Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Legend of Half-Life: A Voice for Zelda

A certain YouTube video came to my attention involving two very iconic video game titles. The footage contained the opening game play of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 with one minor tweak. Alyx Vance, a major character in the Half-Life series, was missing and in her place was none other than Princess Zelda. This was a revolutionary change for both Half-Life and The Legend of Zelda, one that hopefully will not go unnoticed by Valve or particularly Nintendo. This spectacular discovery inspired me to seek out this mod and find out more.

Half-Life 2 Modifications using the Source engine is nothing new. Since Half-Life 2 launched in 2004, people have modified the game to build their own creations and post them online. This community of programmers was unknown to me until just recently when freelance programmer FluxMage posted his recent work on the Facepunch Studios forum. He directed the forum to to download this latest mod. The first was for Half-Life 2 which also works with Half-Life 2: Episode 1. However, in order to play Half-Life 2: Episode 2, it required a different mod. Both files download a zip file that must be extracted before use. Once extracted, both mods come with an easy to follow Readme file that explains exactly what to do. Following the instructions was actually very easy, but for such drastic changes, it was concerning that perhaps it was too easy. Take note that there is another modification available to replace certain NPC soldiers with Zelda, but my decision was not to test this mod at this time. After maybe a half hour of searching and setting adjustments, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 started up and successfully displayed Zelda as Alyx, to my relief. After this confirmation, my decision was to leave the game and start playing Half-Life 2 from the beginning in order to get the full experience.

Now before getting too far ahead, there was one other mod found in the same forum thread at Facepunch Studios. After what appeared to be a few sarcastic comments from forum members about adding the Master Sword to the game, member Bill Ding posted an already existing mod replacing Gordon Freeman's crowbar with the one and only Master Sword. This file works for all three Half-Life 2 games, and is installed similarly to the Princess Zelda mod.

d1_eli_010004.jpgAs most of you can tell, this particular Zelda model is from the Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess released in 2006 for the Nintendo Wii and later for the Nintendo GameCube. Players have been known for reading files off of game disks to look at unused files or to rip early copies of music and sound effects, but having someone take a character model from a Legend of Zelda game and rewrite it to work on a completely different type of software engine was something far from my mind. Translating these files must be very complicated, but someone smarter like FluxMage could explain it better. Regardless, the work one has to put into this kind of project must be quite a task.

For those who don't know, the Half-Life series takes place entirely in first person view. There are no cut scenes in the entire series, so the player is in control of the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, from start to finish. This works surprisingly well with the character mod because adjustments will work throughout the entire game without being interrupted by any high definition cutscenes, which would be far more difficult to modify. The point is, of all the computer games to modify, the Half-Life series has a lot of complimenting factors to make this mod possible.

When beginning a game of this modded Half-Life 2, it can be a bit nerve wrecking. Gordon doesn't actually see Alyx Vance until the very end of the first chapter, and since the files for the Episode 2 mod were different, it was hard to tell if the mod was working. Being my third time to play through the game, it didn't take me long to find Alyx, and of course, there she was. The first time the player sees Alyx, she gets right up on screen, and the Zelda mod looked, well, perfect. Nintendo couldn't have done a better job if they made Half-Life themselves. Voice work obviously stayed the same as Alyx, but Zelda's lips, eyes, and facial expressions all nicely matched what the regular Alyx would have done in her place. Wait, what was that? Zelda with voice work? That's not allowed is it? Well, to be fair, Twilight Princess did have moving lips in Twilight Princess during text, but that model version was never designed to match lip movement to voice work before. Well here she is, and she's talking, flawlessly. Really makes me wonder why Nintendo couldn't have done the same thing.

Merle Dandridge's voice for Alyx may not be a perfect voice match to Zelda, but since we've never really heard Zelda talk before it is hard to judge. If anything, Alyx's voice may be a little deep for Zelda, but watch the YouTube video and decide for yourself. While Zelda's performance is on par with Alyx, there are a few mistakes every now and then. For instance, Alyx had more open eyes than Zelda so if Zelda looks up too high without moving her head, her eyes can occasionally roll back into her skull, showing nothing but white eyes. However this doesn't occur often. Another small, but notable problem is when Alyx wipes her face. Sometimes, especially in Episode 1, Zelda's hands will bleed into her face in these instances. Similar problems occur when Alyx interacts with other characters like her father or Alyx's robot, Dog. Most of these minor flaws are not that noticeable, but they are there if you are nitpicking.

As we all know, Zelda wears a large extravagant dress. It helps signify that she is a royal princess of Hyrule. Alyx on the other hand has grown up in a time of war, where dresses were not quite as in style. Alyx wears the same pair of jeans and a jacket throughout the series, which means her animations don't always match up to a princess wardrobe. So a large dress trying to mimic a skinny pair of jeans can create complications to say the least. When in combat mode, meaning when Alyx follows Gordon anywhere he goes, there really aren't many problems. However, during heavy dialogue sequences, Alyx sometimes walks in a more casual pattern than as a running soldier. Her boots can sometimes bleed through her dress out the back with every few steps. This is once again, nitpicking, but it can be a bit more noticeable than other problems. Also, Zelda isn't very good at sitting down. Especially in Episode 2 during the numerous driving sequences, Zelda's big dress doesn't quite fit into the car all the way.

