The original Half-Life, released on November 19, 1998, largely took place at a remote civilian and military laboratory called the Black Mesa Research Facility. During an experiment, researchers at Black Mesa accidentally caused a "resonance cascade" which ripped open a portal to an alien world called Xen. Creatures from Xen flooded into Black Mesa via the portal and started to kill anyone in sight. The player took on the role of Gordon Freeman, one of the research scientists involved in the accident, guiding him in his attempt to escape the facility. At the end of the game, Gordon was extracted by a mysterious figure colloquially known as the G-Man who "offered" him employment. Freeman was subsequently put into stasis by the G-Man.
Half-Life canon dictates that Gordon Freeman either agreed or was not given a real option with respect to the G-Man's offer. Half-Life 2 picks up the story with the G-Man taking Freeman out of stasis and inserting him on a train en-route to City 17 an indeterminate number of years after the Black Mesa Incident. Official sources differ on the actual length of this intermission—a story fragment written by author Marc Laidlaw for the development team puts the intermission at 10 years, while Half-Life 2: Episode One's Web site puts this intermission as "nearly two decades" after the end of the events of Half-Life.
At the start of the game, the G-Man speaks to Gordon Freeman as part of a hallucination-like vision as he is pulled out of stasis. The world has been overtaken by the Combine forces. Gordon meets up with Barney Calhoun and sets out for Doctor Isaac Kleiner's lab while being chased by Civil Protection. Gordon eventually meets Alyx Vance and is taken to Doctor Kleiner's lab. At the lab, an attempt to teleport Alyx to Black Mesa East works, but the teleporter fails for Gordon and alerts the Combine of Gordon's arrival in City 17. Barney instructs Gordon to take the city's canals to get to the lab of Alyx's father, Dr. Eli Vance.
When Doctor Kleiner's teleporter malfunctions, Gordon is momentarily transported to Doctor Breen's officeWhile navigating through the city's canals, Gordon is chased by the Combine on foot until being supplied with an air boat at a rebel outpost; by this point it is becoming increasingly obvious that Gordon has a heroic, almost messianic reputation with the rebels and outlaws. However, the air boat is soon spotted by the Combine and pursued by a hunter-chopper assault helicopter. Using a salvaged Overwatch hunter-chopper turret, Gordon manages to take down the pursuing helicopter. He arrives at Black Mesa East and meets Doctor Eli Vance and Doctor Judith Mossman, also rejoining Alyx. Alyx gives him a tool originally developed for handling hazardous or heavy materials called the Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator (also known as the gravity gun) and instructs Gordon on its use while also introducing Dog, her giant "pet" robot. The lab is attacked by the Combine, forcing Gordon to escape along an old tunnel leading to Ravenholm.
A group of Antlions attacking GordonA Combine shelling caused Ravenholm to be overrun with headcrabs and zombies, making Father Grigori the last human resident. Grigori helps Gordon through Ravenholm and ultimately leads him to the dockyards outside City 17. Freeman is alerted by Alyx via radio that Eli has been captured and is being held in Nova Prospekt. Freeman travels to Nova Prospekt in a dune buggy, helping to down a Combine gunship after meeting Colonel Odessa Cubbage at another resistance base; Cubbage gives him an RPG launcher. The journey is made more difficult due to Antlions and an Antlion Guard. A vortigaunt extracts a pheropod from the Antlion Guard's carcass and gives it to Gordon, allowing him to command the Antlions, though not their Antlion Guard masters.
At Nova Prospekt, Freeman searches for Eli. Alyx joins with Gordon again, and together they find both Eli and Doctor Judith Mossman (now discovered to be a Combine spy). Mossman creates a distraction and teleports herself and Eli into the Citadel, while Gordon and Alyx teleport themselves to Doctor Kleiner's lab. A malfunction in the equipment causes a huge explosion, and they arrive at Doctor Kleiner's lab more than a week after they teleported. During this lost week, the explosion is taken as a signal to start the resistance, which has considerably strengthened, turning City 17 into a warzone. Gordon leads fighters towards the Citadel to free Doctor Vance while Alyx helps Doctor Kleiner escape the lab. Later, Alyx briefly rejoins and accompanies Gordon in a battle to disable a Combine power generator, but she is subsequently captured by Combine forces. After reaching Barney, Gordon shuts down a suppression device blocking access to the Citadel and brings down a pack of Striders.
