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Half-Life 3: it will be worth the wait, or it just won’t ever be at all

Monday, 2nd December 2013 14:43 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Where is Half-Life 3? Brenna thinks she knows: it’s a victim of its own success, locked away until such time as it can bring something as exciting as its prequels did.

To keep a reputation as one of the finest developers in the world, Valve can’t just crap out a Half-Life sequel. It needs to up the ante, and it needs to up it considerably. Whatever Half-Life 3 is, it won’t be “just more Half-Life”. It will have something new and different, and something very special.

It’s testament to the quality and import of the Half-Life franchise that 15 years on from the first release, and six years on from the latest, its promised sequels are still among the most-requested and discussed games ever to exist in potentia. Half-Life 2: Episode Three and Half-Life 3 are almost guaranteed bestsellers; their vapourous fame is such that thousands who didn’t play the originals will sign on and have a go.

So why the heck isn’t Valve spitting them out like nobody’s business? One of the things that makes fans so hopping mad is because it would be so easy to provide what they think they want. “Just give us more Half-Life,” is the plea. “How hard can that be? More Gordon Freeman having adventures. More Alyx. More first-person, immersive narrative; more interactive world; more strong level design; more cool puzzles and weapons and aliens.”

Valve could do that, pumping out a few more episodes or even a full sequel to keep the clamouring to a minimum. But it’d be doing something it has never done before – churn out another game just because it can, and not because it’s had a boatload of ideas just begging to be executed. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 don’t exist because Valve needed to make money, although there was a time when it did; they exist because Valve had something special to do and say with games.

The Half-Life games are much more than simple shooters; they are pioneers of first-person narrative technique and immersive level design. It’s easy to forget now that the formula has become generic, but it was a bold move to work with the strengths of gaming as a medium rather than against them, and its impact is felt in most modern triple-A games, from Call of Duty: Ghosts to Beyond: Two Souls. Techniques introduced in the first game were hugely refined in the second, and to a lesser degree in the Episodes. It contributed to a still-developing trend in gaming in which narrative is not just tacked on after the mechanics have been hammered out, but an intrinsic part of the entire creative process.

But although Half-Life and its sequels were highly influential and greatly enjoyable, they haven’t necessarily aged very well; players trying it for the first time today, informed by dozens if not hundreds of games employing its once-groundbreaking techniques, likely won’t find it as mind-blowing as contemporary gamers did. In fact, they may find it a little annoying – it contains a number of tropes that have started to wear thin due to repetition. It’s like watching an early slasher film and finding it a bit dull and predictable because nothing in it is shocking to you, even though contemporary audiences were gobsmacked by the tension and special effects. It’s still the first and maybe even the best, but the impact has been lost.

If Valve were to release a game that was, essentially, “just more Half-Life”, many fans and most critics would probably be disappointed anyway; the weight of expectation is that the franchise repeat its accomplishments by breaking new ground, establishing new conventions, and blowing our tiny minds. “Just more Half-Life” isn’t going to achieve that. It won’t do new things. It won’t surprise.

Valve’s modus operandi to date has been to do new things; to surprise; and to meet or exceed expectations. Its sequels – Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead 2 – exist because there was something more to be done with those ideas, something that required a complete rebuild. We didn’t just get more Portal, or more Left 4 Dead; indeed, Left 4 Dead still had so much life in it that Valve’s decision to enact a total rebuild with Left 4 Dead 2 met with fan disapproval and accusations that the developer was milking it despite the many and varied improvements the new tech delivered.

It’s an unfair accusation. Valve doesn’t need to “milk” for money by ever releasing a shitty sequel; it owns Steam, has more cash than it is likely to need for a very long time, and doesn’t give a rat’s arse how many Fry TAKE MY MONEY pictures you send to it. But to keep a reputation as one of the finest developers in the world, Valve can’t just crap out a Half-Life sequel. It needs to up the ante, and it needs to up it considerably. Whatever Half-Life 3 is, it won’t be “just more Half-Life”. It will have something new and different, and something very special.

