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

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.

PC Gamer

"There’s something with that third episode that isn’t sitting right with Gabe and other people at Valve," an anonymous alleged Valve insider claims. "Ultimately it just starves to death."

The above is but a snippet of a thorough and intriguing interview published by Game Informer's Andrew Reiner, conducted with an unverified source at Valve (Reiner, while cautious of publishing the interview without verification, does however trust his source) who suggests Half-Life 3 has never existed, no matter how much fans of the series may wish otherwise. 

The source even suggests the elusive and much-anticipated third series instalment could have been a live-action choice-driven game or an RTS, had certain Valve employees seen their iterative ideas through to completion. The source chalks this up to the developer's fluid structure and in-house culture—something which has seen several developers working on projects they hoped would go onto become the next Half-Life, however without support from the powers that be, not least Gabe Newell, failed to get off the ground. 

Assuming the source is credible, Reiner's interview is absolutely worth reading in its entirety. Below is how the source responds to direct questions about the prospect of Half-Life 3, and the possibility of concluding Half-Life 2.

"I don’t think there will be any more. But at any given moment, they make decisions as they come. If some people within Valve make something that they collectively feel is exciting, then it will happen. That’s going to be hard for that to happen now," says Reiner's source. "Every time a Half-Life project gets some gravity and then collapses, it becomes harder for the next one to start up. Because the business changes so much, and there are so many other things to do, it just gets harder and harder. It’s one of those things they’ll always have to accept. 

"People are going to harass them for more Half-Life. The idea of delivering a third episode of Half-Life 2, that’s dead. There’s no universe where that will happen. I think there is a universe where a standalone thing could come together to fill in that hole, but that’s tough."

Speaking to this point, Reiner questions why Valve doesn't hand development over to a third party, to which the source suggests doing so risks either upsetting fans by way of neglecting players, or by ultimately releasing a lesser game. Reiner counters by suggesting  Valve will forever continue to be harassed for more Half-Life by adopting this approach. 

"That’s why they won’t talk about it anymore," the source responds. "Every time they talk about it, the hunger comes back. That’s why they ignore it. The pain subsides with time."

Again, Reiner's interview is worth reading as a whole as, again assuming it's legitimate, it offers some valuable insight into how Valve works, and perhaps presents an argument why we might be best putting Half-Life 3—as an idea and/or possibility to bed. 

If you think that's giving up too easy, then you should definitely check out our Half-Life 3 unconfirmed collection which gathers every rumor, hoax, and leak which has surfaced since the conclusion of HL2.

Thanks, PCGamesN.

PC Gamer

Mega City One isn't quite Half-Life 3, but it is a three hour-long single-player campaign which plants you in the shoes of Gordon Freeman and sets you off on an alternate timeline in a bid to save the world. Its version 1.0 is out now. 

Inspired by an unorthodox combination of the movie Dredd, and games Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, Mega City One sees Freeman again siding with the Rebels against the Combine this time in search of a lost Xen crystal. The next phase of your adversaries' invasion of earth is hinged on acquiring the ancient artefact thus you'll visit ancient ruins, old temples, villages, mansions, and ultimately the city in your quest to get there first.     

"All difficulty levels have been completely rebalanced compared to the main game, to make the experience more challenging and fun at the same time," explains mod creator Abdulhamid Cayirli, who goes by the pseudonym Crowbar. "On the hardest difficulty it is essential to explore and conserve ammo. The difficulty levels have also been smoothed out and the levels are all designed for every difficulty level."

Mega City One came to be when Crowbar entered RunThinkShootLive's mapping tournament 'The Hammer Cup' last year, designing various maps for the competition's five challenges. Following the event, Crowbar decided to rework his designs, remake areas, and implement the feedback he received from the tournament's players. He's since added entirely new maps in order to fill the gaps.

"The great thing about this is that all maps have been extensively play tested, so you can expect a very polished experience in terms of gameplay," says Crowbar. 

Mega City One's version 1.0 is out now—head over to ModDB for download links and installation instructions.

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.

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.

