Valve explains why it tried and failed to make multiple Half-Life 3s

Polycount

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Valve is returning to the Half-Life series (and game making) with a vengeance, and it's using Half-Life: Alyx as an opportunity to discuss its long and troubled history with this franchise. According to Valve's Robin Walker, the core reason Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life 2: Episode 3) doesn't exist -- yet -- is that they simply haven't been able to make the right game just yet.

Indeed, Walker says Valve has actually tried to make Half-Life 2: Episode 3 on multiple occasions, but none of the attempts quite met the lofty expectations of the developers. The Half-Life games, Walker believes, are intended to create an interesting experience at the intersection between technology and art. He wants them to truly move the industry forward in some way, or at least experiment with some unique concepts.

Half-Life 1, for example, was an attempt to tell "more interesting stories" with shooters; effectively proving that they could be more than a series of mindless action sequences. Half-Life 2 (And its respective episodes) focused more on character development and toying with physics -- physics-based puzzle game Portal was likely the culmination of the lessons Valve learned during its work on Half-Life 2.

In other words, just making Half-Life 2: Episode 3 wasn't enough for Valve. They wanted something bigger and better, and simply couldn't find the right format to make that work -- until now, in a sense. Half-Life Alyx once again provided Valve with an opportunity to push a genre forward, and by all accounts, it's done so successfully: Alyx is already being referred to as one of the first true "killer apps" for the VR platform (though games like Boneworks and Beat Saber are also strong contenders).

Of course, it's still no Half-Life 3 (or Episode 3). Yes, it features many of the same characters as the first couple of games, but Alyx is a prequel, not a sequel, and its VR-only nature has alienated a large portion of the Half-Life fanbase. Nonetheless, Valve has made it clear that Alyx represents a return to the Half-Life franchise, not an end to it. We can almost certainly expect to see more Half-Life games hit the market in the coming years.

With that said, given Valve's track record and its notorious inability to count to three, we wouldn't blame our readers for taking the company's claims with a grain of salt.

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,549   +3,379
I think the real problem that valve is going to have is ultimately that Half Life, as it was, does not make sense anymore.

What was then "groundbreaking gameplay" is now stale and anachronistic.

Consider the fact that Gordon Freeman was a silent protagonist. While that worked perfectly for the time that HL was released, it made less sense in HL2 and it would make no sense now. Even with the VR Alyx release you have a protagonist that speaks.

Then you have the weaving in of puzzles - which absolutely slow down gameplay and pad its length. It worked OK in HL1 but many people got annoyed with it in HL2 and most people would not want to have to deal with it in HL3.

The puzzles help for story telling and world building and they help give the player a sense of accomplishment upon completion but ultimately when I look back at HL1 and HL2, my favorite parts were when I was getting regular supplies of ammo and able to fight the Columbine soldiers and their machines head on.

HL1 had superb artificial intelligence with smart enemies that didn’t rush at me like bullet sponges - such as enemy behavior you’ll see in Doom Eternal. Even HL2’s enemies weren’t that smart.

but if you were to release a first person shooter like that now, many developers would say that the gameplay felt dated.

In HL2 I dread playing through the game and being forced to manipulate the puzzles for the ant lions. In fact I really hate the on the rails driving sequences all together. Many people complained that the driving sequences – especially in the raft – went on way too long.

I bought the Orange Box (for Portal) and I tried playing through episode One but at a certain point I got so bored with it that I put it down and couldn’t bring myself to pick it back up.

And then there is the issue of multiplayer. Half Life never had a good multiplayer and the reason why it was so successful was because of the mods- Counterstrike specifically. Can’t release Becausesingle player game like that nowadays and charge full price for it. You Can’t release single player game like that nowadays and charge full price for it.

I think that they would end up releasing a game like Crysis2 where your audience wasn’t vested in the original game or its sequels and thereby doesn’t give your release the attention it deserves. The vast majority of the market hasn’t played either Half-Life game And doesn’t know the story behind the new release and doesn’t know the story behind the new release Alyx.

The technology to make a new HL game is better than ever and HL has its own visual style - which newer technology, as we can see in Alyx makes the world itself look fabulous but if they release that game now I believe many people would be disappointed by it no matter what the product was unless they were somehow able to swing for the fences and give us never before seen gameplay ideas.
 
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Evernessince

Posts: 5,430   +6,040
I think the real problem that valve is going to have is ultimately that half-life as it was does not make sense anymore.

