Hi, and welcome to part 2 of our
Database discussion of the Borealis. If you’re just finding this episode for the first time
and you haven’t seen our previous discussion, you may want to quickly head on over to part 1 via the annotation link currently available
on-screen right about now. In our last episode, we covered the
canonical version of the Borealis and its current purpose within the Half-Life and Portal universe, so we’re going to spend this episode looking back
at the long and varied history of the ship within the stolen Half-Life 2 source code from 2003. Since we’re technically already half-way through
a discussion, let’s continue where we left off! As we noted a few times in our last episode, the Borealis wasn’t always an Aperture Science
ship stranded in the arctic, as it was previously set to appear during
Half-Life 2 in various, totally different formats. This brings us to the infamous 2003 leak
of Half-Life 2’s source code and assets, which previously helped us shine some
light on Ravenholm in our last episode. Many different versions of the Borealis exist within the stolen files, most of which are believed to have been designed and built by Aaron Barber, Dario Casali, and Randy Lundeen. It’s a little known fact that the original version of
the Borealis, then known as the Hyperborea, dates back to somewhere in May 1999 and was actually set to act as the
starting point for Gordon’s journey, taking on the same role as the train found in the final version. This version, titled “hyper001” in the game files, is said to have been reminiscent of the opening
tanker sequence from Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 2 and was actually controlled by the
Combine while on course for City 17. Given that the 2003 leak doesn’t feature
any maps earlier than January 2001, not a whole lot is known about this very early version, other than it likely wasn’t actually a research vessel, instead probably taking on the form of
some kind of utility vessel or a cargo ship. It’s not known if Gordon was to don
his HEV suit or not in this version given it was at the start of the game,
which is something we’ll come back to a minute. The next known version, which dates to around November 1999, is largely similar, as Gordon first finds
himself on a Combine-controlled ship. While it’s not known who would’ve been
joining Gordon in the original version, it’s believed the second version was to
feature the first appearance of Odell, sometimes known as Owen, an engineer aboard the ship. While texture files for a very early
version of Odell have been found, there is no known model for Odell at this stage. However, several placeholder voice lines
were also recovered from the leaked files which help provide some additional
context regarding this early version via the voice of an unknown Valve employee, primarily due to the fact that no actor was ever
brought in to voice the character of Odell. One line in particular references the possible
departure or arrival location of the ship, revealing it was actually headed to or from a
Combine base in the North, rather than City 17. The same line also reveals Odell may have secretly
been serving undercover for the resistance, much like Barney in the final game. While the ship was likely to have been
moving backwards and forwards between City 17 and a Combine base in the North, it would appear Odell was able to smuggle
supplies to a pair of resistance bases nearby, one described as “ice station,”
and the other as “that place underneath us,” which later evolved into Kraken Base,
which we’ll come back to in a short while. This early version of the base is interesting
given the ship was obviously at sea, as it would seem a number of resistance
scientists, likely ex-Black Mesa, were to have set up a hidden, underwater base
as a means of avoiding Combine detection as they developed new, advanced technology. Another line from Odell directly references Gordon’s current attire, describing its apparent cumbersome-looking nature. Given the HEV suit’s already-unusual design, it’s entirely possible Odell was simply
referring to Gordon’s classic outfit, but an unearthed texture for the scrapped flare gun weapon appears to show Gordon wearing a darker suit
comprised of rubber or leather. The weird leather straps around the wrist and hand would definitely make this unknown suit difficult to put on, meaning it’s possible that Odell could have
been referencing this new design, rather than the traditional HEV suit Gordon wears
throughout the majority of all Half-Life titles. This was confirmed by Marc Laidlaw in an interview with New Rising Media in 2012, who mentioned: A previous line from Laidlaw mentions the suit’s odd inclusion was part of Valve’s team “running in circles for
a few years, trying out all kinds of possibilities” in an attempt to experiment and potentially innovate. Several other lines from Odell provide some
interesting information about a cut Combine Synth, known as the Sacktick, which was to act in a fashion similar to the Headcrab Shells present in the final game. Upon being fired onto a target, these parasitic synths were to spread out and
feed on organic hosts in the local area to soften up enemy positions for larger ground assaults. We’re not going to go into any more
detail regarding the Sackticks here, but we’ll more than likely touch on them in a future episode. Back to the Borealis itself: it’s worth noting that
these extremely old versions of the Borealis were actually built and tested on an
