You'll have probably already read our exclusive from yesterday, where we brought you world-first details confirming not only the existence of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, but confirmation that work on the second installment of Valve's new episodic approach to the Half-Life universe has been in development for some time.
Well, today we've got even more Half-Life 2 revelations as we're joined by Valve's estimable Designer/Engineer on Episode One, Robin Walker. Speaking in an exclusive interview with CVG, Walker provides further insight into the design process and Valve's new episodic approach.
Even more crucially, there's further revelations on Episode One including Alyx's expanded role, whether Dog will make a reappearance and how the episode will address the big questions like "What happened to the Citadel at the end of Half-Life 2?"; "What happened to Breen, and is he dead?"; and finally "How does the G-Man factor into all of this?".
So, without further ado, we'll turn you over to Robin Walker, Episode One's main man. Take it away Robin.
Episode One is a new 'event' in the Half-Life story. Was delivering such episodes part of your plan for Half-Life 2 since day one of the sequel's conception, or was the idea born at a later date?
Robin Walker: We knew while we were building Half-Life 2 that we needed to find a way to get games to our community faster than every 5 or 6 years. With the success of Steam and the lessons we learned by updating our multiplayer games frequently during Half-Life 2's development, we felt like we could take the same approach on the single-player side. This was a conclusion we arrived at before Half-Life 2 was released.
What particular challenges does penning a plot for an episode throw up, as opposed to penning the plot for a full sequel?
Robin Walker: It's the difference between running a marathon and running laps in a relay race. We set things into motion knowing that we're not going to resolve them immediately, so we want to make sure they have an actual destination and can stand on their own. Instead of wrapping everything up in one bundle, we have to stay several leaps ahead of ourselves. Each episode must both be self-contained and set up plotlines to be resolved or explored in the subsequent episodes. The nice thing for us about working episodically is that during the final polishing stages it's possible to see the whole story very clearly and make smart decisions about which elements need further development. This is much more difficult in a more traditional (non-episodic) game.
Does Episode One reach a satisfying conclusion in terms of plot, and can we expect more of the almost-cryptic style of story presentation we saw in Half-Life 2?
Robin Walker: We wanted Episode One to take players between 4 to 6 hours to play, and our playtests are hitting very close to that mark. But delivering a story in smaller pieces means that we don't have the luxury of delivering a complete narrative story arc from start to finish, which means we have to be considerate to our audience in terms of giving them what they want. Episode One will not end with an all-encompassing conclusion, given that it is the first installment in a series, but there are some specific questions it will address. For example, "What happened to the Citadel at the end of Half-Life 2?" and "What happened to Breen, is he dead?" and "How does the G-Man factor into all of this?"