The year is 2007. Console owners tap their fingers in barely contained impatience. For years they have been starved of Valve's delicious, full-bodied courses, forced to watch from the bleachers as Valve mixes a unique blend of kinetic first-person with extraordinary tech. Besides a brief dalliance with the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2 - which produce pale imitations of its best work - Valve has remained faithful to the PC.
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You can now play Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2 and Portal on Xbox One, via Valve's excellent Orange Box collection. The Xbox 360 game is now playable on Xbox One via backwards compatibility.
Holy mother of mod, Portal Stories: Mel is awesome. Developed over the course of four years, this fan-made mod for Portal 2 is a standalone game of such quality that it could almost be mistaken for a true sequel to the much-loved series.
Hours after releasing Portal 2 on Steam, creator Valve has announced predecessor Portal has sold close to four million units.
But Portal has likely sold substantially more copies. As GameSpot reports, the four million figure excludes digital download sales from Steam.
Portal launched in 2007 as part of the superb The Orange Box compilation.
Valve's stance on developing for PlayStation 3 may have softened, judging by comments from Left 4 Dead 2 developer Chet Faliszek last week.
Valve's Robin Walker has said on the Team Fortress 2 blog that a new update to the multiplayer shooter is on the way "in the next few days".
The update will bring a couple of extra features for the Spy and Engineer classes. Engineers' teleporters and dispensers will be upgradeable to level 3, while Spies will be able to recharge their cloaking ability by picking up ammo. The update also includes some new user interface features.
"These are just to work on some class balance and depth issues that we've seen in the wild with these two classes, but aren't meant to replace their entire class packs," said Walker. "They will be getting more attention further down the road."
Valve president Gabe Newell has reportedly told an anxious fan that he believes there is "a groundswell to abandon" DRM in PC games.
EA has sneakily released a beefy patch to address problems with The Orange Box on PS3.
The 1.10 update is 128 MB, and unhelpfully has no associated documentation to outline the changes.
Early reports suggest friends not appearing on lists and certain accounts not connecting to the EA servers should no longer be a problem.
Valve has said it will be releasing the separate components of The Orange Box in shops from 11th April.
Valve has patched The Orange Box on Xbox 360 to fix and tweak a few bits and bobs in Team Fortress 2.
Portal end-credits song "Still Alive" (oh come on, you must know that by now) is set to join the ranks of downloadable tracks in Rock Band.
Valve may specialise in cracking games, but it's not doing badly with heart-lifting cuddly merchandise either - and Half-Life 2: Episode Two's Hunter is the latest addition.
The awaited-since-they-announced-it Team Fortress 2 free update introducing the Badlands map is due to hit today at 11am PST, which is 7pm in old money.
Developing Fallout 3 might sound like a lot of hard work, but evidently it's not because all Bethesda Softworks seems to do these days is make new maps for Portal. Here comes another one.
On a recent trip to Germany to see Left 4 Dead, of which more soon, we sat down with Valve's VP of marketing Doug Lombardi to talk about things. Things like Portal, and whether we'll see an Orange Box 2. Like everyone at Valve, Doug's job title is a bit misleading; he does a broad range of things across the company, and has even - as he points out here - dabbled in development to some extent. He also plays Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead with us when we fly over to see Valve, which is nice of him (it's nice of him to let us win all the time, too). Anyway, enough being nice about Doug - here are a few selected excerpts from our discussion, with more to come when we're allowed to talk about what the developer was actually in Germany to show off...
Electronic Arts has announced it plans to make the components of The Orange Box available separately.
Valve has said it will definitely be making more Portal, confirming plans to add significantly more than just "a bunch of new puzzles".
Valve is planning to release two more maps for Team Fortress 2 "within the next two months", according to TF2 superhero Robin Walker.
German PC gamers are being invited to try Team Fortress 2 out for free this weekend.
After what seems like two and a bit months, Valve has finally started selling Weighted Companion Cube plush toys. And then stopped selling them after everyone bought all of them.
Bundled in with The Orange Box as an experimental bonus, Valve's Portal has proved the surprise hit of the year. And the strategy has attracted admiring glances from Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford, who reckons it could be the way forward for his studio.
Google "Valve's Gabe Newell and PS3" and you'll see why I approached this review with some trepidation.
