Author’s note: I didn’t intend for this to become a rant. It did, and so that’s how it is. Sucks.
And now…for something completely different.
Well. It’s only different because nothing has happened here yet, except for that other weird gibberish…stuff. Today I’m going to to write at you about something that will confuse ½ of you beyond any sort of reason, and cause the other ½ of you to close your browser tab after a brief “harumph,” accompanied by a severe-ish eyeroll (potentially followed by a hearty “You fool!” belted out amidst uncontrollably fiendish laughter): Half Life 3.
Or more specifically, the lack of any form of Half Life in what has now been a decade as of October 2017.
Before we get to the heart of it, some background (moan) is required.
Half Life, of course, is a popular (or at least, formerly so) video game franchise developed by Valve, a now over-mega-humungosized video game developer which struck it rich a few short years ago by developing Steam, a video game streaming platform that allows you and I to download everything from Mass Effect to Terraria.
Half Life features our gentleman pictured above as a protagonist: Gordon Freeman. Gordon is your average run-of-the-mill MIT Physics Doctoral Graduate, who finds himself having a very bad day at work one day and, to summarize, ends up in the middle of some god damned fucked up shit that is very bad. He then proceeds to fix said god damned fucked up shit that is very bad with nothing but a seemingly endless series of crowbar strikes and/or bullets, and somehow ends up as an either reviled or beloved character to others in the universe through his actions.
The series became popular in 1997, at a time when Valve was literally nothing more than 2 former Microsoft employees with an eye for gaming (soon to be giant-amongst-men Gabe “Gaben,” Newell and Michael Harrington, a man who quickly cashed in on the success of those sweet sweet Half Life profits into the netherworld of blissful wealth), and a writer with a vision Mark Laidlaw, (named “The People’s Hero,” by Mike Drew in his best selling blog in 2017). It was Laidlaw that, in the end, turned a man with a crowbar and a physics degree into one of the most successful video games in history with huge profit margins and some of the best critical ratings achievable in the field.
After Half Life’s release, Valve saw an influx of revenue reflecting the 9.3 million copies of Half Life that were sold (if pricing was around $20.00 in late 90’s pricing, you’re looking at approximately $186 million in revenue on a single video game), and quite literally exploded into one of the most powerful and influential video game producers in the world, through development of the Left 4 Dead series, Portal, Team Fortress, Counter Strike…and of course, Half Life 2. Valve even had the temerity to try something new and launched a video game streaming/downloading software named Steam which is now synonymous with PC gaming (when was the last time anyone actually saw the PC gaming section at Gamestop?)
Throughout this explosive growth, Mark Laidlaw continued writing a superb story which was set in the Half Life universe, and created one of the most gritty, deadly, and hopeless visions science fiction had ever brought forth: Half Life 2, which was released in 2004. Humanity is enslaved, our overlords the Combine rule with a fist that makes the Gestapo and Stazi look like child’s play, and to top it off humans are being converted into… tools, to better serve the business needs of the Combine. And into this setting of utter hopelessness and drudgery that is what’s left of Humanity is inserted you: The Freeman. And then the Combine met your crowbar.
Maybe you can tell my love for Half Life 2 based on my foolishly reverent language. It’s true that while I’m silly and overly sentimental, 6.5 million copies of the game were sold within the first 4 years of it’s existence, which ballooned up to over 12 million copies by 2011, 5 years after the game hit the market. Valve had done it again.
Swiftly following the release of Half Life 2 (well…relatively swiftly) Valve decided to do something new with Half Life: episodes. The theory was that the episodic releases of sequels to the story would be available more quickly since they’d be shorter- this benefited gamers (who would have more Half Life more quickly) and Valve (who could make/save cash by breaking what would normally be a larger game up into smaller bits) equally, in addition to pushing Steam more into the forefront of gamer’s minds because of the nigh-exclusive content delivery of the sequels.
Gameplay and story meshed perfectly in Episodes 1 & 2, and both of them were released in a timely-ish manner, Half Life 2 Episode 1 released in 2006 and Half Life 2 Episode 2 released on October 10, 2007.
Here’s the part where things get…screwy is too kind a word, so I’ll just go ahead and call it what it is: “Fucked.”
Episode 3 was announced in 2006, with Gordon Freeman again appearing as the playable protagonist, and teaser art soon fed the growing anticipation for resolution to the Battlestar Galactica-esque cliffhanger that ended the previous episode.
