I'm sure that by now everyone has seen the Half-Life 2 videos that were shown at this year's E3. It caused a lot of excitement in our office, and like many developers who've been around the block a few times, we're a pretty cynical bunch. But those videos had us foaming at the mouth.
After having talked about it with many people and thought about it, here are my conclusions:
- The Source engine seems to take just about any technology that people have put in game engines the last half decade, and turn it to 11, and integrate it really well with every other component and aspect. We're talking the latest shaders and rigid- and soft-body physics and water and shadows and lots of geometry and textures and breaking objects and material-dependent sound and AI and facial animation and streaming (probably), and content editing tools, and a broad supported hardware range. That's impressive.
- All of the capabilities of the engine seem to be exploited by the content. In fact, a lot of the impact of the videos, in terms of graphics but also in terms of (expected) gameplay, are generated by the content, by the graphics and the level design. Level design is where all the various game development disciplines come together, and therefore this is the trickiest part to get right. The fact that Half-Life 2 seems to manage to pull this off to an astounding degree is to me the most impressive aspect of these videos.
- The game makes a credible attempt at photorealism. Also, it does not seem to feature a setting that is too clichéd. It should be pretty accessible due to the lack of elves and leather space babes. Aiming at the lowest common demoninator in a shocking lack of artistic integrity... I'm sorry, I was temporarily overcome by cynicism.
- This is the first time I can remember where a team worked on a game, a highly expected game even, for five years, and it was actually worth it.