Saturday, June 18, 2016

Something other than Cancer: Half Life 3?

Some days I'm tired of talking about my cancer and all the myriad problems that come with it. Like Christmas in hell every damn day. So I will talk about something almost as depressing: why Half Life 3 will never be made.

The Half Life franchise from Valve is the most beloved in all of gaming. Half Life 2 holds up even years after its release. The memorable characters and their relationships with the protagonist Gordon Freeman - one hell of a bad ass post-doc in physics - really take the game to another level. Half Life 2 Episode 2 ended on a compelling cliffhanger. It was so integral to the plot, almost an insult to call it a "cliffhanger." So what's the deal? This should be a no-brainer, Half Life 3 writes itself.

From an author's point of view, the ideas and characters would drive Half Life 3 into creation. They are just too compelling to resist for any creator. But for a company, a collective, there are only down sides to this project. It is the difference between the individual artist and the committee.

"What down sides?" you might ask.

So, so many of them. I'll only list a few.

First, the Half Life franchise is the foundational first person action shooter. Just about every FPS made since its release is a homage to Half Life. There is nothing new in the FPS for Valve to play with. The genre is all used up. Remember, gimmicks did not put Half Life into our hearts.

Second. The enduring power of Half Life is in the characters. That means story. Valve pushed story as far into the FPS as it will go. This is no typical FPS storyline, levels of subtlety are in the game, from the backstory told through newspaper clippings to the constant subliminal appearances of the G-Man. Let us not forget Alyx. Her backbone is a specially constructed AI over which the developers fussed for countless hours. All that effort to put a story into a place where stories don't usually appear. This should tell you that there is only one place this can now travel, a place full of fear for Valve. Half Life defined the FPS. To carry the franchise forward to the end requires that they abandon the FPS. For the same reason that Disney required Han Solo to abandon his maturity to remain the same, Valve will not do what is necessary. They can't figure out how to squeeze Half Life 3 into a FPS. They can't go back, they can't go forward. They are stuck.

What am I on about? I hate to denigrate fans, but man, you guys don't like change much, do you? Fuss over changes made to a beloved comic book hero, even down to the color of a uniform. Or Han Solo. He's the one easiest to talk about. In the original trilogy, we see him change from a drug smuggler low-life into a responsible leader, a general. Just what happens to people like that after the battle's won? They sure as hell don't go back to being drug smugglers. Most of them remain generals. Some become presidents. What happened when Disney took over? They put Han back into his smuggler outfit and stuck him in the Falcon again. "We're home, Chewie."

Valve is afraid of us. If they do what is necessary to take the story forward, a backlash from hardcore gamers might ensue. "Might"? I'm giving you too much credit. You WILL lash out. Serious money is involved. I imagine Gabe Newell has nightmares about a horde of outraged fans abandoning the Steam game portal out of spite, breaking Valve's cash cow.

Three. Mass Effect. This is a very innovative, character driven, powerful game trilogy. Bioware created a fusion of the role-playing-game and the action shooter, the RPG shooter. Not only that, they managed to stuff a great story into that innovation. Bioware was on track for gaming heaven until they botched the ending to Mass Effect 3. A storm of complaints, controversy - everything a company hates. This was largely brought by the leaders of the development team, who made several very, very serious storytelling mistakes...but companies don't notice things like that. Valve, as a corporate entity, only noticed the shit storm of disapproval and thought: "That could be us! Don't make Half Life 3!"

Too bad. Because Mass Effect, right up until the last moments of the last game, was the role model for how to pull off Half Life 3. It's not very technically innovative, but it does bring story and character to the front. CD Projekt has put together a wonderful franchise with the Witcher. Except for the graphics, the gameplay is hardly more sophisticated than the original KOTOR. Doesn't seem to matter. Valve should use the RPG-shooter fusion format. Don't make another tired FPS game. Give Gordon a way to interact with the other characters. Fill up every moment with story content. Expand on the squad play in Half Life 2, give him a team to control. Answer all the questions. Sure, fight the Combine, shoot monsters, hit people with a crowbar. More interaction with the environment. Maybe go third person.

They won't do it. All the hardcore fans expect a FPS. They expect no change in Gordon or the other characters. There would be controversy, risk in this approach. Valve is risk-adverse. Money makes them that way. Half Life 3 cannot go forward as an FPS. It cannot go forward as a fusion game. So it will never go forward.

It's done.

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