Before The Orange Box, whenever Valve would near the finish line on a project (say the last six months or so before shipping), most of the other teams would slow their work (even stopping their usual work in the final month) to pile on Valve’s primary project and help the shipping product finish strong.
“If you’re on one of those other teams and looking at how you can spend an hour of your time… when a product is at the end, and you understand it perfectly, you can usually generate so much value in just one hour of work; fixing the right bug, putting the final polish on something, that it’s hard not to just feel like, ‘Oh, wow. I could help so much if I just went over and helped.’
“So, we’ve got a company full of people who are used to doing that, and then we’re working on these three different games. Team Fortress 2, [Half-Life 2] Episode 2, and Portal. And, looking at, ‘Oh, man, for the first time, it looks like all these are going to finish around the same time. How are we going to handle this?’
“Another problem we’ve got is the case of Portal… which is a product that we’re really excited about. We think it’s really interesting, but there weren’t a lot of first-person shooter puzzle games out there to look around at. We were bringing people in and playtesting it, as we always do, and they were really enjoying it, but we were [not really getting close] to figuring out… how do we talk to people about this? How do we explain it to people? It was also shorter [than other AAA games].”
With each team feeling a need for additional help for their own products, Valve decided that instead of stopping two projects to focus on the third, as they normally did, they could combine all three games into a single product. By doing so, they would free team members to move around as needed without feeling they were hurting their own game. Unfortunately, this caused an entirely new set of problems.For one thing, retailers didn’t know what to do with Orange Box. “To them, bundles of products are either old or bad games. No one ever bundles new, great games.” Xbox also had issues, because the Orange Box had five games on a single disc, which didn’t work with the way Achievements were allocated, so custom code had to be written. Creating television ads was also more complicated because instead of convincing people to buy one game in a 30-second slot, Valve had to explain three games in the same window.
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Brian Barnett writes news, features, wiki guides, deals posts, and much more for IGN. You can get your fix of Brian’s antics on Twitter and Instagram (@Ribnax).