLSS linked on the Github page, as the standard version seems to present masking issues. Better to go for version 2.5.1 available on Techpowerup’s DLSS download page.
Nvidia GPUs show an advantage here in terms of computing, because RT hardware has accelerated development. According to our tests, the RX 6800 XT offers only 60% of the performance of the RTX 3080. To achieve 4K and 60FPS with this type of hardware, it is necessary to use a mode such as DLSS (Nvidia) or the FSR2 performance mode (AMD). ). With less powerful hardware, like the RTX 2060, you can achieve 1080p60 using the DLSS quality mode. Unfortunately for those of you with Intel hardware, the game won’t even boot (anymore) on the Arch A770.
Half-Life RT is a fantastic remix of the original game’s graphics, and the mod’s dedication and attention to detail shines through. This update is also a great excuse to replay the original game, and it’s worth it if you bought the Valve Complete Pack at the time.
Translation by Josep Maria Sempere