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Videogames that are a decade old tend to be pretty well locked-down, which is a nice way of saying that their developers stopped paying attention to them years ago. Not so with Team Fortress 2, however. Valve announced in a TF2 blog post that new balance changes are coming to the game in a "major update," and this time around it's actually telling people about the update before it goes live.
"In the past, we've made blog posts about changes we've already shipped or stuff we've tossed onto the smoldering scrap-heap of failed ideas," Valve wrote. "This time—based on your feedback—we're going talk about changes while we’re still working on them."
The list of changes, "based on online community discussions, emails, playtime data, conversations with players of all skill ranges, and play testing," is not complete, but is instead a "sneak peek" at what Valve is moving toward. Some changes, to both items and classes, are still being worked on and aren't "ready for review," and some that are listed may be changed prior to the update's release.
Valve is also "going deeper" with some classes than others. The Scout, for instance, will see a number of changes: The triple-jump enabled by the "Atomizer" bat, for instance, "is just too strong" because opponents don't see the bat and thus can't anticipate the Scout's enhanced jumping ability until it's too late. Because of that, the update will require that the bat be deployed, rather than simply carried, in order for the triple-jump ability to be used. It will also suffer a 50 percent "deploy time penalty" in order to prevent a "quick-switch by-pass."
The Engineer, on the other hand, is getting far less attention: The only listed change for that class is that the "Rescue Ranger" weapon will consume metal (at a 4:1 metal-to-health ratio) when used to make ranged repairs to buildings. Previously, ranged repairs with the weapon required no metal, which made it a little too powerful.
Ahead of the update, Valve is inviting player feedback as it tunes and finalizes these and other changes. "Hearing from you helps us prioritize our work and influences the direction the game moves in."
A rollout date for the latest TF2 update hasn't been set.
Brace yourselves, but we may never see Half-Life 3. We will, however, always have Half-Life 2—and, thanks to the efforts of a group of modders, it may soon be playable on current Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets. The Half-Life 2: VR mod that first saw the light of day back in 2013 has been resurrected on Steam Greenlight, with updates that will allow it to run on current VR hardware.
As explained by Road to VR, the original mod fell into disuse because Valve didn't update the Source engine to keep pace with changes in Rift and Vive headset software. Now, however, members of the original mod team, along with some new additions, have figured out how to make it work with current headsets, and also to support motion controllers, a feature that wasn't previously available.
The mod will also offer "updated effects, textures, models & maps," a 3D interface designed specifically for VR, "realistic weapon interactions," and "multiple VR locomotion methods," which I assume means ways of moving around in the game world. It'll be free too, but will require ownership of Half-Life 2, and HL2: Episode 1 and 2, in order to run. If you like what you see—and it's Half-Life 2 in virtual reality, so by all rights that should be a big ol' "Yes please, and thank you."
Without bagels, I’d probably live to be 100 years old. But I have regular access to bagels and sourdough loaves and this sandwich bread always in my house called Birdman that’s covered in seeds and I don’t know why. I eat the stuff so fast I’ll be surprised if I make it to 50.
In videogames, bread often gives you health instead of slowly seeping it away, a beacon of hearth and health. It’s been this way since the earliest games, and as technology became more capable of producing detailed environments and uncanny human likenesses, so too advanced the fidelity of the loaf. But the evolution of bread didn’t happen in a straight line. Diverse genres, art styles, and game engines shifted the purpose and priority of bread throughout the ages.
To get a clearer picture of how game bread has or hasn’t evolved, we’ve taken a look back at its implementation in some best games ever made to some of the most obscure.
As one of the earliest depictions of a hamburger bun, BurgerTime did a decent job. And it should have, given the name. Notice the inference of sesame seeds on the top bun and how the light diffuses on the bottom bunk. Early pixel art set a high bar for bunwork.
A decade later, the burger genre fell out of vogue and fantasy roleplaying games stepped into the limelight. Ultima IV didn’t feature bread in a major way, but was an early example of inventory art, proof that you didn’t need the latest in computer graphics to make a great loaf.
As a preteen, I went to a Catholic church camp even though I’m not and have never been Catholic. I ate the body of Christ even though I wasn’t supposed to and my friend Brian chastised me after the fact. He said I needed to get confirmed first and that I broke some kind of holy rule. The bread was just a thin wafer, like a sugar cone without the sugar, and maybe the aftertaste of it was a taste of hell itself. Jesus Matchup’s brown lump captures my disappointment exactly.
