Closed Captions

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Closed captions in Half-Life 2. Dr. Breen's pre-recorded speech is made less distinct, as it is not as important.

Closed captions, or subtitles, are text descriptions that accompany sound and dialogue. They cue players who can't hear what's going on to what people are saying, and to a certain extent what's happening around them. With a bit of ingenuity they can also be used to display dialogue that has not been recorded yet.

Subtitling or full closed captions can be enabled in the Source engine in Options > Audio.

Closed captions are available for sounds defined either in soundscripts or in scripts\sentences.txt

Editing closed captions

Confirm.pngConfirm: Can a closed-caption DAT file be packed into a BSP map, for custom closed captions in multiplayer?

Closed captions are stored in closecaption_%language%.dat (e.g. closecaption_english.dat) in 🖿(game dir)\resource\. A DAT file is binary file compiled from a corresponding TXT file by the 🖿captioncompiler.exe tool.

Although the engine (in all games since Source 2006) does not read from the text file, Valve provided their originals for use by modders. You can find them in your 🖿\resource folder or possibly in the VPKs.

The format of the text file is:

	Language "English" //(or "Spanish", "French", etc)
		// Captions defined here.
		nameofsound	"This is the caption."

		barn.chatter	"We're picking up radio chatter. They're looking for your car."
		// etc...
  • The text file must be saved in the UCS-2 Little Endian format.
  • The name of the sound must be something defined in your soundscripts, not a raw filename.
  • Remember to wrap "quote marks" around any block of data containing whitespace.

Example for sentences.txt:

nameofsound soundfile {captioncodehere closecaption nameofsound}

BA_LATE barney/c1a0_ba_late {Len 2.33 closecaption BA_LATE}

Caption codes

Marks a line as a sound effect that will only be displayed with full closed captioning. If the user has cc_subtitles set to "1", it will not display these lines.
Sets the color of the caption using RGB color; 0 is no color, 255 is full color. For example, ;<clr:255,255,255> would be white.
Sets the RGB color of the caption depending on whether it is coming from the player/client or not. The first color is for when the sound is emitted by the player and the second color is for when it is emitted by anything or anyone else, separated by colon. For example, <playerclr:255,176,0:255,255,255> would be orange when the sound is emitted by the player or their equipment and white when emitted by anything else.
Bolds all text following the tag.
Italics text following the tag.
Note.pngNote:<B> and <I> can both be undone in the same line. "This is <B>bold text!<B> This is unbold." would look like this: This is bold text! This is unbold.
Controls how often a line can be repeated. If set to 15, this line won't be repeated in the next 15 seconds.
Overrides how long the line will display. For example, <len:5> will make the caption stay on the screen for 5 seconds. Without this, they stay for the duration of the sound + the time stored in the cc_linger_time convar.
Manually adds a new line (carriage return) for any further text in the caption.
For example, "Occupation:<cr>Subtitles" =
Sets a delay in between caption text, automatically adding a new line clearing all formatting. For example, with "<i><clr:255,176,0>HEV enabled.<delay:3>Your HEV was enabled.", "HEV enabled" will appear in italics and an orange color. 3 seconds later, "Your HEV was enabled" will emerge below it without any formatting from the previous line. The new line will always be directly below the previous one even if there are other captions below it.
Warning.pngWarning: Sometimes broken in The Stanley Parable The Stanley Parable.


The captions must be compiled with captioncompiler.exe. Since the caption file must be dragged from the mod resource directory in order to produce the .dat file. e.g. C:\Program Files\Steam\steamapps\SourceMods\[mod name]\resource\, this process will become slightly easier if you create a batch command file in the resource folder. Copy the following code into a text file and save it as a .bat file in the resources folder:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Half-Life 2\bin\captioncompiler.exe" %1
Tip.pngTip:With a batch file, you can use the -game "path to mod folder" parameter to override the global vproject value. Place it after %1, leaving a space. This saves you from having to launch the SDK and change it there.
Note.pngNote:All the filepaths in this file should be absolute, meaning they start at C:\.
Note.pngNote:Depending on the engine branch, one might change the location of the exe indicated at the batch file into other folders, as the compiled .dat file might not be compatible with such version.

Drag your caption .txt files onto the Batch file to use it as you would the .exe itself.

Playing sounds in your map with closed captions

Sometimes, you may want to play a sound with closed captions (or subtitles, really) when the player activates a trigger. Unfortunately, ambient_generic's "Play Everywhere" flag is broken for soundscripts, and subtitles only work on soundscripts and in sentences.txt (except for commentary nodes, see here). Hence you'll have to do a bit of a hack: use point_clientcommand to execute three commands:

  • play path/to/sound/file
  • cc_linger_time X, where X is a manually-tweaked value
  • cc_emit commentaryFileName, where commentaryFileName is a key from the closed captions text file.

Make sure both closecaption and cc_subtitles are set to 1.

