So, Half-Life aside, what games have you played that have really put some meat onto the bones of sci-fi gaming?
Laidlaw: Sci-fi in games tends to turn on imagery of armor-plated oafs and shiny warships. The dark satiric or dystopian futures I prefer have been few and far between, and don't necessarily give rise to games that I care to spend the requisite 40-60 hours beating. I'm more inclined to sink into fantasy realms, with my critical facilities numbed by the sight of pretty purple hills in the distance. Which is to say, it's less about the games being rigorously imagined sci-fi and more about consistently intriguing worlds, regardless of whether the enterprise is propped up by technology or magic. Retro's Metroid Prime games have done fantastic things with atmosphere and environment, and with creatures that evoke an opaque alien disinterest in my feeble human aspirations. They want only to feed on my neurotransmitters, and I love them for that.
An obvious outing for the Half-Life universe would be a movie. Would this work? Do you think it'll ever happen?
Laidlaw: This project always crashes up against the hard reality that Gordon Freeman is a cipher - a Teflon conduit for the player's senses. As soon as you try to turn him into an actual character separate from the player's will, he loses whatever it is that makes him an interesting first-person-game protagonist. Anybody from outside Valve who gets a hold of the project instantly turns Gordon Freeman into the perfect starring vehicle for that week's top celebrity, and the arbitrary changes just get worse from there. Even if Valve makes the movie independently, we would have to solve the Freeman character dilemma - but at least I believe we would solve it in such a way that it would be true to the rest of our vision.
The first Half-Life movie treatment pitched to us climaxed with a tearful reunion between enslaved Vortigaunts and their Vortiwives and children. The last one I saw had Black Mesa invaded by a cavalry unit, just so as to feature a scene of bullsquids tearing into armored horses… Which I admit is sort of cool, but has nothing to do with Half-Life.
What do you reckon the actual chances of us having to live in a bleak Orwellian nightmare in the next couple of years are?
Laidlaw: Roughly the same as the odds of Conan the Barbarian becoming the governor of California.