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Half Life 2 hacker still remorseful over role in 2003 leak

Video game piracy is something of an industry in 2011, but back in the whimsical days of 2003, news of a game being leaked and spread amongst the masses was still rare enough to be considered shocking and worthy of a full scale SWAT team response. Case in point: Axel Gembe, an 18-year-old German hacker who was awakened at gunpoint by police after cracking Valve's servers and stealing the studio's yet-to-be-released Half Life 2 source code.

The deed earned Gembe a black mark in Valve's books, as well as a notorious reputation in the gaming community. Now, eight years later, Gembe claims that he never meant to cause Gabe Newell as much grief as he did and, more importantly, that he's really, really sorry he did.

"I was naïve and did things that I should never have done," admitted Gembe in an extremely interesting interview with Eurogamer, explaining, "There were so many better uses of my time. I regret having caused Valve Software trouble and financial loss. I also regret having caused some universities financial harm by using them as speed tests for my malware.”

In the end, it was Gembe's nagging guilt that earned him an early morning faceful of rifle barrels. After a friend leaked the code to torrent sites, Gembe issued an apologetic email to Gabe Newell in February 2004 asking for forgiveness and the chance to chat. He received that chance in the form of a fake job interview wherein Gembe admitted to his crime under the naïve impression Newell would be swayed by his skill and tenacity. The confession gave Valve and the FBI the ammo they needed to contact German police and bring Gembe in for questioning.

Following his arrest and questioning, he was held for two weeks and then released on parole. Benevolence, thy name is Newell (and/or the German legal system).

Asked what he would say to Valve if given the opportunity, Gembe added, “I would say this: I am so very sorry for what I did to you. I never intended to cause you harm. If I could undo it, I would. It still makes me sad thinking about it. I would have loved to just stay and watch you do your thing, but in the end I screwed it up. You are my favorite developer, and I will always buy your games."

We're pretty sure he's over it. All the same, don't hold out for that job offer.

[Source: Eurogamer]

Feb 22, 2011

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15 comments

  • DangerZone723 - February 23, 2011 7:35 p.m.

    ^Damn dude, relax. He hacked a piece of code. He's not Benedict Arnold. No one was killed over it. He sounds genuinely remorseful. And I'm sorry but people do stupid stuff when they are in their early 20's (believe me, I know from experience). People change. Half-Life 2 came out and was awesome. I'm sure Gabe Newell is over it - maybe you should get over it too.
  • rabidpotatochip - February 23, 2011 4:30 p.m.

    @HavingSeizures I did read the article, I've been reading them since 2003. Perhaps you would benefit from going back and doing the same, paying particular attention to the dates in the first and fourth paragraphs. He apologized _after_ the code was leaked, not before. If he was just trying to test his 1337 h4x0r skills by breaking into Valve's servers why did he keep the code afterward? How did his friend get it? Hell, if Valve is his "favorite developer" why did he do it in the first place? I think he apologized because he knew he was standing in the splatter radius when the game's source code was released into the wild. Just shy of eight years is certainly enough time to make a man remorseful for his actions, but at the end of the day he still has to lie in the bed he makes. He made a bad decision on a global scale and it will affect the rest of his life. For that, I still don't feel forgiveness is in order but he does deserve pity.
  • HavingSeizures - February 23, 2011 4:08 p.m.

    "I believe people can change and I want to give him the benefit of a doubt but to be honest, this sounds like someone who says sorry when they get a speeding ticket. Sure they feel may feel bad but the result makes them feel bad, not the action." If you'd actually read the article as it is, it explains that the reason he was caught was because he apologized. He was, and still is, sincerely sorry for his actions, so before you, or anyone else, says he is not deserving of forgiveness, he is. He's been sorry, he's felt remorseful for eight years now, give 'im a break.
  • rabidpotatochip - February 23, 2011 2:38 p.m.

    I believe people can change and I want to give him the benefit of a doubt but to be honest, this sounds like someone who says sorry when they get a speeding ticket. Sure they feel may feel bad but the result makes them feel bad, not the action.
  • BadLadJon - February 23, 2011 1:02 p.m.

    Dear Axel Gembe, please hack valve again and find out about Episode three, valve dont understand that we're still fucking waiting for a single screenshot. From half life gamers DNF is out, Episode three is the new "will it ever"
  • Rivenscry - February 23, 2011 12:19 p.m.

    Wow, people are always saying not to mess with Gabe and here is the exact reason not to. They WILL bring in the FBI, offer you a fake job, and then have you arrested at gunpoint for stealing their hard work and locked up in Jail for 2 weeks. Imagine if Sony took this kind of offence to Georgie-boy...hmm, *imagines Kevin Butler with a machine gun* Anyone else feeling a touch of pride at Valve, the PC and the games industry as a whole? It's stuff like this that makes me proud to be a gamer. Now that we've all shown Valve our love, how about a certain Episode 3...? Pretty please?
  • jackthemenace - February 23, 2011 12:04 p.m.

    I don't quite understand... He hacked the source code, and then distributed it to people? So, a bit like giving away the game that was yet to come out, for free? And what's he on about University Malware? I'd have a better opinion, but i'm not totally sure i understand what's going on... :/
  • Desired_Effect - February 23, 2011 10:52 a.m.

    And all of you taking the moral highground have never downloaded something you shouldn't have? A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life. Muhammad Ali People change and can show remorse
  • Cyber6x - February 23, 2011 5:56 a.m.

    If GeoHotz were half the man this guy was he would of apologized by now.
  • ElGrinchoid - February 23, 2011 4:51 a.m.

    So did he not get any penalty other than being held for 2 weeks? Should be saying "Thank you.". A lot. I'm with shadowskill11 on this, no sympathy. At 20 he knew exactly what he was doing, and while yes we've all made mistakes in our lives, especially when we're younger, stuff like this doesn't count for me. This is calculated and saying sorry really doesn't cover it.
  • soulreapermarco - February 23, 2011 2:16 a.m.

    I feel more bad for the hacker.
  • shadowskill11 - February 23, 2011 2:10 a.m.

    Screw him. He was 20 when he decided to break the law and steal and distribute the software. He was old enough to understand that people are free to do what ever the crap they want as long as they accept responsibility for any and all repercussions of said act.
  • bobbybroccoli - February 23, 2011 1:58 a.m.

    I've nevet played a valve game. But Gabe is so darn adorable! Shame on you hackers!
  • sutrebla15 - February 23, 2011 1:52 a.m.

    I never knew that leaking software could result in police officers aiming their guns at your head...
  • Fr00b - February 23, 2011 1:50 a.m.

    FIRST! and i love valve, who would ever do this? (besides ps3 hackers)

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