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ZDNet


    The Final Hours of Half-Life

 
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - The Microsoft
            Millionaires
Part 3 - The Valve
            Difference
Part 4 - Reassembling
            the Pieces
Part 5 - Squashing the
            Final Bug
The Right E-mail, the Right Time
With the team in place, the time had come for Valve to find a publishing partner. It had been mostly smooth sailing for them up until this point, but they were about to meet a strong cross-wind. "It was sort of weird going from Microsoft where you were really respected to going into a meeting with a game publisher who said, 'Go away, stop bugging me! Come back with credibility!'" remembers Newell.

He recalls one meeting in particular that didn't turn out as planned.

Gabe Newell laughs as he remembers the publishers who didn't take Valve seriously.
The presentation was proceeding as normal, when it was mentioned that Valve wanted to use a skeletal animation system (animating the characters using digital bones and joints) in the game. As soon as they suggested such a concept, "the publisher said, 'OK, meeting's over!' They didn't believe we could do it," says Newell, with a wide I-told-you-so grin.


Ken Williams, founder of Sierra On-Line, met with the Valve team and was immediately impressed with their concept and expertise.
But their luck turned when Newell e-mailed another Seattle publisher, Sierra On-Line. Ken Williams, industry legend and Sierra On-Line founder, received the message. Williams recalls that when he got the e-mail from Newell, "I had been looking aggressively for some product in the Quake genre. I was looking at licensing one of the 3D shooter engines and was negotiating with id and some others."

Fortunately for Valve, it had the advantage of a secured Quake engine license. Williams was intrigued. "Gabe said he had the license and a team of ex-Microsoft people put together. It was the right e-mail at the right time."

A meeting was set between about ten Valve staffers and Sierra in November of 1996. On that fateful day, it snowed in Seattle, an extremely rare occurrence that basically shuts the entire city down. But as Harrington says, "There was no way we weren't going to show up. We all get in my four-wheel drive car, slid around, and finally get to Sierra." The entire office building was vacant, except the one person who made it into work: Ken Williams.

Valve began its pitch and, as Newell recalls, "About 20 or 30 minutes into the presentation, when we were just starting to gear up for our big close, Ken says, 'OK, you're done! Let me tell you why you should be working with Sierra rather than anyone else.'" They had caught him - hook, line, and sinker.


"Valve were the first ones who were using an existing [game] engine as a starting point, not a finishing point."

- Ken Williams
What impressed Williams so much about the Valve team? "Most of the [developers] I spoke with were groups of artists and designers, but no engineers," he states. "Valve were the first ones who were using an existing engine as a starting point, not a finishing point."

In addition, by 1996, Sierra had started to feel the pain of not having products in hot genres such as action and real-time strategy. It was time to make a move.

"We needed to get into the 3D shooter category," Williams says. "I did like Doom, but I saw it as a one-trick pony. By the time I decided we wanted into the genre, we were too far behind. With 20/20 hindsight, I blew it when I had the chance to buy id and didn't."


Sierra re-branded their entertainment software division as Sierra Studios in early 1998.
You read that right. Sierra had the opportunity to purchase id Software in the early '90s, but the deal broke down over a couple hundred thousand dollars that Sierra didn't want to put up front. But Williams didn't get mad, he got even. "Valve was the first group I had spoken with that could put Sierra in front of id," says Williams.

Shortly after the meeting with Valve, Williams left Sierra, and the torch was passed to Scott Lynch, the man who has briskly reinvigorated Sierra under the new label Sierra Studios. "Sierra got a little comfortable in the early '90s," he says. "We turned into a factory instead of a creative colony... We weren't seen as an innovative company." Valve had the potential to change all that.

But Lynch did have his concerns. "I think the big question with Valve right from the beginning was, 'OK, you've got the Quake engine, but is this just going to be new Quake levels?" he says. "What we all wanted to see was Valve take the technology as a foundation and add something new. When they started talking about telling a story and creating a persistent world, it was pretty obvious they weren't going to do a mission pack with the Quake engine." Sierra was interested and confident. They signed Valve up for a one-game deal.

The game was code-named Quiver.

Next: Part 3 - The Valve Difference
 
 

 
 
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