Valve, the game developer behind Half-Life and Portal, and J.J. Abrams’ production studio Bad Robot will work together to produce games and movies, the heads of the two studios said at the DICE Summit on Wednesday.
“There’s an idea we have for a game that we’d like to work with Valve on,” said Abrams while sharing the stage with Valve head Gabe Newell.
“We’re going to figure out if we can make a Portal movie or Half-Life movie together,” Newell said.
The surprise announcement came at the close of a brief joint keynote by Abrams and Newell, titled “Storytelling Across Platforms: Who Benefits Most, the Audience or the Player?” The opening presentation at the game industry’s annual high-level business summit featured two creative minds at the top of their respective mediums of choice: Lost creator Abrams was recently tapped to direct Star Wars: Episode VII, and Newell’s company Valve is redefining how games are made and sold with its Steam service, which it intends to push into the living room this year with an entry into the hardware market.
Abrams and Newell made the surprise, succinct announcement at the end of their keynote speech, which took the form of a carefully rehearsed discussion between the two creatives about the strengths and weaknesses of games and movies as storytelling mediums.
“Players are often asked to imprint themselves or relate to insanely mute empty vessels,” Abrams said, playing a clip from Valve’s Half-Life that showed its mute protagonist Gordon Freeman.
Newell pointed out that it can be frustrating for a viewer to not have agency while watching a movie, pointing to Abrams’ film Cloverfield as an example — why, he said, doesn’t the character just drop the camera and run away from the danger? The “self-paced” nature of games, he said, can create a more optimal experience.
“Movies let you experience moments that you might not think are the point, but really are everything,” Abrams said, pointing to the early introduction of compressed air canisters in the opening scenes of the movie Jaws, which initially seem unimportant but prove consequential to the film’s ending. Newell pointed out that the “take your child to work” scene in Portal 2 accomplished the same thing, setting up important plot points in a way that made them initially seem like humorous throwaways.
This seems to have been exactly what Abrams and Newell were doing with their DICE Summit keynote: Setting up the audience with what seemed to be a lighthearted, friendly discussion about games and movies, then surprising them with the revelation that they weren’t just going to chat about it at a conference but actively working together to create movies and games that learn from one another.