Half-Life 2

"I finally got to a point where my skills don't match what the mod is anymore," Curtis, aka Enzo.Matrix, tells me. "To me that's insane." 

The mod Enzo is referencing is one he co-founded in 2005: the Half-Life 2 modification and modern adaptation of Rare and Nintendo's first-person shooter GoldenEye 007—GoldenEye: Source. 12 years on, the mod that he and one-time partner Nicholas "Nickster" Bishop founded has been updated and reworked on several occasions, and is now almost unrecognisable in its current state. Nevertheless it continues to maintain and grow its thriving player base, and last year celebrated the launch of its most sophisticated and accomplished iteration yet in its 5.0 build.

"When we first started out, Nickster and I were working on a different mod that fell by the wayside called Project XX7," Enzo says. "When Nick came up to me and suggested we try something new, we decided to create something that was fun and enjoyable that you wanted to play with your friends. That's what the whole idea was: we wanted to recreate this experience that's enjoyable for everybody."

Enzo and Nickster chose to reimagine one of the most celebrated FPS games of a generation in N64's GoldenEye 007—and sought to capture the passion that'd elevated the '97 classic to cult status, without being hamstrung by the technical limitations the original faced eight years prior. Enzo recalls launching he and Nickster's Source variation into alpha on Christmas Eve, 2005 and quietly sneaking away from the family dinner table the following day to ensure everything was running smoothly. It was and people loved it. He was, in his own words, "utterly blown away." 

As two hobbyists operating remotely in IRC rooms, Steam Chat, and on forum pages, development of GoldenEye: Source in the early days was slow but open, and as many as 20 people had volunteered their services within its first few months. Some folk dedicated more of their time, commitment and effort than others—Enzo highlights Killermonkey, Fourtecks and Luchador as three particular modders who "took things to the next level"—but, much similar to any part-time project that doesn't have the means to remunerate its contributors, this is perhaps to be expected. It was then Enzo was dealt a very personal blow, as he discovered in May of 2006 that co-founder Nickster had committed suicide.

"He was a very fun and pleasant guy," Enzo says. "It was just unfortunate that he went that route. He was a great friend that loved to chat." According to this archived thread featured on the mod's official site, Nickster, aged just 27, had spent some time in the lead up to his passing battling depression, and had shown a recent interest in the perceived concept of the afterlife. Despite the mod's fast-growing success at the time, GoldenEye: Source had lost one half of its pioneering founders, and his father paid tribute to the outpouring of well-wishes from his son's mod's community. 

"I'm finding writing this message to be very helpful in helping me cope," his message concludes. "Nick twisted my arm for years to get me to play Half-Life. I've gotten to know and play with some great people. I can't tell you what it means to me to read all the wonderful things people have been writing about Nick. From the bottom of my heart I know Nick didn't want any of us to be sad."

The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that.

Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier

With this sentiment in mind, GoldenEye: Source soldiered on and spent the next several years growing and refining the GoldenEye experience. Its classic maps were reinterpreted and made less linear; its guns were modernised and mechanics such as invulnerability were removed; and stalwart settings such as You Only Live Twice and License to Kill were reintroduced on top of a number of altogether new modes. 

When GoldenEye: Source launched into alpha, its inspiration was the best part of ten years old—an influence that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. While it still enjoys a celebrated cult status today, though, it's easy to forget how much of it isn't worth saving. As Evan rightly noted in his review of Source's most recent 5.0 launch last year, the 64's four-player capacity, horrible controls, and slow turning speed, among others things, are best left behind thus reinterpreting something so highly regarded against modern hardware and, crucially, expectations is perhaps more complicated than it first seems.    

"Recreating GoldenEye is a very interesting endeavour because there's a lot of stuff that people will remember from the original—specific weapons, characters, levels and all that—but there's also a lot of details that, as a result of the original's mechanics, the most people don't recall," says Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier, who became the mod's project lead ahead of build 5.0. "The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that, though. We definitely had to experiment with how much of the original game we wanted to port over to GoldenEye: Source, but I think we struck a pretty good balance of stuff that's essentially original content but heavily revamped for the modern gameplay environment."  