Pixel loaves hadn’t evolved much between Ultima IV and Ultima Online, but for one minor detail that changed the bread game forever for a few months. Ultima Online’s bread features a small blemish, giving the impression of a bite or piece ripped away for light post-adventure munching. The loaf went from inanimate prop to inanimate prop with history.
Whether Thief should commended or condemned for its early attempt at modeling a 3D loaf is beyond me. All I know for sure is this: that’s a log.
You may know Steven Spielberg for his hit films like E.T. and Jurassic Park, but did you know his name was once he probably had nothing to do with? Someone’s in the Kitchen! isn’t just good reason to call the police, it’s a bad point-and-click edutainment game with one hell of an opening theme song. Also, you make a sandwich in it while a demon toaster—who is going to kill me, I saw it in a dream—judges your creation. The bread looks like my little brother sat on it, and is a shade of yellow I’ve only ever seen in bathrooms built in the 70s. Clearly, the late 90s weren’t great for game bread.
Even the modern masters of 3D bread had to start somewhere. In Morrowind, Bethesda drew inspiration from something other than felled trees and instead turned their eye to the sky, probably. I’m guessing here. They managed to suggest bread by texturing a footballish shape with what look like photos from the visible surface of Jupiter, a perpetually storming gas giant.
Just two years later an MMO, known for prioritizing multiplayer features over looking good, managed to bake bread that an Orc could tolerate. While the left loaf looks like a water chestnut, the precise angles and light divots up top are a convincing enough illusion. The right loaf, except for it’s undercooked coloring, nails the shape. And the inner texture marks a defined border between crust and light, fluffy inside. I’m tempted to throw some mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a bit of thinly sliced night elf meat on there just looking at it.
Maybe Bethesda should’ve prioritized bread resolution DLC over horse armor. At a glance, one out of ten times I’m going to say that’s bread. The other nine times I’m going to say that’s a large misshapen potato. I lived in Idaho for a while. Got invited to a ‘Baked Potato Party' and yeah, they get that big.
While 3D game bread moved into potato territory, Recettear reaffirmed that pixels were still the way to go. Its depiction of Walnut Bread takes a good squint to make out, but when you get up close, the shades of gold and brown and white light diffusing on the outer crust nearly flash the entire baking process on the back of your eyelids. “Walnuts, soft dough and a bit of sugar…” do more than an extra dimension ever could.
I’d flake on a guy who thought it’d be a good idea to dip that twisted loaf in some red shit too. And look at that distribution! I’m not sure what’s being distributed, but half of that isn’t even bread, it’s Dark Brown Stuff. Jesus, man. We should never be able to see inside the bread if the tech isn't ready and can’t simulate a good bake.
Star Baker goes to Todd Howard this decade. Look at the fidelity of this loaf. A nice rise, detailed textures, and I can nearly hear the muffled tip-tap from the even bake. Forget adventure and the snowcapped mountaintops and vampires and dragons—like a toilet in a Tarantino movie, a good loaf is the keystone of any open world.
Well regarded for its wild redstone contraptions and horrifying monuments to pop culture, Minecraft’s bread has been largely ignored, and for good reason. You’re one of the most successful games of all time, and a brown lump is the best you can muster? I’ve felt more love radiating from an old hotdog bun.
You can tell this was made in a bread pan, small specks imply the bread is airy and light, you can summon it whenever you like, and nearly every humanoid creature will eat it. It’s a crude child’s drawing, sure, but Scribblenauts built put time into simulating natural, albeit simple, bread world behaviors. Consider it this immersive sim, the System Shock, of bread. Place it in the world, and the world reacts to its presence.
Source: David Miles on YouTube
If one game knows how good its bread is, it’s Bioshock Infinite. If you were to press pause and inspect the 3D baguette, it’d be possible to nitpick small design decisions, like texture resolution, flour distribution, and grain density, but because the bread is sandwiched with context—the dancing bread boy and his believable reaction to owning a baguette inside a big patriotic amusement park city held up by balloons that Ken Levine imagined using his brain, his very own personal brain—it doesn’t feel out of place. Realism is helpful, certainly, but the game world needs to feel alive, like a natural home for bread above all else.