Where is Half-Life 3? It might be in the works. It might be nowhere. Perhaps it’s almost finished, or perhaps nobody at Valve has yet come up with the single, core idea that will form the heart of the new game, that spurs Valve to create something bigger, better and bolder than its progenitors. What is guaranteed is that when it does arrive it will be worth the wait – or we will simply wait forever. For Valve, there’s no middle ground.

I’ll tell you what though; even though it won’t be platform exclusive, “something new and different” just might be “being the perfect showcase for the Steam Controller“, which is expected next year along with the first wave of Steam Machines. Something to think about, yeah?

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29 Comments

  1. Pytox

    HL3 will come with buyable hats and customizable car wheels :D

    also http://pauseyourgame.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Shut-up-and-take-my-money.jpg

    nice article brenna :)

    #1 1 year ago
  2. DarkElfa

    HL3 is the new Duke Nukem Forever.

    New title jokes:

    Half Life 3 took half my life to come out.
    Half Life 3′s release date has a half life of 25000 years.
    Valve sucks, hurry up and finish the fucking game.

    That last one may or may not have been simple impatience on my part.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. salarta

    This is partly the same reason that I suspect Squeenix hasn’t tried to remake FF7 or make a game touted as a direct sequel like they’ve done with FFX-2 and the other FF13 games. I say partly because I think that while they’re concerned about quality, ultimately it’s because they’re concerned about how poor quality would hurt the bottom line for everything else.

    A bad remake or sequel of the most touted game a company has to offer risks losing fans that would otherwise buy new stuff because of the company name. Steam can afford to do weird stuff with Team Fortress or try new things like Portal because they have people that trust the brand name and will currently forgive mistakes in some places. A bad Half-Life would kill that.

    I’m also starting to suspect that there will be no Portal 3 for the same reason. Portal’s become popular enough to potentially rival Half-Life to the point some fans are suggesting a crossover of sorts between the two franchises.

    @2: If I remember correctly, Valve hasn’t actually started Half-Life 3 or promised to make it, only that they’ll make it when the time is right. DNF got its reputation because of teams actually working on the game only to scrap the work and completely start over, over and over again, for a decade. I’d say FF15 is currently the new DNF until it actually releases. It’s the most high-profile game people actually want that’s been on the backburner for the longest, with Last Guardian as the next closest.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. DarkElfa

    Lets be honest though Salarta, not making a sequel to something that deserves it can do as much damage to a company as making a bad one.

    I’m not going to say for a fact that I know which companies have high integrity but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say none of them. Valve is mostly a private company which is why they’ve been able to make these kinds of decisions or else we’d be up to HL7 by now and probably Freeman Cart 2.

    When you don’t have to please share holders, you can afford to sit on an IP as long as you deem it necessary but eventually you still need to either shit or get off the pot. I’m all for quality but Gabe has been on the pot so long that by this point he’s probably lost all feeling in his thighs.

    …and with that, I leave you with a mental image of Gabe’s naked thighs. You’re welcome.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. domnage

    This article has 11 paragraphs, 3 facebook likes and 9 retweets as I’m writing this.

    3+9=12, 11×12 = 132.

    1 >3< 2…

    HL3 confirmed.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Panthro

    They are treating half life 3 like the treat half life 2 ‘we wont release it until we think its the best game ever made’

    And for the ‘this is the new duke nukem forever’ joke nahh not really, its not like HL3 has been passed around, butchered and released as a pile of shit.

    Valve can simply take as long as they want, I would prefer to have something in which they have tried to create something astonishing than to rush it to provide something to the fans.

    After all; it isn’t Valves fault that the game has been hyped the way it has, its all the fans.

    It hasn’t helped that they haven’t released any real info of course but we can all rest assured its been getting developed for all these years, I am just expecting something as awesome as HL2.

    + with all that has came out of the source engine you should be bowing to Valve for indirectly creating something which has stayed alive for all these years.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. manamana

    The picture shows 3 eyes …

    You know the deal.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. BULArmy

    The biggest problem with HL3 is the expectations. Everybody is expecting something different from the other guy. Some of the masses will want the game to stick to no aim down sight other will say that this is too outdated. Regeneration health, other gameplay mechanics, overall story, everyone wants HL3 to be the most special thing ever and it is picturing it in their minds. And this will not happen, because people have different tastes.

