May 21, 2007 - In 1998, two years after former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington founded Valve, Half-Life was released on the PC. The first-person shooter set a new standard for storytelling in an action game and turned Valve into one of the most revered developers in gaming. Now, nearly ten years after the release of the original Half-Life, Valve is set to release one of the greatest values in gaming. This October, [Register or Login to view links] comes to PC and Xbox 360, with a PS3 version soon to follow.
The Orange Box packs three very different experiences for the price of a regular game. Those who purchase the Orange Box get the original Half-Life 2, HL2: Episode 1, the brand new HL2: Episode 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2.
We trekked to the Pacific Northwest to spend a day at Valve and experience everything the Orange Box has to offer. Over the next five days we'll examine each component of the Orange Box to give you a full understanding of the awesome package Valve is offering.
Monday: Gabe Newell discusses the origins of Half-Life Tuesday: Hands-on with Half-Life 2: Episode 2 Wednesday: Team Fortress 2 -- Class Warfare Thursday: Stepping through the Portal Friday: Orange Box video preview
Watch IGN's full interview with Gabe Newell to learn the origins of Half-Life, the significance of Gordon Freeman's crowbar, and the future of the franchise.
The contents of the Orange Box are impressive. Valve could easily have charged for each piece or increased the overall price of the Box. Almost any other company would have, but that goes against Valve's fundamental philosophies. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell explained why Valve chose to package three unique games into one box:
"One of the nice things about being independent is that we control our own destinies... That gives us the flexibility to try things. With the Orange Box, we were focusing on a great single-player experience, a great multiplayer experience, and something new that had never really been done before and getting those into a [single] box. The fact that they ended up being three different games, we think that's fine. We've always tried to give people a tremendous amount of value... We want people to say after they buy one of our products, 'That was the best dollar I spent on any entertainment product in the last year.' As long as we keep doing that, I think we'll be rewarded by the loyalty and continued purchases by our customers."
It's that type of attitude that has helped make Valve one of the favored developers in the gaming community (in spite of some notorious game delays). The success of Half-Life is largely due to Valve's desire to do things differently. "Our goals with Half-Life were pretty minimal," Newell explained. "We just wanted to execute competently on an entertainment product... We had a sense that games were drifting into this direction of being reduced to a shooting gallery." Part of the solution was to break up intense action with puzzle-solving. It also meant creating an involving story by "giving you realistic people around you, people who give you a purpose. A lot of this has to grow out of the feelings you start to have about the other people in this world."
Half-Life 2 is about much more than just shooting aliens.
Half-Life and its sequel follow the adventures of Gordon Freeman, a physicist forced to become a hero and save the world from an invading alien force. "I got a lot of inspiration from Stephen King," Newell admitted. "[King] grasps Freud's notion of horror, which is the familiar made strange; that an ordinary day twisting out of control is way more horrible than something fantastic that tries to be horrible."
Along with fantastical enemies, Half-Life has become known for its unique weapons. But one weapon in particular has come to symbolize the Half-Life universe -- Gordon Freeman's crowbar. "The crowbar is your feeler into the world," Newell told IGN. "It's the first way you have physical input in the world... we worked very hard on that mechanic of getting the crowbar to 'stop' in a way that felt right to people." It's through that tactile interaction that Newell believes players first become immersed into the Half-Life universe. And as such, the crowbar maintains a powerful connector to the series.
In Half-Life 2: Episode 1, the focus shifts to Alyx Vance, a skilled hacker and female sidekick to Gordon Freeman. "The character you play, Gordon Freeman, is transparent. He doesn't talk, we don't do cinematic cutaways, and at times the world can get pretty lonely," Newell said. "[Alyx] cues you to the emotional responses you can have. She's an amplifier. If she gets scared, it's easier for the player to get scared... she gives us a better ability to talk to the player about what is going on."
Alyx remains prominent in Episode 2 and is expected to have a role in Episode 3. The episodic trilogy seems as much Alyx's story as it is Gordon's. That doesn't mean you should expect Alyx to become the central figure. Newell insists that Gordon Freeman will always be the most significant player in the Half-Life 2 storyline. Still, it's easy to see that gamers will grow attached to Alyx over the course of Half-Life 2's three episodes.
Valve could easily have avoided episodic content altogether. The sum total of gameplay from the three episodes should come close to a full game. Episodes 1, 2, and 3 could have been withheld for a few years and released as Half-Life 3. But Valve had no desire to keep its fanbase waiting indefinitely for the next piece of Half-Life lore.
"The decision to go with episodics was driven out of our experiences working on Half-Life 2, where we really weren't able to give anything to our customers for a five-year period," Newell said. "We thrive on the feedback we see. With episodic [content] we were able to tighten that loop enormously." As such, Episode 2 has been built towards high-end computers to allow for better effects and more seamless gameplay.
Though the three Half-Life 2 episodes tell a full story arc, it hardly signals the end of the Half-Life story. "In terms of projecting into the future, we have a lot of ground we would like to cover," Newell teased. "There are lots of pieces of the story that have been referenced that we think would be really interesting."
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