PC Gamer

Joe Wintergreen is an Australian indie game developer who is currently working on mostly a stealth FPS under the Impromptu Games banner. He also recently delivered unto the internet a series of code snippets from the great FPS Half-Life 2 by way of his Twitter account. There's not much to see of the code, but that's not why we're here. What's really relevant are the code comments, and the light they shine on how the magic is made.

The first tweet in Wintergreen's thread sets the tone for what's to come:

Striders will intentionally shoot things up even if you're not in their line of sight, just because it looks cool:

Charlie don't surf, and the Combine don't dance:

Zombies had to be toughened up after the shotgun's power was increased, to keep things in balance:

This is a stupid fix but it works, so whatever:

There's only one fuck in the entire codebase, according to Wintergreen, and this is it:

Alyx Vance: Nice girl, handy in a fight, terrible eyesight:

Some of comments really give a sense of what goes into making a game and keeping it intact. One in particular is actually a multi-paragraph telling of how the Strider minigun was accidentally nerfed in the Orange Box because of a bug in the original Half-Life 2 that nobody noticed. There's also a bit about the low violence mode, and references to the Combine Advisors, large sluglike aliens with creepy psychic powers who ended up not being used in the game. [Correction, sort of: I've been reminded that they did appear in Half-Life 2: Episode 2, but you didn't actually fight them.]

It's a fun bit of videogame history, and there are quite a few more than just what's embedded here. If you've got a few minutes, you can catch the entire thread on Twitter.

PC Gamer

Every game is ambitious. It s not easy to turn a beautiful idea into a finished, playable game as developers have said time and again, sometimes it feels almost impossible. As miraculous as finishing any game might be, not all games are created equal. Some stretch the boundaries of technology to their breaking point. Others take a leap into the unknown with new design schools, often so effectively that years later, it s hard to remember them ever having to be invented.

Think, for example, of Monkey Island s Three Trials structure, as used by almost every adventure afterwards. Or its sequel s Four Map Pieces , as later picked up by BioWare. And sometimes, both art and science combine to push the envelope and we get something truly, impossibly special. Here are our picks for the top 20 ignoring the very early games that had to prove computers could handle gaming at all.

For more on some of the most monumental games ever to grace the PC, check out our feature on the most important PC games.

King's Quest (1983)

For the longest time, adventure games were where people looked to see the latest innovations. King s Quest set that bar early on, jumping from simple text and pictures to 3D environments, huge worlds, and a fairytale land of mystery to both wander and wonder at. Admittedly, the last part was helped by some dreadful puzzles. King s Quest was originally commissioned by IBM as the showpiece for its long-forgotten PCJr system, but the series would go on to demonstrate just about every major technological advancement for the mainstream: ADLIB sound, VGA graphics, full speech, and high resolution. 3D didn t work out so well, but until that point, King s Quest was where many players went to get their glimpse of the ever-advancing future.

Commander Keen (1990)

If you want to experience pure hell, try the average 80s PC platform game. Long before making Doom, the team that would be id Software wanted to prove that the PC could handle experiences that played as smoothly as dedicated consoles. Commander Keen wasn t just a fluid experience by the standards of the time, but a fast one, with pogo-jumping, shooting and big levels to explore. Looking back, it s hard to appreciate what a development it was, but we re talking an era where games like the original Duke Nukem (or Nukum either way, the one who wore a pink suit and watched Oprah) were constantly being held up as the PC s answer to Mario. Commander Keen didn t qualify either, but it paved the way for many sequels and the formation of id itself.

A bit of bonus ambition: before making Keen, id tried to convince Nintendo to let it port Super Mario Bros. 3 to the PC by building a working demo (in their off hours in a single week, no less). Nintendo said no thanks, but you can see footage of the demo here.

Maniac Mansion (1987)

If you made a game like Maniac Mansion right now, people would still rightly call it ambitious. A choice of seven characters, each with their own skills. A non-linear adventure with five different endings depending on choices and characters. Real time elements, like ringing the doorbell and having a character come downstairs to check on it. Puzzles involving multiple characters in different rooms of the house or simply the option to do things like put a kid in an empty swimming pool and then fill it back up. And on top of all of this, Maniac Mansion brought the world the SCUMM system (Script Creation Utility For Maniac Mansion) that would define about half the adventure game market for the next decade. All of this, in 1987. Few adventures have ever done so much.

