Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom

Social distancing continues.  From scrolling through social media, some of my friends and extended family are handling it better than others.

From the perspective of a Gen-Xer, however, it really hasn’t been that weird.  We grew up convinced that we were going to get blown up by nuclear war – or, worse, survive the war and need to live though the aftermath – and then after THAT seemed fairly unlikely we had the panic of wondering whether Bush was going to turn on the draft again and send us off to parts foreign to shoot at persons foreign.

Oh, then we had 9/11 right when my career should have been kicking into career mode, and the 2008 crash right when I had decided to go back to school to become a translator.

I also grew up making my own food from about the age of… I think I was trusted to work the oven at about 10 years old?  So a lot of my meals were “peel back corner of foil to expose tater tots” and the idea that you can get bored of eating the same thing every day is a little alien to me.

So, really, the last couple of months have been “oh, we’re having a global pandemic now? I haven’t seen one of those before.  Well, whatever.”

I really wanted an excuse to use this image.

My biggest source of stress, really, is that I work in – I hate this word – “cybersecurity”, which is a profession that is extremely busy right now.  Job security is nice and all, but I do occasionally wish that I could reach through the internet and throttle the people I work with.

After one particularly throttle-inspiring day, my wife suggested that I should sit down and play something familiar to relax me, which seemed like a great plan and which lead me to boot up Half-Life 2 for at least my fifth playthrough.  I originally played the astonishingly-good 2005 Xbox port and have gone through it twice in Windows and once on a Mac since then.

This time, I decided to give the Xbox 360 release a try – I wanted to see how the Xbox One X upscaling worked and it seemed like an easy way to rack up some cheap gamerscore.

I do like seeing numbers get bigger.

I’ve never pulled off the “Play through Ravenholm with the gravity gun” achievement, so I decided to give that a go this time.  It took a couple of retries on some of the bits where you are swarmed with fast zombies and don’t have a lot of convenient saw blades lying around, but I can mark this off the list:

I did NOT manage to get the Keep Off The Sand achievement, and I am mildly vexed by that.  Something for the future, there.

As for the upscaling, that turned out decently.  You get edges sharp enough to cut yourself on, albeit with some jaggies, and it’s really obvious what parts of the game are vintage 2004 bitmaps.  This is not a dsfix-for-Dark-Souls sort of revelation where it turns out that the low resolution was masking really nice textures, but it gets rid of the softness you’d see when running a 720p game on a modern 4k set and that’s really all I had hoped for.

You should be able to click on this to get the full 4k image, please excuse me for the 1.6 MB file.

A scripted event like this is probably the worst-case scenario for showcasing the upscale, since you’re just standing around listening to Eli and Alyx talk and have plenty of time to look at control panels.  When the game is in motion and you are trying to insert Bullet A into Combine Soldier B, you don’t really have time for that.

For comparison’s sake, I loaded up the Steam version and set it to 4k.  It looked pretty much identical, which was surprising.  I would have expected higher-resolution textures on the PC side of things.

There’s probably a mod for that.

Anyway, on a fifth playthrough, I have come to the conclusion that the game peaks with the “Sandtraps” level and that the Nova Prospekt / Entanglement / Anticitizen One / Follow Freeman! levels could stand to be about half as long as they are.  The Big Damn Climactic battle with all of the Striders in Follow Freeman!, especially, just seemed to drag on and on.  I do not remember the Striders needing seven rockets EACH to take down, nor do I remember there being FIVE of them in that fight.

If I ever go for a sixth run, I will probably just play up through Sandtraps, level-skip to Our Benefactors, and call it good.

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