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It's been almost a full decade since the Half-Life series last showed life, with the surprising, even shocking conclusion of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. And surely, we thought, Valve wouldn't leave such a stunning cliffhanger untended for long. Surely, that heart-wrenching finale meant that Valve had a proper finish already cooked up, and the infamously long Valve-time waits between games would be a thing of the past.
The near-ten years since then has not resulted in either Episode 3, or a proper Half-Life 3. But much has happened. Through both official channels and clever hoaxes, our hopes have been raised up and then dashed on the rocks, again and again.
The fun begins not with a hoax, but an actual, official announcement: Half-Life 2: Episode 3, in time for Christmas 2007! There was even talk of Episode Four! Because sure, why not? Gabe Newell said episodic releases would be "pretty frequent," ideally spaced out by six to eights months. By my calculations, that means we're just about due for Half-Life 2 Episode 16.
Half-life 3 fakes started pretty much as soon as The Orange Box was out the door. Just a few months later, this . It was obviously a fake, but it was a sign of things to come: the years of hoaxes, leaks, rumors, and wishful thinking that led to this article today.
Just as things were getting into full gear for the 2008 holiday season, Valve's Doug Lombardi told Videogames Daily that Valve "may [show Episode 3] at the very end of the year." Emphasis on "may," obviously, as Valve ultimately had nothing to say. He also expressed worry about over-committing to Half-Life 3, saying that if the studio got too deep into it, "We have to sell two million copies or else we're fucked." Two million copies, you say? I suppose that seemed like a lot back then.
Half-Life 3 references are found in the Alien Swarm SDK, in object properties like "Ep3 Blob Shake Position," "Ep 3 Fire Cover Position," and "Ep 3 Blob Brain Cover Position." It obviously wasn't proof of anything, but we were so hungry for a new Half-Life by this point that it was taken as rock-solid evidence that Gordo and co. would be making their return any day now.
"Combine Advisor Roaming" code is found in the Portal 2 SDK. Advisors had previously appeared in Half-Life 2, primarily in Episode Two, but that particular slice of code was not in the Episode Two SDK. It was new! And then Valve removed it! Clearly there was something to hide, although by now probably everyone involved has forgotten what it was.
A brief, very strange video clip containing a hex string led to the discovery of a small Half-Life 2 map on Megaupload. Hidden in the tiny, decrepit room is a heavily distorted image of a face and an audio file that, when fed into a spectrograph, revealed... well, not a hell of a lot of anything, really. The Half-Life connection at that point was pretty thin but that's the conclusion everyone jumped to because we were all so desperate for some crumb of hope, and it did have the distinct look of an ARG in its early stages. Alas, Valve kiboshed the idea in short order, and that was that.
Some guy, who some other guy said works at Valve, wore a Half-Life 3 t-shirt to a "local game development event." The wearer of said shirt was cool with having a photo of the shirt taken, although not his face, which is perhaps telling although whether it's telling us that the over-sharing Valve employee wanted to keep his identity on the downlow, or that he was just some rando who dropped a fiver at a t-shirt shop, is impossible to say.
Valve whipped up a video for the 2011 VGAs featuring Wheatley of Portal 2 fame, complete with Stephen Merchant's voice, and also some science-y looking guffola in the background. Among it was a spot of Russian text which translates in part to "Lanthanum," derived from the ancient Greek "lanthanein," meaning "to lie hidden," and written, " ." That first character look familiar to anyone? Sadly, Wheatley didn't win his award, and we still don't have the game.
The last month of 2011 was a big one for Half-Life 3. A couple of weeks after t-shirt guy made his appearance, a mysterious site appeared at black-aperture.com bearing a very similar logo, along with branding for Valve, Steam, and the Source engine. Alas, the hoax effort didn't even stand up to the cursory inspection of a domain whois check, but it's to the credit of the owner that the site is still up, now bearing a blurry ".../3" image.
Proving that simple is sometimes best, an April Fool joker caused millions of fans to momentarily go nuts when he posted a Half-Life 3: Now Available image at store.steamppowered.com. Some legitimate news sites fell for it, so excited were they by the prospect of Half-Life 3 being honest-to-God real that they failed to notice the extra "p" in the URL. The site remains up to this very day, although it's now tagged with a notice that it is in fact an April Fool's joke.
