If you’ve read my Portal 2 ARG Trip Report (a.k.a. “Journey to the West – My Trip to Valve”) then you will notice that there’s a section in there which mentions a secret that I haven’t told.
It’s the evening of April 18, 2011. It’s a Monday, and despite that I didn’t go to work at all that day, I’m still wearing a long-sleeve blue shirt and khakis.
We’re in a fancy restaurant in the Bellevue area. We’re guests of honor so it’s an open bar, but I drink a Diet Coke. The waiters put down water crackers and toasted bread. The butter is light orange because it’s been seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes.
I’m sitting across from John Gibson, the President and one of the founders of Tripwire Interactive. He looks like an ordinary guy, but I know that he is one of the first indie developers to become a huge success. He’s having a discussion about game development to developers at Two Tribes. I’m distracted because there’s also a conversation down the table. Robin Walker, a charismatic person from Valve, is having a wild discussion about something that I can’t fully hear. Several Portal 2 ARG members are entranced by him, and the founders of Hidden Path Entertainment, who are sitting next to me, are also listening intently.
I’m sitting so close to these people. I could have stretched my arms and shook the hands of two CEOs at the same time. It’s something that will never happen again in my life, I don’t think.
John asks if Two Tribes has another project in the queue. The developers know that there’s others present at the table and these are corporate secrets, and they acknowledge it but do not go into further details. But John seems excited, and he wants to help the developers. “We’ve decided to start working on Killing Floor 2,” he says. He doesn’t even look at me when he says it.
For a second, I think that John Gibson is trolling me. The co-founder of Tripwire just leaked his next unannounced game when I was sitting next to him. There are no other Portal 2 ARG members near me, and no members of the press are invited to this event. I ask John if he was serious… Killing Floor 2 was a real thing? John Gibson shifts his eyes jokingly as if he was a covert operative.
“Ummm… No,” he says suddenly with a slight grin.
“I won’t tell anybody,” I say earnestly. It wasn’t a super huge secret, since Killing Floor was a major hit for Tripwire. The game was showing its age as it was still using a modified Unreal Tournament 2004 game engine, and it was a matter of time before Tripwire would announce, at the very least, a remake with a modern game engine.
But it was a secret and I didn’t want to betray him. However, when you have a secret, it’s like a hot coal burning in your heart. It’s like you know something forbidden and it’s really exciting. There must be hundreds if not thousands of game journalists and I knew something that they didn’t.
Years pass and my time in Bellevue, Washington becomes more dreamlike. The secret is no longer a hot coal, but it’s just a pile of warm ashes in my chest. I begin to doubt if any of it was real. Maybe John Gibson was just saying that to start a conversation. It’s also possible that they could have canceled the game. But there’s something about game development that I know from past reports: Video games often take years to complete. It wouldn’t be implausible that they would be working on it for three years.
On Thursday, May 8, 2014, Tripwire Interactive releases a major press release to PC Gamer. Fans have speculated that Killing Floor 2 was coming as they had been hinting at it for several days. Now everybody in the world knew for certain. The secret in my chest was down to a single glowing ember yesterday, but I’m glad that I held onto it. I’m really glad that it turned out to be true.