Interviews

Marc Laidlaw

Valve Software's plot man and the guy who puts story in front of the crowbar

Sci-fi author Marc has written novels such as Dad's Nuke, Neon Lotus and The 37th Mandala - but still has found time to be king story-man and wordsmith on Half-Life 2 and the continuing adventures of Half-Life. And boy, can he talk...

So where did the character of Gordon Freeman come from?

Marc Laidlaw: The character of Gordon Freeman? Well, ultimately he was just a name. There was this character that you played who was this eyepiece looking into this universe, a motive force that enables you to move through it. We just wanted to create somebody who didn't get in the way of the player exploring on their own yet feeling like they had a specific role - never quite sure that they were playing it right, but having it as part of the whole experience.

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Are you doing the right thing or the wrong thing? We really like messing around with the implications of telling you that you're doing one thing, when actually, everything else is forcing you to do something different from that. There's irony in the game - everybody tells you that you're a scientist, but all you're actually doing is running around shooting stuff. All these things fall into the bucket of Gordon Freeman...

How did the G-Man come about, then?

Marc Laidlaw: I remember Ken Birdwell came into my office and he'd been thinking about all the The guy who puts story in front of the crowbar different functionaries you'd have in an institution like Black Mesa. You have your scientists and their administrators - the tax guys, the government guys who are checking over the books and representing some other interest - and you're not quite sure who they are.

The original concept was born from that and we developed from there. 'What does he do?' 'Well, he's not actually a combat character.' 'So what happens when you shoot him?' 'Well, it turns out you actually can't kill the guy.' 'So what does that mean about him'?

Were there any characters cut from the original Half-Life?

Marc Laidlaw: Well, we didn't always have the resources; early on we wanted a wider range of characters - we wanted women scientists and stuff there - but we just didn't have the texture read memory. The train says they're an equal-opportunities employer on the way in, but the fact is that there are no women there that day. They all stayed at home; they knew there was something going on.

The whole relationship with Dr Mossman in HL2 was a scene that we tried to do in Half-Life. We'd done a whole bunch of stuff for this scene where there was a betrayal by a woman scientist; at that point in the story Freeman was being hunted and you think that the scientists are all your friends, so this scientist says she's going to get you help and tells you to stay in the room you're in - and then she calls the guards. We couldn't do that in Half-Life - we didn't really have characters on that level - so it was cool in HL2 when we had characters who were far enough along...

Do you often return to your old development and plot ideas, then?

Marc Laidlaw: Well, every now and then something will come up and we'll be like, 'Oh, don't you remember how we tried to do this in Half- Life, but we just couldn't figure out how to make it work?' So yes, we do still pick stuff out of the mix and make it work. I mean, there's a scientist you hear a lot in the test chamber in the early part of Half-Life, and he's never reappeared. And we've finally worked out a place for him where he's been all this time! It's been pretty fun figuring out how to bring that guy back.

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