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Developer commentary/Half-Life 2: Episode Two

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This article is a transcript of all of the quotes from a given character or entity. Unless noted otherwise, these transcripts are sourced directly from the official scripts, closed captions, or internal text data with only minimal modifications for typos and formatting purposes.

The following is a list of all of the developer commentary from Half-Life 2: Episode Two's commentary mode.


Filename Speaker Subtitle
EP2-Comment001 Gabe Newell Welcome to Half-Life 2, Episode 2. We are at the mid-point in our trilogy of episodes which will conclude in Episode 3. To listen to a commentary node, put your crosshair over the floating commentary symbol and press your use key. To stop a commentary node, put your crosshair over the rotating node and press the use key again. Some commentary nodes may take control of the game in order to show something to you. In these cases, simply press your use key again to stop the commentary. Please let me know what you think after you have had a chance to play this, our latest installment in the ongoing adventures of Gordon Freeman. I can be reached at I get about 10,000 emails each time we release a game, and while I can't respond to all of them, I do read all of them. Thanks, and have fun!
EP2-Comment002 Erik Johnson This transmission scene was added fairly late in development, after hearing from playtesters that they weren't sure where they were going, or why. Setting up the White Forest base as your goal right away was important in an episode with so many open, freeform areas where players might forget what they're supposed to be doing.
EP2-Comment003 Marc Laidlaw In this first part of the episode, we are restoring the player's connection to Alyx by recalling the sort of collaborative activities you shared with her in Episode 1, from combat to collaborative puzzle solving. Notice that as she works to restore power to the transmitter, she is careful not to steal the player's fun by doing it all herself. She doesn't actually solve the puzzle, although she sometimes thinks she has. This adds to her charm and helps her feel more human. Of course the reason we're doing this is so that you will care when bad things happen to her.
EP2-Comment004 Jeremy Bennett The view of the ruined yet still dangerous City 17 is a good example of a classic Half-Life vista. Vistas are sweeping scenes where many elements of design come together. This one reminds the player of what he accomplished in Episode 1, while setting up the threat that will hang over the rest of Episode 2. It establishes the mood with a stunning skybox and shader effects; shows off believable character responses, and also literally sets the episode into motion. When the player looks at the scene, a device called a 'look trigger' sets off the portal storm, which causes the bridge to collapse, using Valve's new 'Cinematic Physics' which we will be showcasing throughout the episode.
EP2-Comment005 Jason Mitchell For the ominous mass of clouds which swirl above the destroyed citadel, we devised a shader effect to give the impression of depth and complex turbulence. The actual geometry rendered for this effect is a single flat polygon but, through a series of pixel shader effects which composite several texture layers, we are able to achieve the impression of realistic churning clouds. In the offline previsualization work that we did to initially define this effect, we developed a very realistic simulation with more than 30 layers of clouds. With real-time shader techniques, we were able to achieve an equivalent look while maintaining an interactive frame rate.
EP2-Comment006 Gautam Babbar Having established the superportal as a threat in the opening vista, we decided it would make a useful landmark as the player traveled toward White Forest. In Half-Life 2 and Episode 1, we could count on the Citadel being visible in many of the maps, casting its shadow over the whole world. The superportal plays the same role in Episode 2, anchoring the player in the world while providing them with visual updates on the developing threat. The addition of beam effects and portalstorm shockwaves help bring the portal to life and make it more than merely a static background element.
EP2-Comment007 Gray Horsfield The destruction of this rail bridge was our first opportunity to showcase our new cinematic physics technology. We wanted to convey to the player the scale of the train wreck and the delicate balance the damaged bridge was left in as a result. The structural deformation of the twisted metal was modeled with the help of surface based spring networks, driven by particle systems. In this case we actually passed a rail car through the bridge, and solved the deformation dynamically. For the collapse, we used an offline large scale rigid body simulation, a technology typically reserved for the visual effects industry. In this simulation we have about 750 moving parts, calculated with coarse convex hulls. These in turn drove a skeleton network, to which the high resolution geometry was skinned. Particles were then emitted from the transforming geometry and calculated in-game.
EP2-Comment008 Gautam Babbar Starting Episode 2 in the crashed train has several purposes. From a story point of view, it establishes continuity with the end of Episode 1. But from a gameplay perspective, it allows players to reacquaint themselves with the basic movement controls in a safe, contained environment. Our earliest design had the player scrambling out of the wreck high above the canyon, and forced them to make some precarious jumps to get to ground level. After seeing most playtesters fall to their deaths numerous times in the first five minutes of gameplay, we optimized for perceived rather than actual danger.
EP2-Comment009 Chris Chin Here are some prototype sketches showing the evolving design of the bridge. Research, sketches and construction.
EP2-Comment010 Joe Han From the beginning of Episode 2's design, we intended for Alyx to be gravely injured and fall into a coma. However, the timing and nature of her injury changed dramatically. In the earliest version, the player woke to find Alyx already unconscious. We wanted the player to be unsure of what to do, but instead this turned out to be merely confusing. In the next iteration, Alyx balanced precariously in the train car near the player, only to slip and fall as the train shifted. This was unsatisfying because we have painted Alyx as tough and agile; having her injured in a fall seemed arbitrary and impersonal. We kept trying to add a stronger emotional aspect to her injury--something that would give rise to anger and fear. Around this time, the Hunters were coming online, and we were having trouble giving them a really powerful introductory moment. Solving both problems at the same time, we introduced the Hunters as the cause of Alyx's injury.
EP2-Comment011 Ted Backman The antlion grubs were initially created for Half-Life 2, to visually flesh out the lifecycle of the antlions. We never found the right place for them in that game, but as we developed the antlion environments of Episode 2, they were an obvious choice for resurrection. In addition to their role in the life cycle of the antlion, they provide an equally valuable service in these dark tunnels: light. As the grubs came to life, we made sure that killing them was more rewarding. In addition to the satisfying squish effects, we added the health nugget for ailing players. Soon we found many players were compelled to squash every grub in the map. It's worth pointing out that grubs also play a role in our dynamic resupply system: The more injured you are, the more health they provide, which allows us to create a consistent level of challenge for players at differing skill levels. SHOW CONCEPT ART HERE
EP2-Comment012 Joshua Weier The antlion experience in Half-Life 2 was characterized by a mindless, constant onslaught of bugs rushing your way. We devised the antlion worker for Episode 2, as a way to add depth and variety to the underground sequences, by leveraging new types of gameplay. Unlike normal antlions, the worker chooses to avoid direct confrontation, skulking in the background and lobbing acidic globs from a distance. This extends the amount of time players spend with each creature. By contrast, an encounter with an ordinary antlion is over in seconds. The spitting behavior was derived from the bullsquid of Half-Life 1, but was updated to fit the more physical world of Half-Life 2. To that end, the spit globs are not merely sprites, but physically simulated objects, flying through the air along realistic trajectories.
EP2-Comment013 Steve Kalning The antlion web sacks, grubs, and workers show off a new illumination shader we developed especially for this level. We began with concept art for the web sacks, modelled those, then added a material parameter that allows the model's self-illumination to be modified based on the angle at which the player views them. The end result is an object that looks lit from within by a weird volumetric light.
EP2-Comment014 Elan Ruskin The turret battle design went through many changes. Early stages had the player controlling 3 turrets and not ever having to fight antlions directly. After playtesters complained of not having anything to do during the battles, we changed the number of turrets to leave the player underhanded when in later rounds all the tunnels are active. This creates a better mix of resource management and combat. Later we added this tweaked version of the hopper mines to give players yet another tool for fighting the onslaught.
EP2-Comment015 Doug Wood At the climax of the turret battle, we introduce the new vortigaunt in full-on action mode. The player can and should take part in the battle, but we were careful to make it fairly easy for him to hang back and enjoy watching the vorts clear the room of antlions. We wanted to show off the vortigaunts' new abilities and get the player excited about the role they were going to play as active allies in the struggle against the Combine.
EP2-Comment016 Erik Wolpaw One of the most significant story meetings we had near the beginning of Episode 2 concerned how much we were going to reveal about the G-Man. Once we had decided exactly how much to explain, we had to come up with a way of revealing it. Alyx's healing sequence offered the perfect way to pull Gordon out of mundane surroundings and put him in a realm where the G-Man can speak to him directly, but dialog is only one of our tools for narrative. By blending images from the past, the present and the immediate future, we continue to stitch together the Half-Life story over time. We make clear that the events at Black Mesa continue to resonate. And we draw the strongest connections yet between Gordon, the G-Man, Alyx and Eli Vance.
EP2-Comment017 Chet Faliszek Griggs & Sheckley started off as minor characters who were just used to explain the setup for the turret battle. Once done, they died fairly quickly, leaving players alone to fend off the antlion swarms. We found this left players unsure of their defensive strategies and would force them to visually survey the cavern before setting up defenses. So we made the two characters stronger and had them yell out their state to players and even suggest what openings the player should cover. This gave players extra time to setup a defensive strategy before the antlions arrived. This also let us also rachet up the intensity level by slowly heightening their reactions to the threats. Once we realized this worked, we decided to separate the characters and create an Abbott and Costello style team to do little bits during the down time the players were using to setup their defenses. We ended up with entertaining character moments that also cued the player on game state and events.
