Softimage has released a free version of Softimage|XSI EXP for Half-Life 2. The company will be giving a demo of the software at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in California, which runs from March 24 – 26.

This version of Softimage’s 3D tool is exclusively designed for creating modifications to the long-awaited sequel to Half-Life from Valve. Softimage claims it will allow users to create and modify characters, props, and scenery for Half-Life 2 MODs and other Valve Source engine-powered titles, and then output their creations directly into the games.

According to Softimage, Valve is currently targeting this summer for the completion of Half-Life 2, and the company plans to pre-release a collection of development libraries. MODders will be able to use Softimage|XSI EXP for Half-Life 2 before the game is released.

The software is based on the same architecture as Softimage’s professional Softimage|XSI software, and includes toolsets for creating characters and hair, mixing and blending animations via the Animation Mixer, applying real-time shaders, and rendering elements interactively, claims the company.

Softimage also claims that users will get specialized tools and functions for creating and outputting complex graphics into Half-Life 2, several key tutorials and scene files, and access to over 100 additional tutorials via the Half-Life 2 Community Centre.

Softimage will be giving away the game at GDC. Alternatively the package will be available for download from the Softimage Web site from March 24.