Bread is only monstrous when left to mold, and Team Fortress 2’s Love and War update bottles the essence of in a cute, tragic short film. There’s little purpose to the bread in-game aside from a few dough-themed items. Personally, I interpret it as a commentary on the state of game bread as nothing more than a simple prop and HP potion skin, new ideas and advances left in the pantry to rot. I see you Valve.
As a goofy physics playground, I Am Bread is fine. I do take issue with how controlling a slice feels like maneuvering a heavy sponge. Bread isn’t heavy and sandwich bread isn’t durable. One fall off the table and it’s over, usually. I Am Bread forgoes natural bread behaviors for the sake of a joke, but I’m not sure we’ll be laughing when our kids start to think they can wash the dishes with a sandwich.
Everything about The Witcher 3’s world feels hand-placed. Small villages, big cities, and even monster-infested caves are brimming with life and purpose, but in order to maintain such a sprawling illusion, nearly all props and people are static. NPCs sit in the same place spouting the same lines and props like bread just sit there, looking delicious, but forever out of reach. What an awful game.
After setting a new standard for 3D loaf work in Skyrim, Bethesda dropped the atom ball in Fallout 4, spending more time on the bread box than any bread at all. Modders came to the rescue again, modeling slices, sandwiches, and adding recipes any old ghoul could follow.
Karnacan bakers know how to bake bread. Lovely rise, nice crust, but a bit low res I’m being honest. Eating it gives you a small dose of HP, but the animation is a simple swipe-and-swallow maneuver. It’s pan for the course, and not much else. In 2016, it’s a good bake, but it’s not a great bake.
How far have we come, really? From BurgerTime’s advanced bun art to Dishonored 2’s simple dark loaf, videogame bread feels without a sure destination—a lumpy mass that needs more time to prove. Perhaps the future holds loaves we never could have imagined, or abominations, such as virtual reality pumpernickel that virtually tastes like sourdough.
Will Call of Duty: WWII pay proper homage to the history and show families turning their nose up at National Loaf? Maybe someday we’ll spend as much money on naan as we do on spaceships in Star Citizen. All we know for certain is that bread will be there, a short roll for every dodge roll and an abundance of biscuits to crowd every RPG inventory.
"I finally got to a point where my skills don't match what the mod is anymore," Curtis, aka Enzo.Matrix, tells me. "To me that's insane."
The mod Enzo is referencing is one he co-founded in 2005: the Half-Life 2 modification and modern adaptation of Rare and Nintendo's first-person shooter GoldenEye 007—GoldenEye: Source. 12 years on, the mod that he and one-time partner Nicholas "Nickster" Bishop founded has been updated and reworked on several occasions, and is now almost unrecognisable in its current state. Nevertheless it continues to maintain and grow its thriving player base, and last year celebrated the launch of its most sophisticated and accomplished iteration yet in its 5.0 build.
"When we first started out, Nickster and I were working on a different mod that fell by the wayside called Project XX7," Enzo says. "When Nick came up to me and suggested we try something new, we decided to create something that was fun and enjoyable that you wanted to play with your friends. That's what the whole idea was: we wanted to recreate this experience that's enjoyable for everybody."
Enzo and Nickster chose to reimagine one of the most celebrated FPS games of a generation in N64's GoldenEye 007—and sought to capture the passion that'd elevated the '97 classic to cult status, without being hamstrung by the technical limitations the original faced eight years prior. Enzo recalls launching he and Nickster's Source variation into alpha on Christmas Eve, 2005 and quietly sneaking away from the family dinner table the following day to ensure everything was running smoothly. It was and people loved it. He was, in his own words, "utterly blown away."
As two hobbyists operating remotely in IRC rooms, Steam Chat, and on forum pages, development of GoldenEye: Source in the early days was slow but open, and as many as 20 people had volunteered their services within its first few months. Some folk dedicated more of their time, commitment and effort than others—Enzo highlights Killermonkey, Fourtecks and Luchador as three particular modders who "took things to the next level"—but, much similar to any part-time project that doesn't have the means to remunerate its contributors, this is perhaps to be expected. It was then Enzo was dealt a very personal blow, as he discovered in May of 2006 that co-founder Nickster had committed suicide.
