Vidgame ‘Half-Life’ shoots for film

Valve product has sold over 10 mil copies

One of the most storied franchises in the vidgame business, “Half-Life,” is being shopped in Hollywood as a potential feature film.

CAA reps Valve, the Bellevue, Wash., developer behind “Half-Life,” part of the tenpercentery’s push under Larry Shapiro into the vidgame biz as a source of movie and TV properties. Valve also is touting the graphics engine on “Half-Life 2,” which debuts this fall, as a possible low-cost, photo-realistic alternative for creating and rendering animation and visual effects.

“Half-Life” debuted in 1998 and quickly became one of the preeminent first-person shooters, winning more than 50 game of the year awards and at least one magazine’s designation as best PC game ever.

Protagonist Gordon Freeman works at Black Mesa Research Facility, a secret government installation in New Mexico where work on a recovered alien corpse opens up a gateway to the alien’s home planet. Players must fight not only alien attackers but government assassins and soldiers trying to cover up the disaster.

10 million copies

“Half-Life” has shown extraordinarily long shelf life, selling more than 10 million copies of the game, expansion packs and related titles and generating more than $200 million in revenue, says Valve marketing director Doug Lombardi. After five years, the company is finally willing to make a “Half-Life” movie as a way to broaden the franchise’s audience.

“We’re trying to build the context of the game, build something that extends the elements of the game,” Lombardi said. “We’re very particular about making sure it gets done the right way.” Part of the game’s longevity can be attributed to Valve’s release of software tools and source code that helped players create their own game levels or even entirely new titles called “mods.”

The most notable result was “Counter-Strike,” an online-only mod in which teams of players simulate tactical battles between terrorists and Special Forces soldiers. The game still draws as many as 100,000 players at a time, logging 4.5 billion minutes of online gameplay a month, said Lombardi.

The two college students who created “Counter-Strike” were ultimately hired by Valve, which turned the project into a full-fledged commercial product that sold 1.5 million copies after its 2001 release. “Counter-Strike” also spawned an entirely new business model for up-and-coming game makers, who use their work on mods as calling cards when they seek work with developers.

Sony Pictures Digital is creating a Half-Life mod based on werewolf and vampire characters in Screen Gems’ upcoming pic “Underworld.” The mod, will be provided free to online “Half-Life” players in the next month.

Valve hopes to replicate its success with “Half-Life 2,” which Vivendi Universal Games is publishing. Valve is releasing source code for the game’s graphics engine, dubbed “the Source,” and various level-design, facial animation and other tools. Company gives away the tools for anyone to create freely distributable levels or mods but has a series of licensing levels for those trying to make for-profit products.

Game companies such as id, Monolith and Epic have also licensed their graphics engines in the past. But Valve is touting “the Source” as a way to animate and render extraordinarily realistic scenery, water, buildings and characters, for prices far below those for the complex software packages used in professional animation and visual f/x houses.

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