updated version of the Half-Life engine prior to Valve deciding Half-Life 2 required
something totally brand new and fresh. Since the Source engine and its physical system
didn’t really get implemented until early 2001, the evidence pertaining to these older maps can
be directly associated with the GoldSrc engine, mostly related to legacy content left over
from the days of Half-Life 1. Once some of the recycled map content is opened
within a version of Hammer included with the leak, numerous other pieces of evidence
related to GoldSrc can be seen, including the use of multi_managers
rather than a real input/output system, with entities instead relying on the older
“target” and “targetname” titles for scripting. It also becomes clear that the older maps
were entirely made from brush work, rather than brushes and models, forcing level designers to create basic,
brush-only content within the editor itself, much like the environments in Half-Life 1. Another piece of less obvious evidence can be found in the texture for Odell’s face that we mentioned earlier. It’s clear Odell’s face was created as an
8-bit map texture using a 256 colour palette identical to those used throughout Half-Life 1. This is shown by the significant loss of color
apparent as the result of it being lazily converted up to a 16-bit map texture for use in later versions
of the maps within the newer Source engine, something also shown heavily throughout Half-Life: Source. Several screenshots that have surfaced over the years also appear to show “Team Fortress 2:
Brotherhood of Arms” character models in use as placeholders within Borealis interiors. This was recently confirmed to us by Marc Laidlaw, who mentioned that the interiors shown in the
background were in fact of the early Borealis, clearly reflecting the fact the game was
originally to use the GoldSrc engine. Not a whole lot is known about the rest of
the super-early versions of the Borealis throughout the rest of 1999 and all of 2000, meaning we can now jump forwards
to January and March of 2001, where we find the first playable Borealis maps stolen alongside much of Half-Life 2’s still work-in-progress files. Given the fact that players have actually been able to access the files and maps associated with this version of the Borealis, there’s a lot more information that can be extracted. Firstly, the March 2001 map is the first known version to have actually featured the title of “Borealis,”
rather than “Hyperborea,” as shown by the first use of the “BOREALIS”
logo seen on multiple future versions as well as a new skybox texture and map name
format both featuring the word “Borealis.” While the layout and overall design of the ship
didn’t change that much throughout 2001, there are a few more important changes to note, particularly from a version dating back to September of that year. While empty of all enemies and weapons, the large arctic map was to have functioned
as the very opening of the game and is notable as one of the few to have started the player somewhere other than City 17 or the Borealis itself. Upon starting the game, the player was to board
the ship before using it to reach the city, similarly to the examples we just talked about during the previous segment regarding the 1999 version. While there isn’t all that much to do,
the rather large map is relatively interesting to explore, as it also features a somewhat detailed ice cave,
many inaccessible buildings and elevated platforms, and a docked Borealis. Files dating from March 2002 are where things
start to get a little more interesting, as the entire purpose and appearance of
the Borealis within Half-Life 2’s storyline was shifted around substantially. Like almost all other locations and settings in Half-Life 2, this version of the Borealis still changed a
decent amount throughout development, but the core idea remained rather consistent for close to a year before being cut from the game entirely. After the concept of stretching the game
out across several days was introduced, the Borealis was moved to the beginning of day three, putting it just over halfway into Half-Life 2, given this draft featured a total of four days,
rather than the three present in the final game. This means the first known version of
this iteration, titled “d3_borealis_01,” was the first to feature the “day” prefix
still present in the final game, as well as the first to use the ship as a connecting vehicle between City 17 and the aforementioned Kraken Base, an underwater scientific outpost controlled by the resistance close to the Combine’s powerful Weather Control
station to the North West. In most subsequent versions of the Borealis, the Kraken Base was controlled by Helena Mossman,
precursor for Judith Mossman, and appeared as a more modern version of
the previously mentioned undersea base referenced by Odell in earlier builds. Given the ship’s totally different purpose
compared to earlier iterations, it featured a largely different layout and structure while still retaining many of the original ship’s concepts, such as shipping Stalkers and Zombies;
the appearance of hangars, containers, and freezers; and the focus on small, tight, claustrophobic gameplay spaces designed to make the player feel isolated. Throughout almost all of the 2002 versions,
of which there are many, the appearance of the Borealis remains largely the same, maintaining the ship’s purpose as
a Combine-controlled cargo ship from the earlier 1999 and 2001 variants. While it always retained its appearance as
an old American icebreaker research vessel, almost all versions from 2002 focus on the transportation
