Black Mesa opens a playable museum of Xen’s history

Splice animals to create new species in this zoo management game

Check out the trailer for Let’s Build a Zoo, a cheery management game coming to Steam this summer with the awesome power to splice species together.

When Black Mesa launched in early access in 2015, the Valve-sanctioned fan remake of Half-Life was missing the final chapters set in the alien plane of Xen. Because this part of Half-Life was disliked by many (pssh I like it), the devs wanted to rework it rather than just remake it – a process which ended up taking another five years. Now they’ve released a playable ‘Xen Museum’ showing what they were up to all that time, with loads of different versions of Xen’s maps from across the course of development. What a delightful idea!

Made by Black Mesa developers Crowbar Collective, the Xen Museum is available on the Steam Workshop. It’s built around a museum hub displaying concept art and plans and such. More excitingly, it hosts an archive of playable 56 maps. Hopping into portals lets you visit old versions of Xen’s maps from across the years, seeing how they changed and found their final forms.

“We hope you enjoy this fun and interactive tour of our intensely difficult 5 years of development,” they say. “We thought this was a really cool and unique way to show off the way a game can develop and evolve over time.”

It is really cool. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another game so extensively archiving its own development either. The Stanley Parable does have a hidden museum of itself. And 30 Flights Of Loving’s end credits tour a museum with some of its assets as exhibits. But this, oof! Very nice.

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Completely Stretchy And Uncomfortably Sticky is about using your as-described arm to grapple around a cartoon world. There’s a free demo now.

They do warn maps might be a bit wonky and load times might be long but hey, it’s a museum. Take the waiting time to enjoy a subpar coffee and unexpectedly good cake.

Black Mesa is half-price on Steam right now too, down to £7.49/€8.99/$9.99 until Sunday. Our Black Mesa review called it “a triumph on many levels, and in terms of scale and polish, the most impressive fan game ever made”. The whole game’s a museum, really.

“It doesn’t modernise the antiquated design – but then, it wouldn’t be Half-Life if it did,” Graham said. “As it is, it’s the best way to play Valve’s original design if you haven’t done so before, and it’s a brilliant way to retread those old ventilation shafts, if you have.”

The devs followed up with a smidge of extra polish nine months after that in the Definitive Edition update. Annnd then yesterday they fixed a few bugs and added additional translations too.

Gorgeous voxel puzzler Bonfire Peaks will arrive this autumn

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