Valve honcho Gabe Newell confused everyone when he discussed the development of Episode 3 in the context of Ricochet 2, the hypothetical sequel to the Valve-developed battle frisbee game.
"We'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2," he said, "but the problem is that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than being silent about it until we can be very crisp about what's happening." I can't say that I'm really with you on that one, Gabe, at least not here in the year 2016. The good news, Newell added, is that "everyone who's working on Ricochet 2 continues to work on Ricochet 2."
And so now we sometimes refer to Half-Life 3 as Ricochet 2, and may forever.
This leak came to us through the bad luck of artist Andrea Wicklund, whose Picasa portfolio ended up spilling all over the net. Images included Alyx in various get-ups, a crashed helicopter in the Arctic, and pictures of the alien world Xen. Interestingly, while the art was dated from 2008, it didn't slip out until mid-2012.
The 2012 edition of Gamescom promised to be an exciting one: Games scheduled for exhibit that year included Dragon Age 3 and Half-Life 3! Before we could line up for plane tickets to Germany, though, a correction was issued. Eurogamer asked three separate times why the titles had been listed, but Gamescom would only say that it was "a mistake."
Data from Valve's project tracking tool (Jira) leaked to the public, revealing that 42 people are attached to a Half-Life 3 mailing list. Obviously, there was no way to verify that the leak was real, and even if it was, determining the age or status of the mailing list in question was impossible too. Maybe 42 people were working on Half-Life 3, or maybe 42 people are just too damn lazy to unsubscribe from the list. (I don't judge. I have two Felix the Fish plushies, because it was easier to let Big Fish Games sock my credit card for 7 bucks a month than to figure out how to make it stop.)
A motley crew of yuksters manages to "accidentally" convince people that Half-Life 3 is in development in a segregated section of Valve's studios, and that a reveal of the project was finally imminent in the pages of their own magazine, no less! Which gang of comedy doofuses cooked this one up, you wonder? I cannot tell a lie: It was us (but it was meant to be an obvious joke, not a hoax).
A Steam dev posted an announcement of the beginning of a Half-Life 3 internal beta on the community announcements page. Real developer, real community post but fake announcement, as a close look at the list of updates makes clear. The dev in question quickly copped to it, saying he didn't "expect it to show up everywhere." Because when has that ever happened before, right?
John Patrick Lowrie, voice of Odessa Cubbage and husband of Combine Overwatch and GlaDOS voice actor Ellen McLain, caused a stir when he explained that Half-Life 3 wasn't moving forward because of challenges with motion capture which of course implied that he had some insight into the situation. He even said that overcoming mo-cap limitations was "one of the things they're working on," meaning that it was gasp! being worked on. Progress! Except, four days later he took it all back, saying that he doesn't know nothin' about nothin', and nobody can prove otherwise.
Jira leaks again! This time there was a new "Half-Life 3 Core" group listed, and the number of people on the project had grown, too. That's practically an official announcement, right?
A trademark filing for Half-Life 3, owned by Valve, appeared in Europe. Trademark filings are a great way to get an early heads-up on new game projects: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Gwent are two high-profile examples of games that came to light first as a result of a trademark filing. Half-Life 3 trademarked? Half-Life 3 confirmed!
Half-Life 3 de-confirmed. Fake filing. Why does this keep happening?
Counter-Strike mastermind Minh Le told goRGNtv that he'd seen Half-Life 3 concept art, and the game is in fact being worked on! Sort of, anyway. More precisely, he said he saw something "that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," although he seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in such a thing. It also wasn't clear when he'd seen the material in question, since he'd left Valve several years prior to the interview. He was also clearly far more interested in Left 4 Dead 3 than anything to do with Half-Life. Thanks for nothing, Minh.
The "We Want Half-Life 3" Indiegogo campaign wasn't a Half-Life 3 hoax or broken promise, just a monumentally bad idea. Basically, a couple of advertising types decided to crowdfund a harassment campaign to let Valve know that people really want them to make Half-Life 3. You know, in case that wasn't clear. They asked for $150,000 for their campaign (which, in their defense, they later clarified was meant to be a one-day lark rather than concerted stalking); they closed with a little shy of $1600.
