Half-Life: NightWatch

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Development Diary

3rd January 2003 - by Dan "coil" Johnson

Andrew came to me with a request a few weeks ago that quite surprised and excited me: he wanted me to begin the concept design for a new alien race. The specifications? They were extremely technologically advanced, “awe-inspiring” and ultimately terrifying.

Beyond those brief guidelines were more, implicit ones. The most obvious: be original. Starcraft’s Protoss certainly fit the bill, but I could hardly use them and expect to get an OK from Andrew. Aliens have been done countless times; “little grey/green men” were obviously out as well. I needed to create something *new.*

In tandem with Andrew’s request – but at odds to the necessity of “newness” – were the restrictions I placed upon myself: those of plausibility. These were mostly a function of my education as a biology major; I’ve always been fascinated by evolution and how it creates the myriad life forms that currently inhabit our planet… but more importantly, where similarities can be seen between species (for instance, humans and squids both have eyes, but they are the results of unique “convergent” evolutionary paths).

Intelligence, in particular, would have certain probable evolutionary precursors, regardless of a terrestrial or alien origin. A creature that could evolve intelligence would likely be a predator – highly active with a competitive instinct. It would be mobile, have fairly well-evolved sensory organs, etc. Terrestrial evolution has a lot to tell – the idea of a head with a concentration of sensory organs (eyes, ears, and nose in parallel alignment) and the brain all in one place isn’t an accident – it’s evolutionary sense. Those were the kinds of “discussions” I had with myself in creating a believable new race.

So what did I have left? These are the guidelines I laid out for myself:
1) Technological advancement. This necessitated a terrestrial race (since technology is likely to involve the use of fire in its earliest stages) with the ability to manipulate its environment and make tools – hands or functional equivalents were a must. Interestingly enough, the technology didn’t have to be as plausible as the creature itself. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

2) Technological similarity. Because the player might come into contact with some of their technology, it had to be functionally similar to human technology as well. I never did understand how Gordon Freeman was able to use the severed hand of an Alien Grunt as a weapon in Half-Life. As a side-requirement, similar technology would likely imply similar physical anatomy – e.g. hands and fingers.

3) Identifiability. The player had to be able to identify with the aliens enough to apply human characteristics to them. A blob of slime could be terrifying as it engulfed you, but one could hardly come to see it as awe-inspiring. Human-like characteristics meant a somewhat humanoid alien.

4) Believability. The aliens had to make evolutionary sense, or *I* wouldn’t be happy with them. This was especially the case with this particular creation, since it involved the creation of not one but TWO intelligent species evolving simultaneously on a single planet.

Those were my guidelines, to follow and occasionally break as I needed. Terrifying and awe-inspiring? It would probably be somewhat larger than a human, then. It’s easy to be in awe of something larger than oneself. Technologically advanced? Extremely high-tech body armor, so advanced as to be artwork as well as excellent protection, would fit the bill. Yet the alienness, the uniqueness still needed to be readily apparent, and it had to be something new. With that, I started drawing.

Previous diaries:
30th May 2003 by Carl "melkior" Kidwell
23rd May 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
15th May 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
2nd May 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
18th April 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
11th April 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
7th April 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
28th March 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
21st March 2003 by Mohammad "BadMofo" Alavi
14th March 2003 by Matt "Chalupamonk" Michelson
7th March 2003 by Ryan "Professional Victim" Desgroseilliers
21st February 2003 by Adam "WhoMe" Foster
14th February 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
7th February 2003 by Francis "DeathWish" Woodhouse
31st January 2003 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon
24th January 2003 by Mohammad "BadMofo" Alavi
17th January 2003 by Ryan "Professional Victim" Desgroseilliers
10th January 2003 by Ken "ken20banks" Banks
3rd January 2003 by Dan "coil" Johnson
27th December 2002 by Francis "DeathWish" Woodhouse
20th December 2002 by Andrew "KungFuSquirrel" Weldon