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DICE 2013 – Gabe Newell and J.J. Abrams: Storytelling Across Platforms

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Nerdist News’ Brian Walton and Dan Casey are at the DICE 2013 conference in Las Vegas to report on the event. Here’s Brian’s coverage of the J.J. Abrams-Gabe Newell event from earlier today]

DICE 2013 kicked off this morning with a conversation between two titans of storytelling. J.J. Abrams, director of blockbusters Star Trek, Super 8 and the forthcoming Star Wars Episode VII, sat down with Gabe Newell, the visionary mind behind Half-Life, Steam and the recently confirmed Half-Life 3 (kidding, breathe), to discuss how the audience benefits when their respective mediums collaborate and connect. What we didn’t know was an announcement would be made almost as an afterthought.

The conversation started with J.J. giving a pretty detailed presentation on storytelling. This didn’t last long, as Gabe interrupted to say that games put that agency back in the the hand of the audience. As an example of a movie locking characters into decisions no one would make in a game Gabe asked that a clip of Cloverfield be played. Abrams responded to the clip, “That was pretty good,” but Gaben wasn’t sold. “Put the camera down and fucking run. You won’t let me do that.”

J.J. countered Gabe’s assertions with a clip from Half-Life 2. Abrams said, “Players are often dragging the scene in the wrong direction.” The clip he used from Half-Life conveyed this by controlling the character in a way that when Gordon Freeman should have been paying attention to what’s been happening in the world, the player was distracted by throwing books and teleporting plants. Gaben responded that at least the players were “being the architects of their own amusement.” The point/counterpoint was getting to be pretty damned fun.

Throughout the rest of the panel, J.J. used clips from movies like Jaws (for foreshadowing), Die Hard (character development), and Star Trek (easter eggs) to make his points while Gabe showed clips of Portal 2‘s Wheatley (foreshadowing the potato) and Dog’s intro in Half-Life 2 (Character development). As he was trying to illustrate game replayability vs. film rewatchability, J.J. shifted to talking about some of the Easter eggs he likes to include in scenes and showed a clip from Star Trek that featured the Enterprise coming out of warp in a battle. After watching the clip, he had it rewound and showed it again while zooming in to focus on a little astromech droid from another franchise with which J.J. is now strongly associated. If you weren’t already aware, R2D2 is hidden amongst the wreckage in Star Trek. “Now I have to go back through your movies looking through debris to figure out what you’re going to direct next?,” complained Newell.

After about 30 minutes of discussing what movies and video games borrow from each other, Abrams and Newell made an announcement that no one saw coming. As Nerdist News’ Dan Casey first reported this morning, Bad Robot and Valve are partnering to pursue Portal and Half-Life films as well as games based on Bad Robot ideas. Gaben delivered the news at the end of the conversation in a pretty low-key way that made it seem like less of a big deal than it really is. We’re going to see GLADoS and Chell on the big screen. Gordon Freeman will battle through Black Mesa in cinemas. J.J. Abrams is not leaving any of the things we’re passionate about to other directors.

We’ll have video of the whole thing shortly. But for now, just know Valve is coming to a theater near you, with Bad Robot leading the way.



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  1. loki365 says:

    I’m yet to see any evidence that reveals Abrams as anything but a competent director. His work in the past has been decent, unoffensive and entertaining at the time. However I cannot remember a single detail from either Star Trek or Cloverfield.

  2. Nerdly Do Right says:

    Awesome! …IF they stay true to the games and don’t go changing facts around because it “plays better” on the big screen vs small screen.