Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Ectolibrium: Eld Early, Eld Often

It’s always cool to see a fun project come together among friends.


Ectolibrium, whose first installment is now available on Steam Early Access, is a collaboration between a couple of old online friends. Nate Spence is somebody I took around on a tour of Valve years ago; and Nicolas Huck helped me design my self-published Kindle editions. I knew they were game fans, but only recently discovered that they were working together on this indie game.

In the spirit of doing fun stuff with friends, and also because I’d just bought a Yeti microphone that was gathering dust, I asked if they needed any help with voices, and they ended up throwing me the role of the Eld…some kind of possibly fungoid elder alien being.

I’ve always enjoyed doing voices, though I am very far from a skilled professional, and could not have held up this kind of performance for more than ten minutes…whereas a pro can do odd vocals for four hours at a stretch. I tried to channel some Nihilanth reverberations, and (an accidental but probably more important influence) watched Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World the night before I attempted to come up with a voice.

I believe the Eld speaks only at the end of the first installment of Ectolibrium, and will be a bit more talkative in future episodes.

Thanks to Nate and Nick for giving me my big break!

Talking About Writing on the Script Lock Podcast

I was invited to join Chris Gardiner of Failbetter Games (creators of Fallen London and Sunless Sea) on the Script Lock Podcast to talk about writing, mostly for games.

Chris is actively working on games right now, so I think his insights are a lot more entertaining and interesting than my warmed-over ones. Hopefully I mentioned a few things that I haven’t already said a million times in other interviews.

I bought a Blue Yeti microphone for this podcast, since the last one I recorded with my laptop mic was almost unintelligible. If nothing else, the sound is pretty good this time.

Right after doing the show, I picked up a copy of Sunless Sea for the iPad. Perhaps you too will be so moved.


Offspring of Cloister the Stupid

Sometime after Half-Life was finished, but before it had shipped, which is to say in the fall and winter of 1998, I tinkered with a deathmatch map. It was simply the thing to do in those days, and there was no greater glory (as I saw it) than to have made a popular one. I’d made a few terrible maps for Quake, and experimented a lot with Half-Life’s map editor (known at that time as WorldCraft rather than Hammer), but the one I called Cloister (because it was small and cramped) was the only one I sort of finished. The reaction internally was muted. We played a few times but there were no follow-up requests for more crazy fun in the Cloister map. I put it aside and stopped updating it.

Somehow it made its way into the world, and eventually into the hands of some totally hip and with-it young mappers, but especially this gal who goes under the name of Trashbang (aka Suzanne Will). Over the last year (or more? more!) she’s been polishing it up, giving it reasonable textures and tweaking the geometry, and now it’s out and playable if you care to go to the trouble. Please read Trashbang’s post about the map, and why she renamed it, and how casual I was about the whole thing until now, when I’ll throw in a few extra exclamation marks to demonstrate emotion: !!!!!!!!

Her buddy Joe Wintergreen kindly wrote to let me know the project was complete, and added this bit of feedback: “I tweeted it the other week and about 8-10 people ended up joining in all. We played for a few hours. It was really fun! Usually we only play Crossfire because I think most of the other stock HL MP maps are bad, and this one stood up, and is better than them. So well done to you like 18 years ago and pshaw to any Valve folks who weren’t into it! Bit surreal.”

So take that, all those who doubted Cloister’s potential. And let us never speak of this map again, unless we call it Lister.

Have fun playing it!

[Note: Around the same time I was trying to learn how to make levels, I was also writing this expert-level guide to level design: This Old Level.]


Afterthought Overkill

[file dated 11/6-11/9/98]

Preface: This appears to be an expanded version of the “Day After Shipping” document, that was being written simultaneously. Ah, word processors, with your copypaste function making document provenance baffling. It incorporates big pieces of the other document, but is wrapped and shot through with a fair bit of new stuff. I think this was probably written to be presented at a CGDC Roadtrip—a smaller, local developer’s conference. I added “Anyway, as I was saying” sorts of things that made it sound more talky. But I don’t believe I ever got up and gave the talk. I recall I was on a panel about narrative in games, and might have spewed small chunks of it then, however.

Deep breath…


When I was about twelve years old, sometime around 1972, I wrote a few pages of a science fiction story about a futuristic form of entertainment. About all I remember is that it featured huge banks of lenses projecting holographic images into the middle of a round stage, and that the audience participated in the performance somehow. I recall making a big deal out of the futuristic-sounding words “three dimensional”—as if everything in 1972 were actually two dimensional, and we’d have to wait another 50 or 100 years for the third dimension to kick in. The story was supposed to be about this new entertainment industry, but since I don’t recall ever inventing any characters or conflicts or anything that might actually happen in the story, it didn’t get much beyond the planning stages. (more…)

Writing For Half-Life

(File dated November 9, 1998)

PREFACE: Another file from the same disk with the Nihilanth sketches, this one, if it is to believed, written the day after we shipped Half-Life. I do believe it because the file’s creation date is indeed November 9, 1998, and I am not l33t enough to know how to fake that sort of thing. The title of this file was “CGDCTALK” but I don’t remember ever giving a talk anywhere until years later, after the success of HL2. It might have been published somewhere (perhaps near Geoff Keighley’s piece on The Last Hours of Half-Life), but if so it was probably edited, and there might be some value in the unedited braindump. If this was indeed written right as we shipped the game, then I would not be surprised if it conflicts with things I’ve said in decades since. But the guy writing this little article was there, and his memory is much better than the old guy writing this preface, so I’d be inclined to believe him over me.


