Thoughts on Half-Life 3 (May 2014)




It pains me to think this, but we may never see Half-Life 3. It would have to be a game that exceeds all expectations. Its been in the danger zone. I feel with Valve. With so much riding on this release, they are going to get significant flak even if it's a good game. Its been 7 years! 7 years since Half Life 2: Episode 2 (2007). Do you realize how long that is? And it's been 10 years since Half-Life 2 (2004). In my opinion, Episode 1 and 2 were not sequels at all. They were just reusing the same engine and technology, without really pushing the story forward as much as a full blown game.

Allow me to explain why it's extremely difficult for Valve to release HL3 now.

It's a technology limitation. As an engine, Source 2 would have to be so realistic that you'd puke by just seeing it. If it looks like an upgraded Unreal Engine 4, it's going to be a bust. It can't look like anything out there. It has to be ground breaking. Why? Because they're selling the engine first, then the game. Source 1 was a platform that enabled modding by simple users. Source Film Maker for example shows all of Valve's intentions. They don't want to make a "game" and call it a day. It needs to be something so significant, so connected, that it actually works. Steam OS for example is an ambitious technology. So is TF2 with its user created hats now. Valve wants to dominate the market. They want to be the market. The technology is just not there yet. The title Halflife and innovation go hand in hand. Without innovation the game plummets and there are reduced sales.Think of all the games that have come out recently. Which one truly innovated or changed our entire perception of how games are played? Mass Effect? not really, it's a shooter rpg with an amazing story. Titanfall? sort of, it introduced verticality. But when you think Portal, that strikes as innovation.Hell Half life 1 erased the concept of a cut scene. HL2 brought physics and the gravity gun, how to truly interact with the environment. And Portal made all humanity think differently about the way portals can work. That's what Valve is after in its games. Huge changes that make you say WOW. Sadly there aren't many opportunities to wow people. Especially in a highly connected world. A game , no matter how innovative it is, will not gain the praise Valve is seeking. Games like flappy bird are the "wow" now. Valve knows this. It wants to sell...it's a business...has employees to pay. Not reinvent the wheel every 5 years or so. That's why it's hard to imagine HL3. Whatever they release will be analyzed with a magnifying glass. To them it's a lost battle. As HL3 alone will be undoubtedly a lost battle. Most people forgot who the hell Gordon Freeman is. All that marketing and investment made to remind people of the story and the HL universe is useless now. They would have to start from zero. All the new kids who have never ever played any HL, would have to be reintroduced to that universe. That ominous dystopian world. Every FPS today is dystopian and ominous. Releasing HL3 now would be a huge mistake. Only the die hard fans will care, but the rest will say "meh it's the same like X and Y."
Companies like Activision and EA are ruthless because they know the name of the game. Valve needed to be ruthless to cash in. But they can't be ruthless, because it's not how they do things. I think of Valve as a musician.

Me : "So when is your new track coming out?"
Valve: "You can't rush art"

That's the mistake that Valve made. It put itself in the "art" zone with regards to HL. It made a game that is so successful that anything after has to exceed it. You can see their anxiety from Portal 1 and 2. They just mention it's in the same universe, but don't bring anything to connect them truly. They're so afraid to touch HL in any way lest they ruin it. It's like HL is radioactive, kind of ironic. Their window of success is so small at the moment. They either hit it big or go home.
Of course whatever they release will be a success, but it's not the success Valve is looking for. You hear about the theory of Portal 3, Left 4 Dead 3 and Half Life 3 being released at the same time. That's plausible, but it means they would compete with themselves. When looking at the people who play first person shooters. It's a small percentage of people that will play all 3 full blown games and dedicate their time.l. It makes more sense to release them individually or.....put them all together in one single game. Now that sounds like a project that could take 10 years to make.
Even then, say Valve releases a new triple A title. Microsoft with all its might released Halo 4 and it wasn't as popular as Call of Duty or GTA V for example. The games have changed and the people have changed.Releasing a title that big would mean competing with the rest of the gang. Succumbing to all the same rules. Next gen graphics vs. old gen. music score. Metacritic. Zeropunctuation. All that jazz.

Definitely Valve will not throw away years and millions of dollars worth of content. They'll keep it. Assessing the market every year to see if it can be released or not.

Gabe: "So guys, is it the window we're looking for?"
Marketing team: "Sorry Gaben, not this year, too many consoles, too many games, we really want to push our distribution platform first, we got Origin and Uplay bugging us. And we haven't even touched this whole mobile app market."
Gabe: "Can't some of you guys make a better game than flappy bird?"
Design team: "We're trying sir, as hard as we can, the problem is you can't get simpler than flappy bird. You can't predict what's the next giant thing is. It's not about being a better game also"
Gabe:"ok, then here is what we do. Since we have millions invested in our hardware and teams, why don't we just work on our existing games and distribution. That way when we release HL3 *lol*, our platform would be supporting it"

You see what I'm talking about? It's too risky. It's not their fault. If it were up to them , they'd be pumping out Half life every year, like how Assassin's Creed is right now. Be happy that it's not out yet. Be happy that it may never come out. Half Life 2 was the best game I ever played. Bar none. It was incredible. But as you recall, the mysterious character GMan was interesting because he was mysterious. It's about the chase. If we find out in Half life 3, he's a pan-dimensional Bestbuy manager, we'll all feel ripped off. If they tell us he's a pancake, we'll still be pissed. It's been so long that everyone has a solid image in their head, to change that would mean risking even more fan rage. Fan rage, the likes you've never seen before. You see how pissed everyone is about the game not being released. Imagine if it's released and it sucks. World War....wait some people can't count to 3.....Let's just say another World War.

A part of me doesn't want it to be released. Look what Michael Bay did to Transformers. That's what Valve will do. It will be all new stuff and the original fan base will not like it. It's just human nature. They'll make a new fan base. But why do it with Half life. Why not do it with their existing stuff, or even create new games.
Dota 2 for example.

Tell me why should Valve even care about us fans? Really. Because we buy their stuff? The market has become like a Chinese kiosk selling noodles in China. There are so many new people passing by that even if the seller gave you wooden sticks and called them noodles, your customer satisfaction doesn't mean anything to him since there are literally a billion more people passing by. That's where Valve is at right now.

But since Valve are nice folks, they do care, and don't want it to be a bust. So they're waiting for the right time. The one thing I know is that when Valve announces the game, it will be perfectly timed.


I want them to prove me wrong.



Maybe we still have.......
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Time, Dr. Freeman? 


** Update ** March 4th 2015. So it's been almost a year since I posted this. Valve just announced Source 2. Finally, it took them a long time. So since I wrote this article, the market has shifted. VR could be the next thing, and maybe, just maybe HL3 can exist in this space. Combine Source 2 with a steam controller and a quality VR experience and there you might have the edge that valve is looking for. 

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