Saturday, November 16, 2019
In these uncertain and divided times we live in, it’s common for people to cling to the few constants in life. A new FIFA game launching each September, bad weather on the day you planned your barbecue, much-loved celebrities turning out to be wrong’uns. And, as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, every year or so a new Half-Life 3 rumour will appear. The internet will collectively lose its mind for all of ten minutes, before said rumour is solidly debunked and we all get back to the rat race, Half-Life 3 once again receding to the backs of our minds, becoming just a half-remembered dream until the next rumour consumes us once again.
There’s a reason the gaming community is so very desperate for any news on Half-Life 3 (or is that Half-Life 2: Episode 3? I don’t even know anymore) - and that’s because Half-Life 2 was bloody great. On this day, 15 years ago, Half-Life 2 released to commercial success and critical acclaim; to this day, Half-Life 2 is often spoken about when discussing the greatest games ever made, up there with Final Fantasy VII, Ocarina of Time and Mass Effect 2. We may never know the full story of why Half-Life 3 has taken so long, or if it will ever see the light of day. But we can have a look back at all the rumours that have brought us here over the last 15 years. Let’s get started, shall we?
Our first rumour, well, isn’t a rumour. It was official! Back in May 2006, GameSpot reported that Half-Life 2: Episode One had just gone gold, Episode Two was confirmed to be launching later in the year, and for the first time, Episode Three was announced. At the time, Valve stated that Episode Three would be the last in the trilogy, which would “conclude by Christmas of 2007.” Episode One went on to launch in June 2006, while Half-Life 2: Episode Two was delayed by a year, launching in October 2007. Episode Three, however, would never be seen again...or at least until 2008.
Just a concept?
We’re very used to Valve’s radio silence when it comes to Half-Life 3 these days, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in 2007 and 2008, Half-Life 2: Episode Three was very much a real game with real plans for release, and Valve had even spoken to Eurogamer saying that the game would hopefully arriving about 16-18 months after Episode Two. Our first glimpse at Episode Three, however, would come in 2008 when Kotaku reported on concept art of the game that had been posted on intothepixel.com, listed as Half-Life EP3. Only weeks before, Valve Marketing Director Doug Lombardi had confirmed that the game wouldn’t be shown at E3, but this didn’t stop the rumour train chugging along. Lombardi did go on to say that they might announce more information on Episode Three before the end of the year in an interview with Kikizo - this, of course, never materialised.
Silence will fall
We hit 2009, and this is when Valve’s silence on any Half-Life sequel, either Half-Life 2: Episode Three or Half-Life 3, begins. Official statements run thin, but in July 2009 a video was posted on Youtube showing Gabe Newell at a Valve focus-testing session. Here Gabe spoke about implementing sign language into the next Half-Life game, and the possibility of including a deaf character as a love interest for Alyx. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for fans to latch onto once again.
Dribs and drabs
We don’t see anything big for the next 12 months. Gabe Newell spoke to Edge magazine on multiple occasions in 2010, talking about how he wants future Half-Life games to be scary again, and that he doesn’t want to change Gordon Freeman from being a voiceless protagonist. Around this time we also start to see a trickle of Half-Life 2: Episode Three files and assets appearing in other Valve titles, such as Alien Swarm and the Source Engine.
Portal 2 takes the spotlight
It’s 2011, it’s four years out from when Episode Three was originally due to release and people have questions. Valve is releasing Portal 2 this year, which means that they are damn-near forced to talk to press, but all questions about the next Half-Life are swatted away. This is at odds with the Portal 2 dev team it seems, who have included some sneaky reference to Half-Life’s Black Mesa into their game. Mixed messaging, at the very least.
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Portal 2, reported on by a young Geoff Keighley still of GameTrailers fame, had Keighley stating that “Portal 2 will probably be Valve’s last game with an isolated single-player experience.” This was deemed a provocative statement at the time, and also painted a worrying future for Half-Life going forward, but to this day it has pretty much been proven true. Valve has only released games in the multiplayer focused DOTA, Counter-Strike and Left 4 Dead series since, with a couple of small VR titles and the multiplayer card game Artifact released last year.
If the world ends in 2012, Half-Life 3 will still be delayed
Leaks, rumours, mistakes, 2012 had them all! First we got some more leaked concept art from Episode Three, this time focusing on characters and NPCs who could have appeared in the game. There were snowy areas and people in big wooly coats and hats, leading many to believe that the game would take place in some sort of frozen tundra. Then the official Gamescom 2012 website really dropped the ball, mistakenly listing Half-Life 3 as one of the ‘new products’ to appear at the show. It didn’t take long for the organisers to confirm this mistake, but for a brief, wistful moment it looks like we were about to get an official announcement for Half-Life 3. Then the big one - in September 2012, a source close to Valve did what had to be done, and leaked a load of information relating to Half-Life 3. This unnamed source spoke about the game’s very chaotic development, describing a game that had originally been a pure shooter but eventually, after many revisions, morphed into an open-world game with ‘quests and NPCs’. Finally, the source claimed that Half-Life 3 would come after 2013, suggesting that it could even be a next-gen release. Remind me, did that end up happening? I feel like I would remember that happening.
