Now that I'm leaving PlanetHalfLife and resigning as Site Director, I'd like to be a drama queen, burn a bridge or two, and possibly maybe explain a few things. I apologize in advance the incoherence of this babbling, but it's not like you're being forced to read this crap.
I started PHL in 1998, just after Half-Life hit store shelves. Half-Life: Day One absolutely blew me away. It was incredible. The full game was even better. I loved everything about Half-Life and I threw myself into the community. I made maps, I wrote horrible fan fiction (Walter's World), I spent hours playing HLDM (mostly on Gasworks). Half-Life is easily one of the best games of all-time (well, IMHO, at least) and nothing will ever change that.
I reluctantly left PHL in 1999 due to my increasing workload. During my first stint at PHL, I was mildly irked by things like the TFC delay, PowerPlay, and the confusion over TF2 (it's an expansion pack! Oh wait, it's not!), but these were just minor inconveniences and as whole I liked the way Valve did business. Their support of the mod community in those early days is the reason why Half-Life is still so popular today.
I quit GameSpy in 2000 and came back in mid-2002. When I took over PHL again, things had changed. Half-Life was clearly past its prime. Valve clearly wasn't the same company it once was.
In early April 2003, Half-Life 2 rumors started to leak out. Print magazines were given the exclusive on all Half-Life 2 information and online sites weren't allowed to post screenshots or previews until 5/8/03. I felt this was a pretty stupid thing to do -- forcing people to jump through hoops and hunt down low-quality, blurry magazine scans to get a glimpse of the sequel they've been waiting five years for -- but hey, that's just my opinion and I'm obviously biased about the viability of the print medium. Valve's doing essentially the same thing again this year; print mags saw HL2 awhile back and that information will start trickling out shortly.
I sat in on the first demonstration of HL2 at E3 2003 and was pretty damn impressed. When Gabe said that the game was coming out 9/30/03, I totally believed it. My interest in Half-Life had begun to wane, but that demo rekindled my interest in PHL in a huge way.
Two months later, things started to get complicated. In mid-July I heard from multiple reliable sources that Half-Life 2 wasn't going to make 9/30/03. Then I got hold of pretty conclusive evidence that Valve's Doug Lombardi had flat out told print magazines (off the record, of course) to plan on pushing their reviews of Half-Life 2 back to the Holiday issues. Then in late July, Vivendi announced that Half-Life 2 would be delayed to the holidays. Since I knew the delay was coming, I jumped right on this and confidently reported it as fact.
Unfortunately Valve -- for whatever reason -- refused to own up to the fact that Half-Life 2 was going to be delayed. Gabe made that ridiculous "First time I've heard about this" response, and other sites overreacted and assumed that this meant that Vivendi's announcement was a mistake. This situation was further complicated by Vivendi's backtracking: after Valve essentially refused to confirm the delay news, Vivendi was forced to (kind of) retract their original delay announcement. So tons of people incorrectly assumed this meant HL2 was still coming out on time.
At this point, I was stuck: I knew Half-Life 2 was going to be delayed, and instead of backing down and keeping my mouth shut, I kept (loudly) proclaiming that HL2 was going to miss 9/30 while other sites kept reporting the exact opposite, This was very frustrating, and if you were around during this period of time, you'll recall that I was acting like a real jerk. And to be fair to these other sites, they were being fed rather misleading information.
Most of the above stuff I already talked about in this editorial from September
, but there's one key piece of information I left out: In August, I made a mistake. I was recruited to work on Prima's Half-Life 2 Behind the Scenes book and signed an NDA. Now I was privy to all sorts of Half-Life 2 information and quickly became 100% sure the game was going to slip, but thanks to the NDA, I couldn't say a damn thing about any of it. This was INCREDIBLY frustrating. I haven't even mentioned I was (emphasis on was) working on the book until now, and even then I only mention it because word leaked out on some other forums recently and there's no point in denying it.
