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By Chan Karunamuni

J.J. Abrams Collaborating With Valve On Possible New Game, As Well As Half-Life Or Portal Feature Films

News & Rumors Half-Life

I never thought I’d ever be writing that headline.

J.J. Abrams Collaborating With Valve On Possible New Game, As Well As Half-Life Or Portal Feature Films

Gabe Newell (co-founder and managing director of Valve) and J.J. Abrams (founder and owner of Bad Robot Productions; and writer, director, and/or producer of… a whole lot of things) just announced, during their keynote discussion “Storytelling Across Platforms at the 2013 DICE Summit, that the two are actively discussing plans to collaborate on both games and films, including adaptations of Half-Life and Portal.

Throughout the half-hour discussion, J.J. and Gabe discussed the similarities and differences between storytelling methods in both film and video gaming; using clips from each other’s works: Valve’s Half-Life 2, Bad Robot’s Cloverfield, as well as other movies like Die Hard and Jaws. Though it wasn’t really a debate at all, the two did some light sparring regarding interactive elements that affect storytelling, such as agency.

Gabe, touching on the total lack of agency within film, asked: why don’t the characters of Cloverfield throw the camera down and run away? J.J. responded by illustrating the problem of excessive agency within video games, and showed a scene from Half-Life 2 (the second chapter, “A Red Letter Day“) where the player hops around the level, playing with cactus pots and throwing grenades about, instead of listening to important expository dialogue from the characters.

But it was right at the end of the discussion that Gabe and J.J. dropped a very intriguing little tidbit. Gabe said that all throughout the discussion, the two were actually recapitulating similar conversations they’ve had in the past, and that they’ve “reached the point that we decided to do more than talk.” Referring to his own Bad Robot Productions, J.J. then said “There’s an idea for a game that we’d really like to work with Valve on.“, and Gabe responded with: “We’re super excited about that and we also want to talk about making movies, either a Portal movie or a Half-Life movie.”

That’s all the two said on stage, though according to Polygon (thanks to Dhel for the tip!), J.J. later said, regarding the Half-Life/Portal film projects: “It’s as real as anything in Hollywood ever gets, which is that we are really talking to Valve, we are going to be bringing on a writer, we have a lot of very interesting ideas.” I’d be inclined to add that… well, hopefully none of those ideas involve the whole thing non-sensically ending in a church, but thankfully, J.J. Abrams had nothing to do with all that.

Well, it’s definitely something that’s still in flux – far from an official announcement of any sort. Still, it does seem like something that will eventually materialize in some form or another – otherwise, Gabe and J.J. surely wouldn’t have gone public with it, even at this stage. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time a Half-Life film adaptation has been proposed to Valve (fifth quote down, in this post from the Marc Laidlaw Vault)… and for that matter, nor would it be the first time an official Half-Life movie has actually been produced.

On a slightly related note, last month, on Episode #306 of the Nerdist Podcast, Gabe also confirmed that a 15-minute Team Fortress 2 short film was in the works at Valve, after the team had experimented with plans for a 90-minute TF2 feature, before they realized how daunting a task it would actually be. It’s obviously not related to Bad Robot’s collaboration with Valve, but it is interesting to see that Valve is really starting to embrace different forms of media as an active component of “entertainment as a service“.

[credits]

The Verge; Polygon; and Engadget.

32 Comments

  1. J.J. criticizing Red Letter Day is bogus. It’s what sets Half Life appart from any other game. You are not being forced to watch a cutscene. Everything just happens infront of you. Every time I replay HL I pay attention to what the characters are saying. So what if some people want to mess around with boxes and grenades? They either played it before or just don’t care about the story line. It’s not Valves job to push it down their throats. J. J. Is completely wrong on this. I just hope Valve knows better and they won’t let his theories get in the way of great story telling that Valve can do.

    • I would agree with you that sacrificing interactivity EXCLUSIVELY for the purposes of decreasing agency and funnelling player attention is a bad thing. I think we need a high degree of physics interaction to make the world feel real, natural, and three-dimensional. I definitely don’t want Valve to make any compromises on that front (though Portal 2 was rather dead in terms of environmental interaction).
      But I think JJ was also trying to make a different point – that at that particular moment in Half-Life 2, these are entirely new characters that the player doesn’t really know at all (because in HL1, Barney and the Scientists were little more than 3D models with very utilitarian, lifeless voice lines and no actual personalities), and they’re already going about their business without legitimately interacting with the player character – and while it is true that Gordon’s existence in the world as a silent protagonist requires other characters’ dialogue to be written using a lot of flow and a lot of independence, it did leave much to be desired (thankfully, character dialogue was improved in Episode One and Two).
      JJ compares HL2′s situation to Jaws, where the other characters interact with Brody in such a way, as to develop his character in a very consistent manner: he’s the outcast, he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group). And while it is a very unfair comparison (especially since dialogue did improve within the Episodes), I can see the point he’s trying to make.
      I don’t think Valve will make any sacrifices – they will merely improve upon their writing and storytelling while leaving everything else that they’re known for completely intact. And even if they do make certain compromises, they will likely be limited to collaborative projects with Abrams/Bad Robot.