Resistance fighters help Gordon take down a strider Gordon enters the Citadel through an underground passage. All of his weapons are destroyed by a "confiscation field", except for the gravity gun. The field instead strengthens the gravity gun, and using this Gordon wreaks havoc upon the Citadel. Freeman enters a containment apparatus, which brings him face-to-face with Doctor Breen. Doctor Judith Mossman is with Breen, and he summons Eli and Alyx, who are being held in similar devices. During the confrontation, Breen remarks that Freeman's services are "open to the highest bidder." As Breen threatens the Vances, Judith finally turns against him. Breen manages to escape to a "Dark Energy Reactor" at the top of the Citadel with the intent of teleporting himself away from Earth. Gordon and Alyx pursue him, and Gordon destroys the reactor, both to depower the Citadel and to prevent Breen's escape. This triggers a massive explosion in which Alyx and Gordon are imperiled. However, at the moment the reactor explodes, time stops. The G-Man emerges, commenting on Gordon's successful endeavors, before placing Gordon back into stasis, and leaving through a door of pure light. The game ends exactly as it began, in darkness. The story continues from this point in Half-Life 2: Episode One.
Throughout the entire game, Freeman never speaks, the action is viewed through his eyes only (i.e., there are no cut scenes), and there are no discontinuities or jumps in time (from his point of view).
There has been some criticism of these narrative holdovers from Half-Life, since they effectively limit how much of the backstory is explained. Due to the lack of cut scenes, the player never directly sees what has happened in Gordon's absence. Ultimately, it is not clear to what extent Gordon exists as a separate character outside of the player's influence. Since the start of Half-Life, Valve has made sure that the player's and Gordon's experience are one and the same. An example of Valve's player strategy is shown during the scene in Eli's lab. Investigation of certain props (most notably the newspaper board) triggers Eli to give some explanation to their meaning and history, thus indicating that Gordon presents emotions that the non-player characters can detected.
The ending of Half-Life 2 is also very similar to that of the original: after completing a difficult task against seemingly overwhelming odds, Gordon is extracted by the G-Man. Freeman is smugly congratulated and told that further assignments should follow. The fate of many of the major characters, such as Alyx, Eli, and Judith, go unexplained. Very few of the questions raised by Half-Life are answered, and several new ones are presented. The identity and nature of the G-Man remains a mystery.
A Civil Protection officer attacking Gordon. In the background is an example of the cityscape showing the Eastern European style, mixed with elements of Combine architectureThe environments in Half-Life 2 are varied, ranging from the generally Eastern European-styled City 17 and the zombie-infested town of Ravenholm, to the coastal Nova Prospekt prison and the massive Combine Citadel. Viktor Antonov, the art director of Half-Life 2 who spent his childhood in Bulgaria, wrote that Eastern Europe was favored as a setting for the game as it is capable of depicting a combination of both new and old architecture, creating a city with history; "gothic themes associated with Prague and vampires" were also overlooked in favor of a different aspect of the region.
The game's setting sees frequent appearances of Cyrillic letters on signs and graffiti (written in Bulgarian spelling). Old cars scattered throughout the game are Soviet-made and used to be commonly found in Eastern Europe, such as Moskvitchs, Zaporozhets, Volgas (GAZ-24), Latvias (RAF-2203), ZIL-130s. During the game, Gordon comes to a coastal Resistance settlement called "New Little Odessa"; Little Odessa is the nickname for the Russian community in Brighton Beach, where many ex-Soviet immigrants settled (the original Odessa is a major city located on the coast of Ukraine). Father Grigori has a name common in Slavic Eastern European countries, an accent that is stereotypically Slavic Eastern European, and has been identified as a clergyman of the Orthodox Christian Church, the predominant religious institution found in many (though not all) Slavic Eastern European countries.
Navigating through the canals on the air boat, Gordon comes under attack from a Combine hunter-chopperHalf-Life 2's gameplay is broadly similar to that of the original. Players make their way through a linear series of levels, encountering both human troops and hostile alien creatures. As in Half-Life, the gameplay is broken up with a series of puzzles; however, Half-Life 2 includes physics-based puzzles. For example, one puzzle requires the player to either turn a seesaw-like lever into a ramp by placing cinder blocks at one end, or to stack the cinder blocks into a crude stairway.
