Transmissions From Laidlaw


Correspondences with Marc Laidlaw on various subjects in the Half-Life universe over the years.

Half-Life: Blue Shift's Ending:
2013 - 12 - 01

When the Gearbox games were being made, we hadn't really started to distinguish Barney or the scientists as separate characters with distinct histories, so the adventures of Barney Calhoun in that game are in an indeterminate state. In HL1, all Barneys were one HL2, there was only one Barney. So I figure that's one possible story of one possible Barney and how he escaped...and the same goes for the science team. However those scientist characters are Gearbox characters and don't figure in any of my thinking about the game, except in a very general way (i.e., some of the science team survived). I don't know about HL Decay, that was done with very little reference to Valve and I've never played anything past the very opening (I couldn't find a co-op partner when it came out). None of this was planned in the early days... we really had no idea it was going to turn out to be a big deal.

Barney's Name:
2015 - 04 - 09

The evolution of the name is that in HL1, we called all the security guards Barney. They're all different but...the same guy. It was down to texture and model limitations of the time we shipped. He was called Barney because in early development he looked like Barney Fife... I suspect Chuck Jones, the artist, actually based him on Don Knotts. (He got a bit less crazy looking before we shipped.) When Gearbox started doing Blue Shift, which would follow the adventures of one individual, they wanted a name for the character, so I came up with Calhoun. By the time we got to HL2, we were able to treat more of our main characters as individuals, and I thought it was amusing to stick with the name Barney Calhoun for the particular security guard who survived Black Mesa. I try not to think about it too hard. I didn't have any idea what they were making in Blue Shift and didn't play it until it was done. The game put you in the shoes of one of those many Barneys at Black who managed to escape. Were they ALL named Barney Calhoun? I don't know, but it's the sort of nonsense question that arises when you try to retrofit logic on something that initially made no sense. I try not to think back that far. I don't know Blue-Shift well enough to know if it conflicts with anything in HL2--I enjoyed it when I played it, but it didn't influence decisions in HL2. But it also doesn't particularly bother me to think maybe it was the story of how the Barney in HL2 escaped Black Mesa.

Another bit of trivia, which I sometimes point out...his name was originally spelled Colqhoun, after Robert Carlyle's character in Ravenous, which I had just watched when Gearbox asked for a last name for the character.

Early Half-Life 2 Settings:
2015 - 05 - 31

Not much to it. Early in development, there was just a list of possible settings, including American ones. I remember we had written "Washington, D.C." and one of the level designers said, "Ugh, I lived in D.C., I would never want to build or play that level." That's probably when the idea of setting it in the US went out the window. Once you've got some settings that give rise to gameplay, then you try to pull together something resembling a plot. This is a good example of how the story can (and, in a game, should) depend on many other factors.

No, it was always set on Earth with aliens coming here as invaders, but there were a few different alien civilizations that had taken over areas. It never made any sense. That would have come later, we hoped.

Barney From Half-Life 1 to Half-Life 2:
2015 - 07 - 29

Hi, you're all kind of right, not because we made any deliberate story decision, but just as a result of the way the games developed. All the Barneys in HL1 are kind of the same was never realistic in any way, it was just a weird thing driven by texture model, one voice, one Barney everywhere. When Gearbox wanted to do Blue Shift, they needed their character to be a particular Barney...the security guard equivalent of Adrian I supplied a name. When it came time to do HL2 and we realized we could now do unique characters, but wanted to keep close to the types we had created in HL1, I just used the same name for continuity. We know the Barney in HL2 had to have escaped with some scientists, so it didn't openly conflict with Blue Shift, even if I don't necessarily think the experience BS Barney had is the same one the Barney in HL2 had. It's all fuzzy and approximate and probably won't ever be resolved to anyone's satisfaction. It leads to arguments!

Gravity Gun using Xen Crystals:
2016 - 01 - 01

I dont think so. The orange glow is similar to Xenium though, isnt it? Zero Point Energy theory has nothing to do with Xen afaik.

Junction Point Studios's Half-Life 2 Episode:
2017 - 07 - 09

Gabe offered a Ravenholm expansion pack to Warren S. first. When they couldn't do it, it was passed along to Arkane, who started again from scratch. There would have been only one Ravenholm expansion. I think Arkane stuck more closely to the atmosphere of horror; Grigori was going to be in it. I don't remember anything about the plot of the JP game except it had a character named Scooter, which is horror of a different sort. Neither of these attempts got far enough to develop a story.

Half-Life 2 Lost Coast:
2017 - 11 - 22

It was conceived as a test map where the artists would test the limits of the engine, cramming in as many models (and terrain and water) as possible. I wasn’t much involved with it—mostly it was a project of Robin’s and Viktor’s, as I recall. You should ask Robin Walker about it. Actually, I thought they put commentary nodes in there at one point, explaining the map in detail.

The only thing I had anything to do with was the conversational stuff at the beginning, which was a demo of a system we briefly attempted where NPCs could break off telling you things (based on player interruptions) and then resume talking again. “So,like I was saying…” That sort of thing. We started testing that pretty early in HL2’s development…it was in our earliest Borealis tests with the temp character Odell, for instance. But we never really found it necessary to build that out, and the way NPCs ended up talking was only loosely based on it.

It was never ended to be taken as part of the linear story—it’s more of a demo, a pocket universe. I don’t think it was very successful except as an art demo.

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