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Old 01-25-2012, 02:07 PM   #2
Lilgreenman
 
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Valve's Story-Telling Process + Episode Three

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
Thank you for writing Brad...We prefer to address such questions through the games themselves. But you are in luck. These are some pretty hefty questions so bear with me as I try my best to address them for you.

Understand, firstly, that Half-Life 2 and the Episodes were not projects that we had originally planned to pursue. On both occasions our decisions were based off of consumer feedback, and our own personal evaluation following each game’s release. Upon release, we were not expecting the sheer scale of critical acclaim that Half-Life 1 was to receive. We had never conclusively determined beforehand whether or not we should pursue a sequel. As such, we decided to finish that game’s story with something relatively open-ended. It was an ending that did not necessarily scream the need for a sequel, but one which left the door open for it should we have decided we wanted to pursue it. Which we did. In answer to your first question, no, we have not had Half-Life’s story fleshed out since day one. We had ideas, inclinations, and concepts but certainly nothing distinct or concrete. For example, we knew that ultimately, sequel or no sequel, something far worse lay beyond Nihilanth, and we very subtly highlighted that on several occasions throughout the game. But make no mistake; we had no idea that it was going to be the Combine that would be that greater foe. So no, we had not worked out any particulars beforehand. You might recall that Half-Life 2 went through a number of design iterations before we managed to solidify its narrative.

You say that the consensus is that our silence regarding Episode Three is due to our inability or difficulty in writing up a suitable story for the game? I admit I find that rather perplexing. When we had completed the final story for Half-Life 2, and when we decided to under-take the prospect of delivering episodic content to our audience, we knew that moving the story along in denser packages called for a more refined process. Issues needed to be addressed. Questions needed to be addressed. Answers needed to be given. We began writing a rough draft for the Episodes in very early 2005. We had a direction we wanted to take, an overarching story we wanted to tell, and very specific questions we wanted to resolve.

Telling a story in context with the gameplay we want to explore does not always work. Our medium has a great deal many more restrictions than, say, a book or a film. Books, for example, have no such external variables. With a game, you need a perfect equilibrium between the story you are telling and the gameplay you are offering. That is a complicated and constantly evolving task for us. We have a Bible of sorts. We know now all about the most important things in our story. So, no, in that sense I suppose we do not make it up as we go along. As I said, however, the story does not always bode well with what we want to deliver in terms of gameplay. The uncertainty is in our ability to move the greater story along in relation to that. That is where the difficulties lie.

Your fears about our ability to write and deliver the final chapter of the story for the arc are unfounded. We have had this particular story fleshed out since before Episode One was released. Our ‘silence’ as you have opted to call it has nothing to do with the story we have written.

Now, your next question. I believe I answered this before through an email. I am not certain whether that was you or not. Perhaps I am wrong. You can sort of get lost in the countless emails that arrive daily badgering you for information you just cannot divulge. Half-Life 1 is very much a part of this singular over-arching story that we are currently telling. However, I can see why a number of people may feel differently. Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 are two very different games fundamentally. There is a drastic difference in setting, characters, and technology. But they are very much directly and prominently related, and I hope that will become clearer for you as time goes on. In the end, does making such a distinction really matter? I suppose it depends on those people whose opinions on this matter are preferable to them. If people wish to see Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2 as being separate story-arcs than I see very little reason to discredit them because it is ultimately irrelevant in the context of the games.

As to your third question. I am sorry, Brad, but I cannot talk about Episode Three, I am afraid. Nor do I wish to cause any confusion among the fans. We tend to confine explaining these things within the actual games as opposed to emails. In the end, they have to speak for themselves. Rest assured, however, that Episode Three is bringing to a close a great many aspects of the story that has been lingering on for the past - oh, I don't know – decade or so. I sincerely hope that it will be worth it for you. Until then, hang on tight. I hope I have been able to calm some of your overly stimulated craniums. In the meantime, this is where I get off.

Best wishes. Marc Laidlaw.
Repercussions of Killing Eli


Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
We wanted to make sure that whatever the repercussions were, they would be meaningful for the other characters. Eli is a central figure for so many of the characters in our world...he's basically the father of the resistance. Yes, Gordon is an important figure in the resistance, too, but he dies all the time. We knew we could kill anyone in the series and it would have been meaningless unless there was someone in the game who could mourn for them--someone whose grief the player could experience vicariously. The people who say they cried when Eli died--I'd be surprised if they actually cried at the moment of the animation of his death. I think the visceral reaction occurs when you hear Alyx pleading. That part still gets to me because it is a very raw emotion and it gets past my guard. After working with Merle Dandridge for so many years, we were sure she would do something amazing with the scene. That confidence was another reason for the choice we made.
Breen's Final Words

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
He could be talking to Gordon or the Combine...or maybe both. Anyway, he's bargaining.
Characterisation Realism

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
We try to draw strong relationships between the characters; making each one part of a believable network of family and friends (and rivals) makes it easier for players to relate to them. Characters in weaker science-fiction stories often seem flimsy because they're solitary heroic figures without parents, siblings or ordinary relationships.