The use of physics extends into combat with the gravity gun. This unique weapon plays a crucial function throughout the game, granting the player an unprecedented amount of creativity in its use, such as picking up and throwing objects at enemies, holding objects indefinitely for use as makeshift cover, grabbing healthkits and ammunition from out-of-reach places, returning enemies' grenades, building makeshift bridges, flipping over an overturned buggy, or manipulating objects through Combine forcefields.
Vehicles are another major gameplay addition. The player has the ability to drive two vehicles during the single player campaign; an air boat, which Gordon uses to navigate through the canal network, and a dune buggy which Gordon uses to get to Nova Prospekt. The air boat is initially unarmed, but is later mounted with a Combine weapon from a downed hunter-chopper. The buggy is armed with a Tau Cannon that functions exactly like the one found in the original Half-Life.
The game also integrates tutorial-like tasks in the storyline itself and includes on-screen instructions on game controls (but no longer includes separate tutorial levels featured in the original) to allow familiarization of the game's mechanics and weapons for players as they go. Several such examples include an early incident in the game where a Civil Protection unit orders the player to "pick up" a tin can and "throw it" into the trash can, and Alyx Vance's introduction of the gravity gun at Black Mesa East, which incorporates an impromptu game of "catch" with her robot Dog.
Characters and creatures
Although Gordon battles through much of Half-Life 2 alone, he is at times assisted by friendly allies. For the most part these are human members of the resistance, but Gordon is also helped by Vortigaunts and later Antlions. This latter insectoid species is new to the Half-Life universe and is encountered first as a fiercely territorial foe, but is later co-opted into acting as an abundant and obedient ally. At several key locations, Gordon also meets up with, and fights alongside, more significant non-player characters like Alyx Vance, Barney Calhoun and Alyx's robot, Dog.
Many familiar enemies from Half-Life return in this game, such as headcrabs, barnacles, and headcrab zombies. However, the majority of the game is spent fighting the Combine, who wield large military forces against Gordon and the people of City 17. Combine forces are varied and consist of modified humans, biomechanical machines, robotic weapons, including the use of headcrabs as biological weapons.
Several of the weapons featured in Half-Life 2 are carried over from Half-Life, including the trademark crowbar for mêlée fighting, the conventional firearms of the SPAS-12 shotgun, .357 Magnum revolver, crossbow, and rocket propelled grenade launcher as well as the Gauss Gun experimental particle weapon (mounted on the dune buggy). Several new weapons are also introduced: the Combine pulse rifle, pheropods which grant control over Antlions, and most significantly, the "Zero-Point Energy Field Manipulator," or "gravity gun."
Half-Life 2 was released without a multiplayer component, and was instead packaged with Counter-Strike: Source. This changed on November 30, 2004, when Valve released the Half-Life 2: Deathmatch component along with the full SDK as a free download to all Half-Life 2 owners.
Like other deathmatch games, the aim of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch is to kill as many other players as possible, using a variety of means, in either free-for-all or team matches. The player spawns with a gravity gun, a pistol, a sub-machine gun, and grenades. All weapons included in the single player portion of Half-Life 2, with the exception of the pheropod (bugbait), are available and scattered randomly around the maps. Players can be killed in a number of ways, including gunfire, explosions, or through contact with physics objects traveling at high speeds.
Half-Life 2: Deathmatch's February 17 update in 2006 introduced a new map (dm_steamlab) and three new weapons that had been missing from the game previously, or cut before it shipped. This included the crowbar (for human player models) and the stunstick (for combine player models), and the SLAM, or "Selectable Lightweight Attack Munition," a real-world weapon which can either be thrown and detonated or planted on walls to produce a "tripwire" laser which detonates the device when in contact with an object or person.
While the Xbox release of the original Half-Life 2 contains no multiplayer component, Valve stated that the upcoming re-release of Half-Life 2 for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 will also include Team Fortress 2, in addition to Episodes One and Two.
Half-Life 2's public reception was overwhelmingly positive in terms of reviews, acclaim and sales. Over four million copies of the game have been sold either through Steam or through retail. This is around half the number of sold copies of Half-Life, but sales for Half-Life 2 have been relatively steady since its release.
Half-Life 2 has become and remains one of the most critically acclaimed video games in history. At least 35 Game of the Year awards were given to Half-Life 2, and most major game reviewers gave ratings within the 90-100% range. Half-Life 2 holds Metacritic's highest ranking and standing ("universal acclaim") among PC games with a score of 96, followed directly by Half-Life (also with a score of 96). Maximum PC awarded Half-Life 2 an unprecedented 11 on their rating scale which peaks at 10, and named it the "best game ever made."
