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.
Doug Lombardi: Uh, I wouldn't comment any further on the physics puzzle that we've alluded to! As far as firsts, I mean, to me it's a combination of a lot of the stuff that we've learned, and then moving forward and bringing it together in a lot of ways. In Episode 1 we really concentrated a lot on Alyx, and making that experience of her really tight. [Yes, these were the actual words used - sorry, couldn't resist]. In Episode 2 we're sort of on a grander scale, a more epic scale, similar more to Half-Life 2 more than Episode 1, where we're moving through lots of different environments, lots of different environments that you haven't seen before, each one has its own style of gameplay, whether you're underground in the Antlion tunnel system, or driving through with Alyx. So I think it's a combination of things rather than one big piece, and I think that the reaction from people who've played it so far is like, there's way more story here than I was anticipating, you are revealing more than we anticipated, and it's more varied and yet densely populated than we expected. I don't know if that answers your question but that's how I would encapsulate the experience and what we have achieved without giving away spoilers or what have you.
Kikizo: If you were to put yourself in a George Lucas position, when people ask George Lucas if he's going to make a third trilogy of the Star Wars franchise, he gives a definitive no. After Episode 3 comes out, do you see life for Half-Life beyond this current iteration?
Gabe: Yeah. Sure. I think there are a lot of thing that we want to do with the story, characters and so on, that we haven't done yet.
Kikizo: And there'll be plenty of new hardware to do it on.
Gabe: Yes. Regarding George Lucas, I would have stopped after the first trilogy, released everything to the mod community and let them do the stories. I think we would have been a lot happier with fan-created stories than with the [new] trilogy that he put out. Or at least put out all the models and the sets, so that people could do an alternate version of the first trilogy.
Kikizo: What is the coolest creature in Episode 2 that we haven't seen yet? And you've got interaction between enemy monsters now as well, how does that work?
Gabe: The hunter is the coolest. It's so much fun to play against. In terms of how it plays they're much more coordinated and work as a team against you, so that makes it more fun because you tend to have to think both in the immediate moment as well as more tactically as if you're fighting a squad of creatures.
Kikizo: Can you comment generally on how you've improved your technology since Episode 1, which added HDR lighting?
Gabe: There's shadow mapping, there's improved bump mapping on static props, to make everything look more realistic. There's particle systems, advanced facial animation systems... a bunch of stuff. We have commentary as well, we have over two and a half hours of new content to put out between Portal, TF2 and Ep2.
Jason Mitchell: One of the advantages of this episodic approach to releasing games is it gives us the opportunity to release incremental updates to the game engine itself more frequently. We've done a variety of things, and just since the release of Episode 1 last year. For example we're now releasing simultaneously on PC and consoles, which we're compiling from the same code base. And that includes a lot of multi-core optimisations for those trends you see on the PC as well as the architectures of the consoles. We're focussing on a bit more expansive outdoor environments in Episode 2, in particular more foliage rendering, and we're using some advanced hardware features called alpha-to-coverage, and this refers to the idea of being able to, in the pixel shaders specifically, determine the level of coverage of a given pixel, when you're using a hardware multi-sample anti-aliasing. I can go more technical if you're interested?
Kikizo: I think the audience might be!
Jason: Got it! So generally, at the edges of polygons, the hard edges of geometry, that's where multi-sample anti-aliasing kicks in so things like foliage like a tree, we're able to specify in the texture map, how much a pixel is covered, using in this case the alpha channel of that texture map. So we're able to actually specify much more fine detail in our foliage, and it's also just much better anti-aliased than you traditionally see on foliage in games. This is all new to Episode 2.
Kikizo: I noticed that in one sort of cut-scene in Episode 2, the camera escapes Gordon's eyes for the first time that I can remember, you previously said you weren't going to do this because it means the player feels more like they're Gordon? What's the thinking here?
Gabe: Uh... consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds? [laughs]. I don't know! It seems to work for us so we're sort of happy with bending our own rules!
Doug: It happened in Half-Life 2; Alyx woke you up at the very beginning and you were ambushed, the camera left for five seconds, but this was about ten seconds.