In one of his trademark low-key, almost viral marketing-esque forum posts this week, Valve Software's Gabe Newell seems to have indicated that Half-Life 2 will begin preloading to users of the developer's content delivery service Steam as early as 17th August.
Meanwhile, preloading of Counter-Strike: Source - for Condition Zero owners and those with Half-Life 2 CD keys from the ATI Radeon promotion at the turn of the year - will begin a day earlier on 16th August, and we'll be able to play it two days later on the 18th.
Speaking on the HL2Fallout.com forums, Newell wrote, "Just got out of a review meeting. 8/11 the Cafes turn on [their preloaded copies of Counter-Strike: Source]. 8/16 CZ/ATI users preload. 8/18 CZ/ATI turns on. 8/17 HL-2 preload starts (textures, audio and other stuff that doesn't change)."
That last part is crucial - Newell doesn't mean that Half-Life 2 will be finished at that point, just that the developer is happy to start uploading elements of the game that have already been finalised - in encrypted fashion - to users of its Steam service.
Last month, Newell indicated that Half-Life 2 will be finished early in August, stating that the number of bugs that needed to be quashed was so low that it could theoretically be finished in time to be mastered around about now.
Whether that's still the case is anyone's guess, but we've heard nothing new to suggest Half-Life 2 won't be finished this month and ship sometime next worldwide - quite possibly eerily close to the one year anniversary of its original September 30th date last year.