Entropy-Soldier continues to say that simply recreating the old game within the Source engine is equivocal to copying someone's homework assignment, and that these bold sidesteps alongside the challenge of maintaining the mod's enduring appeal are what keeps everything interesting. He points to the original's infamous Dam map as a particularly relevant example of this.

"It is very difficult to strike the balance correctly where it's like: this shouldn't be as it was, but we don't want to just completely change everything," he says. "The Dam Map was a perfect example of that. Remaking the Dam from the original was tough because it's a very linear map and there really isn't a whole lot of leeway for layout changes. As such we had to change it quite a bit to make it feasible for multiplayer environments, while keeping its lineage intact."    

And it's here where GoldenEye: Source thrives today. Whereas other prominent shooters operate automatic health regeneration mechanics, for example, GoldenEye: Source instead still relies on armour. There's also no crosshair by default, which encourages the fast and frantic twitch shooting the original executed so well—hitting shift pulls up an oversized reticule, but aiming comes at the expense of maneuverability and speed. Crouch dodging and crouch sliding return which, across its 20+ expanded maps, adds a whole other 'easy to learn/difficult to master'-type dynamic to combat should you desire. With that, there's enough here to draw the attention of new players, even if nostalgia plays a huge part in its overall appeal. 

But nostalgia can surely only take players so far. An obvious question, then, is: what keeps players returning in their droves? 

Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!

Curtis, aka Enzo Matrix

"I think there's always been a lot of people who've wanted to see a remake or remaster of the original game and there was a project in the works that was shut down," says Lewis, aka Mangly, the mod's lead artist. "It's a very memorable game and a lot of people want to experience it again but maybe not put up with all the notable constraints of '90s videogames."

"Yeah, we've added more modes, gun modes that's more relevant to the likes of Counter-Strike and what not, which has resonated pretty well with newcomers," Lyndon, otherwise known as Tweaklab, the mod's music composer interjects. "I've only been here for the past couple of years, but our organisation has also led to a more accomplished game in 5.0. Even as a newcomer it was making shift from Steam Chat then the forums, and then six months after that we moved to Discord and I noticed a huge change. It was really good getting frequent feedback and collaboration and even though I'm only doing music, there was no time wasted—the music was able to evolve naturally through the feedback. 

"Before I joined the team I was making music just for fun, and I've been doing since around 2003. Since joining the team I'd say the quality of production has probably doubled, just because it's not just for fun. I mean, it is but it's more guaranteed that people are going to hear it now - that you're going to get feedback from others and not just your own. Even the stuff I make outside of GoldenEye now, I'm able to notice all the new techniques I've picked up and the extra attention to details and the layering—it's all come from the mod, it's really good."

With communication at the forefront of its 5.0 development, Entropy-Soldier reckons a smaller, more intimate team has allowed GoldenEye: Source to flourish into the focussed and polished article it's become today. The original GoldenEye 007 celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year and while the Source team don't have anything planned by way of celebration just yet, they do plan to maintain its latest build and grow it over time. It's unlikely we'll see such ambitious leap between 5.0 and its next step against what's come before the current build, however it's in a great place now to continue pushing itself into the future. 

The team has set its bar high, but says it will never monetise its work—not least because so many faces have came and went along the way, and it'd hardly be appropriate for the current team to cash in on its predecessor's building blocks, some of whom have graduated to full-time employment with companies such as EA and Adobe. With this in mind, GoldenEye: Source is an archetypal labour of love, and a perfect example of hobbyist modders working with and for its community. Yet despite its most influx of players, the GoldenEye: Source team remains humble. 

"We're always getting new people coming in and saying: 'my god, I've never heard of this project'," says Enzo, "and we've been around for such a long time, it's really interesting that's there's people that haven't heard of it. I love that, and it's always great to see new faces [getting] involved.

"It was pretty shocking when we hit the first big release like that. Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!"

You can download the GoldenEye: Source mod from ModDB.

Half-Life 2

Back in 2007, Ross Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind, a YouTube comedy series which explored the (very loud) inner monologue of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman as he traveled through the events of the original Half-Life. Longtime fans, rejoice: yesterday, Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind 2, in which Gordon arrives in City 17 to internally shout his way through Half-Life 2. You can see the new episode above.

