Unforeseen consequences: when a joke about Half-Life 3 gets out of hand
In early May I visited Valve to do some research for a Dota 2 feature, which you can find in PC Gamer UK issue 254. While I was there, I asked no questions and received no answers about Half-Life 3. I'm as excited about it as anyone, but if Valve were planning to announce anything through me I assume I would know about it in advance.
I got home and I wrote the feature. Then, towards deadline on the issue, I wrote 'All Over'. That's the joke page at the back of the mag. Every month we close off with something that we hope will make our readers laugh, and it's usually based on the feature on the cover. For this issue, we thought we'd make fun of Valve.
The result was a fake elevator control panel with funny names for various floors in their building. Following yesterday's Half-Life 2 patch, a lot of people have become convinced that it's all part of an elaborate scheme to reveal the long-awaited sequel.
It's not. It's a joke, in the part of the magazine where we do jokes. It was written by me and designed by one of our art editors, Julian. Here's Julian's desk and the InDesign file.
There's no significance to the crossed-out entry for 'Half-Life 3 Development' being on floor 13 beyond the fact that American buildings tend not to have a 13th floor. The fact that it's crossed-out and that someone has replaced it with 'FPS developer terrarium' was intended to be so silly that nobody would take the suggestion seriously.
Valve also doesn't have a floor dedicated to knives. As far as I know, there's no 'Money Hose Control Centre'. 'Laser Bay 2' is an oblique reference to Tron.
I know that people are desperate to play a Half-Life sequel and that any scrap of news is seized upon, but this really is time to put the conspiracy theories down. Unless you're having fun! In which case, keep going - but don't expect any answers, because I don't have them.
I've also had quite a lot of angry messages on Twitter today from people who have taken it personally. Comments have ranged from the comically insincere - "you're worse than Hitler!" - to the comically might-be-sincere - "you're worse than Todd Howard." The rest are mostly just regular internet abuse.
I'd like to say sorry to anyone who got swept up in this and was disappointed, but I would also suggest that anyone willing to insult a stranger over a joke about a videogame should take a look at their priorities.
Don't confuse causation and correlation. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence, and not the trigger for an ARG - or a witch hunt. I would love Valve to announce a new Half-Life game, but I don't think it's a topic so important that it can't be joked about.
Either way, I wasn't prepared for unforeseen consequences.