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Gabe Newell of Valve Software
Hello, Gabe. We would like to start with an introduction for the people who do not know the answer to, "Who is Gabe Newell?"
I'm Gabe Newell, and I'm the Managing Director at Valve. I co-founded the company with Mike Harrington, who has since retired to build a boat and sail around the world. I picked the title Managing Director because I felt silly calling myself CEO or President when there were only four of us
What made you decide to leave your successful career at Microsoft to create Valve Software?
I stopped enjoying the work. I started at Microsoft in 1983. At the time Microsoft was the third largest software developer on the east side of Lake Washington. It was a huge amount of fun, the people were great, and our customers thought we were this super cool underdog who was finally doing software right. By 1996 when I left, Microsoft was fully into it's Evil Empire stage, and even someone who had as much seniority as I had couldn't get anything interesting done any more. I had friends who would say stuff like "I spend 100% of my time trying to get other projects at Microsoft killed".
Was it difficult to find people that would help you develop Half-Life?
Well, we had a lot of help from the guys at id to get started. That made it easier to attract good people, and then the good people called up their friends and told them they had to come work at Valve. It was a lot of work, but it wasn't something where we felt like we were beating our heads against a wall and not making any progress.
How did Valve become involved with Sierra?
We were going around talking to publishers about the ideas we had for Half-Life. It turns out that most of them thought we were on crack, although they were polite enough at the time. I had a friend who knew Ken Williams, the founder of Sierra, and he kept telling me that we should go pitch Sierra. I was skeptical that Sierra would be interested, but it turned out that Ken had just barely failed to get the publishing rights to Doom and was really interested in making up for that mistake. He had been around enough Microsoft people to realize that we weren't as insane as we came across to other game publishers, and he pretty much signed up Half-Life on the spot.
Was the idea of Half-Life around before Valve was created, or was it the other way around?
We were kicking around a couple of ideas when Valve was getting started. Mike actually had some ideas for a submarine game that he really wanted to do. When John Carmack gave the go-ahead for us to license the Quake engine, that really meant we we were going to do an FPS.
Are there any features in Half-Life that were more challenging to implement than any of the other features?
Well, I'm still waiting for moss to go in. That was a concept I had for time-based entities that I was sure going to enable a lot of interesting gameplay. The rest of the company tortures me and reduces it to "so you want moss that shows up over time, right?" So it was challenging enough that it never got implemented (or stupid enough, as someone looking over my shoulder just interjected). Save and restore is actually way trickier than you would think, unless you are a game engine developer. Ken's animation system was a real break-through. Doing AI is a weird Zen problem, where the surest path to failure is to try to be too clever.
Since Half-Life is just an outstanding game, is there anything that you specifically take pride in?
Well, actually shipping is something we're pretty proud of. There's a lot to be said about actually getting a game finished and out the door with the features you promised and with a high degree of quality. A lot of game companies don't seem to be able to do that right. I'm also really happy that we have put as much support into the game after it shipped as we have. I think our customers really see that and respect that about us.
Did you ever think that Half-Life would be such a successful game?
No. We didn't. But we have tried to use that success to continue to build more cool things for our customers.
With the knowledge that you have now, what would you have changed in the development of Half-Life's singleplayer, if anything?
The whole way we initially designed the game was broken. We didn't know what we were doing. We had to go back and more or less start over from scratch. I would have loved to know what we had learned by the time we shipped when we had started, but I'm not sure it works that way. I really cringe sometimes when people trot out some of my early ideas for Half-Life.
Since the debut of Half-Life, how has your life been affected, if affected at all?
I get a lot of email. I also get some pretty weird phone calls late at night.
Being that we are avid mappers, we have always wondered where the inspiration for all of the great Valve maps came from?
We ended up using a process we call design cabals. Ken Birdwell wrote up a description of that for one of the game design magazines. It's really a function of having enough smart people working together in a reasonably egoless fashion with the willingness to iterate and prune.
Are there any Half-Life mods that have the potential of becoming official Half-Life mods?
We're always interested in working with the MOD community to take the next step - whether that's to go commercial or whatever.
We have noticed that there is a file named "1600_textscheme.txt." This leaves us to believe that we can play Half-Life at 1600x1200, but we don't know how...do you? If so, maybe you can tell us how this can be done.
No, you can't. I wish you could. I have an LCD monitor that runs at 1600 x 1024, and I'm tired of looking at smeared pixels.
Some people think that bunny hopping is a skill that is meant to be in the game, while other people say it is an exploited bug. What is your standpoint on the issue of bunny hopping?
We're putting a bunny hopping fix in the next release of CS, so I guess I come down on the side of "I am tired of playing CS with a bunch of freaking jack rabbits."
Does Valve plan on making any other games that are outside the scope of the Half-Life engine, aside from Team Fortress 2?
Is there any new information on Team Fortress 2 that you can share with us?
Do you think that games like "Medal of Honor: Allied Assault" will have any impact on Team Fortress 2?
We usually have enough trouble doing what we want to do without worrying about what other game developers are doing. There was a period when we tried to do competitive analysis but it was just a big waste of time. We're going to try and build stuff that makes sense to us, and then let our customers tell us how to do it better, and not try to chase after other people's designs.
In conclusion, is there any other bit of information that you would like to share with the rest of public?
Good luck with the site. We're all part of this community, and it's pretty darn cool how well it works and how much value we all get from it.