Sweet Aunt Petunia, a Half-Life 3 logo actually appeared on the Valve.Software website. Unfortunately, that site is not actually related to Valve Software, but for a few delicious hours (or minutes, depending on when you heard about it and how innately suspicious you are of such things) we could let ourselves believe that the light was finally shining. The site is still up and the HL3 logo still there, but the fine print makes it clear that it is "just a joke site." Half-Life 3 hoaxes are no joking matter, Timmy.
A file named hl3.txt was found in a Dota 2 update, containing references to "Combine Pulse Ceiling Turret" and "NPCs that are in the same squad (i.e. have matching squad names) will share information about enemies, and will take turns attacking and covering each other." That's straight out of a Combine soldier AI script, but what's with the hl3 filename? Valve maintained its usual stony silence, but I think it's worth noting that a year later, Gordon Freeman still hasn't appeared in Dota 2. That has to mean something.
Drama in r/HalfLife, billed as "possibly the first legitimate Half-Life 3 leak." What's interesting about this one is that as far as I can tell, nobody is entirely, 100 percent certain that it was a hoax. The information provided was deep, detailed, and not at all flashy in the way of most other gag teases, and its veracity was backed, in ways he couldn't or wouldn't make clear, by the forum mod. Eventually, the whole thing just fizzled out, without the usual "lol suckers" flourish at the end, which could be seen as further "proof" that the leak was real. But probably not.
The innocuous-sounding SteamVR Performance Test software, an app intended to determine whether or not your rig is up to the strains of virtual reality, is found to contain some Half-Life secrets in its code, including a high-quality 3D model of Dog, the super-strong, ball-fetching robot from Half-Life 2. Half-Life 3: The VR Experience, perhaps? Not likely: The software contained material from other Valve games too, including Left 4 Dead and Dota 2, and writer Chet Faliszek was quite clear on the point when asked about it last year. (He said "No.")
Right there, large as life and side-by-side with Titanfall 2, was a poster proclaiming, plainly and boldly, Half-Life 3! And some fine print underneath, which might have been missed at first because the poster said Half-Life 3! Except it was actually Half-Life: 3, as in, "Half-Life: 3 editors who played it back then." It's not so much a hoax as a lazy gag, but we all spasmed reflexively and so it gets the credit.
And that brings us to today, at least until the next joke, leak, hoax, apparent ARG, or off-hand comment. We give it at least 24 hours before that happens.
The makers of Black Mesa [official site] have announced plans to add the final section of their Half-Life remake, Xen, in summer 2017. They explain that it’s taking so long because they’re really fleshing out that alien world.
I do admire the confidence to declare you’re making Xen bigger, given how unpopular that section is with some players. They might be happier to hear you’ve decided Gordon Freeman’s muteness is because he’s really three dogs crammed into an HEV suit, so you’re replacing his pain sound effects with barks and yelps. But no, the Black Mesa gang are determined to make Xen proper good. … [visit site to read more]
In the original Half-Life, as Gordon Freeman makes his way to work on that fateful day in the Black Mesa Research Facility, you find a break room. A scientist sits at a table drinking from a coffee cup, and another paces the room. Then you see it. A microwave with a container of some unidentifiable food within, begging to be interacted with. There s no button prompt on the screen telling you to do so, but you just know that if you press the use key next to it something will happen. Something incredible. Something messy.
So you press it, and it beeps. Nothing. You press it again, and this time it beeps at a slightly higher pitch. A clue that you should keep pulling this thread, even though it looks like nothing is going to happen. So you hammer the use key until, suddenly, the dish explodes. The microwave is covered in yellow gunk and the pacing scientist rushes over. My God! he exclaims. What are you doing? He sadly observes the mess you ve made, but Freeman says nothing. You walk away, no apology, no remorse. Classic Gordon.
Valve knows what we re like. If we see something, we re going to try and interact with it. Doubly so if it looks like it was never meant to be interacted with, or if it s out of reach. And it s great that games like Half-Life reward this very human curiosity. There are few things in videogames more satisfying than hitting the use key next to some prop, and something happening in response. When it doesn t, it s always a disappointment. It makes the game world feel somehow more lifeless, more artificial. Like you re in some kind of cardboard film set rather than a real place. If I ever move near a hand dryer in a videogame bathroom and it doesn t roar into life, my immersion shatters into a thousand twinkling pieces.
