Got to thinking about how Opposing Force could be updated and expanded for Black Mesa a while back as part of a conversation I had with @TJHL, and this was the end result of it. It’s certainly not something I intend to seriously make, although if I end up releasing one-off Opposing Force levels I will certainly be making them with this in mind; it’s more meant to spur discussion of what an Opposing Force BM remake would actually be like as a more interpretive project instead of rotely recreating the original levels with HD textures, and show that such an exercise could indeed be possible and produce good results. I’m not actively recruiting people to make this become a reality, although if somebody like HECU Collective or Tripmine Studios looked at it and took some of its ideas to heart I wouldn’t exactly be unhappy.
This writeup is more focused on story and the thematic progression of maps than on gameplay and environmental details, simply because those are the elements that are more relevant on the full-game scale, although I won’t hesitate to bring up smaller details if I think they are particularly important or interesting.
In terms of changes to overall lore, while I am generally operating under my theories that the military was not sent in to cover up the existence of the BMRF and that there is no specific reason for the Black Ops to exist, I don’t think I will be going out of my way to state that to be the case in this hypothetical game, so I think it’s safe to ignore both statements (it’s actually really easy to switch between regular Marines and Black Ops without changing the story or gameplay, which is one of the reasons I find them superfluous).
The one thing that probably is worth mentioning is that I am operating under the assumption that Shepard and his squad are better-trained and better-equipped than the regular Marines, which is why he can navigate the place alone and prevail against hordes of Xenians when even large squads of other troops are at serious risk of getting wiped out by those same enemies. I personally think that this is because only Shepard and his squad are HECU and the other Marines are just Marines, but that again is unlikely to come up directly in-game.
I am assuming, because it would be hard to make an Opposing Force remake without them, that Race X enemies would be available to put in the game even though there is currently no implementation of them in Black Mesa. The first place I would look to try to create them would be to re-model old HL2 enemies like antlions that might still exist in the BM code, but even that’s a longshot.
So, without further ado, let’s begin with
Welcome to Black Mesa
Most of what I would change in the first part of this chapter are relatively nitpicky things. I’d like to make it more clear that the facility Shepard wakes up in is in fact Black Mesa’s dedicated on-site hospital wing, and make it clearer that the random “SCIENCE!!!” hazards that make up much of the early gameplay are due to medical equipment of various kinds.
One issue is the dialogue where a scientist says there’s a rumor going around that the military isn’t actually here to rescue anyone. Given that this is taking place during Day 2 of the disaster, during roughly the same period as Surface Tension or Questionable Ethics at the absolute earliest, one would think that the military’s motives would be better known by that point. It would of course be possible to just cut that dialogue out, but then that leaves the question of why the scientists are helping Shepard’s squad at all and haven’t even, like, restrained him. I think the best option would be to have some of the other soldiers already up and around and having talked with the scientists and agreed to help them. Shepard in particular I think should be tasked with going somewhere and doing something, the others having been too injured to do so immediately. What that is is not strictly necessary to the game progression, really, but I am sort of thinking it has to do with that big chemical plant later in the level (see below)- either it’s in danger of leaking and directly threatening the safe area in the clinic, or whatever hazard it produces is blocking everyone’s escape route. I think this objective is first given in the hospital itself, then the radio near the crash site adds urgency to it because evac orders are coming in and everyone at the hospital is still stuck.
Given how late in the invasion this is, I think there should also be more obvious signs of fighting outside the immediate area of the hospital wing- no close interaction with other soldiers or NPCs, but a lot of frenetic background action and destruction. Inside the clinic it should be clear everyone knows it’s a mess, with scientists gathering around the windows looking at the chaos. Perhaps they know they can’t stay here for long and that’s why Shepard has to go to the chemical plant? Perhaps background combat noise in the radio transmission at the crash site indicates the Xenians have indeed found the survivors and that route needs to be cleared RITE NAO?
The other big thing first introduced in this level is that “Shepard’s squad” (the only friendly military encountered in the game) is made of specific soldiers with different models, and these soldiers are persistent through the use of env_globals. While some are “found” for specific scenes so there’s always enough to dispense plot-critical dialogue and some are “lost” or “killed” offscreen so there is never an unmanageable crowd of them, there is a buffer zone of a few who will appear later on if and only if they didn’t get killed in their previous appearance. Some of these soldiers are the ones who appear in the hospital.
