Today was one of those occasions that comes once, maybe twice (but definitely not thrice) in a lifetime. Gabe Newell arose from his Scrooge McDuck-esque lake of knives and cash to conduct an AMA. Spoiler: He likes Portal 2 more than Half-Life, and despite appearances to the contrary, Valve still makes games.
Photo credit: Venture Beat.
Newell didn't stick around all that long, but he got a few fairly substantial answers in. Among other things, he pointed out that Portal 2 is his favourite single-player Valve game, and he explained why Half-Life makes him feel real human emotions like regret.
Q: What is your personal favourite Valve game/series?
A: I think Portal 2 is our best single-player game. I play Dota 2 the most of our multiplayer games.
Q: What do you regret about Half-Life then? That's an interesting thing to say, regarding that the HL series is one of the most critically acclaimed of all time.
A: The issue with Half-Life for me is that I was involved in a much higher percentage of the decisions about the games, so it's hard for me to look at them as anything other than a series of things I regret. There's no information in my response about what we'll do in the future. It's simply easier for me to be a fan of things that in which I was less directive.
If you are involved in a game, everything ends up being a set of trade-offs. Anything in a game is a sacrifice of things not in the game. I just feel those more personally about Half-Life for a bunch of reasons.
He also said that, yes, there will probably be a new game set in the shared Half-Life/Portal universe someday.
Q: Any chance of a new IP that takes place in the half-life/portal universe? I feel like there's a lot of story left to be explored there. Thanks!
Newell was also asked about Valve's notoriously spartan approach to communication. He explained it while acknowledging that, yeah, it has some downsides.
Q: Hi GabeN, Why does Valve not talk to its community about the games/apps its developing as much as other companies?
A: Because our decision making is way more conditional than most other companies. The one thing we won't do is waste our customers time and money, which means we will cancel or change stuff much later in development. Tracking our choices would be annoying and frustrating.
Another way to think about this, and the way we talk about this internally, is that we prefer to communicate through our products. We are all pretty devoted to reading and listening to the community - everyone here believes it is an integral part of their job to do so. And when it comes time to respond, we generally use Steam - shipping updates that address issues or add functionality. Obviously this doesn't work for everything. Working this way imposes latency on our communication - it takes longer to ship and update than to do a blog post. This can lead to the feeling of an echo chamber, where it seems like Valve isn't listening. We're always listening. So sometimes the latency is rough for everyone, including us when we want to address issues quickly. On balance we think it's usually worth the trade-off.
As for what's currently in the works at Valve, Newell said Source Engine 2 is on track to become the backbone of all their games. Also, he's become very interested in machine learning.
Q: Does Valve plan on doing anything with Source 2 in the coming years? If so, what?
A: We are continuing to use Source 2 as our primary game development environment. Aside from moving Dota 2 to the engine recently, we are are using it as the foundation of some unannounced products. We would like to have everyone working on games here at Valve to eventually be using the same engine. We also intend to continue to make the Source 2 engine work available to the broad developer community as we go, and to make it available free of charge.
Q: Hey Gabe/other valve employees, Just a question out of curiosity really, but interested in seeing what your view is on the direction that valve as a company should take in the future?
A: The big thing right now is broadening the range of options we have in creating experiences. We think investing in hardware will give us those options. The knuckles controller is being designed at the same time as we're designing our own VR games.
Much more narrowly, some of us are thinking about some of the AI work that is being hyped right now. Simplistically we have lots of data and compute capability that looks like the kinds of areas where machine learning should work well.
Personally I'm looking at research in brain-computer interfaces.
Also, somebody tried to ask him about uncensored sex games on Steam. He chose to reply to, er, something of a broader issue.
Q: Would you ever consider allowing uncensored video games containing pornographic content to be sold on Steam? Also, where do you draw the line for content on Steam?
A: In principle, there are two problems to solve. The first is a completely uncurated distribution tool for developers. The second is a toolset for customers that allow them to find and filter content (and people are an instance of content most obviously in multiplayer) that is best for them.
And lastly, he got a question about the number three, which he replied to (!!!).
Q: What is the status of Half Life 3/Half Life 2 Episode 3? Is Valve still working on any fully-fledged single player games? An unidentified anonymous source at Valve has said that Half Life 3 has been cancelled. Is that source legitimate?
A: The number 3 must not be said. Yes. I personally believe all unidentified anonymous sources on the Internet.
So take that to mean, uh, something! I guess?