Individual reviews were almost universally glowing. Sources such as GameSpy, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and The New York Times have given perfect reviewing scores, and others such as PC Gamer and IGN gave near-perfect scores (it was one of only four games ever to get 96% from PC Gamer UK, the best score they have ever awarded, and the game is only one of two games ever to get a near perfect score, 98%, from PC Gamer US), while the game became the fifth title to receive Edge magazine's ten-out-of-ten score. Critics who applauded the game cited the advanced graphics and physics along with the relatively lax system requirements.
Very few reviewers gave Half-Life 2 lower than a nine out of ten rating. One such critic was Netjak, a reviewing website known for its relative harshness, which gave Half-Life 2 a rating of 8.5. Several critics, including some that had given glowing reviews, complained about the required usage of Steam along with a difficult installation process.
Half-Life 2 earned over 35 Game of the Year awards, including Overall Game of the Year at IGN, GameSpot's Award for Best Shooter, GameSpot's Reader's Choice - PC Game of the Year Award, Game of the Year from The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and "Best Game" with the Game Developers Choice Awards, where it was also given various awards for technology, characters, and writing. The game also had a strong showing at the 2004 BAFTA Games Awards, picking up six awards, more than any other game that night, with awards including "Best Game" and "Best Online Game."
Doctor Breen's office at the top of the Citadel, showing the advanced lighting abilities of the Source engine for Half-Life 2, Valve Corporation developed a new game engine called the Source engine, which handles the game's visual, audio, and artificial intelligence elements. The Source engine comes packaged with a heavily modified version of the Havok physics engine that allows for an extra dimension of interactivity in both single player and online environments.
Additionally, when coupled with Steam, the engine can be easily upgraded to include many new graphical technologies. One such example is high dynamic range imaging, which Valve Corporation released as a free outdoor level called Lost Coast.
Several other games use the Source engine developed by Valve including the popular Day of Defeat: Source and Counter-Strike: Source, both of which were also developed by Valve. There is also a large modding community using the source engine.
Steam content delivery system
Integral to Half-Life 2 is the Steam content delivery system developed by Valve Corporation. All Half-Life 2 players are required to have Steam installed and a valid account in order to play. Steam allows customers to purchase games and other software straight from the developer and have them downloaded directly to their computer as well as receiving "micro updates." These updates also make hacking the game harder to do and has thus far been somewhat successful in staving off cheats and playability for users with unauthorized copies. Steam can also be used for finding and playing multi-player games through an integrated server browser and friends list, and game data can be backed up with a standard CD or DVD burner. Steam and a customer's purchased content can be downloaded onto any computer, as long as that account is only logged in at one location at a time.
The usage of Steam has not gone without controversy. Some users have reported numerous problems with Steam, sometimes being serious enough to prevent a reviewer from recommending a given title available on the service. In other cases, review scores have been lowered. Long download times, seemingly unnecessary updates, and verification checks are criticisms leveled by critics of the system's use for single player games such as Half-Life 2. Whether or not a customer intends to use any multi-player features, the computer which the game was installed on must have Steam and an Internet connection to verify the transaction.
Release and distribution
A 1GB portion of Half-Life 2 became available for pre-load through Steam on August 26, 2004. This meant that customers could begin to download encrypted game files to their computer before the game was released. When the game's release date arrived, customers were able to pay for the game through Steam, unlock the files on their hard drives and play the game immediately, without having to wait for the whole game to download. The pre-load period lasted for several weeks, with several subsequent portions of the game being made available, to ensure all customers had a chance to download the content before the game was released.
Half-Life 2 was simultaneously released through Steam, CD (most initial U.S. "bare-bones" retail copies), and on DVD in several editions. Through Steam, Half-Life 2 had three packages that a customer could order. The basic version ("Bronze") includes only Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source, whereas the "Silver" and "Gold" (collector's edition) versions also include Half-Life: Source and Day of Defeat: Source (ports of the original Half-Life and Day of Defeat mod to the new engine) as well as the right to download all previous games by Valve through Steam. The collector's edition/Gold version additionally includes merchandise such as a t-shirt, a strategy guide, and a CD containing the soundtrack used in Half-Life 2. Both the disc and Steam version require Steam to be installed and active for play.
