Last night, Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw published a personal blog post titled "Epistle 3". Despite featuring some changed names and very little context, the post was taken by many in the video game community as Laidlaw's story plot for the as-of-yet unreleased Half-Life Episode 3. Until Laidlaw's blog post, Half-Life 3 quietly languished as the video game equivalent of a shrug. Laidlaw's blog, for whatever purpose it was published, is still the closest fans have to Half-Life 3—and that says something.
To understand how we've reached the point where we waited 17 years for a blog post from a Half-Life writer, it's important to see how we ended up here.
In the beginning
- Half-Life 2 first came out in 2004 to widespread critical acclaim. Two years later, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 kicked off Valve's new episodic approach to Half-Life 2 sequels. We know that Valve originally planned for four episode thanks to a PC Gamer 2006 issue that cited Valve CEO Gabe Newell confirming that Episodes 1 through 4 were slated. This was still early enough that people were obsessing over Valve's episodic release schedule rather than its actual completion.
- A similar 2006 interview with Newell was published at Eurogamer where he confirmed that with the inclusion of Half-Life 2 Episode 1, there are three episodes total in the arc. "There are three that are worked out, and those are the ones that we've been talking about so far," Newell was quoted saying.
- In 2007, a year after the release of Half-Life 2 Episode 1, Episode 2 was released. Again, this was all part of Valve's intended episodic release schedule which would have allowed for faster development of shorter stories. This is compared to the six years it took for Valve to develop Half-Life 2, and something Newell has gone record to say was difficult for the team.
- With Half-Life Episode 2 released, the community's focus shifted to Half-Life 2 Episode 3, and that focus hasn't changed to this day.
- Interestingly enough, Half-Life Episode 2 didn't feature a next episode teaser like Episode 1 had for Episode 2. In an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, project lead David Speyrer says that this is because the development team didn't want to be beholden to what's shown in an incomplete teaser, a mistake made with the Episode 2 teaser. "We're going to try and do something pretty ambitious for that project. We don't want to over commit. If you look at the Episode Two trailer that we shipped with Episode One there's some pretty radical difference between what you see there and see in finished game."
- In November of 2007 the first concept art for Half-Life 2 Episode 3 were published in PC Gamer Magazine. They remain one of the few pieces of official Half-Life Episode 3 artwork released by Valve.
- In 2008, Kikizo interviewed Valve Marketing Director Dough Lombardi who told the publication that the gap between Half-Life Episode 2 and 3 would be longer than the entire gap between the first Half-Life 2 and Episode 2. A full three years. This is different than the month long cycles the episodic nature of Half-Life 2 was supposed to encourage. The new timeline places Half-Life Episode 3 as coming out sometime after 2010.
Drips, Leaks, and Other Projects
- Concept art from Valve artist Andrea Wicklund appear on her Picasa portfolio. They show what appear to be different designs of Half-Life 2 main character Alyx Vance. The images are eventually taken down from the portfolio.
- In the years following Half-Life Episode 2, Valve was releasing big video game projects like Left 4 Dead 2 Portal, and Portal 2. Meanwhile, one of Valve's biggest titles, Dota 2, was announced for development in 2010.
- Still, Newell and other Valve employees would still talk about Episode 3 at this time, whether it's about potential story elements, gameplay. Newell would do interviews talking about Valve's experimentation with deaf characters, or broadening emotional palette without specifically mentioning Half-Life Episode 3.
- It was also around this time that fans would begin trying to piece together parcels of information to construct some secret Half-Life Episode 3 update. A 2010 Portal ARG game was mistaken for a Half-Life Episode 3 teaser by the online community before being revealed to be a teaser for Portal 2. However, that didn't stop the community from digging into Valve SDK and taking files labeled "Ep3" as evidence of Half-Life development.
- Around 2011, Valve appears to change the company line regarding Half-Life Episode 3. Newell and other Valve employees begin telling the community and media outlets that they don't have anything to share about Half-Life, or that they will say something when they have something.