EP2-Comment019 Bill Van Buren In Half-Life 2, Lou Gossett's voice lent itself to a mystical and mysterious characterization of the vortigaunt. In Tony Todd's reading for Episode 2, we heard new possibilities for a vortigant who is more of a mystic martial artist. With new attack animations and companion behavior, we worked with Tony to build the vortigaunt into a powerful ally, a full-on alien ass-kicker.
EP2-Comment020 Chris Green Texturing of these caves provided a couple of significant challenges. We had never made such a large scale area completely out of displacements before. The convoluted topology of the surfaces made them especially hard to UV map without unpleasant-looking seams and texture warping. After some early attempts, we decided that we were not going to be able to map this area using conventional UV-mapping, so we decided to write custom shaders especially for the caves. Our custom shader combines multiple axis-aligned projections based upon the surface normal. This largely fixed our problems with stretching and seams. Since we wanted to provide dramatic lighting in these areas, particularly when lit by the flashlight, we augmented the Source engine's radiosity bumpmapping with a new piece of technology. This allows us to create a form of bumpmaps in which the bumpmapped surface details actually cast soft shadows across the surface. This emphasizes the surface bumpiness, especially when the light is at grazing angles.
EP2-Comment022 Randy Lundeen One of the three main themes for antlion areas, the mines were a plausible setting for light sources, mechanical obstacles, and resupply. Visually, the mines offer good contrast to the natural cave areas and the more organic spaces the worker antlions have carved out with acid secretions.
EP2-Comment024 Elan Ruskin In Half-Life2 and Episode 1, players learned that turrets will always attack them unless they are reprogrammed by allies. We needed a new visual way to instantly show that these new turrets also are allies, and decided to hark back to the aircraft nose art of WW2. The elaborate turret design also hints at how bored Griggs and Sheckley must have been sitting down here by themselves.
EP2-Comment028 Carl Uhlman In early tests, playtesters didn't realize that antlion grubs drop health nuggets, since they tended to pick up the nuggets by accident after squishing the grubs. In order to showcase the feature, we placed a grub on the far side of this webbing. When a player breaks the web, they squish the grub and send the nugget rolling. Most players chase the nugget and naturally understand how to exploit grubs in the future.
EP2-Comment029 Erik Johnson Every Half-Life game so far has started with Gordon Freeman weaponless. Assuming some players had just played through Episode 1, while others might not have played it at all, we had to decide how long we should spend parcelling out new weapons and providing adequate time to play or practice with each one. In this case, we decided to hand the player a number of weapons all at once, figuring most would have mastered their gunplay in previous episodes. We held off doing a lot of deliberate training until we began introducing newer modes of combat later in the episode.
EP2-Comment031 Jason Brashill In the prototype for this level, the Vortigaunt cleared the way by blasting apart a rockpile. After a new model was created for the generator, we decided to exploit the vortigaunt's natural relationship with electricity by having him charge the generator much the way he charges Gordon's suit. We were then able to use generators as 'vortigates' throughout the level to indicate areas the player could enter only with a vortigaunt's assistance.
EP2-Comment032 Dario Casali We experimented a lot with the ammunition for this level. Originally, we had a single ammo crate containing submachine gun bullets, positioned down near the elevator. Playtesters, however, seemed happier using the shotgun in this battle, so we added a crate full of shotgun shells and moved both crates to the top area, so players could easily trade off between the different styles of gunplay.
EP2-Comment033 Phil Co The breach is a rough, earthen tunnel which many playtesters tended not to notice when the attack began. They felt they had been told to defend only the three marked tunnel openings. We addressed this confusion by changing the sequence of antlion waves so that the second attack came through the breach. Players then understood that all four opening were vulnerable.
EP2-Comment034 John Morello Griggs and Sheckley's comment about not stepping on the grubs was originally intended for comedic effect and to suggest that, as usual, Gordon Freeman had brought trouble in his wake. However, we found that some players took this comment too literally, and would spend the rest of the level avoiding grubs in fear of spawning more antlions. We experimented for a short time with making this an actual mechanic, bringing in antlions whenever grubs were squished; but this had several negative results: It made the tunnels far too difficult, and cancelled out any benefit the player got from squishing grubs for health. We decided to keep the grub behavior simple and rewarding.
EP2-Comment037 Danika Wright Turning the vortigaunt into an expressive character was a challenge for animators, given that he doesn't have what you'd call a traditional face. To bring out his personality, the animators concentrated on shifting bodyweight and broad hand gestures. Most importantly, where human characters tend to move their heads a lot for emphasis, we concentrated his performances on expressive spinal motions.
EP2-Comment041 John Guthrie We wanted players to work cooperatively with the Vortigaunt just like they did with Alyx in Episode One. We didn't want to make the Vortigaunt too powerful or he might take away from the player's fun; but we also wanted him to be a good ally to have around. One solution, shown in this scene, was the shock attack where the Vortigaunt would stun a group of antlions, so that the player could finish them off.
EP2-Comment042 Matt Wright This cave was originally designed with a pit in the middle, so the player could punt antlions into it with the gravity gun. In playtest sessions, however, very few of our playtesters actually used it in this way. The pit stayed in the room, but we changed the path to allow the player to descend into it and come back out.
EP2-Comment045 Charlie Burgin We like to lull players into a trance, then startle them. Here, we convince players they are expected to explore and solve puzzles for a long time, then we abruptly change the mode of gameplay by throwing grenade-lobbing zombines at them.
EP2-Comment048 Jay Stelly Wherever possible, we try to mine our robust physics engine as a source of novel puzzles; it is especially valuable for giving realistic feedback to the player solving the puzzle. In this scenario, we designed the elevator to sink slightly whenever the player steps on it, giving instant intuitive feedback that it reacts to weight. This made it far more likely the player would understand that he was dealing with a counterweight puzzle.
EP2-Comment050 Ido Magal Whenever possible we try to give the player a glimpse of their eventual goal, even before they realize it is their goal. While we try to design such moments intentionally, sometimes the opportunities present themselves. In this case, while setting up the gag where the rail car slides into the abyss, we opened a hole in the wall and discovered a view of the distant thumper. It became clear that we could tailor the view across the giant cave to foreshadow the spot where Gordon would eventually end up.
EP2-Comment054 Leslie Hall The vortigaunt's dispel attack is a radial explosion that takes out a swarm of antlions. It looks most impressive when seen from above--but that's not a perspective the player gets very often in the tunnels. We designed the exit from this battle purely to give the player a view from above so the vort could put on a show. NOTE: good spot to take over the player's camera to swoop down and spawn antlions and trigger the vort's attack
EP2-Comment055 Eric Strand Originally, this room came directly after a long stretch of combat with antlions, and opened up into more of the same. Players who opened the door were faced with another swarm, which they were expected to clear with a whole bunch of handy grenades. However, most playtesters were fairly tired of antlion combat at this point, so we decided that a complete break from antlions would be an even better alternative to blowing up more of them with grenades.
EP2-Comment057 Jason Deakins A glimpse of the antlion guardian in this level sets up anticipation for the more extended confrontation in upcoming areas. The player needs to know what he's getting into, so that the vortigaunt's warnings will all make sense.
EP2-Comment058 Randy Lundeen For most of this episode's development, there was a counterweight puzzle in this area--one the player had to solve while under attack by antlions. Although it was a clever puzzle, we felt that the underground experience was already long enough, so we removed it and streamlined the path to the nectar. Having too many obstacles made it hard to keep up the sense that recovering the nectar was an urgent task.
EP2-Comment060 Kelly Bailey The Antlion tunnels, carved out by worker antlions using their acid secretions, make up the third of three subterranean spaces with a distinctive visual style (man-made mines and natural cave formations being the other two). The presence of crawlspaces was dictated by game design, but they evolved into chambers that fit logically with the life cycle of the antlions. Here, the young grubs can develop and feed in safety, although--conveniently for the player--they cannot digest useful items such as health kits.
EP2-Comment064 Jason Mitchell One of the major graphical enhancements we made to the Source engine for Episode 2 was the addition of shadow mapping for the player's flashlight. This allows the flashlight to cast soft dynamic shadows into the world, adding realism and drama to the scene, particularly in dark underground areas like this one, in which the use of the flashlight is required to navigate the space. As you move around, notice that all objects in the world cast and receive realistic shadows from your flashlight.
EP2-Comment066 Alex Vlachos In early versions of this map, the tunnels here were more maze-like, with branches, loopbacks and dead-ends. After watching numerous playtesters get lost, it became obvious that they were not having fun. We simplified the paths and added a number of one-way chokepoints. The curving tunnels still keep the player in suspense, but as long as he keeps moving he'll continue to progress, with very little time wasted in retracing steps.
EP2-Comment067 Vitaly Genkin This puzzle proved surprisingly difficult for many players. In an earlier version, not only did you need to find the spare gear, but this elevator was connected to a disabled generator that wouldn't operate until you also attached a crank and jump-started it with the gravity gun. Although it sounds simple, most playtesters got stuck here for many minutes. We kept simplifying until we hit the version you see here.
EP2-Comment068 Gary McTaggart At various times this gear was loose in the environment, tucked in a dark crevice, hidden in a small box, or lost at the bottom of a flooded pool. One playtester, unaware of his low health, actually drowned in two feet of water while retrieving the gear. We realized that attaching the gear to a chassis identical to the engine motor was the best way to help the player make the connection between this gear and the empty space on the other assembly.
