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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 12:34 GMT
Gamers get playing Half-Life 2
Screengrab of Steam error message, BBC
Many Half-Life 2 players saw messages like this
The long-delayed launch of the Half-Life 2 computer game was marred by problems with its registration system.

The game launched globally on 16 November but online computers used to authenticate copies struggled to cope with the deluge of users.

Some players reported lengthy delays that stopped them unlocking the game and getting playing.

However, once players got the game working reports about the follow-up were generally very positive.

Hurry up and wait

Half-Life 2 has been five years in the making and its launch has been delayed time and time again.

Windows XP/2000/Me/98
1.2Ghz processor
256 MB Ram
Net connection
DVD drive
Many players were forced to wait just a little longer to continue the adventures of Gordon Freeman, the central character controlled by the player, in the sequel to one of the most popular games of all time.

Valve, the software studio behind Half-Life and its sequel, insisted that every copy of Half-Life 2 be authenticated with its online software system Steam in order to stamp out piracy.

Even gamers that only intend to play the game by themselves must authenticate their copy.

However, the global launch seems to have created problems for the Steam servers that were authenticating all the copies being installed by players around the world.

Many of those installing and authenticating their copy received pop-up messages from Valve apologising for the delays.

Message boards on Half-Life 2 fan sites were buzzing with talk about the delays and the frustration people felt about being kept from playing after all the other postponements the game has suffered.

Warnings were circulating about fake programs that claim to be able to unlock Half-Life 2 but are actually key loggers, spyware and viruses in disguise.

Screenshot from Half-Life 2, Vivendi
Some of the enemies in Half-Life 2 are formidable
There are unconfirmed rumours that cracked copies of the game are circulating on file-sharing networks such as Bit Torrent.

The authentication delays only seemed to affect versions of the game bought in stores.

Many keen players have downloaded their version of the game from Valve before now and only had to unlock the files on launch day.

Road test

The BBC News website installed and authenticated a copy of Half-Life 2 on launch day and during this test we did experience some delays.

Signing up for Valve's Steam system went without a hitch.

Once this was done registration could proceed. This took ten minutes and during this time a pop-up warning from Valve's Steam servers appeared apologising for the hiatus.

Windows XP Home Edition
2.4Ghz Intel Pentium 4
512 MB Ram
Nvidia Geforce FX 5200 128MB Ram
But what took far longer than registration was the process of unlocking the Half-Life 2 game files. In total decrypting these files took more than 30 minutes.

The game occupies 4.5 GB of hard disk space and the sheer size of it may have contributed to this second delay.

Internet access on the machine being used to play Half-Life 2 is needed to authenticate the game and get it playing first time. After that players can choose an "offline mode" that does not connect to Valve's Steam system.

The good news for gamers is that the title does not seem to need an awesomely powerful machine to run on. Early reports suggested that many players would have to upgrade their machine to cope with its graphical demands.

The BBC News website test was run on an 18-month old desktop PC that has a 2.4Ghz Pentium 4, 512MB of Ram and a 128MB video card.

With this set-up the game ran very well, looked almost as good as it has done in the teaser videos that have been circulating.

Reviews of the game have, so far, been very good and have complimented it for its looks and solid gameplay.

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