Tag Archives: Gabe Newell

Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)

Looking back, why did people not approach the prospect of yearly Half-Life installments with the same suspicion as a Thomas Pynchon book signing or a Jeff Mangum world tour? (Okay, so every once in awhile these things work out.) Valve’s monolithic, twice decade-defining flagship franchise condescending to become serialized, expansion pack entertainments instead of rare magnum opuses is like your most brilliant, successful longtime friend suddenly frequenting your hometown bar: sure, his presence is appreciated, but wouldn’t you sacrifice constantly seeing him to know he was still on the move toward grander goals? Valve’s desire to create these episodes is understandable, perhaps even noble; both full-length Half-Life titles’ development cycles sound like living hells that would turn any programmer’s hair grey, if he didn’t tear it all out in the process. Plus, a desire to give the world Half-Life at a more frequent and inexpensive rate places them somewhere between Santa Claus and the dudes who invented Napster on my list of generous individuals.

The problem, however, is this is not the Valve way. The company is an ever-buzzing brain trust that isn’t happy unless its members are blasting down the walls fencing in game physics and storytelling, or redefining the distribution paradigm with Steam, or wondering what reality would look like through a stupid-looking pair of goggles. Valve the ideal is so much grander than Valve the developer that when it actually gets around to making a game anymore, that title must stand for the same ambition and playful futurism as the rest of the corporation’s endeavors. The Half-Life episodes were fated to choke on their creator’s chutzpah from the start, dwarfed by the never-ending possibilities and ceaseless perfectionism to which they were once thought an antidote. Continue reading

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Half-Life (1998)

Sad as it is, I bet many young people think Citizen Kane is just some overrated old movie about an asshole who misses his sled. Despite having so much to offer as merely a straightforward story, the age-old line about Kane is that out of all the great Hollywood pictures, it is the one that requires the keenest eye toward technical and structural innovations. No matter how invested you are in the tragic tale of Charles Foster Kane, it’s undeniable that the movie is at its jaw-dropping best when plot works in tandem with the viewer’s awe of Welles’ deep-focus shots and oddball narrative framework. To be unaware of these novelties is to miss an entire motif of the film. I am not saying that Half-Life is “the Citizen Kane video games” (partly just because I believe that label is absurd); if it were a movie, its story and themes could barely support mid-tier John Carpenter, much less one of cinema’s undisputed masterworks. But like Kane, an integral part of understanding Half-Life is not only recognizing what Valve did differently, but how those changes created a deeper, more emotionally satisfying product. Continue reading

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