Steam has seen a lot of changes take place over time, progressing from a simple store to buy games, to somewhere selling software and movies. From this coming Friday, 30th September, you will be able to read the first graphic novel to launch on Steam. The first chapter of the Half-Life themed comic, Half-Life A Place in the West has been available online since 2015, but will be coming to Steam with new pages.
The team behind A Place in the West first advertised the comic on Steam Greenlight in February of this year, and was approved by the middle of March. So why has it taken until now for it to arrive on Steam properly? The team had to develop an independent app to work as a reader, and to ensure it is accessible to as wide an audience as possible, they couldn’t just make it a mod for Half-Life 2. The team’s ethos has been “It’s important that it’s available, that it’s lightweight, and that it provides a good experience on its own.”
The events of the comic take place in the time between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, writer Ross Joseph Gardner told me this time period was chosen for the creative freedom it offered:
The events that immediately followed Half-Life – the portal storms, the Seven Hour War, and the subsequent occupation – were ambiguously covered in Half-Life 2, and it afforded us an opportunity to really dig in and flesh out our own pocket universe.
We wanted to tell a Half-Life story, but at the same time, we’re not Valve, nor do we wish to be; we’re very much interested in telling our own story on our own terms using the raw materials Valve have provided.
The twenty-year gap between games felt like the right space to do that.
A lot of work has gone on since Ross and co-author Mike Pelletier (who has been writing together for twelve years) started thinking about, and working on A Place in the West back in 2013. They had to pull together Heath Heil (pencils, inks, colouring) and Rachel Deering (lettering) for the initial release last year before starting to look at the Greenlight process. Ross elaborated on what has been involved in this process:
Over the last 10 months there’s been a lot of things that have come up that aren’t things we really had in mind with writing and producing a comic. For instance, with the Greenlight program, we put together a short trailer.
With the [Steam app] itself…it was like being back in the world of game modification, on a much smaller scale, of course. That’s something that we never really planned for doing prior to deciding on a Steam release. There has also been a lot of smaller things – for instance our images for Steam (the capsule image, store image, banners, etc) all had to be created – they weren’t things we just had lying around.
The community which surrounds Half-Life is still going strong, and has provided Ross and Mike with a lot of support with their project:
That there are so many people who are still interested in Half-Life in the years since Half-Life Episode 2‘s release is a testament to this community, which we’re very proud to be a part of.
We were very flattered when some Russian Half-Life fans approached us to translate the first issue…it just meant a whole lot to us that people aside from us were interested in the story. With the Steam release, we’re hoping to reach an even larger proportion of Half-Life fans, so we’re hoping the response is equally positive.
Of course, with the comic now coming to a much larger audience thanks to Steam, the team have had to make a few changes from the original launch, with five entirely new pages bringing chapter one to a total of 38 pages. There is a new three page prologue, and an original page has been expanded to two pages to allow the team to better convey the story they are telling. As Ross told me about the decision to include a prologue:
It didn’t make a lot of sense to us to invest in 6 issues of a comic if it was exclusive only to Half-Life fans, so we wrote and produced a prologue that highlights the most salient points of the universe going forward.
The team are working hard to get chapter two ready for launch on Steam early next year, but there has been a long agreed ending in sight. In all, the story of A Place in the West will take place over six chapters, though Ross does let slip “that’s not to say, however, that we don’t have ideas for smaller stories on the periphery.”
This Friday, keep your eyes peeled for A Place in the West releasing on Steam.