While Half-Life has seen resounding critical and financial success (winning over 50 Game of the Year awards and selling more than a million copies worldwide), few people realize that it didn’t start out a winner — in fact, Valve’s first attempt at the game had to be scrapped. It was mediocre at best, and suffered from the typical problems that plague far too many games. This article is about the teamwork – or "Cabal process" — that turned our initial, less than impressive version of Half-Life into a groundbreaking success.
Our initial target release date was November 1997 — a year before the game actually shipped. This date would have given Valve a year to develop what was in essence a fancy Quake TC (Total Conversion — all new artwork, all new levels). By late September 1997, nearing the end of our original schedule, a whole lot of work had been done, but there was one major problem — the game wasn’t any fun.
Yes, we had some cool monsters, but if you didn’t fight them exactly the way we had planned they did really stupid things. We had some cool levels, but they didn’t fit together well. We had some cool technology, but for the most part it only showed up in one or two spots. So you couldn’t play the game all the way through, none of the levels tied together well, and there were serious technical problems with most of the game. There were some really wonderful individual pieces, but as a whole the game just wasn’t working.