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Laidlaw:  Half-Life 2 's Alyx Works Because 'She Gives You Back Emotion'

Laidlaw: Half-Life 2's Alyx Works Because 'She Gives You Back Emotion'

November 2, 2009 | By Staff

November 2, 2009 | By Staff
More: Console/PC

Valve writer Marc Laidlaw has told Gamasutra that Half-Life 2's Alyx was constructed so that she "gives back to you emotion, which is the only way we can tell the internal story of Gordon Freeman."

Laidlaw's comments come as part of a larger interview with Valve writers, in which Laidlaw said Gordon Freeman's development as a lead character in Half-Life 2 has more to do with his external interactions rather than internal mechanisms.

Laidlaw said that the female character Alyx serves as "...a really good foil for [Freeman], because Gordon is not actually accomplishing his own goals. He explained, "[Freeman'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," he said. "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 as part of this group."

Laidlaw continued, "Alyx was a great voice for [Freeman] in some ways, 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."

Alyx's actions -- sly smiles, concerned expressions, compliments, for instance -- give the strong-but-silent Gordon Freeman an air of importance, even if he doesn't reinforce his importance with his own words.

"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," Laidlaw said. "So by having the characters like you and be 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."

By telling the story of Gordon Freeman through other characters, Laidlaw and Valve take on the "show, don't tell" storytelling policy, which often proves to be the most effective in many mediums. The "save the world" convention then manages to seem fresh and unique.

"It's not the typical quest. Saving this girl's father is a lot different from saving the princess," Laidlaw added. "This is something [Alyx] cares about and you want to do it 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."

For more from Laidlaw and fellow Valve writer Erik Wolpaw, read the full Gamasutra feature interview, where the pair talk about writing for Half-Life, Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2, as well as the state of video game writing and the creation of some of gaming's most memorable characters.

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