This week’s launch of Half-Life: Alyx marks the first new release in the Half-Life series since late 2007. But despite well over a decade of promises from Valve for a true sequel, Alyx‘s prequel storyline still leaves us hanging on Half-Life 2: Episode 2‘s long-dangling cliffhanger ending.
So now that Valve has proven it can actually make a Half-Life game again, why hasn’t it been able to make one with a “3” in the title? IGN delved into that question with Valve staffers in a recent interview that gives as detailed an answer as we’ve yet seen.
Back to the ’00s
The history goes back to 2004, the end of a six-year span that saw Valve developing Half-Life 2 and its Source game engine at the same time. That lengthy, parallel development of engine and game was difficult enough that the company has found it never wants to repeat it, according to veteran Valve level designer Dario Casali. “I think our main takeaway from that is ‘get some stable technology and then build a game on top of it,'” he told IGN.
With the Source engine done, the idea was to avoid another long wait for a true Half-Life 3 by using the engine and existing resources on smaller “episodic” add-ons. Episode 1 in 2006 and Episode 2 in 2007 proved that developmental concept could work. For the planned “Episode 3,” though, Casali said, “We found ourselves creeping ever forward toward ‘Well, let’s just keeping putting more and more, and more, and more stuff in this game because we want to make it as good as we can, and then we realized these episodes are turning more into sequels.”
At that point, you’d think “Episode 3” could have easily turned into a full-fledged Half-Life 3 follow-up without much trouble. But for a completely new game like that, Valve would want to go further than even a feature-creeped episode could.
“Half-Life games are supposed to solve interesting problems,” Valve co-founder Gabe Newell told IGN in a separate interview. Valve doesn’t just want to “crank Half-Life titles out because it helps us make the quarterly numbers,” he said. Casali added that, for a new Half-Life game, they would be “looking for what is going to make that next big impact.”
Plus, by 2008, Valve was already turning its sights toward upgrades to the aging Source engine. Remembering the pain of Half-Life 2‘s concurrent game-and-engine co-development, Valve decided to wait for work on the Source 2 engine to be completed before it started in on a real “big impact” Half-Life sequel, Casali said.
But Source 2 wouldn’t be ready for prime time until 2015, when Dota 2 became the first Valve title to be fully ported to the new engine. And the five years since then? They’ve largely been taken up by Half-Life: Alyx, a game that Valve says took a full four years to develop.
And thus here we are, Roughly 16 years after the launch of Half-Life 2, without a full-fledged Half-Life 3. But with all that now out of the way, is Valve ready to actually follow up on the story of Half-Life 2: Episode 2?
Valve’s Robin Walker confirmed earlier this month that the company thinks Alyx is “not the end” of the franchise. And in a recent interview with PC Gamer, longtime Valve scribe Eric Wolpaw said he’s excited and “ready to sign up for the next one” now that the long Half-Life drought is finally over.
Could that future Half-Life possibly be another VR exclusive? Casali was noncommittal on that question when talking to PC Gamer, saying that “the best thing we can do at this point is to gauge the response to [Alyx]. How are people able to enjoy it? How many people can we get into the VR platform? [Are] people saying that VR is now this essential part of Half-Life? We really don’t know those answers until we put the game out and we start listening.”
Alyx‘s success or failure will also likely help determine Valve’s larger interest in virtual reality development going forward. Remember three years ago, when Valve promised it was working on three “full [VR] games, not experiments.” In a new interview with UploadVR, Valve’s Greg Coomer revealed that work on the other two promised titles (aside from Alyx) has stalled completely.
“All the resources for VR game development later in the cycle, during Alyx’s development, all of those resources got moved onto Alyx,” Coomer told the site. “So at the moment, no, there aren’t three other titles in development. But as for what’s coming, we don’t really have something new or newsworthy for you to say…”
If a VR exclusive as big as Half-Life: Alyx can’t move the technology past its current relative niche status in the game industry, there might not be much point in Valve throwing more resources at the concept in the near term. So maybe it’s not that surprising that, as Coomer told UploadVR, “We haven’t made actually any plans about [VR].”
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