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Valve's Writers And The Creative Process
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Valve's Writers And The Creative Process

November 2, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

A lot of gamers are infatuated with Alyx as a character. Can you tell me more about her development?

ML: With Half-Life 1, we didn't have a great animation system. Characters didn't have fingers. They had these potato-mitten things for hands. It was a huge breakthrough for us to move the mouths of the players when the speech was coming through. So we didn't try to get too ambitious. I thought we were pretty ambitious with what we were doing with characters already.

People responded really well to having Barney the security guard along, just because he had infinite ammo and they felt bad if they walked him out in front of a turret and he got killed. We realized, "Wow, people are getting attached to a cipher." Clearly, people wanted to glom onto a buddy and project on to that, and they love having this experience.

So we set out to create some characters that would take advantage of that. We realized we were going to have a better animation system, facial expressions, and the detail in the modeling was going to get better. And our animation was just going to be a lot richer. That was the point where we started to think in terms of the actual characters.

So we started to create an interesting cast of characters that was connected to the original game, in terms of all being either Black Mesa scientists or their relatives. The events of the first game still have meaning for the characters in Half-Life 2, even though it's many years later. Alyx wasn't originally associated with Black Mesa at all. Her father was a soldier out in the wasteland, and she was a courier kid who ran messages between different resistance groups. Then there was a separate character who was an inventor scientist guy from Black Mesa -- Eli -- who lived in a junkyard.

At some point, we started condensing the game. Whole middle sections went away, and I kind of jokingly said to people, "I think this Alyx character over here is the daughter of the inventor character over here."

I thought about this for a week or so, and then said, "Okay, we'll eliminate this other character who was originally her father, because we got rid of this whole section of the game."

And then it all fit. Suddenly, she had this direct connection to Black Mesa. She had this science background going on, and more tech, in her case.

We had done different background stories for her, and we kept revising those, and again, it was a matter of the artists coming up with a look for her and finding a model who had an interesting look, and then animators wanting to try some new expressive stuff with her, since we had facial expressions.

We had much better lip syncing. Then we started hunting around for an actor, and found the perfect actor to play her part. All of these things caused her character to gel.

Then there was a lot of playtesting to get to the point where she was a welcome character instead of somebody who did so much handholding. This is less of an issue in Half-Life 2, because she wasn't on all the time. She was also a really good foil for the character, because Gordon is not actually accomplishing his own goals.

He's accomplishing his co-op goals with her. He's helping Alyx do things that she is concerned about. So we were trying to do a thing where it wasn't about one guy who is saving the world heroically for his own reasons. You're doing it with your allies and friends. It's part of a larger effort. It's not just Gordon Freeman against the universe. It's Gordon Freeman's part of this group.

So Alyx was a great voice for the character in some way, and you're rescuing her father. You're not rescuing Alyx. You're doing things that are valuable for her, and she's a stand-in for this new world's struggle. She knows what is important for you to do, and she was useful.

She gives back to you emotion, which is the only way we can tell the internal story of Gordon Freeman -- by the way the other characters treat him. So having the characters like you and glad to see you, you think, "Oh, I'm an important person in this world." Alyx was a great way of affirming that, and the things that are perilous to Alyx are going to be things that you care about.

So it's not the typical quest. Saving this girl's father is a lot different from saving the princess. This is something she cares about and you want to do because it's important to her. Otherwise, a player is just playing a game and doesn't have an emotional goal outside of that. She's a good carrier for the actual emotion in the game.

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