A demo version with the file size of a single-CD was later made available in December 2004 at the web site of graphics card manufacturer ATI Technologies, who teamed up with Valve for the game. The demo contains part of the opening level of the game, and also part of the chapter "We Don't Go To Ravenholm." In September 2005, Electronic Arts distributed the Game of the Year edition of Half-Life 2. Compared to the original CD-release of Half-Life 2, the GOTY edition adds Half-Life: Source.
On December 22, 2005, Valve released a 64-bit version of the Source game engine that takes advantage of AMD64 processor based systems running 64-bit version of Windows operating system. This update, delivered via Steam, enabled Half-Life 2 and other Source-based games to run natively on AMD64 processors, bypassing the 32-bit emulator. Gabe Newell, one of the founders of Valve, stated that this is "an important step in the evolution of our game content and tools," and that the game benefits greatly from the update. The response to the release varied: some users reported huge performance boosts, while technology site Techgage found several stability issues and no notable frame rate improvement. 64-bit users have widely reported bizarre in-game errors including characters dropping dead, game script files not being pre-cached (i.e., loaded when first requested instead), map rules being bent by AI, and other glitches.
An Xbox port published by Electronic Arts was released on November 15, 2005. While subject to positive reception, critics cited its lack of multiplayer and frame-rate issues as problems, and the game received somewhat lower scores than its PC counterpart. During Electronic Arts's summer press event on July 13, 2006, Gabe Newell, founder of Valve Corporation, announced that Half-Life 2 will ship on next-generation consoles (specifically, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) including episodes One and Two, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports of the game were recently listed on the Electronics Boutique Web site, which indicated that the ports would be available for pre-release on June 1, 2007.
Expansions and modifications
Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, showcasing Valve's HDR technologySince the release of Half-Life 2, Valve Corporation has released an additional level and an additional "expansion" sequel. The level, "Lost Coast," takes place between the levels "Highway 17" and "Sandtraps" and is primarily a showcase for high dynamic range imaging (HDR) technology. The "expansion" sequel, Half-Life 2: Episode One, takes place shortly after the events of Half-Life 2, with the player taking on the role of Gordon Freeman once again and with Alyx Vance playing a more prominent role. Additionally, two further "episodes" are set to be released in the future, dubbed Episode Two and Episode Three; the latter being the last expansion, "in a trilogy." In an interview with Eurogamer, Gabe Newell revealed that the Half-Life 2 "episodes" are essentially Half-Life 3. He reasons that rather than force fans to wait another six years for a full sequel, Valve Corporation would release the game in episodic installments. Newell admits that a more correct title for these episodes should have been "Half-Life 3: Episode One" and so forth, having referred to the episodes as Half-Life 3 repeatedly through the interview.
It was confirmed in April 2006 that Half-Life 2: Episode Four was in production, and that it would mark the start of a new story arc. Furthermore, it was confirmed that Episode Four was under development by a third-party studio under Valve Corporation's supervision.
Since the release of the Source engine SDK, a large number of modifications (mods) have been developed by the Half-Life 2 community. Mods vary in scale, from fan-created levels and weapons, to partial conversions such as Rock 24, Half-Life 2 Substance and Smod (which modify the storyline and gameplay of the pre-existing game), SourceForts and Garry's Mod (which allow the player to experiment with the physics system in a sandbox mode), to total conversions such as Dystopia or Empires, the latter of which transforms the game from a first-person shooter into a real-time strategy game. Some mods take place in the Half-Life universe; others in completely original settings; while some are tributes to other games, such as GoldenEye: Source, a recreation of GoldenEye 007, and Resident Evil: Twilight, based on the Resident Evil series. Many more mods are still in development, including Neotokyo, the episodic single player mod MINERVA, and the multiplayer Insurgency, which focuses on realistic modern infantry combat.
Valve Corporation's Half-Life: Source was a direct conversion of the original game to the Source engine. Black Mesa, originally named Black Mesa: Source, is an unofficial mod under development which takes the more ambitious route of attempting to fully recreate the original Half-Life from the ground up using improved graphical assets and effects, while maintaining the original storyline and level design.
