Community Interviews: Final Exchange development team


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Jun 11, 2004
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Final Exchange is an upcoming Half-Life 2 fan comic set in an alternate universe where the Combine Air Exchange facilities and other cut concepts from Half-Life 2 are present in the game's storyline. For today's article, we interviewed members of the comic's development team. They currently don't have a website or any social media profiles, but we'll keep you updated as they reveal more details.

Could you please introduce yourselves?

Van Leeuwen: Hi, I'm Connor Van Leeuwen, a 23 year-old amateur writer from a suburb near Los Angeles. I'm currently studying Creative Writing at CSUN and set to graduate after this semester. I spend my free time working on Final Exchange, trying to get published, and playing too many video games.

Rowtree: Hi, my name's Rowtree (he declined to give his real name for personal reasons -Ed), and I'm 22, from London. I've been working on similar things to Final Exchange for around four years now, and I'm happy to finally present some of that here in Final Exchange.

Maxim Dadin: Hi! My name is Maxim Dadin, I'm 19 and studying mechanical arts and design in Moscow Technological University. Being interested in visual arts, literature, games and films, I spend most of my free time illustrating Final Exchange project.

Larry Warfield: Hello! I'm Larry Warfield (yes, that's my actual name), I'm a 21 year old Anthropology student from Jacksonville, North Carolina. I spend my free time writing, working, and playing video games.

What is the story of the comic? What was your inspiration?

Leeuwen: Final Exchange is about a team of human resistors who come together with the sole intent of prolonging the inevitable extinction of their species. The Combine have activated dozens of these Air-Exchange Reactors, which will soon siphon oxygen from the atmosphere to uninhabitable levels, and thus force the remaining human resistance into servitude or certain destruction. So, they have one final shot at survival, but the clock is running, and each breath could be their last.

The Half-Life series was our primary source of inspiration, of course... but also roleplaying. Haha. That's how we met, actually, through Half-Life 2 roleplaying communities, and that's how we learned so much about the Half-Life universe.

Rowtree: We've always loved the incredible expanded universe of Half-Life that so many talented people have contributed towards. I've been wanting to set something in the Half-Life universe for some time, and Final Exchange is a fantastic way of doing that. I've worked closely on two of the settings from Final Exchange; City 65, formerly Istanbul, and City 35, formerly Lyon. These two locations were chosen for their distinct visual styles. East and West, respectively. These Cities, though consumed by the Combine machine, are still contrasting locations. I wanted these locations to present two alternate possibilities of life under the Combine. One city, plagued with Resistance activities, has become a brutal and unforgiving city. The other, whose Resistance is more organised and underground, is a far more sinister city, where the Combine's evil lurks just out of sight. For the Brotherhood, one of the Resistance factions at play, I looked at the very recent Arab Spring and took a lot of my inspiration from that. I wanted to create a middle-eastern faction that was a far more realistic and interesting than the stereotypical portrayal of arab characters. I find ragtag freedom fighters more interesting than military characters.

Dadin: Half-Life series was familiar to me since childhood, when I played the first game for the first time. Breadth of its universe always excited me and people who developed it and expanded it always inspired me. Especially, I appreciate in-game design and used to make studies on it, showing some of them to the related community - that's how guys from Final Exchange found me, haha. However, the visual part of Half-Life wasn't the only thing to have influenced my work - classic comic books did too. I chose its style as the most understandable one.

Warfield: As the others have stated, Final Exchange revolves around a group of human resistance fighters doing their best to set aside politics and their differences in pursuit of the greater good. I come from a military family and I've lived overseas on military bases for most of my childhood and adult life. My inspiration for the main resistance, "The Left Arm of Liberty" comes from my military upbringing as well as popular military fiction (Tom Clancy, WEB Griffin, etc). These rebels visually reflect both American and Russian military (and indeed even HECU from Half-Life 1) inspirations that harken back to classic military fiction while still maintaining visual similarity to the rebels we all know and love from vanilla Half-Life 2.

You're incorporating concepts from Raising the Bar and other early development sources. What is your approach to the Half-Life canon in your storyline?

Rowtree: Half-Life canon is always a very odd subject, as Marc Laidlaw has always said, "Canon is something the fans came up with." I've done my best to not overwrite anything in the main game, and instead compliment it. Regarding incorporating concepts from RTB, we've also incorporated many things that have never been in Half-Life before. I don't think of Final Exchange as a "beta" comic. Final Exchange is a Half-Life 2 comic, with concepts from its development playing a part.

Leeuwen: The Air-Exchange Reactor is another example -- it was scrapped in the alpha/beta of Half-Life 2 but we've made it the main focus point of our story. By using "softer" canon, we can keep our stories relevant and interesting without altering hard canon in a way that might agitate other HL2-enthusiasts.

Warfield: Well, that's a good question. The way I see it, we've set the comic in a veritable deadzone. After the Seven Hour War, but well before Half-Life 2. We figure the world was a much different place than we saw in Half-Life 2. This "soft" canon as Van Leeuwen calls it, gives us an opportunity to openly shape a story using concepts and content that otherwise isn't present in Half-Life 2. A good example with Final Exchange would be that we're using the Air Exchange Reactors. A piece of cut content from Half-Life 2's development and arguably one of the most iconic set pieces that never saw use.

Will any familiar Half-Life locations or cast members be making an appearance?

Rowtree: Maybe. But since our comic takes place in vastly different settings, you're going to see more new stuff than old. We'll see...

Warfield: Wait and see. ;)

What is your plan to publish the first issue of the comic? Are there any plans to release it on Steam?

Rowtree: Personally, I'd love to see it released through Steam, much like APITW. But we've been working on a website that would allow us to self-publish not only the comic, but small related bits that might not fit within the comic's timeline.

Warfield: Well, ideally we'll put it on steam eventually, but I'd say getting the comic out there when it's done is more important. I'd personally rather have us self-publish through our own website, then work on getting it on Steam while we work on the next issue.

What are the team's thoughts on A Place in the West? Was there any collaboration between the two ventures?

Warfield: APW is an excellent work of fiction and a good entry so far into the Half-Life series. I'm excited to see what they do going forward. We've had talks off and on with them, but the decision was made early on to keep our works separate. I personally feel this was an important decision because Final Exchange and A Place in the West are so vastly different in scope and story.

Leeuwen: A Place in the West is awesome, go read it! Hopefully, we can collaborate with them in the future, though for now we've got to focus on Final Exchange.

Rowtree: Yeah, you should probably go read A Place in the West.


The Final Exchange development team
Barney and Marphy Black