Ultima Underworld (1993)

Like most of the games on this list, Ultima Underworld is a fusion between ambitious technology and ambitious design the design side specifically being to take one single dungeon and try to breathe life into it. To add nuance to its different races, there to be talked to instead of just beaten up. The Stygian Abyss wasn t just a battlefield. It was a fallen community. A place to live in. The experience of being thrown into a dungeon and just expected to survive.

What really sold it though, if your PC could run it, was the technology. Before even Wolfenstein 3D, Ultima Underworld offered a full 3D environment complete with slopes, lighting effects and more, in a bit of technology that could only have been more impressive if well, the viewing window had been a bit bigger. Underworld 2 greatly increased the scope of the game, visiting other worlds and making it a bit easier to see, but what the first one managed remains a technological victory worthy of any heroic age.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1993)

Get used to seeing the word Ultima. Ultima VII came out in 1993, and still games like Divinity: Original Sin measure themselves against its success. Its biggest success was creating a living world, where peasants went home at night, weather blasted the world, your companions had to be fed, and, yes, where you could get some flour and water, mix it into dough, stick it in an oven, and get your own deliciously crispy bread. On top of this was an incredibly mature story that continued the series love of more advanced storytelling than most games of the era (previous ones having tackled racism, the perversion of good, and the quest for a hero worth being called one) with a complex tale of good intentions subverted by an otherworldly being of pure, but incredibly smug malevolence.

Ultima Online (1997)

Last time! Where Ultima VII brought a living world to single-player RPGs, Ultima Online brought it to multiplayer. It wasn t the first MUD or MMO, but most of them followed the Diku model popularised by Everquest: go forth, slay. Ultima Online wanted to create an actual world, where players would gather resources, craft houses, become shopkeepers and more, with hero just one of the many careers available. It wasn t without its problems, the first of them being the discovery that given a world to explore and exploit, players will typically turn it into a survival of the fittest Hell. But, its scope, its potential, and the joy of it when it worked created an epic experience that s still running today, and stories like the assassination of Lord British that will never cease to amuse.

The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)

The second of the Elder Scrolls games asked one hell of a question: could you make a world with over 750,000 characters and a map the size of Britain actually feel like a world? We re putting this one here instead of Elite, partly to ring the changes, but mostly because few procedural games have pulled it off so well enough political relationships, guilds, interesting stuff to discover, and cool mechanics like being able to get turned into a werewolf or vampire.

It s not that difficult to create raw space. Daggerfall s own predecessor Arena offered even more. Its sequel, Morrowind, did what most games tend to, and hand-crafted a far smaller area in intricate detail. But for a moment with Daggerfall, we had a game that showed you could be epic, procedural and interesting, without simplifying everything down to the ASCII style of Rogue or putting all the impetus on the player to pretend that there was more going on behind the surface than was ever going to meet the eye.

Duke Nukem 3D (1996)

While another case of a game that s not aged all that well, Duke Nukem 3D was the game that took FPS action out of military bases and sewers and relocated it to city streets, cinemas, and other more realistic locations. That plus a complicated scripting system to blow them all up, clever tricks to fake a 3D engine (even though it was only 2.5, much like Doom) and endless imagination took Duke from being a moderate shareware star to the highest tiers of game characters. No wonder the world was willing to wait so long for Duke Nukem Forever. Even if it wasn t worth it, in the end.

Outcast (1999)

The PC has never really had its own Legend of Zelda. Action. Exploration. A whole new world to explore. Outcast is arguably the closest its come.

A graphical powerhouse of a game that immediately impressed with its freedom, with the AI of its characters, with the glorious effects in everything from jumping into water, to your personal scanner rippling gridmarks across the scenery. There was only one problem. It was all done with voxels at a time when 3D cards were finally allowing for decent polygonal worlds, putting all the work on CPUs that couldn t handle it. If you could play it, Outcast was an unforgettable experience. Too bad for most people it was one that had to wait until the GOG version that finally made it run, long after its prime.