I feel for the developers, though. They have to dedicate time and resources to modelling, texturing, animating, and creating sound effects for the most mundane objects. But it s work that s always appreciated. In the latest Deus Ex game, Mankind Divided, Adam Jensen s apartment is a funhouse of stuff to switch on and mess with, from the flushing toilet to the washer and dryer that start rumbling when you power them on. Eidos Montreal didn t have to do any of this stuff, but it makes all the difference that they did.
Flushing toilets, incidentally, have become the go-to test of a game s interactivity. There are even websites cataloguing all the games that feature them. Because it s the internet, and of course there are. Be honest: the first time you encounter a toilet in a game, you try to flush it. You probably even do it without thinking, instinctively hitting the use button when you re near one. And if nothing happens, and you don t hear that familiar rush of water, you wonder if the game s even worth your precious time.
In the years since Half-Life was released, the exploding microwave is still perhaps the best example of this kind of interaction. But there are others. Human Head s 2006 shooter Prey opens in a brilliantly interactive bar, boasting a TV with channels you can switch, playable gambling and arcade machines, and a jukebox with tracks by Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult and other classic rock groups. It s completely unnecessary, and doesn t reflect the rest of the game, but it speaks volumes that people still mention it now. In fact, I can t really remember anything about Prey except the bar scene.
Some games even make a feature out of switching things on. In Hitman, turning a radio on or getting a sink to overflow is a frequently invaluable way to lure a guard away from his post. But often you need a certain item to turn said thing on, such as a wrench or a screwdriver. IO Interactive has cleverly looked at how people love interacting with objects in games and designed a system around it.
Environment artists are doing incredible work these days, giving you increasingly detailed, atmospheric worlds to exist in. But no matter how complex the geometry is, how high-res the textures are, and how gorgeous the skybox is, it won t matter if we approach that toilet, press the use key, and it doesn t flush. As games get more expensive to develop and assets get more time consuming to make, I hope developers never forget that, above all, people just love turning things on. The toilet must always flush.
I find myself increasingly interested in gaming history as I get older, from Digital Antiquarian to Matt Chat. This post from Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw was right up my alley, then, as it whisked me back to November 9 1998, or the day after the original Half-Life was released. As Laidlaw states in the preface, the text is taken from a recently discovered word file that he seems to have written on that date: a document that discusses the evolution of Half-Life, from the time he was brought onto the project to the time it eventually shipped, over a year later and after a significant delay.
Whether it was written on that date or not, it's a fascinating summary of the game's development, one that offers insight about creativity in general, and the way projects morph over time from their creators' original visions. Give the whole thing a read, is what I'm saying, but here are a couple of choice quotes to grab your interest:
"We tried out and discarded quite a few grand schemes. Some of you may remember, as I do, early talk about how there would be no bottlenecks in the game; how you would be able to run from one end to the other and all the way back again. This would have been a very easy feature to implement, given the nature of our transitions, but I was very relieved when we jettisoned this notion. Total freedom for the player would have meant a total loss of dramatic suspense. All narrative forms of drama, but especially horror, rely on pacing and rhythm. In horror timing is crucial. You have to set up your traps just so, and wait until your victim is precisely in position. There s nothing worse than springing them a moment too soon or too late. This would have been virtually impossible to control in a nonlinear game. would have been choosing to throw all suspense right out the window. We really wanted players to have an artfully structured experience, and time and trial have basically proven that the most satisfying narratives are linear."
"The one noticeable casualty of the camera s elimination was the absence of Gordon Freeman himself, our main character, as a visible presence in the game. Apart from the loading screen and the multiplay menus, and on the box itself, you never get to see Gordon Freeman. This introduced an interesting challenge. How could we make a real character out of someone you never saw, and who never uttered so much as one word? Well, we let the player solve that problem for himself. You start the game knowing very little about Gordon; but apparently everyone else knows you who you, and they fill you in on their expectations. In the gray zone between the player s ignorance and the NPCs knowledge of Gordon, something rather interesting happens. Players create their own Gordon Freeman a character they can identify with completely. There is nothing to jar you out of Gordon, once you re in the game. He never says anything stupid that you would never say in a million years. He never does anything you wouldn t do since you are behind all his actions. He becomes a hollow receptacle into which every player pours himself."
