It’s always grand to get a peek behind the gamedev curtain at things that might have been. Former Half-Life level designer Brett Johnson has been digging through his old work, and his memories, to share some early Half-Life prototypes and some ideas that never came to be. Would Half-Life have been a classic if it had gotten the name “Belly Of The Beast”? I dunno, doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, does it?
Johnson is now with ArenaNet working on Guild Wars 2, but has been recently sharing some memories from his time at Valve over on TikTok.
In one video, Johnson quickly talks about titles. He explains that the working title for Half-Life was never going to be its final name, but apparently a few of the other candidates were quite different. “Trip Hammer” was one. That’s alright, I suppose. Not all that memorable but not terrible. “Belly Of The Beast” sure would have set a totally different tone though.
In another video, Johnson shows off a mockup image of what became Half-Life’s locker rooms. Johnson explains that he was a big fan of the GoldenEye 007 game. He recalls trying to chase down scientists, finding they disappeared around corners and thinking they should really have someplace to actually go. In this image of Half-Life’s eventual locker rooms, there’s a heck of a lot of blood splattered all over the walls as Gordon chases down a scientist with his trusty crowbar.
“In this particular picture, I made this to send out to the team in order to spur the conversation about ‘how violent do we really want our game to be?’ and, as you know, we ended up pulling it back quite a bit.” No kidding. It looks like someone hooked a hose up to a keg of tomato soup to spray the locker rooms down.
Johnson also shares a little background on prototyping and designing Xen and an early prototype level in which he says he was “searching for a style, using some of the first photo references textures”. It’s all rather neat stuff, seeing early iterations and decisions that were considered but scrapped.
Oh, and it’s TikTok so there are, inevitably, memes.