Originally founded on the 24th of August, 1996 as a limited liability company by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington (who departed from Valve on the 15th of January in 2000, for an extended vacation with his wife on their boat, the MV Meander. He returned to the industry in 2006, but did not return to Valve), in Kirkland, Washington. Both Gabe and Mike had previously worked at Microsoft for over a decade. They are part of the infamous “Microsoft Millionaires”, a group of over 10,000 employees and engineers who became rich thanks to Microsoft’s surge in profitability and success during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
The two did work on a number of Microsoft projects, but there was one thing the both of them really wanted to do – develop video games. With the help of a friend who worked at id software, Michael Abrash, the two managed to license the Quake 1 engine. The company was set up on Gabe’s wedding day, and the two soon decided on the name “Valve”, though they very nearly picked the name “Hollow Box”. They hired game industry veterans, as well as a number of modders. But while they had talent and the source code to a 3D engine, what they also needed was a publisher. They managed to catch the eye of Ken Williams, the founder of Sierra On-Line. Williams left after CUC International purchased Sierra not long after that meeting with Valve. Scott Lynch was his successor, and was also interested in what Valve was promising. He would later leave Sierra and join Valve, along with Erik Johnson and Doug Lombardi.
Valve began working on a number of projects, the two biggest ones being Quiver, and Prospero. Quiver was based off Stephen King’s “The Mist”, and was designed to be an adrenaline-filled shooter where the player would take off menacing aliens. Prospero was designed as a more moody, intelligent game, with an intricate storyline, non-linear exploration and combat through psionic powers. Eventually, the two merged into what we now know as Half-Life.
But Prospero wasn’t gone just yet. It evolved into a massively multiplayer title, that would have been distributed with a number of official “worlds”, or servers. Fans would have also been able to create their own worlds and host them on their own servers. It would have featured online distribution and a friends list, concepts that eventually became a reality within Steam. Prospero may return one day, as Gabe stated in 2006, that he’d still like to do Prospero, “right after TF-2” (ironically, TF2 was revealed only a month later). And in an interview with Steamcast, Gabe stated that it has a lot of appeal to some of Valve’s devs, and that “nothing ever really dies” at Valve.
After two years of hard work, Half-Life was finally released on the 19th of November, 1998. Publically, Valve then began working on the Team Fortress series, supporting mods, briefly worked on Counter-Strike: Condition Zero in-house in mid-2001, announced Steam on the 22nd of March 2002, and registered as a corporation on the 25th of April 2003, moving its headquarters to Bellevue, Washington, not far from its original location in Kirkland.
Secretly, however, Valve was working on the Source Engine, Team Fortress 2, and, most importantly, HL2, which was unveiled at E3 2003, and released on the 16th of November 2004. They then brought Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat to the Source Engine, and they decided the best way to follow up Half-Life 2 wasn’t to spend another half-decade grinding away – it was through episodic content. Back in 2005, Valve was aiming for a new Half-Life “episode” every three months. Plans changed when Valve turned HL2: Aftermath into HL2: Episode One, with the target being a new episode every six to eight months. Episode One came out on the 1st of June 2006, while Episode Two became part of the Orange Box alongside the returned Team Fortress 2 and the revolutionary Portal, on the 9th of October 2007.
Valve has partnered up with a number of companies, such as Gearbox, Ritual, Arkane, Turtle Rock and Hidden Path. On the 10th of January 2008, Valve acquired Turtle Rock, who at the time were working on Left 4 Dead in-house. Turtle Rock became a satellite studio for Valve, known as Valve South. They continued working on Left 4 Dead with Valve, but eventually, some time after L4D1’s release (possibly in early 2009), Valve “closed down” Valve South as a location, and all of the employees were offered to relocate to Valve HQ and continue work there. Some declined the offer, and eventually they reformed Turtle Rock. They even co-developed The Sacrifice, for L4D and L4D2, with Valve (including the Turtle Rock employees who had chosen to stay with Valve and relocate to Bellevue) in 2010.
They also acquired Black Cat Games some time around late 2007, who joined the rest of the studio at Valve HQ. At the time, they had been working on Alien Swarm: Infested, a Source engine sequel to the original Alien Swarm, for UT2K4. In 2010, they finally released Infested as “Alien Swarm”, for free on Steam. And in October 2009, they hired IceFrog, DotA’s third and longest-serving main developer. Valve will be releasing Dota 2 together with him in 2012.
And they’ve just announced a new Counter-Strike! CS: Global Offensive, developed in cooperation with Hidden Path, will be released on Steam, XBLA and PSN in early 2012. No idea if a retail release is planned. The game will represent the first major change to the Counter-Strike gameplay formula since CS first came about. We’ll get our first look at it very soon, at PAX Prime and the Eurogamer Expo. But what about Half-Life? Well… what is there to say? It’ll be done when it’s done. It’s safe to say that if Valve is taking so long, then they probably want to make sure the game is as perfect as it can possible be. And there’s nothing we can do about it but wait.
Well… that’s about it for this little retrospective. We wish Valve a happy birthday, and we hope to see them around for another 15 years, if not far more!