Gordon Freeman, Gnome Ranger.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Valve has done a wonderful thing. Besides releasing the single greatest deal for current consoles, they've sprinkled in some of the most entertaining achievements on the 360. With everything from "go through this level using only the gravity gun" to "only fire one bullet in Episode 1" Half-Life 2 on the 360 more than makes up for it's lack of multiplayer support. The following is the tale of one quantum physicist and his gnome.

Episode 2, the second expansion for Half-Life 2 included in the Orange Box has an achievement titled "Little Rocket Man." From the description, one can glean that somewhere in the game is a gnome and somewhere else is a device that will put him in orbit. I found this concept intriguing. No one has ever attempted Gnomed space flight. I could be the pioneering spirit of a whole new era of space travel. I knew then, it would be my destiny to put the first gnome into space.

My search began close to the end of the game. I thought that somewhere close to the rocket, already up to it's red hat in the space program, I would find my astrognome. Though I searched high and low, I found no suitable candidates. I did find an open rocket however, and one very intrepid headcrab. But alas, it seemed I would have to broaden my gnomish horizons to areas outside of White Forest. And so the first step in my epic journey was made.

I began my search at the beginning of the episode. Waking in the ruined train car I looked furtively about for any possible gnome activity. Perhaps the gnome was a fellow passenger on the train, or even the conductor. No, he'd need a really tall box to see outside, and I saw no boxes in the train. Outside, a portal tore open the sky, glimpses into the hellish netherspace flickering within it. Miles wide, it held an ominous post over the now ruined city 17. I would find no gnomes there.

To the east there sat a small shack beneath a radio tower. Alex began her repairs to the equipment once inside. While Eli and Dr. Kleiner spouted something at me about closing portals and destroying the combines stranglehold on humanity I examined my surroundings. A plain design scheme, rustic, or at least rusted, few aesthetic encumbrances, natural feel, and a low bed. I was in the very lair of the gnome I sought. I opened doors, turned over boxes and finally found my true goal and reason for being under the bed, no doubt waiting patiently for the intruders to leave.

Despite my rude intrusion, he seemed pleased to have been found. No doubt, being the sole caretaker of a secluded radio transmitter is a lonely position. I explained to him the situation, the possibilities, the fame and the scientific immortality that awaited him in the icy black void beyond. Being no fainthearted gnome he agreed to accompany me on my trek towards the future.

Being of small stature and completely immobile, I was forced to carry my lilliputian companion from the cabin and beyond. His expression never changed from that of unrepressed joy. Being outside and so far from home must have been terribly exciting. Held firmly in the nurturing arms of the gravity gun, he would be safe from the peril that beset us on our way.

Through ruined farms and forests I carried him as a father a child. While carrying him, I was defenseless and so relied on my companions to protect both he and I. While the gravity gun if capable of hurtling objects at incredible speeds, my gnomish friend proved useless as a projectile weapon. Indeed, these early tests were better designed to test his heartiness during launch. Through it all,he maintained his altogether delighted disposition.

Eventually I was tasked with retrieving a certain substance from the heart of the ant lion's nest in order to revive a fallen comrade. I knew the path ahead would be too much for the poor gnome, as the ant lions would surely find him a delicious treat. Instead I left him to tend the wounds of our poor compatriot. Upon my return from the nest we would continue our trek.

After nearly an hour of ant lions and zombies I resurfaced with the necessary substance. With a few words, our friend was resurrected and we were on our way. Yet, before we could move much farther the ant lions, no doubt searching for smaller and more jolly foods assaulted us. We were forced into a small enclosure with limited supplies of ammunition. I was forced to fight off the onslaught with nothing but the gravity gun as my previous encounter had left me with precious few bullets. Through patience and careful hurtling of explosive barrels, we defeated the ant lion menace once and for all.

Our destination was an old factory. Once home to labor and industry, it now housed only zombies and the car that would carry us to White Forest, home of the fateful rocket. Again, I was forced to carry on alone, making my way across the putrescent factory floor, fighting off zombies as I went. Eventually coming to the bridge, I found it's decayed state similar to a giant see saw. Positioning cars at one end allowed me to traverse its length in the newly procured getaway vehicle.

Once on the other side, I flipped a switch allowing my friends access to the vehicle. While making my way over to the door I'd just opened in order to retrieve my soon-to-be space explorer, I found it had shut again. "No," I thought "there's still someone on that side!" I returned to the booth with the switch. Through the window I could see his red hat just on the other side of the door. I flipped the switch and ran as fast as my HEV assisted legs could carry me. But I was not fast enough. The door slammed shut as I approached, denying me access once again. This mad dash continued for another fifteen minutes. Exhausted from my herculean task with the door, I looked for something I could use to hold open the door. I eventually (through much trial and error with other objects) found a chair. I placed it at the door, hoping that when it opened, the chair would fall into position and hold open the door long enough for me to retrieve my one reason for living. It worked, but only just. The chair strained it's metal frame in the door and no sooner had I retrieved the gnome and turned back to the car the chair collapsed and the door smashed shut with a loud bang behind me. No matter, the gnome and I were safe.

It was about this time I realized I cared more for the gnome than my own safety. I'd risked life and limb to keep him safe and he didn't even have a name. Searching my mind for an appropriate title I settled on Gnome Chomsky. From here until eternity, we were the closest of friends.

From our first moments in the car, I knew we were in for a long journey. There was no operable trunk in which I could store Gnome for the duration, nor was there a secure location in the back seat where he could rest. As it was, I would have to stop every hundred feet or so to retrieve the overly rolly polly Gnome from the ground. If only I had a car seat. This didn't seem to be too much trouble until we were forced to flee from an attack helicopter. Gnome Chomsky thought it better to tuck and roll from the car on several occasions rather than trust that my driving would see us to safety. When I would stop the car to retrieve him once again, the helicopter would shoot him from my hands, seemingly more interested in stopping him than me.

Finally, after a very long forty five minutes, we arrived at White Forest. My excitement grew as the lift drew nearer the rocket. I swelled with pride as I placed Gnome Chomsky the Brave in the rocket. I said my goodbyes and shut the hatch tight. Later, as the countdown ticked away his last seconds on Earth, a tear crept into the corner of my eye. We'd come so far, faced so much and now our time together was at an end.

The rocket soared into the sky on a gleaming trail of fire, while my mind sang a mish mashed chorus of "Space Oddity," "Rocket Man," and the theme to "From the Earth to the Moon." This travelogue is for you Gnome Chomsky. You, the bravest little man in a giant red hat. May your journey be long and enlightening. I hope you remember me fondly as you travel where no Gnome has gone before. God bless and God speed you and your headcrab co-pilot.