The Black Mesa Research Facility (also referred to as simply Black Mesa in the Half-Life games) is a fictional complex located deep in the desert of New Mexico, United States, and is the setting for most of the events of the computer game Half-Life and its expansions.
Research and facilities
The Black Mesa facility is built over several decommissioned missile silo complexes constructed during the 1950s, which have been converted into a vast civilian institute for the research of every conceivable scientific discipline. Much of the work undertaken at the facility involves fairly standard scientific research, such as radiation, rocketry, theoretical physics, lasers, experimental propulsion, hydraulics, robotics, hydroelectricity, genetics, applied mathematics and a very wide spectrum of research into chemistry and all manner of physics research. Research at the facility includes both pure research and applied science. The facility also serves as a base for decommissioning nuclear weapons. In addition to this legitimate research, several secret projects are also carried out at Black Mesa, which are deliberately left vague. A large amount of classified research is carried out, including the development of high-tech weapons and defense systems, research into extra-dimensional travel, teleportation, and the study of Xen. During the tram ride that opens Half-Life, an announcement on the public address system states that the facility is seeking employees with backgrounds in theoretical physics, biotechnology, and various other high-tech scientific disciplines. It is also said that jobs in low-clearance security and materials handling are available. Black Mesa, as the same announcement states, is an equal opportunity employer.
The opening sequences of Half-Life and its expansions (Blue Shift and Opposing Force) reveal much about the facility. Apart from hinting at the enormous size of Black Mesa, it is revealed that the facility is very high-security, as each employee is required to undergo a series of rigorous security checks as they travel around the complex. Black Mesa is dominated by a bewildering number of laboratories, test areas, and administration offices. These, along with cavernous storage facilities, take up most of the underground areas of the complex. Despite being located in the middle of a desert, the underground and indoor sectors of Black Mesa are maintained at 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) at all times, enabled by Black Mesa's sprawling network of ventilation ducts.
As employees are required to live in the complex itself, Black Mesa contains many personnel facilities, including laundromats, recreation and sports areas such as lounges, basketball courts, swimming pools, a video rental outlet (as seen in Blue Shift), fast food outlets, food courts, cafeterias, and at least one bar serving alcoholic beverages. The facility is well-populated by vending machines and rest areas for the employees of the facility. As Dr. Eli Vance reveals in Half-Life 2, his wife also worked in the facility, and their baby daughter lived there with them, it can be inferred that employees' family members who are not working in the facility are allowed to reside in the dormitory complexes as well in certain cases. The complex may also have its own newspaper, The Mesa Times, although this may be an outside publication. The Blue Shift manual reveals further details about the facility. Barney Calhoun's duty rotation is printed in French, suggesting that the facility recruits international personnel. Included in Calhoun's papers are several pages describing bizarre animals, claiming that the facility houses strange specimens from across the globe (they are, in fact, creatures from Xen). A point of interest is that the same pages describe how, in the event of an emergency, security officers are required to co-operate with military personnel from the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit, suggesting that Black Mesa has experienced problems with escaped specimens in the past. Possibly to deal with potential escaped specimens, or perhaps as a leftover from the facility's days as a military missile complex, Black Mesa contains many automated machine-gun turrets, which, when activated, will emerge from armoured cupolas and fire upon any moving object in their line of sight.
It is revealed in Portal that Black Mesa is in direct competition with Aperture Science, Inc., as evidenced by PowerPoint-like presentations in meeting facilities, visible in the latter half of the game, and by a passing mention in the song playing over the credits, "Still Alive". This rivalry is largely related to the fact that both organizations were striving to produce portal technology for the United States Department of Defense, and led to the creation of Aperture's Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System (GLaDOS). The presentation also gives some extra insight into Black Mesa, such as its USDoD contracts and freedom from the Government Performance and Results Act.
Black Mesa's motto, as seen in the Blue Shift manual, is: Working to build a better tomorrow for all mankind.
