Dabe Alan

Valve’s Gabe Newell and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams to work towards Portal or Half-Life movie

Valve’s Gabe Newell and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams to work towards Portal or Half-Life movie

It’s hard to think of two men who are more powerful in our collective culture than Gabe Newell and J.J. Abrams. One of these men all but controls PC gaming. The other is between projects, but those projects are Star Trek and Star Wars. The two men have delivered the keynote at the D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas, and they begin by ribbing each other about the shortcomings of both films and games.

Newell runs a clip from Cloverfield, showing characters running away from explosions and chaos. “I’m looking at that as a gamer saying put the camera down and let me fucking run. But you won’t let me do that,” he said.

J.J. Abrams turned the tables by saying characters in games often drive the scene in the wrong direction. They show a video from Half-Life 2 of the player ignoring the dialog being spoken and instead running around and playing with the environment. It’s a good point: In real life no one would be picking books up and throwing them at the characters.

Abrams actually brings up Gordon Freeman as a negative. A void that the character is asked to inhabit and react to. Newell argues that when we play Left 4 Dead we’re not pretending to be these characters as much as we’re telling our own stories.

Abrams discusses all the things in movies that may not seem important, but exist to get the plot moving. He recalls a story of taking his shoes off and rubbing them on the carpet because a character told John McLaine in Die Hard that it helped with jet lag. It was that moment that he realized that scene only existed to get McLaine’s shoes off for the later, bloody scenes.

Die Hard takes over 20 minutes to set up these characters. Back to the Future spends 32 minutes before Marty goes back in time. Movies can force you to spend time on things that may not seem like the “point” of the film, but they make the experience richer. Newell brings up the opening from the first Half-Life game where you are basically forced to go through the motions of Freeman going to work, but that scene did much in terms of world-building.

Playing catch with Dog in Half-Life 2 may seem like a small thing, but it does a ton of heavy lifting as a scene. You are introduced to a weapon. You spend time with Alyx and learn about her life, and you learn that she’s playful and has a relationship with this machine. It doesn’t move the plot along, not in a major way, but it makes you care.

Of course, this was all a set up for the big reveal. “We’re recapitulating a series of conversations that have been going on. This is what happens when game and movie people get together. We reached the point where we decided that we had to do more than talk,” Newell stated.

“There’s an idea we had for a game that we’d like to work with Valve on,” Abrams continued.

“We’re super-excited about that, and we’re also excited about working with you guys on a movie. So we’re going to figure out if we can make a Portal movie or Half-Life movie together. But it’s really time for us, and our industries, to stop talking about potentials and start trying to execute them,” Newell finished. It may not have been the most in-depth talk from the two men, but it showed how much they both loved the act of telling stories, even as they made gentle fun of the limitations of their respective art forms. The idea of them getting together to try to “fix” those issues is truly exciting. 

Keep in mind that these two men working together on the beginning on these projects is a long way from an actual movie or game, and both have any number of projects in the pipeline, but the possibilities are hard to deny.