EP2-Comment069 Scott Dalton We had wanted to implement a generalized particle system for quite some time, and after Episode 1 we set out to create one. In previous Half-Life games, each effect had been hand coded by a programmer working with an artist. It was effective, but not easily scalable. Our new system drew upon the aspects we found most useful from team members who had worked with both real-time systems in games and offline renders for movies such as the Lord of the Rings. The results were an artist friendly, modular, component driven system. Each system can have renderers which display the particle in some form, initializers which set up certain properties of the particle, operators which carry out actions upon the particle each frame, constraints which provide movement limitations such as collision, forces which impart complex dynamics, and emitters which determine how new particles are created. Together they are plugged into a system as needed to be as lightweight or as complex as required for the effect. Each individual component is simple, but when combined, can create rather complex dynamics. Furthermore, adding additional components to support the specific needs of a game or mod is easily done. The results can be seen in everything ranging from the simple glows of the larval extract here, to Citadel effects, blood, smoke, Hunter effects, portal effects, fire, and so forth. Dynamic effects are now in the hands of the artists, who can use them to create whatever is needed--from unique one-offs in specific levels, to generalized effects for gameplay.
EP2-Comment071 Brian Jacobsen Until we added the wooden landing here, players were very reluctant to jump down into the elevator shaft. Some playtesters went all the way back to the previous level, looking for another way down. In the days of Half-Life 1, we depended on players jumping willynilly down every elevator shaft they encountered, but over the years they have learned to be afraid of the things we tend to put down there.
EP2-Comment072 Ken Birdwell Early versions of this area had serious problems; it was brutally punishing and unfun. We were trying to make an experience about timing and tension, but playtesters perceived this as another boss battle, but without physics and explosives there's no way to kill the guardian. They would empty all their ammunition into him and die horribly over and over before giving up and running away. They hated it. Our first solution to this problem was to add an arena immediately before the maze, where we hoped players would use up most of their ammo on headcrabs and barnacles and not even try to shoot him. But clever players managed to lure the headcrabs into barnacles and rush past while the barnacle was feeding, arriving in the guardian's lair with plenty of ammunition and again with a false impression that they could kill the boss. In the end it was necessary to have the Vortigaunt tell the player 'Remember, do not kill the guardian or the extract will be ruined!'--therefore justifying why you wouldn't be able to do we didn't want you to do and what you couldn't do in the first place. This area is really fun now. The battle is almost exactly like the original layout, the big difference is that we're communicating our expectations to the player, rather than having them learn by dying.
EP2-Comment074 Greg Coomer Before we simplified the path through the guardian's lair, we allowed a right turn at this junction, leading the player right back to where they began. One of our playtesters continued to repeatedly turn right here for half an hour. That was a compelling argument for removing the mazelike elements.
EP2-Comment075 Mike Durand In this scene, we wanted the player to feel under tremendous pressure to break through the boards. Ideally, they just barely make it through the opening before the guardian arrives. To get this effect consistently, we had to reduce the number of boards again and again until we saw playtesters consistently scrambling to safety at the last moment.
EP2-Comment076 Aaron Seeler One change we made to Episode 2 was to decouple the flashlight power from the suit power. Playtesters constantly had their flashlight on during the guard chase sequence and were unable to sprint to safety because the flashlight drained their suit's sprint ability. We wanted players to be able to outrun the guardian with their flashlight shining. Sometimes we are forced to make tradeoffs between conventions we've established in earlier installments, and gameplay we need now. It would be silly to not have cool looking underground passages just to keep flashlight behavior consistent until the end of time. As for the rationale within the story, players might assume this new feature was apparently the result of damage sustained in the train crash.
EP2-Comment077 Jason Ruyman In early versions of this map, the player was allowed to drop straight to the bottom of the shaft. Nobody ever saw the guardian break through the boards. Therefore we added a small floor area and required the player to turn around to break more boards, making it much likelier that players would see the guardian's attack.
EP2-Comment079 Matt Scott One of our toughest jobs is tuning for difficulty. There are all kinds of ways that sloppy game design can make players miserable when they are supposed to be enjoying themselves. If the player is laughing as he dies, it's a good sign--it means the death is perceived as part of the entertainment experience, that the player died fairly and not as the result of poor design. But if the playtester beats his head on the keyboard, we usually take this is a sign that there is still work to be done.
EP2-Comment081 Jason Holtman When the vortigaunt discovers the extract, we wanted to do something to distinguish the nectar from all the other glowy alien substances we've seen in the caves so far. Therefore we had him perform a bit of a chant, and had the extract give off a show of its own.
EP2-Comment082 Scott Lynch In Half-Life 2, the Antlion Guard was originally meant to be a sort of super-bug bloodhound that pursued the player through caverns and harassed him while he slipped into small spaces to hide. While we never realized that design in Half-Life 2, this scenario is, for the most part, exactly what his original design sought to accomplish. Over the course of many years of production on various titles, we've found that ideas often go away into the ether for years or more, only to resurface and thrive in a new game environment. Even failed prototypes can flourish down the road.
EP2-Comment084 Matt T. Wood This scenario required significant changes to the antlion guard behavior. Players of past games were used to dealing with only one guard in a confined space and without anywhere to hide. In this scenario the player had a safe zone, but couldn't remain there to accomplish their goals. One change we made to the guards was in altering how they throw objects at the player. Originally, they shoved objects directly toward the player at high speeds. These objects were really hard to dodge, and if you weren't paying complete attention, you could easily be blindsided and killed. The guards now hurl objects along an arcing trajectory, which not only gives the player a greater opportunity to dodge, but looks awesome. The player gets to see the guard launch a car from a hundred feet away, then step aside just as it crashes to the ground where they were standing.
EP2-Comment085 Steve Kalning Alyx's model underwent some upgrades for Episode 2. We added two new holes to her jacket - courtesy of a hunter - and dirtied her texture up a bit to show wear and tear. We also increased her polygon count - and to help with her jacket we added shoulder blades to her back so that it flexes better when she lifts her arms. Additionally, we reconnected her belt so that instead of being rigidly attached it now flexes and slides around more. A lot of this stuff you won't even notice, it'll just look right - 'yeah, that's Alyx, she's wearing a jacket' - you won't even think about it. It's easy to have the computer draw something stiff and awkward, but doing that pulls you out of the game, you stop believing in the characters. They just become icons. Our goal is to make our characters simply look natural, but to do that requires lots and lots of work and tons of new technology. The irony is, if we've done our job, you won't even notice, it'll just look right. It'd be good to show wireframes of the model, and maybe 'Before and after' images.
EP2-Comment086 Doug Lombardi Most of our dramatic scenes are constrained in such a way that the player can't progress until the scene is over. For example, there might be a gate that only Alyx or a vortigaunt can open. In this scene, where the Vortigaunt and Alyx first see the Combine marching on White Forest, we simply placed a few barrels to block the way while Alyx and the Vortigaunt speak. Even with this slight impediment, every playtester stayed and watched the scene as we intended, so no explicit gate was needed.
EP2-Comment088 Yahn We tried several different ways of showing the Advisor traveling with the Combine forces. We started off with an Advisor pod flying over the troops, much as they flew from the Citadel at the end of Episode One. However, we didn't want to give the impression that those pods were anything but emergency escape units; they were not meant to be self-powered flying crafts that could be piloted around in future episodes. We ended up with the solution you see here-APC's are pulling a structure holding an inert Advisor pod. This lets the players study the Advisors at different points in their lifecycle. They see the main stages of the Advisors' metamorphosis from harmless larvae into powerful and highly mobile monsters.
EP2-Comment089 Julie Caldwell Initially, we built this area around the Sandtraps mechanic from Half-Life 2, warning the player that stepping on sand would trigger swarms of antlions. Soon after the warning, however, the safe islands of rock ran out and the player was forced to run across the sand as quickly as possible. Players were confused by this, and upset because Alyx and the vortigaunt would simply say they had no choice, and head straight across the sand. To solve this, we decided to stage the combat with safe zones around thumpers instead.
EP2-Comment090 Q! Early in the development for this level, we used an animation for Alyx that showed her as clearly injured as she ran along behind the player. This really slowed her down, however, and playtesters did not enjoy waiting for her to catch up, or going back to retrieve her. To address this, we started her recovery in the preceding map to make sure she was healthy enough to run at regular speed before reaching this area.
EP2-Comment091 Iestyn Bleasdale-Shepherd We wanted to create a tension between Gordon and the antlion guardians that would develop over several levels and only resolve out here in the open. In order to differentiate this guardian from others the player had encountered throughout Half-Life 2 and Episode One, we changed his texture to a glowing green. This gave the player the satisfaction of revenging himself on the creature that had chased him through the underground lair.
EP2-Comment094 John Cook In this vista, we release the player from the confines of the subterranean world and thrust them into a vast open space on a scale rarely seen in our previous games. The narrative takes advantage of this scale as well. With our allies at close range and our enemies on the distant bridge, we are reminded of the personal stakes and the larger threat, all in one short scene.
EP2-Comment095 Kathy Gehrig This vista is one of the largest open outdoor areas we've tackled in our games. When rendering such an area in real time, it's necessary to use various level-of-detail techniques made available to us by the Source engine. For example, the distant foliage and Combine enemies are rendered with far fewer polygons than they would be if they were meant to be viewed up close. Additionally, the organic shapes used to model the rocky outcroppings and valley floor below use complex shading operations to combine a relatively modest amount of texture data. This tradeoff, which requires a manageable amount of texture data, allows us to use more polygons, enabling us to represent more organic shapes which are in contrast to the orthogonal forms common to our traditional urban environments.
