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Valve Talks Episode One 72

Eurogamer had a chance to sit down with Valve designer Gabe Newell, Doug Lombardi, and a bunch of folks from the Valve design house to talk about the process of creating Half-Life 2: Episode One . They discuss the rationale behind going episodic, the development process, why we're unlikely to see a Half-Life movie anytime soon, and the many improvements to the Source engine. From the article: "I think we're better at it, in terms of learning how to anticipate. It's like after you've watched a couple of hundred playtests, you start to develop a much better sense of what are successful and unsuccessful design strategies. And so the thing we're going to do with Episode One is to extend that out to all of the people."
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Valve Talks Episode One

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  • by tedgyz ( 515156 ) * on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:17PM (#15481677) Homepage
    I'm glad to see at least one game franchise is focused on quality technology and content.

    I wish I could say the same for the Quake franchise.
    • They also seem to be focusing on making you spend over $100 on a single game.
      • by Kazzahdrane ( 882423 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:35PM (#15481827)
        How exactly? Assuming a constant price of $20 per episode, this would suggest $60 for episodes 1-3. Assuming around 12 hours of playtime this is a "single game" but the standard of many games available today, especially FPS.

        And, to be perfectly honest, I enjoyed Episode One so much I thought it was good value.

        • Why assume a constant price ? When the last episode will come out, if you played the two previous ones, how much do you think they can force you to shell out ?
        • Assuming around 12 hours of playtime this is a "single game" but the standard of many games available today, especially FPS.
          In one way, this is true - but it's much more of an 'expansion pack' than an entire new game. The game engine, the enemies, the weapons, everything is pretty much the same as in HL2. I can understand that people think it's well worth it - but I wouldn't consider it to be a 'new game'.
        • Hmmm my calculator tells me I'll be paying $53.85 for all 3 episodes. (17.95 pre-order price x 3)
          Which is less than the cost of a new game at best buy. (49.99 plus tax = 54.50)
          And if i'm getting 15-30 hours of game play, I'm not feeling ripped off in the least.
        • You're right. $60 for episodes 1-3, plus the $50 (or was it 70?) that you paid for Half-Life 2. I mostly play RPGs, so a 12 hour game is extremely short. That's why it's only one game.
          • I mostly play RPGs too, doesn't mean I expect all the games I play to be 60+ hour epics where saving the world is the order of the day.

            Right now I can't wait for New Super Mario Bros. to be released here in the UK, a game that can apparently be beaten (get to the end without doing every optional thing) in less than 4 hours. Will I pay £30 for it anyway? You betcha, as all the reviews I've read have been stellar.

            Fun > Game Length IMO.

          • Just adding that HL2 isn't required for the episodes (except for story and such). So the cost of the game is just $60.
          • If you choose to include HL2 in the equation, then you're spending $100 for *two* games, not one. Episode One doesn't require that you have HL2 in order to play.

            As to the argument that textures, weapons, and many character models are re-used from HL2, so what? Ep 1 takes place immediately after HL2, in the same city, interacting with many of the same characters. Why would I expect everything to look completely different? The plot is engaging, and the action and puzzles are fresh, creative, and fun- even com
          • Ahhh, okay. So two kumquats are one fruit, since you prefer apples and kumquats are half the size of apples.

            You might avoid academia- you'd find it a scary place.
      • They also seem to be focusing on making you spend over $100 on a single game.

        Maths for Idiots!

        Trilogy. Three parts. Each part costing $19.95 - so that makes a grand total of ...

        * frantic tapping away at hyper-reliable, entry-level, emerging-markets calculator *

        ... $100. Oh. Sorry, you're right. Carry on!
        • HL2 costs 40.00, each episode is 20, for a total of 100. Is anyone playing the episodes who didn't play HL2?
          • Well if that is how it goes, then I spent over $100000 for HL2. I've got the computer I run it on plus the house I am in to play it plus my computer related furnature. Not to mention the cost of a network connection, power, heat etc.

            We could even calculate in the cost of my car and gas because I need to get to work to pay for all this intense gaming.
            • Yah you're right, you could calculate the cost of the original game and each episode to get the total cost of buying it over steam vs the cost of buying HL2 retail and each episode retail to get a comparitive analysis of which is a better value when choosing how you would like to purchase the game.

              OR you could calculate every innane cost associated with gaming in general and come off like a big asshole.

