If you read one article about gaming this week (er – that isn’t on RPS. Actually, even so…), it should be Simon Parkin’s excellent investigation into Axel Gembe, the chap who notoriously stole Half-Life 2’s source code long before the game was released. Not just a document of the before and after, it also explores the young German hacker’s thinking and intentions – which may not be entirely what you suspect. It’s a strangely sad and sympathetic tale which paints those notorious headlines of 2004 in a whole new light. Especially, the suggestion that being arrested by German police before US law enforcement could get to him actually did him a huge favour – in terms of learning his lesson as well as retaining his freedom despite his crime.
One thing the feature doesn’t entirely hammer home to those not already very familiar with the case, incidentally, is that this wasn’t just the theft of a game – this was a chain of events that led to the very source code of Valve’s immensely anticipated shooter arriving on the internet. That’s not just like someone breaking into your house and taking your telly. That’s like someone stealing the deeds to your house. All of Valve’s engine secrets laid bare – it’s such a huge-scale horror for any game developer. While Valve’s response to the hack might seem a little harsh in the light of this feature, you can scarcely blame them for feeling so angry and violated.
Incidentally, the hacker himself is now holding an open Q&A session on Reddit following Simon’s article. He’s already confirmed that he hasn’t been in touch with Valve since being arrested.