In May of 2006, Half-Life 2: Episode Three was announced. It was said that the project would be wrapped up and pushed out just in time for a Christmas 2007 release.
I had no idea what Valve Time was. I didn't have much experience with the company. I had yet to plod through the five stages of grief over the release of a game. It has been nearly four years and the game’s whereabouts remain unknown. What began as a seemingly final installment to the story arc set in motion by Half-Life 2 is now a puzzling affair.
I initially felt the need to demand to know what was going on at Valve. Now, I'm content with waiting. This is how I learned to stop pining for Episode Three.
It wasn’t until Half-Life 2 was re-released in The Orange Box, in the Fall of 2007, that I sat down and played through it. I tossed aside my expectations and went in relatively blind, despite hearing good things.
I was initially patient, thinking Valve was hard at work on it. I told myself they couldn’t keep this going for more than a couple years. So I moved on to other games and Half-Life was soon off my mind.
Since the game's delay, no further information has been released outside of blips during interviews. I wanted to know more! Why did the studio’s acknowledgment of the game seem to fade out after 2007?
Why do we keep coming back to Episode Three? Why does nearly every interview, news article, and forum thread concerning Valve come back to the next entry in the Half-Life series? Usually, if something is good, we want more of it. Valve has a persistent track record of polished games that lead the pack. They're known for experimenting and taking calculated risks.
It’s easy to lose hope in a concept that remains unseen. I knew what direction Episode Three was supposed to head in. I knew it was supposed to be the last of the story arc set in motion. This was going to be as epic as epic could be defined. Perhaps even epic enough to have the term redefined.
My discovery of The Final Hours of Half-Life 2 and The Final Hours of Portal 2 further expanded my understanding of the company. Both features helped paint a vivid picture to the trials and tribulations both projects put the company through.
So what did I learn about Valve that changed my stance on Episode Three?
This leads to the company's founding principle: non-linear development. Valve does whatever it believes its time is best spent doing. A project starts with a collection of passion and interest. From there, the concept continues to be refined until the company believes it meets their own standards.
So why has Valve been noticeably quiet about the happenings of the Half-Life series with future installments? Because Half-Life 2 had moments that severely damaged the morale of the company and led to cracks in the company's carefully crafted environment (see: the leaking of an unfinished Half-Life 2 build).
The company has since learned it’s best to give a project time to hide from the public eye, as an idea in its infancy can be shattered if subjected to the cruelty of a general audience.
What makes the company work, as a whole, is that they don’t have to answer to shareholders looking from the outside of the company and the industry. The head of the company, comparatively, works directly with employees on projects. Can you imagine what we'd have if the company had shareholders and suits dictating its projects?
Half-Life 5? A non-existent mod community due to the hampering of “unauthorized use” of the Source engine? Left 4 Dead 4? No hats in Team Fortress 2?
“That’s all interesting,” you may say, “but what’s wrong with wanting to know more about the next Half-Life game?” There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know more. By nature, we’re curious. It’s when we feel the need to unkindly say that we deserve to know more that a problem arises.
“Fair enough,” you say, “but what’s happening, then? I still want to know if Episode Three is on or off!”
The company saw potential in the episodic model and viewed it as an opportunity to talk about other stories in the Half-Life universe. Something changed in 2007. From company behavior, word-of-mouth, and past events, here are three speculative answers for the whereabouts of the next Half-Life game.
One, Episode Three is proving to be an ambitious project and no deadline has been set to allow the team time to create a product that satisfies the company’s standard.
Every scenario will eventually lead to the public once again taking the helm of Gordon Freeman.
From what I know about the company, Valve will eventually return to the series and get behind a concept they believe in. It’s just a matter of time. We aren’t entitled to anything from the company. Having been guilty of this myself, I can no longer understand how people can say “I don’t care about that game. Where’s Episode Three?”