I've been a real stickler for beta content in the past 4 years, the more I played retail Half Life... lemme rephrase that: the more I play the steam actively-patched version of Half-Life, the more I wanted the barebones original.
Recently I located a file that has been hiding under my nose since 2013 on ModDB, that being the leaked hardcopy of the Alpha 1997 internal tech demo. I played it with all out giddy, witnessing the very first implementations of final levels right before my eyes. Its one thing to watch a video of the cut content or read about it... but to walk around and witness it at your own leisure... that is what real Half Life Nerds like myself strive for. So that was truely an experience, as it was still on the Quake engine!
Now, however, I've stumbled across a new gem to my collection: Day One. The unofficial FULLY FUNCTIONAL demo of the near-final build of Half Life!
The thing that hit me like a ton of bricks was the main menu, it had the original WON menu, with that out-of-focus header with the scrolling letters.... then the rendering engine itself --- far more primitive than the one you buy on Steam. This feels like a PlayStation 1 game with its amazing pixelation. This pixelation I assume was to keep rendering memory down for the 90's low-power computers. Retail Half Life still has it's native rendering engine, known as Software Rendering (which I use almost exclusively, it suits my tastes) however the retail lacks DEPTH pixelation. Objects and NPC's far away become blockier and blockier from pixelation as their memory footprint drops.
This is also apparent up close as they have serrated edges, almost as if they were "2-1/2-D"sprites. I notice this makes their flappy jaw mechanics much more pallatable as the pixelation hides the fact that their jaw is all that moves, the pixelation distorts their mouth ever so slightly that if you look hard enough, you see lips moving. This pixelation and the fact that all particles are solid pixels --- My goodness, this version of the game has Alpha blood effects!
I also note the closer resemblance to the Alpha build through the clunkier movement, sideways viewbobbing, and -- get this -- weapon bobbing. No, not that counter-strike style forward and back motion, actual up, down, left and right bobbing of weapons, working in conjunction with the footstep sounds.
I also see an effect that survived this build but only when you take damage in the retail version. Notice when you take fall damage your screen will bob or jar downward, and your viewmodel will skew; in this version of the game every jump will land you with this effect. Its very immersive this way but of course its clear to see why it was cut, by the time I got past the room with suspended crates just before the elevator to Office Complex, I was feeling a little nauseated.
Another thing about this is there are small changes to the levels. I noticed the first one in Office Complex, the door where the zombie breaks out of the closet, the way to the area where barney opens a door after you kill another zombie is designed entirely different, and the fence he's behind is actually barbed wire. I have yet to note many others as I quit the game at the freezer level just to write this out of excitement.
Another technical difference is the loading times.... they are non-existent on my system; Retail Half Life, the loading time is usually no less than about 1 and a half seconds, but in this build they are instant --- so instant you wouldn't know they were happening if you didn't already memorize every loading zone from the retail.
Among other changes are the textures: they are all uncompressed it seems. The resolution feels about 2 pixels higher and there's less aliasing: everything is crisp and clear. The models are a bit different too, namely the suit battery being cylindrical and rather high poly compared to the retail.
Sounds are also different. While I think this secondhand redistribution of Day One I obtained might have some missing files (for example the pistol's reload sounds are broken --- oh theres another thing....) there are no pickup sounds, but that could be the same problem mentioned earlier.
About that other thing, its a silly detail but it means something to me. When you reload something with a magazine, you lose ammo out of your reserve before it updates the magazine. That is to say you could have 30 bullets in reserve, pressing reload will perform the reload animation but you will instantly lose the allotted amount you are reloading before it loads into the magazine... I'm probably not explaining this well. There is a delay between losing ammo from your reserve to gaining ammo in your mag, its a detail that does not really affect gameplay but it does feel a lot cooler as you feel you are grabbing the extra bullets then as soon as your mag enters the gun your HUD will update..... like I said: nerdy stuff only I would notice or care about.
The very fact that Windows acknowledged several compatibility issues with this game before I attempted to run it makes me very happy as this is clearly designed for old old old old systems. You know its old when there's still 18 bullets in the Glock.
One thing startled me however, this has been the first Half Life game that seamlessly adheres to full screen mode without a hitch. Retail half life has a few bugs with 16:9 fullscreen mode for me, I always have to run Half Life and its expansions in 1024 x 768 windowed mode, else I get only a fraction of the image which is a bitch to correct.
This build is everything I wanted Half Life to be. I feel like I've always been playing an adulterated retail version of Half Life now the simple things that have changed from Day One.
The adaptive pixelation... the viewsway and bob effects... the textures.... the particles... the main menu.... this is pure unfiltered Half Life of 1998. This is how it was meant to be for all I'm concerned. I'm sold. I only fear that this run of Half Life Day One will end early, as its only supposed to be a demo build; it probably doesn't have the entire game with these effects.