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Marc Laidlaw is an American writer of cyberpunk-oriented science fiction and horror as well as a former video game designer at Valve Software. He is perhaps most famous for writing Dad's Nuke and The 37th Mandala, and for working on the popular Half-Life series.


Laidlaw was born in 1960 and raised in Laguna Beach, California, he attended the University of Oregon where he tried, and was discouraged by, punch 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, but he worked as a legal secretary in San Francisco for a living.[3]

Laidlaw had played computer and arcade games, but was not intrigued. It was not until Myst was released that his perception of these games changed. He was obsessed over Myst and bought a new computer so that he could play it at his San Francisco home. With his new-found interest, he wrote The Third Force (1996), a tie-in novel based on the world created for the video game Gadget. His favorite PC game of all time is Thief: The Dark Project.[4]

Working with game designers led him to feel that he wanted to help design an actual game. He joined Valve (July 14, 1997[5]) while they were developing Half-Life and worked on the game's story and level design. At Valve, he later worked on the Half-Life's expansions (even though his precise input is not clearly known) and Half-Life 2 and its episodes. The latter episodes were co-written with the creators of Old Man Murray, Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek, whom he shared an office with at Valve. All three also co-wrote the story for Portal. He stated about Wolpaw and Faliszek on his personal blog that "for years, Chet and Erik were legendary figures of mythic status to me. They still are, except now I can throw things over my shoulder and hit them."[6]

On Valve's official website, his function was described as follows: "Marc Laidlaw joined Valve in 1997, bringing his experience as an author of weird fiction to bear on creating the Half-Life storyline. He was sole writer on Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and persists as lead writer for the Half-Life 2 Episodes, although he is now accompanied by an actual literary posse in the form of Chet and Erik. His novels include Dad's Nuke, Neon Lotus, Kalifornia, The Orchid Eater, and the award-winning The 37th Mandala, as well as The Third Force (a novel set in the world of the surreal Japanese videogame, Gadget)."[7]

In January 2016, Marc retired from Valve as a full and part-time employee.[8] Shortly after, his description on Valve's official website was changed to the following: A memory of Marc Laidlaw — "The way ahead is dark for the moment. What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness. We are a tapestry woven of vortessence. It is the same for you if only you would see it. How many are there in you? Whose hopes and dreams do you encompass? Could you but see the eyes inside your own, the minds in your mind, you would see how much we share. We are you, Freeman. And you are us."[9]

In August 2017, Marc made a post on his personal blog entitled "Epistle 3" which appears to describe what would have been the events of Half-Life 2: Episode Three. The blog post changes character names, like 'Gordon Freeman' to 'Gertie Fremont', in addition to changing the title from Episode 3 to Epistle 3. Epistle also is another name for a letter, which matches the format of the blog post.[10]


  • Dad's Nuke (1985)
  • Neon Lotus (1988) (nominated for the 1988 Philip K. Dick Award)
  • Kalifornia (1993)
  • The Orchid Eater (1994)
  • The 37th Mandala (1996) (nominated for the 1997 World Fantasy Award and awarded the 1996 International Horror Guild Award)
  • The Third Force: A Novel of Gadget (1996) (Gadget game tie-in)
  • He also writes a series about a bard named Gorlen Vizenfirth:
    • Dankden (October/November, 1995, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine)
    • Catamounts (September, 1996, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine)
    • Childrun (August, 2008, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine)
    • Quickstone (March, 2009, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine)
    • Songwood
  • Laidlaw has also written dozens of short stories.


  • His name appears in Half-Life as an Easter egg on a Sector C locker. Also, in Gordon Freeman's locker, two actual books by Laidlaw, The Orchid Eater and The 37th Mandala, can be found. The Third Force can also be seen seen in the game files, but is not seen in-game.
  • Mirroring Half-Life, another book by Laidlaw, The Extreme Aggrotato, although fictional, can be found in Eli's lab at Black Mesa East.


External links