"He was a very fun and pleasant guy," Enzo says. "It was just unfortunate that he went that route. He was a great friend that loved to chat." According to this archived thread featured on the mod's official site, Nickster, aged just 27, had spent some time in the lead up to his passing battling depression, and had shown a recent interest in the perceived concept of the afterlife. Despite the mod's fast-growing success at the time, GoldenEye: Source had lost one half of its pioneering founders, and his father paid tribute to the outpouring of well-wishes from his son's mod's community.
"I'm finding writing this message to be very helpful in helping me cope," his message concludes. "Nick twisted my arm for years to get me to play Half-Life. I've gotten to know and play with some great people. I can't tell you what it means to me to read all the wonderful things people have been writing about Nick. From the bottom of my heart I know Nick didn't want any of us to be sad."
With this sentiment in mind, GoldenEye: Source soldiered on and spent the next several years growing and refining the GoldenEye experience. Its classic maps were reinterpreted and made less linear; its guns were modernised and mechanics such as invulnerability were removed; and stalwart settings such as You Only Live Twice and License to Kill were reintroduced on top of a number of altogether new modes.
When GoldenEye: Source launched into alpha, its inspiration was the best part of ten years old—an influence that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. While it still enjoys a celebrated cult status today, though, it's easy to forget how much of it isn't worth saving. As Evan rightly noted in his review of Source's most recent 5.0 launch last year, the 64's four-player capacity, horrible controls, and slow turning speed, among others things, are best left behind thus reinterpreting something so highly regarded against modern hardware and, crucially, expectations is perhaps more complicated than it first seems.
"Recreating GoldenEye is a very interesting endeavour because there's a lot of stuff that people will remember from the original—specific weapons, characters, levels and all that—but there's also a lot of details that, as a result of the original's mechanics, the most people don't recall," says Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier, who became the mod's project lead ahead of build 5.0. "The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that, though. We definitely had to experiment with how much of the original game we wanted to port over to GoldenEye: Source, but I think we struck a pretty good balance of stuff that's essentially original content but heavily revamped for the modern gameplay environment."
Entropy-Soldier continues to say that simply recreating the old game within the Source engine is equivocal to copying someone's homework assignment, and that these bold sidesteps alongside the challenge of maintaining the mod's enduring appeal are what keeps everything interesting. He points to the original's infamous Dam map as a particularly relevant example of this.
"It is very difficult to strike the balance correctly where it's like: this shouldn't be as it was, but we don't want to just completely change everything," he says. "The Dam Map was a perfect example of that. Remaking the Dam from the original was tough because it's a very linear map and there really isn't a whole lot of leeway for layout changes. As such we had to change it quite a bit to make it feasible for multiplayer environments, while keeping its lineage intact."
And it's here where GoldenEye: Source thrives today. Whereas other prominent shooters operate automatic health regeneration mechanics, for example, GoldenEye: Source instead still relies on armour. There's also no crosshair by default, which encourages the fast and frantic twitch shooting the original executed so well—hitting shift pulls up an oversized reticule, but aiming comes at the expense of maneuverability and speed. Crouch dodging and crouch sliding return which, across its 20+ expanded maps, adds a whole other 'easy to learn/difficult to master'-type dynamic to combat should you desire. With that, there's enough here to draw the attention of new players, even if nostalgia plays a huge part in its overall appeal.
But nostalgia can surely only take players so far. An obvious question, then, is: what keeps players returning in their droves?
"I think there's always been a lot of people who've wanted to see a remake or remaster of the original game and there was a project in the works that was shut down," says Lewis, aka Mangly, the mod's lead artist. "It's a very memorable game and a lot of people want to experience it again but maybe not put up with all the notable constraints of '90s videogames."
"Yeah, we've added more modes, gun modes that's more relevant to the likes of Counter-Strike and what not, which has resonated pretty well with newcomers," Lyndon, otherwise known as Tweaklab, the mod's music composer interjects. "I've only been here for the past couple of years, but our organisation has also led to a more accomplished game in 5.0. Even as a newcomer it was making shift from Steam Chat then the forums, and then six months after that we moved to Discord and I noticed a huge change. It was really good getting frequent feedback and collaboration and even though I'm only doing music, there was no time wasted—the music was able to evolve naturally through the feedback.
"Before I joined the team I was making music just for fun, and I've been doing since around 2003. Since joining the team I'd say the quality of production has probably doubled, just because it's not just for fun. I mean, it is but it's more guaranteed that people are going to hear it now - that you're going to get feedback from others and not just your own. Even the stuff I make outside of GoldenEye now, I'm able to notice all the new techniques I've picked up and the extra attention to details and the layering—it's all come from the mod, it's really good."