Consider the fact that Gordon Freeman was a silent protagonist. While that worked perfectly for the time that HL was released, it made less sense in HL2 and it would make no sense now. Even with the VR Alyx release you have a protagonist that speaks.
It really depends. Silent protag is good for role playing and bad for others. Fallout 4 is a good example of a voiced main character that simply does not work. Divinity Original Sin 2 has a silent protagonist and the game is fantastic.

Who knows what Valve has in mind for the next half life game. If their aim is to always innovate, for all we know it could be something as crazy as AI reacting to the player speaking (nearly every VR headset has a mic). Not saying they will, just to keep an open mind.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,549   +3,379
It really depends. Silent protag is good for role playing and bad for others. Fallout 4 is a good example of a voiced main character that simply does not work. Divinity Original Sin 2 has a silent protagonist and the game is fantastic.

Who knows what Valve has in mind for the next half life game. If their aim is to always innovate, for all we know it could be something as crazy as AI reacting to the player speaking (nearly every VR headset has a mic). Not saying they will, just to keep an open mind.
Of all the games that you could name, you name Fallout4? I played through F3 and F4 and the protagonist voice was not an issue for me. What was an issue for me was the dumbed down responses.

The reasoning behind having a silent protagonist is that the protagonist never says or does anything that the player themselves might disagree with. In F4 you are still choosing every single response so the voice in no way contradicts what you your self are agreeing with. Gordon Freeman is supposed to be a scientist and it makes no sense that this guy doesn’t speak.
 
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Julio Franco

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My personal take on the matter is... Valve as a business didn't need another blockbuster game, they could afford the luxury of only releasing a Half-Life game if it was truly amazing or unique... they tried internally but couldn't get to that level. So they shelved a project or two knowing that being a force in gaming, they could come back a decade later fresh and gamers would still be waiting for it. Not that there has been a shortage of great PC games, and they've directly benefited from that healthy ecosystem all this time.
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,430   +6,040
Of all the games that you could name, you name Fallout4? I played through F3 and F4 and the protagonist voice was not an issue for me. What was an issue for me was the dumbed down responses.

The reasoning behind having a silent protagonist is that the protagonist never says or does anything that the player themselves might disagree with. In F4 you are still choosing every single response so the voice in no way contradicts what you your self are agreeing with. Gordon Freeman is supposed to be a scientist and it makes no sense that this guy doesn’t speak.
One of the most important parts of a silent protagonist is the lack of a voice, which let's people imagine their own voice in it's place. Instead of a voice being forced onto your character you may not like and that may not fit with your character, you are free to imagine whatever you will.

I really don't know why FO4 didn't just have multiple voice actors you can choose from for the main character. It would not be the first game to do this.

In short, silent protagonist gives your players more flexibility when it comes to making choices and how they think of their character where as a voiced protaganist can give you a higher quality story that's more immersive if done correctly but restricts voice to only 1 (which is bad if you have a game where you want players to create characters that cover a wide spectrum of personalities).

Both have their own use cases and should be used according to the dev's goals. It will be interesting to see if Cyberpunk 2077 will do a single voice for each gender or a multitude.
 
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bluetooth fairy

Posts: 149   +92
My personal take on the matter is... Valve as a business didn't need another blockbuster game, they could afford the luxury of only releasing a Half-Life game if it was truly amazing or unique... they tried internally but couldn't get to that level. So they shelved a project or two knowing that being a force in gaming, they could come back a decade later fresh and gamers would still be waiting for it. Not that there has been a shortage of great PC games, and they've directly benefited from that healthy ecosystem all this time.
One of the key words here is expectations, I suppose. Valve just don't need a product that wouldn't meet highest Half-life trademark expectations. A so-so product may shatter its label, then why take these risks.

But it's not fair to say that Valve wanted to shelve their famous brand, because its weight suffers with age. There's generation grown up which never played HL1 and will never do it because the original game looks and feels outdated. It's even harder to explain what it was for us. Its fame should be refreshed from time to time, or it will be buried by the time.
 
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EClyde

Posts: 2,345   +915
Glad to read that they want to make good stuff. It's important for any artist to want that but the buck is mighty...wait, they made a bunch of those so they really didn't have to kick anything out the door. It's probably mostly true then
 
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Uncle Al

Posts: 7,500   +6,002
I think the real problem that valve is going to have is ultimately that Half Life, as it was, does not make sense anymore.

Consider the fact that Gordon Freeman was a silent protagonist. While that worked perfectly for the time that HL was released, it made less sense in HL2 and it would make no sense now. Even with the VR Alyx release you have a protagonist that speaks.

