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- June 1999: Development of Half-Life 2 begins.
- Early plot ideas are discussed and one of these ideas is this: Gordon Freeman is to travel to other planets and destroy the Xen forces on them.
- Viktor Antonov, Valve's art director, suggests that the game take place in an Eastern European city. The team likes this idea.
- Development of the Source engine begins. The main focuses are creating a physics system and a system capable of showing realistic facial expressions.
- Plot begins to solidify. It takes place in a world dominated by an evil empire called the Combine. Many enemy and ally designs and a few WC mappack maps are made.
- Sometime in 2001: Gabe Newell begins to focus on Steam and allows the Half-Life 2 team to design the game without his guidance.
- Before Summer 2001: Physics are integrated into the Source engine.
- Summer 2001: Advances in technology convince the developers to create a test map that features a battle between rioting Citizens and Metrocops.
- Summer 2001: Creation of first test map, Get Your Free TVs!. While basic and extremely blocky, this gives the team a major morale boost and convinces them to start working on a trailer for E3 2002.
- Sometime in Winter 2002, the trailer is finished. The team wishes to show it to Newell, who, as an outsider to what's been going on in the project, would give the team honest feedback.
- March 2002: Steam is announced at the 2002 Game Developers Conference.
- March 2002; After returning from the conference, the trailer is shown to Newell; he is unimpressed and believes that it needs more time to be developed. Morale takes a hit, but recovers.
- Summer 2002: The team begins to improve the trailer and sees that Newell was right.
- September 2002: Improved trailer is shown to Jay Stelly; he is unimpressed. As a result, the team works overnight to improve it. The next day, the new trailer is shown and impresses both Stelly and Newell.
- October 2002: Newell tells the team that they should get a new trailer ready for E3 2003 and expect the game to be shipped out by the end of 2003.
Sometime between 2002 and E3 2003
- The Wasteland and the Combine Factories section of City 17 are scrapped. Maps for their appearances at E3 2003 in the WC mappack indicate this.
- February 2003: Newell announces that Half-Life 2 should be done by September 30, 2003. They still plan on making an E3 demonstration.
- May 2003: Half-Life 2 is shown at E3 to much acclaim. Some wonder why there was no playable demo at E3, but are ignored by both Valve and a majority of the fans.
- Soon after E3 2003: the team begins to see that Half-Life 2 will not be ready on September 30. Newell tries to stay optimistic, but even he begins to see that its impossible.
- July 29: Vivendi Interactive, Valve's publisher back then, announces that the game has been held back to "holidays 2003". Newell reaffirms the September 30th release date when asked about it, even though the team knows the date is impossible to reach.
- July 29 to September 23: Valve continues to reassert that the game will ship on September 30, even though everybody on the team knows that is impossible. Fans start to become skeptical the closer it gets to September 30.
- September 23: Newell announces that the game is being held back. Many fans, notably Fragmaster, head of Planet Half-Life, become enraged at Valve for lying to them about the release date. Some claim that they'll never buy anything from Valve again.
- October 4: The Source engine source code is leaked onto the Internet.
- October 7: The state of the game, as of October 4, 2003, is leaked onto the Internet. In addition, the WC mappack, a collection of every map made by Valve up to that point (in .vmf format), a port of Half-Life to the Source engine, an extremely early version of Counter-Strike: Source, Counter Strike: Condition Zero, and two player models from Team Fortress 2 are leaked as well. Those that play it see that the game was nowhere near done and that quite a few E3 demos were scripted, when Newell himself said they weren't. Morale at Valve takes an extreme hit.
- Early 2004: Morale begins to recover. Fans await the release of Half-Life 2, despite earlier outrage.
- Early March: The game can be played from start to finish. Play-testing begins.
- Late July: Game content is locked down. Testing is focused on fixing the physics system, getting rid of bugs and making levels more fun to play.
- October 13: The last release candidate is sent to Vivendi. Vivendi approves of it. Half-Life 2 can now be released.
- October 14: Newell destroys a Scanner-shaped piñata in celebration of the game being complete.
- November 16: Half-Life 2 is released in retail and on Steam. The response is overwhelmingly positive.
- Earlier versions of the game had a much larger armory. See the weapons cut from Half-Life 2 for more details.
