Most budding game franchises have a big problem to contend with. If the first game is great, and the second game is crap, then there’s little reason to make a third game since your second game screwed the pooch. On the other hand, if your first game is good and your second game is even better, and your third game isn’t a paragon of gaming excellence then people will hate it. Just ask the developers at Bioware after they launched Mass Effect 3.
Such is the case with Half-Life 3. The original Half-Life, released nearly two decades ago, was a monumental accomplishment in video game storytelling. Half-Life 2 continued the first game’s legacy by creating a near cinematic experience married to the fast-paced action of a classic first person shooter. Both games received critical acclaim upon their release, as well as inspiring countless mods and ports to all available console systems. Until Half-Life 3 can top both of the original games we are unlikely to see its release.
But does this mean not now, or not ever? Has Half-Life 3 stolen Duke Nukem’s crown as the poster child for vaporware, or will we see Gordon Freeman’s vengeful crowbar once more?
Let’s go over what we know.
Does Half-Life 3 Even Exist?
This one’s a tricky one to answer, but we’re pretty sure that Valve has got enough elements of a game to call it Half-Life 3.
In March of 2008, shortly after the release of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, concept art for Episode 3 was leaked online. Valve originally stated they would release more episodic content after Episode 2, but soon after it was revealed, the company decided to abandon the episodic release schedule in favor of simply creating game properties (such as DOTA 2) that they could iteratively improve with shorter development cycles. Episode 3 would then become synonymous with Half-Life 3.
PREVIOUSLY: THE ORIGINAL HALF LIFE JUST GOT AN UPDATE
From 2008 to 2010, Gabe Newell, the President of Valve, would freely allude to the existence of Half-Life 3, and what it would entail. He would reference the game in an interview near the end of 2009, and twice more in 2010. As we’ll find out shortly, Newell prefers not to comment on something that doesn’t exist, so we can assume at the time Half-Life 3 was certainly under development.
How Far Along Is Half-Life 3?
As it’s been 10 years since the release of Episode 2 with virtually nothing from Valve to confirm its status, it’s difficult to say how much of Half-Life 3 exists. We know that concept art exists from their leak in 2008, but the best of our knowledge on Half-Life 3’s development comes from an exposé done in 2015.
Posted on YouTube channel The Know, the short video alleges to have insider information at Valve from an anonymous source. The source states that a team of 100 developers in 2009 was pared down to a mere 10 as the staff was redistributed to work on other projects (like Portal 2). The script and story of Half-Life 3 had been written, but the source goes on to say that Valve has little economic incentive to develop the game further as they already have plenty of income from Steam and other game titles.
Why Does Valve Say Nothing About Half-Life 3?
To understand this, you have to understand part of the culture at Valve. Unlike many companies that have absolutely no problem with hyping a game early in the development cycle, Valve prefers to keep things close to their chest.
Their silence is strategic. As Newell explains in a Reddit AMA, Valve has a tendency to change or even outright cancel games much further in their development cycle than other companies. If a Valve employee were to confirm that some aspect of Half-Life 3 was completed and how awesome it was, only to be shelved a few months later, the disappointment to fans would be far reaching. In a way, it's better to not say anything at all in that regard.
Is Valve Just Trolling Us?
Newell has famously used every opportunity to joke about the development of Half-Life 3, but it actually goes much further than that. The company itself has taken the vaporware gag and just rolled with it.
In 2011, a Half-Life 3 T-shirt was seen being worn by a Valve employee at game development conference. Later in 2012, Garry Newman, the creator of the famed Garry’s Mod, is also seen with a t-shirt. A poster at Valve advertising a Half-Life 3 release party is later revealed to be an April Fool’s day prank that was made some time ago, so that it could be rolled out every year.
The desire for Half-Life 3 has gotten strong enough that Valve can troll us.
So Why Isn’t Valve Actively Developing Half-Life 3?
We’ve already mentioned that Valve has no good business reason to develop the game, and there is the very real concern that Half-Life 3 will fall victim to unfavorable comparisons with its predecessors, regardless of its quality. But there’s one more reason Valve isn’t putting more resources into the game.
Each of the previous titles in the series in some way broke new technological ground in gaming. The original Half-Life was a graphical and narrative marvel for the time period, and Half-Life 2 tested a game engine that would spawn dozens of other games. Both were only released when Valve was sure that the product was both quality and innovative.
One of those factors is simply missing from Half-Life 3, and given the quality we’ve come to expect from Valve, it’s most likely the innovation. It would be a simple matter to release another first-person shooter in the same vein as the original games, but Valve is not a company that likes to tread on ground already covered. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that Valve is waiting for nascent virtual reality technologies to get to the point where Half-Life can return as a trailblazer for all games to follow.
Until then, all we can do is wait for our crowbar wielding hero to return.