The accidental troll
Rumours continued to bubble beneath the surface over the next couple of years, but no official announcement came. Half-Life 2: Episode Three was mostly a forgotten memory - if you were talking about a future Half-Life game, you were talking about Half-Life 3. In 2013, a European trademark application was filed by Valve, stoking the fires of hope that we might see something, anything about Half-Life 3 soon. In the same year, a Steam developer accidentally trolled the gaming community, accidentally posting a fake news story about Half-Life 3 getting an internal beta while testing news-posting features on Steam.
Silence is broken
In 2014, Counter-Strike co-creator Minh Le ending up talking about a load of upcoming Valve games, including Left 4 Dead 3 and, most importantly, Half-Life 3. You would assume that the Valve snipers would have been out in force had Le said too much, and you would be right!
When asked about Half-Life 3, Le responded “There’s like a laser sight on my head right now! I don’t think I can talk about that, to be honest, but I think it’s kind of public knowledge, that people know that it is being worked on.
“And so if I were to say that yeah, I’ve seen some images, like some concept art of it, that wouldn’t be big news to be honest.
“But yeah, I mean like I guess I could say that I did see something that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe. And I mean it wouldn’t surprise anyone if I said they’re doing it, they’re working on it, yeah. So to go on a limb I’d say I did see some concept art for Half-Life 3.
“Somebody’s knocking on my door right now!” he later said. “Hopefully that doesn’t get out. It seems like old news by now, I think everybody knows it’s being worked on.”
Reading that back, it almost makes it sound like Half-Life 3 was an actual game that existed, doesn’t it? But neither Left 4 Dead 3 or Half-Life 3 have yet come to fruition. The further we get away from that original announcement, the less it feels like it was ever real in the first place.
Gamescom, we meet again
We’re down the rabbit hole now people. How far does the conspiracy go? What don’t Valve want us to know? It’s 2016 and in the days leading up to Gamescom, one large poster was spotted, right next to another for Titanfall 2. And written on this poster, against an orange (box?) background, were clearly the words ‘Half-Life: 3’.
Unfortunately, this turned out to be another troll, and an intentional one this time. If you read the small print, this was actually a very clever advert for a panel named ‘Half-Life: 3 editors who played it back then.’ Half-Life hearts were broken, but someone at that advertising agency almost certainly got a promotion.
New light was shone on Half-Life 3 and Valve in 2017, but some mixed reports made nothing any clearer - the future was still murky for the improbable game. Game Informer published a detailed report searching for Half-Life 3, and in an interview with an anonymous Valve employee, Half-Life fans were dealt probably their biggest blow so far.
“There is no such thing as Half-Life 3. Valve has never announced a Half-Life 3,” they said. “Anything else that we might think about as a full game or sequel has never been promised.”
Ouch. Everything seemed to be pointing towards the unthinkable - there may never be a Half-Life 3. However, a Reddit AMA with Gabe Newell himself only a week later reopened old wounds, and people started to have hope once again. When asked if there was any chance of a new IP that takes place in the Half-Life and Portal universe, Gabe simply replied “Yep”. And when later asked if Valve was still working on any full-fledged single-player games, Newell once again responded with a “Yes”. There were, of course, more direct questions about Half-Life 3 and Half-Life 2: Episode Three, but Newell only replied that “The number 3 must not be said”. He must be as sick of it as we are, at this point.
The Writers Strike Back
Another blow to the internet’s hopes came in 2017, when it was revealed that there were no more Half-Life writers remaining at Valve. Then, even later in 2017, Half-Life 1 and 2 writer Marc Laidlaw posted a short story on his personal website. This was an extremely thinly disguised outline of his original plans for how Half Life 2: Episode Three would conclude the story of the first two episodes. The story was so popular with fans that the sheer volume of traffic crashed his site for a while - some fans have even gone on to try and create their own version of Episode Three using Laidlaw’s story as a template - the fan project is known as Project Borealis.
A New Hope
2019. It appears all hope is lost. But maybe, just maybe, there is a spark burning ever so slightly over at Valve. January this year brought the return of former Half-Life writer Eric Wolpaw to Valve, following shortly behind Jay Pinkerton who had already been brought back into the fold. Many have speculated they may have been brought back in for the rumoured Half-Life VR game. Others think it could be Half-Life 3. I think it’s hope.
Because no matter what happens, no matter what evidence there is to suggest that Half-Life 3 will never come, you can never fully douse those flames. People will believe, no matter what, and even the smallest hint of a speck of a rumour will get people believing all over again. The persistence of Half-Life 3 rumours is testament to humanity's stubbornness, and I think that’s kind of amazing.
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