              Glad to see you take the high road.
    • Quake 4 was short, used a lot of the same textures and content as doom 3(Anyone remember the silly bridges that assembled? Its a neat trick, but by now its old. Very old. Stop repeating it!), and probably has just as limiting as multiplayer(I'll try it out in a bit, but if its just quake 3 arena all over again, I'll be soarly dissapointed) - HOWEVER, atleast ID is upfront about screwing you. They werent hiding behind Buzzwords and schemes, like Episodic content. They're making you pay more for an expansion
      • Yes yes, spelling errors aboud. Wheres the blasted Edit button! The following refers to Valve. They're making you pay more for an expansion(not the 100 dollars others have claimed, but more to the tune of 64 dollars) and fewer hours of gameplay. In closing, This episodic content would only work out if theres more content in the next 2, than in this one. IF not, and they put the same half-bun effort into it, I'd rather not waste the money. Note: I understand that its cheaper from steam, but coincidently is
      • don't waste your time with quake multiplayer.
        quake wars: enemy territory is coming out soon.
        get a feel for it by playing free wolfenstein enemy territory.
    • perhaps you've never heard of quake wars? from the same folks that brought us wolfenstein ET. (which is free)
  • by DaHat ( 247651 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:28PM (#15481764) Homepage
    Who feels a little... jibbed that after buying one of the larger packages when HL2 came out that they are trying to get you to pay another $20 for Episode 1? Granted I'd love to get it for free, I'm kind of let down that they wont even cut you a deal for it... so I suppose I'll wait until all 3 Episodes are out and hope that they'll have a special package deal for them that doesn't involve buying another copy of HL2.
    • You aren't the only one, but on the plus side, we got CS source and DOD source. CS source is so much better than CS in my humble opinion. I like the cover that reacts to bullets/explosives.
      • I'm sorry...CS sucks wether it's Source or not. It's sucked ass since shortly after beta 7 when the glitching, cheating, and 1337ism went into overdrive. Anyone playing Source likely has no idea what beta 7 is.
        • I enjoyed it, I started playing CS late in the game (when I got cs source). Natural Selection is an excellent game, as is dystopia. BrainBread isn't too bad either, shooting zombies in the face is a great way to vent
        • I'm sorry...CS sucks wether it's Source or not. It's sucked ass since shortly after beta 7 when the glitching, cheating, and 1337ism went into overdrive. Anyone playing Source likely has no idea what beta 7 is.

          If you play on decent servers with decent admins, then it's great. Other than that, it can be a hackfest. It has become quite a bit better over time though.
    • I don't know about you, but I ended up picking up the Silver package right when HL2 was first released. Valve threw in HL2, their entire back catalog, and everything they've made since(except HL2:EP1); I'd call a heck of deal on its own.

      Unfortunately, they're a lot more stingy now, none of the packages offered are nearly as good.

    • They DID cut a deal. Pre-order was $17.95
  • Even though it is supposed to be short, it is only $20. I think they should come out with a new episode every year at least.
  • ...why the sequel is called Episode One.
  • If Joss Whedon fell in love with the Half-Life universe (`verse for all you browncoats) and chose to write the script for a Half-Life movie, I'd go see it in a heartbeat.

    Serenity and Firefly were brilliant.

    • An interesting choice. I would think Ron Moore would do a solid job as well.

      Within the past month, I think I have gotten three or four of my neighbors hooked on BSG. Granted, my next project is Firefly, not that there's much. Thanks for ruining everything Fox.
      • Too true. BSG is hot, hot, hot! I can't wait until the next season begins.

        Ron Moore vs. Joss Whedon is a win-win decision. You can't go wrong.

        • Why have it as a versus? Why not make it a joint project instead?

          Hell, I saw Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chicago in concert on HD during the rain delay of Giants/Mets. I think it was a great deal, all things considered. It could be just as equally a good thing as this was.
      • I think you need to do it in the order Fox showed the Firefly episodes so that they understand: ".xoF gnihtyreve gniniur rof sknahT"
        That way they'll be able to understand it correctly.
        • I think you need to do it in the order Fox showed the Firefly episodes so that they understand: ".xoF gnihtyreve gniniur rof sknahT"

          Shouldn't "ks for ruining everythi Th" be more accurately reflect the order it was played? Remember, they didn't show the last three episodes and the first two out of order.
  • Spying (Score:2, Insightful)

    Gabe Newell: Rather than having hundreds of playtesters, there are eight million Steam accounts right now, so we'll have eight million playtesters. It tells us which weapons they're using, so we can say "they're not using this weapon, why not?", here's where people are getting stuck "huh, ok, they're not supposed to be stuck here". Here's the stuff they like, here's the stuff they don't like.