It's natural to be a little suspicious that this is just a tease, what with the video being posted on April Fools' Day, but Scott has said in the past that he someday planned to tackle Half-Life 2 so we're hoping this is just the beginning of another long and enjoyable series of videos.

You can visit Scott's site, Accursed Farms, and find an archive of all episodes of Freeman's Mind here.

Originally this article stated the Freeman's Mind series began in 2013. That has been corrected above.

Half-Life 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Brendan Caldwell)

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.>

I know what you re looking for. You re looking for a game that let s you be a janitor in a school riddled with drug dealers and class clowns. But also a game that will let you be a cop fighting robbers. But also a game where you are a soldier in World War 3. But also a game in which you are a prison guard keeping rowdy inmates in check. But also a game where you can be a footballer. But also– … [visit site to read more]

Half-Life 2

In November 2004, an independent studio named Junction Point was formed by Warren Spector and ex-Valve employee Art Min. The following year, it was announced the new outfit was working alongside Valve to create a Half-Life 2 episode which aimed to "fill in one of the gaps in the Half-Life universe" by fleshing out a specific part of its story. This project was ultimately cancelled, however new images offer a glimpse at how it might've looked. 

As posted on Valvetime.net, the images from Junction Point's interpretation of Half-Life depict the second main series instalment's eerie zombie town Ravenholm—this time covered in snow. 

According to Valvetime, the leaked map files suggest this Ravenholm would have included "small puzzles, scripted sequences, and fights". Valvetime also notes Junction Point's Ravenholm episode should not be confused with Arkane's also cancelled Return to Ravenholm.

"It is implied that the player crashes into a warehouse in a gondola," says Valvetime of this episode's narrative. "He wakes up in a room with two unique characters named Duncan and Scooter. There is a train station and buildings nearby. A group of rebels and Combine Soldiers fight on the streets. Duncan (ravenholm_npc_mueller) and Scooter (ravenholm_npc_scooter) are unique entities. Duncan uses a generic Citizen model, while Scooter's model is unknown.

"Some entities use JPS as their prefix in their names, which obviously stands for the studio's name. In addition to this, some objects have fields called magnet and magnetization, which are related to the Magnet Gun mentioned by Warren Spector in the interviews."

The magnet gun mentioned there was supposedly "entirely different" from the existing gravity gun, so said Spector in this Reddit AMA, however "the two would have been super complimentary."

Alas, it wasn't to be but a snow-themed Ravenholm would've been cool all the same. If not Ravenholm, which other areas of the Half-Life universe would you liked to have seen redone? Let us know in the comments south of here.

Half-Life 2 - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Joe Donnelly)

Did you know that in 2004 Valve launched Half-Life 2 [official site]? And did you know that Episode 1 followed two years later and Episode 2 a year after that? Did you know it’s now been ten years and besides a mass of rumours, bad jokes and conversations with unverified sources, Gordon Freeman’s elusive third Half-Life outing – be that Half-Life 3 or HL2: Episode 3 – is still Not A Thing?

I’m sure you did. Let me now ask you this: do you know about Half-Life 2’s modding scene – a community which has been producing consistently brilliant tweaks and tinkerings to Freeman’s Combine-killing shooter for over a decade? Built from Valve’s Source Engine, the following list is comprised of single and multiplayer mods for the Seattle-based dev’s seminal and ever-enduring FPS – some of which are set in Freeman-familiar worlds, others which take on completely new looks entirely.

I know it’s hard to swallow, but Half-Life 3 might never happen. Play these mods instead. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Erik Wolpaw, a long-time Valve writer who has worked on game series including Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and Portal, revealed today that he is no longer with the company. Marc Laidlaw, himself a former Valve writer, let the news slip on Twitter, while Wolpaw confirmed it in a status update on his Facebook page

Wolpaw joined Valve in 2004, and has credits on Half-Life: Episode One and Two, Left 4 Dead, Portal, and Portal 2. Prior to that, he was with Double-Fine, where he co-wrote the outstanding platform-adventure Psychonauts, and before that he was one-half of the brilliant (and sadly defunct) gaming site Old Man Murray. He's currently involved in the development of Psychonauts 2, which was successfully crowdfunded in early 2016.

