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Marc Laidlaw

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Marc Laidlaw
Laidlaw in 2011
Laidlaw in 2011
Alma materUniversity of Oregon
GenresScience fiction, horror, video games

Marc Laidlaw is an American writer. He is a former lead writer for the video game company Valve, where he worked on the Half-Life series before his departure in 2016. Before joining Valve, Laidlaw was a novelist working in the fantasy and horror genres, and in 1996 won the International Horror Guild Award for his novel The 37th Mandala.


Laidlaw attended the University of Oregon, where he tried, and was discouraged by, punched card computer programming. He wrote short stories and his first novel, Dad's Nuke, was published in 1985. This was followed by several more novels over the next decade, while working as a legal secretary in San Francisco.[citation needed]

Laidlaw had played computer and arcade games, but was not intrigued until he played Myst (1993). He obsessed over Myst and bought a new computer so that he could play it. He wrote The Third Force (1996), a tie-in novel based on the world of the Gadget computer game.[citation needed]

1990s—2016: Valve[edit]

Laidlaw joined the video game company Valve while they were developing their first game, the first-person shooter (FPS) Half-Life (1998). He was originally hired to work on another game, Prospero, but switched when Prospero was canceled and the Half-Life project expanded.[1]

Laidlaw said his contribution was to add "old storytelling tricks" to Valve's ambitious designs.[2] Rather than dictate narrative elements, he worked with the team to improvise ideas, and was inspired by their experiments.[2] He contributed to the "visual grammar" of the level design, and focused on "doing storytelling with the architecture ... The narrative had to be baked into the corridors."[1]

For Half-Life 2 (2004), the team developed the characterization. Laidlaw created family relationships between the characters, saying it was a "basic dramatic unit everyone understands" that was rarely used in games.[3] Laidlaw also worked on Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006) and Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007), plus several canceled Half-Life projects, including Half-Life 2: Episode Three and a virtual reality game set on a time-travelling ship.[1] Laidlaw said he had intended Episode Three to end the Half-Life 2 story arc, at which point he would "step away from it and leave it to the next generation".[4]

2016—present: Departure from Valve[edit]

Laidlaw announced his departure from Valve in January 2016. He said the primary reason for his departure was his age, and that he planned to return to writing stories.[5] Laidlaw later said he had tired of the FPS genre and of solving the problems of storytelling in a Half-Life-style narrative. He said he had "always hoped that we'd stumble into a more expansive vocabulary or grammar for storytelling within the FPS medium, one that would let you do more than shoot or push buttons, or push crates".[1]

On August 25, 2017, Laidlaw published a short story titled "Epistle 3", describing it as "a snapshot of a dream I had many years ago". Journalists interpreted it as a summary of what could have been the plot for Half-Life 2: Episode Three, though Laidlaw later denied this.[1][6] In 2023, Laidlaw said he regretted publishing the story. He said he had been "deranged" and "completely out of touch" at the time, and that the story had created problems for his former colleagues at Valve.[1] Valve released a new game, Half-Life: Alyx, in 2020. As of 2023, Laidlaw had not played it and said: "I don't ever need to see another Combine soldier again, not even in VR."[1]

In 2018, Laidlaw completed a new novel, Underneath the Oversea, but could not find a publisher and self-published it on Kindle. He said the publishing world had "forgotten who he was" and that his age prevented publishers from building a new audience.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 2003, Laidlaw said his favorite games included The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Ico, Fatal Frame and Thief: The Dark Project.[7] After leaving Valve, Laidlaw moved to Kauai, Hawaii.[1] He has an amateur radio license and his call sign is WH6FXC.[8]



  • Dad's Nuke. 1985.
  • Neon Lotus. 1988.[a]
  • Kalifornia (1993)
  • The Orchid Eater (1994)
  • The Third Force (1996), Gadget game tie-in
  • The 37th Mandala (1996), nominated for the 1997 World Fantasy Award and awarded the 1996 International Horror Guild Award
  • White Spawn (2015)
  • Underneath the Oversea (2018)

Short fiction[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected Notes
"400 Boys" 1983 Laidlaw, Marc (November 1983). "400 Boys". Omni. Bruce Sterling, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, 1986
"Dankden" 1995 Laidlaw, Marc (October–November 1995). "Dankden". F&SF. The Bard Gorlen series
"The Perfect Wave" 2008 Rucker, Rudy & Marc Laidlaw (January 2008). "The Perfect Wave". Asimov's Science Fiction.
"Songwood" 2010 Laidlaw, Marc (January–February 2010). "Songwood". F&SF. Vol. 118, no. 1&2. pp. 82–97. The Bard Gorlen series
"Watergirl" 2015 Rucker, Rudy & Marc Laidlaw (January 2015). "Watergirl". Asimov's Science Fiction. Vol. 39, no. 1. pp. 22–40.
The Bard Gorlen series
  • "Catamounts" (September 1996, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Childrun" (August 2008, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Quickstone" (March 2009, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Bemused" (September/October 2013, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Rooksnight" (May/June 2014, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Catamounts" (Reprint) (August 2013, Lightspeed)
  • "Belweather" (September 2013, Lightspeed)
  • "Stillborne" (November/December 2017, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Weeper" (September/October 2020, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
  • "Underneath the Oversea" (November 2020)


  • "Sombre Hombre" EP (2023)
  1. ^ Nominated for the 1988 Philip K. Dick Award.
  2. ^ Short stories unless otherwise noted.


Year Title
1998 Half-Life
2004 Half-Life 2
2006 Half-Life 2: Episode One
2007 Half-Life 2: Episode Two
2013 Dota 2


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Peel, Jeremy (March 1, 2023). "'The narrative had to be baked into the corridors': Marc Laidlaw on writing Half-Life". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Archived from the original on March 2, 2023. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Marc Laidlaw (Valve) - Interview". Arcade Attack. July 17, 2017. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  3. ^ Geoff, Keighley. "The Final Hours of Half-Life 2". GameSpot. Archived from the original on December 26, 2019. Retrieved November 30, 2019.
  4. ^ "Marc Laidlaw (Valve) - Interview". Arcade Attack. July 17, 2017. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  5. ^ Kerr, Chris (January 8, 2016). "Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw leaves Valve after 18 years". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 20 May 2021. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  6. ^ Machkovech, Sam (2020-07-09). "Valve secrets spill over—including Half-Life 3—in new Steam documentary app". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2020-07-19. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
  7. ^ "Valve Software Interview : Marc Laidlaw". Gaming Nexus. 27 January 2003. Retrieved 2019-11-19.
  8. ^ "ULS License - Amateur License - WH6FXC - Laidlaw, Marc". wireless2.fcc.gov. Retrieved 2020-08-04.

External links[edit]