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30 in 30: Valve

Raising the bar, thinking with portals, making the world a better place...

From the very first time we saw the old logo of a bald man with the red valve stuck in the back of his head and heard the 'derr, durgh' noise we were transfixed. Since Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington decamped from Microsoft to set up shop in 1996 we've been through a lot with Valve. From scientists waiting... for us... in the test chamber all the way to trudging through the bowels of Aperture Science with a passive aggressive potato: it's been an emotional ride.

When talking about Valve it's all too easy to gush: the games are phenomenal, the developers are universally pleasant and Gabe's knife collection is as extensive as it is terrifying. As in any happy relationship, however, there have been sticky patches.

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Take for example the less-than-great Counter-Strike: Condition Zero or the fateful day Half-Life 2 launched demanding an online connection - tied as it was to the cash-cuckoo egg that was Steam. Indeed it was this bolschy surgical strike that would introduce Valve's digital distribution network to countless hard-drives around the world and, in part, guarantee its domination. (It would also lead to a bitter legal battle with former publisher Vivendi over HL2's online sales, of course. In a nightmarish parallel universe Activision own the Half-Life intellectual property.)

The Source Engine good times, however, never really stopped rolling after Half-Life 2's jaw-dropping release in 2004. The adventures in City 17 begat the holy trinity that was The Orange Box, which begat the ongoing PC triumph (if not console triumph) of Team Fortress 2, the Left 4 Dead series and this year's mind-enhancing comedy stunner Portal 2. Steam meanwhile, despite butting heads with retail outlets and other publishers late on the digital distribution bandwagon, has merrily grown to span well over 35 million active users a library of around 1500 games.

They're richer than Croesus, but seeing as they're a creative melting pot that's up on the same level as Pixar or Nintendo - you can't help but think they deserve the millions of dollars of molten cash that's currently flowing in underground rivers beneath their secret volcano lair. How about Half-Life 2: Episode Three though guys? We've kind of been left hanging here...

OVERVIEW

Founded: 1996
Location: Bellevue, Seattle
Killer quote: Gabe Newell: [On the success of Half-Life] "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."

KEY PEOPLE

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Gabe Newell

Co-founder and managing director of Valve, Mr Newell was once at the heart of Microsoft - working on the first iterations of Windows. Outspoken in the way that only a man built of success can be - his bullish business mind, fantastic ability to talent-spot and respect for creative freedom have left him sitting on a pot of gold a mile high. He also likes knives.

KEY PEOPLE

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Chet Faliszek and Erik Wolpaw

Professional zombie-botherers, nice men and one-time kings of the gaming internet - Faliszek and partner in crime Erik Wolpaw were the guys behind irreverent crate-obsessed gaming site Old Man Murray. A site so wonderful, it still demands your immediate attention. A call from Valve swiftly had the pair batting for the other team, and the quality of the written funnies and soul-searching within both the Left 4 Dead and Portal series was assured.

KEY PEOPLE

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Robin Walker

Valve make a habit of moving talented modders centre-stage, an outlook reflected by the early hire of the Team Fortress development team back in 1999. Robin Walker continues to oversee Team Fortress 2, which after all this time remains the most ingenious, characterful and forward-looking multiplayer shooter around.

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