Gabe Newell Valve Interview - Orange Box

We sit down for a lengthy discussion with Valve Corp's MD and co-founder, Gabe Newell, ahead of the release of The Orange Box for PC and console.

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By Adam Doree

Our previous interview with Valve's Doug Lomrabdi focussed mostly on Half-Life 2 and its new episodes, like Episode Two, included in the awesome Orange Box next month.

This time, we sat down with Valve boss Gabe Newell (with some additional input from Doug as well as graphics architect Jason Mitchell) for the definitive interview on everything in The Orange Box, where Valve is at, why there's no Mac love, and what's coming next.

Kikizo: Let's start with Steam. Some have levelled it as a criticism that you can't sell something after you have purchased it like you can with a typical boxed game. From a commercial point of view - if you want it, you've got to buy it new - how significant an effect does this have on your revenue?

Gabe Newell: I think we always try to provide great value to customers. You know, I think everybody who bought, Counter-Strike has received all of the updates and free content for that, or people who buy Orange Box will get five games in a box, will say that they got value, and that's what we try to focus on.

Kikizo: People keep asking you about a potential Macintosh version, and your stance is that this is a strictly Windows project...?

Gabe: Well, we tried to have a conversation with Apple for several years, and they never seemed to... well, we have this pattern with Apple, where we meet with them, people there go "wow, gaming is incredibly important, we should do something with gaming". And then we'll say, "OK, here are three things you could do to make that better", and then they say OK, and then we never see them again. And then a year later, a new group of people show up, who apparently have no idea that the last group of people were there, and never follow though on anything. So, they seem to think that they want to do gaming, but there's never any follow through on any of the things they say they're going to do. That makes it hard to be excited about doing games for their platforms.

Kikizo: So you think it's all because of staff turnaround in their gaming department?

Gabe: I just don't think they've ever taken gaming seriously. And none of the things developers ask them to do are done. And as a result, there's no gaming market there to speak of. We'd love it if they would get serious about it. But they never have, and can't even follow trough on any of their commitments for game developers.

Five games in one

Kikizo: So would you say that the rumour that crops up every couple of years that Apple is about to do a big plan and release a console box, is basically bullshit?

Gabe: We've seen no evidence that they are able to follow through on even simple programs in the game space. It seems bizarre to me because it's like one of the biggest things holding them back in the consumer space. If you look at a Macintosh right now, it does a lot of things really well compared to a Vista PC, but there are no games. Why, I don't know. If I were a Macintosh product manager, it would be pretty high on my list, and a problem to get taken care of, as probably the number one thing holding them back with consumers.

Kikizo: Well that clears up the Mac issue. Now, you guys have always been improving your lobby systems, let's talk about Half-Life 2 in particular, I have to be honest I only recently delved into the online multiplayer aspects of Half-Life 2, what would you say as a new player going into the MP side of HL2 is the best thing to do, because I fired up the lobby and there's all these different things you can do, and most of them look like user-created levels, often full of young gamers, is there a guaranteed way to get a grown-up game that works, how a designer would make it?

Gabe: I think one of the things we've tried to do with the community services we've recently added is to allow you to have a group of people you want to play with. So for example in my case I'd to play with other people in my family, and the community service makes it a lot easier... like, my brother didn't have a Steam account, so I sent him an invite, which automatically pointed him to download Steam, and then we can schedule events to play together. So that's the kind of thing we're trying to do, to make it easier for you, and for me, to find people that you already want to play with, people you already know, and co-ordinate with them or get them involved with playing with you. That's the best way.

Kikizo: Let's move onto Portal then. I've got to say that anytime I've written about an FPS since E3, there are three that I mention, and one of them isn't Halo 3; I want to see ones that attempt to do something new, so there's TimeShift that's all about bending time and has some interesting stuff from that, and Fracture which is all about terrain deformation in a completely new way, and of course Portal, which is pretty mind bending. Do you think it's going to do big things for you, and could it have even been a standalone release in its own right?

Valve's Doug Lombardi and Gabe Newell

Gabe: I think part of the reason we are doing episodic releases and smaller content releases is to allow us to take some of the risk out of the schedule and instead put it into the gameplay. So Portal, if we'd said let's go out and spend five years building a hundred million dollar game, it would have been fairly scary to have both that financial risk along with the game design risk, but by focussing it in to the Orange Box, it allows us to take that risk. And I think it's as important, if not more important, than the inclusion of physics into the genre. After you play it, you'll say yes, this is something that really needs to be incorporated as part of the genre standard; it's way more interesting than having another ranged weapon or something which is what some games seem to be adding.

Kikizo: So just to clarify, the thing from Portal that you're saying should become standard in the genre is...?

Gabe: I think the use of the portals themselves, it adds too much to the genre to be left out. I have to ... what were the names of those two other games, Fracture and...? Yes, TimeShift. I have to go check those out. How does TimeShift compare with Blinx?

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