Half-Life Writer Marc Laidlaw Has Left Valve

After 18 years at Valve, working on everything from Half-Life to Dota 2, writer Marc Laidlaw has confirmed that he’s retired from the company. That’s an eternity for the games industry! He wrote novels before getting into video games, and it sounds like he’s getting back to writing for himself.

This revelation is sparked from an unlikely source: a demanding e-mail from someone complaining about Valve’s silence over Half-Life 3. Laidlaw responded that he couldn’t say, because he’s retired from Valve. ‘TeddyWolf’ posted his exchange with Laidlaw on Reddit, and Laidlaw has since confirmed to Kotaku that yep, he’s out and he’s gone.

Explaining why he’s retiring, Laidlaw said in the initial e-mail:

“There are many reasons, most of them personal. An outwardly obvious reason is that I’m old, or anyway oldish. My nickname when I first started at Valve in 1997 was ‘Old Man Laidlaw.’ The little baby level designer who gave me that nickname is older now than I was then. Imagine how much older I am! I had the unbelievable luck to fall in with the kids at Valve when they could have just dismissed me as an old fogey who didn’t know shit about videogames. The only Zelda I’d ever heard of was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife. They taught me everything. I had a good run but lately I have been feeling a need for a break from the collaborative chaos of game production, and a return to more self-directed writing projects.”

He adds that “it feels like the time is right to return to my roots and see where that takes me.” He might end up back in games somehow, but it’s not his plan.

“Yes, yes, great, good for him,” you hiss under my door, desperate for attention, “but what about Half-Life 3?” Ah. To be honest, I thought I’d killed you stone dead last night throwing my boot out the window at you caterwauling “Freeeemaaaaan!” You holding up alright? You seem even more agitated than usual. I’ll leave a saucer of milk out if you promise to keep quiet. Naturally, Laidlaw won’t talk about it:

“Half-Life is fully owned by Valve. It came into existence before my arrival. Where Valve may choose to take it in the future is not in my hands. I have been a grateful co-creator, but my time of working on the series is behind me. Since I no-longer speak for Valve, it would be inappropriate for me to answer questions or speculate openly on the fate of the franchise.”

Best of luck to you, Marc! May that be the last angry Half-Life 3 e-mail you ever receive.

Do have a read of this fine interview with Laidlaw in 2014, chatting about his work at Valve and his own fiction with RPS pal Dan Griliopoulos.

49 Comments

  1. Henke says:

    Half Life 3 un-confirmed… :(

    • Slackar says:

      I don’t know about that. Check the tags for this article.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      It never had any chance to avoid the all the weight it had from so many expectations, anyway.

      Like this, HL3 will live on as be the best FPS that was never released, otherwise it could just as easily have ended up as the biggest disappointment in gaming history.

      • gunny1993 says:

        I maintain the only way to do HL3 is to do it completely secretly, then release it without a single word on steam one day so the hype train has no time to gain traction.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Now THAT would be entertaining.

        • snowgim says:

          Yeah, maybe they should release it completely secretly so no one knows, and you can only gain access to it through some elaborate puzzle.
          In fact maybe they did that already.

          OMG! Half-Life 3 is already out! We just have to find it!

          • jrodman says:

            Perhaps Frog Fractions 2 is secretly Half Life 3.

            Or is it the other way around?

      • fish99 says:

        People said the same thing about HL2.

    • AngoraFish says:

      It’s equally plausable that he has already completed the bulk of the writing on Half Life 3 and doesn’t have the energy to hang around for the beta phase. More or less any decent copyeditor could close out the game at that point as easily as he could.

    • Psychomorph says:

      Maybe he was in before leave?

  2. Distec says:

    Now when I say I’ll die before HL3 comes out, I will no longer be joking.

    • Jockie says:

      Statistically speaking there are probably people who have made that joke and actually died.

      • Distec says:

        :(

      • rgbarton says:

        I remember reading this depressing reddit thread about a guy who was who was basically saying that he was diagnossed with a terminal illness and how he was so sad that he was going to die before half life 3 came out and he also gave a big fuck you to valve.

  3. gbrading says:

    The truth is Laidlaw’s talents haven’t been in much supply at Valve in recent years; the last story driven game they released was Portal 2 in 2011. That was five years ago. Since then we’ve just had Dota 2 and CS:GO, and they’re not exactly story orientated.

    I have no idea what this means about Ricochet 2, but I suspect it isn’t good.

    • Terragot says:

      I know they’re not story driven games, but the character interactions in DOTA2, Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress are perfect for someone, like me, who wants a dollop of story in their games, but doesn’t wish to have progression gated by it.

      They may be a little silly, like when laning Timbersaw with a Treant in DOTA2 and having the tree fearing Timbersaw make a comment about the absurdity of it, but I do think the way the narrative is delivered doesn’t hamper the mechanics of the game and I find that rather clever.

      Still, no Half-Life 3 but it’s beyond obnoxious believing that would happen by now anyway.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      !!! Portal 2 wasn’t five years a–

      …five years already, huh? That’s sad.

    • RanDomino says:

      Are you sure it wasn’t before that? I recently decided to dust off Episode 2 which has been sitting in my library for almost a literal decade, and I was shocked at how bad the story was and how different it seemed from hl2 and ep1. I actually laughed at the implausibility of the ‘tragic’ ending. The Vortigaunts had some miserable dialogue. The whole “prepare for unforseen consequences” thing was executed terribly and seemed incredibly out of character for Gman. But the level design was generally good (I could have gone for about half as much spelunking) and seemed to take some cues from Minerva as far as compactness goes.

      • Napalm Sushi says:

        I don’t think Half-Life’s writing ever really rose above “’90s Sci-fi Channel fodder.” It’s rightly praised for the presentation of its setting but that’s a triumph earned by far more than just the writers. It’s not like it ever examined any hard or interesting questions, subverted any tropes or expectations or provided any compelling character interactions or development.

