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.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Now that our game of the year awards are out of the way, we can get to the serious stuff: ventilation shafts. They’re a pillar of modern game design, shunting players from one level to the next, telling spy wannabes that a square aluminum tunnel is all espionage requires, and giving the hunted a temporary haven from their mouth-breathing pursuers. The most iconic protagonists in PC gaming depend on inexplicably designed air convection systems to save the world time and time again.I'm going to revisit a few of the most recognizable vents from PC gaming history and evaluate them based on rules I’m making up as I go. One lucky duct will win the coveted PC Gamer Gust of Approval for best vent.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution 

Gif sourceThe original Deus Ex invented the concept of ventilation shafts, and as a result is exempt from competing. Unfortunately, further iterations of ventilation shafts from the new handlers at Square Enix didn’t do much to blend them into the environments or make them feel like genuine air ducts. Instead, they serve as well-lit (somehow), long graves where you hide your dead. How many bodies can you fit in an impossible space? Deus Ex: Human Revolution steps beyond the veil.Even worse, the vents aren’t in compliance with the ASHRAE standards for acceptable air quality. According to section 5.1.1 of the guidelines, “Where interior spaces without direct openings to the outdoors are ventilated through adjoining rooms, the opening between rooms shall be permanently unobstructed.” These dead bodies are breaking the law.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

They are deeper, wider, and more Jensen-sized. Seriously, they’re massive. And they’re always hiding behind vending machines and small crates, leading directly to and fro with plenty of slats along the way just in case you need to see where all the guards are hanging. Subtlety doesn’t circulate in the near future, I suppose. Air isn’t getting through those suckers in a sensible way. It’s a fact: these vents blow.

Watch Dogs 2 

Pitiful, but so pitiful, I can’t help but love it. There’s been no effort made to hide that this vent in a multi-billion dollar tech company building was built specifically for drone passage. (Just a heads up, this is how you get raccoons.) Watch Dogs 2 makes little effort to mask its videogame vents as anything but transparent chunks of level design. It’s one of the bigger problems I had with the game, that it promises options for infiltration, but vent layouts are so arbitrary and assured to lead directly between points of interest that they start to feel like a big billboard, stating ‘Sneak here!’

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes 

Gif sourceOK, so it’s more of a drainage system, but it might also push some air around. Note the more rectangular design gives the impression that they’re a tighter fit than most videogame vents, which makes for a more immersive ventilation shaft experience. Were I in a crime film, I’d consider using such a discreet, small passage as a good place to hide the murder weapon. Were I in a videogame, I’d glitch through the floor and fire my weapon with reckless abandon. In conclusion, I love the compress of MGS5’s passages, but otherwise, they rarely make sense. Often, they’ll just lead from a hole outside a building in a direct line inside. You’re going to get raccoons, damnit.

Half-Life

So very, very dark. Like a damn vent should be! If I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief that these big metallic crawlspaces are mean for air circulation and not hiding headcrabs, I want them to at least distract me with tension. The vents are otherwise featureless, vanilla shafts. Four walls, grey, nothing particularly special about them. At least they acknowledge you’re going to get critters with such impractical vents, even if they’re interdimensional face suckers.

Half-Life 2

Talk about sequelitis! No innovation. Expect more flat, boxy aluminum textures, more headcrabs popping out to say hello, and most grievous, of course, are the impractical air convection layouts. The thought makes me shiver, not because it’s abhorrent, but because damn, it’s cold in here, Gordon!

Batman: Arkham Series

Gif source

Gotham’s vents are comically large. Bruce Wayne isn’t a small man, especially with an extra few inches thanks to bat ears. And crouching isn’t easy in all that armor—it’s going to bunch up, Bruce. I’m sorry but your tummy is getting pinched beneath those plates. God forbid you drop a quarter. To accommodate all that batmass, the vents essentially serve as a venue for badguy shadow puppets and an echochamber for the Joker’s prolonged loudspeaker monologues. They’re a nice place to hide in if you’ve been spotted, but their design won’t win any awards from us. Often they serve as a comically short passage between two rooms, ensuring the only air they’re circulating is Wayne’s big ego.

