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Portal or Half-Life headed to big screen

Portal or Half-Life headed to big screen

Wed 06 Feb 2013 5:56pm GMT / 12:56pm EST / 9:56am PST
EventsDICE 2013

DICE 2013: Gabe Newell and J.J. Abrams kick off conference by announcing a collaboration to turn one of Valve's big games into a feature film

The organizers of the DICE Summit kicked off the annual Las Vegas industry meet-and-greet with an unusual crossover, a keynote address featuring Valve president and co-founder Gabe Newell and Bad Robot Productions president and founder J.J. Abrams. Both giants in their own field, the pair came together for a session titled "Storytelling Across Platforms: Who Benefits Most, the Audience or the Player?"

Abrams began by looking at the evolution of games, likening the jump from Pong to Portal to going from cave drawings to the master works of the Italian Renaissance. But just as he was about to launch into the topic of linear narratives, Newell interrupted the filmmaker to show a clip from Cloverfield in which a character with a handheld camera captures havoc breaking loose..

"I'm looking at that as a gamer and saying, 'Put the camera down and ******* run!' Why wouldn't you let me do that," Newell said.

Abrams responded by showing a clip of Half-Life 2, where characters deliver some key story details as the player character Gordon Freeman ignores them to teleport small objects and otherwise tinker with irrelevant stuff in the room.

Newell and Abrams then put forward their defenses for the medium, the advantages of games allowing players to do what they want, while movies let filmmakers force focus on the important parts.

Abrams then cued up another Half-Life 2 clip, in which Freeman stands by with a crowbar patiently listening to characters provide exposition (before tossing a grenade at their feet). The filmmaker said it's frustrating as a player because Freeman stands there mutely, and there's no way to know if he even recognizes the people talking to him, much less feels the same way toward them that they feel toward him.

The next clip Abrams introduced came from Jaws, with a group of men hunting the shark on a boat, dropping chum into the water as they wait for something to happen. A clumsy mistake leads to canisters of compressed air being jarred loose and a stern warning about the dangers of mishandling them. That's a setup that pays off in the movie's climax, in which a compressed air canister brings the killer shark to an explosive end. Abrams talked about how movie setups like that, whether technical or emotional, provide a certain inevitability that games generally lack.

Newell said it's a lesson that games have started to apply, and cued up a Portal 2 clip where the main character stumbles upon a science fair at Aperture Labs' Bring Your Daughter To Work day. Initially, it's intended to just be a throwaway gag with the AI Wheatley mocking the use of potatoes for everything, but Newell noted the potato focus returns later in the game. One of the advantages games have, Newell said, is that by embedding those sort of potential experiences that players may or may not hit on their way through, they provide more reason for multiple playthroughs.

Abrams said the same sort of thing is put into movies, where filmmakers include cues that make more sense or would only be caught on multiple viewings. He introduced clip from his Star Trek reboot where a young Kirk deduces that the planet Vulcan is under attack and the Enterprise warps into a debris field around the planet when they go to check it out. Abrams then rewound the clip and freeze-framed it to show that Star Wars' R2-D2 was briefly visible floating through the carnage. Newell said he now has to go back through all of Abrams movies looking for debris to figure out what he'll direct next.

As storytellers, Abrams said game developers and filmmakers are always trying to hide the machinery, to keep audiences in the moment and paying attention to what the creators want them to pay attention to, instead of what's actually going on. He also talked about the superficial nature of special effects, saying it won't matter to audiences if they don't care about the characters at the heart of the matter. He showed a clip from a quiet moment of Die Hard where John McLean and his ex-wife seem to be on the verge of repairing their relationships. Without moments like that, Abrams said the pyrotechnics of the rest of the movie wouldn't matter to audiences.

Newell said Valve tried to steal that lesson from movies with Half-Life 2, specifically the game of catch with Dog and Alyx. In gameplay purposes, the player is getting the gravity gun and learning how to use it. But at the same time, it helps to humanize the characters and make players care.

Abrams agreed, saying it was the crazy mystery of who GLaDOS is that made him play through Portal. Newell returned the admiration by talking about his favorite scene in Cloverfield, in which a woman goes behind a screen and then explodes, foreshadowing what could be dire consequences for the rest of the characters. Abrams called his taste sick.

Newell said this whole discussion is a replication of one he and Abrams had been having, and the pair said it's about time to stop talking about the intersection between the storytellers and start doing something. To that end, Abrams said he and Valve are working together to create either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie. And with that, they ended the keynote.

18 Comments

Pier Castonguay
Programmer

189 106 0.6
Portal and Half-Life are actually in the same universe (Black Mesa and Aperture Science are competitors) so it make sense that a movie talk about both.

Posted:A year ago

#1
JJ is a busy man with multiple cloned bodies....

Posted:A year ago

#2

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,156 1,075 0.5
Hmmmm. of the two, Half-Life makes more sense, as it's basically a story about a guy having a REALLY bad day at work, the opening sequence can be shot just like it is in the game, there's sequel potential (HL2 + Episodes) and a few Aperture Science references can be squeezed in as in-jokes. Portal is harder because the game is more about the puzzles and quirky humor to the point that watching someone on screen basically playing a big puzzle game isn't as thrilling as playing the game itself.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Jamie Read
Junior 3D Artist

126 64 0.5
Don't do it!