The physical range of the facility is, from an in-game perspective, nothing short of massive, large enough that the surface area is divided into seven lettered sectors and upwards of nine numbered areas. Most of the facility is located underground, where vast concrete-lined caverns and old ICBM silos are linked by a network of electric trams. Black Mesa is apparently self-sufficient, housing its own ventilation, plumbing, sewage, and power generation systems including a hydroelectric dam and multiple types of electrical generators and reactors. The facility is filled with all kinds of laboratories and testing areas, most of which contain very high-tech equipment. The complex also features multi-story car parks (complete with Black Mesa four-wheel drive SUVs), arsenals of nuclear and conventional weapons, a local electric rail materials transport network, laboratories housing the latest equipment for every conceivable high-tech scientific discipline (including a powerful anti-mass spectrometer), and even its own rocket launch site. Black Mesa is kept supplied by a freight rail link to the rest of New Mexico. It can be inferred that the facility is relatively old considering that some areas are described by in-game characters as "old" or "abandoned." Several areas of the complex are badly run-down despite the obvious fact that they are still in use. The surface areas of Black Mesa feature more modern construction.
Black Mesa personnel
The Black Mesa Research Facility is populated by two main groups of civilian employees: science personnel and security personnel, along with various other inhabitants including administrative personnel, service personnel and occasionally the employees' families (as stated by Dr. Eli Vance in Half-Life 2). The base also keeps a small military presence. All facility personnel wear identity badges, and the automated tram announcement at the beginning of Half-Life reminds staff that they must display their badges at all times, as well as that "regular radiation and biohazard screenings are a requirement of continued employment in the Black Mesa Research Facility. Missing a scheduled urinalysis or radiation check-up is grounds for immediate termination."
The following are the main types of personnel employed in the facility.
Security personnel (a.k.a. security guards) are the main component of Black Mesa's support personnel force. Each guard is granted a different security clearance specific to his duty, with an average clearance of Level 3. The security guard uniform consists of a blue shirt, black tie, dark blue pants, black combat boots, equipment belt, armor vest and helmet. The standard sidearm issued to security staff is the GLOCK 17 pistol in Half-Life; the Glock 18 in BlueShift; or the Beretta, with the High Definition Pack installed, but it seems that Franchi SPAS-12 shotguns, .357 Colt Python revolvers, Desert Eagle pistols and fragmentation grenades are also available to them. Otis, the obese security guard in Opposing Force, carries a Desert Eagle pistol.
- Security Officer - The vast majority of guards work as security officers, tasked with protecting secured areas and information, reporting breaches of authority to their administrative sponsor and helping with general maintenance tasks. In rare cases, security officers will be tasked with capturing escaped research specimens.
- Section Manager - The role of section manager is effectively a desk job that consists of directing security officers and assigning tasks.
- Instructor - Security officers will often take on additional work instructing new recruits in the Sector A Training Facility. According to the PlayStation 2 game manual, the name of one instructor is "Miller", although Barney Calhoun is also named as a potential substitute for Otis's training.
Science Personnel (a.k.a. the Science Team), recruited largely from academic backgrounds, are the overwhelming majority of Black Mesa's population. Each scientist is granted a different security clearance specific to his duty, with an average clearance of Level 5. Like other employees, scientists have an assigned uniform, consisting of a blue shirt, white labcoat, red striped tie and white (or beige) slacks. Many scientists are trained in the use of the MP5 (Or the M4A1 with the High-Definition pack) submachine gun as part of HEV suit training, but those in research and development have little or no knowledge of combat.
- Research and Development - The largest portion of the scientists are assigned to research and development positions, where they conduct experiments and create new technologies. The research conducted ranges in focus from particle physics to biological study to space travel. Most research and development scientists have a limited knowledge of first aid, and can heal some wounds. Dr. Isaac Kleiner and Dr. Eli Vance were prominent research and development scientists.
