Summary: Valve' Doug Lombardi tells us at FiringSquad why their first chapter in their episodic first person shooter will be worth the $20.
FiringSquad: Now that Half-Life 2: Episode One is done, how does Valve feel about its first entry into the episodic game genre?
Doug Lombardi: Great. All the people who worked on Episode One (and those working on Episode Two) have a renewed enthusiasm for game design. With Half-Life 2, folks were slogging through development for several years. And, while we knew it would be worth it one day, there were several stretches when folks felt like it might go on forever. Working on this trilogy of episodes, we’ve been able to get to functioning prototypes and begin playtesting much faster. This has allowed the designers to realize more immediate feedback, which has fueled the process and lead us to a more polished experiences.
FiringSquad: How is creating a game that is designed to be played in a short amount of time different than creating a game that is designed to be played in 12 hours or more?
Doug Lombardi: During the development of Half-Life 2, which spanned almost six years and over $30 million, we all agreed that we needed to find a way to get games to our community faster than every 5 or 6 years. With the success of Steam and the lessons we learned by constantly developing our multiplayer games, it seemed natural that we could take the same approach with single player projects. Before Half-Life 2 was released, the decision was made to deliver the next installment of this story in episodic form instead of heading off for six years to build Half-Life 3. So instead we will begin delivering the follow up just 18 months after Half-Life 2, and conclude with the third episode in a much more timely fashion.
FiringSquad: How does the storytelling of Half-Life 2: Episode One differ from creating a full game?
Doug Lombardi: From the creation standpoint, it’s much easier to develop the story and plot via Episodic releases, as the focus is tighter by default. And since each of the HL2 Episodes are being created by a single development team, the story flow will be more cohesive as it’s the work of a single body and not the collaboration of separate teams attempting to merge the different chapters after years of working separately. We are, however, keeping a very close eye on the overall story flow as we advance folks from City 17 to the adventures that lie outside the City in Episodes Two and Three.
FiringSquad: Since Episode 1 continues the storyline from Half-Life 2, how hard was it to make this first chapter a solid continuation of the first game yet still have enough to get people to want to have the second episode?
Doug Lombardi: The story goals for Episode One were simply that: To resolve some of the open items of Half-Life 2, and launch the three-part adventure that takes us beyond City 17. Since the time in which all of this takes place is more or less continuous, it was a fairly straightforward process.
FiringSquad: Many folks enjoyed the physics puzzles in Half-Life 2. Are there any puzzles like that in Episode One?
Doug Lombardi: Absolutely. We learned a lot from the player feedback on Half-Life 2, and in Episode One we’ve attempted to give the player and the NPCs more options and opportunities to manipulate the physically simulated environment.
Doug Lombardi: Folks will find the action sequences in Episode One are not only plentiful but also constructed with greater complexity than in previous Half-Life games. The introduction of a very strong accomplice (Alyx) has allowed us to place Freeman in the middle of multi-layered combat scenarios – scenarios in which both he and Alyx must make quick decisions and play an active role if they wish to advance.
FiringSquad: How hard is it to craft an ending for Episode One that will make people want to have Episode Two?
Doug Lombardi: It has been designed as a Trilogy since the start. So, the teams working on Episode One and Episode Two have been in very close communication regarding the continuity between these two episodes and the final episode in this series.
FiringSquad: What sort of graphical improvements will Episode One have over the original Half-Life 2?
Doug Lombardi: With each of the episodes in the trilogy, we will advance the story and leverage the latest technology while also introducing new technology driven by the creation of said episode. In Episode One, we will be utilizing the HDR lighting tech introduced in Lost Coast, and the film grain and color correction technology introduced in Day of Defeat: Source.
In addition, we’ve expanded the Commentary system, and Episode One will contain over 100 commentary nodes (versus the dozen or so in Lost Coast). The near-constant presence of Alyx throughout the Episode has driven the creation of two and half times as many animations for Alyx as were created for Half-Life 2. And we’ve updated the Source facial animation system to provide her with an even broader emotional palette. These, and other improvements being introduced for Episode One, will be added and made available for MOD authors and Source licensees via the next Source SDK update.
FiringSquad: Valve will once again use Steam as a way to distribute Episode One. Do you expect that this product will have even more digital downloads than Half-Life 2 did?
Doug Lombardi: Right now, there are over 8 million registered Steam accounts. And, with each new game made available via Steam, we’ve seen that number grow along with customer transactions and overall Steam activity. As with Half-Life 2, however, Episode One will also be made available at retail and we’re hoping to see strong sales via Steam as well as at retail outlets.
FiringSquad: Finally, what's next for Valve beyond the Half-Life 2 episodic games? Will there be future editions of the company's multiplayer games (CS: Source, Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, etc) or will Valve concentrate on all new projects?
Doug Lombardi: We’re working hard on the trilogy. Like Episode One, both Episodes Two and Three will be stand alone products (do not require Half-Life 2 to run). They will offer four to six new hours of new single player gaming, and be priced around $20.
In addition, and more near term, we have two new maps and engine upgrades coming for Day of Defeat: Source in mid to late June. And we’re on our 15th or 16th update for CS: Source, with more CS: Source content releases coming via Steam later this year.
Beyond that, please stay tuned.
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