With communication at the forefront of its 5.0 development, Entropy-Soldier reckons a smaller, more intimate team has allowed GoldenEye: Source to flourish into the focussed and polished article it's become today. The original GoldenEye 007 celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year and while the Source team don't have anything planned by way of celebration just yet, they do plan to maintain its latest build and grow it over time. It's unlikely we'll see such ambitious leap between 5.0 and its next step against what's come before the current build, however it's in a great place now to continue pushing itself into the future.
The team has set its bar high, but says it will never monetise its work—not least because so many faces have came and went along the way, and it'd hardly be appropriate for the current team to cash in on its predecessor's building blocks, some of whom have graduated to full-time employment with companies such as EA and Adobe. With this in mind, GoldenEye: Source is an archetypal labour of love, and a perfect example of hobbyist modders working with and for its community. Yet despite its most influx of players, the GoldenEye: Source team remains humble.
"We're always getting new people coming in and saying: 'my god, I've never heard of this project'," says Enzo, "and we've been around for such a long time, it's really interesting that's there's people that haven't heard of it. I love that, and it's always great to see new faces [getting] involved.
"It was pretty shocking when we hit the first big release like that. Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!"
You can download the GoldenEye: Source mod from ModDB.
Back in 2007, Ross Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind, a YouTube comedy series which explored the (very loud) inner monologue of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman as he traveled through the events of the original Half-Life. Longtime fans, rejoice: yesterday, Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind 2, in which Gordon arrives in City 17 to internally shout his way through Half-Life 2. You can see the new episode above.
It's natural to be a little suspicious that this is just a tease, what with the video being posted on April Fools' Day, but Scott has said in the past that he someday planned to tackle Half-Life 2 so we're hoping this is just the beginning of another long and enjoyable series of videos.
Originally this article stated the Freeman's Mind series began in 2013. That has been corrected above.
In November 2004, an independent studio named Junction Point was formed by Warren Spector and ex-Valve employee Art Min. The following year, it was announced the new outfit was working alongside Valve to create a Half-Life 2 episode which aimed to "fill in one of the gaps in the Half-Life universe" by fleshing out a specific part of its story. This project was ultimately cancelled, however new images offer a glimpse at how it might've looked.
As posted on Valvetime.net, the images from Junction Point's interpretation of Half-Life depict the second main series instalment's eerie zombie town Ravenholm—this time covered in snow.
According to Valvetime, the leaked map files suggest this Ravenholm would have included "small puzzles, scripted sequences, and fights". Valvetime also notes Junction Point's Ravenholm episode should not be confused with Arkane's also cancelled Return to Ravenholm.
"It is implied that the player crashes into a warehouse in a gondola," says Valvetime of this episode's narrative. "He wakes up in a room with two unique characters named Duncan and Scooter. There is a train station and buildings nearby. A group of rebels and Combine Soldiers fight on the streets. Duncan (ravenholm_npc_mueller) and Scooter (ravenholm_npc_scooter) are unique entities. Duncan uses a generic Citizen model, while Scooter's model is unknown.
"Some entities use JPS as their prefix in their names, which obviously stands for the studio's name. In addition to this, some objects have fields called magnet and magnetization, which are related to the Magnet Gun mentioned by Warren Spector in the interviews."
The magnet gun mentioned there was supposedly "entirely different" from the existing gravity gun, so said Spector in this Reddit AMA, however "the two would have been super complimentary."
Alas, it wasn't to be but a snow-themed Ravenholm would've been cool all the same. If not Ravenholm, which other areas of the Half-Life universe would you liked to have seen redone? Let us know in the comments south of here.
Erik Wolpaw, a long-time Valve writer who has worked on game series including Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and Portal, revealed today that he is no longer with the company. Marc Laidlaw, himself a former Valve writer, let the news slip on Twitter, while Wolpaw confirmed it in a status update on his Facebook page.
Wolpaw joined Valve in 2004, and has credits on Half-Life: Episode One and Two, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and Portal 2. Prior to that, he was with Double-Fine, where he co-wrote the outstanding platform-adventure Psychonauts, and before that he was one-half of the brilliant (and sadly defunct) gaming site Old Man Murray. He's currently involved in the development of Psychonauts 2, which was successfully crowdfunded in early 2016.
