Tracy catches up with Half Peeps to discuss the making of Half Life Alyx The Movie, Episode One, featured in our October 2021 Films review episode.
Completely Machinima interview with Half Peeps, machinima filmmaker
Tracy catches up with Half Peeps to discuss the making of Half Life Alyx The Movie, Episode One, featured in our October 2021 Films review episode.
game, film, release, peeps, episode, machinima, vr, people, valve, life, animations, cinematic, watch, audience, series, feature length, bit, minecraft, pathway, translate
Half Peeps, ANFSCM, Tracy Harwood
And Now For Something Completely Machinima
Tracy Harwood 00:06
Welcome to this week's interview for the And Now For Something Completely Machinima podcast. I'm Tracy Harwood and I'm delighted to be joined here today by Half Peeps, who is creator of the Half Life Alyx cinematic fan movie that is just about to release episode two. Now we just review reviewed this movie, or at least reviewed episode one in our October films review for the podcast, which is 21 minutes long film. And I'm not sure how many episodes we're going to be looking at here. And we're going to have a chance to ask Half Peeps in a few moments. But now the other thing I'd like to sort of say is half pizzas just had a birthday. So Happy Birthday for that - dare we ask you how old…?!
Half Peeps 00:59
I'm 20 now.
Tracy Harwood 01:02
Congratulations. Thank you a big year for you. I'm sure. I have to say you're probably the youngest person we've interviewed on the podcast so far. Which is saying something. And I was trying to do a bit of background on you for this interview and I saw that you had may or you said you've made Half Life content every day. And that you're also a developer for Raising the Bar. Now, would you like to tell us or start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you came to form Half Peeps?
Half Peeps 01:36
Sure. Um, I started YouTube back in 2013 just making like the most random videos like anyone ever does. Mostly Minecraft. And I kind of went on making gaming videos for a little bit and then I was like I need to direction here. So I taught myself Source Filmmaker because I was always interested in film, and I loved video games and so it seemed like the natural jumping on point. So I learned Source Filmmaker, and I made some pretty terrible Portal 2 animations. And then slowly over time got better, rebranded as Half Peeps in 2017 have steadily been improving. It's been a long journey but again
Tracy Harwood 02:19
Well I mean it's 20 you're not very old to say that you're steadily improving I mean that's some journey actually said you will you're what 12 or 13 when you started this journey?
Half Peeps 02:29
I think so yes.
Tracy Harwood 02:31
That's amazing. And Minecraft was your starting point that's really interesting. How you know how did you get into that as a starting point do you do you recall - was it just a bunch of meats just sort of having
Half Peeps 02:45
I just moved house so I kind of left all of my friends and so I just needed something to do with my time this was pretty much how it started.
Tracy Harwood 02:53
And did you start to shape stories in Minecraft as well? Is that how you came to to sort of think about that as a creative medium or at the time just doing less playing type stuff
Half Peeps 03:05
at the time I did start I was doing like Minecraft animations and I'd like to think there was a story that at the time looking back not a story I could follow at the time.
Tracy Harwood 03:19
You enjoyed it and Source Filmmaker why Source?
Half Peeps 03:25
I have always loved Valve games. I first played Portal back in 2008 which was my first Valve game and then went to Half Life and so I basically always loved Half Life as long as I've been playing video games Half Life and Portal and I had grown and I'd grown up watching people like Harry101UK and Zack Scott. And they're kind of Portal animations and so it's like I saw that and I was like that's something I want to do. Plus I was in love with the design of GLaDOS and just the animations that she could have and how you can get a robot with no face to portray emotion. So I was like I could like learn Blender but the models were already there in Source Filmmaker so it seemed the easiest step.
Tracy Harwood 04:11
Okay, did you ever see Red versus Blue as well? Was that any any kind of influence?
Half Peeps 04:18
I did yes it... not particularly not your thought
Half Peeps 04:21
I don't think it was no it's not something that child me understood usually.
Tracy Harwood 04:25
Yeah, yeah. game. Okay, so is that just you in Half Peeps and or are you a team of people?
Half Peeps 04:34
On the production side? Yes, it is just me I have a team that run the social side of everything, but I do all the production.