WINNER — Alien: Isolation

We praised Alien's production design during release, and Creative Assembly's extraordinary attention to environment detail extends to the design of its vents. The aperture entrance to each vent is accompanied by a slick cylindrical animation and shrill soundbite that sounds like a sword being pulled from its sheath. Foreboding, a bit, considering there’s probably a hungry alien in there.Isolation’s detailed lighting and shadows give the impression that Sevastopol is a hulking, intricate tangle of retro-futurist industrial design. As you crawl through every vent and maintenance shaft, you’ll get small glimpses into the guts of the station, a smoky mess of pipes and dim lights and scattered tools. The result is a space station that feels so vast and cobbled together that its tiny passages and maintenance systems feel plausible. Vents that don’t make sense, make sense on Sevastopol.To the team at Creative Assembly, you’ve creatively assembled good passages behind the walls for players to bonk around in that don’t feel like a mad maintenance man’s pet project. Your congratulatory PC Gamer Gust of Approval should make it your way soon.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

The Black Mesa [official site] gang have shared a first look at Xen in their Half-Life remake. You might remember that they launched Black Mesa without Half-Life’s oft-maligned final chapter, set in the alien world of Xen, because doing it right was taking yonks. You might further remember they’re planning to launch Xen in summer 2017. You might… well, I> was surprised by this first peek at a Dear Esther-lookin’ cavern. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

It's been almost a full decade since the Half-Life series last showed life, with the surprising, even shocking conclusion of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. And surely, we thought, Valve wouldn't leave such a stunning cliffhanger untended for long. Surely, that heart-wrenching finale meant that Valve had a proper finish already cooked up, and the infamously long Valve-time waits between games would be a thing of the past.

Surely.

The near-ten years since then has not resulted in either Episode 3, or a proper Half-Life 3. But much has happened. Through both official channels and clever hoaxes, our hopes have been raised up and then dashed on the rocks, again and again.

May 2006 – Confirmed 

The fun begins not with a hoax, but an actual, official announcement: Half-Life 2: Episode 3, in time for Christmas 2007! There was even talk of Episode Four! Because sure, why not? Gabe Newell said episodic releases would be "pretty frequent," ideally spaced out by six to eights months. By my calculations, that means we're just about due for Half-Life 2 Episode 16.

January 2008 - The faking begins

Half-life 3 fakes started pretty much as soon as The Orange Box was out the door. Just a few months later, this screenshot began circulating. It was obviously a fake, but it was a sign of things to come: the years of hoaxes, leaks, rumors, and wishful thinking that led to this article today.

October 2008 - Two million copies?

Just as things were getting into full gear for the 2008 holiday season, Valve's Doug Lombardi told Videogames Daily that Valve "may [show Episode 3] at the very end of the year." Emphasis on "may," obviously, as Valve ultimately had nothing to say. He also expressed worry about over-committing to Half-Life 3, saying that if the studio got too deep into it, "We have to sell two million copies or else we're fucked." Two million copies, you say? I suppose that seemed like a lot back then.

July 2010 – The blob shake

Half-Life 3 references are found in the Alien Swarm SDK, in object properties like "Ep3 Blob Shake Position," "Ep 3 Fire Cover Position," and "Ep 3 Blob Brain Cover Position." It obviously wasn't proof of anything, but we were so hungry for a new Half-Life by this point that it was taken as rock-solid evidence that Gordo and co. would be making their return any day now.

May 2011 – Bad advice

"Combine Advisor Roaming" code is found in the Portal 2 SDK. Advisors had previously appeared in Half-Life 2, primarily in Episode Two, but that particular slice of code was not in the Episode Two SDK. It was new! And then Valve removed it! Clearly there was something to hide, although by now probably everyone involved has forgotten what it was.

July 2011 – A small, strange room 

A brief, very strange video clip containing a hex string led to the discovery of a small Half-Life 2 map on Megaupload. Hidden in the tiny, decrepit room is a heavily distorted image of a face and an audio file that, when fed into a spectrograph, revealed... well, not a hell of a lot of anything, really. The Half-Life connection at that point was pretty thin but that's the conclusion everyone jumped to because we were all so desperate for some crumb of hope, and it did have the distinct look of an ARG in its early stages. Alas, Valve kiboshed the idea in short order, and that was that.