Grand Theft Auto 3 (2001)

It s easy to dismiss the sheer effort that goes into creating a city. After all, we ve walked, run, driven and carjacked around so many. GTA 3 wasn t even the first, with racing games in particular having set the pace. But could you get out of the racing cars and ramble? Enjoy a pumping gangster soundtrack? Run around with automatic weapons and go on missions with a huge cast of crazy characters? Just sit back and listen to an hour of talk radio? Nope. GTA III was magic, and so many sequels on, it s still raising the bar for what virtual cities can and should be.

Give or take a few terrible cock jokes, anyway.

EVE Online (2003)

Ultima Online intended to let players call the shots. It didn t quite work. With EVE Online however, CCP had the courage to actually let it happen, creating one of the most talked about online games of the last few years. Tales of empires at war, of con artistry on a scale that would make Count Lustig blink, the epic sagas of backstabbings and betrayals that no other game can match. CCP likes to describe EVE using the phrase EVE is Real , and while there may not be any starships flying distant galaxies under your favourite forum s command, they still have a point.

Civilization (1991)

All of human history in a single game? There s not much more to be said, really. As achievements go, the only bigger one would be making it one of the greatest games of all time. Not to cast aspersions on the likes of Elite for creating a universe in slightly fewer bytes than the average person would make in a toothpaste and peperami footlong, but the thing about space is that it is mostly empty. Just saying. The world however, in as many ways as you can imagine? That s ambition, even if using it educationally does mostly teach people never, ever to mess with Gandhi.

Deus Ex (2000)

Real world. Real conspiracies. Where do we even begin? Deus Ex not only set out to create some of the most realistic real-world locations we d ever seen (not a tautology the games before hadn t exactly done a great job most of the time), but also turn them into nothing short of a psychopath s toolbox. Multiple paths and solutions. Characters who reacted to your decisions. Tiny decisions determining who lives and who dies. All wrapped in some of the best writing and wrapping the PC had known up to this point. There s a reason why so many years on, it s the original Deus Ex that still stands out as both one of the greatest games ever, and the template of a dream for future immersive simulators to study at the feet of as they try to surpass it.

Dwarf Fortress (2006)

Simulations don t get any deeper than this. Literally, or figuratively. Dwarf Fortress or to give it its full title, SLAVES TO ARMOK: GOOD OF BLOOD, CHAPTER II: DWARF FORTRESS is an ASCII gem best summed up by its creator saying in 2011 that we shouldn t expect version 1.0 for at least twenty years. That s what you get in a game so crazily detailed that a cat can go into a tavern, pick up spilled alcohol on its paws, wash itself off, and get drunk. This was never intended behaviour, just the sum of smaller sub-routines coming together and making their own reality. In retrospect, that twenty years to complete doesn t sound so much at all.

Half-Life 2 (2004)

In a way, Half-Life 2 s most ambitious part isn t even in the game. Valve had an idea for a new store, called Steam . You might have heard of it. Half-Life 2 was, if not its Trojan horse, then its vanguard. You wanted to play the best FPS ever made at the time? Then you got it through Steam. And that worked out pretty well.

Even if you ignore Steam, Half-Life 2 reinvented the shooter with its focus on physics, with every chapter introducing new mechanics and new exciting concepts like the gravity gun or playing point-defense with turrets. It also created a continuous world like no other, putting the final nail into the coffin of games that didn t prize a sense of presence as well as place in their shooter campaigns. Much copied, but still rarely bettered, Half-Life 2 set out to be both the best shooter around, and its next great leap forwards.

Planetside (2003)

Some games just shouldn t be possible. Even knowing the technology that powers them, the epic battles of the Planetside series have always had a degree of magic to them. For the handful of players lucky enough to have a system and connection that could handle it, heading out into one of Planetside s huge battles is a defining moment in games. For the rest, it says a lot that it still felt just as impressive when Planetside 2 rolled along only a couple of years ago. 5v5? 12v12? That s all well and good. But an explosive, expanding, all-access battlefield where the war never stops? That s military action with a little sorcery mixed into the formula, even today.