There are other examples, like when she leans against something, or sits on a couch next to her father, but these still aren't that big of a deal. They are noticeable, yet understandable. This is a mod after all. If you really have a problem with these kinds of glitches, just remind yourself you are driving a car as Gordon Freeman, fighting off the Combine army with Zelda in shotgun holding a shotgun. Try to show a little enthusiasm for such an unlikely scenario.

Zelda in the Half-Life universe may appear a bit odd, once the initial shock subsides. Obviously, Zelda is a little bit of a different art style than what is presented in Half-Life, but with all the lighting and shading, she still works very well with the source engine. The special lighting affects like during the teleportation sequence still work the same and she will still appear on monitor screens when appropriate. The only significant error with the story was in Half-Life 2 when Gordon gets a message from Alyx over an old radio/television screen.

d2_prison_060004.jpgd1_town_050000.jpgThe segment was supposed to interpret a poor signal with a lot of static. My guess is the television just flipped through several still pictures of the unmodified Alyx to give off the impression. For three games though, this was the only glimpse of the real Alyx, which is really good considering how much face time Zelda gets instead.

So after going over most of the ups and downs of Zelda, let's talk about the Master Sword. First of all, unlike Link, Gordon is right handed, so he does use the Master Sword with his right hand. Not a big deal, but it would have been a nice touch if the mod was mirrored somehow (just not the entire game please). The big problem unfortunately is the lighting with the sword. In still pictures, the sword looks pretty good, but during the game, color surfaces constantly flicker while the object tries to reflect the lighting. The effort put into this mod is not nearly as well done as the Princess Zelda Mod, but there is still a lot of fun to be had. At the start of Half-Life 2, when weapons are fairly scarce, the player may have a stronger tendency to use the sword more than usual. It was hard to remember that the mod was still just a crowbar that deals the same minimal damage and it is not wise to charge a fully armed Combine soldier with such a primitive weapon. This isn't a great mod, but it nicely compliments the Princess Zelda mod.

Replaying the Half-Life 2 series with Princess Zelda was a very pleasant experience. The Legend of Zelda series has always been phenomenal, and the same goes for Half-Life, but putting these two forces together was like a gift no one would ever imagine. I highly recommend replaying your copy of Half-Life 2 with these memorable changes, and if you haven't played the Half-Life series before, here is yet another reason to pick up this game. If Princess Zelda isn't quite your thing, then Metroid fans will be happy to learn FluxMage recently finished his Zero Suit Samus mod which functions the same as the Princess Zelda version. Sorry if you bought a console version, because these mods were not made for them, yet, but let's be honest, you'd have to be pretty desperate to even play Half-Life with a console controller. Believe me.

There is so much to take away from this experience, but the one thing that stuck out in my mind was Zelda finally getting a voice. This left me thinking ahead to the next installment for the Zelda franchise, because sooner or later, rumors and announcements of the next game will be heard launching months of speculation. After playing Half-Life, I now firmly demand the next console Legend of Zelda title to have voice acting. After having Zelda speaks as Alyx Vance, there is no justification for going back to text boxes.

After contemplating these past experiences for several days, Twilight Princess has become all the more disappointing. Why the lack of voice acting? Their lips moved and characters, like Midna, even made nonsense noises during their speech. Why did Nintendo neglect to read those text boxes? Remember back in the Nintendo 64 days? They had full voice acting for Star Fox 64 way back when on cartridges, so how come nearly two console generations later we still don't have voice acting? Metroid Prime 3: Corruption still kept the Zelda inspired text boxes, yet Retro managed to hire a few voice actors to read the text boxes for us, which was a significant step forward for the Metroid series.

You're thinking Link doesn't talk, right? And it would be too weird to have so many one sided conversations. Well, after playing through Half-Life 2 you should know that it can work. Gordon Freeman has never said a single word in his entire series, and yet nice portions of these games are filled with dialogue. In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, many characters engage in conversation with Samus Aran while she also remains completely silent, yet in neither case do these characters ever feel out of place. These are two big examples of a silent protagonist inside a detailed and voiced environment. So why is Zelda still so far behind in comparison? It shouldn't even be that hard to find voice actors since they have already hired some. Voice actors record sound effects for each character, including Link. They never actually say any words, mostly, but they would more than likely be a pretty close match should Nintendo decide to take the big step forward. Twilight Princess missed an obvious opportunity, which left someone to pick up the pieces by making a remarkable Half-Life 2 mod.

When the next Legend of Zelda title comes around, someone at Nintendo needs to take a few notes from FluxMage, Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and even Star Fox 64. It is about time we get to hear Zelda speak. For those of us who can't wait for Nintendo to progress, we have FluxMage to thank for making not just a Half-Life mod, but an entirely new experience never before seen by Half-Life or the Legend of Zelda franchise.


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