Marc Laidlaw posted a fascinating blog entry from a younger version of Laidlaw about the development of Half-Life from the narrative perspective. By “a younger version” I mean that it comes from his own hand but via a file timestamped the day after Half-Life was shipped and is thus far closer to the game’s… ground zero? than the Laidlaw of now.
Digital trading cards are simultaneously one of Steam's smartest and most sinister features. Each game that supports them (and most do these days) has a set of cards, ranging in number from just four or five to more than a dozen, that are earned simply by playing the game. Collect a full set and you can exchange them for badges, wallpapers, and other such goodies, and also boost your Steam user level.
The catch is that you can only earn half of the number of cards in a given set that way, and some of them might be duplicates. So if you want them all and you do then you'll have to either trade with other users, or buy them with real money from Steam's Community Market.
Interestingly, and unexpectedly, one of the games on Steam that doesn't support this particular dopamine pump is Valve's own Half-Life. It was meant to: As ValveTime reports, Valve actually hired artist David Thany to create Half-Life cards, badges and emoticons for the 2013 Steam Summer Sale. But they were never used, possibly, according to Thany, because they appeared more akin to the sequel, Half-Life 2, than the much more primitive-looking original.
I don't know if he's right about that, but it's a fair point. If I'd seen these images without any introduction, there's no question I would have assumed they originated with Half-Life 2. Even so, it's a bit odd that three years down the road, nothing else has been added in their place. It seems clear enough that Valve wanted Half-Life trading cards, so what's the holdup?
I have no idea, but these are pretty great. And Thany's work did make it into at least one game on Steam: The Hotline Miami trading cards are his creations, too.
Fellow PC gamers, we are gathered here today to remember an old friend, one whose warranty expired long ago. As laid out in the law of the upgrade cycle, we must let go of those components that can no longer keep pace with modern demands. And so, it is with heavy hearts that we say our final goodbyes to you, our constant companion for the last 20 years.
Rest in peace, humble optical drive.
You were once a cornerstone of this community, a bringer of joy, a portal to play, an ally in our pursuit of entertainment. You gave us the gorgeous world of Myst, the sublime soundscape of Quake, the unprecedented complexity of Half-Life. You were a marvel of your age, drawing realms of infinite possibility out of those small, innocuous discs. At the time, it felt like nothing less than magic.
Nearly 30 years ago now, you entered this world with a vision. Armed with Red Book audio and full-motion video, you sold us the Hollywood dream, treating us to , Jeff Goldblum , Christopher Walken , and... . Video games seemed poised to replace movies altogether; why would we watch if we could play instead? Alas, it was not meant to be, but we'll always have those fond memories, thanks to you. Your legacy will live on inside us all.
As we commit you to the great server in the sky, let us reflect on all the good you did for this world. Who can forget how crucial you were during the dial-up days? The spiral cords of our 56K modems strained under the weight of individual mp3s; the thought of downloading an entire 750MB CD-ROM was unfathomable. Even when cable internet arrived on the scene, we still relied on you to support us through the file-size boom of the DVD era. Steam might have dethroned you eventually, but your stability during the platform's was what kept us gaming.
In your youth, your laissez-faire attitude allowed our community to flourish unabated. I, personally, owe some of my favourite childhood memories to your liberal approach to game trading; as a kid, hiring and borrowing games was the only way I could afford to play. Thanks to borrowing a friend's copy of Diablo II, I discovered my penchant for click-'em-ups. Thanks to renting Battlefield 1942, I grokked the appeal of online multiplayer. Thanks to hiring out Baldur's Gate II, I realised that games could tell big, complex stories that actually leveraged their interactivity instead of ignoring it. Of course, we all understand why you had to jump on the DRM train once people started abusing your freedoms. Still, those unbridled early years were crucial in making our community as great as it is today.
Alas, those halcyon days are far behind us. The battle of the distribution models is over, and there's no question who lost. How could it have gone any other way? Steam lets us pre-order, pre-load, patch, and play, all without leaving the comfort of our desk chairs. Gone are the overloaded shelves buckling beneath the weight of bejewelled CD cases and boxy collectors editions. Never again do we have to rummage around in dusty attics and dank basements to find that old copy of Day of the Tentacle, only for you to whine like a circular saw when we put the disc in because it isn't mint-out-of-box.
