Somehow, it has been 20 years since the release of Half-Life. Which means, I guess, that it has been almost 20 years since a friend came back one night to the student house we were all renting and told me about this amazing game he had played. A first-person shooter - did we call them that back then? - in which, for the opening section at least, you did no shooting.
Richard Seabrook woke one morning and realised his life wasn't where he wanted it to be. He was 23 years old, he'd graduated from university and he'd taken a job he thought would lead to his dream career in games. But it hadn't quite worked out. He was stuck in the British seaside town of Bournemouth, in quality assurance testing, where months were sprawling ominously into years. "You know what?" he said to himself that day. "I'm sick of this. I'm just going to go for it." He set his sights high: Seabrook wanted to go for a job at Valve.
Adam Foster tells me he's "faintly terrified" by the response to his old Half-Life 2 mod Minerva being released on Steam. Tens of thousands have downloaded it in a couple of weeks and he didn't expect that, he insists. But then he also didn't expect the chain of events that unfolded after he first released Minerva back in 2005. Back then he worked for the European Railway Industry doing web development and programming. Today he talks to me from within the hallowed walls of Valve.
Despite the massive acclaim and the shower of awards thrust upon Valve in the wake of Half-Life 2's release in November 2004, the developer listened more than ever to the feedback from the community, meticulously cataloguing thousands of hours of playtesting feedback from hundreds of playtesters and setting about to continue the Half-Life 2 story episodically, but while also fixing many of the niggling issues that fans had with the game.
After spectacularly 'raising the bar' (with a gravity gun) of the FPS genre in 2004, Valve last week turned its attention to extending the Half-Life 2 universe episodically with the release of the first in a trilogy of episodes that finally reveals what happened to Gordon and Alyx after the destruction of the Citadel.