EP2-Comment097 Steve McClure Sometimes very small changes can make a big difference. Originally these troops all marched in lockstep, using the same walk animation. This looked extremely robotic. We took a second walk animation that had been done for this troop skeleton -- a more upright, casual walk -- and programmed each soldier to randomly blend between the two walk-cycles as he crossed the bridge. This thirty-minute change made a huge difference in the scene.
EP2-Comment099 Milton Ngan Some testers had trouble realizing when they were doing damage to the antlion guards, so we've added a bleeding effect that grows more serious as the guard's hitpoints decline. This kind of visual feedback makes intuitive sense to players, it suits the biological nature of the creature, and frees us from having to rely on spoken explanations of gameplay.
EP2-Comment104 Nick Maggiore The scene where Alyx sees the Hunters for the first time since her injury was meant to be a turning point for her as a character, and an emotional highlight of the episode, both for Gordon and for Alyx. One reason we had a hunter injure Alyx in the beginning of the episode was so that she could have a strong emotional reaction to the creatures, and use the start of combat as a way of building a good character moment. Alyx's previous encounter has given her a visceral fear of hunters, but now she has to make a conscious choice to get past her fear and into the right state for fighting them. She uses anger to get there. We also use Alyx's intensity to draw the player's attention to subtler aspects of the scene-getting the player in position for the best view of the hunters as the attack gets underway.
EP2-Comment105 Lars Jensvold In this brief transmission scene, we are restating the goals of the level, while introducing a note of uncertainty and developing Dr. Magnusson's character. This scene was not strictly necessary, but it helped players feel some connection to Magnusson when they finally reached White Forest and met him in person for the first time. In earlier versions, we tried having the Hunters cut the power and interrupt the transmission, but this felt arbitrary, and players were more receptive to the scene after they had solved the power puzzles and survived hunter combat. It feels like a small reward in addition to the simple satisfaction of beating the Hunters.
EP2-Comment109 Bryn Moslow This room is designed so that the player will notice the main set of plugs right away, but is less likely to spot the second set at first. One end of the long cable is already plugged in, encouraging the player to grab the loose end and put it into the powered socket. This makes the faulty wire break loose and spark. With the power on, players try to return upstairs only to discover that now the elevator needs power. At this point, they look about more carefully and discover the elevator sockets. The short cord is tucked next to the elevator sockets, so that they are likely to use it there first before realizing they need a longer one. Given this fairly reliable progression of events, we were able to write a limited number of lines for Alyx, so that she could react each time the puzzle changed state.
EP2-Comment110 David Sawyer In earlier versions of the Hunter intro, the Hunters burst physically into the room by shouldering their way through the door. As the Hunter's flechette attack came online, we decided this was no longer appropriate. Now that the Hunter had an effective ranged attack, having him burst into the room with you actually put him into his least viable tactical position during your very first encounter, making him seem ineffective and a bit dumb. The current design is intended to showcase his abilities, while giving the player the time and space to understand the situation before pushing out into close combat.
EP2-Comment111 Jess Cliffe This area was designed to train the player in the art of Hunter combat, and during the development process it changed continually to suit the Hunter's behavior. The first Hunter prototypes could be killed only by the blunt impact of physics objects. Therefore, to make sure the player learned this technique, we trapped him in this area with one Hunter and kept him locked in until he had defeated it. Upon the Hunter's death, reinforcements broke down the gate and doors, opening up the arena. As time went on, and the Hunter was modified to make it vulnerable to all types of damage, our grip on the player gradually relaxed, permitting freedom of movement and a wider range of tactics right from the start of the encounter.
EP2-Comment112 Jeff Sorenson Even though this compound appears open and non-linear, we're striving for a fairly reliable progression of events, so that we can fine tune pacing. The building on the right is bright and eye-catching, with the intention of drawing the player there first. The entrance to the ruined building is around the back, so that initial exploration through the center of the compound tends to lead to the radio room first. The drop-down entrance from the roof of the ruined building also helps us pace the experience, because players are cautious about committing to a space, until they've explored the alternatives.
EP2-Comment114 Kathy Gehrig Having decided that we were going to rely on a car to get to White Forest, we had to figure out how to get Alyx into the vehicle. Games often accomplish this by moving their characters close to the vehicle and then teleporting them inside in a very visible and jarring manner. We knew this would ruin Alyx's believability as a character, so she had to smoothly get into a vehicle the way you would expect a person to in real life. This was no small task given all the strange angles and positions the player could work the vehicle into. Alyx also needed multiple entries into a vehicle, given that the doorway she wanted to use could be blocked or otherwise inaccessible. This also provided interesting moments for Alyx where she could vault over the hood of the vehicle in a very heroic fashion. The interaction between her and the vehicle was intriguing just by itself. Once we were sure she could enter and exit the vehicle convincingly, we then had the task of making her believable as she sat next to you. Our first experiments revolved around Alyx reacting to the physical nature of the vehicle. When it crashed into a wall, she needed to be jolted. When you went around a bend, she needed to lean with the momentum of the car. These details were crucial in making her feel like she was really going along for the bumpy ride with you. We also wanted her to be very aware of her surroundings and what the player was doing while in the vehicle. If you ran over a zombie, she needed to echo the internal reward the player felt for accomplishing the feat. If you were about to hit the wall, we wanted her to flinch and react to the impending collision much as the player at home would be doing. There was a fine balance between making her too much of a backseat driver or having her be too quiet next to you. Ultimately, we wanted Alyx's presence in the vehicle to seem so natural that players would never consider it anything other than normal.
EP2-Comment116 Ted Backman In Episode One, Alyx climbs up into a hidden room and uses a Combine sniper rifle to assist the player. The player never sees the rifle--only the targetting beam. For Episode 2, we decided to show the Combine sniper rifle and let the player know exactly where Alyx would be standing when she used it. However, making it visible and accessible to the player required us to come up with a way to make the rifle usable only with the vortigaunt's help. Though it's somewhat of a contrived and arbitrary device for keeping the player from using the gun, we felt it was a worthwhile trade-off, given that playtesters tended to enjoy the co-op sequence of Alyx assisting them from above.
EP2-Comment117 Jeff Lind For attentive players, this is the first time we've allowed a glimpse of the G-Man since Half-Life 2. In Episode 1, we suppressed G-Man visitations completely to show that he had lost track of Gordon. But after Alyx's healing incident, earlier in Episode 2, he is actively watching again. Keep an eye out for him.
EP2-Comment118 Chris Grinstead The ambient sound of the poison zombie breathing was placed here to make the descent into the building scary. Although most of the team thought it was comical, there were a few playtesters visibly unnerved by it. One playtester stood at the opening to this room for a long time, afraid to go in.
EP2-Comment119 Alfred Reynolds Training players who haven't played previous episodes is always a challenge. Those who had not played Episode 1 did not immediately understand that the Combine sniper beam was friendly. They avoided it, thinking it could damage them. Therefore we added this staircase scenario, where we re-introduce Alyx's sniper behavior and make a show out of her shooting a zombie to protect the player.
EP2-Comment121 Yahn This is an instance where observing playtests gave us ideas for tuning the experience. In an early version, playtesters would trigger the lights to go out and the zombies to wake up. Then, they would run out of the room and close the door. After seeing this repeatedly, we added a trigger allowing the zombies to open the door and chase the player.
EP2-Comment122 Kerry Davis In this scene, we rigged an entity called a physics explosion to create movement among the boxes inside the dumpster. One playtester threw a grenade into the dumpster and the physics explosion entity caused the grenade to fly back out. The player was shocked, thinking the zombie had tossed back his grenade. Although this happened by accident the first time, we went ahead and set up the entities to make sure it would happen for every player who lobs a grenade into the dumpster.
EP2-Comment124 Joe Demers Earlier in the level, we blocked the path with fire and forced the player to turn off a gas jet to continue. Fire traps of this sort were plentiful in Half-Life 2, but we could not count on players knowing or remembering how to use them here. Having offered some brief training, we now build on the mechanic by having the player work with Alyx to create a cooperative fire trap. Most players turn on the gas, at which point Alyx shoots a zombie on the stairs to create the wall of fire. This triggers a parade of zombies to come out of the door below and walk into the fire.
EP2-Comment125 Jennifer Seeley Sawblades were a prominent weapon in Half-Life 2 and we wanted the player to recognize them as part of their arsenal in the upcoming warehouse battle. After watching several playtesters ignore them completely, we decided to add this zombie pinned to the wall. Most players pull out the sawblade and instantly realize its potential for destruction. After that, they tend to find and use sawblades without further prompting.
EP2-Comment126 Doug Valente The battle in the warehouse was created fairly late in the development of this map, when we realized that the level had a steady stream of combat but no real climax. We wanted to take advantage of Alyx's sniping abilities, building on the scene in Episode One where the player can punt boards off windows to give her a better view of attacking zombies. Here, we have the player removing tin roof panels to give Alyx a line of sight into the room below.