Tracy Harwood 04:42
Also tell us about the social side. And what do you do with that?
Half Peeps 04:45
We run a fairly large Discord server, Half Peeps Discord server. Obviously it's not something I could run on my own because I don't have huge amounts of time. So I've got a couple of people who who run that? And that's where a lot of discussion on like ray tracing and animation help and that kind of stuff is like a smaller version of the SFM Discord.
Tracy Harwood 05:10
Right? Right. Gotcha. How many of you got on that?
Half Peeps 05:13
I think just over 1100, I might be wrong. Okay.
Tracy Harwood 05:18
That's pretty impressive. So, all right. Tell us then, well, obviously, you've been a fan of Half Life forever by the sounds of it. But what led you to make the Half Life Alyx? cinematic? What where did it? Where did that come from?
Half Peeps 05:35
Well, probably began back in April of 2020, with the release of the, the source tools for Half Life Alyx. And with that, we were dropped the new source to filmmaker. And I very quickly put together an animated version of the ending to Half Life Alyx, which then quickly became my most viewed video, I think, I might have been the first person to release a full Source 2 filmmaker animation. So that was quite exciting. And from there, I get people often asking, why don't you do the entire game. And I was like, that sounds ridiculous. That would take literally forever. And so I kept making like some some scenes from the game into a more cinematic format. And then October, I was like, you know what, we're never gonna stop asking him if I do it. So I began working on the movie, and it was originally supposed to be a full feature length movie. And then I got to about January, I was like, I don't like the direction. I'm just going to scrap it and start again, I do have like 80% finished film. I didn't like it. Just felt rushed. As you'd imagine, film you put together in eight months would be says like, Oh, go episodic, put more time into each individual episode. And so in like March, I then started that. And it took about three and four months to make episode one.
Tracy Harwood 07:03
Wow. And and tell us a bit about how you've translated a VR game into a narrative form, then. How did you start to shape the story given that it's, well, I mean, bear in mind here, I'm not a Half Life Alyx player. However, it is, and you know, fully immersive game and one would assume quite difficult, therefore, the sort of cut a narrative path through it. So tell us a little bit about what your you know, your process has been to create that story.
Half Peeps 07:38
Well, my goal was always to create to have people who couldn't play the game because of course, VR is an expensive medium. So I wanted people who couldn't play the game to still experience the story perhaps without watching a Let's Play of it. And so obviously, I needed to get the key points of the story and and the atmosphere and the general vibe of the game. But you can't just watch the entire game because it's it's boring games are boring to watch, they're designed to be played. So I did have to cut down a lot of sections, there's a lot of walking in Alyx, where you're just looking at the scenery. And that kind of most of that got put into like the first like four minutes of the episode. And also the sections like the glove training the tutorial for the gravity gloves. And I like prototyped a version of that, like cinematically, and it just really dragged - it was not an interesting thing to watch. So like anything tutorial based or repeated sequences, just that happen over and over again, because games are built on repetition. But you only see that once and so you kind of cut that out.
Tracy Harwood 08:43
But what about the plot? You know, the adventure side of it? How have you shaped the adventure of it? Is there it was there a pathway through it that you really enjoyed that you thought would make a great film?
Half Peeps 08:57
I think I mean, the the writers of Alex already did such a great job creating a great narrative. And the advantage is, with Valve games, when you have narrative elements in the Half Life series. It's kind of a lock you in the room and let it play. So there wasn't a huge amount that I needed to. That wasn't already in a confined area that was already cinematic-esque in game, so there wasn't a huge amount of like reworking of areas to try and try and navigate through this, this kind of thing, because it's such a linear game already.
Tracy Harwood 09:30
Okay, okay. So there's not that many pathways through after all. No, it's just that it's just the views that would change what the narrative is, I suppose
Half Peeps 09:39
Tracy Harwood 09:40
And, I mean, forgive me again, because I don't I don't I haven't played the game, but the dialogue of the character. Have you have you caught a pathway through the dialogue that they're using? Or are you voice acting that to suit what your end purpose of it is?