A reason for Wolpaw's departure wasn't given, but it does appear to be legitimate this time around. A report that he had left Valve also surfaced last summer, but in that case it turned out that he'd just called in sick for the day.
I've emailed Valve for more information, and will update if and when I received a reply.
Update: The report originally stated that writer Jay Pinkterton had also left the company, but apparently not.
Videogames have bugs. This is a fact of life. Some are obvious and easy to squash, and others are a little trickier to nail down. And then there are bugs like the one Valve fixed yesterday in Team Fortress 2. According to this Engadget report, it was around for a full decade—since TF2 was released in 2007—before it was noticed last month by TF2 Classic developer Nicknine, and reported by Redditor sigsegv_.
The bug occurred when a player selected the Scout, Heavy, or Sniper as their first class upon joining a server. After that, switching to Soldier, Pyro, Demo, Engineer, Medic, or Spy on the same server would leave their local and server-side animations slightly out of sync. It worked the other way as well: Beginning as Soldier, Pyro, Demo, Engineer, Medic, or Spy, and then switching to Scout, Heavy, or Sniper would have the same effect.
It sounds harmless enough, but the practical impact was most definitely not. As you can see in the video, the mismatch between local and server-side hitboxes meant that shots that should have hit sometimes would not. And once it happened, players were stuck: Switching back and forth wouldn't clear the error, nor would dying or going to spectator mode.
"It's because the player models for scout/heavy/sniper have their pose parameters listed in one order, while the player models for soldier/pyro/demo/engie/medic/spy have their pose parameters listed in a slightly different order (
move_y swapped)," sigsegv_ explained. "And it's also worth pointing out that in MvM [Mann vs Machine], the bots re-use the same 22 player slots over and over: when a robot dies, that player is switched to spectator, and then when it's time for another robot to spawn, the player is switched back onto blue team and changed to the class that the new robot should be. So, in effect, different MvM robots are somewhat equivalent to a group of human players who die, change class, and then respawn; which means that they were also susceptible to the bug."
It's not a huge bug, as evidenced by the fact that it went unnoticed for ten years, but that's also what makes it so notable now. TF2 is not your average ten-year-old game: It's still one of the top five games on Steam, with tens of thousands of people blasting away at each other 24 hours a day, and is supported by a very active modding community. Yet somehow, this bug, which impacts the game at its most fundamental level—did you shoot the guy or not?—has slipped through the cracks until now. In a way, it's almost a shame that Valve fixed it.
The full list of changes included in the latest TF2 update is below.
Mike Shapiro may not be a household name, but I'd wager you've heard his voice at some stage in the last 20 years. A voice actor with over two decades experience, he first lent his vocal chords to 1994's Super Punch Out, and has since worked on everything from Dota 2 to Grand Theft Auto 5.
His most famous work, though, is his contributions to Valve's Half-Life series—having voiced security guard-turned-Resistance champion Barney Calhoun, as well as Gordon Freeman's dapper, dark and elusive adversary The G-Man.
The following interview took place last year, prior to Gabe Newell's recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, where I asked Shapiro what it's like working with Valve, why he's drawn to the characters he's voiced within the Half-Life series, and what are our chances of seeing Barney and G-Man's return at some stage in the future.
PC Gamer: Prior to working with Valve on the original Half-Life, you’d worked on several video games including more comical titles such as Super Punch-Out—what first drew you to video game voice acting?
Mike Shapiro: Voice acting in games has always been one of my favourite places to perform. You’ve got a ton of creative collaboration with the writers and creators, and often you get to inhabit a range of characters even on a single title. Especially early on, when the medium was just burgeoning, performing for games felt like a very natural extension of live theatre.
Is it fair to say that working on the original Half-Life was the biggest video game you’d worked on up to that point production-wise? How was this project different to the others you’d worked on beforehand?
Prior to Half-Life I had worked on a variety of projects. Seattle was a hotbed in the '90s and a number of them were ambitious for their time (did somebody say McZee?). But from the outset, Half-Life was breaking new ground on a lot of levels. Early on, while we were still devising G-Man and Barney, pre-release versions of the game just blew my mind. It was way out front of other FPS titles in terms of realism and interactivity, and ahead of the curve for cinematic sequences that were super-fun to work on.