- Research Associate - Research Associates work alongside research and development scientists, but with a lower status in the employment hierarchy. They are usually required to conduct the more mundane or less desirable portions of a given experiment. Dr. Gordon Freeman and Dr. Colette Green were notable research associates.
- Hazardous Environment Supervisor - Supervisors act in a similar role to research associates in that they assist in experiments, but they are primarily concerned with maintaining a safe work environment. Dr. Gina Cross worked in this position.
- Instructor - Scientists will often take on additional work training employees and conducting simulations in the Sector A Training Facility.
- Survey Team - Survey teams were organized soon after the first teleportation labs were constructed in Black Mesa. Their assignment is the most dangerous, as they are tasked with entering Xen to collect samples and conduct experiments. Because of the danger, survey team members are highly trained in the use of the HEV suit and a variety of weapons.
- Administration Personnel - Serving the Office of the Administrator, administration personnel handle the bureaucracy for the facility, including recruiting civilians and assigning personnel.
- Service Personnel - Service Personnel are rarely seen in the Half-Life games, but can sometimes be spotted driving forklifts. They are also tasked with some more complicated maintenance tasks, such as repairing turrets. From a distance, they appear to be wearing green overalls and yellow helmets. In the beta for the game, they were to be as frequently seen as security personnel, however, they were cut from the final game.
- Military Personnel - The facility contains a small military presence in the form of the HECU: a special forces clean up squad.
"The Black Mesa Incident"
What came later to be known as "The Black Mesa Incident" was triggered by a seemingly innocuous and routine experiment into teleportation. As part of the Anomalous Materials team in Sector C of the facility, research associate Gordon Freeman introduced a crystalline specimen into the projected beam of an over-charged anti-mass spectrometer in test-chamber C-33/a. This caused a catastrophic resonance cascade, leading to widespread and severe structural damage to the room and eventually the entire facility. Communications with the outside world were cut off. These were side-effects caused by the resonance cascade tearing dimensional holes between Earth and Xen, a border-world. Intelligent creatures and wildlife were forcibly and randomly shifted into the Black Mesa facility, and ultimately the surrounding area. The confused creatures began attacking the facility's personnel, causing chaos. Black Mesa's inhabitants attempted to hide or flee the facility by any means available. Some- particularly security personel, tried to fend off their assailants.
Soon after the resonance cascade occurred, the decision was made that specialised soldiers from the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit (HECU) would be ordered to contain the violent situation, by destroying all evidence of the accident. These orders included the termination of all Xenian aliens and facility civilian personnel alike. No witnesses were to be left alive. While the soldiers were at first successful, their hold over the facility was lost as they were subject to incessant attack by increasing numbers of Xen lifeforms, as well as the Black Mesa Security Force surviving personnel, including, against all the odds, Gordon Freeman. Freeman was aided by Black Mesa's surviving personnel and protected by his Hazardous Environment Suit, and was able to fight his way across the facility, encountering and killing many members of the HECU and Xen lifeforms. He also destroyed great amounts of military hardware, worsening the situation for the HECU forces. As the Xen creatures gained ground and inflicted casualties on the small, specialised military, the HECU abandoned containment in favour of a hasty and incomplete evacuation. Other soldiers, referred to as Black Ops, were inserted with the objective of planting a nuclear weapon to level the facility. Highly-trained, they executed the remaining survivors of HECU and Black Mesa Personnel. Many of these operatives were killed by Gordon Freeman and others, including Corporal Adrian Shephard, an HECU soldier who was trapped in the facility but still survived a great deal of fighting. The majority of these Black Ops were ultimately killed by the newly-arrived Race X creatures. Having planted their weapon, the Black Ops evacuated the facility.
Throughout the earlier stages of the incident, several members of Black Mesa's science team, operating out of the remote and therefore relatively undamaged Lambda Complex, attempted to close the dimensional rifts between Black Mesa and Xen by launching a geo-stationary satellite into orbit. Dr. Freeman made contact with the fortified Lambda Complex and, after bringing Black Mesa's nuclear reactor online, was teleported to Xen.