Spore (2008)

It failed. Yes, we know. It failed. But this is ambitious games we re talking about, and few games shot higher than Spore. Leading a tiny organism through every stage of life. Constructing it using the surprisingly powerful and fun editor. Sending it out to meet other players aliens in a great throbbing galaxy full of freshly created life. That may have been the point where the charm ran out, but the open-ended action and procedural generation and early focus on user generated content that led up to that point still stands out as a technological, if not gaming success.

Crysis (2007)

"But can it run Crysis?" was a relevant joke among PC gamers for at least three years for good reason: well after 2007, Crytek's shooter could still bring CPUs and graphics cards to their knees. Crysis took Half-Life 2's early use of physics and applied it to a dense, free-roaming world. Being able to shoot a tree, watch it fall over, and then shoot the trunk into smaller pieces was revelatory players gladly gave up framerate in favor of insane graphics and physics processing. Cutting edge AI and the systems-driven sandbox gave Crysis the depth to match its insane graphics, and no shooter since has managed quite the same combination of wow and substance.

DayZ (2012)

From its beginnings as a popular mod, DayZ spawned one of the most popular genres in gaming today. The framework for this multiplayer zombie survival game was Arma 2, up until that point one of the most ambitious simulation games and a bastion for fidelity and scale on PC. DayZ built upon Arma 2 s ambition, borrowing and later adapting its 225 km2 terrain, Chernarus, which was created from satellite-modeled slices of the Czech Republic.

The month that DayZ caught on, creator Dean Hall was already laying out incredible plans about features he wanted to add, as he told us in an interview. Underground structures. Dog companions. Realistic disease systems. A couple months later we were hearing about destructible terrain and player cities. Part of Hall s stated approach was to experiment with big, bad ideas, but the reality of implementing them quickly in Arma s Real Virtuality engine for DayZ proved to be a massive challenge.

Outside of these early technical roadblocks, as a multiplayer game DayZ was uniquely trusting. The systems that DayZ inherited from Arma granted it some depth, and being dropped into a massive, hostile environment with no instruction empowered players to tell their own stories, often through surprising, weird interactions with other survivors.

Our 2012 mod of the year remains in Early Access after arriving on Steam as a standalone game on December 2013.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

It s amazing to think that in just three games, CD Projekt Red has gone from unknown studio to absolute top-tier RPG developer. The Witcher 3 is their masterpiece, from the hand-crafted world to the sheer number of characters and plots. It s a game that excels on every level, from scripting subtle enough for a character to break off combat when they hear your name, to the global nature of some of the most amazing graphics and scenery in any PC game ever, and the sheer artistry of just about every major quest or aside. You never know what s coming next, from the teary humanity of the Bloody Baron s agonising storyline, to a gaggle of Witchers drinking too much, dressing up in drag, and drunk-dialling wizards across the whole continent.

Star Citizen (20XX?)

No, it s not out yet. It doesn t matter. Chris Roberts play to create the ultimate space game already qualifies. Elite style action combined with a dedicated, AAA Wing Commander-style campaign starring Mark Hamill. First person action aboard ships. Deep space exploration. A persistent universe allowing for company, or the solitude of the stars. A crowd-funded budget of $117,259,371 and counting, with players happily putting down real money for in-game ships and unlocking features like pets and modular ship designs and new AI characters to scatter around on planetside environments. If it s not the greatest game ever, expect literal, physical riots.

PC Gamer

Modding Half-Life 2 is still an enriching pastime for thousands, but did you know you can mod life to be more like Half-Life 2? Yeah, it's a thing: Russian handyman Valplushka has fitted a remote control drone with all the adornments needed to make an authentic Half-Life City Scanner drone.

It's a pretty impressive setup: the front panel moves emotively, just like in the game, and there's a red laser light embedded inside. The mind boggles at the potential. I'd like to have one as a pet, actually.

The first video is a simple demonstration of the drone, while the following one gives you some idea of how to make your own. Cheers, Geek.com.

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