A reason for Wolpaw's departure wasn't given, but it does appear to be legitimate this time around. A report that he had left Valve also surfaced last summer, but in that case it turned out that he'd just called in sick for the day. 

I've emailed Valve for more information, and will update if and when I received a reply. 

Update: The report originally stated that writer Jay Pinkterton had also left the company, but apparently not.

PC Gamer

Mike Shapiro may not be a household name, but I'd wager you've heard his voice at some stage in the last 20 years. A voice actor with over two decades experience, he first lent his vocal chords to 1994's Super Punch Out, and has since worked on everything from Dota 2 to Grand Theft Auto 5. 

His most famous work, though, is his contributions to Valve's Half-Life series—having voiced security guard-turned-Resistance champion Barney Calhoun, as well as Gordon Freeman's dapper, dark and elusive adversary The G-Man. 

The following interview took place last year, prior to Gabe Newell's recent Reddit Ask Me Anything, where I asked Shapiro what it's like working with Valve, why he's drawn to the characters he's voiced within the Half-Life series, and what are our chances of seeing Barney and G-Man's return at some stage in the future.

PC Gamer: Prior to working with Valve on the original Half-Life, you’d worked on several video games including more comical titles such as Super Punch-Out—what first drew you to video game voice acting?

Mike Shapiro: Voice acting in games has always been one of my favourite places to perform. You’ve got a ton of creative collaboration with the writers and creators, and often you get to inhabit a range of characters even on a single title. Especially early on, when the medium was just burgeoning, performing for games felt like a very natural extension of live theatre.

Is it fair to say that working on the original Half-Life was the biggest video game you’d worked on up to that point production-wise? How was this project different to the others you’d worked on beforehand?

Prior to Half-Life I had worked on a variety of projects. Seattle was a hotbed in the '90s and a number of them were ambitious for their time (did somebody say McZee?). But from the outset, Half-Life was breaking new ground on a lot of levels. Early on, while we were still devising G-Man and Barney, pre-release versions of the game just blew my mind. It was way out front of other FPS titles in terms of realism and interactivity, and ahead of the curve for cinematic sequences that were super-fun to work on.

Half-Life 2 was obviously bigger again, how did this compare to working on the original Half-Life and what were your expectations going in?

It’s always a time warp—in this case a gratifying one—to step back into the boots (or mysterious, all-powerful wingtips) of characters you inhabited years earlier. Before we even began work on Half-Life 2, the game had broken all kinds of new ground and won wide acclaim.

More significantly, we could feel the audience out there—hungry, engaged, creative. That makes a world of difference to an actor. So when it was time to get the band back together, Valve’s studio was buzzing with that energy. I [attend] a number of Comic Cons and conventions, and I always look forward to meeting the fans. That’s a real moment of fulfilment, when a project we began in 1998 comes to fruition face to face in real time.

Did you have any sense at the time—during or shortly after—that you were working on a video game that would go on to be held up as one of the greatest of all time?

The creatives at Valve, the producers, the entire team—they are consummate pros. From our initial meeting it was clear that they weren’t just putting out a new title, they were planning to change the world. It was always about story and engagement, creating an immersive, visceral, altogether novel experience. Sure, we sensed that Half-Life would break new ground, experiencing even betas of the new game, that was patently clear. 

When we first began recording Barney and Eli, G-Man, Gina, all those characters at Black Mesa? Right from the start, and more recently with [my work on] Dota 2, the whole Half-Life experience has been hugely gratifying.

Speaking to the general process—how closely do the in-game models of the Half-Life 2 characters resemble their voice actors and do you guys have any input?

So you’re asking whether I physically resemble G-Man? I certainly hope not! For starters, I try to get out in the sun a little more. And Barney’s got way cooler gear than I could ever hope to wear.

For sure there is a symbiosis that evolves between you and your character—whether it manifests in terms of appearance, that’s up to the fans to decide when they meet us. To my eye, it’s the dedicated cosplayers who most strikingly resemble our characters. Some of those are amazing!

In our previous chat you mentioned that G-Man and Barney are among your “very favorite characters”—what is it about them that’s so special to you even now, so many years on?

