Valve are about to announce the first of three things this evening at 6pm. Speculation online is rife, with guesses on what’s to be revealed ranging from a Steam-powered living room console to Half-Life 3 to a range of Portal-branded soft drinks and novelty Gordon Freeman pen lids. It could be anything, really, your guess is as good as mine. Except, it’s not, because one of my many side jobs is that of a window cleaner at Valve’s headquarters in Bellevue.
And I’ve seen everything.
Seattle’s seagull population is small but robust, a hardy Pacific flock drawn inland by the allures of human habitation and American exceptionalism, far from the coastline but rich with the bay’s exotic meats and smells. Feasting nightly on a diet of fine crepes, these ignoble birds have grown to three times the size of the average Larus Pacificus. Their presence goes unchallenged as they roost in the gutter of the original Starbucks coffee house, positioning themselves near the building’s famous coffee outflow pipe and guzzling the brown liquid as it emerges. Not a single drop is wasted by these beaked goons. Attempts to frighten or evict the criminal gulls are met with failure, as their brazen attitudes and cricket bat sized wings chase away policemen with feathery impunity. They are a terrifying — yet warmly familiar — sight for Seattelites.
It was one of these monstrous birds that had pooped on Valve’s 14th floor window, stirring me into action. A white streak of biology, a shooting star of chalky defacation marked the window behind which Gabe Newell was presenting his secret Valve announcements to his inner circle. My window cleaning platform lurched into life as I set off on my vertical mission. It would take nine minutes to reach the window caked in bird icing, then twelves minutes to discover Valve’s secrets, then two minutes to rub my eyes in staggered disbelief, and then nine minutes to return to earth a changed man.
Here’s what I learned.
Announcent One: Valve’s New Console
Valve are announcing a new videogames console tonight. Named the Steamosphere, it is the world’s first perfectly spherical games console, measuring one metre in diameter and finished with a pinkish pearlescent sheen. It runs on Linux and cannot be placed on any flat surface, as its round shape compells it to roll slowly towards table edges and off any nearby cliffs. Gabe will pick the Steamosphere up and challenge the audience to find an imperfection on its surface. As he rotates the Steamosphere it hums slightly, though there are no ports or slots to be found.
“When you come home from a hard day’s work,” Gabe will say, “the Steamosphere will have rolled to the lowest available point in your house, sometimes the basement, often seeming to hide behind furniture and boxes or underneath tables.” He presents a toffee hammer. “Once you track down the Steamosphere however, it’s open season!” He cracks the console open like a pinata or a big pink egg, whereupon a few ounces of warm colourless liquid spills on to the carpeted stage.
“This,” he says, “this is where the magic happens.” He gets on all fours and begins huffing the damp shag, slumping limply to the ground within minutes. Chet Faliszek takes to the stage and explains that Gabe is now “inside the Steamosphere of his own mind, imagining any game he wants with perfect clarity. Half-Life 3, heck even Half-Life 4 or maybe Star Citizen, it’s all in there.” As the Valve boss begins to convulse uncontrollably, he is quickly trolleyed off stage. The doorbells of all Steam users will then ring simultaneously. At the door there will be a parcel, sized one metre across.
Announcement Two: Valve’s Magic Hole
Valve’s second revelation will be the cartoon hole from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The cartoon hole is a perfectly black, floppy, mousemat-sized piece of flexible material that, once slapped on to a wall of your choosing, allows the user to pass through that wall and out of any other cartoon hole they’ve placed nearby. “Bob Hoskins basically inspired Portal one hundred percent” Gabe will admit, playfully poking his head out of a cartoon hole in the floor. “It’s about time we gave something back.”
Announcement Three: Valve’s Half-Life 3
On the third day, Valve will announce Half-Life 3, a sequel to the popular videogame, Half-Life 2. It will be revealed to be an giant open world RPG that continues the story where it left off, but allows the player full control over how events unfold using never before seen dynamic narrative mechanics with unprecedented adaptive AI to create interactive experiences that will be genuinely unique to that player’s game. Thousands of fully voiced characters inhabit the sprawling, 14,000 square kilometre game world, each with their own individual, AI-powered personalities, their own virtual brains labouring under the near perfectly emulated human condition, awash with sadness and hopes and personal fears.
Gordon can speak to any of these people, who will seem utterly real to the player, about any topic and using real voice interaction. The player will fall in love, they will be immersed in rawest emotion, brought to tears by what they see and those they meet. You will form real friendships with fake people, you will roll in the grass with your new friends, laughing and laughing before you both fall, exhausted, to face the anti-aliased sky. You’ll turn to face the NPC. Your eyes will meet, thanks to Oculus Rift support, and they’ll squint slightly, as if this computerised person is deep in thought. Their digital minds are thinking: Is this real? Are you real? Why can’t I remember my life before you arrived?
There will also be a mini-game where you can chase the G-Man around your augmented reality living room with a broom.