Half Peeps 10:00
I'm not I don't think every bit of dialogue from the game may into Episode One, as some angry commenters will tell you, I did skip dialogue sometimes on purpose because it just kind of smoothed out scene similar purposes. Other times, I might have just forgotten to add a line somewhere. But it's not it's not a one to one replica of the game scenes.
Tracy Harwood 10:24
No, well, you wouldn't expect it to be with you. If you're telling the story. It doesn't have to leave verbatim of the game does it?
Half Peeps 10:32
Know exactly. And I think there is one point there is after the van that Alyx has held in crashes, there is then a dream sequence I added, which is actually from the beta of Half Life Alyx is where that originally came from, but it was cut. Because it I guess it didn't really fit the VR medium. But it did fit a cinematic medium. So I then kind of spliced together some lines that were left over in the game files and kind of added that scene back, which kind of gives Alyx more of a reason to continue on her journey other than just Russell telling her to
Tracy Harwood 11:05
Got you, yeah. And you know what, I suppose really, that sounds like the audience are quite passionate about you following the the exact pathway through it. I mean, what key challenges do you think you've faced in adapting the work for an audience maybe,
Half Peeps 11:27
I suppose, just trying to show everything that's important. In a VR game, everything is interesting, it's a 360 experience. And really to kind of get the feel for the maybe not the story, but the atmosphere, you it's really you have to you have to kind of be there moment. So then translating that into 75 degrees of field of view, is certainly a challenge. And I did, I certainly didn't get it perfect. There are, since I've had feedback on say, the intro sequence where people have found it a bit long, where I've tried to fit in all of the bits of atmosphere that you would see just by looking out the balcony. But But I am trying to strike a good balance between that kind of thing.
Tracy Harwood 12:14
But I guess if you're making a film, you can reveal that over a period of time. And the net effect is that you, you have the feel of the atmosphere, it just doesn't have to be sucked in all at once. It can be revealed over time. Exactly. Yeah. Okay, so so other than source, what are the what are the technologies have used here?
Half Peeps 12:35
I was very kindly given access to the iPisoft motion capture tools. Thank you very much to them for that, which is a set of tools, which allows you to connect up Kinect cameras from the Xbox, which have not only a camera, but also a depth sensor, which can then track your body movements, and then translate it over to a 3d model, which is what I used for a majority of Alyx's movements. Because for some of the characters, they're already animated from the game. Of course, you never see Alyx and so she had to be animated from scratch and motion captured from scratch.
Tracy Harwood 13:13
Great. Okay, so that's how you did it. I was wondering how you managed to capture her and there's some great detail in there as well using the we call it iPi you've called it epi. That's great.
Half Peeps 13:28
I don't know what it's called.
Tracy Harwood 13:30
That's brilliant. And, and as you say, markerless. Mo cap is something that's being used a lot now I think in games.
Half Peeps 13:38
Tracy Harwood 13:40
So why Syria? Well, you've already sort of said a little bit about why series but I mean, why are you sticking to series now? Are you going to be sticking to series are you going to turn it into a feature length? Once you've got a bunch of episodes down?
Half Peeps 13:55
My end game plan is to do it as a series. And then once that's done, edit it so it fits together as a film and then release that. But to start with, I felt that that changing over to a series made more sense, because I could release episodes much more frequently than just having to wait two years for me to push a film out something.
Tracy Harwood 14:19
Yeah, yeah. And and you got backers involved as well as that. You doing GoFundMe and all that sort of stuff for it? Or you
Half Peeps 14:28
No, not protect? Not really no.
Tracy Harwood 14:30
Just doing on your own? Yep. oversight. Wow, that's a hell of an endeavor. I mean, are you thinking I mean, I suppose really, this is something we talked about on our podcast couple of episodes ago where we were sort of saying that why do you actually think feature length machinima is a really good idea. We couldn't really find any great feature length machinimas that worked particularly well and maybe they're better off serialized. And if they're serialized, can you connect them together as Damian was telling us that he had similar idea to what you're talking about there, where he released a bunch of episodes for his heir to the Empire series, and then was going to clip together a whole season into a film. But he found that he couldn't do it easily because he hadn't got the right connections between parts of the episodes. So I guess what, what you, you need to sort of think about here is how you're going to connect it all together once you've got four or five episodes done for it. Is that is that what your game plan is on this one?
