We are all guilty of taking game development for granted. Yes, even you, the guy who plays Call of Duty 4 and wonders why co-op wasn’t implemented. As most of us know, development is less magical and more rigorous – terrible deadlines, limited resources and limited manpower – all factor in to creating what we play for the holiday season. All that’s left is for us to complain about glitches in our chainsaw duels for multiplayer matches, because the devs were too busy making sure sound worked correctly in campaign mode in time for release.
A few months ago we chronicled the bizarre beginnings of some of our favorite games. We had a great time researching the many failed starts and heard positive feedback for an update. Now we bring you even more origins of our favorite games.
Without hyperbole, Half-Life is one of the best PC FPSes of all-time, which helped put Valve Software on the map. Not only did Half-Life set a new standard in merging storytelling with game design with its incredible opening, but also catapulted new ways of thinking about multiplayer with numerous open-source mods – one of which eventually becoming Counter-Strike.
Above: An early screen from the unreleased Half-Life
Half-Life was set for release during the holiday season of 1997, up against Quake II. Two things are interesting about that: for one, Valve licensed the Quake engine from id Software in order to make Half-Life, and two, HL was supposed to be the biggest game that year. Sierra Studios was banking on the E3 winner for Game of Show by a self-funded developer to blast Quake II out of the water. And it didn’t see release. Let’s back up for a moment.
Above: Time is never kind to scrapped games
As told in the fascinating GameSpot article, The Final Hours of Half-Life, Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington left their positions at Microsoft with millions of dollars and instead of investing in something sound like a restaurant, they started a game company. Recruiting talented designers and modders from college and different companies, Valve acquired id’s Quake engine, got a publishing deal with Sierra Studios and set about making a damn good game. Not only was Valve bucking the trend by making story a focus – something the press and fans latched on to – but it also wanted to develop a game that wasn’t just a Quake mission pack. The inspiration? Stephen King’s novella The Mist, about a military/science experiment that opens a portal to another world.
Above: Graphics look a tad better in the final version
At first, Valve wanted to rush a game out the door immediately, a good strategy from an upstart (they need to make money, remember?), but after a great tech demonstration at E3, Half-Life suddenly became the game. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t up to snuff. All of the astounding AI built from the ground-up? Gone. Creative level design? Gutted. A second dev team quietly stopped work on a second game in order to focus on Half-Life. Had Newell had smaller pockets, the studio would’ve shut for good, but Valve trudged on.
Above: That’s more like it. A screen from the final version
Essentially, Valve spent a year learning how to make a game and the following year making a much better one. Release dates slipped from Spring, to Summer to Thanksgiving as the final work and bug testing piled up. Once it was all done, Valve could finally sleep and look forward to its next big project – Team Fortress 2…
Powered by the Source engine, yet modified to appear as if Norman Rockwell and Pixar created art for the game, TF2 is an award-winning multiplayer game for the most serious and hardcore PC gamers. Sorry 360 and PS3 fans, you may have access to the game through The Orange Box, but PC users know the real depth of one of the best multiplayer experiences in the modern gaming age.
Above: One of the most highly-anticipated shooters of all time
Originally announced at E3 1999, TF2 has gone through a number of bumps, dev shifts and delays that many wondered if the game would actually see release. That fear was quashed once TF2 surfaced at an EA Gamers’ Day in the summer of 2006 with a trailer that radically changed everyone’s expectations. So what the hell happened during that time period?
After Team Fortress Classic – a remake of the popular Quake mod - was released for free to Half-Life owners, TF2 was thought to have been released in 2000. However, the game had no locked-down release date. In fact, according to a Game Informer interview with Robin Walker – co-creater of the original Team Fortress and current designer at Valve – he admits to having a fully playable version of the older military-themed TF2 working on Quake II, before he was brought on board to Valve. When TF2 was originally shown back at E3 1999, it was modeled as more of a first-person strategy game… or rather one aspect of the game was.
Above: The military just vomited a few polygons
Walker explains, “We were building things that were known as TF2 internally. We ended up building probably three to four different games. We didn’t like many of them.” One version of TF2 had one commander giving orders; however the total experience wasn’t that fun if you played as one of the grunts. Essentially, after a lot of play testing Valve took the parts that worked from these versions and combined them for the final build.
Above: A far cry from the earlier versions
Why did that military theme get dropped? According to Walker, it just wasn’t that fun. “The real world isn’t about interesting decisions – it’s about killing people real efficiently.” Nothing stylish about that. After the delay in 2000, Valve was quiet on the TF front until July 2006 with the new trailer. Besides the new graphical style – which was only in effect for the final 18 months of development – other changes to the game include tweaks to the different classes and making sure height came into play, rather than fighting on traditional flat levels.