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Feature: 'Post-GDC: Physical Gameplay in Half-Life 2'

In one of today's main Gamasutra features, we report on Half-Life 2 Senior Software Engineer Jay Stelly led this GDC session last Thursday on the physical gameplay...

Simon Carless, Blogger

March 30, 2006

2 Min Read

In one of today's main Gamasutra features, we report on Half-Life 2 Senior Software Engineer Jay Stelly led this GDC session last Thursday on the physical gameplay design in Half-Life 2, which examined Valve's approach to game mechanics design, and how physical interaction methods were devised for 2004's blockbuster. In this extract, Stelly discusses how players were trained to understand that physics played an important part in the title's gameplay: "Additional training methods included the currently popular sandbox mode, where the player has a virtual playground (in the logical sense, not the spatial sense of the word) to experiment with the new rules. In Half-Life 2 this was used in the first areas where you had access to the gravity gun: enemies were relatively weak, and there were lots of items to encourage testing the gun's performance. Still, training the player can only be successful under some strict circumstances. The speaker explained how their testing showed that the learning rate diminished if the player was put under any type of pressure during training time or, even worse, exposed to any sort of peril or even combat situations. Clearly, stress makes us go back to basic survival strategies rather than trying new ones. On top of that, putting the player in situations where he has to make decisions also seems to stifle learning significantly as he needs to focus in the decision-making process and not so much in acquiring new rules or info. To address these concerns, Valve made sure the player understood from the very beginning that it was okay to fail during training, and that no bad consequences would result: suggesting experimentation, as can be seen in the gravity gun tutorial you perform in-game with another NPC." You can now read the full Gamasutra report on the subject, including plenty more information on the development of the critically acclaimed title (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

About the Author(s)

Simon Carless

Blogger

Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency and creator of the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter. He consults with a number of PC/console publishers and developers, and was previously most known for his role helping to shape the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Conference for many years.

He is also an investor and advisor to UK indie game publisher No More Robots (Descenders, Hypnospace Outlaw), a previous publisher and editor-in-chief at both Gamasutra and Game Developer magazine, and sits on the board of the Video Game History Foundation.

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