It remained unclear whether or not the actions of the Lambda team, in particular their launching of the satellite, actually helped to close the dimensional rifts. After the launch of the satellite it was theorised that forces on the other side of the portals kept them open. The atomic blast that levelled Black Mesa did not stop the alien activity, and this led to a period known as The Portal Storms, where much of the Earth was ravaged by Xen lifeforms, and ultimately discovery by The Combine.
While most of Black Mesa's personnel were killed in the facility itself, either by the initial and subsequent military incursions, the alien lifeforms, or ultimately, the nuclear explosion, several members of the science team and security force managed to escape.
- Dr. Wallace Breen, the facility's Administrator, escaped by unknown means and negotiated an end to the Seven Hour War with the Combine, becoming administrator of Earth.
- Dr. Isaac Kleiner, a member of the Lambda team, escaped as well as Dr. Eli Vance, a high-ranking member of both the Anomalous Materials team and the Lambda team, carrying with him his young daughter Alyx.
- Security officer Barney Calhoun escaped relatively early on, along with Dr. Rosenberg, a high-ranking scientist related to the original teleportation project, and two other scientists (Walter Bennett and Simmons) in a Black Mesa SUV. They used an old prototype teleporter to reach the outside, and were well clear of the explosion.
- Corporal Adrian Shephard, HECU, survived a battle with a number of a large Race X aliens and was subsequently detained for the sake of secrecy by the ambiguously-motivated G-Man.
- Another member of the Anomalous Materials team, Dr. Magnusson, escaped the facility through unknown means, possibly with Dr. Kleiner or Dr. Vance, as revealed in Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
Dr. Gordon Freeman, despite no more than rudimentary training in combat, survived against all odds, even after his transportation to Xen by the Lambda team. He did not return to Black Mesa, having been placed in stasis by the G-Man along with Shephard. He did not reappear until the events of Half-Life 2, many years later, having not aged a day.
Black Mesa contains a vast and complicated array of laboratories, storage areas, personnel facilities, and abandoned areas. The various facilities in Black Mesa are loosely grouped into seven Sectors:
Black Mesa Central Complex
Central Command and Communication Centers, Mechanized Infantry Repair Bay.
Sector A Training Facility
Encountered in all four of the Half-Life 1 games, Sector A contains the separate Hazard Courses used for training HEV personnel (as seen in Half-Life) and security officers (as seen in Blue Shift). Demonstrations are provided by trained instructors or pre-recorded holographic assistants, whilst participants are constantly monitored by observing scientists. The two known Hazard Courses are built over old, disused industrial sectors of the facility, and are each divided into an obstacle course and target range. This facility can also be accessed in the Opposing Force expansion pack by activating the alt-fire on the Displacer in the map the weapon is found in.
Sector A also contains a Satellite Communications Centre, housing a large satellite uplink dish. This facility is used in Decay when Colette Green and Gina Cross help Dr. Rosenberg to contact the military.
A schedule in the Blue Shift manual also places the Area 4 Personnel Dormitories in this sector.
Sector B Coolant Reserve
The Coolant Reserve (formerly the Section A-17 Prototype Laboratories) stores the industrial coolant used to maintain Black Mesa's thousands of computers and machines. It is first seen by Barney Calhoun when he escapes from Sector C.
The section was originally the site of the (now decommissioned) Displacement Field Laboratory seen in Blue Shift, where Black Mesa's first teleportation experiments took place. It is powered by the Auxiliary Generator Facility. The surface level of Sector B is now a Train Yard that is used to ship freight in and out of the facility over the New Mexico Railroad Line. The sector also contains the Area 2 Administration Offices.
Sector C Test Labs and Control Facilities
Sector C is notable primarily for housing the Anomalous Materials Laboratories that were Dr. Freeman's workplace. This area contains the anti-mass spectrometer (Test Lab C-33/a), which was the initial source of the Black Mesa Incident and the starting point of the Half-Life series.