It’s a lot of fun to inhabit G-Man, albeit vicariously—those nether realms, and the secrets which he and he alone carries. Of course you wouldn’t actually wanna be the guy, let alone meet him in a darkened facility. Likewise, something about Barney Calhoun’s spirit is just indomitable. And loyal. Even if he has rather a simpler mind at work. Barney is kind of a perfect counterpoint to G-Man. So playing both of them within a single storyline is uniquely satisfying.

They’re also among my favourites because Half-Life fans are so devoted and knowledgeable—when we meet, there’s an immediate shared history through these characters. Both G-Man and Barney are very particularly drawn, and somehow also archetypal. The players always grok that.

Again, it’s been a while since the last instalment to the Half-Life series, how hopeful/confident are you on a personal level that Valve will return to it in the future?

Between the original titles and the immense fan creativity, Half-Life is incredibly vibrant, and it’s hard to believe we’ve heard the last from the Combine. I’m not at liberty to discuss any detailed plans, but I regularly connect with players who make it clear that there’s hunger for another instalment. Might that come in the form of a film collaboration with Bad Robot, or a new stand-alone release? I certainly feel optimistic about those scenarios, and the Half-Life universe is one I’m always happy to inhabit.

PC Gamer

In its quieter moments, the cellblock is almost soothing. Its striking chequered floors, incongruous Escher-like architecture, and concrete walls adorned with chipped paintwork and bullet holes lend the space an unlikely degree of charm. Besides the light echo of peripheral footfall and HEV suit-charging it's eerily quiet. That is, until the Rebels step out against the Combine: barrel-chested, leather-skinned and bloodthirsty—an inevitable eruption of gunfire, pulse orbs and exploding frag grenades follows.  

Since its arrival two weeks after Half-Life 2's mid-November 2004 launch, Lockdown has been one of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch's most popular 2v2 maps. Top players have came and went since, however TheRealQuAz and Maxtasy are long-serving veterans who've occupied its online multiplayer wargrounds since 2008. 

Observing in god-like spectator mode, I look on in awe as these experts exchange blows with two lesser players; dancing around the map and executing fatal maneuvers with a level of precision that's owed to years of experience. Each dash, bunnyhop and meticulously-placed gravity gun-fired grenade is measured and is the result of refined strategy—it seems fitting the monochrome floor mirrors that of a chess board. Within mere minutes the commanding duo is fifteen points to the good. 

"That was just a casual match," Quaz tells me afterwards. "The start was slow, but picked up toward the end when I got warmer."

Nowadays, casual matches are as good as it gets for HL2DM's most serious devotees. Of the 300 or so active daily players, around half are preoccupied with the game's Roleplay mode—a temperamental server which while hosting a huge map that lets players work, rent houses, commit crimes, and go to prison, isn't nearly as sophisticated—nor as fun—as it may sound. 

"You have a bank account and earn money just for being on the server, and you can buy items with that money," explains Maxtasy. "A lot of people just stay idle on the server to farm cash. That's why these servers are usually at the top of the server browser and new players to the game usually join the most populated servers and get a weird first impression of the game, sadly."

Of the remaining 150 or so folk who tend towards the game's default modes, the chances of finding players fit to challenge the likes of Maxtasy and TheRealQuaz are few and far between. Of course this wasn't always the case. 

In 2006, two years after the multiplayer's inception, HL2DM was a regular in Steam's top ten most played games, pulling in upwards of 20,000 players per day. For competitive players, Clans United was established as the game's central European community website and over a six year period hosted 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 leagues which, at its peak, spanned five divisions with eight teams in each field. A hefty waiting list was perpetually on standby, whereby new teams would only replace outfits relegated from the lowest leagues. 

The community always had some drama or scandal going on, whether it be cheating accusations, admin abuse or mismanagement.

At the same time, less significant forums such as HL2DM University were chartered, and a US ESL community ran a semi-successful 1v1 ladder. After players failed to shift Serino—no longer active but widely considered one of the best HL2DM players of all time—from the top spot after several months, though, the latter was eventually dissolved and absorbed by Clans United.         

"Division one had some of the most skilled teams and players ever seen in the game," says Quaz. "It's strange to me that HL2DM was overlooked by the wider community considering the elite level of the top pros is so impressive to watch. But although host to some of the greatest matches ever played, the league and community always had some drama or scandal going on, whether it be cheating accusations, admin abuse or mismanagement." 

