When we started No One Lives Forever, the team had just come off Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, which (although critically successful) fell embarrassingly short of our original design goals. In fact, the only thing that saved Shogo from complete disaster was the realization, some six months before we were supposed to ship, that there was no way to make the game great in that amount of time. So, we concentrated on making it fun.
Ambition undermined Shogo. The intended scope of the project was so grand, particularly for such a tiny team, that we were overwhelmed just trying to get everything into the game. As a result, we didn't have time to polish any of it. The final product is barely more than a prototype of the game we were trying to make, even after we cut characters, settings, story elements, and whatever else we could jettison without breaking the game. It was simply too late to shore up all the deficiencies by the time we realized how many there were. I'm certainly proud of Shogo as an accomplishment, but as a game it is a grim reminder of the perils of wild optimism and unchecked ambition.
We felt it was better to release a comparatively humble game that got all the details right than an ambitious one that fell short in numerous area.
We were determined not to repeat those mistakes on our next project. Half-Life confirmed our growing conviction that presentation is more important than innovation: although that game is often hailed as having revolutionized the first person action genre, it doesn't do anything spectacularly new. What makes it so influential is that it does everything so well. The pacing is sublime, the situations inventive, the AI incredible, and the overall level of polish unprecedented. It's a game made up of unforgettable moments.
Polish, therefore, was our chief mandate. We felt it was better to release a comparatively humble game that got all the details right than an ambitious one that fell short in numerous areas. To a great degree, we succeeded, for although No One Lives Forever was to undergo a great deal of turmoil in the coming months, we never let it get out of control the way we had with Shogo. As a result, we managed to ship a product that actually surpassed the goals we set for it. That's not to say we didn't make plenty of mistakes or that the game is as polished as we had hoped, merely that it was a monumental improvement over previous efforts.