Half-Life 2 was obviously bigger again, how did this compare to working on the original Half-Life and what were your expectations going in?
It’s always a time warp—in this case a gratifying one—to step back into the boots (or mysterious, all-powerful wingtips) of characters you inhabited years earlier. Before we even began work on Half-Life 2, the game had broken all kinds of new ground and won wide acclaim.
More significantly, we could feel the audience out there—hungry, engaged, creative. That makes a world of difference to an actor. So when it was time to get the band back together, Valve’s studio was buzzing with that energy. I [attend] a number of Comic Cons and conventions, and I always look forward to meeting the fans. That’s a real moment of fulfilment, when a project we began in 1998 comes to fruition face to face in real time.
Did you have any sense at the time—during or shortly after—that you were working on a video game that would go on to be held up as one of the greatest of all time?
The creatives at Valve, the producers, the entire team—they are consummate pros. From our initial meeting it was clear that they weren’t just putting out a new title, they were planning to change the world. It was always about story and engagement, creating an immersive, visceral, altogether novel experience. Sure, we sensed that Half-Life would break new ground, experiencing even betas of the new game, that was patently clear.
When we first began recording Barney and Eli, G-Man, Gina, all those characters at Black Mesa? Right from the start, and more recently with [my work on] Dota 2, the whole Half-Life experience has been hugely gratifying.
Speaking to the general process—how closely do the in-game models of the Half-Life 2 characters resemble their voice actors and do you guys have any input?
So you’re asking whether I physically resemble G-Man? I certainly hope not! For starters, I try to get out in the sun a little more. And Barney’s got way cooler gear than I could ever hope to wear.
For sure there is a symbiosis that evolves between you and your character—whether it manifests in terms of appearance, that’s up to the fans to decide when they meet us. To my eye, it’s the dedicated cosplayers who most strikingly resemble our characters. Some of those are amazing!
In our previous chat you mentioned that G-Man and Barney are among your “very favorite characters”—what is it about them that’s so special to you even now, so many years on?
It’s a lot of fun to inhabit G-Man, albeit vicariously—those nether realms, and the secrets which he and he alone carries. Of course you wouldn’t actually wanna be the guy, let alone meet him in a darkened facility. Likewise, something about Barney Calhoun’s spirit is just indomitable. And loyal. Even if he has rather a simpler mind at work. Barney is kind of a perfect counterpoint to G-Man. So playing both of them within a single storyline is uniquely satisfying.
They’re also among my favourites because Half-Life fans are so devoted and knowledgeable—when we meet, there’s an immediate shared history through these characters. Both G-Man and Barney are very particularly drawn, and somehow also archetypal. The players always grok that.
Again, it’s been a while since the last instalment to the Half-Life series, how hopeful/confident are you on a personal level that Valve will return to it in the future?
Between the original titles and the immense fan creativity, Half-Life is incredibly vibrant, and it’s hard to believe we’ve heard the last from the Combine. I’m not at liberty to discuss any detailed plans, but I regularly connect with players who make it clear that there’s hunger for another instalment. Might that come in the form of a film collaboration with Bad Robot, or a new stand-alone release? I certainly feel optimistic about those scenarios, and the Half-Life universe is one I’m always happy to inhabit.
Although skin gambling in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has been around for a number of years, last year saw Valve crack down on a series of sites—issuing cease and desist orders to several gambling outlets for using their Steam account for commercial purposes. Valve is now turning its head towards its other major online shooter, Team Fortress 2.
If you're unfamiliar with how skin gambling works, Evan's detailed overview in relation to CS:GO is worth checking out as it's a similar process in TF2. At this stage, Valve hasn't revealed its next move beyond stating its intentions.
As featured on the Team Fortress 2 website, Valve released the following statement:
"In July of last year we outlined our position on gambling web sites, specifically noting that Valve has no business relationship with these sites. At that time we also began blocking many CSGO gambling accounts. You can view the original post here.
"More recently, some gambling web sites started leveraging TF2 items. Today we began the process of blocking TF2 gambling accounts as well. We recommend you don’t trade with these sites."
Following last year's crackdown, a number of shuttered CS:GO gambling sites suggested the way in which they operated was entirely legal, and that they'd relaunch following talks with Valve. A cursory Google search would suggest this has not been the case, which of course sends a pretty clear message to those still operating under the radar.