Valve's Gabe Newell comes down hard on PS3
Valve: PS3 a "total disaster on so many levels"
French and German PlayStation 3 owners will have to wait until early 2008 to play The Orange Box, Electronic Arts said this week, despite confirming that it will be available in North America and Europe next week.
Valve has said a demo for The Orange Box should be making its way to Xbox Live today.
We all had fun pouring ourselves over the new Steam hardware survey results last week, but accompanying those were also some Steam stats for Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
Electronic Arts has told Eurogamer today that The Orange Box for PlayStation 3 will be released in Europe next month on 14th December.
Stop clowning around; it really is bastardly cold out there. Still, it's good for one thing: keeping my PC from overheating. All I have to do is wrap up warm and open my window, then pop in one of these festively fantastic frolics and laugh away merrily - probably with a vat of mulled wine close-by to ensure I am well and truly smashed. I'm only giving it serious consideration because there are some games worth seriously considering.
Valve has said it will be selling a real life cuddly Weighted Companion Cube in its store soon.
Another good thing about Christmas is that you can kiss people by holding a twig with leaves above their heads, made all the more likely by the enormous vat of incredibly pungent mulled wine stewing in the kitchen. Similarly smile-worthy is that yes there are games on PS3 to buy this year, despite what James with his rival console says in the comments section while picking his nose and flicking it at his equally spotty friend.
It is now dark when we walk home and birds are either dropping out of trees in frozen lumps or going somewhere much nicer for their holidays. And, as always happens, the shops are hoisting their Christmas decorations up and getting us all worried about buying presents because we never know what they want is it socks or aftershave. So, we thought we would join in.
The Orange Box on Xbox 360 is definitely amazing, but Team Fortress 2 players have also been complaining of amazing lag, so Valve has released an update that it reckons fixes it.
Chief amongst the TF2 enhancements in the new patch are reductions in network bandwidth usage, improvements to overall game performance, and adjustments to the search facility so ranked games are found with greater ease and results are set to favour preferred host conditions.
You should find yourself downloading it next time you fire up the game, thanks to Xbox Live's mum-when-you're-ill ability to know exactly what you need.
Gamers based in the USA who bought Orange Box product keys from an online retailer in Thailand are having their copies of the game deactivated, and they're not happy about it.
Those of you with brains like computers will probably have worked out that you can use your Portal gun in other Source-powered games like Half-Life 2 and its pair of episodes.
You might imagine they fancy a night off after ten years making it, but the boys and girls at Valve are actually quite happy playing Team Fortress 2 - and now they want to take you on.
10th October finally saw the release of The Orange Box on Steam. What follows is a review of the product as a whole. For individual reviews of the component games, click on the following links.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two review (PC, Xbox 360)
Portal review (PC, Xbox 360)
Valve has finally released The Orange Box on Steam!
The portal gun is the most exciting thing to happen to FPS games since the gravity gun, and it's no surprise to discover that Valve is agonising over whether to give it to Gordon Freeman. Its function is simple: bridging gaps. But, in doing so, it alters the way in which you approach an FPS environment so radically that it's hard to think past it. Give it to Gordon, and Half-Life will never be the same. Better to keep it in the family, but away from the action. That's what Portal does, and the results are interesting.
Waking in a small glass room at an unknown location, you're welcomed ("again") to the Aperture Science Enrichment Centre, a sequence of 19 scenarios designed to test your ability to use portals to bypass concrete walls, transport crates over impossible obstacles, slingshot yourself across chasms and overcome mischievous gun turrets. The first levels serve as a gentle introduction to the various concepts at work, and it's a good few minutes before you gain access to the weapon itself, and even longer before it's fully operational. Once it is, you can fire a blue portal at one surface and an orange portal at another, step through either and exit the other.
Levels demand a mixture of skills, all of which make use of portals in some way and your new tool when you acquire it. Some involve transporting crates to red switches in other areas of the test chamber; others, redirecting flying energy pellets to power up doors and platforms. The gun turrets, armoured on the sides and alarmingly powerful, represent a more dangerous obstacle, cutting you down if you stray into their sights for even a second, and need to be knocked over to disable them, or avoided altogether. Framing the gameplay are the portal placement restrictions - grey concrete floors, walls and ceilings can accept a portal, but reflective black sections, moving surfaces, doors, glass partitions and other world-objects cannot - and those springy metal rods tied to your calves, which allow you to fall over vast distances without incurring damage.
