Wait – let’s take a moment to think about that video. It was a promotion for “CLANG”, an ambitious game engine and control scheme co-created by very wordy author Neal Stephenson, that was one of Kickstarter’s earliest success stories. At least it was, until multiple delays and setbacks crippled public enthusiasm for the project, to the point that it was quietly shelved in 2014.
The realities of creation means that delays will be inevitable, but many feel that delays will automatically worsen the finished product, if not doom it to oblivion outright. Again, no one should know that better than us stalwart Half-Life fans: For years we’ve been searching through everything Valve says,for any sign of Half-Life 3, despite the fact that they’ve never even called it that in an official capacity. The follow up to Episode 2 has been delayed so long – seven and a half years from its original announced date – that gaming culture has collectively decided that the next game will have to be a full, standalone title to make up for that delay.
Decisions like this aren’t uncommon, when it comes to long-delayed projects in any medium. The need to compensate for the long wait has to be balanced with the need to make a timeless product that can resonate long after it was created, or else you get something like the notorious Duke Nukem Forever, the 2011 game originally planned for 1998, which was a full-length joke at its own expense in every sense of the word.
But if you do manage to achieve that balance, you can make something transcendent, something that stands head and shoulders over anything that could have been accomplished in the original time. The most recent mainstream example of a delay this successful lasted twice as long as the wait for HL3, and resulted in a movie some are calling the best of the decade so far – Mad Max: Fury Road. The gritty yet colorful 2015 summer blockbuster, that captured the Internet’s imagination like little else.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Most people know about the almost Biblical ordeal in the desert that “mastermind” George Miller had to endure to make the fourth film in his Mad Max mythology, but you might not have known that it took almost twenty extra years to get even that far.
Just as how leaked internal documents show Valve has shifted focus to a full-fledged Half-Life 3 from the shorter and more immediate Half-Life 2: Episode 3, the fourth installment of the Mad Max franchise was initially going to be a primetime TV show on the CW, of all things. The full story can be found at The Week, but the important part is that Miller’s plans changed drastically over the quarter-century of development that finally ended this May.
The Road To Fury Road
After giving up on television in the mid-1990s, Miller turned to more novel forms of storytelling: He had plans for a 2D animated Mad Max movie, which would take cues from The Iron Giant, Akira and Ghost In The Shell, with a Daggerfall-inspired free-roaming RPG video game helping to flesh out the world.
(You’re probably thinking that this is what led to the recent Mad Max sandbox game, but this was a happy coincidence – Avalanche Studios’ game became a licensed Mad Max title fairly late in development, and would have been almost completely disconnected from Fury Road if not for fan outcry and the movie’s success.)
After this idea proved too ambitious, Miller started developing ideas for a more conventional fourth movie in the franchise. One that would partner Max with a female Road Warrior, one that would feature the rise of an evil, hyper-militarized civilization in the post-apocalyptic desert…and one that would begin filming in late 2001. Now there’s some perspective for people complaining about Valve time – the turnaround for this single film was almost as long as Valve’s entire history of game development.
The earliest mockup of the City 17 Trainstation. Image courtesy of Combine Overwiki.
That’s when the real troubles started for Miller and his team: The 9/11 attacks made it impossible for him to import the filming equipment he needed from America. Other political issues made it impossible to film any of the movie for an entire decade. Mel Gibson, the movie’s prospective star, became one of the most notorious figures in Hollywood, and Miller’s first choice for the new hero was the late, lamented Heath Ledger.
At times, it felt like nature itself was trying to prevent the movie’s production – one of the reasons it was impossible to film for so long was that large parts of the Australian Outback weren’t usable locations for a lifeless post-apocalypse, because it had been raining in the desert.
Still On The Road
All of this probably sounds funny to you, but again, let’s think about perspective here. Imagine if you heard problems of this scale were happening a year ago, before there was any assurance that the movie would even come out at all. The cosmic injustices would feel a lot more unjust, the comedy of errors a lot less comedic without a happy ending.
Don’t Miss: HL3.txt: What’s in It and Should We Be Excited?
Which brings me to the point you saw in the title: That Valve has been thinking about every single bit of this since their announcement of Episode 3 back in 2006. And that the smashing success of Fury Road is the biggest validation of Valve’s approach to developing Half-Life that they could have asked for.
Like I’ve had to do a few times before, I need to set a few things straight: Half-Life 3 is being developed, even it hasn’t always been on the front burner. Just like Fury Road, it hasn’t always been in its present form – Episode 3 was in active development as late as 2008, at the least – but they’ve never been not making it.
Half-Life 3 T-Shirt
They’ve stuck to a policy of complete silence on the development of the game, explaining why so many believe they aren’t making it, but that makes more sense from their point of view. That story without the happy ending I was talking about? That’s how the development cycle of Half-Life since 2007 looks, at this very moment. And if they had been discussing it, you would have been along for the ride, experiencing every single disappointment, every scrapped concept and rejected gameplay idea would be as crushing for you as it was for the developers.
As it is, Half-Life 3 is without a doubt the single most anticipated game in the industry, if not of all time. Thousands of people who never played a game in the series are joking about the game’s announcement (or rather, confirmation).
But the second-most-anticipated game that’s actually in development is probably Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. That game has also been in development on and off since 2007, but has had a full record of all the stops and starts. Its announcement at E3 2015 was met with a mix of mild optimism and skepticism, with many still refusing to believe the game will actually be released.
When compared with the reception to complete surprises like Fury Road, Valve’s long-term thinking seems obvious. All the extra time it’s taken to make Half-Life 3 truly will end up being for the best, and people will be all the more interested in it when they finally do learn about Valve had to travel to complete the game.
Quite an optimistic piece. But all these years of waiting for HL:3, have made me loose the same optimism.