Captions without sounds

Recording dialogue is a very resource-expensive process. If, once dialogue has been recorded, you decide you want to change something, making those changes can prove very costly, so final dialogue recording is often best done as one of the final stages in a project.

However, while creating choreographed scenes, it is highly desirable to have the dialogue available as early as possible. One way around this conflict is for the developer to record their own placeholder audio, but even this can take up significant amounts of time. A cheaper way of creating placeholder dialogue is to use closed captions without any attached dialogue.

There are three steps involved in accomplishing this:

1. Creating the captions
Sound tokens (e.g. barn.chatter above) can have closed captions attached without corresponding entries in the sound manifest. To create new closed captions, simply add new entries to the closecaption_english.txt (or other language file), as described above.
2. Adding the captions in Faceposer
In Faceposer, dialogue-free closed captions are added in the same way normal dialogue is added (right-click on the timeline and choose WAV File...). However, because the closed caption tokens are not in the sound manifest, they will not appear on the list of available sounds. Instead, simply refer to the entries you added in step 1 and type the token name manually into the Sound textbox.
3. Setting the length of caption appearance time
Once the first two steps are complete, your scenes will display the closed captions when they are played in game (as long as closed captions are turned on in the game options, of course). However, because there is no associated sound file, the event has no length. This means that the closed captions will leave the screen almost as soon as they are displayed, leaving a player little time to read them. While this is acceptable for captions comprised of one or two words, some more work is required to keep longer captions up on screen for a sufficient amount of time.

Faceposer doesn't support editing the length of WAV file events, but they can be edited through manual editing of the .vcd file. Open the .vcd in Notepad and find the speak event you wish to change the length of. A search for the name of the speak event will take you to the right place in the file.

There you will find an entry like this one:

event speak "Test"
	time 1.000000 -1.000000
	param "test.test"
	cctype "cc_master"
	cctoken ""

The time line denotes the start and end time of the event. The end time is set to -1.000000 because the speak event currently has no length. Edit this number to be the time (in seconds, on the timeline) when you wish the closed caption to end and save the file.

Obviously the desired length of time that a caption appears for will differ depending on the length of text. In general, when trying to decide how long text should appear on screen for, a good first estimate can often be achieved by timing yourself reading the text aloud and then doubling that number, to account for its unfamiliarity to fresh eyes.

Note.pngNote:You may find it useful to include a logic_auto and a point_clientcommand in your map, set to issue the console command closecaption 1 on map load. This will ensure that you don't need to remind anyone using your mod (e.g. other team members) to turn on their captions.
Warning.pngWarning:As a final note, this method could charitably be described as "experimental" and less charitably as a hack. As with all hacks, there exists the possibility that unpredictable and unexpected behaviour will be introduced. It is recommended that you make backups of your .vcd's before manually editing them, and keep regular backups of your .vcd's, lest Faceposer undo those edits suddenly.

Captions for BINK videos

With the release of Left 4 Dead Left 4 Dead, it is now possible to put subtitles on Bink-based videos.
A similar feature was also used in Postal III Postal III, but it's only available on German language by default, and only displays if the game language was set to German. It's uses the .srt subtitle file format and the subtitles can be located in 🖿...\p3\media\subtitles folder.


In Left 4 Dead 2 Left 4 Dead 2 and later games, Valve uses subtitles_language for the subtitles instead of keeping them in the closecaption_language files with the "hearing impaired" captions. The probable reasoning for this is because "closed captions" is for the hearing impaired, and for convenience. "Subtitles" is a more accepted term to use for this entity's purpose. Though, the sounds can still be marked as <sfx>.

As of Steam Deck updates in Half-Life 2 Half-Life 2 and Portal Portal along with Left 4 Dead 2 Left 4 Dead 2, the subtitle font is now anti-aliased.

Blank image.pngTodo: It should be possible to antialias the subtitles in other games by editing their VGUI2 .res files.

See Also

ViewDiscussEdit template Source Official Source SDK tools
Map editors Hammer Hammer
Map compilers vbspvvis • vrad • vmpi
Map tools bspzip • glview • VBSP2 • vbspinfo
Model compilers StudioMDL
Model tools Dmxconvert • Dmxedit • HLFaceposer HLFaceposer • HLMV HLMV • Itemtest • Modelbrowser • QC_Eyes
Texture tools Height2Normal Height2Normal • height2ssbump • makevmt • mksheet • Pfm2tgas • Shadercompile • Splitskybox • Vtex Vtex • VTF2TGA VTF2TGA • xwad
Sound tools VSoundEdit
Engine tools ActBusy Script Editor • Commentary Editor • Foundry • Material Editor • Particle Editor • Source Filmmaker Source Filmmaker
Other Captioncompiler • Demoinfo • Elementviewer • Motionmapper • Sfmgen • VConfig • Vfont • Vfont_decompiler • VICE • vpk