In September 2010 Valve upgraded HL2DM to utilise the Orange Box version of the Source Engine—a move which disabled a well-used crouch bug that in turn vastly altered the game's bunny hop mechanic. For many players this meant relearning the game from scratch and compromised six years-worth of practice. As such, a number of teams withdrew from competitive play and by 2012 just two divisions remained. 

It was then Quaz formed his first clan with two similarly prolific players of the time, Lancelot and Bangelo, who went on to win their debut season outright without dropping a single map. Normal procedure dictated that the top team would thereafter progress to the next league—in this case from division four into division three—however a coinciding league restructure levied by the game's admins saw the introduction of a new lower division, and thus saw Quaz and his team were forced to stay put. This didn't sit well with Bangelo and after several formal protests fell on deaf ears he quit the competitive scene entirely, causing Quaz and Lancelot to carry on in a separate 2v2 league. 

In late 2012, Quaz gained admin rights to one of the remaining divisions, yet he himself was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the community due to several ongoing spats regarding team allegiance and admin disputes. Quaz describes the HL2DM scene as "stagnant" around this time and, having shared the gossip with Bangelo, passed over his admin details to allow his ex-teammate to browse the acrimony for himself. 

"I gave the admin forum password to my teammate Bangelo with no malicious intent, just so he could have a chance to troll around on the private admin forums," Quaz explains. "Somehow he managed to delete the entire database of the site, much of which had not been backed up. Only an incomplete series of hall of fame pictures survived. This is pretty much how Clans United went down. I guess I owe it to the community to tell the whole story as they deserve to know and might not already."

From the outside looking in, it's difficult to view Bangelo's actions as anything but intentional. "To be honest, I don't remember all the details," Quaz adds. "I'm not sure exactly what happened internally but it had mixed reactions from the community—some people were obviously annoyed, including me, that much of the history of the game was lost. Others praised Bangelo for deleting Clans United as many players resented the management and felt its time had finally come. People just didn't care as much, despite Clans United being a cornerstone of Half-Life 2: Deathmatch for many great years, which is how it should be remembered." 

In the wake of Clans United, the Old School Community was formed in 2013 which aimed to replicate and replace its predecessor. It's still live today however the same level of interest has never been achieved, and the OSC in its most modern guise instead caters for whichever 'top' players can be bothered stopping by. With other Valve franchises still hugely popular—not least Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2—one might wonder why HL2DM has failed to garner the same long-term support. 

Maxtasy describes his multiplayer of choice as "Valve's forgotten child", while Quaz points to the perceived steep learning curve of hitting top rank in HL2DM coupled with the advent of esports as possible reasons it got left behind—this and the fact Valve makes a killing from CS:GO's skin economy.  

But I of course cross my fingers and hope for the best. My dream would really be a HL3DM game with huge support and a competitive aspect.

While both players have tried to invest time in the likes of Counter-Strike and TF2, unique weapons such as the Gravity Gun and how it's used in combat—"small nuances like lobbing frag grenades and catching them with the Gravity Gun can take years to master," says Maxtasy—combined with its skill-based movement and fast-action rounds have continually drawn them back to HL2DM. 

So how does the HL2DM community move forward—can it? In light of Gabe Newell's Reddit Ask Me Anything last week, could the possibility of Half-Life 3 mark the return of Deathmatch? After all, the original Half-Life shipped with its own iteration of the Deathmatch multiplayer—perhaps a third series instalment of Gordon Freeman's otherworldly adventures is what this community needs to get it back on track.

"It looks to me that Valve is indeed working on a new game in the Half-Life or Portal franchise, but also I got the feeling their new game will be highly influenced by new technologies like Virtual Reality," says Maxtasy. "I fear the new game will be in VR, but I also doubt this will bring a new Deathmatch game. [Valve] already have their 'cash-cow multiplayer games' such as Dota 2 in the strategy genre, and CSGO in their FPS genre. But I of course cross my fingers and hope for the best. My dream would really be a HL3DM game with huge support and a competitive aspect."

