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Gabe Slice – On Half-Life 3’s Release and Context

Discussion & Analysis Half-Life

This is an editorial by Lilgreenman discussing the community’s reactions to Gabe Newell’s most recent comments about the future of the Half-Life series that were made at GDC 2015 as part of the first episode of the GameSlice podcast hosted by Geoff Keighley. All views expressed in this article are his own.

Gabe Slice – On Half-Life 3’s Release and Context

If you think about it, most of the problems in the world can be traced back to willful ignorance. Ignorance of scientific data, or ignorance of other people’s problems, or ignorance of your own problems…ignorance of the truth, which they prioritize lower than keeping their opinion.

The internet has caused hundreds of problems in our everyday lives, but it’s eliminated thousands more. As a good example, people are still ignorant, all over the web (go to any website that discusses politics even in the slightest!), but though they have a justification, with the itinerant, instant gratification mindset encouraged by Twitter and news sites, they have much less of an excuse. All the answers are literally at your fingertips, and it’s only due to good old-fashioned apathy that you don’t look for them.

A Google News Search for 'Half-Life 3'

A Google News Search for ‘Half-Life 3′

…Man, that was a polarizing and self-important way to start an article about nerds arguing about a popular video game that no one has ever played. But it is a real good example of just what I’m talking about. When Gabe Newell talked about Valve’s future in the inaugural episode of Gameslice, Geoff Keighley’s new podcast, he made some comments on why games are made by Valve, not just how.

See Also: Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson Sit down in New Internet Podcast ‘GameSlice’

The statement that everyone has picked up on comes roughly 42 minutes into the interview, when Gabe talked about the frustration among the community from the lack of official information on future Valve projects.

“The only reason we’d go back and do a super classic kind of product is if a whole bunch of people internally at Valve said they wanted to do it and had a reasonable explanation for why it was. If you want to do another Half-Life game and you want to ignore everything we’ve learned, you know, in shipping Portal 2, and all the updates on the multiplayer side, you know, that seems like a bad choice.”

- Gabe Newell

Now, if you’re on this site, chances are you’re quite a bit more informed about Half-Life than the average gamer. So you know that Half-Life 3 is in active development, and have been for some time now.

See Also: Episode 3 AI Nodes found in the Alien Swarm SDK

…what, you don’t think that’s true? Well you’re just plain wrong. First off, Half-Life 3 is in development because let’s face it – it would be stupid and illogical on Valve’s part to not develop it. Simple as that.

Half-Life 3, do you believe?

Half-Life 3, do you believe?

Second, that oft-stated notion that Valve is now solely focused on microtransactions and Steam revenue, and so has completely abandoned single player experience? Yeeeeeeeeah, NO. Valve has done some pretty money-grubbing things in the past, but at their heart they’ve always had a very auteur spirit. Just look at Mr. Keighley’s earlier work, The Final Hours of Half-Life 2, where he explains the spirit behind the game’s development:

“Newell told the team that, at least initially, they had a virtually unlimited budget and absolutely no time pressure. ‘There’s going to be no producer making bad decisions about what has to happen on this project,’ Newell told the team. All the money Valve made on the original Half-Life would be rolled into the sequel. And since Newell was well-off from his days at Microsoft, he was willing to personally endow the development if necessary. ‘The only pressure we have is to build a worthy sequel to Half-Life.’ “

Valve is a multi-billion dollar company, they know they don’t need more money, and they’ve said on several occasions that their turn toward microtransactions was the culmination of their foray into “Entertainment as a service” that started even before Half-Life 2’s release. They exist to serve the gaming community above all else, just like they always have. And the gaming community wants Half-Life 3, so Valve is working hard on it.

Next, let’s address the comment from Gabe about only making Half-Life 3 if people at Valve want to. This lines up with what we do know about Half-Life immediately after Episode 2 in 2007 – namely, that after several years of Half-Life having complete priority among Valve’s many projects, the development team was collectively burned out on the game.

And so, immediately after the release of The Orange Box, Valve collectively shut down for almost three months, and broke up into small specialized teams to pursue very specific and innovative projects. When the company reconvened in early 2008, there were so many interesting ideas on display that projects were immediately started to turn them into full fledged games. Several of these concepts are evident in Valve’s subsequent releases – the AI Director, Portal 2’s gel rendering, and its backstory of Aperture Science all owe their creation to this period of directed design.