For all the joy you gave us, we cannot ignore the dark times you begat. Refusing to read brand new discs until we'd carefully wiped off every minute mote of dust. Scratching up our favourite games as punishment for playing them too much. Demanding that we 'Insert Disc 2' when it was already in the damn tray. And those multi-disc installs! How can you expect us to set aside multiple hours just to swap GTA 5's seven DVDs in and out?
At least you re in a better place now, one where the RPMs are infinite and the CDs are truly scratch-proof. Because as much as it pains us to say it on this day of mourning, you were holding this industry back. Bite-sized games never stood a chance against the pains of disc-swapping. Aspiring developers cringed at the cost of pressing and shipping discs. If we hadn't moved on to the all-digital now, we'd never have known the haunting oppression of Papers, Please, the touching tale of Gone Home, the time-bending antics of Superhot. We'd have to bid farewell to our hundreds-large Steam libraries or else buy a second house just to store all the CDs.
The fact is, old friend, we simply don't have the space for you anymore. Not in our homes, and not in our hearts. Your place at the top of our PC towers is no more. Our no longer give you a berth. We will never again hear your mechanical whirr, your voice silenced by the hum of our bigger and better hard drives. From caches to ashes, from disc to dusk, your time is up. You re just too slow for this digital world.
16X. 8X. 4X. 2X. 1X. Eject.
Happy 20th birthday, Valve! Yesterday. Happy 20th yesterday. Sorry, I only just saw the Facebook notification. On August 24th, 1996, ex-Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington made a beautiful baby who was mighty eye-opening.
In the dreamy game of “What if…?” one curious hypothetical is: what if Valve never existed? There can’t be many companies who’ve had nearly as much impact. Steam (eventually) revolutionised digital distribution, changing the entire landscape of PC gaming. Half-Life was seminal; its mod scene was legendary. That’d be plenty, but Valve have made a load of other really good video games too.
WASD feels inevitable today. Once mouselook became standard in 3D games, it made little sense (at least for right-handed players) to hold your left arm across your chest to reach the arrow keys. The WASD keys were more comfortable, and offered easy access to Shift and Space. But even though WASD seems like the obvious choice now, far fewer players used it 20 years ago.
Our favorite four letter word was never a foregone conclusion, and didn't become standard through some gaseous enlightening that spread to every PC gamer simultaneously. The new movement scheme took several years to catch on, and while we can t know whose fingers found their way to WASD first, we do have a good idea of who popularized the style: the greatest Quake player in the universe, Dennis Thresh Fong.
Fong made history when he took home John Carmack's Ferrari 328 after winning the first-ever nationwide Quake tournament in 1997. And when he won that tournament, defeating Tom "Entropy" Kimzey on Castle of the Damned, his right hand was on a mouse, and his left hand was perched over the four keys we now consider synonymous with PC gaming. But even then, not everyone played that way.
In the early days of first-person shooters, Fong says the keymappings were all over the place, and even the great Thresh had only just started to play with a mouse at all. Imagine him just a few years before, sometime around 1993, as a teenager losing a match of Doom against his brother Lyle. Like many Doom players, Fong used only the keyboard. Without the need to look up or down, it was a natural choice so much that using a mouse was even considered weird. His brother, however, was playing with a keyboard and trackball, and he was winning. It wasn t every game both were excellent players but Lyle won enough that one summer Fong decided he had to learn to play with a mouse. After that, he was unbeatable.
Right after I made that switch, my skill improved exponentially, says Fong. Pretty much, from then on, I never lost.
It took some experimentation including a strange attempt to move with WADX but Fong settled on WASD and has been using it since Doom. Did he invent the scheme? No, probably not. Others were also gravitating to the left side of the keyboard for Doom at the same time. But without Fong's influence, the default could have ended up different. It might have been EDSF, or stranger configurations like ZXC to strafe and move backwards, and the right mouse button to move forwards. Some early shooters bound movement to the arrow keys. In 1994, System Shock used ASDX, while Descent used AZ for forward/reverse and QE for banking (if you didn't happen to have a joystick).
Fong tells us he even knew a player who used ZXCV to move.
I m certainly not going to take credit for the creation of [WASD], says Fong. I stumbled across it. I m sure other people started using it as well just based on what was comfortable for them. I definitely think I helped popularize it with a certain set of gamers, particularly the ones that played first person shooters."