Although slightly more confident, Quaz echoes a similar sentiment: "We will see it some day sooner or later I am sure, whether or not it will be called HL3DM is up in the air. However, I feel (and I hope I'm wrong) that it will be nothing like HL2DM. Considering the direction that FPS games in esports are going right now, it won't be anything like the classic arena shooter with skill-based movement. I hope I am very wrong and valve are saving HL3DM to be the revival of the arena shooter. But that may be wishful thinking from me."

In its current state, Quaz reckons the HL2DM community is done for. New players can never hope to reach high levels as there aren't enough top players to learn from. "The best thing in my view would be for Valve to create a brand new multiplayer FPS with a similar mechanic and aesthetic as HL2DM. Essentially a HL2DM reboot with a better competitive engine. I know that this would open up a world of unimagined possibilities. Whether they would be interested in that is anyone's guess. I would love to be involved if there ever was something of that sort."

Like the demise of any community, it's sad to see something once so active fade. But with Half-Life 2: Deathmatch it seems so many variables have worked against it for some time. It's trapped by the advent and ever-growing popularity of esports, and trapped by the Half-Life brand itself and the fact Half-Life 3 might never happen. It's almost ironic that HL2DM's most iconic map is set in a prison. Its most skilled players continue to battle on its dimly-lit concourse, every twitch trick-shot a callback to the game's energetic heday.

PC Gamer

Tom Senior: Recently Game Informer disclosed the insights of a supposed Valve insider who insists that Half-Life 3 doesn’t exist in any meaningful form. RTS and FMV prototypes have apparently been toyed with, but the magical genre-shattering FPS sequel that the internet has been craving for nearly a decade isn’t real. Earlier this week Valve’s Gabe Newell did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and suggested that Valve is still interested in revisiting the Half-Life universe, though “the number three must not be said.” Don’t hold your breath, basically.

Valve’s failure to release Half-Life 3 is not surprising because Valve has never announced Half-Life 3. The studio wanted to move from huge boxed releases to shorter development cycles and an episodic format, culminating with Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Episode Two ended on a savage cliffhanger, but that alone doesn’t fully explain why we want more Half-Life 10 years later. Half-Life 3 has taken on additional meaning. "HL3 confirmed!??" is a running gag, but a hopeful one. We want to believe.

For me Half-Life 3's absence feels like a symbol of Valve’s retreat from game development. I know this is ridiculous, because Valve is running Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive—two of the biggest games in the world. But I can’t enjoy Dota 2, because a) it demands massive time investment and b) in my experience as a new player in that community has been dreadful. I don't think I'm alone. I loved Left 4 Dead and Portal, and I had a great time with Alien Swarm, which Valve put out for free in 2010. I miss Valve’s humour and innovation, but if I’m honest I’m pining for Half-Life because Valve stopped making games for me. That’s a pretty petulant position, but there we are.

Samuel Roberts: I've always speculated that an unspoken reason behind Half-Life 3's continued non-existence is the burden to reinvent the first-person shooter again, just as Valve had done on two previous occasions. Is it enough for Valve to just make a super refined sequel, even if it doesn't have the impact of either of the previous Half-Life games? Well, yes—Portal 2 is exactly that model of follow-up. It wasn't a reinvention, it was a welcome extension of the first game's existing ideas. If the level and narrative design is strong enough, it doesn't feel like diminishing returns.

We need Half-Life 3 to complete the story of the series, but more than that, it's a better world for having more of Valve's single-player games in it.

Tom S: It is unfortunate that Half-Life 3 (or Half-Life 3: Episode Three) has become this mythical entity. We don't know what it looks like but it's everything we have ever dreamed a first-person game could be. That impossible expectation is good enough reason never to touch that series again. We've been banging on about it for so long that the stakes are crazy high now (and we are not going to stop, apparently).

Also shooters are in a good place right now. Last year brought us Doom, Titanfall 2, Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege is ticking along nicely. If the rumours are true we could be looking at Destiny 2 on PC in the future. I’m hoping for another shooter from the Wolfenstein: The New Order team. I miss the jokes and the characters of the Half-Life universe, but the FPS hardly needs to be rescued.