 December 2011 – T-shirt guy 

Some guy, who some other guy said works at Valve, wore a Half-Life 3 t-shirt to a "local game development event." The wearer of said shirt was cool with having a photo of the shirt taken, although not his face, which is perhaps telling although whether it's telling us that the over-sharing Valve employee wanted to keep his identity on the downlow, or that he was just some rando who dropped a fiver at a t-shirt shop, is impossible to say.

December 2011 – Wheatley gets involved

Valve whipped up a video for the 2011 VGAs featuring Wheatley of Portal 2 fame, complete with Stephen Merchant's voice, and also some science-y looking guffola in the background. Among it was a spot of Russian text which translates in part to "Lanthanum," derived from the ancient Greek "lanthanein," meaning "to lie hidden," and written, " ." That first character look familiar to anyone? Sadly, Wheatley didn't win his award, and we still don't have the game.

 December 2011 – Black Aperture 

The last month of 2011 was a big one for Half-Life 3. A couple of weeks after t-shirt guy made his appearance, a mysterious site appeared at black-aperture.com bearing a very similar logo, along with branding for Valve, Steam, and the Source engine. Alas, the hoax effort didn't even stand up to the cursory inspection of a domain whois check, but it's to the credit of the owner that the site is still up, now bearing a blurry ".../3" image.

April 2012 – P-powered

Proving that simple is sometimes best, an April Fool joker caused millions of fans to momentarily go nuts when he posted a Half-Life 3: Now Available image at store.steamppowered.com. Some legitimate news sites fell for it, so excited were they by the prospect of Half-Life 3 being honest-to-God real that they failed to notice the extra "p" in the URL. The site remains up to this very day, although it's now tagged with a notice that it is in fact an April Fool's joke.

April 2012 - Ricochet, too?

Valve honcho Gabe Newell confused everyone when he discussed the development of Episode 3 in the context of Ricochet 2, the hypothetical sequel to the Valve-developed battle frisbee game.

"We'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2," he said, "but the problem is that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than being silent about it until we can be very crisp about what's happening." I can't say that I'm really with you on that one, Gabe, at least not here in the year 2016. The good news, Newell added, is that "everyone who's working on Ricochet 2 continues to work on Ricochet 2."

And so now we sometimes refer to Half-Life 3 as Ricochet 2, and may forever.

June 2012 - Concept art slips out

This leak came to us through the bad luck of artist Andrea Wicklund, whose Picasa portfolio ended up spilling concept art all over the net. Images included Alyx in various get-ups, a crashed helicopter in the Arctic, and pictures of the alien world Xen. Interestingly, while the art was dated from 2008, it didn't slip out until mid-2012.

August 2012 – No responsibility is taken

The 2012 edition of Gamescom promised to be an exciting one: Games scheduled for exhibit that year included Dragon Age 3 and Half-Life 3! Before we could line up for plane tickets to Germany, though, a correction was issued. Eurogamer asked three separate times why the titles had been listed, but Gamescom would only say that it was "a mistake."

June 2013 – Jira leak, stage one 

Data from Valve's project tracking tool (Jira) leaked to the public, revealing that 42 people are attached to a Half-Life 3 mailing list. Obviously, there was no way to verify that the leak was real, and even if it was, determining the age or status of the mailing list in question was impossible too. Maybe 42 people were working on Half-Life 3, or maybe 42 people are just too damn lazy to unsubscribe from the list. (I don't judge. I have two Felix the Fish plushies, because it was easier to let Big Fish Games sock my credit card for 7 bucks a month than to figure out how to make it stop.)

June 2013 – It was just a joke, we swear

A motley crew of yuksters manages to "accidentally" convince people that Half-Life 3 is in development in a segregated section of Valve's studios, and that a reveal of the project was finally imminent in the pages of their own magazine, no less! Which gang of comedy doofuses cooked this one up, you wonder? I cannot tell a lie: It was us (but it was meant to be an obvious joke, not a hoax).

August 2013 - The pen is mightier

A Steam dev posted an announcement of the beginning of a Half-Life 3 internal beta on the community announcements page. Real developer, real community post but fake announcement, as a close look at the list of updates makes clear. The dev in question quickly copped to it, saying he didn't "expect it to show up everywhere." Because when has that ever happened before, right?

