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The First Non-Valve Game on Steam was Weird as Hell

'Rag Doll Kung Fu,' the first game on Steam not developed by Valve, showed that the platform was great for small, weird games.

by Ian Birnbaum
Jun 5 2018, 12:00pm

Steam, the online PC games storefront that dominates the games industry, catches a lot of flak around here. Whether it's Steam's parent company, Valve, and its bumbling and inconsistent approach to community management, the hundreds of hate groups that fill the site, or the rampant abuse of free assets by content farmers pumping out garbage games to make some money.

But it wasn't always this way. In the first installment of the new documentary series, People Make Games, host Chris Bratt tells the story of Rag Doll Kung Fu. An experimental game that used ragdoll physics to fling cartoon ninjas into all-out brawls, Rag Doll Kung Fu was created as a side project by Mark Healey, a senior artist at Lionhead and founder of Media Molecule, the studio behind Little Big Planet. Healey showed off a prototype of his game at Game Developers Conference 2006 and so impressed members of Valve that they flew him to Seattle, introduced him to Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, and offered him a $10,000 advance to sell the game via Steam. Rag Doll Kung Fu became the first non-Valve game to be sold and distributed over Steam, setting the stage for Steam's global dominance in the PC marketplace.

It was also, if we're being honest, a great example of the good things that Valve did with Steam. The very concept of weird, small games—made by a couple of people and sold for a few dollars—defined indie gaming as a movement. Finding a delightfully weird indie game is one of the best things about video games and Steam made that experience more available to more people.