The recently revived Half-Life series is celebrating its 22nd birthday today, and it just so happens to line up with a strange stunt involving achievements in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Half-Life: Alyx, and even Left 4 Dead 2. Billionaire Valve co-founder Gabe Newell teased a combination charity drive/rocket launch experiment/Half-Life gag involving a certain gnome a little while ago, but now a reference to the event has made its way into people's Steam pages.
A new achievement called "Gnome Alone" was added to all three games in question last night, and the description sums up exactly what's going on. "If you are reading this achievement, Gabe Newell has successfully launched Gnome Chompski into space. If you did not also receive the achievement 'Manufacturing Ascent', Newell has abandoned his plans to shoot Noam Chomsky into space."
For those unfamiliar, the little garden gnome in question (named after the famed linguist and philosopher who, it seems, Newell isn't yeeting into orbit) first made an appearance in 2007's Half-Life 2: Episode Two. There's an Amelie-inspired achievement for picking up the gnome at the start of the game and bringing it all the way to the rocket at White Forest Base, an arduous task involving lots of item juggling and repeated cramming of the gnome into a crevice in Episode Two's muscle car. Similar challenges made their way into Alyx and Left 4 Dead 2 as well.
Mimicking the gnome's journey to space in Episode Two, the IRL rocket launch Newell has planned for Gnome Chompski is not merely a joke. As part of the payload on Rocket Lab's "Return to Sender" mission, a Weta Workshop-manufactured Chompski will hitch a ride on the rocket's Kick Stage. While the prime goal for Rocket Lab is to see the first stage of its (hopefully) reusable Electron rocket return to Earth safely, the gnome is a separate experiment: the titanium Chompski's journey and eventual burn-up on re-entry is a test for "a novel 3D printing technique that could be employed for future spacecraft components."
Newell, who has been enjoying life in New Zealand since the pandemic started, has pledged to donate $1 to Auckland's Starship Children's Hospital for each person who watches the launch live or within 24 hours of lift-off. Fans might not be able to get Newell to greenlight whatever Half-Life/Left 4 Dead/Ricochet sequel they desire, but they'll at least be able to make him give a bit more money to a good cause. Presumably, once Gnome Chompski is up and away, the corresponding achievements will unlock on Steam for everybody.
The launch, which has been pushed back a couple times due to weather conditions, is now scheduled to take place at around 5:45 p.m. PT / 8:45 p.m. ET today. Now, on top of the charity mission and contributions to science, it's even more of a fun tribute to Half-Life thanks to the timing. Really, we should all be glad we're not depending on the launch to stop a ruinous portal storm—Headcrabs are bad enough in VR.