When I started working at Valve, Half-Life was almost finished. It would be on sale for Christmas. If I was lucky, I would get to put in a few weeks of touch-up work on the story, and then get on with a far more detailed storyline for our second game. That was in July of 1997. (more…)

Mathoms from the Lambda Files (c. 1998)

PREFACE: For the past few months, as part of my post-retirement purge, I’ve been organizing papers, rummaging in drawers, going through the basement, getting rid of moldy paperbacks, looking for the occasional piece of debris worth saving. At the end of the process I ended up with a stack of 3.5” floppies, so I bought an external floppy drive to see if there was anything on them worth saving. Mostly they held back-ups of old manuscripts and story fragments from before I joined Valve, but on one disk I found several documents from the summer of 1998, late in Half-Life 1’s development, when I’d been working on the game for a year.

The first one is called “Finale” and appears to be an attempt describe the whole final sequence, which makes it pretty clear that we didn’t have an ending built yet. Another interesting thing is that it ends with a third-person cut-scene view of Gordon Freeman. As I’ve stated before, we only committed completely to first person when we realized we didn’t have time and resources to do a good job with third person views. Resource constraints forced our hand and gave the game its strict first-person integrity. It was all very seat-of-the-pants. (more…)

The Ghost Penny Post


Now available, wherever fine rare periodicals are sold, “The Ghost Penny Post” is the cover story for the March/April 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This beautiful and stunningly weird cover is by Jason Van Hollander. The issue has been reviewed by a few online websites, including Amazing Stories, Tangent Online, and SFRevue.

An idea I’d been carrying around for over 15 years, it was finally written in response to a request for stories about videogames; but ultimately, while it does involve games, the video element is nonexistent. It might be considered steampunk thanks to the Victorian period setting, but the only steam in it comes from a kettle. The keen observer might notice that it takes place partly in the bewildering village of Binderwood, referenced elsewhere on this site. There are no coherent observations to be drawn from this, however. I had simply run out of names for made-up places, I assure you. Please don’t see patterns where none exist!

Another Girl You Should Date

Date a girl who plays games. Date a girl who spends her money on games instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many games. Date a girl who has a wishlist of games she wants on Steam that requires you to scroll for quite a while to reach the end of it.

Find a girl who plays games. You’ll know that she does because she will always have more game apps on her iPhone than will fit in all the folders the phone is able to hold.. She’s the one lovingly looking at the empty display boxes in the Gamestop, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the old copy of Kirby Tilt and Tumble she’s been looking for. You see the weird chick blowing into the connector slot of an old SNES cartridge in the Famicom shop? That’s the gamer. They can never resist cleaning the contacts, even if spit probably doesn’t help matters.

She’s the girl playing her 3DS while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the Half-and-Half has formed a fossilized rim because she’s halfway between save points and if she dies now she has to start all over again. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most gamers do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she planted all the magic beans around Hyrule Field.

Buy her a can of Rockstar.

Let her know what you really think of Miyamoto. See if she got through the first level of Spacechem. Understand that if she says she didn’t beat Ninja Gaiden, she’s just saying that so you won’t feel lame. She totally beat Ninja Gaiden. Ask her if she loves Zelda or she would like to be Zelda; she will say she loves Zelda but would want to be Link.

It’s easy to date a girl who games. Give her an Indie Bundle for her birthday, renew her Live account for Christmas and celebrate your anniversaries in Azeroth. Give her the gift of passionate gaming, in midi, in chiptunes. Give her Zombies, Xenoeverything, Portals, Attack Choppers. Let her know that you understand that games are love. Understand that she knows the difference between games and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite game. It will be your fault if you can’t level up along with her.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Don’t lie to her. That’s just stupid. HELLO? If you have to, look for help in a walkthrough or Gamefaqs. That sort of cheating is okay. It’s better not to, but sometimes you just want to get to the next level where it’s fun again. If you have to noclip, be sure you have a good reason. It ruins the illusion when you can see the edges of the world.

Fail. Because a girl who plays games knows that sometimes you must fail to learn. Because girls who understand that know that all games will come to end, but that there will always be a sequel. That you can always start a new game slot and begin again and again until you get it right. That life is meant to have a villain or two, so that it means something when you get to the end and beat them.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who play games understand that gamers develop and get better. Especially in Dark Souls.

If you find a girl who games, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM throwing a controller at the TV and weeping tears of rage, hand the controller back to her and quietly step away. You may lose her for a couple of hours but eventually that boss will have been beat and she will be a better person for it. She’ll talk as if the characters and the perils and the challenges in the game are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose in a 12 person raid. Or in the jubilant climax of some TF2 Capture the Flag, or midair in some Portal co-op. Or very casually next time she’s motion sick from riding an airboat or a jetski while being chased by assassins or aliens. Over Skype, because you gave up on Ventrilo.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet, and then you’ll remember that you earned a dozen extra hearts since you met her. You will play out the game of your lives, have kids named Jigglypuff and Pikachu, who only play Japanese games on modded systems. She will introduce your children to the Elder Scrolls and Planescape, maybe in the same day. You will walk the virtuals winters of the games of the future age together and she will say “So the world might be mended…” while you shake the pixels out of your beard.

Date a girl who games because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who will join you in the most colorful games imaginable. If you can only give her Bejewelled clones, and stale point and click adventures, and “Games for Girls” no gamer would ever want to play, , then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who games.

Or better yet, date a girl who codes.

Wait, what?!

–With My Deepest Apologies to Rosemarie Urquico, Who Certainly Does Not Deserve This –