In addition to the Anomalous Materials Laboratories, the sector also contains the High-Energy Particle Laboratories and Supercooled Laser Laboratory.
Sector C is patrolled by guards from the Area 3 Security Facilities. The facility is adjacent to the High-Energy Particle Labs, and encompasses a central lobby, personnel facilities, video surveillance, and an armoury. The sector also contains the Level 3 Dormitories, which feature a Library and an Aquatic Centre with a large pool. This is the area where Gordon Freeman lived while working at Black Mesa. His dormitory (Dorm 309) can be explored in Decay, and indicates that the average dormitory room is furnished with a bed, entertainment centre (with television) and a small bathroom with shower.
Sector D Administration
Seen early in Half-Life, Sector D is mainly a large underground complex of Administration Offices where the bureaucratic aspects of Black Mesa's upkeep take place, along with some limited research.
The Administration Offices are built beneath the surface's High Security Storage Facility, a large semi-subterranean warehouse made of interlocking Storage Areas. The lower levels of Sector D contain the Silo D Experimental Propulsion Laboratories where rocket engines are tested in one of Black Mesa's many decommissioned missile silos.
Sector E Biodome Complex
The Biodome Complex, a relatively new area of the facility (still under construction at the time of the Black Mesa Incident, as seen in Opposing Force), contains a series of Specimen Observation Areas, where captured Xen aliens are kept and observed in artificial recreations of their natural habitats. Alongside these enclosures are Specimen Containment Rooms where the aliens are studied in closer detail. The lowest underground levels of Sector E contain the Hydrofauna Studies Laboratory where aquatic aliens are kept in older decommissioned areas that have been flooded and converted into makeshift tanks. The sector also contains the Advanced Biological Research Lab seen in Half-Life, a smaller facility where the aliens are tested on and dissected by an automated robotic Surgical Unit, in ways that are likely unethical.
The second level of the lab is used as an experimental weapon research lab, testing dangerous weapons such as the Gauss Gun and a large High-Powered Laser. The other surface areas of Sector E form an Ordinance Storage Facility where vast amounts of munitions and explosives are stored, ranging from small arms to crates of dynamite, even including some nuclear weapons. An area of this facility, Storage Unit 04 (also known as the Level 4 Storage Unit) becomes infested with the creature known as the "Gene Worm" towards the end of Opposing Force.
The surface of Sector E contains the bulk of Black Mesa's still-functional military facilities, including at least three Helicopter Hangars, a Topside Armory and a Topside Barracks. The nearby Silo E High Altitude Launch Center, a silo converted into a fully-functional satellite delivery rocket lauchpad. was used by the Lambda Team, with the help of Gordon Freeman, to launch the satellite that later helped repair the resonance cascade in Decay.
Finally, Sector E is the location of Black Mesa's various Waste Processing facilities, including the Biological Waste Processing Plant seen in Half-Life and Waste Processing Area 3, seen in both Half-Life and Opposing Force.
These various facilities are linked together, and to the rest of the base, by the (largely decommissioned) Sector E Materials Transport system, a network of dilapidated trams extending deep beneath the facility from Sector E Track Control.
Sector F Lambda Complex
The heavily fortified Lambda Reactor Complex is the site of Black Mesa's top secret teleportation labs. The reactor is a huge device consisting of the Lambda Reactor Main Coolant System, and the cylindrical Lambda Reactor Core. The core of the reactor consists of four levels (Levels A-D) that fuel an extremely powerful teleportation portal on Level A, where survey Teams are equipped and sent to Xen.
The Gamma Laboratories in Sector F were built later, as a means of capturing Xen specimens without risking casualties. These labs use a Prototype Displacement Beacon, which generates strong displacement fields and opens miniature dimensional rifts between Earth and Xen, for the safe and easy collection of alien life. It was used by Dr. Richard Keller in Half-Life: Decay to stop the effects of the resonance cascade and produce a "resonance reversal."
