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Valve Q&A
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Valve Q&A

By - Posted Nov 15, 2004

The folks at Icons got up close and personal with many of the folks who were instrumental in bringing Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and they were kind enough to provide us with some questions and answers.

G4techTV: What were your feelings when the Half-Life 2 source code was stolen?

Half-Life 2Gabe Newell -- Founder/Managing Director, Valve Software:
It was really painful. It was, just the way that it was done, it wasn’t like there was one blow to recover from, there were multiple ones. You don’t really know what this means because when you develop a game you do it with assumption that the source code is not out there in the open, and all of a sudden we turned into an involuntary open source project. So we were like calling up open source people saying, what do you do for security? And how do you run a security audit to make sure that you don’t have vulnerabilities so that when your game is released people will be able to take advantage of what they know about how your source code behaves?

And we have things in our networking code that are secure through obscurity; it’s like you can’t hack the network stream because it’s just too hard to figure out. Well, now they didn’t need to hack it, they could just read the source code and see what we were doing. So we had to rewrite all of that. There was a lot of work to be done, and some people, when you’re working really hard, you know, working 100 hours a week, struggling with the things that you have to build something, to have somebody come in and vandalize the whole project, it really throws people off. It’s hard enough to build something without somebody coming alongside and hitting it with a sledge hammer. You’re just like, is somebody going to do that again? When is something like this going to happen again? So, it was pretty hard for people.

Half-Life 2Greg Coomer -- Product Designer, Valve Software:
That was a dark day for us at Valve. About the beginning of October of last year I think it was, there was an event where some of our internal communication showed up on the internet. We immediately thought we had some kind of security problem, but then it got much, much worse within a space of just a few hours when we started seeing screenshots of our game show up online and even source code for the game engine itself. And from there, a bunch of people got their hands on it and started playing it and posting more images of the game. For us, I think the biggest hit was… for the team, it’s a blow to morale to have something that we believe in so strongly and that we care about so much be debuted to at least some number of people out there in a way that was unfinished, unpolished, and unprofessional. So it just hurt us to have that happen and to get back up to speed where everyone was not distracted by that took us a little while, so that did contribute a little bit to the delay of the game too.

G4TTV: What's the symbolism behind the title Half-Life?

GC: We talked quite a bit about what the game should be called. There were internal code names for the game early on, but none of them really stuck. And I can’t remember too much about the name Half-Life appearing on the scene, except I think it was an e-mail someone sent around that pointed out kind of a double meaning with the notion of lives in videogames or computer games and the fact that the concept that we were building this game around had to do with radioactivity and an accidental portal opening due to a mishap involving radioactive material. So, Half-Life is a unit of measure in science and it means the rate of decay of a particular element. So calling the game Half-Life seemed to make sense on both levels.

G4TTV: What was the inspiration for Gordon Freeman?

Gordon Freeman from Half-Life 2Marc Laidlaw -- Writer/Designer, Valve Software:
In creating the character of Gordon Freeman, we wanted to make someone who was quite a bit apart from the typical action game hero. So for instance, to contrast Duke Nukem, who was just totally an action… he’d be the hero of an average action movie. He has witty comebacks to everything that happens to him. And if you don’t happen to enjoy that brand of hero, you might find yourself kind of getting thrown out of your role a lot while you play the game. So, we wanted to do a character who was really transparent, an Everyman, and yet not your typical action hero. So all the other characters in the game call you Gordon Freeman, Dr. Freeman… they tell you your assignments and you’re obviously one of the scientists that you see around you when you start the game. But we decided to keep our character mute and to not really ever show him, but to let the player develop their own mental image of who Gordon Freeman is. So through most of the development of Half-Life, we didn’t really have internally any strong visual ideas of who this guy was. We had some sketches and eventually we made a death match model for him, but we really wanted to let the player think, “I’m going to create this character for myself and I’m going to be Gordon Freeman.” People responded really well to that. The world of HL2 is a little bit different. The events of Black Mesa were significant to all the survivors on Earth who are living out the events of HL2, so Gordon Freeman is more of a known figure to them. And when you arrive at the beginning of the game, you’re no longer exactly this anonymous guy, although there’s still a sense in which people expect a lot of you and you really don’t know exactly what that might be.

G4TTV: What are your plans for after Half-Life 2? Do you plan on more sequels or do you plan to try something new?

Greg Coomer:
Well we’ve got a few projects that are going to be underway soon after Half-Life 2 ships. It’s a little tough to see… since we haven’t shipped Half-Life 2 yet, looking beyond that event horizon is sometimes kind of tough, but Team Fortress 2 is still in development and we’re very excited about being able to move that forward. And Counter-Strike: Source is going to continue to receive updates. And just taking care of that community is one of the most exciting things that Valve has to do on an ongoing basis. We have so much communication with the Counter Strike community all the time and upgrading that game and adding or tweaking the gameplay there is really fun because so many people are active online at any given time. So we’ll definitely be continuing to do that. And I think we’ll be treating Half-Life 2 in the same way. That’s not going to be a static, unchanging product, so this team will be serving that community as well.

Catch the rest of the exciting Valve story as it premieres on Icons tonight at 10PM ET/7PM PT.

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