At the turn of the century there was no gaming company cooler than Valve. Hot off the heels of a game of the year release, the Half-Life developer would soon become a major figure in the gaming industry.
Valve was established in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. At the time, the Bellevue, Washington duo were primarily concerned with shipping their first game. However, in the years that followed it would shift its attention toward digital distribution and publishing, both of which are its primarily vehicles of operation 21 years later.
I was first introduced to Valve in 1999 when I played Half-Life for my first time. I vividly remember its atmosphere and storytelling being cutting edge, and having the impression that it wouldn’t be the last I’d see of the company.
During subsequent years I would spent thousands of hours playing mods for Half-Life. In celebration of the company’s 21st anniversary today, I want to look back at five of these games which not only had a tremendous influence on me, but the PC gaming industry.
Official Release Date: November 9th, 2000
When Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess Cliffe debuted Counter-Strike‘s beta in 1999, they had no idea how big of a hit they had on their hands. Within months thousands of players hopped online to enjoy a new style of FPS that was inspired by real-world counter-terrorism. With bomb plants, hostages, purchasable weapons, and a low TTK , it was a huge deviation from the standards of what were at the time the two most popular FPS games: Unreal Tournament and Quake.
Although not an official mod by Valve, its popularity would quickly earn it attention from the development team, and it would later be published by Sierra Entertainment/Vivendi Universal Games alongside other popular mods.
I began playing Counter-Strike back in 2001 when I visited my first LAN cafe in Southern California. Within a month my parents bought an inexpensive PC for me to play the game on, and I would spend countless hours trying to perfect my aim, later joining clans that would compete in LAN tournaments and online leagues.
The Counter-Strike series has remained an important element of Valve’s software arsenal, with the latest release, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, currently ranking as the third most popular title on Steam.
Day of Defeat
Official Release Date: May 1st, 2003
There were a lot of World War 2 shooters released prior to Day of Defeat. Yet, it still managed to stand out thanks to the smooth gameplay of the Half-Life engine.
Day of Defeat was one of the first FPS games to feature a class system, infusing teamwork and composition into the metagame. Players could choose to serve as a Sniper, Rifleman, Staff Sergeant, and more, all with access to their own equipment. With this, it was common for players to “main” a particular class, becoming reliable on its key impact factors
Similar to Counter-Strike, one of Day of Defeat‘s greatest accomplishments was its map design. Anzio, Caen, and Jagd were fantastic maps that players tended to play on rotation. Yet, more than anything I remember it for its implementation of the German Kar98 bolt-action rifle. Capable of delivering a one-shot kill on the go, it remains one of the most exciting weapons I’ve used in an FPS.
Although the game arrived in beta form as far back as 1998, Activision and Valve would work together to publish the title officially in 2003. It has since spawned a single sequel, and gamers are ready for another one.
Official Release Date: October 31st, 2002
Right as Counter-Strike was achieving incredible popularity, Charlie “Flayra” Cleveland debuted one of the most unique mods for Half-Life, called Natural Selection.
Natural Selection blended elements of FPS with RTS, and gave it an asymmetrical metagame. In it, players were able to play one of two teams: Marines or Aliens (the “Kharaa”). Both were completely different in their gameplay, with Marines serving as a more traditional FPS style of play, and Aliens having a diversity of mechanics that can best be compared to the zombies in Versus mode of Left 4 Dead.
But even the Marines weren’t derivative. The faction feature a Commander, which was one of the first deliveries of such a concept alongside Starsiege: Tribes and Battlefield 2. The Commander would be able to view the map from a top-down viewpoint, use unique interactions to provide teammates with intel, tell them where to go, and even place objects. Even 15 years later very few shooters have attempted to make such a concept work, and what Natural Selection had in 2002 was surprisingly cohesive.
Natural Selection was never officially published by Valve, but was one of the most important mods for Half-Life, playing a part in the growth of the modding community. A sequel would be published in 2012 that currently has over 1.6 million copies sold.
Release Date: November 1st, 2000
Ricochet was by no means a fan-favorite, but just about every PC gamer knew about it during the early years of Valve. It was included for free with Half-Life following its v126.96.36.199 update in June 2002, resulting in no barrier of entry.
For many, this was the first Half-Life mod they would ever play. Made readily available, millions of gamers would hop in to check out the sports-style shooter. This would be a stepping stone to a lifelong addiction to mods.
The game was brought back into the spotlight in 2012 when Gabe Newell referred to a sequel, which seemingly alluded to the development of Half-Life 3. He said:
In terms of Ricochet 2, we always have this problem that when we talk about things too far in advance, we end up changing our minds as we’re going through and developing stuff, so as we’re thinking through the giant story arc which is Ricochet 2, you might get to a point where you’re saying something is surprising us in a positive way and something is surprising us in a negative way, and, you know, we’d like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2. The problem is, we think that the twists and turns that we’re going through would probably drive people more crazy than just being silent about it, until we can be very crisp about what’s happening next.
Thus, Ricochet is the key to Half-Life 3 and deserving of a spot on this list.
Team Fortress Classic
Release Date: April 7th, 1999
Originally released as a Quake mod in 1996, Valve tried its hand at recreating the popular competitive shooter on its Half-Life engine. In 1999 it debuted to fanfare.
Similar to Day of Defeat, Team Fortress Classic was a class based shooter. Though, its implementation was much more arcade-like, with options such as the Spy who could disguise himself, a Pyro equipped with a powerful flamethrower, and a Scout that could run blazingly fast while dropping caltrops. Each class was very distinct, providing a great variety of gameplay that invited long-term play value.
Team Fortress Classic would enjoy some success as an eSports title, although Counter-Strike would soon consume a major portion of its playerbase. Even then, it stands as one of the most widely recognized mods.
Eight years later a sequel was released, called Team Fortress 2. The title is one of the most successful shooters in history with over 43 million total players.
Did you ever play mods for Half-Life? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below.
Happy birthday, Valve.