Half-Life 2: Episode One
These Days, Its all talk of wide vistas and Strider-busters, but not long ago we were more than content with sitting in a burnt-out car and being thrown into a monstrosity of sci-fi by a happy robot dog. With this in mind, we camped in Valve's garden for a while until David Speyrer, and Marc Laidlaw ran out with a cricket bat shouting obscenities at us. Thankfully, when they saw it was us they calmed down, came into our tent for a little while and spoke of all things episodic. Otherwise it could have been a mite nasty.
Laidlaw: "Because these games take place in real-time, it doesn't matter how big the back-story is. You have to ask yourself: 'Just how much can we tell about this thing in a one-minute scene?' We have a lot of story, but we can't ever come right out and tell you. You get a little glimpse of it when you're playing the game and hopefully that plays on and on in your mind - figuring out what the connections are between all these different things, and as time goes by the story unfolds and some of those things you speculated about will be confirmed. The pace of development means that we have to do these things in a slow fashion in terms of unrolling the entire story - but in terms of the timing of the story itself, it's all taking place in a matter of hours. It's one of those things that's wired into the foundation of the game".
Fasten Your Seatbelt:
Speyrer: "Someone will throw out a crazy idea and we'll go, 'That's crazy...' Then someone else says: 'You know, I think we might be able to do that'."
Laidlaw: "So developers might come up with an idea like 'Let's pick up the van and throw the van across!' You respond by saying: 'Well, I don't have anything better than that. I can't top it!' Then it turns into a secret thing: 'We're going to try and get this in, because if I tried to describe it to you, you'd say it was absolutely insane.' Then they'll go off and quietly build the pieces for it."
Laidlaw: "Stalkers have been around for a long time. They were one of the earliest creatures put into HL2, and we tried them in a bunch of gameplay environments. Initially, they were something that crouched down in the dark and followed you from behind; you'd turn around and see them there. We had all kinds of gameplay, but it turned out to be devoid of fun. We used them in puzzles where they could cut through sheet metal with their beams, stuff like that. It was all really scripted and stagey, so we ended up aiming for more of an emotional quality with them, to make them more of a story element."
The Naming Of The Zombine:
Laidlaw: "We always have this issue in our games - we come up with a name for a creature, but then have to tell the gamer. I mean, how do you expose it through the characters? The team of level designers and developers are constantly dealing with this, and they had the idea that Alyx should go through the whole name-coining process we go through when we come up with a bad name for something -like a bad pun. Tliat was just a cool incident: the team who were working on it wrote the scene. Myself and the writing team then came into it and got the pacing and the lines just right, and it ended up being the episode's most memorable part for a lot of people."
Alyx's Zombie Impression:
Laidlaw: "I've got two writing partners who took over 'response rules'. This is the concept where halfway between level design and script, there's an area where we can influence one or two of the lines while we're playing the game, and do some pretty subtle stuff with it For instance, when we were in the studio in session with the actress playing Alyx, I had the idea of her imitating a zombie. So we had the actress do some sounds for it, and those .wav files sat in our bin for a long time. Then I just kept saying: 'Can we hook those up?'
"It all works according to rules in the environment: is the player in combat? How long has it been between combat moments? Are you doing anything else that's important? What direction are you looking? So that's going to be a different experience for every player. Some players will never create the perfect conditions for it to happen, and that's the kind of storytelling we really want to do more and more of - not just as a joke, but finding out how much of the story we can unfold in that way."
Laidlaw: "We'd been playing around with particle stuff for HL2 - like rain and snow. Tliat was to give the impression of this constant burning really high up. I remember being in San Francisco with the Oakland fire, and I remember the ash dropping down out of the sky for days after that. You could see the fire across the bay - we had a page out of a cookbook that landed and had been carbonised."
Speyrer: "I remember the reference that they were using for that whole art pass; the orange ruddy light. And it was all mostly from forest fires - how the sun filters through those clouds of smoke."
Train Ride From Hell:
Speyrer: "We were talking about the dynamic range of emotion that our characters can convey, and we hadn't really done anything super-big in terms of an emotional reaction from a character in HL2. The acting system from a technology standpoint was new to us, so we didn't know - we tried to play it safe and succeed in what we knew we could succeed at in terms of emotional expression. Then in Episode One, we wanted to see a character really freaking out, getting truly terrified."
Laidlaw: "It was really hard to get the balance right. People talk about the Zombine joke, but that was the key scene for us - showing what it takes to scare Alyx. We tried a lot of different versions of that scene."
Speyrer "At the end of HL2 we had a grab-bag of ideas, and we used it to seed what we decided to work on for Episode One. One of the things from that was just a line: 'Friendly sniper'. It got picked, then of course we had to do all these permutations of how we could help and co-operate with this friendly sniper. I'm really glad we did keep track of those ideas, as they're always really valuable.''
The Episodic Rise Of The Vortigaunt:
Speyrer. "Early storyline decisions were to have them all involved in the city, integrated into human society and kept in place by the Combine. We were never able to get the resources to get any of this to work though, what with all the city combat."
Laidlaw: "There were hardly any Vortigaunts in the city in HL2, so we were like, 'OK, they're all outside of the city' - and there's a reason they're all there. So as we move out of the city, we can finally bring the Vortigaunts in and play up their role in the world. So that's another example of how we keep story elements hanging out there, until finally the time is right to really develop it."
Speyrer: "In the original HL2 there's a dead Vortigaunt in the prison who looks like he's been tortured to death. Well, in late HL2 development, he was alive. He was just sitting in his cell: you would let him out and he'd start running around fighting antlions with you. Everyone thought it was really cool, but it was too late to bite off all that work; making him an ally, making him play the game alongside you. We bookmarked it as something we should be doing, as we will in Episode Two. We always thought the Vort would be a fruitful character to develop."
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode