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Half-Life 2 storyline evolution

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Early Half-Life 2 journey.

The Half-Life 2 storyline went through many versions. This article attempts to gather them in the best chronological order possible.


Most of the early plot concepts and ideas cut before 2003 (the year Half-Life 2 was leaked and was already quite similar to the final product) are included in this article, based on information taken from the book Raising the Bar and the Half-Life 2 leak and its numerous files such as the WC map pack, which contains numerous maps from the early stages of development (c. 2000) to 2003 and the playable game.

During the storyline development, the game was at some point to span four days instead of three (disregarding the week spent by Alyx and Gordon between the two teleports in Half-Life 2).[1] Characters also evolved greatly, with examples such as Breen being only known as "the Consul", Alyx being the daughter of Captain Vance, Eli named Eli Maxwell and not related to Alyx,[2] among other things. The most important changes are the setting, evolving from a very dark American setting to a brighter East European one.

Although it is possible to determine a "rough" old storyline, there is no such thing as a consistent Half-Life 2 original storyline. Not all cut concepts and plot elements were created at the same time and may be inconsistent with each other; some are unknown and/or lost forever. Therefore one must be careful to not speculate too much when attempting to make out the old story, and try as much as possible to stick to known facts, although it can be difficult to draw consistent ideas from all the known data, and many things can also be logically deduced.

Storyline items, in rough chronological order[edit]

Train ride[edit]

Excerpt of the vignette Now Arriving: City 17 about the arrival into the city given to the developers for design inspiration.

Gordon awakens beside the G-Man who shows him parts of what happened over the last 10 years, but without actually telling much. Gordon then finds himself on the Wasteland Train and encounters Samuel, a citizen who tells him some information about life under Combine rule and gives him some hints about what is going on. He also gives him a spare gas mask, as the air is toxic because of the Air Exchange.[2]

The train ride allows the player to view the Wasteland outside City 17, with ruins, wrecks, Houndeyes, Bullsquids, and other unknown fauna. Another nearby train is seen being attacked by a Gargantua, but the monster is destroyed by the heavy engine.[2]

The Wasteland Train then proceeds into the city, first through Old City, which is seen in ruin and disrepair, and then New City, the Combine-converted city, surrounded by a huge concrete wall protecting it from the Wasteland hazards. Creatures can be seen killing themselves on the barricades. Gordon catches glimpses of Citizens in their apartments. The train arrives at last at the station, and Cremators can be seen cleaning around the train from Bullsquids or Headcrabs that managed to get inside the perimeter.[2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Heavily trimmed. Samuel has been removed but his face was recycled as a simple Citizen and for Counter Strike: Source. Home life, originally only glimpsed, can now be seen first hand when Gordon actually travels through residential buildings. The city walls are later seen at the end of Episode One, but serve a largely decorative purpose.

City 17[edit]

An early map of Gordon's journeys through City 17. It features two journeys: the one at the start of the game (from the trainstation to the Wasteland, with Kleiner's Lab in the middle), and the one at the end, that does not seem to make the Skyscraper the first City 17 location after the journey back from the Arctic locations, since it actually starts in Kleiner's Lab, mirroring Gordon and Alyx's return to the city from the Depot in Half-Life 2.
Main article: City 17
  • The earliest drafts of the plot called City 17 "New City". The "Old City" was to be filled with the ruins from the Seven Hour War, and the player would see it in the train ride at the beginning, which was also much longer.
  • There were originally present other transportation methods such as buses and trolleys.
  • A long exploration journey through City 17 was planned, where Gordon would go through many different locations. Starting in the Combine Factories, the player would traverse the Terminal Plaza, go through a construction site, through the Consul Plaza (which featured an early Consulcast device)[source?] and finally through the Manhack Arcade, before reaching a building with a large radio tower. From there, Gordon would then proceed through the underground sewers, to finally arrive at Kleiner's Lab.
  • City 17 was going to be a lot darker, both figuratively and literally. Most of the C17 maps were to take place in the evening or at night, and there was to be a larger sense of hopelessness.
  • Large skyscrapers were to be in C17 (making part of the early American style), but were removed to put more emphasis on the Citadel.
  • The Factories were supposed to be one of the major areas of City 17. It featured various factories with different purposes, including, for example, the Cremator factory (where child workers manufactured Cremators), along with citizen workers and Vortigaunts performing other tasks. The entire area was cut when it was realized that there would be no children after the Combine took over. The Cremator was cut along with it.