Episode Two kicks off with Gordon Freeman climbing out of the twisted metal of a smoking train wreck. Is that a metaphor for Episode One? It's been both fun and slightly disappointing to rib Valve for the way in which its bold episodic experiment 'hit the buffers' as soon as it began in May of last year. 'Fun' in that it's oh-so-typical of Valve to be so far off with its release date predictions for the follow-up again that you can't help but give them a cheeky wink every time a new date emerges. It's disappointing because, well, we really wanted to believe that they could do what no other FPS developer had ever done and turn out three episodes of a triple-A game in the space of a year, as was the original plan.
But when, over Tacos, you hear Robin Walker's admission that the reason Episode Two slipped was simply because "it wasn't good enough", delaying it was clearly the right thing to do.
Maybe, deep down, the reaction to Episode One was just as significant in the decision to move the goal-posts. "Too short!" said some people. "Too constrained!" said others. "Not epic enough!" said another made up person. For the first time in the company's history it released a headline product with an average review score outside of the '90s, and its own online stat tracking system on Steam found that a worrying proportion of its devoted audience switched off long before the end. For a game as short as Episode One, that's a slap in the face.
Valve has announced that The Orange Box will come with another surprise goodie - a music single from a chap called Jonathan Coulton.
Valve has started to pump up the volume along with the stereo and pre-load files for Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Portal.
Thanks to failing eyesight (thanks, Suicide Girls) and this newfangled obsession with making everything look gritty, online FPS games are harder for me than ever. Half the time I can't pick people out from the environment until it's too late. Even in Counter-Strike, which is clearer than most, I often get popped in the head by a distant Colt and then have to cycle the chase-cameras to work out who killed me and from where.
So it's important to start this review by jumping up and down waving excitedly about Team Fortress 2's brilliant graphics: not only is everything extremely clear and intuitive, with character classes that you can easily distinguish at distance, but when you get killed the game crash-zooms to and freeze-frames your killer, so you can immediately identify who, why, how and where. Other FPS developers: copy this immediately.
Making a complicated team-based online FPS like Team Fortress into an accessible experience was obviously one of Valve's objectives. Each map comes with a short video that tells you about the game-type and goals; all the level architecture is distinct when you move between sections, with big sign-posts telling you which capture-point or area you're heading to; and all the weapons and abilities are really intuitive, like the Medic's healing gun, which fires health into your target and illustrates this by pumping little red crosses along the stream.
If news of next week's Team Fortress 2 beta has got you excited, you'll want to check out today's Meet the Engineer video to ride that high a bit further.
Valve has made The Orange Box available to pre-order on Steam ahead of what is now a 10th October activation date - and those who pre-order will be able to play the Team Fortress 2 beta from 17th September.
Orange Box will sell for USD 49.95 on Steam, and pre-purchases will get a 10 percent discount on that price, as well as a free copy of Peggle Extreme.
The compilation release - which consists of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal - is also being produced for Xbox 360 and PS3. The 360 version will launch at the same time (at European retail 12th October) while the PS3 version is due a few weeks later.
In light of recent chatter about Stranglehold having cost USD 30 million to make, we thought we'd ask Valve's Gabe Newell how much Orange Box ran to. "I don't know," he told us at Games Convention. "We don't track that."
Gosh! It seems like only 3 months and 8 days ago that we last sat down for half an hour with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, which is probably because that was when we last sat down with him. He said lots of things back then, so for our Games Convention chat this past week we were able to skip some of the pleasantries and talk in more depth about Orange Box, Steam, Wii controls and which is better PlayStations or Xboxes. Only kidding. Sort of. Plus we talked about those excellent TF2 movie shorts - have you watched the Soldier one yet? Read on also for Gabe using a swearword, which we think is an exclusive. Enjoy.
Do you remember the Heavy Weapons Guy video that Valve did to promote Team Fortress 2? Of course you do, because it was ace. Well, they're doing another one.
