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 interestinginterview 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 thechanceto chat.He received that chance in the form of a fake job interview wherein Gembe admitted to his crime under the naïveimpression Newell would be swayed by his skill and tenacity. The confession gave Valve and the FBI the ammothey needed to contact German police and bring Gembe in for questioning.

Following his arrest and questioning, hewas 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.


Feb 22, 2011

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Matt Bradford wrote news and features here at GamesRadar+ until 2016. Since then he's gone on to work with the Guinness World Records, acting as writer and researcher for the annual Gamer's Edition series of books, and has worked as an editor, technical writer, and voice actor. Matt is now a freelance journalist and editor, generating copy across a multitude of industries.