Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
We didn’t make hats this time, but I booked the office as late as it goes (22.00), we got some Chinese food in and hung around for the release time, Craig, Graham and I. The worldwide simultaneous online launch is one of my favourite things about the Half-Life experience now, I absolutely love the feeling of a global unwrapping of this insanely exciting present. My office PC hadn’t preloaded it, absurdly, impossibly, maddeningly, so I had to scramble round to Tim’s and try not to look at Craig’s screen as he was first in. I repeatedly shouted “Shut up!” at every gasp and expletive it inspired, and tried to ignore Graham’s reaction as he got to the same bits. After scrambling wildly to install my mouse on Tim’s machine (I wasn’t about to settle for a freaking Microsoft one for something as important as this), I finally got in about fifteen minutes late, and played until Security kicked us out, which was oh-so-perfectly just as I reached the end.
Oh yes, the title – it does say Half-Life 2: Episode One on the title screen, but Gabe Newell consistently refers to this as Half-Life 3: Episode One, and indeed this episodic trilogy as the entirety of Half-Life 3. And I think its important to acknowledge the momentousness of the event – this isn’t a stopgap, this is it.
That beginning: holy shit. I don’t understand the technical bits of how the Source engine has changed, but that sequence so massively exceeds your expectations of how good Half-Life 2 can look that it suddenly feels like something properly new, not just Half-Life 2 deleted scenes. Valve have always been the only people who can make game characters touch each other properly, and the interaction between the Vortigaunts and Alyx at the start is one of the most extraordinary bits of animation I’ve ever seen in a game. All the other most extraordinary bits of animation I’ve ever seen in a game happen in the next five minutes, and most of them are on Dog.
One, of course, is being hugged. I am being hugged, by a game character. This is… nice. Perhaps slightly nicer than it has any right to be, given what it actually is. It’s not the last time the force of Alyx’s emotion surprises you – she is utterly flabergasted by your performance at one point, and is genuinely traumatised at another. All three times it jars you out of the mindset in which she is a friendly combatant, rather than a character. The rest of the advances in AI companionship are fixes rather than features – it took Herculean effort to prevent her from being annoying or a liability, but the result is by definition something you don’t notice.
Episode One’s two potential shortcomings cancel each other out: one, it’s short. Two, it’s still in City 17. Three and a half hours every six months works out to a little over one minute of game per day. I actually found its length satisfying – I did masses in that time, so it felt substantial. But it was helped a lot by the fact that I have spent a lot of freaking time in City 17. It’s the defining feature of the Half-Life games that every section is just slightly longer than the human mind can comfortably endure – you’re always a little exhausted after any given section, and it’s designed that way because that’s the threshold past which your brain registers an experience as signifcant. So every Half-Life player remembers Surface Tension intimately, whereas I couldn’t name you or describe a single level of Quake. As ever, it’s just right because it’s just wrong – it’s slightly longer than it was possible for me to enjoy a single setting, so exhaustion set in shortly before it ended, leaving me relieved to be leaving without having suffered for more than a minute or two. More than any other Half-Life location, leaving City 17 is profoundly cathartic. We’ve done, seen and felt so much there that – however wonderful it was – we never want to go back.
Dabs: I've talked about Ep 1 to death, so I'll just plainly agree with what you said above now. But just felt compelled to say that that lower image, i.e. the sight of the resistance fighters at the station, peering longingly out of the window, represented a very profound moment for me. Freedom. Freedom from the hell of City 17 after 20+ hours of intense fighting and years of repression. Even though your train didn't make it, I still felt happy by the end that at least they finally made it out of there.
At least I think they did. :/
Bobsy: Dabs, I agree with you there. Have you played System Shock 2? There's an equally wonderful bit in that, where two other survivors escape in a pod just seconds before you catch up. I let out a cheer the first time I saw it, because it meant that whatever happened next, even if I entirely failed myself, someone had made it out alive.
The_B: As much I could elaborate on all the little touches, like setting Zombies alight with the power of flares, the dark sections where Alyx does her little moan - stop sniggering at the back - and THAT moment right at the end (to say any more would spoil it), instread I shall just say this about Episode 1:
Tom Francis: I loved the pose of the rebel man and woman at the train station, and took about twenty shots, but I must say I never quite felt for the rebels or citizens much. They're too interchangable, too few faces for me to believe their lives are unique things of value.
I was glad I got out, though. Even if not all the way.
craigp: We should have made hats.
The_B: OK, this has been bugging me since I saw this picture, so I'll have to do it: Comedy Caption Time!
Frank was a little worried that the urinals weren't quite as private as he first thought...
Dabs: Bobsy: I never got to the end of it sadly. My wussiness at the time got the better of me, and I just had to stop playing it for fear of my heart exploding. I can survial horror games for breakfast usually, but Shock 2 just does scariness too well. Should really return to it one day soon, presuming I now have the stones to pick up where I left off.
BABA-The Hacker: Frankly, with episodic content you should know where you're going to end up.
...but Episode Two was so damn good that I can't completely wave my finger at their creative process.
But i knw its a big project to start a long adventurous HL3... as HL2 took approximately 4 years.....
DNT U PEOPLE THINK THAT VALVE IS WORKING SILENTLY ON HALF-LIFE 3 SINCE 2 YEARS ALREADY????