Building a Popular Half-Life Mod During the Rise of Counter-Strike

My personal account of building “Cold Ice”, an underground Half-Life mod

When we purchased a home computer in 1998, I was consumed by PC video games. Particularly first-person shooters Quake II, SiN, and Unreal Tournament. Out of all of them, my favorite was Half-Life. The gameplay felt solid. The ambiance of the environment was immersive. The weapons felt heavy and responsive. The cast was engaging — Marc Laidlaw’s plausible scenario where theoretical scientists open a portal to an alien universe.

Half-Life, with its silent protagonist Gordon Freeman.

In my opinion, Half-Lifes online multiplayer battle mode felt realistic and fast-paced. HLDM (Half-Life Deathmatch) was a place where online strangers compete to obtain “frags.”

Original deathmatch for Half-Life in a map called boot_camp.

At about the same time I engaged with others in these online matches, the company that developed the game, Valve, released an SDK (software development kit) in April 1999. The SDK enabled the community to modify the game to their liking. This helped the game’s popularity surge.

Origins of Cold Ice.

Before discovering Half-Life, I dabbled in custom configuration changes in games like Red Alert and Rainbow Six. But Half-Life was my gateway to real customization with computer programming — modding to a community.

My curiosity engaged. How could I modify the weapons in the game to play differently? Then, without any prior programming knowledge, I started a modification later to be called Cold Ice.

Cold Ice Original Logo in Spring 1999.

Cold Ice was fueled by changing the mechanics and “skins” (textures) of the weapons. I harnessed the digital echo-chamber of a clan — a group of people playing on the same team. The experience overtook my game consumption into a leading mod maker, an accidental producer/creator.

Bitmap texture “skin” example.

Over time, Cold Ice became popular. Its concept was simple. Fast play, lots of explosions, unearth unused weapons, a unique winter ambiance, and a good time.

The original inverted texture on Gordon Freeman.

The mod’s origin was discovered by accident. I found the “invert” functionality of Paint Shop Pro. After extracting the player’s texture, Gordon Freeman, I recompiled it and placed it back into the pack file (a zip file the game uses to load resources).

It just so happen that the inverted texture looked cold. And hence, the mod name was born.

Examples of early versions of Cold Ice. Note the chumtoads. Sting was one of our original beta testers.

Curiosity on how things work drives determination.

From Quake II, and one patron’s perspective.

When I first picked up the SDK, I knew nothing about game concepts and how to produce results. With research, I found the instruments to make the modifications. This included a toolchain of applications and 3D modeling software. What assisted discovery was the investigation of other’s modification project structures. I would download, unpack, and review their materials.

Cold Ice was well known for extreme explosive environments during play.

Tools like Microsoft Visual Studio Professional 6.0, Paint Shop Pro 5.0, 3D Studio Max, and Valve’s Hammer were learning curves for me. Still, I was determined to deliver an experience.

The explosive vest device.

Experimenting with how the game was modified exposed me to wear many different “hats.” One day I would be working on developing a webpage to market the modification, the following day, I would be plugging a vbsp ray trace “leak” on compiling a map. The next day I would be editing the game mechanics. The intensity of the exploration sapped a majority of hours away from socializing in High School.

Half-Life model viewer, .pak explorer, and sprite mapping tools. USAS-12 Shotgun model by Coconutmonkey28.

The original iceman model by SSJ_Microhack.

The original and popular training facility map from Cold Ice. I remember spending hours tinkering with the urinals in the basement restroom.

Wally, a texture exploration/editor from the Quake mod community. Textures are what are bonded to brushes (polygon surfaces) to give a visual appearance.

The tooling for Half-Life was a disparate toolchain. It was a grab-bag from various companies and modding teams. Since Half-Life’s tech incremented off John Carmack’s (inventor of the base technology for Half-Life) brilliance in design decisions and logical organization, Quake’s tools were useful. They were implements to look deeper in detail.

I was driven by the discovery of making things different. At that time, I was involved online with a team of players who wanted to see what we could do. This is what fueled me to keep going.

I only knew the names of one or two individuals, but we never once spoke on video in all that time. Besides, the cameras were too grainy on NetMeeting. I was on dial-up at the time.

Contributors poured in from all channels. Whether it be voice-overs, writing documentation and READMEs, 3D modeling experts, and numerous map makers. They all taught me how to become better at each skillset. Their gifts were appreciated and leveraged.

Trinity Command, a new style CTF mod styled in early post-war flair.

And it also went the other way. See above and below. We were invited to contribute code and artistry in the community, which we did. The mods were popular at the time. In fact, both modifications, Trinity Command and Wasteland HL (WHL), were associated with early contributors of Cold Ice.

WastelandHL, a mix between Mad Max, Fallout, and “John Woo” akimbo styled weapons.

I personally loved WHL and Trinity Command because of their dedicated art direction. The feel of the gameplay was fantastic. When I had the chance to contribute to the weapons, HUD, and gameplay code, I had a lot of fun — I contributed to something larger than what we originally founded. And these founders were intensely good at the artwork and creating an atmospheric experience.

He taught me about life, perseverance, compassion, optimism, fidelity, and passion. He was one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, yet one of the

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store