    Eurogamer: So Steam effectively creates a report every time you log in and play Episode One?

    Gabe Newell: Yeah. We st

    • I would assume that its all stated in the EULA, not that anyone has read it.
    • Re:Spying (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ford Prefect ( 8777 )
      Was there an option for this anywhere that I missed?

      Yup - every so often, when Steam starts it comes up with a brief message asking if you'd like to take part in the hardware survey. If you click yes, it detects what you've got, presents you with what it's found and then asks if it can send it off to Valve. If you do, it then links you to the results [].

      Evil. Pure evil.

      My poor MacBook Pro [] got abused in this way. :-(
      • "Yup - every so often, when Steam starts it comes up with a brief message asking if you'd like to take part in the hardware survey."

        I don't think that the hardware survey option disabled the log report for people playing Episode 1, the only relation Gabe speaks of is that the hardware survey proved very valuable and was the premise for implementing the Episode 1 log feature.

        Now if you know how to disable that, please share...
      • Re:Spying (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jalefkowit ( 101585 )

        This sure sounds different to me than the hardware survey. I've taken the hardware survey (twice) and I don't remember it ever asking me if it was OK to monitor me as I play the game -- I was only asked if it was OK if information about my hardware was sent to Valve.

        As privacy issues go, this is relatively minor, but it's still annoying. Why ask about the one case and not the other?

      • Where is the moderation option "Wrong"?
        • Where is the moderation option "Wrong"?

          I realised I'd misread the interview and quickly typed up another comment saying that I was wrong - and it appears I went and closed the browser before going past just the preview of said comment. Oops.

          I wasn't having a very good day yesterday. :-(
      • They mention the hardware survey, and they say that it was very successful, which is why they've started this play monitoring as well. Therefore they are two different things.
  • I can't decide... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PFI_Optix ( 936301 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:06PM (#15482103) Journal
    ...whether I like episodic content or not.

    Three episodes adds up to the price of a full game, and if they deliver the same amount ot content I don't see where there's a significant difference. Though I suppose a story that takes 20 hours to tell is a lot more interesting and engrossing to me than three stories that take 6-7 hours to tell. But episodic content allows them to finish, test, and deliver content faster, meaning that I have something new to play with more frequently rather than waiting 2+ years between releases from them.

    I guess I'm gonna have to get Ep 1 after I reinstall Windows (blowing away a bad partition scheme after 4 years of tolerating my own stupidity, yay) to find out if it's worth the money.
    • I don't get the difference between 'episodic content' and what we were used to: 'expansion packs'. Expansion packs allow developers to finish, test and deliver content faster, allowing players to have something more frequent to play with, and usually cost less than the full game. The only real difference here is rather than selling them in store, you get to download them.
      • I don't think it's a big difference. Mainly because it's a convenient term to use- rather than saying "we released a full game that costs less than most full games, is shorter than most full games, and is the lead-in for two more shorter cheaper games" they can say "this is episodic!"

        Something along the lines of "Web 2.0", it's not really anything new, just a term probably invented to drum up interest that also allows for some easier distinguishing between different, similar, things without using 20 words.
      • Expansion packs, while taking advantage of the base game assets and engine, generally offer a self-contained story.

        Something episodic makes no attempt to be self-contained; you want to find out how the story ends, you'll need the succeeding episodes.

  • I actually like the fact that Episode 1 is short. A lot of games attempt to be long and attempt to include many hours of gameplay, and all too often, the game developers stuff the game up with boring, repetitive, filler. (Do the words "Water Hazard" or "Highway 17" come to mind?) A short game with good gameplay is better than a long game that's full of filler.
    • This is what jumped out at me in my play through HL2: Episode One. In many other FPS games, you're basically fighting through the same corridors continually against faceless hordes for no particular reason. In my mind I'm thinking, "I'm grinding up for the next plot event or cutscene."

      Battles in this little episode were quite well focused, with little filler combat when venturing about. Then you hit an "action sequence"(This kind of mentality is described in the Lost Coast commentary). In these scenes they

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.