Then you have the weaving in of puzzles - which absolutely slow down gameplay and pad it’s length. It worked OK in HL1 but many people got annoyed with it in HL2 and most people would not want to have to deal with it in HL3.

The puzzles help for story telling and world building and they help give the player a sense of accomplishment upon completion but ultimately when I look back at HL1 and HL2, my favorite parts were when I was getting regular supplies of ammo and able to fight the Columbine soldiers and their machines head on.

HL1 had superb artificial intelligence with smart enemies that didn’t rush at me like bullet sponges - such as enemy behavior you’ll see in Doom Eternal. Even HL2’s enemies weren’t that smart.

but if you were to release a first person shooter like that now, many developers would say that the gameplay felt dated.

In HL2 I dread playing through the game and being forced to manipulate the puzzles for the ant lions. In fact I really hate the on the rails driving sequences all together. Many people complained that the driving sequences – especially in the raft – went on way too long.

I bought the Orange Box (for Portal) and I tried playing through episode One but at a certain point I got so bored with it that I put it down and couldn’t bring myself to pick it back up.

And then there is the issue of multiplayer. Half Life never had a good multiplayer and the reason why it was so successful was because of the mods- Counterstrike specifically. Can’t release Becausesingle player game like that nowadays and charge full price for it. You Can’t release single player game like that nowadays and charge full price for it.

I think that they would end up releasing a game like Crysis2 where your audience wasn’t vested in the original game or its sequels and thereby doesn’t give your release the attention it deserves. The vast majority of the market hasn’t played either Half-Life game And doesn’t know the story behind the new release and doesn’t know the story behind the new release Alyx.

The technology to make a new HL game is better than ever and HL has its own visual style - which newer technology, as we can see in Alyx makes the world itself look fabulous but if they release that game now I believe many people would be disappointed by it no matter what the product was unless they were somehow able to swing for the fences and give us never before seen gameplay ideas.
Oh My! You have definitely missed your calling .... a born Si-Fy Philosopher!
 
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hahahanoobs

Posts: 3,030   +1,198
Walker says Valve has actually tried to make Half-Life 2: Episode 3 on multiple occasions, but none of the attempts quite met the lofty expectations of the developers.

This is news to me. Am I alone?
 

veLa

Posts: 1,011   +552
All of you have some great points so far, especially Julio's analysis of the financial aspects over at Valve, but I wanted to chime in with my own take on the situation.

It comes down the mystery of the G-Man. We have no idea who he is, and I don't think Valve knows either. Part of the whole allure of the series is the mystery surrounding his motivations and his relationship with Gordon Freeman. Assuming HL3 would be the last game in the series, Valve would finally have to reveal that mystery to us, and if that reveal isn't satisfying, then the game would go down as a major flop.

For what many regard as the best video game series ever, you just can't have that. You have to stick the landing so to speak. That's why they didn't want to release something that wasn't unique and revolutionary. That's why it was safer to make a VR only prequel. Valve never had to answer the difficult question, who is the G-Man?
 
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Julio Franco

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One of the key words here is expectations, I suppose...

But it's not fair to say that Valve wanted to shelve their famous brand, because its weight suffers with age. There's generation grown up which never played HL1 and will never do it because...
Agreed on expectations.

I'm not saying Valve wanted to shelf anything, what I'm saying is they tried (they just admitted to it) and because the result wasn't as good as they wanted, they are in a position where they could afford (as a business) not to release anything.

Most other game studios and publishers essentially rely on a release cycle to remain in business, but Valve is in a pretty unique situation. From wikipedia: "By 2012, Valve employed around 250 people and was reportedly worth over US$3 billion, making it the most profitable company per employee in the United States."

It comes down the mystery of the G-Man. We have no idea who he is, and I don't think Valve knows either.
In my opinion plot is not an issue. A factor, sure, but not what stopped them in the first place. They can and will hire AAA Hollywood storytellers to put something truly amazing together in terms of plot. It's gameplay/experience where they fell short (by their own expectations). Either that, or they didn't care enough to put the resources and the team to make it happen.
 
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Evernessince

Posts: 5,430   +6,040
Agreed on expectations.

I'm not saying Valve wanted to shelf anything, what I'm saying is they tried (they just admitted to it) and because the result wasn't as good as they wanted, they are in a position where they could afford (as a business) not to release anything.

Most other game studios and publishers essentially rely on a release cycle to remain in business, but Valve is in a pretty unique situation. From wikipedia: "By 2012, Valve employed around 250 people and was reportedly worth over US$3 billion, making it the most profitable company per employee in the United States."