Half Peeps 15:39
Yeah, I do realize there is going to be a lot of editing and reworking of scenes. I am making each episode with the idea of putting them all together. So that is always in the back of my mind, but I am expecting to have to rework a lot of the ordering for it to fit a film.
Tracy Harwood 15:59
Yeah, yeah. And then you get and then re-release it as one film?
Half Peeps 16:03
Yeah, that's Yeah, I've not something I would watch. Personally, I think that, as you were saying machinima films aren't something that's released, mainly because I don't think the internet like audience general audience, it's like considerably less convenient for them to sit down and watch an hour and a half. Whereas the you know, they can watch an episode one day and then watch an episode the next. But there are there is a noticeable size of my audience that do want a full film release. So it is something I will do.
Tracy Harwood 16:35
Yeah. It's interesting that they're demanding that from you isn't our thing. I mean, then, I guess the other strategy might be to sort of have an ongoing serialization. To which point is, is there actually an end to this to this as a game? Or is it? Is it? Is it the type of environment that Valve will keep releasing, you know, new packs for? Do you think do you think it's going to go on, like, some of the other games have?
Half Peeps 17:08
Well, we were as a community hoping for that, I know but Valve's interest in the game does seem to have completely dropped off after releasing the tools. We've had very minimal updates, there's still a couple of game breaking bugs in there that that we haven't had patched and they've just gone very quiet. I've spoken to Tom Vicar, who is almost a figurehead in the Half Life community when it comes to like upcoming what Valve is working on secretly. It doesn't look particularly like they intend to release expansions. But they might, but it's not something that I like, expecting.
Tracy Harwood 17:48
Half Peeps 17:50
I suppose a bit, but that could just mean that they're working on another standalone VR game. So
Tracy Harwood 17:57
Cool. And and the community, you know, because I've seen where there's demand for, you know, a cinematic such as, such as the one you're making here. Why was it you that responded to that and nobody else?
Half Peeps 18:16
I think because it's just a really stupid thing to try and do. It's a pretty big project.
Tracy Harwood 18:22
What you only now realizing that you must have realized that?!
Half Peeps 18:25
No, I knew that when I was taking it on.
Tracy Harwood 18:28
And what's the community's response? And what are the what are they saying to you?
Half Peeps 18:34
So far, I've had almost nothing but positive overall. People seem to really enjoy. It hasn't reached the audience that I'd like, like, I would like more people to see it. But that sort of YouTube and the Half Life community, it's, it's around Half Life Alyx, there was a huge boost in views and everything. And people who weren't hardcore fans are watching these kind of videos. But year and a bit on now. It's just the hardcore fans. But of the people who have seen it, I've been very happy with the response.
Tracy Harwood 19:02
Yeah, I mean, I guess one of the challenges is the, you know, the accessibility issue with VR, isn't it in terms of its, you know, it's expanded audience? if, if, if VR kit, if the market was more widely available, you probably have a bigger audience for it. But, you know, By the same token, what you're doing is potentially opening up the audience for it.
Half Peeps 19:27
Tracy Harwood 19:28
So what what is Val's response to what you're doing?
Half Peeps 19:32
I've have had a bit of... Valve are quiet on everything, but they don't speak to anyone really, but I have had comments from Robin Walker, who was, I think, development lead for Half Life Alyx saying that they did you really enjoy or at least he really enjoyed it. And he's looking forward to seeing where it goes and seeing the, the kind of the world that they've spent so long creating, then translated over to a different format.
Tracy Harwood 20:00
Yeah, yeah, I bet they are actually I bet they're I'm really interested to see what the response will be and how and how it opens up the market for the game for them I would imagine, like so many other machinima have done over the years. You know, they've they've basically been a free marketing tool for the games. So what's next for you? Then? When? When are you going to be releasing this next episode?
