Before Half-Life became a staple of the first-person shooter genre, Valve Software had a game in pre-production codenamed Prospero. Now, new details and screenshots have emerged from this near mythic unreleased game in the latest episode of YouTube series ValveTime.
But first, some background. In 1996 the recently founded Valve was deciding between one of two projects to pursue whole hog: Quiver and Prospero. At some point Quiver became Half-Life and the rest is history. But what of Prospero?
According to David Hodgson's book, Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, Prospero was going to be "a moody, literary game, drawing on sources ranging from Myst to (Jorge Luis) Borges."
Lead designer on the project, Greg Coomer - who later worked on Half-Life, Portal and Left 4 Dead - said that Prospero "emphasised exploration, an intricate storyline, and combat via 'psynoic' powers."
Valve writer Marc Laidlaw - who wrote Half-Life and Dota 2 among other games - was initially hired to pen Prospero. Laidlaw called the game a "science fantasy epic" in an interview with Gamasutra in 2003.
Prospero began development as a third-person exploration game, but was evolving into a massively multiplayer affair. In fact, a lot of Steam's staples like its friends list and user-created content sharing aspects in Steam Workshop were originally concepts investigated for Prospero. Some of the game's ideas weren't implemented until Portal 2's level-editor 16 years later. That's how ahead of its time the canned project really was.
In Prospero, you'd play as a female character called "The Librarian" or Aleph, a reference to Borges' 1945 science-fiction short story "El Aleph." At one point the character was called Miranda, a reference to The Tempest, where she's the daughter of protagonist Prospero. The Librarian was set to watch over a hub containing several worlds called, well, the Library.
In 2011, Steamcast asked Gabe Newell if Valve would ever return to Prospero, to which he replied, "Well, a lot of ideas for Prospero have sort of influenced our other games subsequently... So, you know, whether or not we actually go back and do that specific game, I don't know."
"It actually has a lot of appeal to us, we're all sort of fond of it... Nothing ever really dies here, it's just a question of how long until we get around to doing it."
For more screens and info on Prospero, check out this thread on ValveTime's forums.