Half-Life vs Duke Nukem
Update: There's a good chance a new Half-Life game could be coming — but it’s not what you think.
The "Half-Life" series is one of the best-loved franchises in gaming, and developer Valve is one of the best-loved studios.
But Valve hasn't added to the series since "Half-Life 2: Episode 2" in 2007, even though "Episode 3" had been announced for release later that year, leading fans to question whether the series' fabled final installment will ever come out.
The delays and secrecy surrounding a "Half-Life" sequel are even enough to draw some comparison with the now-infamous "Duke Nukem Forever," another sequel to a beloved game. That title was in development limbo for 15 years.
When "Duke Nukem Forever" finally came out in 2011, it was disappointing, to say the least. Crass, offensive content aside, the game's mediocre graphics and stale gameplay made it clear that the long development cycle had hindered, not helped, the game's quality.
Because Valve is known for making smart, highly polished games, on first glance, comparing a "Half-Life" sequel to "Duke Nukem Forever" may seem like comparing apples to rotten oranges.
But the two games do have one thing in common: When people talk about "vaporware," or software that has been announced but never released, "Duke Nukem Forever" and "Half-Life 3" are the first titles that come to mind.
It's tough when fans aren't even sure if the game they're waiting for is "Half-Life 2: Episode 3," which was originally slated for a 2007 release or, if the rumors are true, "Half-Life 3."
Valve has never confirmed the existence of anything called "Half-Life 3." The company has been tight-lipped about the franchise for years, though it has released many other games in the interim, including "Portal 2" and "Left 4 Dead."
'Half-Life 3' timeline
It all started in 1998 with the original "Half-Life." This first-person survival horror shooter stars Gordon Freeman, a bespectacled, silent, crowbar-wielding physicist who must fight back a tide of interdimensional invaders.
"Half-Life" was met with near-universal acclaim, particularly for its immersive, player-driven story told entirely through Gordon Freeman's eyes, without cut scenes or other typical video-game tropes.
Rumblings of a sequel were finally confirmed at the E3 2003 gaming conference, and in 2004, "Half-Life 2" came out to just as much critical acclaim as its predecessor.
In 2006, Valve released "Half-Life 2: Aftermath," which was soon renamed "Half-Life 2: Episode 1." At the time, Valve said "Half-Life 2: Episode 1" was the first game in a trilogy of episodic games that would continue the series.
"Probably a better name for it would have been 'Half-Life 3: Episode One,'" Valve's co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell told Eurogamer in 2006. In the same interview, he explained that the "Half-Life" development team had switched to an episodic format in order to release content on a regular basis.
"This is what we're trying instead of the large monolithic release," Newell said. "Let's take what we would ordinarily do and break it up into three pieces and see."
The second episode came out in 2007. At the same time, Valve announced that a third episode would come out later that year, with a planned fourth to follow, but 2007 came and went with no sign of the promised "Half-Life 2: Episode 3."
MORE: Download 'Half-Life 2: Fistful of Frags' Mod 3.5 for Windows
Both "Episode 1" and "Episode 2" were fairly short — only four to six hours of play time each — which helped Valve achieve such quick development cycles. But now, six years have passed since the last official "Half-Life" title was released, and "Episode 3" has yet to follow "Episode 2."
The long wait for what should have been a short game has made fans suspect that Valve is no longer continuing the series episodically. Rumors abound that "Half Life 2: Episode 3" has turned into a game called "Half-Life 3."
'Half-Life 3' news
A deaf character may also be planned for the game: In 2009, Newell discussed the challenges of programming sign language.
In 2010, Newell also told Edge Magazine that he wanted the next "Half-Life" game to return to the series's horror roots: "I feel like we've gotten away from genuinely scaring the player more than I'd like, and it's something we need to think about, in addition to broadening the emotional palette we can draw on."
And a fansite called ValveTime claims to have concept art of the character Alyx Vance from "Half-Life 2: Episode 3," but the images' authenticity is unconfirmed.
'Half-Life 3' rumors
First, a reiteration: Valve has never even confirmed that "Half-Life 3" exists. Nevertheless, "Half-Life 3" is a hot-button phrase, and any mention of it is enough to send the many dedicated fans of the series into a frenzy.
Garry Newman — the developer of "Garry's Mod," a game based on the "Half-Life 2" engine and published by Valve — is well aware of the game's potential to induce fan frenzy.
Newman tweeted a picture of a T-shirt that appeared to bear a "Half-Life 3" logo. "Of course I'm trolling!" Newman tweeted soon after.
Earlier this summer, a gaming blog called No S--- Shurlock announced it had exclusive confirmation from John Guthrie, a level designer on the "Half-Life" series, that a trailer for "Half-Life 3" would be revealed at E3 2014.
Once again, the Internet blew up faster than you could say "crowbar," but Valve quickly quashed the rumor, calling the quote and its claims "bogus."
And in late June, a software update to Steam, a game distribution platform also owned by Valve, mysteriously changed the audio on Steam's version of "Half-Life 2" to Korean, and fans believed that the language switch was the first stage of a "Half-Life 3" announcement.
(Valve had previously announced the game "Portal 2" through an in-game update to the original "Portal," so this leap of logic is not as incredible as it seems.) However, it turned out that the Korean audio was just a wacky glitch, which Valve quickly patched.
For legions of hopeful fans, the many "'Half-Life 3' confirmed" jokes that plague the Internet are getting old.
The company continues to maintain strict noncommital silence on the subject of "Half-Life 3" — which, in itself, is probably indicative that something "Half-Life" related is still in the works. After all, the series is too popular to let alone. Valve has something up its sleeve — we just don't know what or, more importantly, when it will come.