When a seminal piece of work is created that changes the way people look at a medium, a making-of documentary often follows. Whether it’s Apocalypse Now‘s documentary, Hearts of Darkness, or the documentaries for films that never made it like Jodorowsky’s Dune or The Death of “Superman Lives,” documentaries can reveal all kinds of things about the creation of unique projects. But don’t look for one for Valve’s genre-shattering Half-Life. It’s not that they don’t want to talk about it. It’s that the history is gone.
During a recent interview with Gamasutra, Valve stalwart Erik Johnson talked about the missing history of Half-Life.
“Three months before we shipped, or two months before we shipped Half-Life 1, we lost the whole history; our VSS [Shadow copy backup] exploded. And so we had to put that all together off people’s machines. So yeah, we don’t have the history going back to the very start. We have the snapshot from that month.”
Software development is a risky venture
Valve head Gabe Newell, who worked on Windows at Microsoft before founding the team behind the Steam, compared it to something that happened with the original version of Windows.
“We couldn’t actually rebuild Windows 1. It was actually impossible. Two hours before I got on a plan to take the very first release of Windows, we found a problem. And it was patched in the binary, right. Somebody went in and patched the executable using a hex editor.” The fix wasn’t a problem until Microsoft went to build localized versions, but Newell said that it was just another example of “those kinds of awkward shenanigans.” Animation studio Pixar even lost the entirety of Toy Story 2, and we would’ve never seen the movie, if it weren’t for one of their employees working from home.
It’s a bit sad to think that all that history is lost to time, and a bit amazing that we even have Half-Life at all considering how much was lost. Of course, people like Newell and Johnson can tell stories, but the work that went into making the final product? That’s gone – long gone.