There is a new, 90-second Quicktime movie circulating the net today showing off a special new level for Half-Life 2 called "Lost Coast". Developed by Valve's Art Department following the completion of the full game, the level is specifically designed to leverage the latest in graphics technology.
"We knew we hadn't reached the limits of graphics with Half Life 2. We had the idea to create one level that would extend the Half-Life 2 universe, and test our strategies for next generation art. We called it The Lost Coast."
says Viktor Antonov, Valve's Art Director/Conceptual Designer in this month's PC Gamer magazine.
"We picked the most ambitious, most difficult area to create. It's a coastline with a lot of rocks, a village, and a church. We have a lot of wet surfaces, nature, architecture and exteriors. We wanted strong themes; very defined rocks, a lot of water, really detailed, almost organic looking architecture down to a brick and a shingle."
Ambitious indeed, but certainly with very impressive results.
While the main game was surprisingly playable on many less-than-cutting-edge systems, the Lost Coast level will snub the original minimum specs of a 1.2Ghz processor, 256Mb of RAM and a DX7 graphics card and require a whopping 3.2GHz processor, 1Gb of RAM and the very latest that NVIDIA & ATI can offer in order to run smoothly.
The reason for needing all this grunt is the addition of High-Dynamic Range Rendering. HDR is a DX9 feature that exaggerates brightness / contrast levels in order to more closely mimic real life. The simplest example of this is the temporary blinding effect of emerging from a dark tunnel into the bright sunlight: your view becomes saturated with bright light until your eyes adjust.
HDR was introduced to Far Cry as part of the 1.3 patch: you can read about it, and view before / after screenshots by checking out Tim's Far Cry 1.3 Patch Evaluation
The visual impact in HL2 is certainly impressive, and I would certainly hope HDR is included out of the box for Valve's forthcoming expansion pack, Half-Life 2: Aftermath.
The 179Mb video is available Torrent-style from Eurogamer's Eurofiles
and the usual Download sources like Fileshack