Phil Savage: The thing with Portal 2, Sam, is that it did reinvent—just not the campaign. Through its level editor, It made Steam Workshop creation accessible to everyone, and not just people who are really good at making virtual hats. It worked! Portal 2's Workshop page contains over 557,000 items, and, while most of those will have never been played, it definitely extended the life of an otherwise unsurprising—albeit hilarious and with a better ending song—sequel.

I think that's what Gabe Newell meant when he said, in his recent AMA, that Valve's products are, "usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges." If Portal 2 was the Workshop, and Team Fortress 2 the ability to sell a fuckload of hats, what would Half-Life 3 bring to Valve's ecosystem? Maybe it's Source 2. Half-Life 2 was a great showcase for the original Source engine. Perhaps Half-Life 3 will be how Valve demonstrates the power of its successor.

Joe Donnelly: Sam and Tom's points about reinvention and the rude health of modern shooters are bang on the money, and while the FPS genre isn't in need of the same revolution brought by Half-Life 2 12 years ago, Half-Life 2 itself still one of the best first-person shooters on the market today. I revisited the Orange Box last year on a whim to see how Gordon Freeman's second outing fared against today's standards—a whim which had me rooting around Nova Prospekt a full week later, delighting in the how much of the game's wit, humour and expert design I'd forgotten since my first playthroughs.

We've missed this, and it was only by returning after such a long absence that I realised quite how much I miss this. To this end while seeing Half-Life 3—or HL2: Episode 3—powered by Source 2 or something newer would be lovely; I'd just as easy take a concluding chapter powered by the original 2004 engine. And, judging by some of the responses to Gabe Newell's mid-week AMA, I seem to be far from alone. This covers the want element, but do we need Half-Life 3? I reckon yes: evolution and nostalgia aside, denying players the chance to tie up Freeman's loose ends while treating themselves to another helping of what made number two so enjoyable is not only a disservice to players, but an injustice to videogames in general.

Tom S: Some fans have wondered if Valve could do a comic, or another similarly light-touch release, to tie up the end of the story. This seems like a good idea, and I enjoy Valve’s comics a lot.

I do wonder why Half-Life 2’s story still carries weight all this time later though. Half-Life opened with a B-movie premise—experiments gone wrong, the military sweeping in to cover things up. It gained a lot of detail with Half-Life 2, but it’s still pulp sci-fi to me. I mean, there’s a whole zombie movie pastiche in there.

Chris Thursten: Half-Life has always had revolutionary storytelling, but never a revolutionary story. The groundbreaking implementation of elaborate scripted sequences in the first game is why people remember it so vividly. The game never took control away from you: you were there, in Black Mesa, watching that otherwise-familiar B-movie premise explode to life around you.

Half-Life 2 took that further, and grounded a more sophisticated (but still familiar) story of near-future resistance in a believable dystopia. It has been widely imitated, and for good reason. It was a compellingly presented world populated by well-performed characters. Again, you felt like you were in a real place to an extent that you hadn't necessarily been in previous games.

In addition to advancing the FPS as a whole, then, Half-Life 3 would presumably need to advance our understanding of what a gameworld can be. This is where it gets much more complicated, I suspect. The advance of game engine technology has slowed. We're not blown away by see-saw physics any more. I wouldn't be surprised if Valve had experimented with VR with this in mind. Because what else could they do?

Aside from some staggering advance in graphics tech—that would still need to run on regular PCs—the best they could do is kidnap you, stick you in a helicopter, fly you to antarctica and force you to live the conclusion of Gordon's journey in real life. I mean, they could probably afford to do that. But should they? I've seen Westworld. The answer: probably not. (But please do it anyway, Gabe.)

Tom S: That’s settled, then. We do need Half-Life 3, and it needs to be an experiential future-tech extravaganza with deadly IRL headcrabs and reality-shattering see-saw puzzles. Get on it then, Valve.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

So often the bleeding edge of games tech, yet so often fundamentally the same underneath: there’s a reason we can’t get enough of pretend shooting pretend people in their pretend faces. It is a pure test of skill and reflex, a game about movement at least as much as it is about violence, and done right it is absolutely delightful>. And hey, sometimes you get a decent gimmick or story thrown into the mix.

These are our favourite 50 first-person shooters on PC, from 1993-2017. Your favourite is at number 51.

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