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"I finally got to a point where my skills don't match what the mod is anymore," Curtis, aka Enzo.Matrix, tells me. "To me that's insane."
The mod Enzo is referencing is one he co-founded in 2005: the Half-Life 2 modification and modern adaptation of Rare and Nintendo's first-person shooter GoldenEye 007—GoldenEye: Source. 12 years on, the mod that he and one-time partner Nicholas "Nickster" Bishop founded has been updated and reworked on several occasions, and is now almost unrecognisable in its current state. Nevertheless it continues to maintain and grow its thriving player base, and last year celebrated the launch of its most sophisticated and accomplished iteration yet in its 5.0 build.
"When we first started out, Nickster and I were working on a different mod that fell by the wayside called Project XX7," Enzo says. "When Nick came up to me and suggested we try something new, we decided to create something that was fun and enjoyable that you wanted to play with your friends. That's what the whole idea was: we wanted to recreate this experience that's enjoyable for everybody."
Enzo and Nickster chose to reimagine one of the most celebrated FPS games of a generation in N64's GoldenEye 007—and sought to capture the passion that'd elevated the '97 classic to cult status, without being hamstrung by the technical limitations the original faced eight years prior. Enzo recalls launching he and Nickster's Source variation into alpha on Christmas Eve, 2005 and quietly sneaking away from the family dinner table the following day to ensure everything was running smoothly. It was and people loved it. He was, in his own words, "utterly blown away."
As two hobbyists operating remotely in IRC rooms, Steam Chat, and on forum pages, development of GoldenEye: Source in the early days was slow but open, and as many as 20 people had volunteered their services within its first few months. Some folk dedicated more of their time, commitment and effort than others—Enzo highlights Killermonkey, Fourtecks and Luchador as three particular modders who "took things to the next level"—but, much similar to any part-time project that doesn't have the means to remunerate its contributors, this is perhaps to be expected. It was then Enzo was dealt a very personal blow, as he discovered in May of 2006 that co-founder Nickster had committed suicide.
"He was a very fun and pleasant guy," Enzo says. "It was just unfortunate that he went that route. He was a great friend that loved to chat." According to this archived thread featured on the mod's official site, Nickster, aged just 27, had spent some time in the lead up to his passing battling depression, and had shown a recent interest in the perceived concept of the afterlife. Despite the mod's fast-growing success at the time, GoldenEye: Source had lost one half of its pioneering founders, and his father paid tribute to the outpouring of well-wishes from his son's mod's community.
"I'm finding writing this message to be very helpful in helping me cope," his message concludes. "Nick twisted my arm for years to get me to play Half-Life. I've gotten to know and play with some great people. I can't tell you what it means to me to read all the wonderful things people have been writing about Nick. From the bottom of my heart I know Nick didn't want any of us to be sad."
With this sentiment in mind, GoldenEye: Source soldiered on and spent the next several years growing and refining the GoldenEye experience. Its classic maps were reinterpreted and made less linear; its guns were modernised and mechanics such as invulnerability were removed; and stalwart settings such as You Only Live Twice and License to Kill were reintroduced on top of a number of altogether new modes.
When GoldenEye: Source launched into alpha, its inspiration was the best part of ten years old—an influence that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. While it still enjoys a celebrated cult status today, though, it's easy to forget how much of it isn't worth saving. As Evan rightly noted in his review of Source's most recent 5.0 launch last year, the 64's four-player capacity, horrible controls, and slow turning speed, among others things, are best left behind thus reinterpreting something so highly regarded against modern hardware and, crucially, expectations is perhaps more complicated than it first seems.
"Recreating GoldenEye is a very interesting endeavour because there's a lot of stuff that people will remember from the original—specific weapons, characters, levels and all that—but there's also a lot of details that, as a result of the original's mechanics, the most people don't recall," says Noah, aka Entropy-Soldier, who became the mod's project lead ahead of build 5.0. "The controls, for instance, can have such a big impact on how you play the game and without them the game is essentially entirely different. Nowadays, nobody wants to deal with all of that, though. We definitely had to experiment with how much of the original game we wanted to port over to GoldenEye: Source, but I think we struck a pretty good balance of stuff that's essentially original content but heavily revamped for the modern gameplay environment."
Entropy-Soldier continues to say that simply recreating the old game within the Source engine is equivocal to copying someone's homework assignment, and that these bold sidesteps alongside the challenge of maintaining the mod's enduring appeal are what keeps everything interesting. He points to the original's infamous Dam map as a particularly relevant example of this.
"It is very difficult to strike the balance correctly where it's like: this shouldn't be as it was, but we don't want to just completely change everything," he says. "The Dam Map was a perfect example of that. Remaking the Dam from the original was tough because it's a very linear map and there really isn't a whole lot of leeway for layout changes. As such we had to change it quite a bit to make it feasible for multiplayer environments, while keeping its lineage intact."