EP2-Comment127 Joshua Weier As much as possible, we try to create small surprises for the player that aren't related to combat at all. With this forklift puzzle, we wanted to trick the player into assuming that once they operated the lift, the puzzle would be solved. However, the player soon realizes that the obvious solution is actually a bit of misdirection.
EP2-Comment129 Mike Blasczak In previous versions of this level, the platform opened directly into this pit of toxic waste. Playtesters who didn't recognize the waste as something harmful, would jump straight into the pit. We changed the path so the player could make a safe landing and slowly come to understand the toxic threat.
EP2-Comment130 Mike Dunkel We always look for opportunities to add narrative touches in our levels. The idea behind this chair, the submachine gun, and the beer bottles is that someone used to sit here, drink beer, and drop grenades into the pit of zombies. We give the player the opportunity to re-enact this experience by giving out unlimited grenades and spawning zombies as soon as the player reaches this spot.
EP2-Comment132 Jay Stelly Although this bridge is not the first occasion for cinematic physics in the episode, it was the original test subject we used to develop our effects. In early prototypes, the bridge started off in its broken position--it was a static object the player had to navigate to retrieve the car. When we incorporated the cinematic physics, we thought this bridge would be a great opportunity for players to see an immense piece of the environment transformed before their eyes. The bridge collapse not only showcases the cinematic physics, it reminds players of the growing threat from the superportal, and sets up a navigational puzzle they must use the car to solve.
EP2-Comment134 David Speyrer The original Episode Two vehicle was dubbed 'The Jalopy,' which says something about how uncool it was. Early feedback was that it seemed too similar to the HL2 buggy. We decided to redesign it so that players would feel excited rather than disappointed when they saw the car. Alyx's original line when she first saw the Jalopy echoed the feelings of many early viewers: 'What a wreck! Forget about White Forest...we'll be lucky if we make it to the end of the block.'
EP2-Comment140 Nick Maggiore The barn scene was critical both to this episode and to the development of Advisors as characters in the series. They represent another intersection of story and gameplay concerns. This is the first time the player actually interacts with an Advisor, and determining the right level of interactivity was tricky, especially given the player's reasonable expectation that he'll get to fight them directly at some point. Therefore, we wanted to show that they were powerful but not invulnerable. This was a long-term goal. For the short term, we wanted to get the player familiar with some Advisor behavior so that when the episode finale occurred, they would already understand how Advisors operate. By showing the Advisor fumbling with an inert object, then a dead rebel, and finally grabbing the player, we allow the player to observe behavior, and then gradually make it more and more of a direct threat. This all serves as foreshadowing for the episode's finale.
EP2-Comment141 Chris Douglas This crashed advisor pod is a bit of storytelling embedded in the landscape. It hints at what lies ahead, while suggesting what must have happened in this location only a few hours before Gordon and Alyx arrived. By placing artifacts of this sort throughout the episode, we slowly bring Advisors into the foreground and develop their importance to the story in a way that doesn't depend on staged dramatic scenes.
EP2-Comment143 David Sawyer We've gotten better at building combat spaces that are open and tactically versatile, while still directing the player toward an optimal play experience. This combat is on its face pretty straightforward, but we're doing some subtle things to keep the experience even and well paced. We're using quite a few of our combat tools in this one scene. As the first soldiers enter the barn, we send them in the right direction with an initial cue about the player's location using an npc_enemyfinder. The first soldiers serve primarily to draw the player outwards, where the real meat of the combat takes place. The wave of soldiers that spawns as the player rounds the corner to the exit, are the most directly controlled. One pair uses Assault Points to dash across the open ground and flank the player on the right. Others are constrained to hint groups in and around the house across the way, spaced so that the player is hit with an even front of fire, keeping them pinned for a while and encouraging cautious sniping and probing at the windows and doors. The hint groups are important because they keep the soldiers in strong tactical positions and prevent them from rushing the player to their own disadvantage, as they would if left unconstrained. The broken down truck gives a vital bit of midground cover as players leave the barn and advance on the house. Finally, as the player leaves the barn, we spawn the reinforcing Hunter. We hold this back both to keep the difficulty more even, and because the Hunter combat is better when the player has pushed outwards before it begins.
EP2-Comment147 Gray Horsfield This swirling debris effect uses much of the same underlying technology that powers other cinematic physics events in episode 2, but with a few important differences. Firstly, instead of using primitives, every slat, tile and beam was modeled before being sent into the rigid body solver. Next, there was a large focus on handsculpting world forces to achieve a particular behavior in the debris. Beyond the basics of gravity and collisions, we created spiral vortices, gravity wells, and some other more complex forces. With over 1800 individually calculated dynamic moving parts over a 30 second period, this simulation represents the largest amount of animation data run through our game engine to date.
EP2-Comment149 Dan LeFree Originally, the Episode 2 chopper battle was a classic fight that relied on use of the RPG. In the meantime we were experimenting with a completely new way of fighting the chopper which we hoped to have ready for Episode 3. The early Ep3 experiments were so successful that we pulled them straight into Episode 2.
EP2-Comment150 Richard Lord Having solved the problem of getting Alyx into the passenger seat, we were faced with the challenge of making her a useful companion. When we first hooked up her vehicle combat, Alyx constantly targeted and fired her gun at everything. This made her feel a bit like a turret. In response, we tuned her behavior so that while the vehicle is moving, Alyx fires more slowly, taking more time to aim at high speeds.
EP2-Comment151 Taylor Sherman Our playtesters loved to see the zombie jump on the front of the car, and this naturally encouraged us to want to do more of it. We started off with a high frequency of occurrences of this behavior, treating the zombie leap as a gameplay element that could be played out in variations. Eventually, though, we discovered that this didn't lead to any really interesting gameplay, so we ended up creating just one memorable showcase of the event instead.
EP2-Comment155 Marc Scaparro Playtesters often failed to recognize that they could scramble through windows while they were avoiding being shot by the autogun. We added this window exit, and forced players to use it so they would learn to rely on windows to get around.
EP2-Comment156 Matt Rhoten Originally there was a second driving section between the chopper battle and the autogun trenches. The pacing felt wrong, so we decided to remove it and connect the end pieces, so that the trainyard opens directly into the garage.
EP2-Comment157 Greg Winkler Once we added the onboard radar to the strider battle at the end of the episode, we needed to train the player in its use well before they reached that area. This garage was already in the game as a place where Alyx needed to stay while the player went alone through the autocannon area. It was a perfect fit to have the mechanic rebels add the radar to the car while Gordon was busy somewhere else.
EP2-Comment158 John McCaskey Some playtesters didn't realize that they would need to climb over trucks to navigate around the autogun emplacement. So we added this truck jump early in the level as a form of introductory training.
EP2-Comment159 Eric Twelker In order to train players that crouching through the trenches is critical for survival, we did several things. First, we start the player in the safe position by forcing them to crouch under the fence to enter the area. Once inside, they learn by watching the zombies. Upright zombies are gunned down, but their torsos are free to roam in the shadow of the junk. Some playtesters believed that while the guns were busy shooting zombies, they would be able to move freely; to counteract this impression, we increased the number of guns from one to three, making it clear that there was always going to be a gun free to shoot the player.
EP2-Comment160 Torsten Zabka Zombies serve the double purpose of horror and humor. Here, since we knew where the player's view would be, we added a comical scene of a fast zombie torso running away from a soldier.
EP2-Comment161 Martin Otten The original design for this sequence involved shutting down the cannon by flipping a switch. That was neither obvious nor rewarding. We decided to let the player blow it up instead, which gave us another opportunity to use our cinematic physics.
EP2-Comment162 Ido Magal Strong attention to visual design in this room make this unconventional puzzle both intuitive and rewarding. To begin with the room is sparse, with the reward clearly visible, but locked up in the cage. A strange centerpiece draws the player's attention, and the visible switch is obviously part of the solution. The health charger next to the switch hints that the solution involves getting onto the catwalk rather than activating the switch from the ground. The van entrance discourages players from bringing in objects they might use to solve the puzzle by stacking. The lone grenade crate is a strong suggestion that grenades figure in the solution. Finally, the corpse in the rafters and the scorch marks on the ground, and the story they tell provide the most important clue.
EP2-Comment166 Ken Birdwell This Strider has big parts of him rip off, he spews goo everywhere - he's a great test bed for new modeling technology and our new particle system. We custom built him just for this sequence. With our Episodic process, a lot of new technology comes online throughout development. Since any new technology takes a year or more to really work out all the bugs, we like to look for insolated areas - like this one - where we can test out new things without risking all the things we already know work. We did this with HDR and our lostcoast demo; once we're sure we didn't break anything, we can move the features back into general use. Since this strider worked out really well here, he'll be the new Strider as we move forward, and we'll be applying what we've learned to any new monsters in Episode 3.
EP2-Comment167 Bill Fletcher Our main goal with this scene was to create a cinematic battle of the titans, Dog vs. a strider. While we were excited with the early implementations, it became obvious that players were uncertain of their role in the scene. Originally the confrontation built slowly with Dog squaring off against the strider, but having such a slow beginning proved problematic. It looked great in the trailer, but didn't play well in the game. Instead of the slow build, we decided to send Dog straight into action. He makes a grand entrance, jumps on the strider and the fight is on. The quick start helps to grab the players attention instead of giving them too much time to worry about what they ought to be doing.