The book Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar revealed many of the game's original settings and action that were cut down or removed entirely from the final game. Half-Life 2 was originally intended to be a far darker game with far grittier artwork where the Combine were more obviously draining the oceans for minerals and replacing the atmosphere with noxious, murky gases. Nova Prospekt was originally intended to be a small Combine rail depot built on an old prison in the wasteland (the depot model remains in the game, visible from the beach and trash compactor). Eventually, Nova Prospekt grew and grew from a stopping-off point along the way to the destination itself.
Half-Life 2 was also originally intended to be much more diverse in settings. Parts of the book detail how Gordon would fight alongside characters such as Odessa Cubbage, albeit under a different name and in a different place, as well as fighting together with Colonel Vance—a character that was later merged with Eli to become Doctor Eli Vance—and Vance's forces. In addition, the player was to follow a vastly different journey from what is in the final release.
Other cuts from the game included a drivable personal water craft and additional weapons. Weapons cut included the OICW seen in an E3 demonstration video and two different models of the gravity gun or Physgun, which is seen in another E3 video, also depicting a level cut from Ravenholm, dubbed "Traptown."
At first Valve was to include a sniper rifle as one of the weapons Gordon Freeman could wield. This weapon was soon replaced by the crossbow.
It remains unknown if most of the cut Half-Life 2 scenes will eventually be completed and released, or if they are lost forever. A removed section of the original Half-Life was eventually released as the Half-Life: Uplink demo; a similar situation was in place with the HDR technology demo, Lost Coast, which was based on a scene that was cut from the sequel. It is possible that more removed sections of HL2 will be seen in future expansion packs.
Some of the cut content is available in a work-in-progress mod called Missing Information, constructed using the leaked Half-Life 2 betas as a basis. In addition to several cut weapons, the mod also includes a level set on the stranded icebreaker Borealis and the E3 demonstrations. This mod has not been sanctioned by Valve, being described as "illegal content," and official permission has not been given for the redistribution of modified versions of the original leaked material.
Source code leak
Half-Life 2 was merely a rumour until a strong impression at E3 in May 2003 launched it into high levels of hype, and won several awards for best of show. It was forecast to come out in September 2003, but it was delayed. This pushing back of HL2's release date came in the wake of the cracking of Valve's internal network, through an unpatched security flaw in Microsoft Outlook XP (2002), resulting in the leak of the game's source code in early September 2003. On October 2, Valve CEO Gabe Newell publicly explained in the HalfLife2.net forums the events that Valve experienced around the time of the leak, and requested users to track down the perpetrators if possible.
In June 2004, Valve Software announced in a press release that the FBI had arrested several people suspected of involvement in the source code leak. The game had been leaked by a German hacker named Axel G., also known as "Osama Bin Leaker". Axel G. later contacted Newell through e-mail (also providing an unreleased document planning the E3 events). Axel G. was tricked into believing that Valve wanted to employ him as an in-house security auditor. He was to be offered a flight to the USA and arrested on arrival by the FBI. When the German government became aware of the plan, Axel G. was arrested in Germany instead, and eventually put on trial for the leak as well as other computer crimes, such as the creation of a mildly successful virus which destroyed computer hard drives.
Contract dispute with Vivendi Universal Games
On September 20, 2004, the gaming public learned through GameSpot that Vivendi Universal Games (VUG) was in a legal battle with Valve Software over the distribution of Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés. This is important for the Asian PC gaming market where PC and broadband penetration per capita are much lower (except Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan). Therefore, cyber cafés are extremely popular for playing online games for large numbers of people.
According to VUG, the distribution contract they signed with Valve included cyber cafés. This would mean that only VUG could distribute Half-Life 2 to cyber cafés—not Valve through the Steam system. On November 29, 2004, Judge Thomas S. Zilly, of U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle, WA, ruled that Sierra/Vivendi Universal Games, and its affiliates, are not authorized to distribute (directly or indirectly) Valve games through cyber cafés to end users for pay-to-play activities pursuant to the parties' current publishing agreement. In addition, Judge Zilly ruled in favour of the Valve motion regarding the contractual limitation of liability, allowing Valve to recover copyright damages for any infringement as allowed by law without regard to the publishing agreement's limitation of liability clause.
On April 29, 2005, the two parties announced a settlement agreement. Under the agreement, VUG would cease distributing all retail packaged versions of Valve games by August 31, 2005. VUG also was to notify distributors and cyber cafés that had been licensed by VUG and Sierra that only Valve had the authority to distribute cyber café licenses, and hence their licenses were revoked and switched to Valve's.