- Originally, the player could only hold a limited number of weapons. They could drop a weapon any time by taking the gun out and hitting a key to drop it. By the time the leak was made, the ability to drop weapons seems to have been removed, as the G key is bound to a function called "DropPrimary", but it does nothing.
- At one point, the player could fire their weapon while zoomed in. This was dropped for balance reasons (however, vehicle mounted weapons can be fired while zoomed in; in addition, the zoom can be used as a makeshift scope by holding down the fire button and zoom button, then releasing zoom).
- Some of the earliest weapons in the game were the AR1 and MP5K, both of which were dropped in the final version. Their early textures can be found in "materials\Models\Weapons\Obsolete" in the Beta.
- One of the earliest attempts at physics-enhanced gameplay was a weapon called the Brickbat. It would allow players to pick of objects from the ground and throw them at enemies. Due to how many view models they would have to model for it to feel natural, it was cut. The Gravity Gun performs the same function as Brickbat did, but in a much easier way (at least for the art team).
- Early Half-Life 2 maps were built similarly to Half-Life maps; most of the objects in levels were made out of brushes.
- In some of the earliest maps, Half-Life entities, such as "monster_generic", are used to represent characters such as Barney and Citizens.
- In later early maps the player would be able to place "prop_objects" in front of doors, barricading them so that enemy NPC would have to kick the door down in order to gain entry (shown in the early Ravenholm or "
- Early drafts of the Combine soldiers were to make them look distinctively alien, but this was dropped when Valve wanted "a more transparent enemy".
- Originally, the Combine were to recycle human building materials for their own purposes. This resulted in somewhat odd designs, such as the Citadel's interior being made out of ceramic tiles.
- One of the sound files for two Metrocops walking through the Skyscraper (sound\vo\sky in the Beta) indicates that Combine-developed weaponry could only be used by those with "a messed up nervous system" and that non-standard issue weapons for Metrocops (such as Rocket Launchers) would be confiscated if not approved by Dr. Breen (at this point of development the Consul).
- There were to be many more monsters than there was in the final version. Some classics, like the Houndeye and Bullsquid, were to return, but there were a few other new monsters, such as the Tripod Hopper.
- One of the least-known cut enemies is a creature known as the Particle Storm. The only proof of its existence is a folder named "Particle_storm" (sound\npc\particle_storm) and what remains of Eli's early dialogue as Eli Maxwell (sound/temp/eli). Apparently, it would suddenly appear, cause an extreme amount of damage to anything in its path, then disappear. Eli believed that Particle Storms were intelligent and originally lost his leg to a Particle Storm.
- Originally, citizens were supposed to wear gas masks because of the Air Exchange making the air poisonous. This was dropped at the same time as the AirEx.
- There were to be child and adult workers in the factory section of City 17.
- During the Street War, there was to be a special type of Citizen that would give the player ammo. The only proof of his existence is a texture sheet in the 2003 leak.
- Alyx's father was originally a white man named Captain Vance. He was the head of security in the AirEx, and was to start the fighting that would ultimately destroy it.
- Eli used to have no relation with Alyx, though they were to be very close. Instead, he was an eccentric old man living in a scrapyard. Depending on the concept art, he can either be seen giving Gordon his HEV Suit or the Gravity Gun.
- In early drafts, Eli lost his leg while trying to examine a Particle Storm.
- Captain Vance and Eli Maxwell were merged to create the character Eli Vance seen in the final version.
- Alyx originally wore a futuristic jumpsuit and a green jacket, but this was scrapped a short time before the E3 demos were shown.
- The earliest drafts of the plot called City 17 "New City".
- The trip through City 17 was originally going to be much more expansive; the player would visit the Manhack Arcade, go through alley-filled parts of City 17, a factory, a generic arcade/computer station, and a dark street that had a giant structure with multiple Breencast monitors on it.
- City 17 was going to be a lot darker, both figuratively and literally. Most of the C17 maps were to take place in the evening or at night, and there was to be a larger sense of hopelessness.
- Large skyscrapers were to be in City 17, but were removed to put more emphasis on the Citadel.
- The Factory was one of the major areas of City 17. It featured children manufacturing Cremators, along with various adult workers performing other tasks. It was cut when it was realized that there would be no children after the Combine took over. The Cremator was cut along with it.
- The Wasteland is essentially a dried up ocean and was to be evidence that the Combine was tampering with the environment. Unlike the Coast, there was absolutely no water whatsoever. Many Combine bases were set up in the Wasteland. Antlions roamed the area.
