I don't think I've ever seen anything like The Orange Box before or since. For the price of a single game, on October 9 2007 Valve released a compilation that showcased the state of the first-person shooter's art. Portal was perfect execution of something entirely novel, but its brilliance almost overshadows the fact that it was also released alongside what might be the best Half-Life ever made, Episode 2, and one of the most enduring and influential multiplayer games ever made, Team Fortress 2. Each was completely different from the other, with its own visual and tonal theme.
I remember being in awe of Valve’s structure back in their heyday, how it seemed really obvious at the time, and being able to draw the direct link between the freedom of their work environment and the quality of the games they were putting out.
I’ve totally flipped on that, because that structure is fundamentally incompatible with running multiple online games and services. It’s incredibly easy to draw a line between their current structure–employee review systems which incentivize projects with visibly immediate benefit, lack of impetus toward iteration on older projects without an ulterior goal, etc–and all the issues they’ve been having in the past 2-3 years.
Severe slowdown on substantial updates for older games like TF2 (yesterday was the 10th anniversary and we still only have vague promises of the first content patch in over a year), near abandonment of series like Half-Life or Portal, and a feature bloat on both Steam as well as all their ongoing online games.
If they really wanna continue this current company structure, they need to consider handing off management of their services to other parties who can dedicate effort towards them full-time instead of only when it strikes their fancy.
I didn’t play The Orange Box when it released, only some years later, but looking back it really was a one of a kind release. It showed three completely different ways of designing first-person games and the three worked and were influential for years after release. The three games are still talked about today with reference.
Rob also nailed what happened to TF2. A once tightly designed experience that was then used as a test ground.
Not sure if something like this will ever happen from a big studio ever again. Not only the “release three games at the same time” aspect but the “10 years later these games will still be influential” part of it.
I don’t think Valve “doesn’t make games anymore” and millions of people obviously enjoy their current output but for me the Orange Box is a much more important piece of video game history than anything they have ever done since.
I was excited when I bought it, but I’m now disappointed in how little I played.
I tried to get into Half-Life 2, played it for several hours and then just lost interest. The physics drove me nuts, especially the waterways with the boat. Thus I never played the episodes.
I didn’t play much of Team Fortress, being a single player kind of gamer, and never got around to Portal. I don’t particularly like puzzle games so it was never my draw. I did play Portal 2, but never finished it because I lost interest and became bored.
I wonder what is taking so long for L4D3 to be a thing, it’s been years since the source 2 remastered L4D2 level picture leaked out. It’s not like the game could be another big money hose with silly hats and clothing being in the design instead of being crammed in TF2 to the point of the game becoming more about fashion than shooting the other colored team.
Even though it doesn’t have anything to do with Valve directly, Evolve (Turtle Rock’s subsequent project after L4D) flopping as hard as it did might have indirectly caused Valve to slow or even stop development on L4D3.
Valve seemingly couldn’t see a future for any of their single player titles at the company soon after they turned TF2 into a mega success, and with left 4 Dead being a almost half step from those games to online only titles, they decided to scrap whatever they might have started on a 3. I’m not even sure if most or if any of the original people that made the first game are still at valve.
Portal is a perfect game. To this day I don’t think there is actually a flaw in it. Its a stunning achievement in the history of games and the fact it was just a piece of the best bundle in videogame history still floors me. Great article!