      • Let’s hope so.

        Games should always be their own thing. The less in common they have with movies the better.

        Let’s also hope Valve does not divert full attention to these upcoming “projects” with Bad Robot and JJ.

        I feel real good about this years E3, but I have felt this way since 2008 and still no word from Valve about anything Half Life related.

  2. Has anyone heard of that shitty Half-Life: Uplink movie?

  3. *screaming with excitement*

  4. I can see where you’re coming from, but consider the popularity of the TF2 films, and also the various Half-Life & Portal fan-films. Several of the fan-films are great examples of how creators can work with the HL/P universe in a respectful way.

    Abram’s Polygon interview makes me optimistic about this: http://www.polygon.com/2013/2/6/3960520/jj-abrams-valve-half-life-portal-movies

    They are not going to directly port the games into movie form, that’s not what Newell & Abrams were talking about, and they are both smarter than that.

    Think about the HL/P universe as this alternate reality. We have experienced that universe through the lens of the games, and they are looking at ways to build another lens that we can experience this universe through film.

    Just because it’s a different lens doesn’t mean it will be Bad.

    IMHO – there’s nothing to worry about, Valve has brutally killed movie projects before, so there’s no chance a bad HL/P film will happen, it just won’t clear the bar.

  5. I knewd that Portal 2 Super 8 Interactive trailer was not just something they decided like, “hey I know a guy in Valve and they use Maya we could give them our assets and put part of the movie in one of their games to promote it.” now it gots more sence, and knowing VALVe it was just a test for something else that they might plan.

    Anyway great writeup as always Vic, glad to see some news in the site.

  6. Hate to be the negative one again on Lambda Generation, but is this really a good use of JJ Abrams valuable time? Surely, Star Trek and now Star Wars are much more profitable ventures, don’t you think he’s biting off way more than he can chew? Two of the greatest film legacies + the greatest video game legacy? I know he has a team of people behind him, but it still seems way too much. Personally I’d rather he focus all his efforts and talent towards Star Wars, he has a chance to make real history. In the grand scheme of things Half-Life and Portal are just small blips on the pop culture radar. Further, if all his great talent is focused on Star Wars then it would stand to argue that Half-Life and Portal will become a secondary venture. I dunno if this is the right time for either companies.

    It was a really interesting talk though, they really drove home the point that film and video games are two very different mediums with very distinct qualities. If anything good should come of this is perhaps Abrams can be some sort of outside contractor on the next set of Video Games and perhaps bridge that gap, combining the greatness of two mediums. But a movie? As a community so involved in the interactivity of the art form why are we even interested in seeing Half-Life on the silver screen?

    • Also, I think RPS drives my point (partially albeit a little extremely) in their most recent satirical article:

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/02/07/j-j-abrams-portal-script-leak-probably/

      Basically what I’m saying is if/when a Half-Life/Portal movie comes out it will be so far from the original game, due to the medium, that it won’t even feel connectable anymore. So JJ Abrams might as well said, we are making another action hollywood blockbuster — I don’t feel there will be any difference.

      • I think RPS is simply trying to illustrate the fact that making Half-Life or Portal film adaptations is not going to be easy, and that we’re not going to see any kind of straightforward “port”, so to speak. As I said above, Half-Life and Portal’s strengths are their incredibly well-conceived narratives, and that’s what Valve and Bad Robot would be counting on when putting these games onto the silver screen. Saying that it “won’t even feel connectable anymore” is really superficial, because Half-Life and Portal are way more than just button-smashers – they represent vast, intricate narrative universes with some considerable thematic firepower. As a matter of fact, I’d say “another action Hollywood blockbuster” is actually the last (rather, least likely) direction these projects will go in.

        • Just curious, since you mentioned ‘thematic firepower,’ what do you consider to be the main themes of the Half-Life storyline? (I posted a similar thread on SPUF but it wasn’t particularly popular).

          • I wouldn’t say the series features any “main themes“, but there are quite a few significant thematic motifs, only a few of which are recurring. However, I won’t go into all that right now, because Mimaz and I will actually be tackling the subject in future chapters of the “Half-Life Dissertation” (nope, it’s not dead!).

          • Half-Life is Lovecraftian in that there are massive unknown forces & lifeforms that exist outside of the conception of the human mind. By accident, humans attract the attention of these forces as ants might attract the interest of a passerby. Thus begins the slow dreadful loss of humanity through the awful assimilation of humanity into the Combine.