August 2013 – Mr. Overwatch causes a stir 

John Patrick Lowrie, voice of Odessa Cubbage and husband of Combine Overwatch and GlaDOS voice actor Ellen McLain, caused a stir when he explained that Half-Life 3 wasn't moving forward because of challenges with motion capture which of course implied that he had some insight into the situation. He even said that overcoming mo-cap limitations was "one of the things they're working on," meaning that it was gasp! being worked on. Progress! Except, four days later he took it all back, saying that he doesn't know nothin' about nothin', and nobody can prove otherwise.

September 2013 – Jira, part deux 

Jira leaks again! This time there was a new "Half-Life 3 Core" group listed, and the number of people on the project had grown, too. That's practically an official announcement, right?

October 2013 – European trademark 

A trademark filing for Half-Life 3, owned by Valve, appeared in Europe. Trademark filings are a great way to get an early heads-up on new game projects: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Gwent are two high-profile examples of games that came to light first as a result of a trademark filing. Half-Life 3 trademarked? Half-Life 3 confirmed!

October 2013, one week later – European disappointment 

Half-Life 3 de-confirmed. Fake filing. Why does this keep happening?

May 2014 – Minh Le has seen things 

Counter-Strike mastermind Minh Le told goRGNtv that he'd seen Half-Life 3 concept art, and the game is in fact being worked on! Sort of, anyway. More precisely, he said he saw something "that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," although he seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in such a thing. It also wasn't clear when he'd seen the material in question, since he'd left Valve several years prior to the interview. He was also clearly far more interested in Left 4 Dead 3 than anything to do with Half-Life. Thanks for nothing, Minh.

October 2014 – A bad idea 

The "We Want Half-Life 3" Indiegogo campaign wasn't a Half-Life 3 hoax or broken promise, just a monumentally bad idea. Basically, a couple of advertising types decided to crowdfund a harassment campaign to let Valve know that people really want them to make Half-Life 3. You know, in case that wasn't clear. They asked for $150,000 for their campaign (which, in their defense, they later clarified was meant to be a one-day lark rather than concerted stalking); they closed with a little shy of $1600.

June 2015 – Another fake site 

Sweet Aunt Petunia, a Half-Life 3 logo actually appeared on the Valve.Software website. Unfortunately, that site is not actually related to Valve Software, but for a few delicious hours (or minutes, depending on when you heard about it and how innately suspicious you are of such things) we could let ourselves believe that the light was finally shining. The site is still up and the HL3 logo still there, but the fine print makes it clear that it is "just a joke site." Half-Life 3 hoaxes are no joking matter, Timmy.

October 2015 – Dota 2 discovery 

A file named hl3.txt was found in a Dota 2 update, containing references to "Combine Pulse Ceiling Turret" and "NPCs that are in the same squad (i.e. have matching squad names) will share information about enemies, and will take turns attacking and covering each other." That's straight out of a Combine soldier AI script, but what's with the hl3 filename? Valve maintained its usual stony silence, but I think it's worth noting that a year later, Gordon Freeman still hasn't appeared in Dota 2. That has to mean something.

Jan 2016 – Confusion on Reddit 

Drama in r/HalfLife, billed as "possibly the first legitimate Half-Life 3 leak." What's interesting about this one is that as far as I can tell, nobody is entirely, 100 percent certain that it was a hoax. The information provided was deep, detailed, and not at all flashy in the way of most other gag teases, and its veracity was backed, in ways he couldn't or wouldn't make clear, by the forum mod. Eventually, the whole thing just fizzled out, without the usual "lol suckers" flourish at the end, which could be seen as further "proof" that the leak was real. But probably not.

 February 2016 – Virtual teasing 

The innocuous-sounding SteamVR Performance Test software, an app intended to determine whether or not your rig is up to the strains of virtual reality, is found to contain some Half-Life secrets in its code, including a high-quality 3D model of Dog, the super-strong, ball-fetching robot from Half-Life 2. Half-Life 3: The VR Experience, perhaps? Not likely: The software contained material from other Valve games too, including Left 4 Dead and Dota 2, and writer Chet Faliszek was quite clear on the point when asked about it last year. (He said "No.")

