HL2 Episode 2 Behind the Scenery

EDIT: I noticed a few minor errors in my original post. When I had written it before, some time had passed between taking the screenshots and actually writing it. But it’s fixed now.

When I first played through HL2ep2, I discovered a “hidden feature” completely by accident. Before this, I had taken several NoClip* expeditions to get better looks at various levels. A not-not-particularly-interesting-from-the-screenshots-but-still-neat-to-try thing is to NoClip in the Lost Coast and check out the town buildings across the bay. The town actually doesn’t have a lot of detail up close, though the clothes on the clothesline are pretty neat. But like I said, the actual screenshots of that particular thing are not interesting in themselves, so I’m not going to post them.

(For those of you who have never played a First Person Perspective Shooting Game on the IBM-compatible personal computer, NoClip is a common console command that allows you to ignore all objects that would normally be “solid” to your character and fly through (literally: through) the level to any point you wished to view.)

Instead, here are some screenshots from HL2Ep2 reproducing something I did the first time I played through. Honestly, this is exactly how it happened, and what I thought I was supposed to do:

Okay, so here we are in the sheds outside of the mines. Or do the sheds count as part of the mines? Well whatever, the point is: we’re in this area of Ep2. You know the one I mean if you’ve played it.

What the? Antlions?

If you’ve played Ep2, you know that at this point the Vortigaunt I call Bob and some call Cecil is right behind Gordon with Alyx and they’re relying on Gordon to lead the way. This is usually Gordon’s cue to go trudge through some pitch-black zombie-filled hellhole up to his knees in radioactive sludge, crawl through some headcrab-infested air ducts, or stack some stuff. Now let me draw a diagram if you don’t quite get it:

See: I’ve been a good HL2 player and know a stacking puzzle when I see it! I obviously need to follow those antlions!

Okay, so we grab the first box. Bob/Cecil is urging us to hurry, so we better get a move on!

The second box is trickier, but still pretty easy. Not nearly as tricky as finding the electrical box for the elevator with all the zombies swarming around in Episode 1. We must be on the right track.

Okay, we’ve stacked these two, but they’re not quite enough…

But there’s plenty more stackable goodies lying around.

Stop laughing. It’s one way to get over.

And here we go! Just need to duck under the bar…

And we’re in! Okay, I just need to get up there. Seems easy enough.

Nudge these two heavy minecarts over…

And stack the boxes for a neat little stairway. Leaning the boxes against the fence as you see in the screenshot prevents them from falling over if you accidentally bump into them.

I get up on the roof and turn around to see Bob/Cecil holding Alyx. Obviously, Alyx is so impressed by my awesome puzzle-solving skills that the poor dear has swooned! Don’t worry, Bob/Cecil! I’ll just run across the roofs and find out where we’re supposed to go next!

Hmmmm… wait a minute. That doesn’t look right.

Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong here. Was the level not loaded right? (answer for those who haven’t played: no. The level is fine.)

Originally, it was at this point I realized the level was properly loaded, I simply was looking at the buildings from an angle I wasn’t supposed to. (Often the buildings you see are made without a “back” side to save memory.) So jumped down and looked around more carefully. It was then I noticed the elevator Bob/Cecil wanted me to fix for him. So I was running around on the roofs when I should have just walked a little further down and yanked a crowbar out of some gears.

The first time I had missed this because I didn’t notice the left turn near the end of the corridor. Plus: the antlions were a big “clue” that I could go that way.

My theory is: in an earlier version of the level you were supposed to go that way, and they changed the level but left the stackable stuff there by mistake.

Anyway, exploring a bit further up on the roofs this time, we find a neat hole in the scenery!

Can we duck underneath and crawl through the ground? Yes indeed we can!

When I saw this part I was instantly reminded of the “big reveal” from the movie The Thirteenth Floor. This is just so neat.

I wanted to get a better view of the destroyed scenery, but could never find a really good spot in the places you are supposed to go to in Ep2. But here we get a mostly unobstructed view of the neat visual effects.

The still screenshot really does not do this view justice. I really recommend following my instructions in your copy of the game and go to this spot for the full effect. Right here, in a place where Valve could easily have just inserted a still texture, is a scene full of a bunch of different kinds of animation. The smoke is moving. The fire is animated. There’s the suggestion of winds blowing.

And, of course there’s the sweet view of the destroyed Citadel. It actually looks like a few people still in the city might have survived if they were far enough underground at the time. Or just in the basements of the buildings at the ourskirts. The radiation might be a problem, but maybe not if they simply get out of there fast. That’s not to diminish the importance of what Alyx and Gordon did in Ep1, but it does give some hope for those who might not have quite made it out in time and/or were overlooked by both the Combine and the Resistance in the rush to leave the city before the Citadel exploded.

I’m not certain, but it’s possible that they did base the placing of the buildings according to canon and we’re looking at the remains of the very first areas in HL2. If so, that’s pretty darn neat.

Moving on in our Behind The Scenery tour, we spot a place to jump down back to the beginning of this area.

And jumping down, we find ourselves hopelessly trapped on the inside of a rock. Yeah, I had to NoClip out of it, but that was the first time I used any console commands on this “tour”

Skipping ahead a little, it seems you can walk back and through the mines. All the way back down and through we come to…

The entrance of the mine! Well it looks like we’ve reached the edge of this level. (If you cheat to go back past the entrances of some levels in HL2, you’ll notice that where you just were is chopped off to make room in memory for the parts of the level you’re supposed to go to. That’s what I thought this was at first, but…) So if we jump off…

Hey! Now this is interesting. This is a spot we’re not supposed to go, but for some reason there’s some functionality. The last two screenshots might not give the right impression of what happens, so I’ll show you what happens if we turn around…

Glitchy mine entrance…

Proper mine entrance!

I think perhaps this part of the level right here was left over from earlier versions of the level you go through before. In any case, it’s kinda neat. (Like that one cave in Ultima 9 on Buccaneer’s Den you can jump and walk though the ceiling to another island. Until they fixed it with a patch.)

All right, one last semi-interesting thing to see. Step 1: nudge this rock into place so we can jump back over into the rail car.

Step 2: jump through and come to this scene. When the portal storm occurs and the bridge collapses, you can’t get back to this point normally. So they didn’t bother to make the models for the collapsed cars and debris collide with the player. You can just walk through this stuff without cheating.

And finally we walk up to a highly-detailed but utterly empty area. Valve never bothers to put detail in an unused area. So, I think this is actually where you start out. This is probably where the rail car you start in is, and the detail is there in case you look out the window.

Anyway, turning around we see the wreckage from another point of view. OK, so it’s not the most interesting thing to stop at, but this is as far back as it is possible to go in this level without cheating and flying through the scenery.

And that’s it. Next time, I’ll post some more Portal HL2 experimental screenshots.

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