of Combine military hardware and personnel, including more violent Stalkers, cut Combine Assassins,
zombies, and headcrabs. Not all of these famous enemies appear in the same versions, but they all appear throughout various areas of the ship, including the freezer, damaged hangars,
as well as on and beneath deck. The starting location for the player also
fluctuates heavily from version to version, likely reflecting the area’s unfinished nature. A few examples of potential start points include: the sea itself, on floating ice platforms, in various hangars, and the ship’s engine room, among others. In these versions of the map,
the ship is heavily damaged in various ways, something not really present in much earlier versions. The damaged pipes, walls, ceilings, and equipment on the ship were largely used to explain how the
various enemy types we just mentioned were able to escape from their containments
in order to run amok around the ship. As you would expect from environments designed
to show heavy amounts of damage, almost all versions of the 2002 Borealis maps
feature a reasonably high level of detail, including numerous larger maps with open seas, and even a huge, slightly improved 3D skybox
borrowed from an older version dated to a year prior. The most well-known version of the Borealis from
the 2002 period was known as “e3_shiptest,” and is likely the variant of the ship you’ve
seen thrown around as an E3 demo. This map, later referred to as “e3_meathook” and “e3_ship,” actually functioned as a modified stand-in of the real Borealis intended to highlight features of the
then-revolutionary Source engine, including physics, particle effects, AI, and a high level of detail across models, textures, and characters. While it did feature a number of interesting scenarios, including climbing aboard the ship,
fighting headcrabs on the deck of the ship, fighting zombies in a damaged hangar,
and chasing the then-crazed Stalkers, it was famously not shown to the public at E3 2002 after Gabe Newell was displeased with its level of quality, instead restricting it to private, behind-closed-doors
showings to the press at E3 2003. It’s worth noting that, while the “e3_ship” version
of the map was shown at E3 2003, the Borealis and its role within the Half-Life 2 storyline had actually already been entirely cut from the game, meaning, aside from a small cameo appearance
in the skybox of a map from July 2003, it would not reappear until being reborn
as the Aperture Science-owned vessel we all know in the established, canonical universe. This means Valve were actually showing a more
polished version of cut content to the press as a technical demonstration,
rather than as an actual part of the game, which would likely have been the case
if they had shown it a year prior. While the Borealis did continue to
get worked on up until late 2002, likely in September or December, it received
relatively minor changes and alterations, clearly showing Valve still weren’t happy with how the location or the current four-day storyline of Half-Life 2 were shaping up. The most noteworthy additions include the
introduction of the fire extinguisher in August, used to extinguish several of the ship’s numerous fires, and the return of Odell, who was re-added
to the ship via an AI testing map. Now sporting his own model,
Odell’s purpose as a guide for the player was also retained from the older 1999 versions, as he would now introduce himself before
leading Gordon into Captain Johanson’s room and previewing a distress message from Kraken Base. It’s a well-known fact that his model’s appearance
was later repurposed for Odessa Cubbage, the rather hapless resistance leader of New Little Odessa. Along with the Aperture Science Borealis from 2007, Odessa stands as one of many examples
of how Valve were able to cleverly rework much of the scrapped Half-Life 2 storyline before
seamlessly re-incorporating it into the final product. There are various known reasons for why the Borealis and much of the original storyline was cut from the game, one of which is the belief that it was
too confusing, convoluted, and unrealistic, and not even Valve knew how to make many
of the sequences work well and feel right. It’s safe to say we definitely encountered this problem
while planning and writing this episode, and we’re thankful our own confusion is (or at least, was) actually shared by Valve on this one particular occasion. And that’s more or less everything we have
to say regarding the Borealis for now. Given that much of the canonical version
of the Borealis remains a mystery to be unraveled in whatever Half-Life title comes next, it’s quite possible we’ll return to the subject sometime in the future, but when that will be is anyone’s guess. For now, hopefully you understand just a little more
about why the Borealis was, and is, so significant, and why it continues to stand as one of the most
talked-about topics in all of the Half-Life universe. Let us know what you thought of this extremely
long episode in the comments below, and don’t forget to leave topic suggestions for future episodes. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel,
to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and to check out previous episodes of ValveTime Database alongside the rest of our Half-Life 2
10th birthday celebration videos. Thanks for watching and bye for now.

The Borealis: The Untold History [Part 2] – Database: Episode 8

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *