Another E3 has come and gone and once again Valve had nothing to share. By now, no-one can be that surprised, but the question remains: Where is Half-Life 3?
Seriously, where is it? Have you seen it? Is it nearby? Maybe it's in your sock drawer. Maybe it's standing behind you, right now, just waiting for you to turn around so it can knife you in the face. Have a look. Is it there? No? No.
Seven years since Episode 2, and a full decade since Half-Life 2 itself, and the gaming press hasn't got its fingers on even a genuine screenshot. Never has there been an official announcement about it – nothing, nada.
Let's look at the facts:
- 2007: Episode 3
After announcing that it would continue the Half-Life franchise in episodic chunks, released between six and eight months apart, Valve said that Half-Life 2: Episode 3 would launch around Christmas 2007. But that date came and went and any concrete hints at the game were airbrushed out – despite having completed it, Valve apparently removed a trailer for Episode 3 out of the ending of Episode 2.
However, as well as the many plot threads that were left dangling at the end of Episode 2, one other solid bit of information on the third installment made it to press: a single piece of concept art that GamesRadar dug up in August, 2007.
- 2008: Folders
Fast-forward to mid-2008 and a few pesky fans snooping around the code for Source, the game engine that powers Half-Life, find a couple of discarded folders labelled "episode3". They contain some character and weapon models. But later, Tony Sergi, who at the time worked for Valve's developer relations department, confirmed they were simply leftovers from alpha tests and didn't refer to any game currently in development.
Some more concept art leaks to GamesRadar in July and in October, Doug Lombardi, one of the co-founders of Valve, states that an announcement on Episode 3 could be due before the end of the year. Of course, that doesn't materialise – all that appears is some apparent alpha footage of the game which turns out to be fan-made.
- 2009: Radio silence
2009 is a year of almost complete radio silence. A petition started in 2008, which aims to encourage better communication between Valve and its consumer base, continues to gain signatures but meanwhile, during an interview on Steamcast, Valve head Gabe Newell says that there is nothing to announce on Half-Life, currently.
- 2010: Horror
Cut to March 2010, and in another interview, this time with Edge magazine, Newell says that Valve wants the next Half-Life game to be more horror oriented. He also says that protagonist Gordon Freeman will "remain largely an arm and a crowbar" in the next Half-Life, referring to the character's signature weapon and lack of a speaking voice. Fans unearth some more files labelled "ep3" in the Source development kit, but again, these are confirmed to be scraps from an abandoned game.
In August, Doug Lombardi dampens the hype by confirming Valve has nothing to announce on Half-Life at all.
- 2011: Arne Magnusson
The first half of 2011 heralds more stonewalling. One of the writers on Portal, Chet Faliszek, repeats that there is nothing to announce right now and when asked about Half Life 3 at the Games for Change summit in New York, Gabe Newell replies that "if you know enough to ask the question, you know the answer." However, Doug Lombardi rows back some, telling fans, via an interview with AusGamer to "hang in there" for more information.
In May, some more mystery files pop up in the code for Portal 2, including voice clips and animations for Arne Magnusson, a character from Episode 2 who was expected to re-appear in subsequent Half-Life installments. The same thing happens again in August when a beta tester for Valve's Dota 2 claims to have found more Episode 3 folders in the Source SDK. In response, Faliszek states that the files are meaningless and shouldn't be taken seriously, something which is backed up by Gabe Newell, who in an interview with Develop states that Valve is done with the episodic game model, creating speculation that the next Half-Life game will be a full title, the now infamous Half-Life 3.
Later in the year, some fans picket outside Valve's offices in Bellvue, Washington, holding placards that read "CANADA 4 THE RELEASE OF HALF-LIFE 3." They're greeted by Newell who takes them for lunch and gives them a tour of the Valve building, though when asked about the game, he reportedly responds with: "I can't say."
The petition launched in 2009 becomes a fully-fledged campaign group dubbed "A Call for Communication on Half-Life."
- 2012: Newell Speaks
2012 brings perhaps the most concrete word on Half-Life 3 to date. During an interview on the Seven Day Cooldown Podcast, Gabe Newell is joking asked by the presenter when fans can expect the release of Richochet 2. It's a veiled way of asking after Half-Life 3 – Richochet was an old Valve game that performed fairly poorly and is never likely to get a sequel. Newell picks up on the joke and replies:
"In terms of Ricochet 2, we always have this problem that when we talk about things too far in advance, we end up changing our minds as we're going through and developing stuff, so as we're thinking through the giant story arc which is Ricochet 2, you might get to a point where you're saying something is surprising us in a positive way and something is surprising us in a negative way, and, you know, we'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2.
"The problem is, we think that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than just being silent about it, until we can be very crisp about what's happening next."
Save for a few drips of unconfirmed concept art, the rest of the year is quiet.
- 2013: Hoax
In 2013, information is even more sparse. In various interviews, both Lombardi and Newell repeat that Valve has nothing to say on Half-Life 3 right now and even though an apparent trademark for the game is registered, it's quickly pulled and confirmed as a hoax.
However, in September, one of Valve's internal databases is briefly made available to the public and includes mentions of staffers currently working on not only Half-Life 3, but also a third Left 4 Dead game and a new version of the Source engine, dubbed Source 2.
Shortly after, Valve unveils its bespoke operating system, SteamOS, announcing that it'll be freely available and that it has partnered with several hardware makers to create "Steam Machines", which allow people to play games downloaded from the Steam marketplace through their television sets, using a control pad. This marks the beginning of Valve's long-rumoured entry into the console market.
- 2014: Concept art
As for 2014, Counter-Strike co-creator and ex-Valve staffer Minh Le has stated on various sites, including IGN, that Half-Life 3 is currently in development and that he's seen various pieces of concept work around the Valve offices. Just as in 2006, no information on release, story or...anything, is currently available.
So, where IS Half-Life 3?
Probably near the bottom of Valve's to-do list. With the launch of SteamOS and the Steam Machines, the company, frankly, has better things to do than develop the sequel to a first-person shooter from 10 years ago. It might irk the fans, but Valve didn't grow from a tiny game dev into a multi-billion dollar corporation by screwing things up.
Does that sound sycophantic? Maybe. But SteamOS, though perhaps not as colourful or SEO-friendly as Half-Life 3, is much more exciting. It's a shame that when Valve unveils how it will shake up the console market, how it will revolutionise playing games in the living-room, a large section of people just want to know about its alien shooter franchise.
The Steam Machines are going to make games cheaper and easier to access. They're going to give independent developers the opportunity to get their work in front of millions of paying customers.
Where is Half-Life 3? Who knows? A more important question is how will people play when it finally arrives. On the PS4, on the Xbox One or on one of Valve's Steam Machines?