An often unanswered cliffhanger in history excites the minds of players or viewers, but the legendary end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and the ensuing silence have become something anomalous. 13 years after the release of the game, its heartbreaking finale still did not give us answers, and the jokes about the third Half Life have already bored everyone. But now, more than ten years later, we are getting a new Half-Life game, as well as some answers. IGN recently spoke with level designer Dario Casali, a Valve veteran who has been in the studio since 1996. They talked about Half-Life 2, its development and the impact on the new prequel. Most interestingly, they discussed why Valve decided to create episodes of the game instead of a full-fledged sequel, and why the infamous Half Life 2 Episode 3 never arrived.
The developer's answer is the clearest we've ever heard, but there is still no single simple reason that would explain everything. This was partly due to Valve's concerns about the engine and partly because of the studio's desire to start development on Source 2, and partly due to the lack of creative spark [and unsatisfactory internal experimentation] worthy of the Half-Life name.
First, Kasali was asked what lessons he learned at Valve in the development of Half-Life 2. He replied that one of the main ones was that trying to create a game from scratch and also develop a new game engine in a hurry was a bad idea.
“When we released Half-Life 2, it took quite a long time. For six years we have been developing the Source Engine together with the game. ”
Casali reveals that they had to throw away a lot of ideas and the work they had already done on Half-Life 2 as they experimented with what Source could do, played with physics and tried to push the boundaries of their new technology.
“I think our main goal was to get stable technology and then build a game based on it. But it turned out that it will take longer than we originally hoped. ”
"After six years of work on Half Life 2, we didn't want to delay for long"
“After six years of work on Half Life 2, we didn’t want to wait too long, so we decided to release the game in episodes. We thought: we now have stable technology, we understand the characters, we understand the story, we have a lot of mechanics. Let's give the players a bite to eat and then just take a short break. We thought players would prefer this to the past six years of waiting and delays we've been through.
Of course, it's ironic that Valve doesn't like to delay for six years when the gap between Episode 2 and HL: A has more than doubled. To this joke, Kasali replied: “Yes, we seem to have gone to the other extreme.”
But regardless of how it ended, there was originally a plan to develop and release each episode over the course of the year, conceiving them as shorter additions to the story so that players would be satisfied more often. This plan did not work out completely as Valve hoped. While the first episode was successfully developed after about a year, Kasali says the desire to cover a larger scale ended up playing a cruel joke.
“More and more we thought, 'Let's just keep putting more, more and more, and more stuff into this game, because we want to make the new episode as good as we can,” he explains, “ and then we realized that these episodes were turning into big sequels that took more time and resources to develop.
The second episode of Half Life 2 actually took the studio two years. Valve started working on it at the same time as the first in parallel. The small game release plan could not coexist with the studio's ambitions for the project, and Episode 2's scope went beyond its original concept. After Episode One was released, some team members even joined the Episode Two team to help.
“At that moment we realized,“ Okay, maybe the second episode had a good concept, but we are not doing very well with the implementation, ”explains Kasali. The team began rethinking plans after Episode 2.
This is why the third episode never came out, but why did Valve's reassessment of their plan lead to vague cliffhangers [and endless number 3 jokes] instead of creating a normal Half-Life sequel? Casali connects this with two things: the beginning of Source 2 development and Valve's goal to make the Half-Life games more than just another release.
“We were never happy with what we came up with
Both Casali and Valve founder Gabe Newell explained to IGN that Valve is using Half-Life games to push technology forward. In a new interview with IGN, Newell said that "Half-Life games have interesting problems to solve," and explained that Valve doesn't want to just "release Half-Life games because it helps generate more revenue." Kasali also says they were looking for something to help make a new leap after the second episode.
Since then, Valve has worked on many different projects: Steam, Dota 2, CS: GO, several VR headsets, and many other things, many of which we've never seen. Casali confirmed what Valve has already said publicly in other interviews that some of these projects were based on Half-Life and were never presented. He explains that they were never happy with what they came up with.
Casali says Valve is not moving forward with projects that don't seem promising. Their games and ideas almost always come from somewhere outside and they follow what they are told.
In other words, if we weren't playing games that Valv mess around with, they wouldn't be touching them. Another reason for the long delay in Half-Life's return was the creation of Source 2, an add-on to the Source engine used in Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, CS: GO and many other games [including Titanfall].
By the end of Episode 2, Valve was already looking for its next engine and had learned the hard lesson of not developing the new Half-Life and its engine from scratch at the same time. “We [didn't] want to make the same mistake again as we did in Half-Life 2,” explains Casali, “working on Source 2 and the next game in the series at the same time because it caused a lot of pain the first time.”
Half-Life 2 has been in development for six years, starting immediately after the first Half-Life release in 1998 and ending in 2004. Episode One followed about a year and a half later in 2006, followed by Episode Two at the end of 2007. At that point, Valve knew they wanted to create Source 2 and didn't want to start work on a new Half-Life using the engine before it was ready.
Seven years later, Source 2 was made available in the Dota 2 Workshop Tools in 2014, before the entire game was ported to the engine in 2015. Valve, meanwhile, tells IGN that Half-Life: Alyx has been in development for approximately four years, which suggests that Source 2 is fully ready in 2016, and that's when development for Alyx began.
"We don't want to make the same mistakes"
Now looking back and considering how long it can take to develop both the engine and the game, coupled with Valve's desire not to develop both projects at once, it's actually almost hard to imagine that a major new Half-Life game could have been released before Alix did it. Casali also says they "viewed VR as a potential answer to the question of what the next product in the Half-Life franchise might be." Newell echoed the same idea.
So while we haven't seen the elusive number 3 game yet, it looks like it could be the beginning of a new era for Valve. Casali says he hopes Alix means they have "turned the corner" in terms of long-term expectations, while Newell called the release "A really powerful moment for us." Casali also notes that the demanding nature of a high-precision virtual game like Alyx means they've only scratched the surface of what Source 2 is capable of.
But even more interestingly, Valve tells us that the Alyx team wants to make even more Half-Life games - and now they have both a core gameplay and an engine ready for new uses.
Our future is promising in some century.
The Topic of Article: Valve explains why Half Life 2: Episode 3 was never created.