This mod lets you slather fancy ray tracing all over your Half-Life

Half-Life 1 Ray Traced Room Lighting

Ray-sonance cascade

If you’ve been holding off on replaying Half-Life until it gussies itself up a bit and Black Mesa doesn’t feel quite the same, you can now apply some simulated photons to it. Programmer Sultim Tsyrendashiev, the creator of similar mods for Doom, Quake, and Serious Sam, has released a literal glow-up with their Half-Life 1 Ray Traced mod. The mod does exactly what it say on the box by adding path traced illumination and reflections.

Hey, you know what? I started up Half-Life a few weeks ago for a tandem playthrough of it and Black Mesa, so this is the perfect time for me to give it a try. I had left off on the early chapter Office Complex. Installation of the mod is extremely simple, and it launches from a separate executable. Once inside, it was a few quick tweaks to the options, and I was off to the fancily lit races.

The mod gives the option to toggle the lighting effects with a single button (you’re stuck with the reflections, however.) Doing so demonstrates that the lighting engine hasn’t simply been overhauled, but some of the fixtures have been changed and light sources added. While some changes are more dramatic than others, I enjoy the effect and find that it didn’t take too much from the feel of the game.

I generally think that ray tracing is a colossal, over-hyped bit of tech designed to speed the planned obsolescence of graphics hardware. Developers have been so good at artistically emulating light and reflection that there are games with ray tracing where the most significant impact of turning it on seems to just be that the framerate drops. Visual differences are negligible, but the performance impact is severe.


I also find that applying modern lighting effects to games where graphical techniques were too primitive to have convincing lighting does give new life to the game. A lot of our brain’s ability to recognize depth and space comes from light and shadow. So while the textures and models remain unchanged, the improved lighting makes for a more convincing image.

Regardless, playing around with old game engines and experiencing familiar games with altered visuals is a lot of fun. And that’s whether you think the added effects are a needed improvement or not.

The Half-Life 1 Ray Traced mod is available for free from the creator’s Github. However, you will need a copy of the original Half-Life (not Half-Life: Source) to stick it into.

Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.