    In a way Valve are also culprits here. If they just had released Ep.3 most probably a lot of people would have been satisfied to a point, I would have been. Now we are stuck with a huge cliffhanger that was done outside the main series, which is just lazy. Valve had the momentum, but by around mid-2009 they’ve lost it all.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. manamana

    My guess is as good as Brenna’s, which is that Valve needs something revolutionary to make a bang. They can’t go ‘better graphics’ or ‘facial expression’ stuff. So what about a VR HL3, where you actually ‘in’ the gaming world? Or an open world MMO?

    At the moment I would also prefer no new HL instead a mediocre one. But then, it’s Valve. Mediocrity isn’t what they are after …

    #9 1 year ago
  10. Panthro

    All these people on every forum who says things like:

    -Valve have lost momentum for HL3

    -HL3 is to over hyped now

    -It will be just like Duke Nukem Forever

    -Im not looking forward to it anymore, it has been too long.

    Will be eating there words when that first glorious teaser gets released to the public

    They will arched over there computers; eyes wide open, erections bursting out of there jeans spamming ‘pre order’ on steam until they have just overcharged there credit account having paid for 316 copies.

    ^ Mild exaggeration but I bet it something pretty fucking close.

    Its not overhyped or long overdue, it will come when it comes and when it does it will be the most pre-ordered game in the history of game pre-orders and it probably wont even have a pre-order incentive. BOOM.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Klaxusprime

    Exclusive steam os. Nuff said

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Dirk

    @3
    SE said something about not remaking FF7 until they’ve made a better game.
    http://www.vg247.com/2012/06/26/wada-final-fantasy-vii-remake-would-kill-franchise/

    If Valve release HL3, there’d be little reason to talk about them anymore. I read more mentions of HL3 or Steam than I do of Valve.

    I was recently replaying HL2 on hard, it really is hard, I’m so used to regenerating health and shields that it was quite a shock, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was waiting for my shields to recharge at one point, I could have sworn they recharged a little bit.
    Enemies come at you from all directions, you need to have quick reflexes and be accurate, ammo is fairly scarce at times, it’s just a classic PC FPS. Saying that it is quite removed from the current trend of 4 hour “cinematic” shooters.

    It’s a shame that Valve haven’t allowed for another Opposing Force or Blue Shift type of expansion.
    I’d be happy if they tried to get more SIN Episodes made

    #12 1 year ago
  13. DUFFKING

    @2 HL3 isn’t remotely comparable with DNF. DNF was announced, trailered and shown off repeatedly. Then disappeared. Then announced, trailered and shown off. Then disappeared. Then announced, trailered, shown off… and disappeared again. Before finally reappearing and getting released.

    HL3 hasn’t even been announced, or even confirmed being worked on.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. lolatfanboys

    Half Life 2 was just another Half Life, just with pretty graphics/physics.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Talkar

    “Valve could do that, pumping out a few more episodes or even a full sequel to keep the clamouring to a minimum. But it’d be doing something it has never done before”
    Yeah, we all remember the perfect Counter Strike series, condition zero is widely recognized as the best CS game ever. The same can be said about Ricochet…

    #15 1 year ago
  16. manamana

    @14 yes, back then. Nowadays you need some more mojo than that, IMHO.

    But who knows, an outstanding storyline could make up for many graphical shizzles.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. redwood

    half life 3 confirmed!