It s likely that he did. The very concept of a professional gamer was new at the time, and Fong was well-known on the west coast as the best player around. As Fong s celebrity grew, the one question everyone asked him was: What s your config? His answer could be most readily found in , which describes the WASD formation as an inverted T. And his guide carried weight. Even before his success as a Quake player, Fong was a Doom champion, and so people imitated him, just as the kids at the basketball court by my house spend far too much time trying to hit Steph Curry s 30-foot shots.
The evidence can be found on old bulletin board systems. In , a poster recommends using Q and E to strafe and A and D to turn. Another suggests using the keypad for movement, and someone else says they use A, Shift, Z, X. It wasn't the case that everyone simply gravitated to the 'obvious' choice of WASD or ESDF, and in , we see how Thresh's performance in the Quake tournament spread his style. His play was so impressive, the poster looking for his config speculates that it was impossible for him to turn so fast with a mouse.
Another legend, Quake programmer John Carmack, took note. Even when I was hanging out with Carmack, wherever, at E3, random people would come up and he would hear them asking me what my configuration was, says Fong. So he ended up building a Thresh stock config into Quake 2.
It was a relief. Not only could Fong sit down at any computer with Quake 2 and instantly load his configuration, every time he got the question, all he had to say was type exec thresh.cfg.
Convenient as it was, Fong doesn t think the inclusion of his config was the main factor in the rise of WASD, and I d agree. By the time Quake 2 was out, WASD was starting to feel like common knowledge. I used it, and I don t remember hearing Thresh s name associated with it at the time, though it s possible his configuration entered my consciousness two or three people removed.
And yet games, strangely, took a while to catch up. Carmack may have bundled Thresh s config with Quake 2, but when it released in 1997 the default controls were still arrow keys. A year later, though, that changed. If Thresh's Quake tournament win was WASD's first watershed moment, the second came in 1998 with the release of Half-Life. The Quake and Doom players at Valve perhaps influenced directly or indirectly by Carmack, Thresh, and other top Doom and Quake players included WASD in Half-Life s default keyboard and mouse config, which helped solidify it as the first-person shooter standard.
Valve engineer Yahn Bernier checked Half-Life's original config file for us and confirmed it included WASD. "I remember finalizing this file (maybe with Steve Bond) during the lead up to shipping HL1 but don t recall specifics about when WASD was settled on or really why. We probably carried it forward from Quake1 " he wrote in an email.
The same year, and less than a month after Half-Life, Starsiege Tribes also made WASD default. Quake 3 followed suit in 1999, and WASD's popularity grew even more. It was also the default binding in 2000's Daikatana, but Half-Life, Tribes, and Quake 3 probably had a bit more to do with its popularity.
There were still plenty of heretical control schemes in 1999 like System Shock 2's, which defaulted to WADX (and S for crouch). But WASD had momentum. If it wasn t already ubiquitous by 2004, World of Warcraft defaulting to WASD codified it for millions of PC gamers. Now it s in RPGs and MOBAs and even strategy games, controlling camera movement over maps.
Interestingly, Valve boss Gabe Newell doesn t use WASD. I personally don't like WASD as it takes your hand away from your typing home keys, he wrote in an email to PC Gamer. I always rebind to ESDF. Newell's not alone there. Do a little Googling and you'll find plenty of people arguing that ESDF is the more natural configuration.
More surprisingly, another Half-Life developer, level designer Dario Casali, also rejects WASD. Instead, he prefers ASXC. It feels natural to me, where WASD feels odd, wrote Casali. But lots of people scoff at my config.
What would PC gaming be like had EDSF or ASXC been Half-Life s default? No offense intended to Newell or Casali, but I shudder to think of it. ASXC just sounds bonkers to me. Newell's fairly commonplace ESDF is more palatable, but as Thresh echoes, it feels harder to hit Shift and Control while easier to mispress one of the surrounding keys. For me, Thresh, and millions of PC gamers, it s WASD for life.
You can read more about the history of Quake celebrating Quake's 20th anniversary. We're also celebrating by , and Thresh himself will be playing on our US-West server today, Friday, from 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm Pacific time.
Wes Fenlon also contributed to this article.
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>
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