Portal 2

Portal 2

This is what I mean when I say Valve wants to serve the gaming community: They felt that this project, resulting in “More innovation in a few months than most devs would see in their lifetimes”, would be better for everyone involved than a half-hearted, passionless end to the grand Half-Life 2 story. And that was pretty much static until roughly 2011, when the hype for Portal 2 was soured somewhat by longtime fans complaining that they were neglecting their flagship franchise, and some developers realized that they agreed, and joined the relative skeleton crew that had been on the project up until then.

Since then we’ve seen a steady trickle of accidentally released code and assets for post-Episode 2 Half-Life games, but absolutely nothing about those is any surprise, or hint at changes to the series. This is where Gabe’s second comment comes in, and the one people are outright misinterpreting instead of just taking out of context:

“If you want to do another Half-Life game and you want to ignore everything we’ve learned, you know, in shipping Portal 2, and all the updates on the multiplayer side, you know, that seems like a bad choice.”

What people don’t seem to realize is that not only are Valve making Half-Life 3, but they’re making it to be just as much of a literal and figurative game-changer that the other games in the series have been. When Gabe is talking about “another Half-Life”, he means the picture of Half-Life 3 most of us have in our minds – ‘basically the same game as Half-Life 2, maybe with some Advisors as enemies, and better graphics I guess.’

Half-Life 2: Episode 3 concept artwork, released 2007

Half-Life 2: Episode 3 concept artwork, released 2007

When we do see what the game will eventually look like, it won’t conform to our expectations, but it also won’t be shackled to all the next-gen trends, and it definitely won’t be something on the order of D00M (The under-wraps reboot of Doom), which is so devoted to a retro aesthetic that if features double-jumps and larger-than-life floating power-ups.

So, that’s the story. Bottom line: Don’t take comments out of context like that, and stop mourning the demise of Half-Life 3, because it’s obviously on its way. In fact, what Gabe said in the podcast only makes me more anxious to see it soon, as if that’s possible.

 

What are your thoughts on the topic? Let’s hear in the comments below.

8 Comments

  1. Commenter AvatarCROCODILE DEATHSPEEDApril 4th 2015 at 10:53am

    Most of this article sounds like wishful thinking. Kinda like the Coué method. It’s well argumented and clever though, and I really hope you are right.
    And also that Half-Life 3 isn’t to Half-Life 2 what Diablo 3 is to Diablo 2…

  2. Valve is a different company now than the one who sold the Orange Box then. They have shifted their development to multiplayer-driven mechanics. Portal 2 was an exception; however, the impetus to develop that game was in small part to integrate a shared experience Valve employees were having with family and friends playing Portal 1. Half-Life 3 hasn’t been released yet because Valve hasn’t figured out how to marry a multiplayer-driven mechanic to the series and that’s their problem. Judging the huge opportunity cost and high difficulty of developing the game, Valve consciously or unconsciously, think that the profit is in not wasting resources finding a solution to that problem and further releasing games which design themselves by brute-force (multiplayer).

    I think they will release Half-Life 3 but only out of the necessity of pulling the story from the cliffhanger they left in Episode 2. To best sum up this: I don’t want to play a Bethesda Studios-developed Elder Scrolls VI: MMO; I don’t want to play Half-Life 3: MMO.

    • Forgive me, but did you read all the way through the article?

      “That oft-stated notion that Valve is now solely focused on microtransactions and Steam revenue, and so has completely abandoned single player experience? Yeeeeeeeeah, NO. Valve has done some pretty money-grubbing things in the past, but at their heart they’ve always had a very auteur-driven spirit. Valve is a multi-billion dollar company, they know they don’t need more money, and they’ve said on several occasions that their turn toward microtransactions was the culmination of their foray into “Entertainment as a service” that started even before Half-Life 2’s release. They exist to serve the gaming community above all else, just like they always have. And the gaming community wants Half-Life 3, so Valve is working hard on it.”

      I’ll just say you’re wrong and there’s lots of evidence to back that up.