Finally, I would like to establish that the random industrial area explored in the second half of the level which connects to the tram tunnels is either a chemical weapons decommissioning facility, a chemical weapons development facility, or a chemical weapons development facility concealed within a decommissioning facility. This provides a purpose and identity for the area, allows it to plausibly threaten or obstruct the movement of the people in the hospital wing, and makes an early hint that all is not kosher at BMRF as far as its actual operations go.
I think the level should end with Shepard succeeding in whatever it was he needed to do to clear the way, but getting cut off from the way back. Perhaps this is where the instruction to try to link up through the transit system comes?
"We Are Pulling Out"
Not much to say about the tram-platform portion of this level other than that I was specifically thinking of the scene where Race X were first introduced when I created the control room in pd_c2a4h: I think those are in fact one and the same area.
In the original game the “we are pulling out” dialogue just cuts off, but in BM it ends with “Oh shit, no! Nononono! -explosion-”. That seems an odd thing to say to Xenians, so perhaps the speaker was killed or at least chased off by accidental friendly fire?
I actually have no strong feelings on what to do with the “where’s Freeman” scene; if these were Shepard’s squad I’d probably cut it out since the whole point of them is that they’re the only military not hostile to the scientists, but these are I think the only time Shepard really interacts with Marines who are not part of his squad, so it could go either way.
One thing I would like to see is for the Osprey that G-Man prevents Shepard from boarding to be shot down or crash not long after, indicating that G-Man had reason for preventing Shepard from getting on it.
Missing In Action
Not a fan of the area with the flame jets and exploding boxes as I thought it served little purpose aside from adding additional length to the level.
In fact, a lot of this chapter is kind of pointless. Not every chapter needs to be particularly story-rich, but those that aren’t should at least be aesthetically or mechanically distinct or have some kind of major setpiece in them or something?
I discuss a possible different structure for it here although that’s more gameplay and small-scale design than story.
Pit drones are first introduced in this chapter so maybe we could do something with that? Or the fact that this is contemporaneous with Forget About Freeman or early in Lambda Core and so the military should be getting its ass handed to it?
I’d like to change the way that the (Black Ops / regular Marines; let’s just call them Bad Guys) are introduced in this chapter. Instead of the conversation over the nuke being the first encounter with them, I’d like for the friendly soldiers to come charging out of the building you were stuck in in Missing In Action, along with the two scientists encountered in the level (maybe make a neat setpiece of this with them having to push through a big alien onslaught) and towards a Bad Guy emplacement, still thinking the Bad Guys are friendly; then they get gunned down as they gape in confusion.
After that, it’s just a matter of pushing through a Bad Guy held area to get underground and escape the bombing.
Actually, now that I think about it, knowing that this entrance to the lower levels of the complex is there, and that there are supposedly friendly forces holed up inside of it, and the threat of getting wiped out by airstrikes, might make a good motivation for Missing In Action. If so I’d want to really play up the severity and threat of the strikes, and make them a much bigger threat than the aliens in that level. It even makes sense that the scientists found would be pointing that area out- even if Shepard’s guys don’t know what that means, it does after all lead into the Lambda Complex.
We Are Not Alone
I have… some problems with this chapter.
For one thing, the timing is a little off in that it feels like Shepard is going faster through the relatively small Friendly Fire and Missing In Action chapters than Freeman goes through Forget About Freeman and the much larger Lambda Core.
For another, I feel like Xen in general is ‘cheapened’ with overuse in small, insignificant levels, and characters should not be jumping in and out of it willy-nilly without something particularly impactful happening.
That also applies to the specific method by which Shepard gets into Xen- I was never a fan of portals just… randomly appearing in places, and thought the cameo of Gordon (or, I suppose, of Shepard to Gordon) was a little gratuitous.
Now, I was getting ready to say that the game would be better served by cutting this area out completely and transitioning directly to Crush Depth, but there is one other thing I was considering: While they are mechanically very helpful, and are used very effectively to foreshadow and build up the Gonarch fight, I didn’t like the story implications of the supply capsules teleporting into BM’s Xen. The final fight in the portal room always implied, to me at least, that the Xenians had broken through into the very last safe portion of the BMRF and the Lambda Team were literally making their final stand as they struggled to get the portal open with no regard to their own safety; this was badass, but having someone have obviously survived to keep sending those capsules kind of undercut that whole sentiment. If Not Alone instead showed that the capsules were being sent out by some kind of automated system in a Lambda Complex actively being sacked, and Shepard got sent to Xen by being somehow caught up in it, this would be fixed.
