Valve Software Interview : Marc Laidlaw


posted 10/27/2003 by John Yan
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A long time ago when the first Half-Life was about to hit the shelves and Gaming Nexus first started, I did an interview with Marc Laidlaw of Valve Software. Seeing as the second game is due to be out in the near future, I'd thought I catch up with Marc again to see how he's been doing since the first time. Rather than dwelve into the release date issues or that of having some code stolen, I'd thought it would be nice to actually get to know one of the people behind a highly anticipated game.

Gaming Nexus: For those who don't know you tell us a little bit about your background and what you did before Half-Life.

Marc Laidlaw: My background is as a writer-mainly of science fiction and horror, short stories and novels. I became interested in games while playing Myst, which struck me as an experience deeper and more involving than many books, and I quickly decided to light out for the territories to figure out how I could create stories in this new medium. Other games I played early on, which I found very influential in different ways, were Ecstatica, Raven’s Heretic and Hexen, and Relentless: Twinsen’s Adventure. And Gadget, which was my entrée into working with game designers, as I was hired to extend the gameworld into a novel.

Gaming Nexus: From the looks on, the books of yours that are reviewed are really well received. Have you written any more novels or short stories in between games and if so which ones?

Marc Laidlaw: Since starting at Valve, I haven’t written any more novels, although when I first started writing about games I began planning a novel about the game industry…I’m still doing research for that. I’ve published a few stories in the last few years, but very few. I have been getting a lot of satisfaction out of writing for Half-Life 2, however.

Gaming Nexus: You were there from the beginnings of the company. Tell me what's it like seeing the company grow, expand, and become an important part of the PC gaming community.

Marc Laidlaw: It’s been fun to be part of Valve’s growth, and of course it’s an honor to have become part of such a creative, lively community. But I can also get nostalgic about the early days, when it was a smaller, close-knit, almost family-like group. The last five years have really flown by, from my point of view. It seems like only yesterday that we released HL1 and Team Fortress Classic, and watched the MODs start coming in, and started talking about what kind of things we’d like to do for a follow-up.

Gaming Nexus: Did you approach doing the story for the sequel any different than for the first game?

Marc Laidlaw: In the first game, I arrived midway through the project, and my job was mainly to take an existing story with many loose ends and arrange the pieces in such a way that they created a convincing illusion of narrative. The second time around, we tried to have an end in sight from the beginning. But of course, everything changes along the way, and you’re always surprised at where you end up.

Gaming Nexus: Did the experience of writing the first game teach you anything that you used to help you as you started on the second one?

Marc Laidlaw: I knew a lot more about game design going into the second game, and a lot more about how to prototype my ideas directly in the engine, which is the best way to work them out.

Gaming Nexus: Was it easier this time around writing on a universe and characters you were familiar with?

Marc Laidlaw: We didn’t really have a universe when we finished HL1. We had a single setting, Black Mesa, and that was it. So first we had to develop context for that setting. What we did have was a strong, iconic cast of characters who persisted outside the walls of Black Mesa. It was great fun to work with them again. I could write dialog for Dr. Kleiner till the stars go dim. It’s doubly fun because then my old friend Hal Robins records the lines, and they come out even better than I could have hoped.

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