Pre-Pitch Era

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The "Pre-pitch" era of Half-Life 2 is presumed to be the earliest collection of ideas (assembled as-then unofficially by company employees) under the project that continued on to become HL2.

Summary

"There was a period where we just explored a number of very different possibilities for the whole feel of the sequel. One of those was extremely dark. Brothers Quay, Jacobs Ladder, Warsaw ghetto, Dark City...lots of imagery of torture and evil. It was purely exploratory, there was never any commitment to it. About all we retained from that period was the idea of a resistance that busted Gordon out of the hands of an oppressive force. I think the idea was that he was enlisted as some kind of agent, and this was their uniform...it was almost a strait jacket. The HEV suit was gone, but we still needed some kind of suit to provide UI, and a more sinister kind of AI suit voice. But keep in mind that you're looking back at this period with some assumptions we hadn't made at the time. Half-Life wasn't a big hit at that time; it was quite a while before it became a bestseller, and we didn't think people expected anything in particular of us, so we could change as much as we wanted. The orange suit and crowbar were not especially iconic. We could have taken a step away from them fairly easily at that point without thinking that we were diluting the essence of Freeman. But we didn't stick with this approach for very long. Probably Gabe told us we were crazy!"

— Marc Laidlaw[1]

This era started immediately after Half-Life was released, and largely consisted of pre-pitch designs before Half-Life 2 was inaugurated as an "official" Valve project in June 1999, six months after the first game shipped[2] (when it was presumably pitched to the rest of Valve). It consisted of mostly exploratory world building through writing and keyart, sitdowns with ideas flung about; very few assets or maps made — the concepts and assets intended for this era were later utilised or retooled for later eras, as by the time they were completed the context of the game had changed.

Development Background

Once Half-Life hit store shelves on 19/11/1998, there were immediate roundtable-style thoughts about a sequel with a much larger scope, teleporting Gordon across planet to planet around the galaxy and defeating the invading Xenians on each. The early discussions over these ideas served as the starting point to slowly reduce and refine the game's scope, as this concept ultimately presented issues of continuity between game levels.[2]

The game was initially thought of as dark rather than action adventure (the team gradually moved towards the latter by the end of development). The design philosophy did not include a visible end goal (like the Citadel) that you could see from each level,[3] instead it was on a smaller scale where each level or set of levels had an easily identifiable goal.[4]


It is this initial start to development that provided the basis for Half-Life 2's design philosophies when the game formally began development.

Known information

While much of the content in this era never had assets made, there were writings and concepts in-planning, of which describe 3 main alien races occupying the earth that had presence in the plot:

  • A race of Giant Primitive Tribal type insectoid aliens out in the Middle east that used hollowed out caterpillar subway as transport. (possible influence over dropship design in concept art)

  • A Warrior alien race that utilised Weaponized aliens, the weaponised aliens were homogenised under the name "the hoard". one of their creations is the sack ticks (inspired the headcrab canisters) which had hoard markings on them for task group and delivery vehicle, they were eventually modelled and programmed as an entity in the hyper era.
    An excerpt from Raising The Bar: Uncorrected Proof (p.204)
  • A 'Spy race' (similar/related to the Gman) with a citadel in a Prague-like city.

Plot

Much of the plot devised at this point in production is unknown, however it is known that the player was to start the game as gordon freeman who had been forced into working as an agent for some alien body (presumably gmans race) and as such you are wearing an unfamiliar more sinister stealth suit with an unfamiliar voice system rather than the hev suit.[1]

One of the introductions mentioned for this era was where you were waking up in a hospital before being broken out by rebels possibly inspired by jacobs ladder.[4]

The only other information about the plot and its locations comes from the overlap with the next era.

Locations

While this era was scaled down from the initial galaxy spanning adventure, it was more focused on different places all around the planet, seemingly thrown together from a list of "cool" places to have the game.

Many places in different countries are visited, although they might not have had a story line devised to link them together as of yet:

The Weizzman Institute of Science in Israel
Location Explanation Cut/Survived into next era?
Chicago Skyscraper/Vertigo was set in Chicago, apparently around in this period Partially
Arctic base? Arctic locale survived into Hyper era as Spire and/or Weather Control Yes
Cairo/Middle East Alien race riding giant insects etc No
Weizzman Institute of Science[4] You'd be defending the Israeli institute from aliens No
Kraken Base Possibly not named Kraken at this stage, rather just a general idea for an undersea base Yes
Prague-like city Gman alien race 'spy city' w/ a Citadel in the centre Partially

Emails

A number of emails discussing this era are available.

Inspirations

The work of Brothers Quay may have served as inspiration,

Dark City seems to have played a role in the early visual tone of the game, as well as the design of the stealth suit.[1]

the Hospital from Jacob's Ladder[1] was used as inspiration for a possible introduction for hl2,

David Speyrer mentioned that they took influence from a film called The Pianist which took place in Warsaw Ghetto.

David speyrer Pianist emil.png

The Manchurian Candidate seems to have been used as inspiration for the background story between the player and the GMan-like race. In it, the main character is abducted before being trained and conditioned to be an assassin or special soldier to act as an agent for a country. [5]


References

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