The original Half-Life is a pretty tame game from a violence standpoint; headcrabs and other enemies can inspire revulsion in their own ways, but they don’t explode into Mortal Kombat-style gore piñatas when thwacked with a crowbar. But they could have.
Brett Johnson, who now works at Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet, was a level designer on the original Half-Life. For the past month or so, he’s been giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at stories and prototypes from the now-legendary shooter on TikTok (via PC Gamer). Most recently, he talked about blood.
Displaying an image of a dead scientist surrounded by at least three dead scientists’ worth of blood, Johnson explained that he wanted to get the rest of the team thinking about how far Half-Life’s violence would ultimately go.
“What we’re looking at in this image up here is something that would ultimately end up being the locker rooms in the final game,” he said, noting that he chose scientists because he loved Goldeneye but was irked when he’d chase scientists, only for them to disappear around corners. “However, in this particular picture, I made this to send out to the team in order to spur the conversation about how violent do we really want our game to be. As you know, we ended up pulling it back quite a bit.”
It’s an interesting tidbit, but it’s hardly the only one Johnson has shared recently. In other TikToks, he’s shown off corridors and other distinctly Quake-looking interiors from when the game was still “searching for a style.” He’s also talked about the technological constraints he faced while trying to come up with Half-Life’s controversial Xen area, which others—like the fan-operated, Valve-approved Black Mesa project—have since improved upon. Then there’s the story of where Half-Life’s name came from.
“Some of the considerations were things like Trip Hammer and Belly of the Beast,” Johnson said in a late-June TikTok. “My background is in chemistry, and one day we were out and about, talking about these names. I suggested, ‘Well, what about Half-Life?’ We thought about it. Maybe something fun could happen at 50% health or things like that. And then the jokes ensued: What if it’s half-done or half-baked or half-assed? And we all laughed about it. It was funny. We just dismissed it. And then some weeks later, we all found that would become the actual name of the game.”