Of all PlayStation 3's forthcoming releases, the most interesting and significant is neither a game nor for sale. Home, Sony's more structured, sanitised and solid attempt at a Second Life world might seem innocuous enough but with the screenshots of its cinema space and the implied possibility of fully downloadable movies, there's the chance it might eventually outgrow even its host platform in significance.
A Most Wanted list you say? Cripes, whatever next: a Tips and Cheats pamphlet to go with Eurogamer's promotional Pacman Beach Ball cover mount? Still, it's the summer, there are precious few games around and, with an awful lot of new titles coming up towards the end of the year you might quite reasonably want to know which ones to keep an eye on.
Word on the vine of grapes is that Valve has narrowed down Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal's cluster-release to 9th October.
The date comes courtesy of Shacknews, who spoke to Valve about it yesterday. When we popped over last month they were saying October, so it would seem to tally with that.
If the games do emerge on 9th October on Steam and at US retail though, we'd anticipate a wait of a few days before they emerge in UK shops, which traditionally toss out new games on Fridays.
Valve has told Eurogamer that it has no intention of charging customers who download additional content for games like Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2, despite the widely spread increase of paid-for updates in the PC and console world.
Team Fortress 2 is shaping up to be one of the multiplayer PC games of the year (providing it comes out in this one, obviously). In and around our recent playtest, we were able to ask designer Robin Walker a bunch of questions about the decisions behind it, and the plan going forward beyond release. What follows is a selection of topics raised during the hours we spent in Robin's company, all knitted together fancily so it looks neat and tidy and you can read through it easily. You wouldn't want the raw transcript - it's epic, and we said a lot of stupid things. We're not very clever really. Enjoy.
In Team Fortress 2, Valve's fort-versus-fort multiplayer FPS, the devs have tried to apply the lessons they learned about iterative design to a multiplayer game. It is, in designer Robin Walker's words, "the first time we've got our shit together enough to do this" (and they've had a few goes - TF2 was originally announced in 1998). One of the words we hear a lot is "pacing". "We've always thought of pacing as a crafted thing in single-player," says Walker. "We spent a lot of time in Half-Life 2 crafting the highs and lows." Now TF2 has them - instead of standing around defending the base ("a flat experience"), you're forced to deal with rapidly evolving situations, like a Medic and Heavy Weapons Guy combining to capitalise on the former's temporary burst of invulnerability. When an enemy moves your flag, it will take 30 seconds to return to its home even if you touch it, forcing you to adjust your area of defensive focus. Similarly, get halfway through capturing a control point before death and your partial control will gradually diminish, giving the next wave the chance to resume the attack, and forcing the defending team to keep more of an eye on it. The dynamic changes minute to minute.
Originally published on GamesIndustry.biz, today's wide-ranging interview with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell touches on everything from the decision to extend Half-Life 2 episodically and introduce advertising to online multiplayer game Counter-Strike, to the future of the Steam business and what to expect from the next five years of gaming hardware. It also offers an insight into how Valve is structured, and why the developer believes listening to its customers is paramount to its success.
Valve has decided not to bother with The Black Box, which would have allowed PC gamers to buy Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2 without having to pay for unneeded copies of Half-Life 2 and Episode One.
By now you'll have read our extensive hands-on report on Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Well, hopefully. Having spent an hour working through each of the six sections Valve prepared for us to play, we sat down with programmer David Speyrer, designer Gautam Babbar and Valve's ever-present marketing director Doug Lombardi and talked about the development of Episode Two, the release date issue, and where things might be going in Episode Three.
You're on an epic journey with Alyx, racing the Combine through the wilderness outside City 17. The Citadel has been destroyed and lies massively across the horizon, with a twister of plasmic energy spiralling into the clouds. Kleiner says it's "the infancy of a superportal". G-Man is back. We learn about his relationship with Alyx. The Combine Advisors move to the fore. Breen's fate is unknown. Double-double-crossing Judith Mossman has a role to play. Dr. Magnusson, one of Gordon's Black Mesa colleagues, is leading an effort in White Forest to launch a satellite. Alyx and Gordon possess the means to access the Combine overworld. Hunters - the raptors of the Strider family - are tracking them. A new muscle car adds to the free-form feel and facilitates fast travel. The Antlion underworld beckons, and Antlion Workers are ready and waiting, corrosive phlegm on standby. Vortigaunts are fighting by your side. Their motivation should become clear.
