This Half-Life designer is sharing early prototypes on TikTok

Half Life key art
(Image credit: Valve)

You can find all sorts of weird stuff on TikTok these days—including, as it happens, an extremely early prototype of the original Half-Life courtesy of level designer Brett Johnson.

Spotted by The Tax Collector Man on Twitter earlier today, Johnson has recently shared a few peeks at Valve's debut shooter early in development. As noted, this appears to be long before Half-Life really found its visual identity, with concrete corridors more reminiscent of Quake than the final game's more grounded facilities.


Half-Life Prototype 001 ##halflife ##games ##valve ##leveldesign

♬ Valve: Alyx - Valve

Joining Valve shortly after its founding in 1996, Johnson's TikTok feed goes over his work on the genre-defining FPS, occasionally showing brief clips of cut content and answering questions about the game's design (including a two-parter on Half-Life's notorious Xen chapters).

Today's post is the deepest dive into unreleased content he's given yet. In the comments, he notes that this clip is from a period where he was still "searching for a style", using the very first photo-referenced textures. The segment was supposedly intended to represent an industrial block hidden just behind the labs, and sports a much more abstract architectural style more typical of Id's shooters.

Johnson does note that more of this level was discarded than ultimately used in the final game. But even if it these halls never made it into Black Mesa proper, it's a fascinating reminder that Half-Life didn't spontaneously appear out of thin air. These things had to be figured out, and I'm excited to see if Johnson posts more of these prototypes in future.

Natalie Clayton
Features Producer

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time, and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and a part-time game developer herself, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She also unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.