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Former Valve Developer’s Showreel Features Footage From Valve’s Unannounced Space Game “SOB”; And A Mysterious Prototype Level? [UPDATED]

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[UPDATE: We have re-uploaded both the SOB footage and the strange Half-Life-esque clip to our YouTube channel. They have also been embedded in the article below.]

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!

Former Valve Developer’s Showreel Features Footage From Valve’s Unannounced Space Game “SOB”; And A Mysterious Prototype Level? [UPDATED]

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.

Credit, and a big round of applause to Gamerman12 for the tip. Original credit must go to the honorable Marphy Black for making the discovery in a Facepunch thread.

57 Comments

  1. This will be used in Episode 3 by the Advisors to throw props around.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXeDn8iBidc&feature=plcp&context=C4773666VDvjVQa1PpcFMLl5vsjHKc8MCtXfhmGM8juYn8Af9ZVCE%3D

    Horsfield posted this video yesterday. It’s a tech demo he developed back in the ’90s and uses a lot of Giger influenced artwork. It seems he uses this style for many of his tech demos and happened to use a map based on an older one he developed a while ago or worked with a fellow map designer to create a test map that fit his style.

    The creatures in the swarm looks like a model used by many developers I’ve seen who experiment with swarm intelligence (also referred to as “Boid”). I could be mistaken though.

    While I would love for this swarm test map to be Half Life related (and it’s entirely possible that it was intended to be in a Half Life game at some point), it seems this is more Gray Horsfield related than anything else.

    Also, before he made the videos private, I noticed in the comments section that he told someone something along the lines of ‘this is NOT Episode 3 related… far from it in fact” or something along those lines. Of course, I don’t think he would admit that this IS Half Life related, but he sounded genuinely concerned that this would get blown out of context and turn into another “Half Life 3 ARG in the Wheatley Video” scenario.

    • If I could sticky comments, I would this one. Well said, and well found.

    • Hi, Ive made your post a sticky here 🙂

      Also I was looking at some stills from the video, theres some combine advisor-like hieroglyphs present, as well as two exit passages, the whole ceiling looks like it folds inwards to trap the player inside the area hes testing, it also seems the lighting ledges form a ledge jumping system to get to an exit. Theres also the citadel texture used alot.

      Image thumbnails: http://i.imgur.com/jAa64.jpg – might see if this is worth publishing, Vic?

  3. when is gray horsefield coming out? I saw some footage of it on youtube before, looked pretty suite 😀

  4. I personally do think this is Half-Life related, the architecture is very similar in method to Victor Antonov work, who designed most of the combine architecture for HL2. Although he no longer is working with Valve, there could be a possibility someone has recreated or has been inspired by. Although theres a lot of speculation about SOB, I doubt it is that, this was made a while back, and SOB has only just left its early concept art, it also doesn’t appear to meet the visual styling of SOB that we have seen.

    As Vic said on Podcast17 recently, this cant be a tech-demo either, the level of detail and texture is far superior to be simply just for a technical demo of the swarm.

    Only other thing I can think is that it could just be some random map that a level designer made as in his hobby/practice time which Gray used as a useful scene for the demo.

    Who knows.

  5. but where me keys, where me phone

  6. Crysis 3 will be announced on moday 16th. I slowly give up hope that valve will do anything else than they do now. It’s been too long to make anything that will suprise audience, I think.
    Can’t say im not disapointed :((

  7. It’s been confirmed that it has nothing to do with Half-Life.

    • Well, it certainly doesn’t resemble anything seen in any of the other Half-Life games except for the HUD. Not Combine, nor Xen, nor Aperture Labs.

      This is clearly SOB-related content.

      • I’ve seen quite a few other folks making that connection. Personally, I don’t see it, but I think it’s plausible. Perhaps more so than any Half-Life theory in that regard.

        • You posted earlier: http://imgur.com/a/AiCRE#10
          SOB concept art contains a small variety of guns. This would explain the need for a FPS hud, the swarming monsters & the new alien architecture. Being SOB-related is far more plausible than being HL-related without desperately grasping at straws.

          • Certainly, but none of those weapons actually appear in that video… in fact, we see no weapon, apart from the one being used to actually control the swarm in question. The “FPS HUD” is completely unchanged and the menu itself says Episode Two… and I have no idea why Valve would use Episode Two as a testing ground for SOB, which tthey’ve probably been developing since about 2010-2011.

            • The viewmodel of the weapon could have been hidden to show the swarm better. As for the hud being “completely unchanged” the ammo values certianly don’t match those of any existing source game weapon; & the swarm isn’t necessarily controlled by a weapon, it just follows the camera aim for testing purposes. As for the menu saying Episode Two, Valve has had a snark swarm behavior demo back in 2007 on the EP2 engine, so for all we know this could simply be a modification of the same. Heck, we have no way of knowing how old the video itself is or how long SOB has actually been in development for.

              Admittedly I didn’t notice before, but it does slightly resemble Air Exchange. I’m sure that’s probably because of the orange glow.

              • No offense, but that isn’t very substantial at all. As I have previously stated, the swarm dynamics demo may be SOB, but I’d say there may be a fair bit more to suggest it’d be something else entirely, perhaps Half-Life. We can’t establish anything for sure at this point anyway.

      • The Swarm Dynamics test was made anywhere between EP1 and EP2 releases, this was recorded on Source 12, EP1 was released with Source 7 or what we call “Source 2006” and EP2 was released with Source 14 or what we call “Source 2007” aka “The Orange Box engine”.

