As it turns out, Half-Life 2’s Laszlo has a really interesting backstory. And that’s over and above the fact that he is the finest mind of his generation.
Step aside Gordon Freeman, with your stupid little Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator and uncanny ability to quite literally save the universe – it’s now Laszlo’s time to shine. He’s the real star of the show, the puppeteer working behind the scenes.
Okay, not really, but he still has some cool facts about him. Here’s what we know.
First off, maybe you need a reminder of who Laszlo is (of course, that’s extremely unlikely – this is Laszlo we’re talking about after all). In Half-Life 2’s Sandtraps chapter Gordon stumbles across a pair of Rebels, one crouched on a rock and another squirming around in a pool of his own blood, dangerously close to perishing. Meet Sandy and Laszlo! Laszlo is the half-dead one.
As you approach, the aptly-named Sandy yells at you not to step on the sand because the antlions will show up and yeet all present parties. Especially poor Laszlo, who is hanging on by a thread as it is.
So you have a few options. You can be a douche and step on the sand anyway, triggering a swarm of antlions which will do as was foretold and cause a very angry Sandy to call you an idiot. Not very nice! Alternatively, you can not step on the sand, but then Laszlo being the squirming genius he is triggers the antlions anyway. Option number three is to be a hero and get the jump on the antlions to kill them before they can kill poor Laszlo.
First fun fact: the only weapon that lets you kill the antlions before they get Laszlo is the trusty hand grenade. If you time it just right, you can wipe the pests out and (somehow?) leave Laszlo unscathed. So it turns out you can actually save him after all!
But fun fact number two is that, tragically, it seems that Laszlo was always destined to die. Literally though, his death is scripted. So even if you manage to clear the antlions just in time, moments later Laszlo spazzes out as his delicate life is snuffed out, just like that. It is as Valve designers Marc Laidlaw and Moby Francke always intended. But if you want, you can tell yourself it was the inevitable after-effect of the grenade that literally just went off in his lap.
Sandy then delivers the famous line “Dear God! Poor Laszlo! The finest mind of his generation, come to such an end!” Completely defeated, Sandy expresses the pointlessness of life without his pal and tells Gordon to go on without him, because there is “something [he] has to do.” We never do find out what that something is, though.
The Origins Of Laszlo
This whole sequence is a really great example of a tutorial being introduced to players in a completely natural, lore-friendly way (Half-Life games have a lot of those). It turns out that the developers actually spent a lot of time brainstorming it before settling upon what you see in the final game.
The first idea was apparently to have a Rebel standing on a rock, telling Gordon to “Stay off the sand or the antlions’ll hear you!” Agreed, that would have been too boring for Valve. Next up, they once again put a Rebel on a rock and made him say, “Poor Tobias, he forgot the antlions could hear him if he stepped on the sand.” Sounds a bit too robotic (although another fun fact is that Laszlo’s model animation is still labelled “Tobias”). So the team eventually settled upon Laszlo and his unfortunate, inevitable demise.
As a hilarious tribute to Laszlo, his creator Marc Laidlaw later mentioned him in one of the weird tweets he sent out from the mysterious and transient BreenGrub Twitter account a few years ago. Amongst his fevered ramblings is one tweet, which reads: “The finest minds are stored and then imprinted, replicated over and over on an endless supply of hosts… Laszlo is in here somewhere.”
A New Identity
Did you know that Laszlo was originally planned to feature in Half-Life: Alyx too? At one stage, the devs thought he could be the guy responsible for guiding Alyx through her eponymous game which takes place before the events of Half-Life 2. However after further refinement, the character eventually morphed into none other than Russel.
But traces of this concept still made it into the final game, in the form of a password scribbled on a notepad in Russell’s lab, reading “lazl0.” He is apparently also called “lazlo” in Half-Life: Alyx’s game files. I’m pretty bummed that Laszlo didn’t quite make the cut, though. How trippy would that have been?
Finally, there was originally going to be even more Laszlo content in Half-Life: Alyx in the form of a bonus chapter. The G-Man was going to task the player with saving Laszlo from his antlion-y doom, subsequently altering the course of history, and unlocking the achievement “Greatest Mind of his Generation.” That idea was scrapped too, though, because it apparently had too much of a comical tone for the game. How tragic!
Regardless, Laszlo will live on forever in the hearts of die-hard Half-Life fans everywhere. Rest in peace, good man – hopefully there are no antlions wherever you are.
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