And it's here where GoldenEye: Source thrives today. Whereas other prominent shooters operate automatic health regeneration mechanics, for example, GoldenEye: Source instead still relies on armour. There's also no crosshair by default, which encourages the fast and frantic twitch shooting the original executed so well—hitting shift pulls up an oversized reticule, but aiming comes at the expense of maneuverability and speed. Crouch dodging and crouch sliding return which, across its 20+ expanded maps, adds a whole other 'easy to learn/difficult to master'-type dynamic to combat should you desire. With that, there's enough here to draw the attention of new players, even if nostalgia plays a huge part in its overall appeal.
But nostalgia can surely only take players so far. An obvious question, then, is: what keeps players returning in their droves?
"I think there's always been a lot of people who've wanted to see a remake or remaster of the original game and there was a project in the works that was shut down," says Lewis, aka Mangly, the mod's lead artist. "It's a very memorable game and a lot of people want to experience it again but maybe not put up with all the notable constraints of '90s videogames."
"Yeah, we've added more modes, gun modes that's more relevant to the likes of Counter-Strike and what not, which has resonated pretty well with newcomers," Lyndon, otherwise known as Tweaklab, the mod's music composer interjects. "I've only been here for the past couple of years, but our organisation has also led to a more accomplished game in 5.0. Even as a newcomer it was making shift from Steam Chat then the forums, and then six months after that we moved to Discord and I noticed a huge change. It was really good getting frequent feedback and collaboration and even though I'm only doing music, there was no time wasted—the music was able to evolve naturally through the feedback.
"Before I joined the team I was making music just for fun, and I've been doing since around 2003. Since joining the team I'd say the quality of production has probably doubled, just because it's not just for fun. I mean, it is but it's more guaranteed that people are going to hear it now - that you're going to get feedback from others and not just your own. Even the stuff I make outside of GoldenEye now, I'm able to notice all the new techniques I've picked up and the extra attention to details and the layering—it's all come from the mod, it's really good."
With communication at the forefront of its 5.0 development, Entropy-Soldier reckons a smaller, more intimate team has allowed GoldenEye: Source to flourish into the focussed and polished article it's become today. The original GoldenEye 007 celebrates its 20th anniversary later this year and while the Source team don't have anything planned by way of celebration just yet, they do plan to maintain its latest build and grow it over time. It's unlikely we'll see such ambitious leap between 5.0 and its next step against what's come before the current build, however it's in a great place now to continue pushing itself into the future.
The team has set its bar high, but says it will never monetise its work—not least because so many faces have came and went along the way, and it'd hardly be appropriate for the current team to cash in on its predecessor's building blocks, some of whom have graduated to full-time employment with companies such as EA and Adobe. With this in mind, GoldenEye: Source is an archetypal labour of love, and a perfect example of hobbyist modders working with and for its community. Yet despite its most influx of players, the GoldenEye: Source team remains humble.
"We're always getting new people coming in and saying: 'my god, I've never heard of this project'," says Enzo, "and we've been around for such a long time, it's really interesting that's there's people that haven't heard of it. I love that, and it's always great to see new faces [getting] involved.
"It was pretty shocking when we hit the first big release like that. Back in the day it was like, we hit Slashdot and the site would almost be crippled. This time, the video went viral and we were second top trending on Facebook which was completely unexpected!"
You can download the GoldenEye: Source mod from ModDB.
Back in 2007, Ross Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind, a YouTube comedy series which explored the (very loud) inner monologue of theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman as he traveled through the events of the original Half-Life. Longtime fans, rejoice: yesterday, Scott posted the first episode of Freeman's Mind 2, in which Gordon arrives in City 17 to internally shout his way through Half-Life 2. You can see the new episode above.
It's natural to be a little suspicious that this is just a tease, what with the video being posted on April Fools' Day, but Scott has said in the past that he someday planned to tackle Half-Life 2 so we're hoping this is just the beginning of another long and enjoyable series of videos.
Originally this article stated the Freeman's Mind series began in 2013. That has been corrected above.
In November 2004, an independent studio named Junction Point was formed by Warren Spector and ex-Valve employee Art Min. The following year, it was announced the new outfit was working alongside Valve to create a Half-Life 2 episode which aimed to "fill in one of the gaps in the Half-Life universe" by fleshing out a specific part of its story. This project was ultimately cancelled, however new images offer a glimpse at how it might've looked.
As posted on Valvetime.net, the images from Junction Point's interpretation of Half-Life depict the second main series instalment's eerie zombie town Ravenholm—this time covered in snow.