August 2016 – Gamescomedy 

Right there, large as life and side-by-side with Titanfall 2, was a poster proclaiming, plainly and boldly, Half-Life 3! And some fine print underneath, which might have been missed at first because the poster said Half-Life 3! Except it was actually Half-Life: 3, as in, "Half-Life: 3 editors who played it back then." It's not so much a hoax as a lazy gag, but we all spasmed reflexively and so it gets the credit.

And that brings us to today, at least until the next joke, leak, hoax, apparent ARG, or off-hand comment. We give it at least 24 hours before that happens.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

The makers of Black Mesa [official site] have announced plans to add the final section of their Half-Life remake, Xen, in summer 2017. They explain that it’s taking so long because they’re really fleshing out that alien world.

I do admire the confidence to declare you’re making Xen bigger, given how unpopular that section is with some players. They might be happier to hear you’ve decided Gordon Freeman’s muteness is because he’s really three dogs crammed into an HEV suit, so you’re replacing his pain sound effects with barks and yelps. But no, the Black Mesa gang are determined to make Xen proper good. … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

In the original Half-Life, as Gordon Freeman makes his way to work on that fateful day in the Black Mesa Research Facility, you find a break room. A scientist sits at a table drinking from a coffee cup, and another paces the room. Then you see it. A microwave with a container of some unidentifiable food within, begging to be interacted with. There s no button prompt on the screen telling you to do so, but you just know that if you press the use key next to it something will happen. Something incredible. Something messy.

So you press it, and it beeps. Nothing. You press it again, and this time it beeps at a slightly higher pitch. A clue that you should keep pulling this thread, even though it looks like nothing is going to happen. So you hammer the use key until, suddenly, the dish explodes. The microwave is covered in yellow gunk and the pacing scientist rushes over. My God! he exclaims. What are you doing? He sadly observes the mess you ve made, but Freeman says nothing. You walk away, no apology, no remorse. Classic Gordon.

Valve knows what we re like. If we see something, we re going to try and interact with it. Doubly so if it looks like it was never meant to be interacted with, or if it s out of reach. And it s great that games like Half-Life reward this very human curiosity. There are few things in videogames more satisfying than hitting the use key next to some prop, and something happening in response. When it doesn t, it s always a disappointment. It makes the game world feel somehow more lifeless, more artificial. Like you re in some kind of cardboard film set rather than a real place. If I ever move near a hand dryer in a videogame bathroom and it doesn t roar into life, my immersion shatters into a thousand twinkling pieces.

I feel for the developers, though. They have to dedicate time and resources to modelling, texturing, animating, and creating sound effects for the most mundane objects. But it s work that s always appreciated. In the latest Deus Ex game, Mankind Divided, Adam Jensen s apartment is a funhouse of stuff to switch on and mess with, from the flushing toilet to the washer and dryer that start rumbling when you power them on. Eidos Montreal didn t have to do any of this stuff, but it makes all the difference that they did.

Flushing toilets, incidentally, have become the go-to test of a game s interactivity. There are even websites cataloguing all the games that feature them. Because it s the internet, and of course there are. Be honest: the first time you encounter a toilet in a game, you try to flush it. You probably even do it without thinking, instinctively hitting the use button when you re near one. And if nothing happens, and you don t hear that familiar rush of water, you wonder if the game s even worth your precious time.

In the years since Half-Life was released, the exploding microwave is still perhaps the best example of this kind of interaction. But there are others. Human Head s 2006 shooter Prey opens in a brilliantly interactive bar, boasting a TV with channels you can switch, playable gambling and arcade machines, and a jukebox with tracks by Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult and other classic rock groups. It s completely unnecessary, and doesn t reflect the rest of the game, but it speaks volumes that people still mention it now. In fact, I can t really remember anything about Prey except the bar scene.

Some games even make a feature out of switching things on. In Hitman, turning a radio on or getting a sink to overflow is a frequently invaluable way to lure a guard away from his post. But often you need a certain item to turn said thing on, such as a wrench or a screwdriver. IO Interactive has cleverly looked at how people love interacting with objects in games and designed a system around it.