Character-driven drama depends on social context, status transactions, how they relate to other people in their world. We also assume our characters have spent their whole life in this world - especially Alyx, who grew up surrounded by headcrabs and Vortigaunts. The crazy SF details are just ordinary obstacles to them - still full of potential threats and surprises, as in our own world, but with a grim internal logic."
Half-Life Movie

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
This project always crashes up against the hard reality that Gordon Freeman is a cipher - a Teflon conduit for the player's senses. As soon as you try to turn him into an actual character separate from the player's will, he loses whatever it is that makes him an interesting first-person-game protagonist.

Anybody from outside Valve who gets a hold of the project instantly turns Gordon Freeman into the perfect starring vehicle for that week's top celebrity, and the arbitrary changes just get worse from there. Even if Valve make the movie independently, we would have to solve the Freeman character dilemma - but at least I believe we would solve it in such a way that it would be true to the rest of our vision.

The first Half-Life movie treatment pitched to us climaxed with a tearful reunion between enslaved Vortigaunts and their Vortiwives and children. The last one I saw had Black Mesa invaded by a cavalry unit, just so as to feature a scene of bullsquids tearing into armoured horses... Which I admit is sort of cool, but has nothing to do with Half-Life."
Marc's Role in Valve

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
What I do here has changed over the years. Every game has different needs–including the amount of writing. Half-Life was the game I first worked on, and there was very little in the way of written dialog, but a great deal of working with the team to imbue the game with the feel of a narrative. With Half-Life 2 we had the ability to develop well-rounded characters, so the writing and storytelling got more complex as we tried to figure out how to merge strong characters into a first-person action game with a mute protagonist. Half-Life 2’s script that was 10 times longer than HL1’s. In the following episodes (HL2 Episode 1 and 2), the games were much shorter but also more dense–so the scripts for those rivaled the script for the full HL2. I wrote lots and lots of dialog, but only after we had figured out how to make the game itself support a strong story…so there were a lot of story design jobs that did not involve writing per se. I can’t really say much about what I’m working on now, but the writing challenges continue to be varied.
Development of Narrative with HL1 and HL2


Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
In the first game, I arrived midway through the project, and my job was mainly to take an existing story with many loose ends and arrange the pieces in such a way that they created a convincing illusion of narrative. The second time around, we tried to have an end in sight from the beginning. But of course, everything changes along the way, and you’re always surprised at where you end up.
Inspirations for Creating Gordon Freeman

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
Well, we knew generally that he was supposed to be a scientist, and this was immediately an interesting and appealing challenge as a writer. Really, the only other examples we had in the games at the time were like the Quake marine and Duke Nukem, so it was pretty easy to find something that wasn't one of those. It seemed like a pretty obvious thing to do since we were doing a science-fiction game. There's this scientist, he's not perfect, and there's a disaster, and it's all going to be the fault of the scientist. There was no shading about maybe you're doing these things because you're encouraged to or things have been set up to go against you. So, I think we didn't want to do a big backstory about the guy, we wanted to kind of leave it blank.

Then we decided to take a look at sort of heroic scientific figures. The name Freeman Dyson came up, and Gabe had already come up with the name Gordon. We played around with silly names like Dyson Pont Carre and silly stuff like that, but we ended up with Gordon Freeman. The main thing was not to put too much detail into really specific things about this character because we always wanted the player to help create who he was. We had a resume of sorts to help explain what he was doing there, which was why we came up with M.I.T. and Seattle and the University of Innsbruck and these things that we kind of dispersed as little bits of information about Gordon. But the main thing was that we just tried to stay out of the way.

It was even sort of a sad thing when we had to do a multiplayer model and show Gordon, or when we had to have his image on the box or the launcher. I remember that there was a review, and I totally sympathize with it, that talked about the level of disappointment that the reviewer felt when they actually saw Gordon Freeman on the game's launcher screen. You don't really want to take it this far, you just want to be this person and kind of imagine, like in a dream. What do you look like in a dream? Well, you want that to be what this character looks like.

He's become a visually iconic figure, but the original intention was more idealized, that it would be cool if we didn't show Gordon at any time, we'd just let the player create their own. I mean, we tell you that you're a scientist, but we don't do a lot of work to convince you that you're actually doing science in the game. That's sort of a tease, that we have Gordon involved in another experiment after the last one he did didn't turn out too well.
Half-Life Sequels

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
The first game was really totally self-contained. The idea that we were going to do a sequel to it... I'm really sequel averse in my own work. I think we thought that we'd do this, then we'd create a whole new world, we'd go and do something else. That didn't take into account the fact that Half-Life was going to be a success. We were prepared to let go of it and try something new. Initially Half-Life was supposed to be this quickie FPS that would give the company a resume and get us on our feet to do whatever the real thing was that we were going to do. We could learn some stuff doing this, then we'd do some other thing.

