Spoilers: It’s not Half-Life 3.
Chet Faliszek is probably one of the more recognisable names in the video game industry. After all, he had a hand in writing some of the games that put Valve on the map, including the Half-Life and Portal series, as well as personally penning the story for Left 4 Dead, the game he says he’d always dreamed of making – well, before the one he’s working on now, that is.
Faliszek left Valve in 2017 to join UK-based indie developer Bossa Studios, a move some found surprising after 12 years at the company shipping highly successful games. But Faliszek saw a possible partnership of ideas with Bossa after frequently discussing the untapped potential of AI, and how that could be harnessed in a video game to achieve true player agency. This is something he realised after spending time with the team at conferences and events, telling gamesindustry.biz at the end of 2017 that it seemed they were “approaching the same kind of problem but from two very different angles.”
“I wanted to go someplace that we could take a lot of risk,” says Faliszek when we sit down with him at the Develop Conference in Brighton. “I wanted to work on something that could fail.”
Prior to joining Bossa Studios, Faliszek was heavily involved in Valve’s work with the HTC Vive, which of course led people to speculate that this new game at Bossa would be for VR headsets. It’s not, but it’s clear he still has some ideas for VR and hopes to make something significant in that sector eventually. That might happen at Bossa, he says, but for now, his sights are firmly set on creating a game that it seems has been banging around in his head for years.
“People’s first question was why aren’t you doing something in VR? You were talking so much about VR these past years and I’m like, yeah, but I’ve been in the games industry longer, and I’ve been thinking about this thing longer,” says Faliszek.
It seems like Faliszek had found the perfect home for his dream game in Bossa, a studio not afraid to take risks. Previously limited by what was technically possible, Failszek had dreamed of creating a game where player agency was king, and emergent narrative was the primary way in which players interacted with the story. We saw the beginnings of this in some of the previous titles Faliszek worked on, especially the Left 4 Dead series, which almost wholly relied on this form of storytelling to give the gameplay meaning.
“I joke that I’m a lazy writer and that’s what this project needs,” says Faliszek. “It’s kind of true – if someone really wanted to tell their story, then this is not the project for that.”
It wasn’t only the complications of emergent narrative and player agency that postponed his dream project, though. The game will also require a sophisticated AI that can adapt to what the player is doing on the fly, running invisibly in the background to deliver what feels like a personal and unique experience.
Faliszek acknowledges that AI is often thrown around as a buzzword in the industry without genuine progress being made in games, with studios often falling back on tried and tested methods. Bossa Studios are looking to change that with their next project, and create something that merges AI and storytelling in a risky but fresh way, giving players a broader range of tools to interact with.
“I think players are ready for that. I think players are really smart,” says Faliszek. “It’s just that no games have given them those tools to go deeper to have those richer experiences.”
It’ll be interesting to see what eventually comes out of this exciting collaboration. As a studio that produced games such as I Am Bread and Surgeon Simulator, the results couldn’t be anything but interesting, to say the least. What is clear is that Faliszek has a vision, one that looks to reinvent traditional game design with some of the more modern concepts we’ve seen emerging in the medium.
“This has been the thing I’ve wanted to play for a really long time,” says Faliszek. “Left 4 Dead was the game I wanted to play and then we made it, and now this is the game I’ve been wanting to play over the previous years. So I’m really looking forward to actually watching other people play it.”
Once the Editor of The Indie Game Website, Jon now wonders the Earth as a hermit in search of worthy opponents to challenge at Tetris.