            This fear of losing our basic human-ness is everywhere in Half-Life, and will continue to be a theme in the future. I think Gabe was referring to this theme a little when he congratulated JJ Abrams for the “Exploding woman” scene in Cloverfield. A woman (http://cloverfield.wikia.com/wiki/Marlena_Diamond) is bitten by an alien, her body reacts to the bite, and she swells up and explodes. There’s something very chilling in how quickly and unimportantly she dies…

    • Well, you’re definitely well within your rights to be making these points – hearing about an upcoming game-to-film adaptation almost always requires a great dose of skepticism and pessimism, especially within this scenario: one of the greatest video game developers ever, embarking on film adaptations of its greatest games of all time, with one of the best film directors and writers to have graced Hollywood in a while.
      But let’s understand that JJ Abrams is by no means an amateur. I don’t think he’d have started talking to Valve about any possible movies or games, if he thought he wouldn’t actually have the time for it. I’m sure Star Wars: Episode VII will be his main focus, but that likely won’t enter full-scale production for another year and a half (maybe even more) – and let’s also understand that this wouldn’t be the first time JJ’s juggled multiple projects at once (far from it). So if anything, JJ’s availability is literally the least of the problems these projects could face (especially since an advisory role is incredibly likely, what with the really talented and trusted friends he has at Bad Robot). If you’re not entirely convinced yet, in his brief interview with Polygon, he did state that his involvement could take many different forms, that there are some amazing people at Bad Robot who could work on it, and that in any case, he will certainly try to make time for all the different projects he’s tackling (because really, filmmaking isn’t a “total war” 24/7 ordeal).
      You also asked why we’re interested in seeing Half-Life on the silver screen as active members of a gaming community where interactivity is king. But you’re overlooking what is arguably Half-Life’s “raison d’être” – the narrative. Half-Life, and Portal as well, are both games where narrative is just as important, if not more important than gameplay. This is why film adaptations of HL/Portal have such immense potential to succeed, and this is why they are certainly worth pursuing. And judging from the way in which Gabe and JJ are discussing this collaboration, these projects could be very, very far off – in fact, we could see Episode VII before any Bad Robot-Valve collaboration, in which case, JJ’s availability wouldn’t be an issue, and the generous timeframe would give both parties time to think up all-new ideas and possibilities, while refining existing ones.

      • Vic, you said “I don’t think he’d have started talking to Valve about any possible movies if he thought he wouldn’t actually have the time for it.”

        Just to riff on that: JJ and Gabe have been mind-melding for a while now (at least several years) so it’s not like JJ called up Gabe last week and said “Dude, let’s do something together, and let’s do announcements at DICE that would be so cool haha giggles and laughs.” This has been in the planning stages for a while.

        I have always felt that the HL/P universe has so much un-explored potential. Bring on da’ films, and blow some minds.

        • Touche – yes, that’s true! Especially judging from the numerous Half-Life references in Lost, and the Lost reference in Episode Two; as well as the Super 8 interactive teaser in Portal 2.
          Correction: they would not have gone public with it in front of the whole world, on stage at DICE, at this particular point in time (several weeks after it’s been announced that JJ will direct the next Star Wars), if they weren’t confident that it would be feasible.

      • Not to mention, and it took me a while to realize that, that Abrams’ trademark is the sparse narrative in its movies, which usually involve no clear explanation of what’s going on and include little details to draw your conclusions from. Think about the narrative in HL: sparse, no defined storyteller, the player has to guess what happened or is happening from details such as a newspaper clipping stating “EARTH SURRENDERS” on them… it does sound a bit like the typical JJ approach to storytelling. It conforts me a bit. Maybe he could really be the right guy.

  7. holy shit 0.0

  8. Also, nice touch putting House as Gordon Freeman. :)

  9. This is phenomenal news, just saw this on SPUF. Abrams is a great director, so I really look forward to seeing what he and Newell produce. I just wonder what part of the Half-Life or Portal universe this would focus on; a movie about the 7-Hour-War would be interesting.

  10. Good work Vic :D Thanks for the writeup.

    Did anyone else notice that Gabe was wearing the same clothes at DICE as he was at the LBJ school lecture? lols…

  11. I’m still curious as to how you make a film about a silent protagonist wandering around an old facility for 2 hours

    • Make a movie about someone else with Gordon silently doing his thing on the background.

      • IIRC, Valve (or maybe Laidlaw more specifically, but it might have been someone else) said there would be no (more if you count the Half-Life expansions) Half-Life games, or movies, that would focus on anyone but Gordon Freeman, he’s the entire point of the Half-Life Universe, the focal point. Focusing on anyone else would be irrelevant.

        However, they may have changed their minds since then.

  12. So no video of this yet?

    • No, not just yet, but apparently a full official recording will be uploaded some time soon.
      However, Gabe will be giving a second keynote at DICE (titled A View on Next Steps, it will focus on: “where the industry is heading, the advances Valve is making with Steam and Big Picture to prepare for that future, and more”), tomorrow at 9:30 AM PT, and it will be livestreamed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeYxKIDGh8I

  13. lens flares
    shaking cameras
    bloom beyond bloom

    [source engine 2]

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