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Creative Minds: Gabe Newell

Feature: From Half-Life to the stars

Mr Gabe Newell, you and your team at Valve Software stand accused of entertaining us with hours upon hours of prime FPS action from the one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time.

When the studio was formed in 1996, Gabe Newell expected his gaming venture to produce one "mediocre game" and then it'd all be over. But that wasn't to be the case.

In the latest instalment in our Creative Minds series, we quiz Newell on Valve's conception, the impact id Software had on the studio and the success of Half-Life and Steam. Get yourself a drink and take a seat - this is a bloody good read...

At which point did you feel that Valve moved from being an ordinary developer to the industry powerhouse that it's become?

Gabe Newell: (Laughs). I don't know how to answer that question since I've never felt like an industry powerhouse. I think it was exciting when we saw the reception that Half-Life was getting, but I'm not really sure what the difference is between being a regular developer and an industry powerhouse.

How did the company come about?

Newell: I was at Microsoft for 13 years and, to use games industry parlance, I was the producer on the first three releases of Windows.

One of the problems that Windows was perceived as having, between going to Windows 95, was that it wasn't a good gaming platform.

So around the time that Doom shareware came out, I installed it on a laptop and dragged it around everybody's office and said, 'Look, look what PC games can do! This is a lot better that your NES system or your Sega system', and decided to have some engineers work on porting Doom to Windows.

I called John Carmack and said, "Hey, we'll do this for free". And eventually it became the Doom port to Windows.

During the course of Quake development, a friend of mine at Microsoft moved to id to work with John [Carmack] on Quake - he was one of Carmack's programming heroes. So he'd gone from Microsoft to id and the two of them said to myself and Mike Harrington, another Microsoft employee, 'Hey, you guys should stop working at Microsoft and start a games company'.

We went down there, must have been the summer of 1996, and bounced around some ideas with John and he said 'Great, here's the source code to Quake, go build a game'.

Mike and I looked and each other and said, 'Well I guess we're going to start a games company now'. That's how we got started.

I'm assuming you didn't expect Half-Life to become the phenomenon it did when you started out?

Newell: No. Mike and I had been working on operating systems and productivity software, so the idea that two guys from essentially an office environment were going to be able to build an entertainment product was...

We were pretty dubious that we were going to do anything other than make a mediocre game and then end up crawling back to Microsoft with our tails between our legs.

We were much more successful much quicker that we had any right to expect.

How much of that was down to luck, do you think?

Newell: Oh, there is a big element of luck. Luck in terms of picking the right project to do at the right time, and luck and our ability to draw together a great team of people from around the world.

At the time it hadn't really occurred to anybody to look to the mod community as a source of really talented level designers and programmers. There's these people doing all this really fantastic work and nobody was contacting them and trying to pull them together.

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