EP2-Comment168 Derrick Birum Alyx's robot Dog is cobbled together from spare parts, all of which are in various states of disrepair. For Episode 2, we chose to use shading techniques to improve the look of Dog and better convey his scrapyard origins. Along with upgrades to Dog's texture maps, his shader now uses a combination of Phong shading and environment mapping to increase the apparent detail and diversity of materials, from rusty bolts to the damaged metal flaps salvaged from a Combine scanner.
EP2-Comment169 Jason Mitchell In the Source engine, we use a realistic radiosity lighting simulator to generate lighting detail for the geometry in our game worlds. In previous games using the Source engine, shadows were simulated as if cast by totally opaque objects. In Episode 2, we needed to render large wooded areas, which required us to modify our shadowing technology to account for the sparse, semi-transparent nature of foliage. With these upgrades to our radiosity lighting simulator, we are now able to realistically illuminate the trees themselves as well as generate soft semi-transparent shadows on the environment around them.
EP2-Comment172 Danika Wright Racing Dog to the base was not a preconceived plan. It was born out of testing the level over and over, and repeatedly trying to keep up with Dog as he ran to the base. This was sufficiently fun for us, that we began to figure out ways to encourage players to do it too.
EP2-Comment176 Jess Cliffe In each episode we start by agreeing on how to use color choices to create and reinforce the right thematic tone. The tint of a scene can be a powerful source of mood. Episode 1 was pervaded by deep reds. For Episode 2, we made heavy use of blue tints in the outdoor areas. The blue was meant to set an ominous tone, while the warm splashes of sunlight were intended to offer visual contrast, that suggest a glimmer of hope.
EP2-Comment177 David Speyrer The approach to the White Forest Inn contains a number of elements that set the scene for the coming ambush. The road is blocked by Combine walls; a soldier spots you in the distance and radios you in; and two hunters run across an opening on the far side of a fence. All these clues are there for the attentive player to spot directly, or to create a sense of growing apprehension in the player who might be paying slightly less attention to the details.
EP2-Comment180 Tom Leonard One issue with a number of our encounters with the Combine is that they don't live long enough for players to experience some of their more interesting AI. Some unique elements introduced here with respect to the Combine are: Branching assaults, so that soldiers introduced to the field don't take up predictable positions; Flexible assault points, so that soldiers can stray from designer specified locations to establish line of fire or cover; Assault progression is a feedback system so that the timing of the soldiers advances responds to player actions and skill rather than timing; We give soldiers different tactical roles. For instance, squads in the field distract the player, allowing other soldiers to execute surprise moves not present in our typical frontal assault scenarios. The net effect of these changes is that the soldiers are perceived to have awareness of the layout of the building that you're trapped in, and a strategy for flushing you out.
EP2-Comment181 Steve Bond To compliment the Hunter's aggressive AI, the White Forest Inn was designed with a non-linear floorplan. There are multiple ways in and out of each room, as well as alternate routes to the basement and the second floor. As the player moves through the inn, the Hunters often select a shorter route and surprise the player by arriving first or by heading them off altogether. The last Hunters that enter the building, destroy two of the doors that have trapped Alyx and the Player inside. Removing these obstacles opens the entire outdoor arena for combat, allowing the player to choose whether to fight the Hunters within the building, or take them on outside.
EP2-Comment182 Gautam Babbar Sometimes, even in an action game, it can be hard to convince players to act like an action movie hero. Here, we wanted the player to make a 150 foot turbo jump off the edge of the road and crash into the boxes at the bottom. Instead, wary playtesters routinely took the safe way down. To encourage more recklessly heroic behaviour, we disguised the easy path and added obvious ramps to clearly communicate this was a legitimate feature of the level.
EP2-Comment186 Matt T. Wood One of our main goals for hunters was to make the player feel he was vulnerable wherever he might hide. This arena in the secondary silo became our testbed for improving the hunters' close-combat behavior. A classic combat space, featuring multiple exits and many possible paths, we tuned it for a strong cat-and-mouse gameplay experience. While players have many options for escape, the map is designed so that hunters will never completely lose them--but always be able to pursue and flush the player out of hiding.
EP2-Comment187 Scott Dalton Level Designers and Artists now have the ability to create unique effects as needed for game play or to add dynamic life to a level. In this case, this simple water leak wouldn't have been possible before without involving a programmer to create a new class of effect. Thanks to the new particle system, unique effects like this are easily created as needed without any programming. This leak adds a visual point of interest to the area, and also blocks direct line of site into the nearby corridor without blocking the space itself. These effects can be placed and controlled within levels, attached to animation events of characters, or called by code. Allowing particles to be attached to objects in the world, emitted from a model's hitboxes, and locked to bone positions allows for them to serve a variety of functions, such as the new Vortigaunt beams or the burning effect of a zombie. We hope this feature will allow level and mod authors to create a wide variety of effects quickly and easily to suit their purposes.
EP2-Comment189 Erik Wolpaw Aperture Science, being specialized in the development of portal technology, fit naturally into the cosmology of Half-Life. Rather than forcing Portal into the Half-Life franchise, we used it as an opportunity to make our world bigger. By suggesting a long-term rivalry between Aperture Science and Black Mesa, we open up possibilities in both games that didn't exist when they were separate entities.
EP2-Comment191 Katie Engel Originally created as a minor background character, the vortigaunt lab assistant, known internally as Labby, was so popular with playtesters that he evolved into a fully developed character with a unique name and a special place by Dr. Magnusson's side.
EP2-Comment192 Brian Jacobsen Dr. Magnusson was the result of a decision to bring forward another signature character from the original Half-Life, along the lines of Dr. Kleiner and Barney. As we developed the character, we kept referring back to this line from Half-Life to keep us on track: Play HL1 audio clip here. Though we liked the character who came into focus, we found that this voice was sounding like too much of a caricature for our increasingly grim and realistic world. We like to hire actors with the natural voices that we want for our characters, as opposed to hiring actors to create voice characterizations. In John Aylward, we found someone who could deliver the brusque arrogance of the original lines, and also take the character forward into some of the richer and subtler opportunities we foresee for him.
EP2-Comment194 Chet Faliszek In Half-Life 2, when we first decided to make vortigaunt ally characters, we played around with having a prominent vortigaunt companion. Because of their bowed posture and semi-servile manner, this individual was dubbed Heep, after the Dickens character Uriah Heep. In episode 2 we named the prominent vort at the white forest base Uriah. In episode 3 we will find out Dicken's unused middle name for Uriah Heep.
EP2-Comment195 Steve Bond Many of us are fans of Lost, and we noticed several strong Half-Life references in the first season of Lost. Gabe Newell and Lost creator J.J. Abrams exchanged fanmail, and Gabe promised Abrams there would be a Lost reference in Episode 2. We delivered on the promise in this obscure area of the White Forest Base.
EP2-Comment196 Matt Scott Due to the number of characters involved in this scene, and the cramped spaces, we found that the actors were constantly pushing the player around in order to get to their marks. We developed some tech that allowed the actors to gauge the position of the player and the other actors, and choose among a selection of marks. This not only solved the congestion problem, but made scenes feel more dynamic.
EP2-Comment197 John Morello In sketching out the scenes for the episode, we noticed a lack of interpersonal conflict between the characters who had survived from Half-Life 2. Alyx, Eli and Dr. Kleiner have a lot of affection for one another, as you will see in many of the scenes. And while we all value the benefit of strong positive relationships, we were happy to have Dr. Magnusson around to get irritated by all the hugging.
EP2-Comment200 Matt Wright Rather than just make up something that fit our fantasies of a rocket, we designed Dr. Magnusson's rocket around blueprints from the Titan Family of missiles. Grounding the details of our world in reality, making them as precise as possible, makes the invented, fantastic elements seem that much more believable.
EP2-Comment201 Doug Wood We intended White Forest to offer a change of pace from the constant action that preceded it-a few moments to reunite with old friends and get to know Dr. Magnusson, a breather before the big battle ahead. However, our first version of the sequence was a log-jam of long, talky scenes. Gordon and Alyx stood around listening to Kleiner and Magnusson argue at the top of the silo, then rode an elevator to the bottom of the shaft while Dr. Kleiner lectured them about rockets and satellites. They wandered into a control room to watch Dr. Mossman's transmission, and then hatched a plan to get her back. We knew we were in trouble when even the authors of the scene were bored, and no one had patience for the revelations that followed. We divided the sequence into a number of smaller pieces that could be interleaved with solitary exploration and some combat. This required rebuilding the path and moving the control room upstairs, where the transmission scene became a reward for surviving the secondary silo. As a result of these changes, the White Forest experience is more varied, the narrative comes in digestible portions, and players are able to play at their own speed, rather than being led by the nose the entire time.
EP2-Comment202 Kelly Bailey This steam jet is an example of something we call a 'mechanic refresher'. It is meant to refresh the player's memory on how to perform a certain task they may not have used in a while. In this case, we remind the player about using valves to turn off steam in a relaxed environment. In the map just ahead, this trick will be fresh in their mind and they will be far more likely to realize they can use steamjets tactically when they encounter them in a combat situation.
EP2-Comment205 Bill Van Buren The decision to kill Eli was not made lightly, and once we'd made it, we had to figure out how to make it meaningful. We had already established Eli's frailty, as well as his importance to the Resistance and Alyx's devotion to him, so from a narrative point of view the impact of his death seemed obvious. The hard part would be the execution. The advisors' ability to immobilize the player gave us a way to stage the scene, the animations and the sound design made it believable, but none of this would have been enough without inspired performances by Merle Dandridge and Robert Guillaume.