    #17 1 year ago
  18. NiceFellow

    Given I and millions have backed this core franchise that enabled Valve to get where they are it better be… on Steambox.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. deathm00n

    @3 But it’s probably going to be a “crossover” of portal and half life. In the end of episode 2, they go looking for an shipwreck of a ship from Aperture Science that contains something powerful. And remember that Portal is in the same universe as Half Life. Black Mesa and Aperture where rivals, both were destroyed for some reason, one by a portal not working as it should and making aliens invade earth and the other by an rogue AI

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Pytox

    @12 yea I would love more Sin Episodes too :( that ending was such a bummer knowing there werent more episodes coming. Too bad that developer became an arcade studio or smth

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Spider Law

    Me being a die hard half-life fan, still playing Half-Life 1 and Half-life 2 deathmatch almost 10 hours a month, i can say i am no longer excited for Half-Life 3.
    It has taken too long and it has gotten annoying how there is never any word on it.

    When it comes out i will buy it for sure. But no, i am not waiting for it as i used to. Lets see if i even buy it if it takes any longer than 2016

    #21 1 year ago
  22. Panthro

    @21

    Dont be silly, regardless of when it comes out we are all still going to buy it.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Spider Law

    @22 Not so sure. maybe i will…but at that point….might wait till its $17.99

    #23 1 year ago
  24. Cort

    Just like TLG, this game is dead to me. I really don’t care any more, have moved on, and probably won’t bother with it when it does come. Games that take this long rarely turn out worth playing (that’s assuming it has been in development).

    (I remember finally getting my hands of GT5, after at least 400 hours on GT4, and discovering within an hour that it was a huge, bloated load of crap that should have been put out of its misery years before it went gold.)

    #24 1 year ago
  25. salarta

    @4: Not really. Not making a sequel to a game that deserves one is better than making one that damages the company’s reputation. It’s the same reason Squeenix thrives so much. When you have a past great glory and haven’t maimed it, fanboys and fangirls will stick by the company even through periods of complete shit because they still think of the company as how they were when they made something good. By taking that and utterly ruining it, the company reveals to the fanboys and fangirls that they’re no longer the same company that knew what the hell they were doing when they made that great thing. That leads them to actually question everything the company makes instead of lapping up everything that comes out, which leads to lower sales, which means less money for the company.

    Though you’re right that being a private company helps. Shareholders want their money, many don’t care about quality and view consumers as morons that will accept anything and find some excuse to make it acceptable in their heads. Sadly, sometimes they’re right.

    #25 1 year ago
  26. Andrew C.

    @10: You don’t know what you’re saying. Yes, Valve lost this years ago. Why do they need to have a “special” status regarding their games? Ohh, because they’re Valve. Right! There are other well respected companies out there who release games and sequels and they announce their shit and it’s a successful shit year after year, but NO, Valve needs to have extra BALLS to keep this shit for themselves.

    Just like @24 said, it’s dead to me and many many many other fans out there.

    Look at EA, yes EA, those scums who are responsible for the best FPS series ever (Battlefield). How come they’re successful every one-two years? The fan and player base it’s the same or grows to be even higher. How can they do it? Valve has the manpower, resources, computers, money, YOU NAME IT, why do they keep a game that has the potential of 2-3 AAA games combined? Because they’re Valve, right? FUCK THEM!

    #26 1 year ago
  27. dex3108

    I think that Valve is afraid to talk about HL3 because industry changed a lot since Episode 2 and gamers are expecting GOTG from HL3. Valve waited too long and now they are in big problem.

    #27 1 year ago
  28. darkxenobi

    Obviously we have mammoth expectations, HL came in 1998 when shooters felt like crap, it restored faith in gaming. Ever since, every FPS game on the planet started to ape HL, a saturation was naturally inevitable and HL2 cured that by introducing something new which was never seen or imagined in gaming, it had set a benchmark.

    This is 2013 and if we are still thinking that FPS gaming has reached its peak, who knows there is an unknown side of it that is yet to be touched,
    revolutions just dont happen overnight. It just wont be a HL game, it will not only surpass our towering expectations but take it somewhere beyond our wildest imaginations.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. fearmonkey

    Wait till a year or two into next gen and release it, take the time with the engine and take advantage of all the hardware without the growing pains. It’s smart to wait till the dev kits matured and such.

    I have high expectations but they aren’t ridiculous. I just need a game with the immersion of HL2 with next gen graphics and great writing. More Gordon adventures please.

    #29 1 year ago

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