The year is 2007. Console owners tap their fingers in barely contained impatience. For years they have been starved of Valve's delicious, full-bodied courses, forced to watch from the bleachers as Valve mixes a unique blend of kinetic first-person with extraordinary tech. Besides a brief dalliance with the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2 - which produce pale imitations of its best work - Valve has remained faithful to the PC.
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...
Stop clowning around; it really is bastardly cold out there. Still, it's good for one thing: keeping my PC from overheating. All I have to do is wrap up warm and open my window, then pop in one of these festively fantastic frolics and laugh away merrily - probably with a vat of mulled wine close-by to ensure I am well and truly smashed. I'm only giving it serious consideration because there are some games worth seriously considering.
Another good thing about Christmas is that you can kiss people by holding a twig with leaves above their heads, made all the more likely by the enormous vat of incredibly pungent mulled wine stewing in the kitchen. Similarly smile-worthy is that yes there are games on PS3 to buy this year, despite what James with his rival console says in the comments section while picking his nose and flicking it at his equally spotty friend.
It is now dark when we walk home and birds are either dropping out of trees in frozen lumps or going somewhere much nicer for their holidays. And, as always happens, the shops are hoisting their Christmas decorations up and getting us all worried about buying presents because we never know what they want is it socks or aftershave. So, we thought we would join in.
Gosh! It seems like only 3 months and 8 days ago that we last sat down for half an hour with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell, which is probably because that was when we last sat down with him. He said lots of things back then, so for our Games Convention chat this past week we were able to skip some of the pleasantries and talk in more depth about Orange Box, Steam, Wii controls and which is better PlayStations or Xboxes. Only kidding. Sort of. Plus we talked about those excellent TF2 movie shorts - have you watched the Soldier one yet? Read on also for Gabe using a swearword, which we think is an exclusive. Enjoy.
Of all PlayStation 3's forthcoming releases, the most interesting and significant is neither a game nor for sale. Home, Sony's more structured, sanitised and solid attempt at a Second Life world might seem innocuous enough but with the screenshots of its cinema space and the implied possibility of fully downloadable movies, there's the chance it might eventually outgrow even its host platform in significance.
A Most Wanted list you say? Cripes, whatever next: a Tips and Cheats pamphlet to go with Eurogamer's promotional Pacman Beach Ball cover mount? Still, it's the summer, there are precious few games around and, with an awful lot of new titles coming up towards the end of the year you might quite reasonably want to know which ones to keep an eye on.
Team Fortress 2 is shaping up to be one of the multiplayer PC games of the year (providing it comes out in this one, obviously). In and around our recent playtest, we were able to ask designer Robin Walker a bunch of questions about the decisions behind it, and the plan going forward beyond release. What follows is a selection of topics raised during the hours we spent in Robin's company, all knitted together fancily so it looks neat and tidy and you can read through it easily. You wouldn't want the raw transcript - it's epic, and we said a lot of stupid things. We're not very clever really. Enjoy.
In Team Fortress 2, Valve's fort-versus-fort multiplayer FPS, the devs have tried to apply the lessons they learned about iterative design to a multiplayer game. It is, in designer Robin Walker's words, "the first time we've got our shit together enough to do this" (and they've had a few goes - TF2 was originally announced in 1998). One of the words we hear a lot is "pacing". "We've always thought of pacing as a crafted thing in single-player," says Walker. "We spent a lot of time in Half-Life 2 crafting the highs and lows." Now TF2 has them - instead of standing around defending the base ("a flat experience"), you're forced to deal with rapidly evolving situations, like a Medic and Heavy Weapons Guy combining to capitalise on the former's temporary burst of invulnerability. When an enemy moves your flag, it will take 30 seconds to return to its home even if you touch it, forcing you to adjust your area of defensive focus. Similarly, get halfway through capturing a control point before death and your partial control will gradually diminish, giving the next wave the chance to resume the attack, and forcing the defending team to keep more of an eye on it. The dynamic changes minute to minute.
Originally published on GamesIndustry.biz, today's wide-ranging interview with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell touches on everything from the decision to extend Half-Life 2 episodically and introduce advertising to online multiplayer game Counter-Strike, to the future of the Steam business and what to expect from the next five years of gaming hardware. It also offers an insight into how Valve is structured, and why the developer believes listening to its customers is paramount to its success.
By now you'll have read our extensive hands-on report on Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Well, hopefully. Having spent an hour working through each of the six sections Valve prepared for us to play, we sat down with programmer David Speyrer, designer Gautam Babbar and Valve's ever-present marketing director Doug Lombardi and talked about the development of Episode Two, the release date issue, and where things might be going in Episode Three.
You're on an epic journey with Alyx, racing the Combine through the wilderness outside City 17. The Citadel has been destroyed and lies massively across the horizon, with a twister of plasmic energy spiralling into the clouds. Kleiner says it's "the infancy of a superportal". G-Man is back. We learn about his relationship with Alyx. The Combine Advisors move to the fore. Breen's fate is unknown. Double-double-crossing Judith Mossman has a role to play. Dr. Magnusson, one of Gordon's Black Mesa colleagues, is leading an effort in White Forest to launch a satellite. Alyx and Gordon possess the means to access the Combine overworld. Hunters - the raptors of the Strider family - are tracking them. A new muscle car adds to the free-form feel and facilitates fast travel. The Antlion underworld beckons, and Antlion Workers are ready and waiting, corrosive phlegm on standby. Vortigaunts are fighting by your side. Their motivation should become clear.
Kim Swift gives me performance anxiety. "Now you're thinking with portals," says Portal. Unfortunately I'm not. It's a flaw in Valve's preview approach. Most scenarios in Portal have to be solved by firing a portal entrance and a portal exit at different bits of wall. You then either enter one to exit through the other, or move an object through. And if you can't immediately see what you're meant to do, every second lost to the solution's pursuit gives the invisible man chiselling "dunce" on your pride the chance to add a flourish. By now mine's backlit serif, and twinned with a town in Castilla-La Mancha. Freed of the pressure of having the lead designer sat behind you the entire time you play, you can probably think more clearly. The impossible will be easy. At least to start.
GC: Valve opens up in Leipzig
Despite the massive acclaim and the shower of awards thrust upon Valve in the wake of Half-Life 2's release in November 2004, the developer listened more than ever to the feedback from the community, meticulously cataloguing thousands of hours of playtesting feedback from hundreds of playtesters and setting about to continue the Half-Life 2 story episodically, but while also fixing many of the niggling issues that fans had with the game.
After spectacularly 'raising the bar' (with a gravity gun) of the FPS genre in 2004, Valve last week turned its attention to extending the Half-Life 2 universe episodically with the release of the first in a trilogy of episodes that finally reveals what happened to Gordon and Alyx after the destruction of the Citadel.