"At this point, we're standing around, saying, 'Do you have anything to do? Well, I don't have anything to do,'" Newell says as he walks the halls of Valve. It's September 30, 2004, and Half-Life 2 is nearly done. A release candidate was sent to Vivendi on September 15. Now Valve is working to fix the final bugs that were found in that version. There is other good news as well: Valve is beginning to sense that Vivendi may end up shipping the game this year, mostly due to intense pressure from retailers who think Half-Life 2 could become the best-selling PC game of all time.
"I'd love to play a game that tells the story of Alyx and Dog, her pet robot."-- Gabe Newell on Valves plans for the Half-Life 2 universe
Newell is already thinking about where Valve goes next. One thing is for sure: The company won't embark on another five-year project anytime soon. "We need to do smaller and shorter projects at first to avoid burnout," he says. On that note, one cabal has already started work on what Newell refers to as the "ATI levels," a series of single-player levels that will require a super-high-end graphics card to run. Valve hopes to release those over Steam later this year. Newell is hoping that the other cabals will move on to creating episodic single-player content that will be released in chunks over Steam. One tentative plan calls for Valve to start developing an episodic game that lets players assume the role of Alyx Vance. "I'd love to play a game that tells the story of Alyx and Dog, her pet robot," Newell says.
It turns out episodic content is just one of many projects in the works at Valve. Also on the docket are new versions of mods like Counter-Strike and even an Xbox--not an Xbox 2--version of Half-Life 2. But what excites Newell more than anything else is the idea of mod makers using the Source engine to create new games, much like Half-Life birthed Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat. "I firmly believe that our users will be able to make Half-Life 2 mods that a commercial company couldn't make with 24 months of development and a $5 million budget," he says. And finally there is one other game on the horizon: Team Fortress 2, which Newell says is far from a dead project. So what's the release date? "I'm sure we will screw that up again," he says with a sly grin. "I can connect the dots and look at history at this point."
A year after the September 30 date debacle, Newell can finally laugh about Valve's history of missed release dates. If anything, that may be the clearest sign yet that Half-Life 2 is nearly done. Now all that stands between the game and its completion are a few final bugs. And a piñata.