Anyone with even a passing knowledge of computer games knows that Half-Life, the 1997 shooter about a theoretical physicist having a less than wonderful day, is one of the most important games of all time. It proposed and defined new rules for the biggest gaming genre, in atmosphere and storytelling and puzzle-solving and about a thousand other areas. It also established Valve, the Washington studio that has gone on to make a billion-dollar digital distribution service Steam (and Portal, lol) as one of the most important companies in gaming.
Valve has never made a bad game, and they also make precious few of them. In addition, they’re like the Apple of the gaming world: legendarily, and mischievously, secretive. That’s why this new video by the Valve fanatics over at Valve Time is so unbelievably cool. Turns out that at the same time Gabe Newell (Valve’s managing director) and friends were working on the original Half-Life, they were working on another, altogether less mainstream project.
Called Prospero, the game, about which Valve Time has unearthed fresh and irresistible details, would have been a third-person exploration game, equally inspired by Myst and Jorge Luis Borges, starring a futuristic librarian named Aleph. In the video, theorizing about the plot of the never-game quickly spirals into a discussion of set theory, which makes a kind of delicious sense given what we know about the big brains at Valve. Facets of and inspirations behind Prospero have trickled into other Valve games (and services!: evidently Valve envisioned Prospero as a massively multiplayer game with digital distribution of game content). And Gabe Newell, in rare comments about the game, has said that people at the company would love to return to the title in some form.
Even if Valve never does anything with Prospero it’s impossible not to imagine an alternate world in which they’re famous for a literary, fantasy epic about a Borgesian library. Or, rather, in which Valve was a tiny, much-missed company that made one brilliant cult game about a Borgesian library. An alternate universe in which Valve doesn’t rule the gaming world—now that’s a theory worthy of Gordon Freeman.