When you played the original Half-Life, it was Marc Laidlaw’s words that instilled that sense of foreboding in your bones as the tram wove its way through Black Mesa. It was his books, The Orchid Eater and The 37th Mandala, that clogged up Gordon Freeman’s locker. And it was by his hand that Alyx Vance became your first embarrassing digital love.
Now he shares an office with Chet Faliszek and Erik Walpaw, where they work on the Portal series, and the shock of Episode 2’s killer twist recedes in the memory. But Laidlaw hasn’t forgotten about Half-Life. More specifically, he hasn’t forgotten about Dr. Breen.
“I am strongly anti-troll so let me be clear,” begins Laidlaw in explaining his new Breen-speak Twitter account. “@BreenGrub is me having fun with some things that I love. It's not an ARG. It is what it is."
It’s not the precursor to some slow-burn Half-Life 3 reveal, then, but BreenGrub is the return of Half-Life’s originator to its fiction.
“Basically it's me writing Dr. Breen fanfic,” continues Laidlaw. “I am his biggest fan!”
The account appears to explore the possibility that Breen escaped the collapse of the Citadel at the close of Half-Life 2, as planned, by taking on a ‘host body’ at the behest of his Combine overlords.
As one astute Neogaffer has noted, the account’s avatar picture is an unused texture for the larval stage of a Combine Advisor, found in Half-Life 2: Episode 2’s game files. In-game, it would have looked something like this:
The tweets themselves see Breen fighting against his new form and the Combine leadership he once sought to aid with the only thing he has left: his observations. He talks of aiding the “revolution”:
And why is one of Valve’s top writers writing fanfiction? “I personally cannot give the world a Half-Life game,” explained Laidlaw in another tweet. “All I can personally do, at least for now, is stuff like this.”