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Credit where credit is due: Valve are leading the industry with work like HDR. Thanks to their hard work, along with the pioneering research of guys like Paul Debevec, gamers will soon be able to enjoy much more life-like games. Lost Coast is a great showcase for what is possible, and since it is a free download for all Half-Life 2 owners, everyone will be able to see what all the fuss is about.

Ahead of its release, we felt it necessary to address some of the concerns in the community about the game. Various forum threads have been dissecting the currently available information, and some incorrect conclusions have been reached which are perpetuating as unhelpful disinformation.

Length: The first is the length of Lost Coast. Many people are getting hot under the collar over the delayed release date because they possibly think Lost Coast is something that it is not. Aftermath is the expansion pack. Lost Coast, as has been stated by Valve since it was first unveiled, is a single level technology showcase.

Before we received playable code, we asked innocently how many hours of gameplay there would be. In terms of end-to-end gameplay, the answer is measured in minutes, not hours. Be warned: if you are expecting loads of new story, you will be disappointed, and unnecessarily so. Marvel at the graphics, listen to the Developer Commentary, but take it all at face value.

Commentary: Speaking of the Commentary, this is a brilliant new feature. You can toggle it on / off, and Valve suggest that you play the level through with it off first, then again with it on, learning about each new stage as you progress. The implementation is extremely slick: simply place your crosshair over the floating speech bubble, and hit your Use key. Listen to comments from Art Director, Viktor Antonov and Design Manager, Robin Walker, amongst others. It really is just like a Director's Commentary on your favourite DVD. If this feature proves popular with the community, Valve will add it to future titles, so don't be afraid to stand up and be counted.

Left: Gabe camps it up (nice monitor!) - Right: Gabe with Blackmesa II in the conference room.

Performance: The other contentuous issue surrounds performance: people have heard the specs and are cursing the fact that they'll "have to upgrade for Lost Coast". The key point to understand is that HDR and Lost Coast are independent of each other. HDR has been added to the Source engine and the performance hit is managable: between 10-30% perhaps, though we will be conducting a thorough benchmarking test later this week on both ATI and NVIDIA-based cards. If you can already play Half-Life 2 or Counter-Strike: Source at a decent framerate, you should be able to enjoy Day of Defeat: Source with HDR at a decent framerate.

Lost Coast, on the other hand, is a single-level technology showcase that features HDR as one of its many party tricks. It features very high resolution textures, and improved player models: the infamous Old Man on the docks is approx 6,000 polygons compared with around 3,000 for a Half-Life 2 character. These are the reasons why Lost Coast has relatively high system requirements.

Initial systems: However, all is not lost, if you excuse the pun. The system used to demonstrate the game to us today was an Athlon 64 3800+ with 2GB of RAM and a GeForce 6800GT - high end for many people, but not stratospheric. If you needed further proof, the 1024x768 2xAA screenshots featured in this article were taken on a 1.6Ghz Centrino notebook with only 1GB of RAM and an aging 128MB FireGL graphics card. True, it ran at 10FPS at High Detail, but it was playable enough to appreciate the overall achievement.

Left: CTs off to rescue Hostage Barbie. Right: no lobby would be complete without a golden crowbar.
A lighthearted note to finish, then - Valve's office really is as cool as you think it might be. There is loads of memorabilia everywhere, outnumbered only by the huge numbers of awards that Valve have won over the years. There is no doubting everyone works very hard, but when "work" sometimes means playtesting DoD: Source on the LAN, you know it's not all bad.

We would like to thank everyone at Valve for taking the time to show us around today. We have more articles from this expedition planned - check back soon.

Got some thoughts on Lost Coast, or any of the other points mentioned in this article? Drop by this thread in our forums and comment.


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