⬅ Marc Laidlaw

Marc Laidlaw Vault Archive

These are the emails and topics taken from the Laidlaw Vault threads on the Steam Powered User Forums and ValveTime's forums. Most of these date from late 2006 to early 2007. According to Marc, some of these may be of dubious quality.

Nihilanth/Combine Relation:

Capture of vortigaunts is fairly common. That particular Nihilanth was the last of its kind, and never captured, but some of its predecessors might have been.

Xen Controllers:

The Xen Controllers were part of the Nihilanth's support network, and they relied on the Nihilanth to throw them around where it wanted them to go, so if there are any left, they are probably stranded in what would not have been their natural native environment (nothing's native to xen). However, without access to a steady food supply (whatever it is they eat), they may well have simply died out.


Thanks for writing. Explanations outside the context of the game are not really something we want to get into. Most of the things that are hazy are that way simply because the right time and place has not come about for clarifying these things in the context of the games. So, I try not to say anything that would spoil revelations and backstory that we may want to use in the future or are currently developing. The relation between the Nihilanth race and the Combine is one of those things. As for Race-X being from Xen, I'm not sure any of the aliens we've seen were actually from Xen originally. Xen is a borderworld--a place you have to go through to get to other places. It was colonized by certain creatures that could adapt to it. The Race-X creatures didn't seem particularly well adapted to Xen. I imagine their home lay somewhere beyond.

Race-X was purely a Gearbox creation that doesn't figure at all in my thinking about the world. Understand, they wanted to come up with a set of creatures that would create gameplay they knew how to make. They could have been making an original title or an add-on for some other franchise, and plugged Race-X into that--the reason being that they had gameplay they wanted to explore and needed the freedom of their own race of critters to conduct those experiments with. If gearbox had kept making Half-Life games, I suppose we might have seen these threads develop. Since BlackOps are not a Gearbox creation per se, but an opportunistic use of existing real-life elements, I don't see how the idea of canon applies to them.

Portal Storms and Headcrabs:

Those things came through during the portal storms, which continue erratically to this very day. Some of the critters came early (immediately after the Black Mesa Incident) and adapted to Earth. I think the Poison Headcrabs must have eaten something poisonous at one point, and liked it so much they added it to their repertoire.

The Bullsquids are around here somewhere.

Eli's Leg:

Like many things in the HL universe, we like to reserve these things until we can make some use of them. There's no point in carving a story idea in granite, only to get there and learn that it leads to bad, boring gameplay.

I hope mod makers don't spend too much time worrying about whether they're in conflict with Half-Life. If they get something "wrong", we won't change what we decide to do because of it. They can, if they want, show Eli losing his leg to a Bullsquid while helping Kleiner get to safety in Black Mesa; but if I have an opportunity to later show Eli losing his leg while helping Kleiner get into City 17, I'll go ahead and do that. I'm not out to spoil the fans' fun!

Perhaps there are many many parallel universes, in each of which Eli loses his leg in an entirely different way.

He lost it to a Bullsquid while helping Kleiner get to safety, but I'm not sure if that was in Black Mesa or later.


CP/Metrocops are humans at the first level--basically unaltered volunteers. From here, if you are hardcore, you must volunteer for modification in order to become a soldier, so advancing in rank requires surrendering even more humanity.

This stuff was certainly thought through in advance; sometimes we just make things up though.

Xen/Combine Relation:

Yes, that's fairly accurate, and I'm pretty sure Doug was restating something I'd told him; I [am not] clarifying it, since it's the foundation on which the series continues. What we saw in HL1 was the very end of a long struggle between the Combine and the last of the Nihilanth's race... although it's a bit different than the word "prompted" implies. The Nihilanth's "world" (if it could be said to have) was long since in the past as far as the Nihilanth was concerned; Xen was their final retreat, and they had their back to the wall, as it were, when the fissure appeared that let them spill into our dimension. Xen itself is sort of a dimensional transit bottleneck--an area of continual contention.

Episode 2 Character:

We try not to answer questions about the story directly outside of the game--believe what you play, not what you read, is my motto. The waters are murky, unfortunately, when it comes to the Gearbox titles because we did not make them and I don't feel compelled to abide by every story idea they came up with to make their game more fun. That said, it's now public knowledge that you'll be meeting at least one further survivor of Black Mesa in Episode 2. Hope you enjoy it.

Valve Archive Note: This character later turned out to be Arne Magnussen.

