Interview: Valve on why they'd make the Half-Life movie

PC Gamer: So if there's going to be a Half-Life movie, you guys would have to write it?

Gabe Newell: Yeah, or we'd build it the way we're building the TF2 shorts.

PC Gamer: So it would have to be a CGI thing, rather than a live action thing?

Gabe Newell: Yeah, if we thought that's what customers would like. If they don't want that then we wouldn't waste our time with that, or their time. That's what we're in the middle of understanding, right?

So we've learned a lot by what we've done with TF2, and I'm a huge fan of the Left 4 Dead comic. I was a huge comic head, you know, Judge Dredd, what was Frank Miller's samurai robot dude? (It was Ronin .) Yeah, all through the early 80's I was really super heavily into comics, so I think the comic we're doing is great.

It's way darker than the stuff we've been doing on the TF2 side, and it'll be super interesting to see how the community responds. If they love it, that's great, if they hate it then it's interesting. Even if it's a failure, it'll be an interesting failure. We're taking risks on the art direction of the book, but first and foremost, it has to be able to work on its own, as a comic.

Most of the time, when you see these things, they're like the Bear that Dances, you know: “Ooh, it doesn't dance very well, but it's a bear!” And you really need to have the thing be a good comic, or a good short, or whatever. It has to meet that as a minimum, and I think the Left 4 Dead comic is a really strong comic. If you handed it to someone who never played games but was really into comics I think they'd say, “Wow, that's a really good comic. Wow, that's tied to a larger experience? Well that's even better”

If we'd have tried to find someone externally to do it, I don't think we would have had somebody who understood Left 4 Dead or understood what the customers are interested in seeing. I think the customers will be really... it'll answer a lot of questions.

So I'll take a step back. If you're trying to build something, and you try to put everything into a single thing, sometimes you're trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Movies are really good at certain kinds of things, and comics or graphic novels are actually better than movies at doing certain kinds of things, and games are better at doing certain kinds of things.

So we're broadening the palate of ways you can create entertainment, and you just have to use the tools in the right way, right? If you do a movie to give people choice, like the Clue movie, or you try to do a branching narrative like all the weird hyper media things that people were doing around 1994.

Erik Johnson: In Half-Life 2, we couldn't tell story when people were under duress, really. That's kind of how it breaks.

Gabe Newell: But in terms of environmental storytelling, which is a new kind of storytelling, games turn out to be really really great. And then if you're trying to do a huge amount of plot exposition, like, “This happened and then this happened,” comics are actually much better than movies. The amount of exposition you can actually jam into a 120 minute movie is fairly small. The amount of forward progress that you can get is much stronger. Movies are way better at nuance than comic books.

I think that's going to be really interesting to see who in the industry figures out how to use those things most effectively. Hopefully it's not going to turn out that we're all a bunch of one trick ponies that can only work in a single medium, because we think that customers are demanding more. It's like this weird situation in the late 90s, where the average internet gamer knew more about how the internet was going to change gaming than your average executive at a studio.

We think that customers are like, “Okay, we're kind of sick and tired of the way you guys are slicing and dicing the experience of being a fan of Harry Potter, or Half-Life, or The Incredibles, and you need to fix it. And the people that fix it will be rewarded, and the people that don't will- well, they'll be on the rubbish heap of history, or whatever the phrase is.

PC Gamer: I know a lot of the reason you guys came up with Steam was out of frustration at the publisher/retail model of PC gaming. Is there anything like that that still frustrates you about PC gaming today?

Gabe Newell: Well, the thing that we've been talking about is that we want - both on the production side and on the consumption side - to make it easier for people to be fans. The experience of being a fan right now is a treasure hunt, where a lot of times you get a toothbrush instead of a piece of candy. What's some candy that you hate? I'm going to use this as my new metaphor.

Right, so I'm a huge fan, and I go out to Barnes & Noble to get my book, and I go to Netflix to get my movie, and I go to GameStop... And it's really hard for me to gather this all together. I've got my little pile of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and half of it is awesome sugary tastiness, and some of it is nasty liquorice. People are going to send me liquorice now.

The point is, I think that this is the reality for customers. And as an industry it's very convenient for us to ignore how hard we make it for our fans. The reality is that for a lot of fans, the social meta narrative around the game is about as exciting as the game itself. The fact that I can see what my friends think, and I can argue with people.

And yet games don't do a good job of integrating that into the experience. If you're a fan, you sort of cobble together, “I happen to know the magic websites to go to,” you know? We're not doing a good job, either on the production side or the consumption side. That's what we think is a set of problems that have to be solving right now.

PC Gamer: It seems almost institutionalised. As a gamer I assume that a movie based on a game is going to be shit.

Gabe Newell: Well, we've taught you as a gamer that it is going to suck, right? No matter how much you'd rather it didn't, it does. As a WoW player, I would much rather that the WoW team made the movie, right? Than anybody else. I like Sam Raimi, I've been a fan ever since Evil Dead came out, but I would rather see Blizzard making the movie.

PC Gamer: The fans say that, too. They see these amazing CG trailers and they say, “Make that as a movie!”

Gabe Newell: More to the point, it's not going to go wandering into the weeds and be some distraction, right? Like I have trouble in my head being a fan or Resident Evil, because I can't remember , “Is that character dead in the movie?” It's an odd, weird, screwed up experience to try to track it. I'd rather they just had the team that understands and built the thing that I love extend it, not have it be licensed to the lowest cost provider who's going to make the cheapest possible version.

Erik Johnson: And gets to walk away from it, too.

Gabe Newell: And gets to walk away from it at the end of the day.

Erik Johnson: We can't walk away from Half-Life, right?

Gabe Newell: If the Mario Brothers movie was a train wreck, nobody at the movie company lost their job, as much as they deserved to. I think that's a big issue at the moment that we need to think about. We're thinking about what we do in terms of making our lives simpler and not in terms of what customers and consumers really want, and that's what we have to fix.

Tomorrow we'll be asking Valve why they released Alien Swarm for free, and talking to its creator about how it changed when Valve hired them. Here's the rest of our Valve interviews .