MINERVA, created by Adam Foster, is an episodic series of single-player mods for Valve Corporation's Half-Life 2. Installments are released as each is finalized: the three releases for the Metastasis chapter have been made, with the third and final installment released on October 1, 2007.
The plot and settings of MINERVA are linked to Someplace Else, Foster's original map for Half-Life, and to Half-Life 2 itself.
Foster describes Minerva as an "anti-modification": "The aim isn't to replace as much game content as possible; instead, it's to tell my own apocryphal story set in the Half-Life 2 universe, and to actually release something for the public to play."
MINERVA's plot is progressed through radio messages from the female character after whom the mod is named (Minerva), the messages are relayed as text rather than spoken words. Minerva's communications are sarcastic and dismissive, and her demeanour brusque, treating the player as a data-gathering tool at her disposal. Information and storyline is revealed in short segments over the course of the chapters, often with no explanation; for example, in Metastasis she reveals that her (and therefore the player's) goal is to discover the Combine's purposes on and underneath the episode's island, but not why she considers this important or how the player became involved in the first place.
Minerva is not omniscient however; Metastasis also reveals her to be working within the limits of satellite imagery and terrestrial radio, and at several points admits to the player that she does not know what lies ahead, and is exploring with them.
Even when Minerva is aware of an upcoming threat, she is not always inclined to forewarn players of it. At times it appears that she enjoys the player overcoming difficult challenges, although not always revealing this in her messages - which are chiding and patronising. This contradictory stance extends as Minerva starts to compliment her "laboratory specimen", to the point of telling the player to "take care" ahead of one enemy encounter. She demonstrates further compassion when encountering a headcrab shell factory through the player, justifying her order to have it shut down on moral grounds. She does not approve of violence for its own sake, however; in both MINERVA and Someplace Else, she loses her temper when the player seems "more interested in combat than your actual mission." She also makes a passing reference in Someplace Else to having "insatiable kleptomania."
The complexity of Minerva as a character is an important theme in the game and provides an explanation for the lack of backstory or timeline information.
MINERVA’s communications are unusual in that each is prefixed by a time/date stamp in International Date Format (ISO 8601), giving an explicit timescale to the plot. These timestamps extend to several written pieces on the series' website that give background to the story. From these and the in-game messages it is possible to construct a partial timeline of events covered in the MINERVA series.
- 13th June 1974 - Prolonged seismic event in New Mexico. Starts at 4pm.
- 2nd July 1974 - Seismic event confirmed to be from Black Mesa 'Missile Range'.
- 10th July 1974 - Confirmation of event, explained as a "catastrophic failure". Temporary halt to a research program. Mention made of transportation technology.
- c. 2000 (uncertain date) - Events of Half-Life; rise of the Combine from this point onward
- 28th March 2002 - Message written on console in Black Mesa, which is now known as the Black Mesa Research Facility.
- 1 April 2002 - Events of Someplace Else. Minerva claims to be at the Xen outpost against her will.
- 15 October 2009 - Events of Metastasis. Minerva has somehow arrived on Earth.
- Unknown (later?) date - Message from Minerva. Claims to have interfaced with some sort of network.
MINERVA is placed firmly in our world–part of the first level is played in and around a World War II bunker (identified as such in the game). This puts the location as somewhere in Europe or the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore the first chapter is also (as seen and noted in the game) located on an island, which has been confirmed as being somewhere in the Baltic Sea.
MINERVA's designer, Foster, is critical of Valve's design of Half-life 2 maps. His belief is that game developers focus on creating gameplay friendly environments that do not work in an architectural way, "a series of unconnected boxes" says Foster, MINERVA's environments are built as actual environments (with correctly proportioned structures and areas) with gameplay worked in later. This creates a more open design, in which players may, in places, navigate in multiple ways. Later locations can be seen in earlier stages of the game (along corridors or through windows for example)
Map design is the mod's hallmark. While all levels are constructed primarily using Valve's resources, with few new models or textures, Foster follows his own design ideals – that of compact, well designed maps. Although the levels seem huge, as play unfolds, they are in fact very small - wrapping around to use the least space possible. This creates a sense of realism. As pointed out by Planet Halflife:
|“||Instead of relying on horizontally-sprawling, immense maps that stress the engine's area-capabilities to its max, MINERVA maps are incredibly small. This is because of Foster's ground-breaking idea to utilize every possible area to its maximum potential, and instead of expanding horizontally, he expands vertically.||”|
As a result MINERVA maps have a much shorter load time than maps in the original game.
