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Half-Life 3 Speculation

Some thoughts on the possible direction (very generally) Valve might take with Half-Life 3.

Gabe Newell, head of Valve, recently gave an interview (SoundCloud: GameSlice: “#1: Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson from Valve”) where he spoke briefly about the possibility (or lack thereof) of Half-Life 3. This isn’t the first time he’s said things along the lines of, ‘we want to do it, but we don’t know how to do it with what we know now.’

Valve started out in the single-player world of games. The first Half-Life had multiplayer, but it was deathmatch only. Where the multiplayer code shined was in mods like Counter-Strike. Since then Valve has gone on to do more and more multiplayer and a lot of different market strategies with that.

It’s like seeing what you can do with the tools in a buddy’s woodshop with fancy powertools and then going back to a pocket knife and a stick. They don’t want to make another single-player linear game like Half-Life was, and they don’t know how to build into that universe in a multiplayer way (or if they do, they’ve not said so).

But they have a lot of data:

Team Fortress 2’s Mann versus Machine mode

They have some idea of how cooperative gameplay against an AI opponent can work. That’s not to say a potential multiplayer HL3 would look anything like MvM, but it is data they’d consider in building it.

Dota 2

They have some idea how cooperative and competitive go together, including AI friends and foes. All of these are present in Dota 2. It’s not clear if people would want to play as the Combine in a new HL3 game, but the possibility exists they would and could.

Others’ games

Valve also learns a lot from other games. Games like Borderlands 2 that feature cooperative play might give one possibility for a HL3 that isn’t all player characters, but where the core of heroes are people. Whether Valve would attempt a mission-driven game with maps like Borderlands 2 is an open question.

Valve also has content that never saw the light of day. Things like the commander class for earlier iterations of Team Fortress 2, which would have made it a partial RTS game might be something they look at and revamp for HL3 or it might not.

Ultimately, what HL3 will be isn’t as important as what it will contain:

  1. Freeman
  2. Scientists and allies
  3. Hostile aliens (headcrabs and zombies, plus others) and hostile humanoids (Combine or military)
  4. Gman

That’s the essence of Half-Life. The main challenge for multiplayer HL3 is that everyone wants to be Freeman. That was part of the appeal of the series, that you’re this lowly scientist that’s saving the world (and yourself). To suddenly break away from that and say “We’re all Robert Paulson” is a little cheap, but probably a necessity of a multiplayer Half-Life game.

It can be done, and done successfully. The message of mass movements is that everyone can carry part of the load, and that’s a very powerful message. But you still have the hanging string of Freeman to deal with. Is he dead? Moved up to management? Missing? Selling vacuums door-to-door?

Rise and shine, Mister Freeman. Your vacuum route awaits.

Interchangeable Video Game Parts

The notion of reusable gaming worlds.

Often when I do play video games it will be on servers that use custom maps/worlds. These vary greatly in quality, from top notch to bottom of the barrel, but mostly the people loyal to the server do their own quality control and the better the server, the better the average quality is.

But the experience is still limited. Most of the maps are not open source. The assets generally cannot be migrated from game to game, particularly if the gaming engine is separate.

There’s a great opportunity for assets to be reused, improved, and evolved over time, to the point where whole, seamless worlds of assets could be constructed and used by many games.

I’m not talking about having a consistent world across multiple games, though that’s a possibility as well, but just sharing the world.

This already happens on a limited basis. As said, custom maps are used on a variety of servers, some of which have their own custom game modes. Other maps have been released by their authors for multiple games or multiple versions of the same game. Or multiple versions of the map, with variations.

High quality maps don’t come easy, they require a lot of exacting work. And then testing. Reworking. But the idea that there should be an equal number of high quality maps as there should be high quality games, to me doesn’t add up. My understanding is that the act of creating the game world is one of the most laborious parts of producing a game. Even dud games may have beautifully architected levels.

It just seems like a big shame to waste these levels, by having them used once or twice and never again.

Sound effects for films have been reused as long as they’ve existed. There are some famous ones, and others that are not famous but still recognizable if you listen. Point being that reuse doesn’t necessarily detract from the entertainment.

There are tangible benefits to reuse beyond the fun of the games. They help level the playing field for game design a bit, where at least some of the code for handling the maps is free and open. They give more designers an opportunity, as they can market themselves to a wide, inclusive gaming community at once, rather than one small niche of a particular game at a time.

It may also help to keep old environments alive. I’ve not played the likes of Quake or Doom in years, but I still recall bits of their levels. While I doubt any risk of these games being lost forever, I also doubt they will be often adapted to new games except through a down-in-the-dirt recreation from the skybox in (or maybe from the spawn entities out?). It just seems like being able to pull up one of those worlds and stroll through could and should be as easy as something like Google Earth.


“This next test is impossible.” Portal, the new game by Valve software. More fun than cake (and less painful!)

Valve has just (okay, a few days ago) released their ‘orange box’: Half-Life2 Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 (multiplayer), and the game I mentioned last December, Portal.

I’d been waiting for TF2 since I played the original back when it was a mod for Quakeworld (the online component of Quake). Of course, that was when it was going to be a mod for Quake 2, and then it was going to come out on Valve’s Half-Life engine, and none of that happened. Ultimately TF2 is very different than what we waited for. It’s a good game, but the reason I bought Quake 2 and the original Half-Life is a game that will never exist.

The newest release in the story of Gordon Freeman is a solid episode. It’s a cliffhanger, which hopefully means that we’ll see Episode 3 sooner than we saw this follow-up. It’s definitely got some nice touches and replay value.

But the gem of the three is definitely Portal. It’s a genius idea. Take the idea of the hazard course/test lab environment that we saw over seven years ago in the first Half-Life and combine it with a great new ‘weapon.’ On top of that they throw in the whole 2001: A Space Odyssey “HAL9000” element. The puzzles are great, and the humor is marvelous.

The difficulty is almost purely your ability to conceive the solution. There weren’t really any places in the game where I felt ‘hey, I don’t want to keep doing this, I get it but I’m just not capable, can’t I skip it?’ And to me that’s vital for a game.

A video game shouldn’t be about training me to some obscure combination of buttons or my reaction time. Above all it should be, can I think my way through this novel situation.

I haven’t looked at the bonus levels (challenges and advanced versions of some of the puzzles seen in the main game) or the commentaries of either Portal or HL2:E2 yet. The past commentaries have been wonderful so I look forward to those. Also, they’ve added a feature ‘achievements’ that keeps track of certain side-goals. Neat.

I don’t play that many new games, but when I do I’m pretty happy if they turn out like this. There are surprises and a general ambiance that almost feels like Quake 1 in terms of making a game where anything could happen. And in some ways, anything can.