Concept art for the trainstation.
Main article: City 17 Trainstation

Arrived at the trainstation,[2] it is unknown what Gordon does, sees and who he meets. It is probable that he meets Barney who shows him the way and tells him to meet him near the Manhack Arcade.

Notable info about its use in retail

Some map and dialog differences but overall the same, even though having not much information and no WC map pack maps, this is just open to speculation.

Combine Factories[edit]

Concept art for children working in the Combine Factories.
Main article: Combine Factories

Gordon didn't leave the trainstation through the main entrance, but through a back door that leads to an industrial part of the city, with noisy factories filled with citizens working and passing through in all directions, watched by Metrocops and Combots. Workers consist of adults but also children. Gordon discovers the Cremator factory, where children are building Cremators, and other workshops, such as the stenographer's chasm. Gordon then proceeds on foot to the entertainment/commercial part of the city.[1][2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed, although however, some of its elements, were later recycled or reused in Half-Life: Alyx. As the concept of human reproduction being disabled by a Combine suppressor field evolved, children finally got cut with the whole area, along with the Cremator. It was also easier to avoid censorship issues in many countries and not restrain the game to an older audience by removing all children.

Although some ideas sounded good on paper, the developers found themselves unable to find a satisfying gameplay for this area. Like the Manhack Arcade, this area didn't have a purpose strong enough to be kept.

Terminal - Trainstation Plaza[edit]

The Trainstation Plaza.
Main article: City 17 Trainstation

Gordon walks through the Trainstation Plaza and gets to see the trainstation main facade and how Citizens are treated by Civil Protection. He then proceeds to the Manhack Arcade through yet to be identified areas, probably apartment buildings, though it is unknown, and, at some point, an area under construction. It is also unknown when Gordon was to be chased by Civil Protection through apartment buildings, since it seems he was to be rather left alone in most of the early maps relating the game's beginning.[1][2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Overall the same.

Business - Commercial / Manhack Arcade[edit]

Citizens in the small room of the Manhack Arcade.
Main article: Manhack Arcade

In a entertainment/commercial area where City 17's civilian life was to be shown, Gordon sees his first Breencast (or rather "Consulcast" at this point), a Metropolice station and discovers the Manhack Arcade, an entertainment place where Citizens play video games consisting in controlling Manhacks into the streets and killing fugitive Citizens, ignorant of the fact that the Manhacks they are controlling are real and are actually killing Citizens on the streets.[1][2] Gordon then meets with Barney, who works undercover as a Metrocop, and proceeds to Kleiner's Lab through the sewers (nicknamed "steam" in Raising the Bar, while the WC map pack map is named subt). It is unknown if Gordon meets Barney there for the first time or in the trainstation like in retail.[1]

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed, as the developers didn't find it very fun, even if it sounded good on paper.

Kleiner's Lab[edit]

Kleiner's original teleport.
Main article: Kleiner's Lab

Gordon reaches Kleiner's Lab[2] where Kleiner is astonished to see him. He is then introduced to the teleport. Gordon is to be sent to Kraken Base (where Elena Mossman is waiting), since Eli's lab teleport is in pieces and therefore not working.[1][3]

Like in the retail version of the game, the teleportation fails and Gordon must instead flee on foot to Eli's lab in the scrapyard. Kleiner also appears much older.

Notable info about its use in retail

The lab is similar to the retail, except that the latter is a reduced version of the original WC map pack map, which contains the original teleport in another, bigger room.[1] The developers might have thought that everything could perfectly fit in one single, smaller room. Kraken Base being scrapped, the teleportation was instead to send Gordon to Black Mesa East.

Consul Plaza[edit]

The Consul statue model.

Gordon arrives at the Consul Plaza.[source?] He leaves City 17 through the Canals.

Notable info about its use in retail

No map was ever made, only the statue model exists.