Then, slowly, time passed.
And then more time passed.
And then…more time passed.
In 2009 when many expected the announcement of the 3rd episode, Valve announced instead Left 4 Dead 2. All things being equal, Left 4 Dead 2 is a fine game, and should be celebrated as such. Unfortunately, many Half Life fans boycotted it because they felt Valve was being too mum with updates on Half Life. At the time they were ridiculed and were in a minority…
Time invariably continued, and throughout the rest of 2009 and 2010, there was no news on Half Life out of Valve beyond 1-2 interviews which yielded that there was potential for a deaf character in the series and various other tidbits, but nothing further.
2011 saw speculation run rampant, but more of the same. Gabe Newell (Herein: Gaben) had become the default spokesman for Valve at that point, and had been answering the question “Where’s Episode 3?” number at numerous events, to which he consistently answered “I can’t tell you anything.”
2012 marked the 5th year going on since the last Half Life Episode was released. Since then Valve had released several successful games unrelated to Half Life, and the anniversary was marked by Gaben with more of the same, throwing in an occasional “These things take time,” and answered a detailed question why the “Ricochet 2,” project was taking so much time (which has been accepted to have been code for “Half Life 3.”), which included the words “it takes time and is taking time and more time,” in new and interesting ways. This year also marked a new twist in the tale…Mark Laidlaw began posting in a Twitter titled “Breengrub.” Dr. Breen was the reviled villain of Half Life 2, and Laidlaw only admitted to posting under the moniker as it was the only way he saw it possible to tell stories even remotely related to Half Life.
2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 came and went. Interviews happened, in which Gaben found so many more ways to say “It takes time,” and “I can’t comment,” that sources state he provided guidance on dodging questions to the communications teams to both Hillary Clinton’s and Trump’s 2016 campaign teams. These sources may or may not be alternative, but there you have it. That terrible year also brought the end of Mark Laidlaw’s employment with Valve via retirement, and he announced that he was retiring from video game writing altogether, which caused many of the remaining fans who had a semblance of hope to question whether Half Life had any future left (the fools!)
Enter present-day 2017. The 10th anniversary of the release of Half Life 2 Episode 2 is approximately 1 month in the future of this publication. In the time since the last installment was released, Tolkien wrote majority of The Lord of the Rings (reportedly having taken 12 years to write). This year, Gaben continued providing alternative answers to questions posed to him, and it looked like another depressing, uneventful year was passing by for fans of the nigh-forgotten series.
Suddenly on 8/25/17, this happened:
Mark Laidlaw’s blog post is worded in an extremely specific way, which likely absolves him of any legal liability and removes the characters he “creates,” from the overreaching claws of Valve’s legal team. But his intent is clear. This is the final chapter of Freeman’s journey that started in 2004’s Half Life 2. The story is a great read for those who may or may not be interested.
It would have been an even better video game. It has taken 10 years to get a god-damned paragraph, and that paragraph wasn’t even given by the entity that legally owns the Half Life Franchise. To that entity (Valve), this paragraph is likely as meaningless as the rest of the crap that’s been spewed by them about how long it takes to make a video game, maybe identified as a PR concern for their next game announcement. Either way, the only thing that’s certain is that the adventure that was Half Life has come to a sad, quiet end in the isolated depths of the internet. (At the time of this writing, Valve has yet to comment on the Epistle, one way or another).
To me it seems fitting that the series has a sad ending. Nothing that happens in the Half Life video games is terribly happy, save a few moments of fleeting triumph.
My main frustration comes from the fact that in the end Valve didn’t even own up to its fuck up. I could participate in the endless circle argument that Valve didn’t owe its fans anything beyond the games it made, but frankly I think that’s a crock of shit too.
What matters to me is the fact that Valve has made a joke of it. Example below:
Never Forget? Who forgot? This shirt was actively marketed on Valve in 2017. It’s become such a goddamned joke to Valve that they’re literally cashing in on the fact they’ve dashed the hopes of the fans that made the what they are. It takes a particularly shitty corporation to actively lead one of it’s major fanbases with no intention of making good on its promises.
Valve got too big, too successful. I’d accuse those in charge of Valve to answer the charge that they’ve forgotten where they’ve come from, but even if I were answered I have a feeling the answer would be the now famous epitaph attached to a once popular franchise.
“These things take time.”