Gordon Freeman encounters a lot of different people when he emerges from his mysterious sleep to find himself in an alien-occupied Earth in Half-Life 2. Assetwise, Valve used a handful of models to represent these civilians and Resistance members. But why is male07 far and away the most popular civilian among the Half-Life community?
With his thin beard, widow’s peak, bald spot, and a dash of the real-life poser’s handsomeness, male07 is in all respects and purposes an average character model. The first fan project to give male07 special treatment was the fancomic Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman. Author Christopher C. Livingston used male07 as the model for the hapless main character Gordon Frohman, a clumsy idiot who arrives in City 17 a few weeks before Dr. Freeman and proceeds to accidentally or unwittingly setup a number of hazards or obstacles that will affect Freeman during the course of the game.
Three years later, machinimist djy1991 used male07 to represent the heroic John Freeman in the dramatic reading of Half Life: Full Life Consequences, one of the best Half-Life fanfictions ever written by virtue of its author only barely understanding English. My friends and I used to constantly quote lines from this video, and to this day I still usually refer to combat item pickups as ‘wepon’.
Three years after that, the developers of the Stanley Parable (the original mod, not the full-fledged game that came out in 2013) used male07 for Stanley in the game’s opening cutscene, though you can only recognize him from the back of his head and the curvature of his eyebrows.
They also updated his head to remove the signature bald spot, something Valve themselves didn’t do when they used male07 as a beta model for Chell in Portal. You can still see him in the first Portal trailer uploaded to Steam:
That’s a pretty impressive resume for a completely unremarkable civilian, just one among countless others who are all available to content creators. But I think a large part of his popularity comes from the fact that he’s got a very expressive face when compared to most of the other available civilians. His beard makes him stand out from the other available white males, all of whom are clean-shaven, and also make him look like a dimestore version of Gordon Freeman himself. The bald spot, the only interesting feature any civilian has from the back, adds even more individuality to separate male07 from the rest.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, male 07 is a completely average character model, and I think that garden variety quality is the key to his success. He’s the everyman of Half Life 2, an Arthur Dent whose face would fit in any setting or situation. Much like the popularity of Barney in the original Half-Life, male07 became the face of the masses in his own game and Valve even touched up his model in order to appear on the Borealis, the primary setting of Half-Life 3. If Half Life 3 had ever come out, could he have been promoted to main cast like Barney was before him? I guess we’ll never know.