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That seems like quite an achievement. Companions tend to be infuriating. How did you avoid this with Alyx?
DS: Alyx doesn’t generally dictate the pace of your forward progress through the game. When she does that, it feels like she’s playing the game and you’re the tag-along. We learned this in Episode One, and applied it in Ep Two as well. The player should dictate the pace of moving through the game.
And we’re very careful that it’s the player who solves most of the problems. Alyx can state a problem - “We should really figure out a way across this bridge” - but it’s important the player should be the solution. It’s not much fun watching an NPC play a game for you. We deliberately keep the player as the prime mover, and Alyx’s job is really to augment the gameplay, create interesting gameplay scenarios, and reward you for a job well done. There’s a whole set of rules - the player dictating the pace and Alyx not stealing the fun - that we make sure we follow. It was a lot of work achieving the Alyx you see in the game today. It took a lot of iterations, and even all of her responses to the events which happen in the game took a lot of fine tuning. She can’t talk too much, and she can’t be too quiet either. There’s a middle ground where she’s talking enough to show awareness of what’s going on around her. We try to make everything she says interesting or entertaining, so we really pay attention to how people respond.
The car was a real surprise. It gives the impression of incredible speed, but you always feel in control.
DS: Well, you have two groups of players. We ended up striking a balance between what I guess you could call performance drivers and casual drivers. The performance drivers want to say, “If I floor it and cut the wheel really hard to the left, then I should fly off the road,” and casual drivers want to think of it as a really fast player, which does whatever they say. There was a difficult balance to achieve satisfying both groups of players. But there’s quite a bit of code helping you out as you drive to keep you on the road as much as possible, despite you giving conflicting orders to the car - steering it and flooring it, for example. We change your field of view in the car, which accentuates the sense of speed.
We also improved greatly how turbo worked. In Half-Life 2, turbo was pretty much the ‘Crash The Buggy’ button. You’d press it, and pray it goes in the right direction. In Ep Two, you can hit turbo and really drive - you stay on the road, the steering works really well - it’s a fun way of driving around by hitting turbo a bunch.
Games are terrible at endings. In fact, game endings are always shit. Why aren’t Valve’s?
DS: We’re very self-critical of our past work, so we constantly want to get better at things like endings. And with this ending, we took a bigger risk than we had in the past. The payoff is there. I think it’s going to tell us that we need to be more and more willing to take big risks like that.