Remember Adrian Shephard? The star of Half-Life 1 expansion Opposing Force hasn't been seen since, although that hasn't stopped gamers speculating on the future of the US Marine Corporal who found himself caught up in the original Black Mesa research incident that propelled Gordon Freeman to fame.
Valve's legion of fans can start drawing whacking great circles around October, according to marketing director Doug Lombardi.
Kim Swift gives me performance anxiety. "Now you're thinking with portals," says Portal. Unfortunately I'm not. It's a flaw in Valve's preview approach. Most scenarios in Portal have to be solved by firing a portal entrance and a portal exit at different bits of wall. You then either enter one to exit through the other, or move an object through. And if you can't immediately see what you're meant to do, every second lost to the solution's pursuit gives the invisible man chiselling "dunce" on your pride the chance to add a flourish. By now mine's backlit serif, and twinned with a town in Castilla-La Mancha. Freed of the pressure of having the lead designer sat behind you the entire time you play, you can probably think more clearly. The impossible will be easy. At least to start.
Valve says there is no technical reason why Team Fortress 2 players on the PC running Windows Vista couldn't play with and against Team Fortress 2 players on the Xbox 360.
It won't take forever to finish Valve's Portal, reckons level designer Kim Swift, who guided us through a playable demo of the game at last week's Game Developer Conference in San Francisco.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Team Fortress 2 will both support the advanced functions introduced in Windows Vista's DirectX 10 API.
Having teased us mercilessly last week about the possibility of more Team Fortress 2 information in the coming weeks, Valve has chosen the Whip MIT Grad - the new vehicle introduced in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 - as the subject of this week's torment.
Valve says that Team Fortress 2 is "really moving along in development", adding that daily playtests are an office highlight.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 today moved one step closer to completion as EA announced a winter (2007/2008) release date for the retail version of the game (last we heard it was summer).
Half-Life 2: Episode Two is now down for "summer 2007" according to Valve's Doug Lombardi.
Valve's Source Engine is now available as a middleware solution for Xbox 360, where it will compete for market share with the likes of Unreal Engine 3.
Speaking of Half-Life 2: Episode Two (I just was, you see), some of those Internet men - at 1UP - have uncovered a cryptic teaser site for Portal.
As you'll know if you've been keeping score, Valve has released a trio of new gameplay videos showing off the sorts of things you'll be getting up to in Half-Life 2: Episode Two next year.
GC: Valve opens up in Leipzig
Valve's trio of new titles - Episode Two, Team Fortress 2 and Portal - will be shown in real-time at the Leipzig Games Convention.
"We'll have a real-time demo of the games behind closed doors," Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi told Eurogamer last night.
"It will not be playable, but will be new, never-before-seen items."
Valve Software is planning to show off Half-Life 2: Episode Two along with bonus add-ons Team Fortress 2 and Portal at the Leipzig Games Convention.
Valve's released a trailer showing off some of the stuff you'll be doing in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, due out later this year on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Just last week, you may recall, Valve announced that Half-Life 2: Episode 2 will ship with the long-awaited sequel to Team Fortress.
They also presented a rather spanky trailer showcasing TF2's new cartoon-style graphics and character classes - and now it's yours to view over on Eurogamer TV.
Team Fortress 2 is due to ship alongside Ep 2 at the end of this year on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, if everything goes to plan. Here's hoping it does.
Valve has released a short video demonstrating how Half-Life 2: Episode 2 extra Portal will work - and you can watch it on Eurogamer TV now.
In a really rather exciting presentation at EA's Studio Showcase in San Francisco, Valve has announced that Half-Life 2: Episode 2 will launch on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC simultaneously - and that's only the start of it.
Studio founder Gabe Newell was on hand to deliver the news, and to inform the audience that the console version will come complete with the original HL2 and Ep 1 for "the entire Half-Life experience."
Newell also revealed that Ep 2 will ship with a brand new FPS game called Portal. Set in the Half-Life universe, it sees you armed with some kind of crazy gun which allows you to create, well, portals. You can use them to transport yourself across rooms, or to teleport an object from one place to another - perhaps so that it falls out of the portal you've created to land smack bang on an enemy's head, for example.
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.