As we close in on Half-Life 2's worldwide release date of November 16th, a smattering of anonymous forum posts around the world suggest that a number of gamers have managed to secure copies ahead of time - whether through leaks, broken street dates at minor retailers, or other means - but, thanks to a decision to safeguard the code via an online authorisation system, it looks like Valve will be able to prevent the vast majority of people getting stuck into the game ahead of time.
Thanks to the controversial and widely publicised online authorisation system - which will mean that gamers have to log in to Valve's Steam service once before they can play the single-player adventure - people with copies of the game ahead of time, including distributors and other partners, have been reluctant to take advantage of their position for fear of having their misdemeanour traced back to them.
Valve's security measure has also presumably slowed the cracking and distribution of the game code by organised piracy outfits, to whom the scalp of Half-Life 2 would have been a prize to eclipse Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Doom III, all of which have been cracked and released through illegal channels ahead of their release dates. There's no guarantee that pirates still won't crack the game so it doesn't require online authorisation, as happened with the distribution of Counter-Strike: Source last month, but whatever the outcome Valve's efforts have clearly made the process a lot more difficult.
Having to go online to play the game at all may not be popular with everyone, then, but it seems to be doing the trick so far. Valve has yet to comment on reports that some gamers have gotten their hands on HL2 ahead of time, there seems little reason for the developer to react by releasing the game early via its Steam content distribution system, as some suspected it might do - although the developer may decide that if the street date is widely broken it's only fair on the fans to do so. We only hope we don't jinx the game by pointing all this out...
Meanwhile, Valve itself reports that two official guides to the game have started to ship around the world. The first, Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, takes a look at the origins of the developer, their first games, and the development of Half-Life 2, and features a great number of interviews and images. The second is a more traditional 320-page "Game Guide" with full colour maps and details and strategies on everything to do with the game. Both books are published by Prima.
And for those of you still twiddling your thumbs, elsewhere today there's also a two-part feature at hardware enthusiast site Bit-tech.net chronicling the construction of an official Half-Life 2 PC case modification, which is set to become the demonstration machine in the lobby at Valve's headquarters. The case, Black Mesa II, was built by one of the site's forum regulars, and the two-part feature, beginning here, shows in graphic detail how he went about constructing it.
Expect to see our review of Half-Life 2 online next week.