Valve's Erik Johnson
6th Sep 2010 | 09:39
When you're in the presence of Valve right now, it feels a bit like the calm before the storm.
The developer that famously put out the most generous compilation ever (TM) in The Orange Box has gone reasonably quiet of late, releasing just one title a year - and none of which have 'Half-Life' attached to them.
That said, Portal 2 - now a proper, full release game - has all the hallmarks of one of the Washington studio's traditional triple-A monsters.
With a few years experience under its belt and PS3 finally on the cards, Valve's sequel looks set to become one of the studio's best console games yet.
We caught up with Valve's Erik Johnson to find out more...
What's new in the Portal 2 demo played at Gamescom last month?
In terms of the things that we're showing there are a couple of things. We got a voice actor for Wheatley - he's the personality sphere that you meet - and it's Steven Merchant who's one of the creators of The Office. His work's in and he sounds great. His character is really important in the game so we're excited about that.
We're also showing some new stuff that worked really well at E3; the different gels in the game and how those can combine with other elements, specifically the kind of tractor beam things - the gels can actually go into those and transport about. Those are two of the big things that we're showing.
The news that's obviously shaken the industry recently is that you're now working on PS3. How important is that to Valve?
PS3 is incredibly important to us. We don't feel that the PS3 users had the Valve experience that we like to deliver. So it that case it's incredibly important to us; we kind of fix everything wrong in the products that we delivered before for the PS3, which we thought were good but weren't quite the Valve experience.
We're looking forward to solving that and having Steam on that platform also is incredibly valuable to us. In a lot of ways that is the way we define a customer having a good experience because it's the way that we keep talking to that customer over time.
Is there potential for Steam on PS3 beyond just Steamworks?
I think it's what customers demand more than anything else. At the end of the day I think customers demand what developers build, at least that's the way we look at it. If that's something that customers really want then yeah.
What's the mood like in the office now that you've got the PS3 dev kits? Are you excited to be working on PS3?
Oh yeah. We have a handful of people who have a very strong PS3 background. They worked on a bunch of the early PS3 games and they're big fans of the platform. So they're really excited and jumped immediately at the chance to get Source up and running in Portal 2 on PS3.
Have you investigated any of the other PS3 tech such as Move support etc?
We haven't really looked at Move or Kinect to speak of.
Is that something you'd consider though?
Oh yeah, we'd absolutely consider it. Right now it's mostly just the amount of time that we have doing what we need to do. That's a little second order to getting the game up and running, getting the technology running fast.
What's the status of Steamworks on Xbox 360? How are the conversations with Microsoft going?
Part of the reason the PS3 project is so exciting to us is because fundamentally Sony views the PS3 as a very open platform for developers and that's kind of what we feel like. It is better for developers but more importantly it's better for customers to have as many choices of software to run on whatever device they have.
Do you think you would've done Steamworks on Xbox 360 if it weren't so closed?
Yeah. We think customers would like that. We think, anyway. We'd love to try that.
How exciting is the stuff you've got being worked on at Valve at the moment compared to previous years?
I've worked at Valve for 12 years and it is pretty much true that every day is more exciting than the previous. I feel like we're getting better at a lot of things and hiring a lot of great people. That's kind of what our goal is.
There's a lot of interesting things going on right now. But I think that that has kind of always been true, at least to me personally.
You've made a name for yourself with generous post-release support for Team Fortress 2 and now Left 4 Dead. How much of Valve is now tied up supporting already-released games?
They end up generally being the same teams that shipped the product and they continue to work on it. In terms of an investment it's a great investment. Those products continue to sell and it's a great business for us.
We've never really came to a decision where it just didn't pencil to continue supporting our customers. Usually the trade-off looks more like there's some other newer product that we feel like we need to start building for customers like Portal 2. But it's driven a lot more by what customers demand and what people at Valve want to work on.
In the last few years Valve's seemingly stepped away from technology and engine licensing, which seemed to be a much bigger focus for you years ago. Why is that?
It's just not something that we've focused on a huge amount. We have licensees who have had really successful products. I think Epic for one does an amazing job with licensing.
Do you think technology and licensing as a whole has become less important in the PC market?
In a lot of ways in the future I think it's going to become more important. As architectures change and you move to a more parallel world in terms of many, many cores and many, many threads running, the number of people that can build that technology is going to decrease by a huge amount.
That would suggest that licensing's probably going to become more important over time. For us the trade-off is generally do we want to devote a whole load of time to that or on building the next game. We just kind of work through those as they come up.