Valve's Source 2 Engine Will Improve, Accelerate User-Created Content

Valve CEO Gabe Newell did a Reddit AMA yesterday, tossing open a window into the production plans and viewpoints of one of the industry's most beloved companies. One of the topics he opened up on was the future of the Source 2 engine. We discussed leaked screenshots that purportedly showed a Left 4 Dead 2 level running in Source 2 last month, so any comments from Gaben on this front are welcome indeed.

Asked what the major features of Source 2 would be, Newell replied:
"The biggest improvements will be in increasing productivity of content creation. That focus is driven by the importance we see UGC [User Generated Content] having going forward. A professional developer at Valve will put up with a lot of pain that won't work if users themselves have to create content."
There's a huge amount of information packed into those few sentences. Most game engine developers, from id to CryTek, would have taken the opportunity to talk about the amazing next-generation graphics that their new engines would enable. When Valve built the original Source engine, it designed the code base to be modular and updatable, with less work required to jump between versions. This has worked, by all accounts -- Valve successfully updated the software stack to add support for the Xbox 360, multi-processing, high dynamic range lighting, and better facial animations -- but the engine lacks DX11 support. Given that the API is nearly five years old, that's not an insignificant omission.

Left 4 Dead 2, reportedly redesigned for Source 2

Nonetheless, Gabe is emphasizing content creation and distribution, both within the Source 2 engine and through the creation of programs like the Steam Workshop and Greenlight. When you take the long view on Valve, this makes sense. Plenty of companies build games that go on to enjoy huge modding success but Valve has built its success on original content. Day of Defeat, Counter-Strike, DOTA itself, Team Fortress 2, Portal -- all these franchises began life as mod projects. With games like Team Fortress 2, Valve obviously built on, expanded, and improved the original concept, but the roots of the company are in user-created content.

The announcement that Source 2 will focus on making content creation easy jives with Newell's comments in early January, when he declared that UCG was the future of Steam's distribution platform -- the company clearly sees itself as the long-term master hub for content creation, sharing, and experimentation. After years of watching beautiful engines starring in mediocre games, maybe putting creation and imagination first will give Source 2 a leg up on doing the opposite.

Of course, none of this commentary came with an ETA, a launch title list, or even a hint at whether we'd see popular older titles ported to the new engine the way Valve did ports for its pre-Source titles. Those of you hoping for a Source 2, Half Life 3 unveil running on Steam Box hardware in 2014... keep on hoping. Hat tip to Tech Report for originally catching this bit of the AMA.