How Half-Life Broke First-Person Gaming Shooters Forever

Breaking the FPS to make something altogether more incredible.

For over two decades now, Valve Corporation is considered one of the most acclaimed and skilled game developers in the business. Their games are the highest rated on the PC platform and you'll be hard pressed to find a member of the wider community who doesn't use the Steam platform.

Their runaway success began back in 1998 with a little game called Half-Life, a title that would fundamentally change the first-person-shooter genre and gaming along with it.

Digging into the nitty-gritty of the game's qualities stems from both its internal development and the final design that turned up in its release.


Humble Beginnings

Valve Team Fortress Half Life

Valve was first founded in 1996 by Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington; having spent thirteen years at Microsoft piecing together the Windows software, the two developed an interest in video games and put the company together in Kirkland, Washington. For their first game, the team settled on a horror-based First-Person-Shooter.

The genre had seen its rise to power in the first half of the nineties, with progenitors like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom from ID Software having set the blueprint for the future franchises to come. Both titles were, much like their third-person action predecessors, simple and straightforward. You would run through the levels and lay on the trigger until all of your foes were dead.

With the faster-pacing of shooters being well-established, it was time for the next evolutionary step.

Half Life Interview 1997

For its first time developing games, Valve struggled to find a publisher who would back them. While they eventually settled on Sierra Digital, Half-Life's production was still a challenge; in 1997, they decided to completely rework every level, feeling the experience as a whole wasn't fun despite its innovations.

A team of designers referred to as a "cabal" which handled both design documents and programming. The final product would arrive in 1998 to massive critical acclaim.

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A tough but fair writer and critic broadly covering games, movies and just about every type of entertainment media. Spent a good part of the last seven years blogging and more recently, making amateur videos under "The Cainage Critique". You can follow my work on my website and my YouTube channel at