Foster creates the maps in layers. Once a layer is filled he moves the design downwards, which both helps to propel the storyline (a descent into a mysterious shaft) and also makes the best use of space.
The player's Combine opposition are positioned logically, a feat given the vast number of communicating areas in each map. New adversaries don't spawn as soon as the player completes an objective but appear realistically as the episode progresses.
Metastasis is the first chapter in the MINERVA series. It is divided into four episodes: Carcinogenesis, Downhill Struggle, Depth Charge, and Pegasus. Episodes 3 and 4 were released on October 1, 2007, which completed the first chapter.
|“||The true method of knowledge is experiment. So, strapped to the underside of a stolen Combine helicopter, you're part of my latest scientific investigation. Objective: To infiltrate and observe this peculiar little island a few miles off shore, its heart burrowed out by our ever-loving benefactors...||”|
Metastasis 1 begins with the player being deposited on the shore of a mysterious island by a Combine helicopter. Under attack from the outset, the player must fight a path around the island to gain access to its center, guided on occasion by messages from Minerva.
Combat and exploration dominate gameplay in this first installment. Dropped in the water next to a wharf, the player must survive an initial firefight with Combine forces before getting his bearings. The wharf with its collection of buildings is fenced off; the island's most obvious non-natural feature is a shimmering stream of plasma descending from the cloud cover straight into the island's center. A circuitous tour of the island ensues, involving multiple variegated enemy engagements (at a distance, up close, elevated, bunkered, flanked), all set in a convincing and detailed rocky beach environment. The outdoor tour ends at the wharf next to which the player is first deposited, the first of many such circles throughout the Minerva series. Underground exploration with minimal combat follows, heightening tension and raising questions about what the Combine are doing on the island, the apparent aim of Minerva's "scientific investigation." A return to the surface yields more combat, access to the plasma stream's entry point, and the beginning of the descent down the beam's path that carries the episode to its conclusion and is continued in the next installment.
We learn little about Minerva or her goals, but her messages reveal a megalomaniacal, condescending, and sarcastic personality, and she seems to enjoy, but not assume, the player's continued survival. Her oblique, intriguing comments drive the narrative just as combat drives the gameplay. Minerva also reveals that the plasma stream comes from a geosynchronous satellite and that the player's objective is to find out its purpose.
|“||Experiment shall continue; further data sought. Upon completion, peer review followed by publishing; discoveries communicated to a greater audience. Infiltrate. Observe. Reveal. Destroy.||”|
The second level to MINERVA is set inside a huge shaft found at the center of the strange island. As the player progresses downwards the level becomes much darker.
This installment involves slightly less combat, although the well placed enemies present a tougher challenge, and seems to be mostly about finding a route further down the shaft. At times this can be difficult with complex puzzles and a lot of backtracking required.
Once again you are directed by the invisible Minerva, who seems to become more sarcastic as the game progresses.
It is revealed that the user is not the only person Minerva has manipulated. She compares you against at least one other such avatar - perhaps a reference to Pericles but it is also possible it refers to the player character of Someplace Else. She also reveals that the player is actually a traitorous (or 'reprogrammed') Combine soldier whom she has provided with a Black Mesa HEV suit.
The third level delves the player deeper and to the lowest floors of the shaft. The player loses his armaments in a weapons containment field, and for a large portion of the level the player must run from Combine soldiers while solving puzzles using crates. During this segment of gameplay, the player will stumble across the impressive core of the reactor that receives the energy of the plasma stream. It is apparently used to power a Combine Portal reactor (similar to the one at the top of the Citadel, seen at the end of Half-Life 2). The player arrives just in time to see a portal form to an unknown (and apparently barren, except for antlions) planet. The planet is also seen as a holographic projection or on screens throughout the Combine base. Minerva says that it is unconquered and unexplored by the Combine, although several Dropships are seen coming through the portal.