- After a proposed (and failed) 2009 boycott of Left 4 Dead 2 that was meant to force Valve to share updates about Half-Life, the community spends 2011 and 2012 continuing to look for hidden Half-Life Episode 3 hints in anything they can find. Dataminers look into Valve updates and even a Dota 2 beta leak for whatever they can find on Half-Life Episode 3. There isn't much.
- In August 2011, a couple fans picket Valve jokingly over the release of Half-Life Episode 3. They are greeted by Gabe Newell and invited into the office. Half-Life Episode 3 was not released that day.
- In December, a rogue Half-Life 3 t-shirt is spotted by the internet and everyone freaks out. The tshirt turns up nothing and fans begin counting the number of clouds (three) in promotional artwork for the Steam Winter Sale hoping for more Half-Life info. Half-Life Episode 3 does not release in 2011.
- In hindsight, during this period of rabid fan investigations, Gabe Newell continues to give interviews that clearly lay out the coming development plans of Valve. After speculation by Geoff Keighly that Valve is done with single-player games, Newell releases a statement saying that Valve is merely looking into adding social components to single-player games. Features present in current games like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offense. "What we're trying to talk about is the fact that, not that we're not doing single-player games ... It's more that we think we have to work harder in the future, that entertainment is inherently increased in value by having it be social, by letting you play with your friends and recognizing that you're connected with other people. That's the thing we're trying to say."
Desperation and Trolling
- Fans continue to examine everything that could potentially be related to Half-Life Episode 3. Fans also set up campaigns to get Valve to talk with them about Half-Life, including a Red Letter Day campaign in 2012. These efforts from the Steam group, "A Call for Communication (Half-Life)" turn up nothing.
- Valve also switches tactics and begins cheekily poking fun at the community. In 2012, Gabe Newell goes on the podcast Seven Day Cooldown for an interview. When asked about "Richochet 2" a knowing reference to Half-Life 3, Newell delivers an elaborate answer about "Ricochet 2" which repeats the company Half-Life 3 line that development takes time, and circumstances change.
- That year, Newell appears in a video forging a crowbar, the trademark weapon of Half-Life hero Gordon Freeman. In 2017, an April Fool's joke at Valve involved a fake poster for the Half-Life 3 "Release Party".
- Other creators like Garry's Mod creator Garry Newman join in on the trolling by posting photos of fake Half-Life 3 shirts he claimed were sent by Valve.
Marc Laidlaw's "Epistle 3"
- Since Episode 2, Laidlaw would comment several times that he cannot comment on any ongoing projects at Valve. He only revealed things related to Valve's creative process.
- However, in 2016 Laidlaw resigns from Valve and retires from video game writing altogether. He didn't say much after leaving Valve that is until yesterday.
- In 2017, Laidlaw publishes "Epistle 3" on his personal website. The blog post is structured like a letter addressed to "Playa" and recounts the plot of Half-Life 2 Episode 2 before summarizing the events that are interpreted to be Laidlaw's plot for Half-Life Episode 3.
- The next morning, after his site crashes, Laidlaw tweets that he's been amazed by the reception to his "fan-fiction".
Too many thanks to thank all the people for all the thanks, but as a person of the people I just want to say thanks, peeps.— Marc Laidlaw (@marc_laidlaw) August 25, 2017
So, Half-Life 3?
- It's unclear if Half-Life 3 is even in development at this point. In a Reddit AMA with Gabe Newell earlier in 2017, he told Redditors that games set in the Portal/Half-Life universe are still in play, along with a movie based on either of those games with director J.J. Abrams.
Given Newell's statements regarding the success Valve has had with multiplayer games and experimentation with new technology like VR, along with the announcement of the card game Artifact, it seems that Half-Life Episode 3 is low priority for the company. Only time will tell if it ever surfaces, or if Laidlaw's apocryphal blog post serves as the de facto conclusion to the Half-Life Episode 3 epic.