- A demonstration of the Wasteland was developed for E3 2002 and 2003, but both were scrapped. The maps for them can be found in the Wc mappack.
- The Depot was originally in the Wasteland and stayed with it when it turned into the Coast.
- The Wasteland was to have its own skin for the citizens, but this never got past a temporary texture.
- A special type of Scanner was created to scan the area for any non-Combine humans.
- The Wasteland evolved into the Coast as the game was developed.
- Originally, the Depot was a checkpoint during Gordon's trip to the Air Exchange. When the AirEx was cut, its purpose in the plot was given to the Depot.
- See also: Air Exchange
- The Air Exchange was to play a major part in the plot. Its destruction would be taken as a sign to begin the rebellion against the Combine.
- Captain Vance would begin attacking the AirEx after Gordon arrived.
- See also: Borealis (cut location)
- In the first draft, the player would start on the Borealis as it was heading to City 17.
- Later drafts re-purposed the Borealis as a stranded ice-breaker that Gordon would have to travel to.
- On the Borealis was a character named Odell. His purpose on the Borealis isn't clear from his voice clips, but he apparently knew the ship's captain and is allied with the rebels.
- The Borealis had boxes from a company named "Arbeit Laboratories" in it. Whether this was the basis for the Borealis being owned by Aperture Science in Episode 2 is unknown.
- Props from the Borealis still exist in the final game and the Episodes (for example, there is still a model folder called "props_borealis", and contains items such as a water barrel).
- Dead workers were supposed to litter the Borealis.
- See also: Kraken Base
- The Kraken base maps in the WC mappack are extremely incomplete, suggesting that the concept was dropped early.
- See also: Weather Control
- This facility was to come after Kraken Base. It was never scripted.
- An early script in Raising the Bar suggests that the Weather Control was to host a major battle at one time.
- The Weather Control would have a plane that Gordon and Alyx would use to get back to City 17.
- See also: Skyscraper
- The plane mentioned earlier would crash into a skyscraper named Vertigo. Metrocops would converge on the area and capture Alyx, but not Gordon. Gordon would then have to escape and get on the rooftops of nearby buildings to get to the war between the Combine and the Citizens.
- The battle in C17 was to be provoked by the destruction of the AirEx, but when it was deleted, the impetus was moved to the destruction of the Depot.
- The Rebels were to have commandeered enemy vehicles during the rebellion, as seen in the sniper series of maps in the WC mappack.
- The player was to travel through the rooftops and battle enemies such as Stalkers, but this was removed for more ground-based fighting.
- Most of the fighting was to be spearheaded by rebelling Conscripts, not citizens.
- In early versions of the Street War, one of the player's goals was to meet Captain Vance at his temporary HQ, which was a bombed out building with a few APCs parked outside of it.
- The Citadel went through multiple changes. The earliest Citadel design was a gigantic organic spire, as seen in concept art in Raising the Bar. However, the earliest in-game version was nothing more than a gigantic, blocky metal tower, mostly because it was made out of brushes. Later brush-based Citadels became much rounder and had large sheets of steel surrounding the bottom of the Citadel. When the team was able to put models into the game, the Citadel became a round spire. This was then changed to the Citadel as seen in the final version.
- Early versions of the Citadel's interior were made out of ceramic tiles to show that the Combine was recycling man-made building materials for their own projects.
- The rows of pods inside the Citadel were originally just cages with prisoners inside them.
- Of note is that the journey through the Citadel would feature areas that were never used or reused for Episode 1. Both the Core and the Advisor areas, which were prominently featured in Episode One, were being developed long before the final game came out. Interestingly, the Advisor room is made out of ceramic tiles, which dates the Advisors back to the time when the Combine were using recycled human building materials instead of their own metal for creating buildings.
- The confrontation with Breen in early versions of the story was extremely similar to the final one. Concept art from RtB shows Mossman holding Alyx (who was captured at the Skyscraper) at gunpoint while Gordon holds a gun to Breen. Some dialogue from an early version of the scene, found in the leak (sound/temp/alyx/citadel1-3.wav) shows that Alyx talked to Breen.
- Half-Life 2 Beta
- Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar
- Half-Life 2 original storyline
- Weapons cut from Half-Life 2
- Get Your Free TVs!