According to Valvetime, the leaked map files suggest this Ravenholm would have included "small puzzles, scripted sequences, and fights". Valvetime also notes Junction Point's Ravenholm episode should not be confused with Arkane's also cancelled Return to Ravenholm.
"It is implied that the player crashes into a warehouse in a gondola," says Valvetime of this episode's narrative. "He wakes up in a room with two unique characters named Duncan and Scooter. There is a train station and buildings nearby. A group of rebels and Combine Soldiers fight on the streets. Duncan (ravenholm_npc_mueller) and Scooter (ravenholm_npc_scooter) are unique entities. Duncan uses a generic Citizen model, while Scooter's model is unknown.
"Some entities use JPS as their prefix in their names, which obviously stands for the studio's name. In addition to this, some objects have fields called magnet and magnetization, which are related to the Magnet Gun mentioned by Warren Spector in the interviews."
The magnet gun mentioned there was supposedly "entirely different" from the existing gravity gun, so said Spector in this Reddit AMA, however "the two would have been super complimentary."
Alas, it wasn't to be but a snow-themed Ravenholm would've been cool all the same. If not Ravenholm, which other areas of the Half-Life universe would you liked to have seen redone? Let us know in the comments south of here.
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.
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.
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 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.
"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.
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.
Now that our 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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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.
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!
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.
We 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.
It's been ten years since the Half-Life series last showed life, with the 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 decade since has not resulted in 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.
We've recently updated our list to include what has come to light in 2017 thanks to a Reddit AMA with Gabe Newell and some major revelations from ex-Valve writer Marc Laidlaw.
Here's every Half-Life 3 hoax, rumor, and leak we've collected.
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.
Half-life 3 fakes started pretty much as soon as The Orange Box was out the door. Just a few months later, this . 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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This leak came to us through the bad luck of artist Andrea Wicklund, whose Picasa portfolio ended up spilling 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.
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."
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.)
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).
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?
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.
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?
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!
Half-Life 3 de-confirmed. Fake filing. Why does this keep happening?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.")
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.
"There is no such thing as Half-Life 3," an anonymous Valve developer tells . "Valve has never announced a Half-Life 3. The closest they’ve come is after Half-Life 2, they said there would be three episodes. We only got two of those. That is arguably an unfulfilled promise. Anything else that we might think about as a full game or sequel has never been promised."
In other words, who ever said you were getting Half-Life 3 in the first place?
Valve top banana Gabe Newell takes part in an in which he acknowledges the existence of questions about Half-Life 3. When asked about the status of HL3 or Half-Life 2 Episode 3, he says, "The number 3 must not be said." And all those rumors that just won't go away? "I personally believe all unidentified anonymous sources on the internet."
Newell lays the blame for some of the persistence of Half-Life 3 rumors at the feet of Valve employees, who he says get a kick out of messing with people—although he's above such things himself, of course. "Some of the more childish members of our company have worn Half-Life 3 t-shirts to GDC," he says (via ). The appearance of an HL3 icon in a photo of a monitor at Valve was, Newell adds, was "news to us."
(Click the upper right corner to enlarge the image above, and squint at the icon above the recycle bin on the monitor.)
Half-Life and Half-Life 2 writer Marc Laidlaw, who left Valve in January, tells that he has no idea if Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, and doesn't much care anyway. "I had ideas for Episode 3. They were all supposed to take the series to a point where I could step away from it and leave it to the next generation," he said.
And even if it is released someday, he doesn't think it will actually bring with it any sort of proper resolution: "My intention was that Ep3 would simply tie up the plot threads that were particular to HL2. But it would still end like HL1 and HL2, with Gordon in an indeterminate space, on hold, waiting for the next game to begin. So one cliffhanger after another."
This one also comes courtesy of Mr. Laidlaw, who shares what is apparently a twisted-up synopsis of Half-Life 3 on his blog. Eli Vance is confirmed dead, Dr. Mossman tracks down the Borealis, Gordon and Alyx travel to Antarctica to handle the situation, and of course the plan falls completely apart before it even begins. What's especially interesting about the story is that it's basically "gender-swapped fan fiction," as we called it: Male characters are female and vice-versa, names are changed up slightly, but remain close enough to the originals to be recognizable by fans.
Assuming Laidlaw didn't make the whole thing up to mess with people (as Valve employees like to do, remember), Half-Life 3 would end with Alyx Vance murdering Dr. Mossman, after which the G-Man takes her away in place of Gordon; Gordon escapes his seeming inevitable doom with the help of the Vortigaunts, and by all appearances his role in the series is over, as Laidlaw had intended. How much validity there is to Laidlaw's tale is impossible to judge, but it does have one thing going for it: You can play (kinda, sorta) .