Every journey begins with a single step, even if that journey eventually turns you into one of the most powerful game development studios on earth, with the single most iconic storefront in PC gaming, a stable of acclaimed titles, an upcoming PC/console hybrid platform, and an e-sports tournament with a $10 million prize pool.
Yes, even Valve had to start somewhere. In 1996, before Steam Machines, before SteamOS, before Steam itself--heck, before Valve even released a single game--the studio had two projects in development: Quiver and Prospero.
Quiver went on to become the Half-Life we know and love today. Prospero died. It's now, for those interested, the subject of an eleven-minute documentary by ValveTime Database:
According to David Hodgson's Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar, Prospero was slated to be "a moody, literary game, drawing on sources ranging from Myst to Borges." Marc Laidlaw, who eventually became lead writer on Half-Life, was originally working on Prospero, a third-person exploration game turned MMO.
The ValveTime documentary claims that many of the features that eventually made their way to Steam were originally planned as part of Prospero: friends lists, server browsers, and user-made maps. All of this would be accessible through in-game libraries, similar to the ill-fated Myst Online or Portal 2's co-op hub. The video points out that some of Prospero's tech and ideas were implemented in Portal 2 an incredible sixteen years after the fact.
There are more details and previously-unreleased screenshots of Prospero in the video--this is the first time Valve has really opened up about the project since its inception seventeen years ago.
This story, "The story behind Prospero, the ambitious game Valve killed so that Half-Life may live" was originally published by PCWorld.