Environment artists are doing incredible work these days, giving you increasingly detailed, atmospheric worlds to exist in. But no matter how complex the geometry is, how high-res the textures are, and how gorgeous the skybox is, it won t matter if we approach that toilet, press the use key, and it doesn t flush. As games get more expensive to develop and assets get more time consuming to make, I hope developers never forget that, above all, people just love turning things on. The toilet must always flush.

PC Gamer

I find myself increasingly interested in gaming history as I get older, from Digital Antiquarian to Matt Chat. This post from Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw was right up my alley, then, as it whisked me back to November 9 1998, or the day after the original Half-Life was released. As Laidlaw states in the preface, the text is taken from a recently discovered word file that he seems to have written on that date: a document that discusses the evolution of Half-Life, from the time he was brought onto the project to the time it eventually shipped, over a year later and after a significant delay.

Whether it was written on that date or not, it's a fascinating summary of the game's development, one that offers insight about creativity in general, and the way projects morph over time from their creators' original visions. Give the whole thing a read, is what I'm saying, but here are a couple of choice quotes to grab your interest:

"We tried out and discarded quite a few grand schemes. Some of you may remember, as I do, early talk about how there would be no bottlenecks in the game; how you would be able to run from one end to the other and all the way back again. This would have been a very easy feature to implement, given the nature of our transitions, but I was very relieved when we jettisoned this notion. Total freedom for the player would have meant a total loss of dramatic suspense. All narrative forms of drama, but especially horror, rely on pacing and rhythm. In horror timing is crucial. You have to set up your traps just so, and wait until your victim is precisely in position. There s nothing worse than springing them a moment too soon or too late. This would have been virtually impossible to control in a nonlinear game. would have been choosing to throw all suspense right out the window. We really wanted players to have an artfully structured experience, and time and trial have basically proven that the most satisfying narratives are linear."

"The one noticeable casualty of the camera s elimination was the absence of Gordon Freeman himself, our main character, as a visible presence in the game. Apart from the loading screen and the multiplay menus, and on the box itself, you never get to see Gordon Freeman. This introduced an interesting challenge. How could we make a real character out of someone you never saw, and who never uttered so much as one word? Well, we let the player solve that problem for himself. You start the game knowing very little about Gordon; but apparently everyone else knows you who you, and they fill you in on their expectations. In the gray zone between the player s ignorance and the NPCs knowledge of Gordon, something rather interesting happens. Players create their own Gordon Freeman a character they can identify with completely. There is nothing to jar you out of Gordon, once you re in the game. He never says anything stupid that you would never say in a million years. He never does anything you wouldn t do since you are behind all his actions. He becomes a hollow receptacle into which every player pours himself."

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Marc Laidlaw posted a fascinating blog entry from a younger version of Laidlaw about the development of Half-Life from the narrative perspective. By “a younger version” I mean that it comes from his own hand but via a file timestamped the day after Half-Life was shipped and is thus far closer to the game’s… ground zero? than the Laidlaw of now.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Digital trading cards are simultaneously one of Steam's smartest and most sinister features. Each game that supports them (and most do these days) has a set of cards, ranging in number from just four or five to more than a dozen, that are earned simply by playing the game. Collect a full set and you can exchange them for badges, wallpapers, and other such goodies, and also boost your Steam user level.

The catch is that you can only earn half of the number of cards in a given set that way, and some of them might be duplicates. So if you want them all and you do then you'll have to either trade with other users, or buy them with real money from Steam's Community Market.

Interestingly, and unexpectedly, one of the games on Steam that doesn't support this particular dopamine pump is Valve's own Half-Life. It was meant to: As ValveTime reports, Valve actually hired artist David Thany to create Half-Life cards, badges and emoticons for the 2013 Steam Summer Sale. But they were never used, possibly, according to Thany, because they appeared more akin to the sequel, Half-Life 2, than the much more primitive-looking original.

I don't know if he's right about that, but it's a fair point. If I'd seen these images without any introduction, there's no question I would have assumed they originated with Half-Life 2. Even so, it's a bit odd that three years down the road, nothing else has been added in their place. It seems clear enough that Valve wanted Half-Life trading cards, so what's the holdup?

I have no idea, but these are pretty great. And Thany's work did make it into at least one game on Steam: The Hotline Miami trading cards are his creations, too.

...

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