Posted:A year ago

#4

Adam Jordan
Community Management/Moderation

113 65 0.6
It won't be Half-life, they would finally have to make a third in the franchise.

Posted:A year ago

#5

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

735 430 0.6
I would have gone with the whole "moon" thing, rather than the "potato" thing. The foreshadowing on that was very well done, IMO, even if the rest of the game wasn't as good (again, IMO) as the first.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Marty Howe
Director

59 25 0.4
Can we just have Half Life 3 please?

Posted:A year ago

#7

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,156 1,075 0.5
Damn day for posts chopping off. I actually had a sentence at the end saying what others here did.

All things considered, I'd prefer all that damned time and money be spent on Half-Life 3 or new episodes or a Left 4 Dead Box for all consoles and PC or whatever Valve can do that's NOT a movie that's not going to generate as much revenue as a game would. Personally, I'd rather sit on my ass at home with a controller in my hand for a few dozen hours over sitting for two or less with a box of nasty movie popcorn...

So yeah, don't do it, indeed!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Greg Wilcox on 7th February 2013 3:01am

Posted:A year ago

#8

Matt Ernst
Studying Culinary Arts

24 20 0.8
Haven't we already realized that video game movies are a bad idea? Valve should finish Episode 3 before making a movie.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Robert Mac-Donald
Game Designer

58 45 0.8
"watching someone on screen basically playing a big puzzle game isn't as thrilling as playing the game itself."

Watching cube was pretty fun. Not a perfect analogy, but I actually think a movie presented in a puzzle way, watching the lead character solve problems to move along could be very interesting and not too far from any other adventure-like movie.

Edit: I doubt they would release HL3 anytime before the release of valve's PC

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Mac-Donald on 7th February 2013 3:01am

Posted:A year ago

#10

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,156 1,075 0.5
@Robert. Ha and ha! I was going to mention the Cube movies, but I figured no one would know what I was talking about. The first one was interesting until near the end and the second I recall was... not so hot (as in basically the same thing). Not sure if there was a third one, but given the direct to video market, I'd not be surprised...

Funny... I always considered them something like being inside that damned Hellraiser box (without the freaky demons coming at you).

I'd still rather play Portal than watch it because it just works better as an interactive experience...

Eh, we'll see what happens (as usual)...

Posted:A year ago

#11

Brian Smith
Artist

195 84 0.4
They might well go with more a Portal movie exactly because it has less story. HL is maybe all a bit too done in terms of story. He'd effectively be making a homage to the game. Possibly Portal will allow more flexibility and an original tale in that universe.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
Sounds like it was an interesting and entertaining talk. Is a video of it available online?

Posted:A year ago

#13

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

556 292 0.5
Games do NOT just allow players to "do what they want".

Every game is basically a gerbil maze that player's choose to enter. It's every bit as much the job of the designer to take control over that maze and make it a good experience - the player expects you to, they're paying you good money for that.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

556 292 0.5
You mean a fourth. Half Life 3 would be the fourth Half Life game (not counting the late 90s Half Life itself).

Posted:A year ago

#15

Adam Jordan
Community Management/Moderation

113 65 0.6
You mean a fourth. Half Life 3 would be the fourth Half Life game (not counting the late 90s Half Life itself).
It would be 4th in overall games (5th if you actually count the first Half Life) but it would still be the "third" in the series. Personally I consider Half Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode 1 and Half Life 2: Episode 2 as ONE game.

It's the same as the Elder Scrolls series, there are to date around 9 or 10 Elder Scrolls games. Four of them are spin-offs (Battlespire, Redguard, Elder Scrolls Travels series) but there are only Five numbered games that create the "core" franchise.

So overall, you would have:

Half Life
Half Life Blueshift
Half Life 2
Half Life 2: Episode 1
Half Life 2: Episode 2
Half Life 3?

Altogether creating three games (or technically two for the time being since Valve seem to be allergic to the number three)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 7th February 2013 11:11pm

Posted:A year ago

#16

Andreia Quinta
Creative & People Photographer

214 534 2.5
@ Adam Jordan

Your forgot Half Life Opposing Force.

Half Life
Half Life Opposing Force
Half Life Blueshift
Half Life 2
Half Life 2: Episode 1
Half Life 2: Episode 2

On another note, nice to see some 'Cube' references, was a movie different from everything I'd see at the time, a must see. A possible Portal movie would have to be a masterpiece if it's to be done, something that would leave 'Cube' ashamed.

Posted:A year ago

#17
A Portal Movie? I'd have liked to see either the history or the consequences of what already happened in the game. How did GLaDOS came to be, or where will she go now after she has let Chell goes? Or it could be a drama/adventure about Chell and Freeman saving the world together? If any game were to be made into movie, I'd say the HL universe has much more solid storyline than many others.

Posted:A year ago

#18

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