Interview with Yahn Bernier
My first interview with Yahn Bernier from Valve Software.

[13 November 2003 - 17:55 PDT GMT-8]
Company Website

Half-Life Gaming: What inspired you to create Half-Life? (setting/game play/characters)

Yahn Bernier: The original concept for HL came from folks here thinking about Stephen King's short story "The Mist", along with a healthy dose of X-Files style conspiracy thrown in.

Half-Life Gaming: Who or what got you into gaming?

Yahn Bernier: I was really into all of the classic arcade games when I was a kid (Centipede, Defender, Donkey Kong, etc.). It never occurred to me that you could make a living making games. I continued to play computer games through the years on various systems (Colecovision, TI/99, Atari 800, Macintosh, and finally PCs). At some point I got interested in 3d graphics and that eventually led to a little side project I was doing working on a Quake editor called BSP. The editor became popular in the Quake community and that led to a job offer at Valve, which is where I've been for the last 6 years now. Before that I was practicing patent law in Atlanta, so it has definitely been an interesting ride.

Half-Life Gaming: When you look back on Half-Life, what do you wish you had done differently?

Yahn Bernier: That's a hard question, because time has dulled the pain of actually shipping that project. I think all projects have their own list of issues, the major ones that we had to struggle with were determining what the quality bar should be on the title -- i.e., figuring out when the title was "good enough". It's something we continue to struggle with as a company.

Half-Life Gaming: Why did you choose to use the quake engine and not just write your own for the original Half-Life?

Yahn Bernier: Despite the fact that lots of folks have decided that they can write they're own engine, we were much more pragmatic about that. An engine is, at its core, a toolset for making a game. In that respect, it contains a lot of things like file system code, winsock networking code, rendering code, a frame loop, sound code, etc. Sure, we could have written these systems, but it would have taken a much longer time to get these core things in place, and they all needed to be in place before we could even think about working on the game itself. So licensing made a lot of sense for Valve, that way we could leverage all of the good decisions made by John Carmack and id in the original Quake engine, and just focus on the parts we needed to improve on or change in order to deliver the game we wanted to make. The other factor was that Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, the co-founders of Valve, were good friends with Michael Abrash who was at id at that time, and that was a major reason for us going with the Quake engine as a company.

Half-Life Gaming: Did you ever think it would be such a popular game and spawn such famous modifications?

Yahn Bernier: It wasn't until just before shipping HL that we realized that the game was probably going to do pretty well. As for the MODs, we certainly were very intentional about releasing and improving the tools for the community. Our strategy then was the same as it is now 1) foster an active community excited about extending the game and 2) use the MOD work as a recruiting tool for potential employees or business partners. It has worked out better than any of us could have guessed on both of those fronts.

For me, personally, it was great to work on a product that fans wanted and appreciated. Actually making something and putting it out there is very satisfying.

Half-Life Gaming: What is your favorite half-life mod and why?

Yahn Bernier: There are many, many good ones. I really like the direction the Natural Selection guys took, trying to do a totally different style of game on our engine. That was pretty cool. Of the more traditional MODs, TFC and CS are still my favorites, and DoD is fun, too. I don't get to play much these days, busy on other projects.

Half-Life Gaming: What is your favorite thing about working for Valve?

Yahn Bernier: I really like working with this group of people, I've learned a lot from everyone here. I look forward to coming to work every day.