Valve explains why we'll never see the full history of Half-Life's development

According to Valve's Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson, the company can't actually fully reconstruct the development process for its influential 1998 game Half-Life.

Last week Valve invited folks from Gamasutra and other media outlets up to chat about the company's projects, its plans for VR and its expectations for the future of the game industry.

In the process we learned that Valve currently has 3 full VR games in production, and that it's planning to replace Steam Greenlight with a fee-based submission system, Steam Direct.

But we also talked a bit about the past, and game dev history buffs may be surprised to hear that Valve can't actually fully reconstruct the development process for its influential 1998 game Half-Life.

"We don't have all the history of Half-Life 1's development, from the start," said longtime Valve staffer Erik Johnson.

"Because like three months before we shipped, or two months before we shipped Half-Life 1, we lost the whole history; our VSS exploded. And so we had to put that all together off people's machines. So yeah, we don't have the history going back to the very start. We have the snapshot from that month."

Johnson was actually expanding upon the answer to a question about whether or not Valve has lost the source code to Goldsource (or GoldSrc), which was used to build Half-Life and is basically the predecessor to the Source engine.

"We still have the [Goldsource] source code," Johnson said. "I hope so. We absolutely still have all the source code."

At that point, company chief Gabe Newell jumped in to share an interesting memory of his time working on the Windows operating system at Microsoft, before he left to cofound Valve with fellow ex-Microsoft staffer Mike Harrington.

"In the list of ironies -- and this is just nerdy -- we couldn't actually rebuild Windows 1. It was actually impossible," said Newell. "Because two hours before I got on a plane to take the very first release of Windows, we found a problem. And it was patched in the binary, right. Somebody went in and patched the executable, using a hex editor."

"So you couldn't actually ever build this. And then people forgot about that, right. And so it didn't end up being a problem until we were building the localized versions, and then suddenly there was this realization that, you know.....[gestures with hands in the air] so those kinds of awkward shenanigans are real."

Incidentally, if you want to read more about the development process of the original Half-Life, you should read this 1999 Gamasutra feature about it from longtime Valve staffer Ken Birdwell.

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