Thank you for an interesting exchange. Let me begin by saying that I do agree that Half-Life is limited in many ways and I do not intend to say that is perfect or even adequate in every respect. I remember when I played it the first time I was struck by two things: First that here *finally* I was seeing a game that seemed to take the next step to fulfill the potential of the first-person 3d-medium since Doom/Quake in a way that felt perfectly natural. Next, I felt that measured by this standard it was also just the beginning, and that all we saw was was just a hint of the possibilites it was playing with.
Perhaps the heart of our different perceptions of HL is to be found in this remark of yours:
>Without cutscenes we would then be stuck with interactive >storytelling. That would be horrid. It means the player >would have to interact with either very complex scripts or >the player would be forced to test its patience by standing >near a talking NPC. While I now see what you mean by >Half-Life's storyline, a story is not entirely comprised of >minute actions or events which then lead to nowhere. There >was almost nowhere to begin in Half-Life, but that was >besides the point: that if you want a good storyline you >will also need a storyline supported by FMV or in-game >cutscenes. A convincing one supporting an awe-inspiring >world at least. (Plus, movies are by far the best source to >learn how to tell a story, anyhow.)
Possibly the demand that a game should have a "story" is bit misleading, precisely because this is the kind of structure on a user experience which is forced on us in *non-interactive* media. NOLF follows this strictly and you only do things to in order to trigger scenes in a story which is not yours. In lesser games I almost haven't even got the patience to watch the cut-scenes out. In the real interactive world the outcome is determined to a much larger extent by your actions, and there is no voice coming from above telling you what kind of "narrative" you are in. Things just happen as a result of your actions and the interpretation of what happens belongs to you or your participants. That is why I feel the NOLF way of doing it (however elegant and sympathetic) is blind ally for the genre.
How could it be otherwise? I think the genere must acquire a new set of techniques over time, like the film industry has done, and how the written media has done. Half-Life shows that the makers knows about this and has started the process to explore the real possiblities of the 3d-gaming experience.
Some examples: I really like the opening sequence in Half Life, where the train takes you deeper and deeper into the Black Mesa complex. The voice on the intercom indirectly lets you know a good deal about the nature of the institution, a feeling for your own role and social relations. And along you can walk around and look at strange machines doing work, military helicopters taking off etc - things that make *you* make up your mind about what kind of story you are in. This train represents a technique to deal with the technical limitations of bringing you into a "story" in a game while at the same time letting the character experiece it first hand. Compare that to some lame cut-scene, and realize how profoundly more important such an attempt is for the game genre.
In real life experience an understanding of what happening is most often the result of talking to other people. This is not possible or at least easy to do in a game, but in Half-Life they use the techique that the characters talks to you, not expecting an answer. This is another solution to exploit a possiblity in the medium at the same time as dealing with its limitations.
And a many other things such as the scripted sequences, the over-heard dialogue, that you disscover (not by a narrator) that soldiers that turn on you the other staff mid game etc. The game feels more than scene, a place where things happen than glued on story.
Deus Ex, by the way, introduced another techique, which is to introduce multiple solutions to each problem and even different story lines as the result of you actions. Clearly a contribution to the fundamental problem of deveoloping the genre.
I liked Shogo as well, but do not feel it belongs to the present discussion. If Unreal 2 goes for shallow characters taken from the top of your head, because it is imprinted by the most superficial popular culture (and found in games like SOF, Gunman Chronicles), they would be well advised however, to rather try to utilize their specific kind of charm, like Shogo did.