      • I read all of your article, and that particular passage I strongly disagreed with. In fact, it’s a contradictory paragraph. In one sentence you’re claiming that Valve Corporation have an “auteur-driven spirit” and in another, that they “serve the gaming community”. You cannot be both an auteur and a servant to the gaming community: the definition of an auteur precludes subservience.

        I don’t see any evidence that supports the assertion “the gaming community wants Half-Life 3, so Valve is working hard on it”. I don’t think there’s any onus on me to prove that the gaming community has wanted another installment of Half-Life; it’s basically a truism. So, has Valve been working hard on it? It’s close to 8 years since the release of Episode 2 and close to 11 years since the release of Half-Life 2. Episode 3 was scraped. If even you factor in the unanticipated long cycle last generation consoles had had as a delay, that still doesn’t establish any haste on the part of Valve to develop Half-Life 3. On the contrary, I’ve read a lot of ancetodal evidence that the majority of Valve’s workforce is working on other projects than Half-Life. Since the release of Episode 2, Valve have developed L4D, L4D 2, CS: GO, DOTA2, and Portal 2. Portal 2 is the only exception in a list of games driven by competitive and/or co-operative multiplayer (and as I said, the development of Portal 2 was inspired by co-operative experiences Valve employees had had with Portal 1 and therefore, the inclusion of co-op in Portal 2).

        Gabe Newell actually bluntly states that they would need motivation and manpower and a very good reason to “go back” to develop a “super classic” product. That suggests to me they left behind something: that could be the form of Half-Life 2, Episode 1, and 2 or the single-player experience itself. Of course, I hope that it’s the former.

        • OK, your concerns are making more sense now. But I just don’t think your “anecdotal evidence” has much weight when compared to the few concrete glimpses we’ve seen of Valve’s inner workings. Remember all those shelved products, like Prospero, Stars of Blood or the fairy-interface game that would eventually become Left 4 Dead? They have a very heavily single-player bent. This is why I call Valve an auteur company – they want each of their releases to be to the highest of standards, and the simple fact is that multiplayer games have lower standards and are thus more likely to make it through this process.

          The way to reconcile the contradictory claims about what Valve does is that they’re connected with their community in a way few other triple-A developers are. They hire auteurs, but auteurs who are also amateurs and so have a close connection with the fandom that leads to products that the fans might not know they want until they have it.

          That list you made, of all the post-Episode 2 games Valve has made, are mostly games made by tiny, fan-based indie studios (Turtle Rock, Hidden Path and Icefrog) that they’ve essentially given the blockbuster treatment. The only games completely developed from start to finish by Valve are Left 4 Dead 2 (which they admit was a sort of internal challenge rather than a real complete product) and Portal 2 (which just proves my point about wanting to serve the community while still being artistic).

  3. I’m honestly not expecting Half-Life 3 to be seen in the next decade (and maybe not even the one after). This might look sad at first sight but I would prefer to stay with a timeless memory of a great game than saying “I was disapointed by the sequel” (I’m looking at you Duke Nukem).

    With how crowded the fps market is in its current state, I can agree that Valve do not want to make a generic shooter that everybody will play once through the story; they want to bring fresh blood to the genre.
    Fresh blood you say? Yes, and how? That’s exactly the problem Valve is facing since the release of Portal 2. They have to figure this out. Is the SteamOS ecosystem the next stuff? Will VR bring us the future of Half-Life? Should the next Half-Life be a MOBA because shooters are too mainstream and everybody seems to rage on those games (obvious trolling – definitely)?

    Currently I’m seeing Valve touching a bit of everything in every domain and observe the reaction from the market and gamers to see where to head to for the upcoming years.

    • I think we’re going to see it way sooner than that. They just made Source 2 official, and I think part of the wait has been due to them not having the technology available to them in Source 1 to do some of the things they wanted to do. As Gabe said back in 2011 or whenever it was, they were then and have continued to be developing a new engine, and were waiting for a game to ship with it, and I have a suspicion that they’re going to do with L4D3 what they did with CSS back in the day, and release it shortly before HL3 and at the same time as they officially launch Source 2, and I think all of this is going to happen actually fairly soon. The announcement might be as soon as this summer, even.

      I may be completely crazy for even thinking that, but if so, call me Loopy McNuckingfuts, ’cause I’m standing by it.

  4. some paragraphs make me sad others happy. very good. thanks for informing me

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