I was at Valve last month to interview pretty much everyone I could find, and play one of the most exciting PC games on the horizon: Portal 2. The preview I wrote, and the profile on Valve themselves, is in the new issue of PC Gamer in the UK . But we're also putting up the interviews here on the site , one a day for a week. Today's is my conversation with Gabe Newell, Erik Johnson and Doug Lombardi about the difficult but exciting future of game engines, and why they hire who they hire.
Gabe doesn't spare me the technical terms, so if you're allergic to jargon skip to " So what's the interesting thing from a gamer's point of view? "
PC Gamer: You guys seem to hire people who have good ideas on the back of the fact that they have good ideas. When you look at a bunch of indie guys, like a DigiPen team, what's the difference between a game that looks cool and has a nice idea in it, and a game that makes you want to hire everyone that works on it?
Gabe Newell: It's talking to the people, right? This is like a four hour side conversation. What it really comes down to is that you talk to the people, and you get a very clear sense, quickly, about what they can contribute, and how they're going to impact the people around them. Everybody here has a huge impact on everybody else, so when we bring in somebody like Bay Raitt (the Weta Digital engineer responsible for Gollum's facial animation in the Lord of the Rings films), or Kuda, it's weird how much impact, even at this point in our history, one person has on all of the people around them.
The decision to do that is all about the people, and not about the game. The game is something that happens to go with them. Hopefully we help them make something sooner and better than they would be able to otherwise, but it's always the people decision first. And we don't have reqs, it's not like somebody says, “Now we're going to hire three texture artists." We hire anybody who walks in the door who fits. We'll make them an offer, and we'll pursue them relentlessly. We have one guy who I think we're finally going to get to move here that we've been pursuing for twelve years now, and we finally have convinced him to join the horde. What do we call ourselves?
Doug Lombardi: Horde is not it!
Gabe Newell: Alliance? (Laughs) Red? Blu? Company?
Doug Lombardi: Studio would work.
PC Gamer: Who is that?
Gabe Newell: I can't say. I can tell you there are people out there that we would love to work with that we aren't working with yet. The guys at Media Molecule. We think those guys are awesome. There are a bunch of guys at RAD Game Tools that we think are awesome. Who else?
Erik Johnson: In the game space? There's a lot. There's people at id, there's people at Epic, there's people at DICE.
Gabe Newell: So yeah, for us it's always about [the people]. I see Erik more than I do my wife. (Looks at Erik) You're looking really nervous.
Erik Johnson: My awkward scalar just started going.
Gabe Newell: So, you know, we want people who are going to make us smarter, and make us excited to go on the move. I mean, I get to be the biggest fan boy of all. I get to see everything everybody does and all the different versions of it. I get to see it first, so it's a huge amount of fun to work here. It's exciting. Like I just reviewed 48 different box concepts for Portal 2 - 48! - and so I get to see 48, and customers only get to see 1. Actually, Valve's just a very clever way...
PC Gamer: To become the world's biggest Valve fan?
Erik Johnson: It's still a big event when we hire someone, everyone's still super excited about that. It's just like it was 10 years ago pretty much.
Gabe Newell: It's amazing how much of an impact the right person has when they come on board.
Tomorrow Valve tell us about their evil genius plans to measure how much we sweat, and make games about it. Seriously, you need to read this one.