On a recent trip to Germany to see Left 4 Dead, of which more soon, we sat down with Valve's VP of marketing Doug Lombardi to talk about things. Things like Portal, and whether we'll see an Orange Box 2. Like everyone at Valve, Doug's job title is a bit misleading; he does a broad range of things across the company, and has even - as he points out here - dabbled in development to some extent. He also plays Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead with us when we fly over to see Valve, which is nice of him (it's nice of him to let us win all the time, too). Anyway, enough being nice about Doug - here are a few selected excerpts from our discussion, with more to come when we're allowed to talk about what the developer was actually in Germany to show off...
Eurogamer: What's happening with Portal? Everyone's been wondering if this is the precursor to something bigger.
Doug Lombardi: There'll be more Portal for sure. We wanted to run it as a test to see if it was going to be a hit with gamers. We thought that it was really cool and that the humour was a good break, for us, from all the serious Counter-Strike and Half-Life oppression days, and six years of making Half-Life 2. It was fun to lighten up a bit and let Erik Wolpaw go do his thing, and bring all that great humour and let Jonathan Coulton to bring the song in. The test worked.
Thank you for the [Game of the Year] award and that great acknowledgement there. Right now we're trying to figure out how we make Portal a bigger experience. What does Portal multiplayer look like, perhaps? And what do we do besides what we made you do last time? We just don't want to pump out a bunch of new puzzles and say...you know they're just new maps, it's the same s*** you did last time. That wouldn't be us.
But, definitely, we've heard the feedback from yourselves and others: take this thing further, do more with it, teach me new tricks with the Portal gun. So we're working on that now.
Eurogamer: Obviously Half-Life 2: Episode Three is another big issue, so we need your 'official' answer to what the hell's going on with that right now.
Doug Lombardi: [Laughs] Gordon's our number one guy. The HEV suit put us on the map. In Episode One, I think we left people with some big question marks as to what the hell we were up to. After Episode Two, people said, "oh, it's going somewhere now". So we want to live up to the promise of where we're taking folks - where's the finale, or where's the next thing for Gordon - and there's a lot of work that's being done to make sure that we deliver on that promise and keep that franchise in its place, hopefully in the gaming hall of fame.
But exact details and stuff on Episode Three or what's next for Gordon are...a little way off. Probably months not weeks. We've never been the guys to say, "Oh, we've got to pump it out next year." We want to do it more frequently than we did between Half-Life 1 or Half-Life 2, but that doesn't mean that the schedules going to predict what we do versus what's right for the series.
Eurogamer: You obviously can't do The Orange Box 2...
Doug Lombardi: [Laughs]
Eurogamer: Presumably you'll just release Episode Three as a single standalone product this time?
Doug Lombardi: We'll see, we'll see. The idea of doing The Orange Box 2 seems kind of contrived. It happened the first time because the three [games] were on a collision course and a bunch of us were sitting around going "this could be a nightmare", and somebody kicked around the idea of putting them together.
We all punched it around a bit until we realised, wait, that's going to work. It's done really, really well for us. It's the biggest thing we've done since Half-Life 2. It was a new thing so we had no idea how to predict where it would end up. But the fact is, it's sort of in Half-Life 2's league in terms of the sales and the awards, and what-have-you. So, it was the right decision at the time, but that doesn't mean it's what we have to do every time. We don't have to do Orange Box 2 and Orange Box 3. Should projects line up again and they're of the same sort of size and weight...
I don't think Orange Box would've worked as a USD 99 product, right. I think that it would have been too much for people. Portal at four hours, TF2 as multiplayer-only, Episode Two at six, eight, ten hours or however long it took you. That felt right at fifty bucks, and throwing the other games in there pushed you over the edge with the value if you hadn't played those yet. Obviously a lot more people had played Half-Life 2 than Episode One, and on the consoles barely anybody played Half-Life 2 and nobody played Episode One, so that just made sense, you know?
Eurogamer: Have you considered getting a team to convert Half-Life 1 and its expansion packs to next generation standard and use those to flesh it out?
Doug Lombardi: It is, but it's a ton of work. It's a ton of work. I mean, go back and look at Opposing Force and take a look at Episode Two. It would be a monumental task... It would almost be easier to remake it from scratch, rather than trying to take it and move it forward and go back and touch up all the textures and add in HDR, rim lighting and physics and turn all those things on.
We'd love to be able to do it, but there are so many other projects we can wrap our heads around and get out the door. Right now we've got Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Portal, Day of Defeat, and now Left 4 Dead. You know, from one direction or another people, are asking for more of that stuff. To go back and say we're not going to move Portal forward until we go back and redo Opposing Force - people would cut our heads off! [Laughs]
So it's an interesting thing. And I love Opposing Force. I sort of got to play producer and marketing on that one at the time. That was when Valve was much smaller. I got to spend a lot of time in Dallas when Gearbox was getting started, when they were coming out of the Rebel Boat Rocker days. That was a great time, being able to hang out with Randy, Brian, Rob and all the other guys at Gearbox.
Eurogamer: And look at them now...
Doug Lombardi: Hey, I'm happy for them! That was always the plan: for those guys to take off and make their own games and stuff. They did great stuff, I had a great time making Blue Shift with them, but Opposing Force is a special place for me, cos it was the first thing after Half Life. Those guys were like six dudes coming off of a weird thing with Rebel Boat Rocker [Prax War 2018 - Ed]. They so loved Half-Life. Gabe and everybody at Valve were just like, "go do it - you guys have a good vision, we loved the idea of Shepard and the gameplay that you're doing there, so just go make it, and, you know, thrill us".
And for us it was cool, because we didn't get a chance to enjoy Half-Life 1 because we made it. Right? Ask anyone who writes a song, do you like your own music? They say no, I can hear all this s*** in my voice, or that one riff that I played wrong, so in games it's like that. It's hard for me to play Half Life 2 and enjoy it, because I saw it when it was broken and unfinished. And you still look at stuff and go, "that's still...I wish we had..." For a lot of the guys at Valve it was really nice to bring in the finished master [of Opposing Force] and let them play it. Not to labour that point - I'm with you on that thought, but reality just says bandwidth doesn't get us there.
Eurogamer: Maybe the fan community can deal with it for you at some point...
Doug Lombardi: Yeah, or maybe when we're out of original ideas [laughs]. We keep picking up people, like the Portal team and whatnot. The only thing smart we did for Portal was hire those seven kids and give them the support they needed.
Eurogamer: It's a happy knack that Valve seems to have...
Doug Lombardi: That's Gabe's vision, right? He's smart enough to know that if Valve is going to be more than this studio, we need to hire guys like these.
Valve is currently working on Left 4 Dead, which is due out on PC and 360 later this year, and Half-Life 2: Episode Three, as well as continuing support for other games like Portal and Team Fortress 2.