        • dethtoll says:

          It’s funny but you’re actually absolutely right. What made Half-Life special was its vibe. It’s probably the closest any series has ever gotten to Marathon in terms of overall feel. Which probably partly explains why Someplace Else/Minerva felt like a natural fit.

    • Mokinokaro says:

      Valve keeps devouring quality indie devs. just recently they hired the creator of Spacechem and Infinifactory.

      Problem is it seeemms Valve just puts them to work on making dota skins or To hats.

  4. tomeoftom says:

    Ah, that’s a bit of a shame. He’s a fantastic writer.

  5. aircool says:

    So, he’s got a Half Life of 18 years then.

  6. Pulstar says:

    Can we move on from Valve now, I mean beside them having the biggest digital gaming store that is?

    • Xzi says:

      No, no we cannot. Because they also have controllers and VR headsets and GabeN.

      • Mokinokaro says:

        -the controllers are junk
        -Gaben sadly doesn’t seem to have a clear vision anymore with all the different crazy projects he’s pushed (like what IS the market for the steambox, really? It’s too expensive to appeal to console games and horrible on upgradeability which puts it out of the PC gamer market)

        Let’s face it, Valve seems to have stopped caring about gaming outside of the DOTA 2 money rolling it. We won’t see another game developed by them unless they can monetize it similarly.

    • Unclepauly says:

      That is quite the tall order you are asking friend.

  7. Wulfram says:

    Well, at least people will maybe stop confusing him and Mike Laidlaw at Bioware.

  8. Rhodokasaurus says:

    Half Life 3 is just an in-joke, and a tired one at that. Do you still laugh at “the cake is a lie”? I don’t honestly believe anyone actually cares about it, and Valve is right just to let it die. Not a whole lot of incentive to make something that everyone would just shit all over for not being as good as their childhood nostalgia.

    As for Laidlaw, He seems like a great guy for sticking it out so long when Valve has essentially stopped making story-based games. The only thing sad about it is he spent the last years of his game dev career working on DotA instead of something good.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Precisely this.

      It’s possible to make a game at least as good as HL2, but impossible to match it’s legend anymore.

      It would be a disaster, this way instead people still believe that it could have been the best thing ever released and so Valve wins.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Yeah but I think people are actually starting to believe that. That Valve isn’t good enough to make Half Life 3. That they are just gonna ride on the legend. Their reputation is making that 1st slow revolution around the toilet bowl imo.

        • Beanbee says:

          Their games since have been extremely solid and embraced community economy in a way that little else can compare to.

        • LacSlyer says:

          Are you serious? Regarding game development alone, they’ve created two solid multiplayer games that are some of the most played games in the world. Those plus the Portal and L4D series puts them in a category rivaled by only companies like Blizzard. They’ve produced games that are highly praised by critics and fans alike, yet somehow they’re riding the popularity of the Half-Life series? What are you on?

          • Mokinokaro says:

            To be fair, they bought studios that created those games. Neither DOTA nor L4D were made by “core” Valve but by ex-modders specifically brought in for those projects.

            “Core” Valve hasn’t produced their own games for a very, very long time.

      • RanDomino says:

        They could poop out ep3 as a Source mod for $20 and call it a day.

      • Wulfram says:

        Maybe they should announce Half Life 4

  9. Tuor says:

    They’re waiting for you, Mr. Laidlaw, in the *Test* Chamberrr.

  10. racccoon says:

    Ha made the right choice! I would too! but they hold an Monopoly. So I have no freedom of choice in my PC gaming experience any more.

  11. celticdr says:

    There’s such a build up for HL3 now they may as well just skip it entirely and make HL4 instead…

  12. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Weird that there was no press announcement at the time since he’s actually a fairly big name, to Valve / Half Life fanboys that is, and I’m sure a lot of people would have liked to have given him a bit of a send off.

    There again that’s Valve communication for you. I wouldn’t be shocked if GabeN doesn’t even work there anymore and just forgot to mention. Left around the time they decided to not make games anymore and instead develop an exciting new range of microwaves.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      Also on the subject of HL3, I wish they’d just admit they are waiting for Fumito Ueda to stop being contact bound to Sony so he can take lead on the project… i mean it’s obvious… right? O.o

      The tea leaves at the bottom of my valve fanboy mug told me it was so :(

      • JohnnyMaverik says:

        Ueda of course is also contract bound to Sony, so even if they get the glue off and manage to physically separate them he can’t just walk away yet. Typos FTW.

    • C0llic says:

      You are forgetting that Laidlaw may not have wanted a big send off. Leaving a job is a private decision, and its a bit unfair to deride Valve when we have literally none of the facts.

      • JohnnyMaverik says:

        Maybe but then you’d presume he wouldn’t directly respond to some random, fairly salty fan mail, as if he wanted people to know that he had left the company. Sure maybe he wouldn’t have wanted a send off but you’d at least expect some kind of understated, hey, this person left the company and we thank him for being awesome statement.

        Also, as a Valve fanboy, I will deride them at every opportunity.

  13. geldonyetich says:

    I knew it was too late for Half Life 3 when I discovered Gordan Freeman quit and became a writer under the name Jeffrey Deaver.

  14. Wednesday says:

    Half life 3?

    I’m still waiting for HL2 Episode 3!

    I know valved don’t owe me anything, but they just bailed on a newly released episodic series WITH A CLIFFHANGER ENDING.

    Perhaps the guys behind The Walking Dead won’t come back for the rest of this season and just go and make the new Teletubbies or something.

  15. cptmold says:

    Oh man, the pinnacle of the Half-Life games– its story!