David Speyrer Interview (HL2: Ep. 2)


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May 24, 2003
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Little surprise: Project lead David Speyrer is tightest-lipped about the Episode Two teasers we most want him to talk about. Combine Advisors (those pupaelike pods that ultimately escape the Citadel) are the "host bodies" Dr. Breen refers to, aren't they? And his brain/mind is now among them, no? Neither hot nor cold. Drop us a hint as to the nature of the Dr. Kleiner's "secret technological advances," we say.And is this the same project Mossman refers to from the Arctic? Nada. G-Man's signature briefcase is missing in the mystery fi gure's one and only appearance. What gives? Stone-faced again, Speyrer isn't saying, isn't insinuating, isn't even smirking.

And perhaps appropriately so, since Half-Life 2's episodic packets play relatively stingy with anything in the way of real plot developments (better to veil what little is there until later than blow the lid now). We do know this, though: Episode Two introduces one new weapon (the so-called Strider Buster), a single new foe (the tiny tripod Hunter pictured here), and one set of wheels (a self-propelled battering ram). Speyrer, however, is happy to talk around the episode's hot-button topics....

CGW: Any design elements introduced in Episode One that you intend to elaborate on in the second episode?

David Speyrer: We think of the episodes as adding tools to our game-design toolbox, so each episode draws from an ever-larger set of gameplay tools and mechanics. It's cool to realize that so many of the elements that we take for granted today, like the gravity gun or our companion A.I., were risky R&D projects during the development of Half-Life 2 or Episode One. Continuing at that rate as we release more episodes is pretty exciting for us as designers, and for our customers. We'll bring many elements from Episode One forward into Episode Two, but we expect to use dynamic scripted sequences extensively. They allow close interaction between NPCs during combat--such as Alyx wrestling with zombies in Episode One--and because they happen spontaneously, every player will see different interactions at different moments in the game. We see lots of possibilities for this with respect to Hunters and citizens, for example.

CGW: Granted, you're still working this out, but what would you say an episodic game needs to do in order to ensure the attractiveness of subsequent installments? Making us care for a character and then setting us up for her seemingly impending death seems like a start....

DS: The main thing we want to do is move the Half-Life story forward meaningfully. We want our customers to realize that these episodes are the continuation of Half-Life and Half-Life 2 rather than optional detours from the main story line. Character and story are fundamental to the franchise, and we intend to keep pushing on those in every episode. Of course, we'll always keep the gameplay fresh and fun by introducing new NPCs, settings, and game mechanics.

CGW: In a previous interview with CGW, Valve managing director Gabe Newell explained that "in Episode Two, there are areas and vehicles that we saw potential in and wanted to push forward." Any chance we'll commandeer a Hunter, ? la Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Raider?

DS: Sounds cool--I'll have to watch that episode.

CGW: Episode One continues to establish Alyx as a character, and yet, the more life we see there, the less alive Gordon seems--an autistic weapon whose only actions, as Dr. Breen argues, are destructive. Perhaps part of that stems from the decision to avoid putting words in the player's mouth or implement a clumsy "give hug" key--does this sort of assessment concern you going ahead?

DS: Having the player be mute is definitely a design constraint that we struggle with at times, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. We worked hard to immerse players in our universe, and hearing Gordon speak would just remind players that they're playing a game. Despite the design difficulties, we still think that Gordon needs to be an empty vessel for the player's personality and emotions.

CGW: When we last talked, you dismissed the desire to learn about new weapons and levels as somewhat pedestrian, at least next to meatier matters like motivation. And yet, from the gravity gun to ant lions, headcrabs to snarks, Half-Life's weapons locker and monster menagerie have helped make the series what it is. Wasn't Episode One a little light on both?

DS: The gravity gun in HL2 redefined for us the notion of "weapon" in the franchise. So we think that things like flares and saw blades are as important, if not more important, than traditional FPS weapons.

CGW: Valve intensively tracks and iterates in response to tester feedback. We can imagine a designer groaning at a player's seeming naivet? in the face of a challenge and cynically deciding to simply mark out a path or puzzle with a flashing icon--in the way certain other mass-market titles have--instead of continuing to tweak less obvious cues. How integral to the success of your games has this philosophy proven?

DS: I can't imagine shipping a game without putting it through our playtesting process. So many of our scenarios, especially our puzzles, went through many rounds of catastrophic failure in playtests. In many cases, there was no way to foresee those failures, much less imagine possible solutions. Because we refine incrementally, we always try the most subtle solution that we think will work and test that before resorting to more heavy-handed solutions. So, yes, I'd say the process is very integral to our games' success.

CGW: Hot or cold: Breen's mind now occupies the Combine Advisor we see early in episode one.

Marc Laidlaw: How warm is Schroedinger's cat? [Editor's note: Google it. We did.]

CGW: What can you tell us about Episode Two's strider buster and ramming vehicle?

DS: The strider buster is a cool new way of taking out striders that's more spectacular than the standard seven rocket method, but is a bit tricky to pull off successfully. The vehicle was built by a couple of citizen survivalists whose fondness for muscle cars collided with a passion for zombie slaying. We find the cowcatcher on the front works wonders on Hunters that happen to get in the way.

CGW: Might Episode Two's seemingly more open-ended forest environment translate to more open-ended level navigation?

DS: The outdoor environments in Episode Two lead to more free-form combat scenarios that are different every time you play. We find that kind of variability correlates with fun combat scenarios that people want to play again and again. As for navigation, the larger environments can hide more secrets and rewards for players who venture off the beaten path.

CGW: Any of Episode Two's settings/situations adapted from material that appeared in Half-Life 2 making-of book Raising the Bar but not Half-Life 2? E.g. Mossman in the arctic...

DS: No, these settings have been entirely driven by the story and gameplay requirements of Episode Two. None of the settings existed before we started working on it.
Source: http://www.1up.com/do/previewPage?cId=3152735&did=1

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💻 Oldtimer
Jun 8, 2004
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CGW: What can you tell us about Episode Two's strider buster and ramming vehicle?

DS: The strider buster is a cool new way of taking out striders that's more spectacular than the standard seven rocket method, but is a bit tricky to pull off successfully.
Har har har.

Valve representatives seem to be tighter than a ducks anus when it comes to giving infomation. I knew about the 'Hunters' (robo-houndeyes?) from the trailer, but the battering-ram vehicle sounds cool.

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