Sector F is linked to the rest of the base via the Secured Access Lambda Sector Transport and the Central Complex, which contains Black Mesa's Central Command and Communication Centers and a Mechanized Infantry Repair Bay.
Sector G Hydro Electric
Located at the lowest points of the Black Mesa Research Facility, Sector G channels power from Black Mesa's rivers and underground Drainage Canal system. Its most prominent feature is the Topside Hydro Plant that consists of a large hydroelectric dam that cuts through the centre of Sector E. The dam is heavily damaged by military bombardment during Opposing Force. The dam appears to resemble Hoover Dam.
Additional and unspecified areas
The following areas are either not linked to a specific sector, or their specific sector is currently unknown.
- Area 7 Recreational Facilities - Whilst not seen in the game, a map of Black Mesa's tram routes in Blue Shift mentions Area 7. As Black Mesa's employees are required to live in the facility itself, it can be assumed that Area 7 contains comforts and diversions such as sporting areas, cafeterias, and other personnel facilities.
- Area 8 Topside Dormitories - One of the many topside dormitories on the surface of Black Mesa, featuring a basketball court and a small train platform. Barney Calhoun lived in one of the Area 8 dorms.
- Area 9 Transit Hub - The Area 9 Transit Hub acts as one of the many transit security checkpoints throughout the Black Mesa Research Facility. Trams that pass through the Area 9 Transit Hub can be rerouted to both the Sector E and C transit lines.
- Black Mesa Air-Traffic Control - This building is adjacent to a large airstrip, and is used to monitor and direct activity in the airspace above Black Mesa. Special clearance codes must be entered at this building before any rocket launch can take place in other areas.
- Infirmary - At the beginning of Opposing Force, Adrian Shephard wakes up in a damaged Black Mesa infirmary, which appears to still be under the control of Black Mesa personnel, who are caring for wounded soldiers and studying zombies under the protection of security officers. The infirmary is equipped with CAT and MRI scanners, which are still functional. Some areas of the infirmary, though, have been abandoned due to headcrab infestation and biohazard spills, and have been blocked off with furniture and hospital beds. There were also laser-based experiments taking place in the building.
- Level 1 Main Facility Entrance - Never physically seen within any of the Half-Life games, the Level 1 Main Facility Entrance heavily implies that it used as a central entrance checkpoint for all the facility personnel. The facility was only seen written on a transit map near the Sector G Main Access Lift, in Half-Life: Blue Shift.
Fate of Black Mesa
The fate of Black Mesa is revealed in the end of Half-Life: Opposing Force. The Black Ops have set a nuclear device programmed to self-detonate. Shepard defused the device, but the G-man re-armed it. Shepard does not get a chance to defuse it again, so he continues in the Black Mesa warehouse that leads to the deep underground of Black Mesa. Shepard fought and defeated the Gene Worm, but he was sucked inside the portal the Gene Worm created after its death. Shepard was inside an Osprey, with the G-man talking to him. Just before the G-man says "Quite so.", the device detonates, wiping out the whole facility. It is not known if any parts remained or if it will be rebuilt.
The Facility is not seen in Half-Life 2 or its Episodes (except in two sequences with the G-Man; the test chamber is seen at the beginning of Half-Life 2 and what is assumed the Sector C Test Lab Reception Area in Half-Life 2: Episode Two). It is referred to by the characters throughout the games but its fate is never alluded to.
- Half-Life (PC), Valve Software, 1998.
- Half-Life: Opposing Force (PC), Gearbox Software, 1999.
- Half-Life: Blue Shift (PC), Gearbox Software, 2001.
- Half-Life: Decay (PS2), Gearbox Software, 2001.
- Half-Life 2 (PC), Valve Software, 2004.
- Half-Life: Blue Shift instruction manual. Gearbox Software, 2001.
- Portal (PC), Valve Software, 2007.
- Overview of Black Mesa – A composite map of the facility as seen in the original Half-Life.
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