An ongoing legal struggle between developer Valve and publisher Vivendi Universal Games, could lead to a further delay to Half-Life 2 as both companies sue one another in the US District Court.
The case dates back to August 2002, when Valve filed suit against VU Games' Sierra On-Line (as then was) division, claiming that the publisher had breached its contract by distributing Half-Life to internet cafes around the world.
Since then, it has escalated further, with Valve adding additional claims to the suit - including non-payment of royalties and a breach of contract in respect to the delay of Counter Strike: Condition Zero - and Vivendi responding with lawsuits of its own.
Vivendi accuses Valve of deliberately misleading them, with both Valve managing director Gabe Newell and marketing director Doug Lombardi accused of making false representations to the publisher.
In particular, Vivendi accuses Valve of bypassing its retail plans for titles by distributing them via the Steam online delivery service, and demands that the firm hand over source code to Half-Life 2 in order to establish whether a renegotiation of the contract between the two companies in 2001 was carried out based on misrepresentations by Valve.
In effect, Vivendi says that Valve misled it over Steam and over the development status of Half-Life 2, and is demanding, amongst other things, that it should be granted the intellectual property rights to the Half-Life franchise, which it handed over to Valve in the 2001 renegotiations.
Final filings from both sides need to be made before the end of the year, and it had been assumed that Half-Life 2 would be out the door by the time the case actually came to court.
However, US website GameSpot has uncovered the fact that Valve's contract with VU Games would allow the publisher to delay the launch of the game by up to six months after the acceptance of a final (gold) version of the game - which could mean that the title doesn't appear until 2005.
"Valve is pressing VUG to release the product early within that six month window," according to a legal statement by VU Games' deputy general counsel Eric Roeder, "and its representatives have made a number of public statements without our consent or concurrence that the product will be published and released to the general public in September of this year."
For its part, Valve claims that Vivendi has not informed it of an expected release date for the game - and the company has seemed increasingly frustrated at this lack of communication over the past few weeks, especially since it delivered a release candidate for the title earlier this month.
However, a major mitigating factor in the dispute could be a purely commercial one. Half-Life 2 is indisputably one of the biggest games on the forthcoming release schedule, and its launch will result in significant revenues for developer and publisher alike.
While the relationship between the two companies is obviously incredibly strained, VU Games' financial results have been extremely weak over the past few quarters, and the company could do with the revenues from Half-Life 2 to boost its next statement.