Minerva asks the player to sabotage the core, by disabling four plasma containers which help regulate and buffer the core's energy levels. Upon successful completion of the task, Minerva reveals her true intentions and betrays the player. She intends to use the satellite's superheated plasma beam to strike the base with a destructive blast. She informs the player of the base's utter and complete destruction within the first twenty seconds of disabling the cores. The third episode ends with the player fading to white as Minerva brings about the devastation of the base.
The player survives the blast to the surprise of Minerva, who decides to try and rescue the player if they manage to reach the surface before the satellite recharges for a second blast. The plasma strike has heavily damaged the installation, and headcrabs now roam free throughout the base, infecting Combine Soldiers. The zombies soon become the primary enemies. Many platforms and hallways are blocked or structurally damaged and require the player to break their way through or find a whole new route around. While making their way upwards the player has to solve some environmental puzzles (like blowing a hole in the floor using gas pipes, while fending off an unlimited number of zombies with reprogrammed Combine Turrets). Upon reaching the surface (now at dusk), the player battles through waves of Fast Zombies, and heads out to the Combine Watchtower, where he makes one last stand against a Combine Gunship, which is preventing the evacuation helicopter from approaching the island. Once the Gunship is destroyed, the evacuation helicopter arrives. The player safely flies off, as another plasma strike annihilates the island.
Out of Time
Foster has stated that the next chapter of the MINERVA series will be called "Out of Time", instead of the previous working title "Chronoclasm", and has promised "some freakish gameplay additions...".
Foster has also hinted that he would like to set Out of Time in "a snow-dusted coastal town, complete with its own Citadel." A blog post on the development blog further hinted Out of Time will take place in City 44. The film Twelve Monkeys (1995) may provide some influences in the design of this urban area.[ ]
The official site for "Out Of Time" can be found here
Adam Foster has been recruited by Valve, and began working for them in October 2008 (on the Half Life 2: Episode Three development team). Foster has stated his intention to continue working on "Out Of Time" in his spare time.
- MINERVA was featured as a Mod of the Week on Planet Halflife.
- Amped News rated it 4.5/5 (review)
- An interview with Adam Foster in the February 2006 edition of Computer Gaming World
- Moddb gave Minerva a Mod Of The Year 2006 Award (5th place)
- RockPaperShotgun posted an interview with Adam Foster in October 2007
- RockPaperShotgun featured MINERVA: Metastasis on the eight day of its 2007 Advent Game-O-Calendar series
- ↑ Metastasis 1 released!. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2008-02-21.
- ↑ Metastasis 2 released. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2008-02-21.
- ↑ MINERVA: Metastasis released. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2008-02-21.
- ↑ Interview: Half-Life 2 Minerva mod, PC Zone Staff, Computer and Video Games, August 8, 2006, accessed October 3, 2007
- ↑ Archive. MINERVA official homepage. Retrieved on June 23, 2006.
- ↑ Baltic?. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2006-09-04.
- ↑ Minerva. Idle Thumbs (16 November 2006). Retrieved on 30 April 2006.
- ↑ MINERVA: Metastasis 2. Planet Half-Life (17 April 2006). Retrieved on 3 August 2006.
- ↑ High Dynamic Range. MINERVA development log (August 7, 2006). Retrieved on 12 January 2007.
- ↑ Metastasis 1. MINERVA official homepage. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.
- ↑ Metastasis 2. MINERVA official homepage. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.
- ↑ Answers? Maybe. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2006-08-03.
- ↑ Referencing City 44's Downfall. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2007-12-01.
- ↑ A new life awaits in the outer colonies!. MINERVA development log. Retrieved on 2009-01-27.
- The official MINERVA site, with an introduction to the story and some unconventional plot expansion.
- Download Minerva
- Someplace Else, the prequel to Minerva (a mod for the original Half-Life)
- Someplace Else at the valvesoftware.com wiki
- Foster's Minerva Development Blog