MTM: Half-Life – The Gauss Cannon

Hey and welcome to More than Mashing, the only column on the net examining skill across games in video format. Next up in my quest to break down the art of warfare is this Tau Cannon montage and some other cool movement methods possible in Half-Life.

The Tau Cannon or Gauss Cannon is a classic Half-Life weapon. In the original Half-Life it never played much of a role, due to limited ammo and generally linear setting, but in deathmatch it was given its chance to shine through as one of the most unique and powerful weapons in FPS history.

The Tau Cannon is a powerful hitscan weapon with 2 fire modes, its standard fire is a decent range laser, like a quake railgun, with a decent rate of fire and moderate damage. Where it really shines is the alt fire, which lets you charge up the weapon, expending ammo as you do it. The longer you charge, the more powerful the blast. This charge shot can penetrate through walls, ricochet off them, and even propel you into the air like a rocket jump. Naturally this makes it the preferred means of travel for Half-Life Deathmatch players on the maps that offer it. It can be dangerous to overcharge however, as the shot can ricochet back and hit you.

As you’ll notice in the video, it’s a very handy weapon for people who can keep track of where their opponents are through walls. Back in Half-Life Deathmatch it was common to mess with A3D sound to make it so you could hear the direction and distance of every sound on the map, even through walls. So by listening, players can determine the locations of their opponents through walls. This is the source of the classic Counter Strike Wall-bangs. Rumor has it that a dutch player was able to disable the models, and still win rounds with all his opponents invisible, locating them only by sound. An easier method of catching players through walls just general prediction ability, seeing them as they go out of sight and estimating where they will be through the wall.

Similar to rockets in other games, the Tau Cannon can be used for high powered jumps, usually without the health repercussions. Half-Life had a very unique and robust velocity system that allowed for a wide variety of trick jumps, which became essential for Deathmatch players. Being in the GoldSrc engine, based on the Quake 3 engine, bunny hopping was naturally possible (check my old Phoon article for more info on that), but beyond that it was possible to gain momentum in a number of ways. Players could get small boosts of momentum from crossbows (barely), launch themselves with explosive sachels or by baking grenades (typical rocket jumps work as well), scale walls with snarks or trip laser mines, and of course soar through the air with the Tau Cannon. The Tau Cannon is unique from classic rocket boosting in that it can propel you in any direction, not just relative to the wall, and it can do so at any position on the map, even in midair. By utilizing slopes on the stage to redirect momentum, you can gain lift from horizontal velocity. This video below shows off many of the tricks possible with the Tau Cannon and bunny hops.

The Tau Cannon may be the favored method of travel in Deathmatch for general utility and low cost to health, but many cool tricks were possible with the other weapons. Grenades could be used as a boost by pulling them out, then baking the grenade until it was read to explode, and throwing it at the last instant. In the world record segmented speedrun by Spiderwaffle this trick is used to cross a huge gap in the blast pit chapter. Sachels are useful for similar purposes, but naturally they have to stay on the ground, however unlike a grenade you can place multiple of them in the same position.

Snarks (tiny aliens you throw) are mildly useful for scaling walls, because they can be stood on and jumped off of. If you do it just right, you can keep jumping off the snark as it keeps jumping and float upwards through the air. If you don’t do it just right, then you can set up a bunch of snarks on top of each other, all jumping off one another and scale the wall that way. Snarks are primarily useful as pests in deathmatch, but they can be massively useful for movement in some rare circumstances.

This video shows off a bunch of clever movement tricks ranging from basic bunnyhops over large gaps to brilliant explosive jumps or impossible hops into narrow spaces.

Some of the most clever tricks in the video are when he stands at the top of the canyon with the Tau Cannon and launches himself off with it, using the cliff walls to redirect himself upwards, then airstrafes (using the same mouse movement trick as bunnyhopping, only to redirect momentum) to the far end of the canal. In that same canyon he also sets up a laser trip mine, tosses a snark into the beam, then rides the explosion up to an unreachable ledge. And his crowning trick is a boost similar to the snark jump, only with a headcrab at the base of Blast Pit. He leads it over to the wall, then gets on its head. It keeps jumping up to attack him, and he jumps to give it a little more space. Each time he does, the headcrap gains a bit more height and he uses this to pull himself completely out of the pit and back onto the catwalk.

Between its wide array of movement and attack options, Half-Life was an extremely robust game for players of all skill levels, better than its successor even. Its tight and winding level design created a massive playground for speedrunners and trick jumpers to play around on, as can be seen in the picture below. I hope to see more games with as brilliant weapon design and movement options in the future. In the meantime though, long live the Tau Cannon!

Half-Life’s map

Know any impressive videos of people playing games to their fullest capacity? Send it my way. I have 400 videos so far and the collection only grows. You can have a look at the videos I’ve collected so far on my youtube channel here, here, and here. I’m always collecting and I appreciate new contributions from readers.

See you next time! Don’t forget about Freeman!

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