Valve’s The Orange Box came out 10 years ago this week, debuting on PC and Xbox 360 before reaching PlayStation 3, Mac, and Linux over time. At the time, the collection rejuvenated Valve, introducing fans to Half-Life 2’s Episode 2, the first-person puzzle series Portal, as well as the highly-awaited multiplayer class-based shooter Team Fortress 2. And to celebrate the game’s release, Valve’s Robin Walker has opened up about its creation.
Walker noted that all three new games were created side-by-side. If Team Fortress 2 needed work, Portal developers would help create the game, and vice-versa. Walker, of course, worked closely on Team Fortress 2 as the game’s co-designer, and he created the original Team Fortress mod for Quake back in the mid-1990s.
Ten years later, Walker says the game has changed, but not by a lot. Something about Team Fortress 2’s game design and appeal remains the same, even after all these years.
“TF2’s core gameplay seems to be fairly resilient in the face of all the horrible things we’ve done to it, and I think that’s largely due to how we’ve approached our role in the process,” Walker told PCGamer. “We’ve always felt that our job was to support players in whatever they’re trying to do. As a result, it’s the players who’ve decided how TF2 should be played throughout the last decade.”
Walker didn’t just talk about Team Fortress 2 with PCGamer, though. He also opened up about Portal’s development. According to the interview, Valve wasn’t sure how Portal would perform at launch, in part because the game was so different from every other title out there at the time.
“We didn’t really know what to hope for with Portal,” Walker told PCGamer. “We’d put it in front of enough play testers to be confident that players would have fun with it, but Portal didn’t fit any existing model of a successful game for us to know how it was going to really turn out.”
Walker attributed this to Portal’s genre as a first-person puzzle game, which was (and still is) extremely rare in gaming. Luckily, The Orange Box fixed Portal’s marketing issues by making it an additional game released alongside Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Team Fortress 2. That way, Valve cushioned the game’s release, assuring that Portal would do well if it appealed to players, and that it would still have a home in Steam libraries if it did not.
But most of all, Walker points to GLaDOS as playing a monumental role in Portal’s success. After play testers thought the game’s opening levels were actually tutorial missions, Valve decided to add in the robotic operating system as both a narrative tool and an antagonist. With GLaDOS in the game, she made the player experience conflict and struggle in those opening missions, holding players’ interest in the process.
“The antagonist could start as a narrative tool for introduction and reward, and over time become the thing that pushed back on the player, eventually giving them the core goal of the game—’I want to learn all this because I need to be able to defeat X,'” Walker said. “We had little in the way of art production on the team, so it being a character that largely spoke to you via voice over was a straightforward production solution.”
In the meantime, Valve isn’t developing games with the same frequency as it did during the Orange Box years. One Valve concept artist’s work has since leaked online, showing off a co-op fantasy title that appears to be shelved, and a Half-Life 2: Episode 3 story ending from a former Valve writer suggests the iconic series is essentially dead. For now, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are bathing in the spotlight at Valve, perhaps for the near future.