In my opinion plot is not an issue. A factor, sure, but not what stopped them in the first place. They can and will hire AAA Hollywood storytellers to put something truly amazing together in terms of plot. It's gameplay/experience where they fell short (by their own expectations). Either that, or they didn't care enough to put the resources and the team to make it happen.
The best part about this IMO is that Valve is willing to scrap a game if it doesn't live up to their standard. That's pretty rare in the gaming world nowadays due to the high price of making games. They aren't treating their games as tools to make money but artistic vehicles to drive the medium forward. It's a very nice change of pace from your yearly AAA franchises and really reminds me of when PC gaming was in it's infancy where developers were more artist and innovators than businessmen.
 

Julio Franco

Posts: 8,677   +1,549
Staff member
The best part about this IMO is that Valve is willing to scrap a game if it doesn't live up to their standard. That's pretty rare in the gaming world nowadays due to the high price of making games. They aren't treating their games as tools to make money but artistic vehicles to drive the medium forward. It's a very nice change of pace from your yearly AAA franchises and really reminds me of when PC gaming was in it's infancy where developers were more artist and innovators than businessmen.
Blizzard is/was known to do the same. There may be others, but that's one that came to mind immediately.
 

Axle Greese

Posts: 41   +13
Valve wants the immersive VR experience to be commonplace. Given that HL2e3 grew to be an obsession with many gamers over the years with every byte of HL related files analysed for clues to the next episode, a half-Life game for VR is going to attract a lot of attention. Valve can't keep up with the demand for the Index just because of this one game. It's great. I bought an HTC Vive the day after release and is what I still use. This is what I wanted to see, the proliferation of immersive VR.

So a big thumbs up to Valve for giving VR entertainment a much needed boost, and also retaining a high standard in graphics fidelity.
 

Lounds

Posts: 584   +469
I want a new L4D game, loads of game developers have tried to copy it and never have come close to that games addictive gameplay and team work. HL3 eats fans such as myself because Ep2 ended on such a cliff hanger, anyone who played it left wanting more. It's an unfinished story and that's the sad part but maybe it's left unfinished. Game of thrones the TV series was brilliant up until that final season.
 

trgz

Posts: 324   +100
It really depends. Silent protag is good for role playing and bad for others. Fallout 4 is a good example of a voiced main character that simply does not work. Divinity Original Sin 2 has a silent protagonist and the game is fantastic.

Who knows what Valve has in mind for the next half life game. If their aim is to always innovate, for all we know it could be something as crazy as AI reacting to the player speaking (nearly every VR headset has a mic). Not saying they will, just to keep an open mind.
Didn't Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 have that already? I seem to recall wondering why my my NPCs were talking back to me when I spoke in the real world (had to turn it off as it was glitchy IIRC)
 

0dium

Posts: 115   +107
@QuantumPhysics
Yeah stale gameplay is not the way to go that's why Call of duty and Battlefield series have poor sales. Oh wait....
Anyway, silent protagonist is not the way to go that's why new Doom has poor sales. Oh wait...
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,430   +6,040
Didn't Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 have that already? I seem to recall wondering why my my NPCs were talking back to me when I spoke in the real world (had to turn it off as it was glitchy IIRC)
The walking dead saints and sinners has it too but so far it's rather limited in what it can do. They've had voice features like that since SOCOM on the PS2 but it hasn't really evolved since then.
 
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Puiu

Posts: 4,093   +2,652
I can imagine the incredible difficulty ending Freeman's story entails. How can they find an ending that satisfies the HL fandom?

They really need to appease the fans with some incredible gameplay paradigm shift (like they did with HL and HL2) and have a really good story in one package. If any of these are missing or only "above average" then the game will be considered by most a failure and will seriously dent the IP's legendary status.

HL Alyx is without a doubt a game that manages to meets these high expectations although they took a route that is not for everyone. But I'm sure that only though such experiences VR will take off as a platform moving toward mainstream appeal akin to more traditional consoles.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 3,549   +3,379
I can imagine the incredible difficulty ending Freeman's story entails. How can they find an ending that satisfies the HL fandom?

They really need to appease the fans with some incredible gameplay paradigm shift (like they did with HL and HL2) and have a really good story in one package. If any of these are missing or only "above average" then the game will be considered by most a failure and will seriously dent the IP's legendary status.

HL Alyx is without a doubt a game that manages to meets these high expectations although they took a route that is not for everyone. But I'm sure that only though such experiences VR will take off as a platform moving toward mainstream appeal akin to more traditional consoles.
Freeman’s story can continue indefinitely.