So, one of the problems in embarking on Half-Life 2 was that Half-Life was this hermetic world, and it says nothing about the world outside of Black Mesa. Whatever we were going to come up with was going to be totally arbitrary. Fortunately, in that seed of Half-Life, there were some really recognizable things, like the science team. We were in this situation that we could make a world from scratch and basically do a totally new thing, but we had these transportable elements. As long as we had the core science team and this Kleiner guy and these characters from Black Mesa, you could put them anywhere and it's still going to feel like Half-Life. They're like a family for Gordon, they give him social context and they make you feel like you're continuing this adventure, even though it's in the middle of a bunch of aliens you've never heard of before. We worked hard to convince you that this is a struggle that we had hinted at in the first game.

It's always like that. I think even if you set out to do a sequel, you get the most mileage out of the things that were planted in the first one and weren't really intended to go anywhere. After a while, you'll go "Oh, we put this in here and it wasn't meant for this, but it's the perfect thing to extend the story." There are little seeds that grow. As we went on, we looked at things from the first game that were just perfect for ripening and making something out of them episodes later. There's also sort of a fun satisfaction of making these pieces feel like they were inevitable from the start, to go back to these earlier elements and weave them all back into the larger picture.

We've always tried to take that world into account. These things happened, and that's how they happened, and we're not going to try to say they didn't just so we can do something farther out with the story. So we kind of have to play by those rules that we established.

Obivously, if you were still looking at the same aliens from the original game at the end of the episodes where we are now, it would be sort of tedious, so we tried to suggest that there's a larger universe of stuff out there. You're still in that universe, but there's a lot of stuff that you just didn't get to see before.
Supporting Characters

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
Well, there's always a lot more we could do with the characters. We haven't announced any plans for that, but the lives of all of those characters, especially for those of us who have been living with them for a long time, are much more complicated than what we could fit in a game. There's always going to be stuff we wish we could do with them, and if the opportunity came up, I'm sure we'd like to do that provided we could do it in a game. The really clever thing about it is that, and this was Gabe's idea originally, was that when we were looking at doing a sequel to Half-Life, and how to do expanision packs, the typical thing would be to have just done a sequel. He hit on this sort of Alexandria quartet type of idea where we give these characters the "Rashomon" treatment and tell the same story from the perspectives of the different characters.

What was great about that is that Gearbox was able to reuse the exact same textures and models and everything from Half-Life, but just concentrate on the gameplay and narrative elements, so they wouldn't go into an area that we weren't ready to go into yet. The whole timeline beyond Half-Life was pretty scary for us, as we were trying to figure just where we wanted to go with it. It was a really clever reuse of resources, and it kept it consistent with the universe. We're kind of in a different zone right now, trying to make sure it all fits.

That's one reason we've taken on the episodes by ourselves, rather than turn them into an expansion pack for a third-party company. We wanted to make these episodes indispensible and really advance the story with major parts of the plot and put the characters through changes. Half-Life 2 set the groundwork for these changes, but one game itself in the time it takes is just not enough to show change in a character.

We're very careful about how we advance these pieces. It's harder to say that we're going to just peel off these characters and go do separate games with them. We like the element of careful control and attention to detail on how we develop them. From my point of view, a lot of it has to do with what we do with these characters. Obviously we could take game elements and other people could say "Okay, I want Alyx fighting robots on the moon." I don't really see Alyx in that kind of struggle, but maybe there's a game there!
Beyond Episode Three

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
It's an open universe. I don't think the universe necessarily comes to an end at any point. I mean, the jump from Half-Life to Half-Life 2 was still "Half-Life," but we got to perform this act of world creation, which was really exciting. We've been in that world for a long time now, and building worlds is something I really love to do. I think a lot of people here are like that. Hopefully there will be a transition similar to that, sort of like a rejuvenation or a reinvention, even if we're continuing with more "Half-Life" it's going to have some kind of new world creation involved in it. Whether the world we build is called Half-Life 3 or some completely new thing, where we take what we've learned about storytelling and do it in a new IP, I don't know. Right now, we're just trying to do the right thing by Half-Life and we hope people are happy with that.
Vortigaunt Slaves

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
The vortigaunts were related to the Nilhilanth, as indicated by their vestigial chest-arms, which is why it had a particular ability to control them. The Nih., the alien grunts and the vorts were all from the same world. That doesn't mean there aren't enemy vortigaunts however. Pretty much everything you encounter in the Combine's domain potentially exists in a Combine-coopted and a natural, non-coopted form.
Episode One Intro

Quote:
Originally Posted by Marc Laidlaw
It was intended to be Gordon's POV. As I recall, the idea behind that segment was that Gordon is sharing a vort's eye view of the events, as they nip back in time to extract you guys (somewhat messily) and then it all folds back into place again to catch you up.

Last edited by Lilgreenman: 01-25-2012 at 02:22 PM.
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