In late August at ECTS, Valve's Doug Lombardi and Greg Coomer were both quoted as saying that the 9/30 release date was still happening. Lombardi told a co-worker of mine, to his face, that the game was still coming out September 30th worldwide. Some would call this marketing, but I'd call it lying.
I visited Valve in early September to conduct interviews for the Behind the Scenes book. It was quite a bit of fun, but I was a little disturbed by a few things. I won't get into the specifics, but information wasn't matching up. Things said during the E3 demo turned out to be either misleading or untrue, for example. I don't want to say exactly what kind of state the game was in when I was there, but you'll recall that when other fan sites visited Valve later that month (BEFORE the source code leak, even), they were unable to see the game. Now, if the game was in a playable state and supposedly ready to go gold within a couple of days, don't you think they would have shown it off?
Then the source code leak happened. I feel sorry for Valve that this happened because there's a possibility this could have a slightly negative on HL2 once it's finally released, but they really should have taken more precautions in the network security department. At first, Valve claimed that only 1/3rd of the source code was stolen, but once people compiled working versions of the game, well...
The Anonymous Leaker, despite being an asshole such as myself, was basically correct. HL2 wasn't nearly as far along as Valve was hinting at, and a lot of the things Valve showed in the E3 demo were misrepresented. Did he really release all the work Valve had done on HL2? To be honest, I don't know for sure. It's a possibility. Valve certainly made little effort to dispute his claims.
Valve didn't announce that Half-Life 2 would be delayed until 9/23. This, to me, was inexcusable. It takes ten minutes to send out an email.
OK, now you may be saying, "so what, why are you still crying about things that happened last year?" I think it's important to reiterate this story because it shows what kind of company Valve is. I don't feel they respect the community. If they did, they would have just confirmed Vivendi's delay announcement in July instead of stringing people along.
Where is Half-Life 2 now? Beats me. I haven't kept up with the past 5-6 months of development and E3 is coming up anyway, so you'll see for yourself. I do know that content has been cut from the game in an attempt to get it to ship sooner. Will it ship this year? I guess there's a 50/50 chance, but keep in mind that this is the same company that took three years to add bots to a mod they didn't even make and slap it in a box
Now, I could go on and on, talking about Steam, all the screw-ups with Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (I mean, JESUS, how do you declare a game GOLD, say it's FINISHED, and then not ship it until NEARLY SIX MONTHS LATER?), how Valve has messed up their relationships with Ritual, Gearbox, Vivendi (do you think Vivendi is a big fan of Steam?), and ATI... I could point out all the things Valve said they'd do but didn't, like releasing the HL2 benchmark or the SDK. I could whine on and on about how maddening it is to get flooded by mails from people complaining about how people can't play Half-Life anymore thanks to Steam or how Valve's customer support is non-existent. But the bottom line is this: I am not a fan of Valve anymore. I don't believe a damn thing they say and I'm sick of their bullshit
Valve needs to learn how to properly communicate with their online fan base and treat their fans with respect. That means not telling your fans 7 days before the ship date that HL2 is delayed. That means not giving out vague "oh HL2 will be released this summer and by the way we didn't say summer of what year and it's always summer somewhere in the world so who knows LOL we'll see!" answers to direct questions. That means not streaming a couple hundred megs of cache files to Steam user's hard drives without their permission or knowledge.
I feel most of the problems at Valve are due to the ineptitude of one individual in particular. I'm not going to name names, but you can probably guess who I'm talking about. This person is easily the worst person I've ever met during my time within the "video game industry," and that's saying a lot, considering that this business is filled with superstar jerkwads like... well... me. I don't feel that he does his job properly, and he isn't what I'd consider to be a decent, trustworthy, or moral human being.
Plus, Valve has gone over my head a couple of times and interfered (or attempted to interfere) with the content of this site, which I think is pretty sad. Forum posts of mine have been deleted on their orders and I've been forced to edit news posts because Valve didn't care for the information or opinions I was sharing. I'm sure they'll complain about this post and attempt to get it yanked, but I don't care.