Gabe Newell on why game delays are OK: 'Late is just for a little while. Suck is forever.'
Half-Life was delayed a full year past its original release date, and Valve has no regrets.
Famed Nintendo director Shigeru Miyamoto once said, so the story goes, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." Did he really utter those words? Apparently not. But Valve founder Gabe Newell shares the sentiment: He said so, in very plain terms, in the new Half-Life 25th anniversary documentary that released today on YouTube.
The topic came up in a segment on Valve's early struggles with Half-Life. The game had been slated to ship in November 1997, but a few months ahead of that the team realized it wasn't coming together: There were interesting ideas and discrete segments, but the whole "wasn't fun yet."
"We were getting into three months before supposedly shipping in '97, and it's like, this isn't gelling," engineer Ken Birdwell says in the doc. "This is really not good. This is like a quick knockoff, cash-grab, stupid, and let's not do that.
"There was a lot of disconnect between what all of the different groups were doing, what engineering was doing, and what level design was doing, and what animation was doing. We had a bunch of monsters that had no plans to get in the game because nobody else was assigned to work on them, and we had a bunch of levels that like, what's supposed to go in here? I don't know, everybody's gonna do a bunch of stuff. And like, no, that doesn't work that way."
The studio was on a "tight schedule" with publisher Sierra, according to Valve co-founder Mike Harrington, but it ultimately decided to delay the game anyway: "And we told them like, we're not gonna ship this. And we realize that you're not gonna pay us to continue developing this, but we're going to do it anyway."
And then Gabe cuts to the chase with his possibly Miyamoto-inspired bon mot: "Late is just for a little while. Suck is forever," he says. "We could try to force this thing out the door, but that's not the company we want to be, that's not the people we want to be. That's not the relationship we want to have with our customers."
The documentary is focused primarily on the process of making Half-Life, but there are other such nuggets of wisdom to be found. Newell also, for instance, shared his thoughts on "realism" in videogames, which he apparently doesn't have much time for.
"You'd be sitting in a design review and somebody'd say, 'That's not realistic'," Newell says. "And you're like, 'Okay?' What does that have—like, explain to me why that's interesting. Because in the real world, I have to write up lists of stuff I have to go to the grocery store to buy. And I have never thought to myself that realism is fun. I go play games to have fun."
I won't lie: That's the kind of talk that really makes me wish Valve would quit playing around with Steam and weird hardware experiments, and go back to making new games. For now, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with some big work on one of its old ones: Half-Life, Valve's very first game, got a major update today to mark its 25th anniversary, and it's free to keep on Steam until November 20.
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