This actually provides an interesting way for Shepard to get back, as well- put together a few large setpieces of massive numbers of Xenian troops gearing up to teleport to Earth, and have him hitch a ride. Perhaps this might be the area Freeman ends up in if he refuses G-Man’s offer?
This does make the time discrepancy even worse, but honestly that’s a minor issue and it’s possible that just changing the actual length and environmental conditions of FF and MIA could make them feel of commensurate length to FAF and LC.
I guess since all of this is hypothetical I don’t really have to make a decision either way, really, to cut or just drastically alter the level.
Mostly fine the way it is, TBH, although I always had a huge problem with the scientists here using teleporters for such ludicrously mundane things as going to an observation area a dozen yards away and would replace that with some kind of minisub or just broken doors. The xen-hopping portal-spam is also pretty bad, but also pretty non-essential to the core of what the level is.
After the very frenetic elements of Friendly Fire and possibly Not Alone, a slower and more quiet chapter is a good idea, although I’d like to play up the completely ruined, completely Xenian-controlled state of the Facility, so I think that there should be more patrolling Xen troops and fewer ichies than in the original.
One thing I considered doing in my dy_lasers devblog thread that might be applicable here was having the Xenians be seen to react to the fact that human scientists were experimenting on them in biodome areas. That might be interesting to put here, but the hydrofauna labs mostly studied the nonsentient Xenians so I don’t think they’d have as much to react to.
Again mostly fine, not-strongly-story-focused chapter. One thing to keep in mind, though, would be that this chapter and the next should show the Xenians getting challenged for control of the facility more and more by Race X. In this chapter they start making inroads, and then in…
Pit Worm’s Lair
… they are really shown to be prevailing over the Xenians. Basically Surface Tension over again, possibly with additional setpieces like Race X ripping away Xenian biomatter and spraying on their own.
One major change I am thinking of would be to move the garg-at-the-dam scene from the end of Foxtrot Uniform to the end of this level. The reason for that is that I wanted to change the way that scene itself goes, so that the entire dam gets blown up (and, since the whole theme of the previous two chapters is “surprised Xenians and resurgent Race X”, maybe make it Race X that blows up the Garg and not the humans) and, most importantly, Shepard gets knocked unconscious at the end of it instead of just jumping into a pipe.
The reason for this is that I want to fast-forward Shepard’s timeline past Freeman’s as Freeman spends a long time in the Xen levels, so that Shepard wakes up in the desert after the Nihilanth has been killed (perhaps, since the thing is after all telepathic, Shepard somehow receives direct information about its demise while unconscious).
This in turn heralds another transition in story, so that…
… takes place in a very different environment, well in the aftermath of at least the Xenian portion of the invasion, where human forces have come back (I’d sort of like to think of them being completely unaware of Freeman’s actions and thinking “Yep! Just took some airstrikes to turn this around!”) and are now trying to lock down the ruined base.
I feel like the Bad Guys should be doing something with the base, maybe gathering up documents and scientist prisoners or something, to show how much they are in control. They could of course be fighting Race X, but I feel like that would have gotten kind of played at this point? We just saw the Xenians push the military back, so I feel like this’d kind of be a “cut off the ingress point before the military is overwelmed again? We really are just a substitute Freeman” moment.
Also, this chapter is really hard to differentiate from
While I feel very confident about the changes I’d made previously to the game’s storyline, that leaves the whole nuke plot with some holes in it. The human forces are winning (winning because losing would be repetitive still counts as winning, okay?), so why would they decide to nuke the whole base now?
I mean, I suppose I could change the previous chapters to feature ragtag bands of military survivors (both Shepard’s squad and the Bad Guys) in a ruined base amidst a turf war between the Xenians and Race X, and skip the whole unconsciousness-and-Nihilanth bit entirely, but that seems less dramatic and also fits less with the enemy distributions and environment of the original 1999 incarnation of both chapters.
The two chapters are also really similar aesthetically- perhaps, since we literally broke the dam somewhere in Uniform, have one chapter but not the other be partially flooded? I don’t know. The whole thing is kind of a mess and I don’t have an easy answer. I’d actually seriously considered making it so that the Bad Guys were preparing to either invade Xen or kick the nuke there, but… why would Shepard care enough to stop that by closing the portal? I think some sort of justification needs to be added in previous chapters why the nuke is still being considered and why the gene worm portal is such a big deal if the government has things in hand again, but damned if I know what that would be.