Half Peeps 20:29
I wish I could. I wish I could say it's certainly very heavily in production. It's coming along nicely is what I can say. But I don't know like, give a month or anything and then not be able to deliver cuz
Tracy Harwood 20:47
they'll hold you sit. Yeah, holding a candle. Excellent. So you've really basically got a project here for the next two or three years by the sounds of it. What other stuff Are you are you going to be working on at the same sort of time, you're going to expand your creative talents to other things?
Half Peeps 21:06
Well, I'm continuing to just make more short, standalone Half Life Portal videos as I have done previously. And so we'll continue that, obviously. And I'm also slowly moving to live action. I'm currently training to be a director of photography for film, TV, and hopefully also video games at some point. Now brilliant. So that is something that I have started releasing on my channel as well.
Tracy Harwood 21:28
Excellent. So are you at University at the moment, I am yes.
Tracy Harwood 21:31
Half Peeps 21:34
I'm not going to box myself. Once again, if I do not release Episode Two, I do not want the fans coming to my door.
Tracy Harwood 21:45
Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. But you're you're you're obviously doing Film Studies are you.
Half Peeps 21:50
I am. Yes. And production.
Tracy Harwood 21:52
Excellent. Okay. All right. And so that, you know, what do you Well, I guess, I guess in terms of what you're saying, your feed.., if the feedback is pretty critical to what you're doing, isn't it? Really, and they you know, the followers do seem to influence how you go about managing what you're doing. What I was gonna ask you is, in terms of the role of community how does that influence what you produce and where you go with it?
Half Peeps 22:27
creatively speaking, I usually quite selfish and take my own view over whatever people have suggested because it's my series and if I'm not enjoying making it, it just won't get made. But if I get an I do get suggestions, I'm like, that is a good idea. I should have thought that myself, then it is something I'll I'll implement, I have had requests to go like completely off law and add like the beta. That in the beta form of Alyx, there were Combine that were like horses, and I've had requests to add that into the series. I don't plan to do that I want to stay pretty much on what Valve release because it's a retelling of the story, primarily for those who haven't been able to play it. But still ideas and stuff that that are suggested in my Discord are considered. I don't just turn everything down.
Tracy Harwood 23:20
Now, the reason we've reviewed it in our October episode is because obviously our focus this particular month, is on horror. And, you know, that kind of genre of content. Is there going to be a reveal of horrific things as you as you go through your plot?
Half Peeps 23:45
Well, I would argue that Half Life Alyx is itself a horror game. Certainly, it will be challenged to translate that because the horror comes from the fact you're actually there in VR, but I do intend to make the sections that were scary in the game actually be scary for the series as well.
Tracy Harwood 24:06
Yeah, how are you going to do that then? Have you thought about how you're gonna do that?
Half Peeps 24:10
I assumed by watching lots of horror films!
Tracy Harwood 24:16
Yeah, well, there's some that you have a look at some of the machinima that we've we've referenced there was a moment that we looked at a few weeks ago by Lovecraft called Haunter the dark. It's old believe me it's old but the suspense in it was amazing and partly how it was done was through the soundtrack. And and the you know, the, the voice acting and the timbre the voice and what have you, but be really interesting to see how you achieve that, given as you said that, you know, it's the it's the immersion, and the immersive experience that creates the suspense for you and how you translate that onto the 2d screen is going to be really interesting to see. Okay, well, I've got no more questions unless you've got anything else you want to sort of say or tell your adoring fans whilst you're on here?
Half Peeps 25:17
I mean, I love you that thank you for watching my stuff. It's freaking awesome to be able to do this. Before 2020 I had like 400 subscribers, and now I've got 10,000 It's insane. Wow, really?
Tracy Harwood 25:31
Wow. How did you achieve?
Half Peeps 25:35
Many just making Half Life animations during the release of Half Life Alyx it was just a huge upsurge in views Really? Because.
Tracy Harwood 25:41
So it is all Half Life Alyx's
Half Peeps 25:44
Half Life Alyx and I think Portal 2 and the ray tracing series they made for that.
Tracy Harwood 25:49
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, brilliant. Well, well done you. That's good. That's some achievement. And we're all looking forward to seeing Episode Two whenever that comes out. And in the meantime, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today.