Barney + Blue-Shift + Expansion Involvement:

Hi, Daniel, I won't be able to clear up much. It was a deliberate decision to have Gearbox never call him Barney in Blue-Shift, only Calhoun. Raising The Bar is not a game, so material is presented differently there; manifestations differ in every medium. Gearbox took our Barney and did their own best version, but I'm not sure that barney is the same barney I'm picturing when I picture Valve's barney. In the time Blue-Shift was created, there were many Barneys. Only gradually have the redundant creature and character types slowly settled into iconic individuals... it's an ongoing process. Gearbox did what was right for their games. Even though they had feedback and guidance from us, they didn't always listen to it, and they steered by their own lights, etc., etc. I wasn't very close to the creation of the expansion packs, and much more concerned with how to move the story forward and open up the universe; so I only take the games created by Valve into consideration when i am working on the story... there are more than enough potential contradictions in our own designs without me worrying about contradictions in the inventions of other developers who were not part of our initial creative meetings. I know this is confusing to fans; it's partly a byproduct of the way expansion packs were created, the way they were packaged and published, and also I was very new to this whole concept at the time. It never occurred to me that large chunks of the story would be taken out of our hands, changes made beyond our control, and then have the stuff handed back with some odd unexpected kinks in it. So try not to worry about it, and simply do my best with material directly in my control. However, as to your last question, there was pressure on us to set Half-Life 2 at Black Mesa, which a lot of us felt would be creative death; it was important to break new ground. Nuking Black Mesa was a good way to ensure that we had a way to avoid setting Half-Life 2 there. You might say I gave the G-Man his orders. The whole issue of canon is something the fans came up with. I guess you will be able to identify as canon those story elements we continue to build on and develop and mention repeatedly as the story progresses. Others might fall by the wayside once they've served their purpose. Couldn't you say the same of us all?

Hi, Ben, I am going to swear off contributing to this bizarre argument about canonical versus noncanonical works. If we can make good entertaining use of the elements of OpFor in future games, then we may well do that, and at that time i guess folks will have a better idea of where we stand on all this. We can't speak about story ideas outside of the games themselves--it's meaningless. The games must stand on their own, contradictions and all. My only hope is to keep unreeling the story in such a way that it will continue to please the fans and spark interesting conversations. Thanks for writing!

Gordon's Big Day at Black Mesa:

Hm... I don't remember stating that the Black Mesa incident occurred on Gordon's first day of work (Barney sure acts like he's known Gordon a while) although I might have. Shrug.

Test-Chamber Crystal:

That crystal sample in the opening, for instance, should have been clearly echoed in the Nihilanth's chamber--and even down inside its gaping cranium. That was the plan. But we ran out of time to make the clear visual association.

The Combine:

"The Combine" is a name for a large organization. So asking if the Advisors are the Combine is like asking if a Roman Senator is the Roman Empire. There's no one creature called the Combine.

The Combine is a combination of different species (including humans) working (or forced to work) together. Other than that, you'll have to stay tuned for more information as we work it into the games.

The Half-Life Saga Guide:

I am familiar with the timeline you mention although I haven't looked at it since I first made my ill-advised comment to Gary McTaggart. There was some stuff in there that seemed accurate and some that was way off. As we've continued to develop the storyline, it's probably become less relevant, since we have changed our thinking about events earlier in the series. Anyway, I'm glad people enjoy doing and thinking about all this stuff. I doubt we will ever issue precise dates on a timeline of our own, because then we'd just end up contradicting ourselves. Thanks for writing!

The BM Administrator's Initials "LM":

Thanks for poring over those letters... I wondered if anyone would ever notice those lowly initials, appended by whichever administrative assistant happened to be in the office that day to do the official typing. As you may know, before coming to Valve, I held a number of EMP word processing and admin jobs; manpower sent me for a stint to the alaskan pipeline, but it was already finished and there was no one needing typing at that point, and then immediately after to Black Mesa, which ran out of funding for temp administrative assistants shortly after my arrival. In fact, I lasted one day in New Mexico, and quickly fled. So as not to confuse my word processing career with my developing reputation as a professional writer, I did not want to sign "ML" to any of my typing. So I reversed the letters. For this, and many greater transgressions of which you may become aware shortly, I apologize. Oh, one more thing: This hasn't happened yet.

- LM in the mirrorworld.

C17 Clothing:

The only readily available new clothes for humans are made in Combine facilities, so if you happened to have or find a set of comfortable clothes that weren't bland citizen uniforms, you held onto them. It's probably a good thing that we're not running an odor simulator.

Money in C17:

It's a fair question. I don't recall coming down hard on an answer in the game itself, so I don't want to make something up now. If you don't hear specific reference to tokens in conversation, then it's hard to justify their existence. There may well be token slots on vending machines, etc... but in fact if you push the button for a can of Breen's Private Reserve, it appears to be free of charge. Citizens are given or issued basic standard clothing and food, so it seems like the Combine don't encourage currency in their dealings with humans, and among citizens there may be something more like a barter economy. For your roleplay, you should come up with whatever generates interesting gameplay. I don't see any egregious conflict with the game.