Sewers / Canals[edit]

The Wasteland part of the Canals.
Main article: Canals

Gordon leaves City 17 on foot, then with a Jet Ski or an Airboat, according to the original concepts.[2] He encounters Barnacles, Headcrabs and Bullsquids on his way while he is getting outside of the City, into the Wasteland.[2][3]

Notable info about its use in retail

It was supposed to be much bigger and longer and was heavily trimmed, removing the Bullsquid from Half-Life 2 in the process.[3]

The Wild - The Wasteland - The Scrapland[edit]

Concept art of the Wasteland around City 17.
Main article: The Wasteland
  • The Wasteland is essentially a dried up ocean and was to be evidence that the Combine was tampering with the environment. Unlike the Coast, there was absolutely no water whatsoever. Many Combine bases were set up in the Wasteland. Antlions roamed the area.
  • A demonstration of the Wasteland was developed for E3 2002 and 2003, but both were scrapped. The maps for them can be found in the WC map pack.
  • The Depot was originally in the Wasteland and stayed with it when it turned into the Coast.
  • The Wasteland was to have its own skin for the citizens, but this never got past a temporary texture.
  • A special type of Scanner was created to scan the area for any non-Combine humans.
  • The Wasteland evolved into the Coast as the game was developed.

Quarry - Town - Quarrytown - Traptown - Phystown - Zombie Town[edit]

Main article: Ravenholm

At the end of the canals Gordon arrives at a small lake and discovers the yet unnamed industrial town filled with zombies and traps set by a mad monk. At some point he would use a vehicle called the "digger" to proceed through mines and destroy a Combine Big Momma Pod laying Headcrabs to clear the way.[1][2][3]

Notable info about its use in retail

Was of course kept as the Ravenholm levels, although it is unknown if the zombie town was already called that way at this stage of development. The mines were more explored in Episode Two, merged with the cut Antlion caves, to produce the Victory Mine.

Scrapyard / Eli's Lab[edit]

Concept art for Eli Maxwell's lab.
Main article: Black Mesa East

After the trap-filled town, Gordon at last reaches the scrapyard. There he encounters Eli Maxwell, Dog and possibly Alyx in the very simple and rough Eli's lab, inside a cave located near a quarry. Eli shows Gordon a slideshow of what happened during the last 10 years, including the loss of his leg. He also gives him the physics manipulator.[1][2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Eli's lab was transformed into a real underground building, the scrapyard being kept only for playing fetch with Dog and the Gravity Gun. Then Eli Maxwell was merged with Captain Vance to become Eli Vance. It is however unsure if the lab was to be attacked from the start.

Antlion Caves[edit]

The Antlion King.
Main article: White Forest Caves

After leaving Eli's Lab, Gordon goes through caves filled with Antlions and Antlion Grubs, and confronts an Antlion King. It is unlikely that the player was already to be able to tame Antlions at that point of the game's development. It is unknown if Alyx is there for the remainder of the journey.[1]

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed and brought back for Episode Two. The Antlion King was recycled into the Antlion Guardian and the Antlion Grub models were updated.

The Coast[edit]

Railway / Highway[edit]
Railway along the dried seafloor.
Main article: The Coast

After going out of the caves, Gordon hitches a ride on the Wasteland Train and proceeds through the dried seafloor[2] (but it is unknown why).[2] It is unknown when the Scout Car was implemented into the storyline, as the old journey does not feature it, since Gordon either hitches a ride on a train or is on foot.

Notable info about its use in retail

Was originally much bigger, more desolate, and with more shipwrecks.[2] Merged with the unexploited mines from Quarrytown, the Antlions caves were taken back for Episode Two (the Antlion Grub model was also made very early[3]).

Depot / Prison - Gulag[edit]
The early Depot.
Main article: Nova Prospekt
Main article: Depot

Gordon's train arrives at a Combine train depot, simply called the Depot.[1] The train depot is built near an unnamed old prison where Gordon fights Combine soldiers, possibly with the aid of Antlions, although they can harm him as well.

He then discovers the Gunship Bays, where Gunships are built. Antlions attack, fuel tanks explode and the whole place is engulfed in flames. Then Gordon goes into the Depot itself through the cargo conveyor and takes another train to the Air Exchange.[1][2][3]

  • Originally, the Depot was a checkpoint during Gordon's trip to the Air Exchange. When the AirEx was cut, its purpose in the plot was given to the Depot.

