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    Half - life

Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - The Microsoft
Part 3 - The Valve
Part 4 - Reassembling
            the Pieces
Part 5 - Squashing the
            Final Bug
Down the hallway, there's the pulpy sound of a crowbar ku-thunking into the soft-as-a-peach outer layer of skin on some organic lime-green colored creature. To the left, one hears the rat-a-tat-like resonance of a machine gun spewing bullets, followed by the tings of scores of empty shell casings hitting the ground.

To the right, there's silence - almost. It's a quiet room, the silence broken only by the hollow cadence of fingers furiously tapping away on a keyboard.

Valve's Robin Walker unleashes cacophonous machine gun fire during a test game of Half-Life.
A window provides a beautiful view of the Lake Washington, a stark contrast to the rest of the room, littered with hundreds of pieces of computer hardware, multiple monitors, a white board, and more than a few Diet Coke cans. One of the monitors is alive with lines of code - the technical language that makes a computer game run.

There are no ku-thunks or rat-a-tats in this room. Not everyone at Valve Software is playing a last-minute game of Half-Life, the highly anticipated first-person action game published by Sierra Studios.

A peek inside the office to the right of the hallway at Valve.
In this room, someone's still working away and rightfully so - the game's not finished yet. But it's almost done.


"It's finally sinking in that two years of work is being taken away," sighs John Guthrie, a young and affable game designer at Kirkland, Washington-based Valve. This week, his colleagues have started calling him "neck beard, referring to the fact that he hasn't shaved in days. Today, his priorities lie elsewhere. "I keep watching the clock as I play Half-Life again and again, knowing that at some point, someone is going to say it's time to stop."

The hollow cadence of typing is the only thing heard to the right of the hallway.
Guthrie's been working on the game for two years, and as of late, that's meant 18-hour days with no weekends. He hasn't had time to sleep, much less shave. The brown doormat outside his office says it all in big black letters: GO AWAY. Although other employees don't spell it out so clearly, just about everyone at Valve feels the same way.

Valve's John Guthrie
The minute hand on Guthrie's desk clock sweeps up to the top of the hour on this Monday afternoon. He glances at the clock, mentally noting that another hour has come and gone. But now, it's four o'clock, and everyone at Valve knows what that means: the ingenuously termed "four o'clock meeting." But the meeting is more important than the name suggests... especially today.

Valve co-founder Gabe Newell gets up out of his chair and prepares for the portentous walk down the hall.
From his office at one end of the building, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, wearing a maroon button-up golf shirt and khakis, gets up out of his plush black leather chair, opens his door, and begins to walk down the hallway. He hears the sounds of gunfire, screams, and growling monsters, too. It's what he wants to hear. As he proceeds down the hallway past the eight-foot-high red mahogany doors of all the developers, he doesn't need to say anything. His mere presence says enough. He's like a shepherd subconsciously herding his sheep with an imaginary staff. Then, halfway down the hall, he finally announces the obvious: "It's time," he says. Everyone follows him in lemming-like fashion to the main conference room. The four o'clock meeting is about to begin.

Next: It's Four O'clock