Folks send me things quite often. But occasionally, I get sent stuff that’s really, really cool. Then those people have officially not only made my day, but, by proxy, your day as well. Read on to find out what I’m talking about!
Veteran Valve developer Gray Horsfield, the pioneer of Valve’s Cinematic Physics system, left the company at the beginning of this year. He’d been employed there since 2006 (he had previously worked at WETA Digital on films such as The Lord of the Rings, and King Kong), and had done work on HL2: Episode Two, Portal 1, Left 4 Dead 1, Left 4 Dead 2, and Portal 2. As most game devs who have just left a studio do, he posted up a brief showreel demonstrating some of his capabilities and showing off his previous work. Most of it is footage of his work, from Valve’s previously released games. But there are a few points where we see some really interesting stuff – such as a couple sequences set in some pretty lovely space environments. Take a look:
We can clearly see footage of space environments and miscellaneous space stuff – including a revolving asteroid, a large dying sun, a vast nebula, and a passing space shuttle with a small starfighter in its docking bay. Since Gray was employed exclusively by Valve, and since we know that Valve is working on an unannounced space-based title known simply as “SOB”, there’s no question about it – that video must be SOB.
So believe it or not, that must be Valve content and it is made on Source, or at least something related to Source. But for a clearer connection between the leaked Dota 2 code, Peter Konig’s SOB concept art, and this showreel, simply take a look at this comparison image between the starfighter seen in Gray’s video footage, and the one from Peter Konig’s mysterious concept art (clearly labelled “SOB”, just like the code from the Dota 2 leak):
But that’s not all. Gray also posted a separate video showing in-game footage taken in-game, straight out of the Source engine (from HL2: Episode Two, it would seem) of an eerie, almost creepy alien “nexus” environment with Combine-like architecture stretching far into it. Swarms of strange flying creatures pass through this alien nexus, which sports a look reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s work. Let’s take a look:
That level in the background, I believe, might be based on a Half-Life prototype of some sort. I know, I know, Gray did state in the YouTube comments that the footage is not for any game, but just bear with me for a second. To begin with, the environment itself is all a bit too intricate and well-crafted to have been created exclusively for a mere tech demo of this swarm behavior. Look at the footage – it’s even got low gravity on! It’s also intriguing that, clear as day, we’ve got a Half-Life HUD on there, and it’s all being tested within HL2: Episode Two. The swarm doesn’t actually seem to originate from the map either – he typed in a console command for it to actually appear, which seems to imply that the map might somehow be separate from it all.
In addition, that metallic structure in the center of this nexus definitely looks a lot like Combine architecture. Not only that, but the aforementioned Giger-esque look that is present in this level (intentionally, I might add, as the YouTube video tags clearly contain “giger”)? Half-Life enthusiasts might remember that Xen itself from the original Half-Life 1 was also based on H.R. Giger’s work. And finally, what do those flying creatures resemble? The Stukabats, Xenian bat-like creatures cut from HL1, as well as the Boids, Half-Life 1’s peaceful flying inhabitants… of Xen.
Let me explain what I’m trying to get at. Fans have assumed, since the G-Man’s final words in HL2, that Gordon’s path would inevitably take us off-world. Where exactly, we don’t know – but some fans have speculated that we might one day visit the Nihilanth’s original homeworld, which is where it resided and ruled over the Controllers, the Grunts, and the Vortigaunts; until the Combine attacked and pushed the Nihilanth into a continuous retreat that would lead to its doom in Xen at the hands of Freeman. And these creatures seem to be distant cousins of the Stukabats, or perhaps even the Boids. Since the Antlions themselves actually came from the Vortigaunts and Nihilanth’s homeworld, to Xen, and then to Earth in Half-Life 2 (“Antlion husbandry was once our ancestral practice“), it’s not too far-fetched that the Stukabats, and/or the Boids might have come along for the trip to Xen as well.
What we’re seeing here might be an environment on the Vortigaunt species’ original homeworld, having been colonized by the Combine in the meantime. The resemblances between the homeworld and Xen can be explained as the Nihilanth’s species setting up shop and making Xen their home away from home.
So what I’m trying to say is that that level back there seems to have been created with Half-Life in mind – maybe the flying creatures aren’t Boids or Stukabats at all, and have nothing to do with it, but still, I’m guessing that parts of an actual game level would have been used to test this thing, to test how it would behave directly in-game around more complex designs.
But of course, this is all simply speculation. I now remove my tinfoil hat, and I say that, while this “swarm dynamics” thing, and its relation to Half-Life is definitely and completely up for debate, and nothing truly concrete can be established on that front; I think that the SOB situation is pretty much indisputable, at this point (which reminds me – the track used in the full swarm test video is actually a song from EVE Online… which is a space-based MMO). I’m also wondering why exactly Gray left Valve to begin with. As always, feel free to discuss this in the comments section.