The Black Mesa Project – Walking the Line between Consumer and Producer
When Valve Corporation, a successful game developer, released Half-Life 2 in 2004, they ported several of their older titles to the new graphics engine (Source). Whether the reasons for this were monetary or otherwise, this was a well-received move by the fans. Unfortunately, one of the older titles was received with some mixed reactions in its new form: Half-Life. Essentially, the transition from the old engine did not feel quite as smooth/complete, especially when compared to other successful ports (Counter-Strike). It is from this desire for a better Half-Life that Black Mesa was born.
“Black Mesa is a completely reworked game, offering a total conversion, using entirely custom content. The project was born from a challenge issued by Valve’s co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell for fans to create a “proper remake” of the original Half-Life” (Liam Martin, digital spy).
Beginning as two independent projects (Leakfree and Half-Life: Source Overhaul Project), Black Mesa grew into a 40-person team of volunteers who remade the game from the ground up. They changed not just the graphics, but even certain aspects of the game play in story to take advantage of the new engine. It will include new maps, models, voice-acting, and even a fan-made soundtrack being released for purchase–the game itself, however, will be released for free when completed.
Black Mesa is an excellent example, as Henry Jenkins puts it, of an industry “[endorsing] grassroots appropriation of their content and technology” (2004). It goes beyond a fan-made game or simple mod based on existing content. Rather, the project is a complete, free remake of one of Valve’s most important products. The company even released a statement early on in Black Mesa’s development, stating:
Congratulations to the Black Mesa for Half-Life 2 MOD team for picking up the Most Anticipated MOD Award for the coming year from Mod DB. Over 80,000 votes were cast for MODs built for a number of different games, and they have been crowned this year’s most wanted. More information on this ambitious project to recreate Half-Life 1 from scratch in the Source engine is available on their site.We’re as eager to play it here as everyone else (Steam Message, 2007, emphasis mine).
Many industries would feel threatened by such a use of their content, feeling it will harm their profits, and so take legal action–this is especially true of the music industry. Valve and other game companies have taken the opposite route, encouraging the fan-base and allowing for user-generated content. This tends to generate a great deal of loyalty, and can actually help ensure future revenue–many gamers prefer to support companies who support them. Valve Corporation knows that the line between consumer and producer is blurring, and have taken steps to adapt to the convergent environment.
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