EP2-Comment206 Eric Strand Developing the Half-Life episodes allows us to steadily flesh out the details of an ongoing cosmic struggle. Most of this conflict remains far in the background, but little by little we are able to bring new elements up front. One of our goals for Episode 2 was to fully develop the grub-like Advisors, first glimpsed in Half-Life 2. In Episode 1, they make several brief appearances but have no direct effect on events in the game. In Episode 2, we deliberated about how soon to show them becoming active, and decided to pull back the veil in stages. Therefore we first see them being hauled around by combine troops, completely passive. Next, we see one waking up from incubation, still somewhat groggy and beginning to discover its power. But at the end of the episode, the Advisors come fully into their own, front and center, as characters with a huge impact on the story.
EP2-Comment207 Bill Fletcher To create the Eli death sequence, we talked it through in great detail, wrote up an outline with all the events we'd discussed, and then produced an animatic. We used rough sketches painted over screenshots, and a variety of crude special effects and sounds to create a quick pre-visualization of how the scene would play out. Not only did this help us to converge on a shared vision for the scene, but by working rough, we were able to quickly iterate until we had a design worth implementing in the game.
EP2-Comment208 Jeremy Bennett Episode 2's backgrounds or vistas if you like are created in a manner that fuses traditional 2D animation techniques (linear cards moving against each other to imply parallax) and a modern Digital take which involves placing these cards in a 3D environment and manipulating their size (distance from camera) depending on the scale needed. A series of cards can sit in front of a 3D Skybox and with the addition of fog\atmosphere a realistic result can be achieved.
EP2-Comment209 Gary McTaggart The launch of Magnusson's rocket ties directly into the rocket Gordon launched at Black Mesa. Here, the portal satellite array that opened a gate to Xen in Half-Life One has been repurposed to shut the Combine out. This is just another example of the way we constantly try to weave the old threads of the Half-Life story into the new episodes.
EP2-Comment215 Joshua Weier The striderbuster, or Magnusson Device, started life as a Half-Life 2 weapon called the hopwire. This was a weapon that would leap into the air and create physical connections, via ropes, to the surface around it. Once attached, the ball would be suspended in the air, ready for action. We never shipped that weapon because it wasn't generally useable enough in our environments (especially outdoors). One side experiment created the 'black hole' hopwire that the mod community found in Episode 1's code. You can still find videos of this in action on YouTube. The 'black hole' version created a true physical vortex that sucked anything near it into an incredibly dense singularity. This created a small dense block comprised of all the mass and matter the vortex had collected, which the player could then pick up and hurl at enemies. We returned to the hopwire for Episode 2, where we thought we could use it to tie the strider's legs together and make it trip, but the mechanic of hurling and attaching the strider buster was more fun for players, so we moved the weapon in that direction.
EP2-Comment216 Richard Lord This whiteboard art went through several iterations, from highly stylized, to absurd, to something we believed we could ship.
EP2-Comment217 John Guthrie Fans of Half-Life 1 may remember a gag involving a microwave oven in the Black Mesa lunchroom. If you push the microwave's button several times, the casserole inside it explodes--a memorable experience for many first-time players of Half-Life. In Episode 2, we thought it was finally time to let you know whose lunch you had ruined, and give you a chance at redemption.
EP2-Comment219 Joe Han Players under pressure can overlook basic tasks, so we try to make the important ones foolproof. On this map, players often forget to check their health level, but rarely forget to seek out Magnusson devices. We narrowed doorways and set health supply racks right by the entries, so that players rushing in to get explosives would find themselves automatically picking up vital supplies.
EP2-Comment221 Chris Chin A great deal of work went into making sure players will see the buildings get destroyed as they travel around the valley in the final battle. While we cannot (and do not wish to) force the player to see these events, we tried to increase the odds that the player would end up in the best possible position for the show. Measures ranged from simply hiding a strider behind rocks, to setting up complex logic conditions that must be met in order for the destruction to occur.
EP2-Comment223 Tom Leonard The Hunter's escort behavior includes specific formations and flanking strategies. This environment was designed specifically to enhance those behaviors by providing cover and visually interesting paths. In this way the environment reinforces the design of the Hunter as stealthy, aggressive, and intelligent.
EP2-Comment225 Phil Co Before we create any final art, we use placeholders to see if the gameplay is working and to figure out the proper dimensions and shapes for the model. In this level, we used an old pumpkin model as the placeholder for the Magnusson Device. After we decided that the gameplay was fun and the pumpkin worked well, a proper model was created using the pumpkin as a template.
EP2-Comment228 Dario Casali To create a climactic finish to this level, we ramped up strider density and citizen presence, and then systematically destroyed outer installations in order to move the action as uncomfortably close to the base as possible. It was important to us that everyone be able to play to the end of the episode, but we also wanted them to feel that defeating the striders required a heroic effort. A balance had to be achieved between the feeling of being overwhelmed and the possibility of completing the level. We made many tradeoffs to keep the experience enjoyable while keeping the intensity high, and sometimes this required removing enemies. For example, Elite combine soldiers originally took part in this invasion, running in and around the striders and hunters; but this additional level of enemy fire proved frustrating for players, and so they were removed.
EP2-Comment229 Dario Casali Episode Two's rocket defense battle was the largest and most nonlinear combat experience we had built. It was also the first combat we'd created that required the use of a vehicle to move from battle to battle. Our design goal was to give players a broad directive -- 'protect the rocket from incoming striders' -- and let them decide how to accomplish that. Playtesting revealed a number of challenges that we had to overcome, as the freeform nature of the map led to huge variations in success for different players. Small differences in skill or tactics radically changed the difficulty of the experience for players. In response, we had to continually tune all aspects of the experience to support the wide variety of tactics and skill levels demonstrated in playtests.
EP2-Comment230 John Guthrie The massive strider battle was in production longer than any other map in the episode. Tuning it required many, many months of testing and iteration to address playtest feedback, and this was complicated by the fact that every time we playtested, we saw individuals adopt completely different approaches to defeating the striders. Some threw logs at hunters; others relied on their rebel companions to kill them. Some players never sprinted, while others never used the car. We tried to keep supporting all the different strategies that occured to players, so that their experiments with tactics would be rewarding rather than frustrating. Meanwhile, we had to make sure the strider and hunter behaviors were consistent, and balance the experience so that it would be great for all different play styles at every skill level.
EP2-Comment233 Marc Laidlaw If you listened closely to the vortigaunts in the antlion tunnels, you may have heard one of them using a complaint very similar to Dr. Magnusson's here. Their affinity to Dr. Magnusson has caused some of his mannerisms to spread among them by way of their lowgrade telepathy.
EP2-Comment234 David Speyrer Many players had a hard time orienting themselves in the valley. Before the fight, we send players to the sawmill without telling them how to get there. This was a way of familiarizing them with the map without any time pressure. Still, the size and nonlinearity of the map was confusing for first-time players once the battle began. The loudspeaker announcements that direct players to incoming striders initially referred to compass directions, which most players couldn't follow because they couldn't remember which way was north. We added White Forest Peak as a global landmark and distinctive local landmarks, like the cranes and the water tower, and referred to those landmarks in the announcements instead of compass directions. This helped, but some players still had a hard time knowing which way to go at any given moment. Our ultimate solution was the car's radar, which along with the landmarks, helps players go where the action is.
EP2-Comment235 Ido Magal One problem we faced in this map was that players would abandon their car in the heat of battle and not be able to find it later. Given the time pressure and large scale of the map, some of these players couldn't succeed in protecting the base on foot. To address this we started by adding flashing hazard lights to the car, which helped when the car was in view, but we still saw players lose the car among the trees or behind hills. Eventually we added a vehicle locator to the player's HEV suit, so players could find the car wherever it was.
EP2-Comment236 Jon Huisingh We wanted players to use the car as much as possible, both to move around the valley quickly and to run over hunters as a quick and satisfying way of killing them. To encourage this, and to help with orientation problems, we added a radar to the car which indicated the location of enemies. This made the car a more valuable tool in the battle and solved the navigation problem once and for all.
EP2-Comment237 Steve Bond We made some small changes to our autosave system as a result of tuning the final strider battle. Autosaves are the periodic checkpoints where we can restart the player's game after death, so that they don't have to worry about replaying more of the game than necessary. In playtests, we observed that most players depended on our autosaves to restart after dying, rather than using their own quick-saves. But because the fight allowed players so much freedom, some players ended up with an autosave that left them in a no-win situation. Low on health and pinned down by hunters, or too far from the base to defend the rocket in time, some players failed thirty or more times before finally giving up. To address the no-win situation, we extended our autosave system to monitor health over time, and to only perform the autosave if the player was deemed safe for a reasonable period of time. We also prohibited autosaves when striders were within a certain distance of the base; this ensured there was always enough time to defeat them.
EP2-Comment238 Tom Leonard The Inn is designed as a crafted experience that is controlled but not linear. The encounter is intended to create a heightened sense of danger without actually being particularly dangerous. The idea is to create opportunities for some memorable unscripted combat moments by keeping the player a bit on their heels. Normally, Alyx is out of frame during combat and soldiers don't survive very long. By encouraging the player to move back from the windows, the map creates space for Alyx and the soldiers to exhibit interesting behaviors that reinforce the mood of the seige.
