Part 4 - Reassembling the Pieces
"Last year, we had a lot of great technology," explains Ken Birdwell, "and it would have been a really competent game, but it wouldn't have gone over the edge anywhere. In the middle of last year, we got some inklings of what we really could do with the game, and by late last year, we had seen what the game should be - we just had to do it."
The Heavy Weapons grunt was one enemy cut from the final game.
Not surprisingly, this "voyage of discovery" (as Harrington describes it) caused massive turmoil on the project. "The net result is that we threw out just about everything," admits Birdwell. "All the AI was gone, and we gutted the levels. In reality, Half-Life got delayed because of Half-Life." In Birdwell's estimation, what players are now experiencing on their PCs, "is really Half-Life 2. It's an incredible game."
What players are now experiencing on their PCs, "is really Half-Life 2," according to Valve's Ken Birdwell.
If Valve's founders hadn't had such deep pockets, it's doubtful whether they could have secretly rebuild Half-Life from the ground up. Most developers would simply be unable to fund such a redevelopment process, especially on their first game. However, this process is precisely how Half-Life moved from a B game to an A game. As Michael Abrash puts it, "For Valve, the first year was learning how to do a game, and the second year was applying it."
As Valve rolled into 1998, Harrington was confident, and the team was now stacked. To finish the project in a timely fashion, Valve had quietly shut down a second team working on an unannounced game. "All the vegetables were in the pot, so to speak, earlier this year," says Harrington. The company's resources were now completely focused on completing the game.
It didn't seem to matter. Valve hoped to have the game out in the spring... then in June... then in the summer... then September... and finally Thanksgiving. The slippery slope of release dates was the cause of great concern within Sierra, where employees would joke that they didn't think they would ever see Half-Life sitting on a store shelf.
"I don't think we wanted to admit to ourselves how much work we had left to do on the content side of things," says Newell, fessing up about the delays. "It's extremely embarrassing." Newell is very cognizant of what Valve put Sierra through during the delays. "Sierra has been pretty supportive, even though we've screwed up their quarterly [financial] forecasts for five quarters," he says with a shy laugh.
Gabe Newell, in the middle of a multiplayer game, fesses up about the game's countless missed release dates.
By the time E3 rolled around in June, significant progress had been made. Valve showed off the new and improved Half-Life at Sierra's booth. Most who saw the game didn't realize exactly how much redesign Valve had gone through. Valve was also starting to doubt itself - was Half-Life really good enough to compete against the likes of Sin, Shogo, Blood 2, Heretic 2, and (at the time) Daikatana? "In this industry, you really rally around the trade shows," explains Harrington. "There isn't a lot of public feedback during the process of creating a game, and given that we're a new company, you tend to wonder if you're on course or not."
This scripted sequence of a green tentacle attacking a scientist wowed the crowd at E3 1998.
They were. The reaction at E3 was tremendous and a huge morale booster for the company. Valve was on track and received another Game of the Show award. Its vision for Half-Life was within its grasp. It had become the game Valve wanted it to be.
Now they just had to finish it.
The Final Stretch