        There is no way this is SOB related.

  8. Well now i’m all excited.

  9. 0:18 Second video. Gray Horsfield opens the console for about a quarter of a second. If you pause the video, you can see in the top right corner: SOURCE ENGINE 12 Build 3300.
    Our Ep2 has SOURCE ENGINE 15 Build 42xx..
    The Source Particle Benchmark (november 2006) has SOURCE ENGINE 7 Build 2915.
    My guess is that map was just a tech demo before the ep2 release.

    • Our EP2 only has Source 15 because it was updated in May 2010 to the “Source 2009” engine branch, for Mac support. This swarm footage was definitely made after Episode Two’s release.

  10. WE NEED PICTURES PLEASE.

    SOMEBODY LINK IMAGES!

  11. ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    ave you ever been in this situation where you lost yur keys and yur mobile phone?,
    WHERE ME KEYS?
    WHERE ME PHONE?
    WHERE ME KEYS?
    WHERE ME PHONE?
    WHERE ME KEYS?
    WHERE ME PHONE?
    WHERE ME KEYS?
    WHERE ME PHONE?

  12. I’ve found one thing that looks very similar to the Swarm design test : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN8DzlgMt3M&hd=1

  13. Ekhem….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JaqgMh4Ryk&feature=player_embedded

  14. Arghhh , I came here too late. Videos are set to private 🙁

  15. Got a “mirror”

    http://kotaku.com/5900538/is-this-footage-from-valves-mysterious-space-game

    • It worked! For now, I recommend everyone quickly watch this guy’s mirror link before they turn it private too.
      I was really, really impressed and interested on that never before seen HL level.
      The way everything moved and looked felt very different, it felt more life-like, it’s hard to example but I think when we start seeing actual full-length footage of a new HL our socks shall be blown away.
      And also, kudos on everything Gray Horsfield made, he truly was immensely talented.

  16. Oh, I hope someone has it saved.

  17. All videos are set to private. I cant see shit 🙁
    Did anyone make a backup videos?

  18. The videos are now private. Do you happen to have a mirror

  19. Oh and BTW I agree – I’ve followed everything Valve since the beginning and I’ve never seen Valve produce integrated art assets which are that intricate unless they were already far down the path of a project. There’s a decent chance that’s art from a HL game, or at the very least another game (perhaps scrapped, or shelved, or still in production).

    I’m not a betting man, but I’d put money down that’s not for just a tech demo or test. Valve’s testing enviros usually look like junk until much further down the road.

  20. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m not certain it was ever established that the Vort’s homeworld was also the Nihilanth’s homeworld? Aside from some of the original models’ similarities and the shared experience of all the Xenian species having ended up in Xen under the Nihilanth while escaping the Combine, there wasn’t much to go on. All we know is that at some point the many species obviously came in contact, hence why the Nihilanth and the controllers enslaved the vorts and why they all ended up in Xen. That meeting and consequential enslavement could have been post-Nihilanth-exodus though, not necessarily just because the species came from the same world.

    • Given that the Vorts and the Nihilanth seem to share the same heritage (control over the Vortessence, the third arm), it definitely seems as though they are related somehow.

  21. Stop at 0:34 or 0:35 to the left. That is a Manhack.

    Dilon if right.

  22. The amount of detail in that map doesn’t really suggest its a tech demo, unless they’ve really been trying to push their newest version of Source straight to its graphical limits. Which isn’t far from the realm of possibility.

    Either way, progress has *definitely* been made since 2007.

  23. I would love to think that Level is part of some Prometheus marketing like with Super 8. Man that gives me a raging brainer! Also seeing how all the SOB stuff keeps being shown, I’m having feelings this may have been scraped in early development, thus reasons why we see some code, animations and art for it.

  24. In that second video, does anyone else see those metallic objects flying with the “boids”? They look a LOT like Manhacks. Take a look at 0:40 seconds.

    • You’re very right, looking at it frame by frame, they are Manhacks.

    • This was posted in the comments in regards to the manhacks:

      “What’s the manhack for?”
      -gorgolyt

      “he was the original target.

      actually, in the game, I am switching between “target manhack”, “target player” and “target camera ray trace to world” using hotkeys, and capturing that.”
      -AirAardvark

  25. The Half-Life test was epic 😀 Especially since I’m a huge Giger fan. It kind looks like the player is controlling the flight path of the creatures. That would be an epic way to kill advisors in episode 3. A man can dream DX

    • Holy crap dude, I think you hammered the nail on the head! I didn’t notice it at first, I thought it was just randomly moving, but the user is DEFINITELY controlling the “swarm”! This raises huge questions about this technology… perhaps half life is returning to its old trend of controlling aliens as a weapon? (Those little explosive guys you could throw around…)

  26. For more SOB concept art, check out: http://bbs.hl-inside.ru/showthread.php?s=&postid=1019555#post1019555; http://imgur.com/a/AiCRE and http://www.peterhkonig.com

  27. Does the swarm area remind anyone of that old cut content from the HL2 beta – like the incinerator or something? Air change tower? Something like that…

  28. One other thing, is that even if the swarm map was for Half-Life, it could have been scrapped later in the development process, so might not be indicative of the current game.

    • well, on the youtube page in the comments he says that it is just a tech demo, but he’s probably lying so he doesn’t get sued or something.

      • Or lying out of respect for Valve and their want for privacy on the matter?
        Not everything is pure self-interest.

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