EP2-Comment239 Tim Larkin We sometimes use sounds to set a mood rather than to literally underscore the onscreen action. The G-Man sequence, for example, relies heavily on the use of abstract and ambient sounds. We wanted the soundscape to have the deadened, internalized quality you get from putting your hands over your ears, so we started with recordings from inside a womb. If you listen closely, you can hear internal gurgling noises as well as muffled heartbeats. We then added various other effects around the rythym of the heartbeat, plus long tailed reverb. None of the door or transition effects are literal interpretations, but are obscure metal and feedback sounds created to work in sync with the observable action. All of these things contribute to the scene's dreamlike quality.
EP2-Comment240 Tim Larkin Creating the sound of the vort's call was a refreshing break from scoring huge explosions or the bridge destruction. We wanted something subtle that would communicate the vort's general nature as well as its specific cry for help. It can be hard to tweak the sounds so hard while still giving an organic quality to the voice. To design a sound that contained a sense of the alien personality, without just sounding like another animal call, we found a way to add and process overtones while subtly altering the phrasing of the pitch. The resulting sounds give the impression that the Vorts are in fact communicating among each other with a dynamic dialog of calls as opposed to speech.
EP2-Comment241 Merle Dandridge So I really don't think I had any idea what I was getting into when I auditioned for the game, because I really had no clue what Half-Life was, what Steam was, or what Valve was about. But I did have the feeling that it was something that was really heavy since when I was in the waiting room. Everybody that was sitting across from me just seemed like they were stars or recognizable faces. And then the first time that I sat down with the Valve team, they showed me some rough animations of Alyx and immediately I just couldn't keep my eyes off her. She actually looked like someone I could be related to, and that has never happened to me.
EP2-Comment242 Merle Dandridge So, the circumstances around creating Alyx were so kismet that it's almost a little scary. Because I mean if you think of the ideal super-self that you want to be, having bad-ass moves and being able to karate-chop everybody and then add onto that a writer to make you sound witty at every turn, it's like having an uber-self for me. So I immediately fell in love with Alyx.
EP2-Comment243 Merle Dandridge It constantly amazes me how many people are involved in creating her because everyone involved seems to have the same vision for her. And for so many people to have one mind about a character, it blows my mind. Very rarely do I get a piece of direction or script that doesn't ring true to how I feel about Alyx, and vice versa. And strangely enough, as soon as I try something out and something doesn't ring true, I'm usually not the first person to say it. Even though I might be feeling it, somebody else will say it. And it's just a testament to how in-tune everybody is about what kind of person Alyx is and what she would do, what she wouldn't do, what kind of girl she is.
EP2-Comment244 Merle Dandridge A question I get asked a lot is, 'What is the big difference between acting for stage and film and then acting for a videogame?' Because this is the first time I've ever done a videogame. In general, in acting, it's helpful to have a director's clear vision from which to spring. Then the actor can run with the idea, play with it, imagine new things, fill it out and make it a tangible thing or a tangible character. And the great thing about videogame acting for me is that I'm completely unlimited. I'm not bound by what I can do physically or how I look or what kind of environment can be physically created. So the possibilities are completely limitless. There are no boundaries with this. So when we get together and we talk about what the scene is, when they set the stage for me and what environment I'm going to be in, I immediately get a complete high. And I can only imagine it is something like how somebody gets when they actually see the game, because it blows my mind, the pictures that they paint, about where we are, what situations we're in. So we discuss that a little and then from there we just kind of go on, I guess instinct is the only way I can really describe it, because I take what they give to me and kind of volley it back in the way that it comes out immediately. So I just go into my little dark booth and I can imagine that I'm anywhere. And it's the best--the best kind of make-believe for a storyteller, when you just aren't limited.
EP2-Comment245 Merle Dandridge So a lot of times we'll try a line in several different ways, like set a different mood for a different scene, or maybe just do a different take on a line. Like one might be, it sounds trite but, you know, one excited, one not so excited, or one a little more pensive and thoughtful. Suggestions are always thrown out there for new reads and it's the coolest kind of teamwork. It's not just-'Here's your script. Go!' It's, 'Let's work this out, let's find the best middle ground,' and everything is always pliable. If it's not working, maybe we'll go back and do an instant rewrite or something, and for me that's creative heaven. Absolutely.
EP2-Comment246 Merle Dandridge The other thing that's so great about acting for videogames-and I guess voiceover in general, but for this particular game is so amazing-I don't have to worry about hitting my mark, or playing to the camera or forgetting my lines. That's usually my biggest thing, you can see the wheels turning on camera because I'm trying to keep up with my lines. But this, they're all right there so I don't even have to worry about that and I can just worry about the delivery, the emotional vibe that needs to come across, and just be the sense of immediacy-I don't even have to worry about the words. So that takes a whole other level off to let the actor get down and into the work, which is really, really great. Which is why I love this job.
EP2-Comment247 Merle Dandridge There's a lot of energy that goes into shaping Alyx and making sure she stays on the right path or stays true to the vision that I think we have for her. I want Alyx to be liked, I know everyone at Valve wants Alyx to be liked, but what is really great is that if I get off course or if I've been in the booth to long and I'm starting to sound a little naggy, then I have somebody who's there to pull me back and say, 'Hey why don't you try it this way,' or 'I think you're veering off course and starting to sound like somebody's mother.' Because I'm there to help, if you're lost-you know, the 'Get goings,' or stuff like that. To help keep the game moving and keep you on track. There's kind of a fine line. You don't want somebody constantly bothering you but you also want a friendly companion, somebody to help you out once in a while. So trying to not go one way or the other was a bit of a trick for us.
EP2-Comment248 Merle Dandridge I don't think I really got the full scope of what Alyx Vance is or how she's created until the first time I went to Valve headquarters. And what was really important was that I got a better idea of how big the team was. I mean, a lot of people work really hard to make Alyx Vance who she is. You hear my voice and it's easy to say, That's Alyx or Jamil is Alyx. But that is so not the case. These people spend hours in front of their computer or writing their scripts or dreaming up this beautiful person, and I'm just the cake topping really.
EP2-Comment250 Merle Dandridge A really cool experience was that, while I was at Valve I was talking to one of the animators in the hallway, and we were just carrying on the conversation, I was getting to know what he did, and I just happened to be looking over my shoulder and noticed that people kept popping their heads out of their offices. And one of the other guys noted to me that these people, bless em, they have to sit around and listen to my voice all day long. So for that voice to be chatting in the hallway was a little weird. I guess I kind of liken that, I can understand it, because the very first time I saw my voice on Alyx Vance's face, it was so bizarre. And so when I watch people talk to me for the first time and they've heard my voice as Alyx, they have the exact same expression and I'm like, I understand. I get it.
EP2-Comment251 Merle Dandridge It means a lot to me to have a multi-ethnic heroine. When I was growing up, that didn't happen a whole lot. Maybe Storm from X-Men? It wasn't commonplace. So to have someone that's my type be in that kind of position is really amazing. I think it's a popular trend now, but that wasn't always the case.
EP2-Comment252 Merle Dandridge I really consider working on Alyx, my acting school. Because it has stretched me, it has made me go deeper in my work, it's sharpened me up as far as being able to call on emotions, or really just imagination. A creative spirit is really just a lot of imagination, I think. And afterwards I always seem to be sharper in everything I do. I always have a good show at night or I always go onto the next job with a heightened awareness or heightened presence. And it's only helped me, so thank you Alyx for that!
EP2-Comment253 Merle Dandridge This final Episode 2 scene was...unbelievable. Before we even started working on it, the team sat me down, and they did a little show and tell of the animation they had. I think they were hesitant to show it to me but just from that rough animation I was so moved, I mean, immediately moved to tears. I felt like I had just been gut-punched and I immediately felt it, and I was like, let's go, let's get on this. It shouldn't surprise me by now because I've been working on Alyx for so long now, but every time we come to the table to do a new scene or to lay down some new material, I am always blown away, and this scene was the epitome of that feeling. I was so pumped to get in there and start working on it. They're always upping the ante and always taking it to the next level, but this time, this scene is different. Cause this time, Alyx loses. And I think this is a-I don't think, it is a major sacrifice. You see her carrying around the wounds of her mother that she lost, but her dad made her who she is. Her dad taught her, her dad groomed her, and I think most importantly-he loved her. This script was a gift and a gut-punch all in one. When you give me something like that, it really motivates me to try to knock it out of the ballpark. I love, love playing Alyx. I have to say, it's definitely my favorite acting job I've ever had-hands down.
EP2-Comment254 Merle Dandridge As I'm sure a lot of people know, I perform on Broadway. And sometimes people will show up at the stage door with Alyx Vance posters to sign or just an encouraging word about the game. 'Oh my gosh, I saw in the playbill that you played Alyx Vance!' It gets me so hyped when people come up to me and are excited about the game. Because I don't get that immediate feedback that I get on stage every night, so when somebody tells me that they liked it face to face, it's really exciting to me. So I guess a couple of people have taken pictures with me at the stage door. And I went through a phase where I wanted to know what people thought of the game, so I was looking on message boards and checking out what the chat was, and I found that thread that had a picture of me with somebody at the stage door. They were talking about, 'Look, this is me with Alyx Vance!' And the first response was, 'She is so ugly!' I thought that was cute.

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