Notable info about its use in retail

This chapter grew and grew from a stopping-off point along the way to the longest level of the game.[2] Most of the area and the depot model was kept, except for the lighthouse (recycled earlier in the coast levels) and the Gunship Bays (recycled in the Citadel levels). Also, the finished maps were set during daytime, while at sunset and then overnight in retail.[3] The sun was originally supposed to set in the next chapter, the Air Exchange.

Air Exchange - AirEx - Air Conditioner[edit]
The Air Exchange main tower.
Main article: Air Exchange

Gordon's train crashes in another depot before the Air Exchange, a Combine facility replacing the air by noxious, murky gases with its main reactor. He is met by Alyx and her pet alien Skitch. There they are attacked by Combine Super Soldiers and Striders. He meets Alyx's father, Captain Vance, and his Conscripts, and a battle is likely fought.[2]

During or after the battle, Gordon proceeds on foot to the AirEx. He then must reach the top of the highest tower, battle a Gunship and then jump into a pool of industrial solvents at its base. He then must go inside the main reactor of the facility, protected and operated by Stalkers, and sabotage its core, making the Air Exchange completely nonoperational and triggering the human uprising in City 17. Gordon then reaches the shore on foot.[1][2]

Alyx likely leaves at some point after the battle, since it is likely that Gordon is alone with Odell on the Borealis.

  • The Air Exchange was to play a major part in the plot. Its destruction would be taken as a sign to begin the rebellion against the Combine.
  • Captain Vance would begin attacking the AirEx after Gordon arrived.

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed. Blowing up the AirEx to trigger the uprising was merged with the Depot levels to make the Nova Prospekt levels;[2] reaching the top of the highest tower and blowing up the core of the whole facility was recycled in the Citadel levels, along with the factory-like themes.

Arctic regions[edit]

Main article: Arctic regions

Arriving at the shore, Gordon meets with Odell, former engineer of the Borealis, and proceeds to the Arctic regions on a tugboat.[1]

The Borealis - Hyperborea[edit]

An early version of the Borealis (then Hyperborea) stranded in the ice in a demo map.
Main article: Borealis (cut ship)

Arriving on the site of the Borealis with their tugboat, the ship either being stranded in the ice or drifting in the sea, Gordon and Odell visit the ship filled with the corpses of the original crew members, Stalkers, zombies, tanks containing Combine Assassins (probably in stasis) and Combine soldiers. Odell and Gordon leave the ship with a small submarine and proceed to the nearby Kraken Base.[1][3]

  • In the first draft, the player would start on the Borealis as it was heading to City 17.
  • Later drafts re-purposed the Borealis as a stranded ice-breaker that Gordon would have to travel to.
  • On the Borealis was Odell, the ship's engineer. He knew the ship's captain and was allied with the rebels.
  • The Borealis had boxes from a company named "Arbeit Laboratories" in it. Arbeit is the German word for "work". Whether this was the basis for the Borealis being owned by Aperture Science in Episode 2 is unknown.
  • By the time Gordon arrived, the Borealis was infested with Stalkers and Zombies.
  • Props from the Borealis still exist in the final game and the Episodes (for example, there is still a model folder called "props_borealis", and contains items such as a water barrel).
  • Dead workers were supposed to litter the Borealis.

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed, but taken back for Episode Two as a lost Aperture Science vessel.

Kraken Base[edit]

Kraken Base.
Main article: Kraken Base

Gordon and Odell reach Kraken Base in their submarine and encounter Elena Mossman, Kraken's director (she refers to herself as "Kraken's director" in the playable Half-Life 2 leak sound files). Kraken Base is a rebel scientific base located beneath the sea. It is unknown what happens there and what happens to Odell and Mossman. It is likely that some battle takes place, according to the overheard distress call sent from Kraken Base to the Borealis. Gordon leaves, on foot, and reaches the Combine Weather Control.[1][2]

  • The Kraken base maps in the WC map pack are extremely incomplete, suggesting that the concept was dropped early.

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed, but some elements should've be taken back for Episode Three, most likely in the form of Mossman's outpost near the Borealis.

Weather Control[edit]

Excerpt from the vignette Weather Control given to the developers for design inspiration.
Main article: Weather Control

This section of the game involves a massive scale attack on the Weather Control, a massive dome that drained Earth of its oxygen.[2]

Gordon fights there alongside Captain Vance, his Conscripts and Alyx. They are attacked by "mechs".[2]

  • This facility was to come after Kraken Base. It was never scripted.
  • An early script in Raising the Bar suggests that the Weather Control was to host a major battle at one time.
  • The Weather Control would have a plane that Gordon and Alyx would use to get back to City 17.

