Found: A 1997 Prototype of Half-Life!

Half-Life is one of my most favorite games of all time. It blended action, platforming and story perfectly to be one of the awesome shooters of 1998. But it wasn’t always that way.

Valve, back then a small development studio, made a press demo version of Half-Life that showed a drastically different version of the game: While the story and certain game elements was similar, almost all the levels and designs were different from what we got. In a sense, it felt a bit more like in line with Quake than the Half-Life we know and love.

I always liked Half-Life’s dithering effects in the software render. Can’t really explain why.

This version was originally slated for November 1997, but it missed the release date, causing Valve to delay the game and release it a year later with many significant changes to the final product, all for the better.

Getting a chance to play the Half-Life that never was is really a treat, which has many unfinished levels — some early versions of levels in the final game — as well as tech demos such as skeletal animation. You can shoot a robot and make it do that dancing baby animation that was popular in the late ’90s! Not only that, it has documentation about the game and Valve itself, a walkthrough of all the levels, even copies of Paint Shop Pro and WinZip for some reason…

Here’s me playing through one of the levels, The Security Complex. It’s one of the more complete levels of the game. I go through the stage area at least once, then show the solution as given in the walkthrough.

Thanks to reddit user jackaljayzer for uncovering this gem, who got it from a friend in Bellevue, Washington; and to Valve Time (now defunct) for revealing the leak. Further information about this prototype build can be found on The Cutting Room Floor, and it’s a nice amount of stuff there that compares this prototype to the final released game.

If somehow you are one of the few who have never played Half-Life, go buy the game on Steam already. There’s a reason I say it’s the best game of all time.

(Featured image courtesy of the Combine Overwiki.)

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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