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed.

Flight of the C-130[edit]

Gordon and Alyx go back to City 17 with a C-130 that crashes into the Skyscraper.[1][2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed. The concept may have been recycled as the helicopter at the end of Episode 2.

Back in City 17[edit]

Skyscraper - Vertigo - Palace[edit]

The top of the Skyscraper, Palace version.
Main article: Skyscraper

The C-130 (later changed to a helicopter) crashes into a skyscraper in the middle of City 17. Alyx is injured and kidnapped by the Combine. Gordon must find her father Captain Vance. He descends through the building and joins the Conscripts in the ensuing uprising.[1][2]

  • The plane/chopper mentioned earlier would crash into a skyscraper appearing in two versions, Vertigo and Palace. Metrocops would converge on the area and capture Alyx, but not Gordon. Gordon would then have to escape, get on the rooftops of nearby buildings and eventually reach the streets to get to the war between the Combine and the Citizens.

Notable info about its use in retail

Completely removed. The concept became redundant when it was decided that Gordon and Alyx would return to City 17 via the means of teleportation rather than on a vehicle.

Street wars + Under[edit]

Citizens fleeing from a Strider in the ruined streets.

Gordon starts the street wars with the Conscripts on the rooftops at the foot of the Skyscraper, then finally reaches ground level, where a sniper has pinned down Conscript forces.[1][3] At some point, Gordon manages to join Vance's headquarters and then proceeds behind the inner gates of the Citadel's outer wall.[1] He also journeys again in the City 17 underground, where he confronts many Hydras.[1] Among others, Rebel forces fight Striders with tanks and RPGs.[1]

  • The battle in C17 was to be provoked by the destruction of the AirEx, but when it was deleted, the impetus was moved to the destruction of the Depot.
  • The Rebels were to have commandeered enemy vehicles during the rebellion, as seen in the sniper series of maps in the WC map pack.
  • The player was to travel through the rooftops and battle enemies such as Stalkers, but this was removed for more ground-based fighting.
  • Most of the fighting was to be spearheaded by rebelling Conscripts, not citizens.
  • In early versions of the Street War, one of the player's goals was to meet Captain Vance at his temporary HQ, which was a bombed out building with a few APCs parked outside of it.

Notable info about its use in retail

The overall concept was kept, except for Vance's headquarters. The new journey through the sewers was heavily trimmed, the Hydras being cut in the process. The sniper episode was kept for Barney.

Consul Plaza[edit]

The battle continues. Gordon is back at the Consul Plaza and proceeds to the Citadel.[2]

Notable info about its use in retail

Recycled as the Trainstation Plaza.


Concept art for the Consul office.
Main article: Citadel

Gordon proceeds through the Citadel to finally reach the Consul office. There he confronts the Consul and finds Alyx being kept prisoner and discover that Elena Mossman betrayed them.[2] The outcome might be the Consul being defeated and Gordon surviving somehow. The original fate of Alyx Vance, Eli Maxwell, Captain Vance and Elena Mossman are unknown.

  • The Citadel went through multiple changes. The earliest Citadel design was a gigantic spire, as seen in concept art in Raising the Bar. However, the earliest in-game version was nothing more than a gigantic, blocky metal tower, mostly because it was made out of brushes. Later brush-based Citadels became much rounder and had large sheets of steel surrounding the bottom of the Citadel. When the team was able to put models into the game, the Citadel became a round spire. This was then changed to the Citadel as seen in the final version.
  • The rows of pods inside the Citadel were originally just cages with prisoners inside them.
  • Of note is that the journey though the Citadel would feature areas that were never used or reused for Episode 1. Both the Core and the Advisor areas, which were prominently featured in Episode One, were being developed long before the final game came out.
  • The confrontation with Breen in early versions of the story was extremely similar to the final one. Concept art from RtB shows Mossman holding Alyx (who was captured at the Skyscraper) at gunpoint while Gordon holds a gun to Breen. Some dialogue from an early version of the scene, found in the leak (sound/temp/alyx/citadel1-3.wav) shows that Alyx talked to Breen.

See also[edit]