Opinion Pieces

Half-Life 3 Will Hopefully Never Come Out

Marc Laidlaw, a sci-fi writer most famous for his work on Half-Life and Half-Life 2, has recently left Valve. The news brought back the eternal question: will Half-Life 3 ever come out?

I hope not.

Valve is one of the most puzzling companies on the planet. Relatively tiny, it nevertheless rakes in huge gobs of cash every year. The second-top-selling PC game of all time, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, is Valve’s baby. Team Fortress 2 is their eternal cash cow, milked for all its worth with neverending updates for 99c virtual hats. Dota 2 has exploded onto the competitive scene in the last few years; it still can’t quite dethrone LOL, but it’s a massive massive game nonetheless. Steam, of course, is a behemoth, arguably the name in digital game markets, despite the best efforts of Green Man Gaming or Good Old Games. Nothing competes, not yet. Mobile markets are the only gaming market in Steam’s ballpark.

 

Half-Life was Valve’s first game. Back in 1996, they struggled to find backers for their overly-ambitious 1st-person-shooter project. They wanted to bring the genre back to the areas explored by DOOM. Gabe Newell, overlord of Valve, is quoted as saying it “felt like the industry was reducing the experiences to least common denominators.” Half-Life, he’s said, was their “reactionary response to the trivialization of the experience of the first person genre.”

Half-Life succeeded, and wildly. Back when AllGame still existed, their review summed up everything everyone said about Half-Life: “It isn’t everyday that you come across a game that totally revolutionizes an entire genre, but Half-Life has done just that.”

Seven years after the release of Half-Life, Half-Life 2 was finally released, after a long and troubled development project. Part of the development cycle was, of course, the creation of the Source Engine, as well as the integration of Steam. All PC users were required to hvae Steam installed in order to use Half-Life 2.

Now, Half-Life 2 was just as revolutionary as Half-Life. Reviewers went berserk, and with good reason. It was stylish, physically fascinating, and compelling; the story was engrossing and the mysteries were largely unsolved. It pushed first-person games yet again, raising the bar in a way few other games had or have done.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why Steam became so ubiquitous. It was required in order to play Half-Lif 2, and Half-Life 2 was – according to most reviews – game of the MILLENIA.

Since Half-Life 2, however, there’s been a bit of a slump. Two expansions were released – Episode One and Episode Two – and then nothing. Radio silence, for the most part. Half-Life 3 has been alluded to at times, but other games have come and gone. Portal and Portal 2 have been Valve’s only real push back into first-person singleplayer games. Half-Life 3 is the new Duke Nukem Forever; there is no news, only rumors.

I hope it never comes out.

Half-Life and Half-Life 2 are a pair of the greatest first-person games ever released. Period. They each revolutionized the genre in different ways; they pushed limits, broke barriers, et cetera et cetera. But could Valve do that again? I doubt it. I really do. I think the competition is too stiff now, and gaming is a completely different ballpark. I think it’s a little paradox, really; Half-Life 3 needs to be both a Half-Life game (first person horror/shooter on rails) AND innovative. There is, in my opinion, not much left to them in terms of innovation while still keeping it a Half-Life game. They’ve talked before about VR and how that could be the next wave, the next innovation in gaming. But honestly? I think the market is suggesting otherwise. Oculus was more expensive than people expected, and there really hasn’t been anything suggesting that VR is going to take off. This makes sense – it’s not just a new physics engine or a new visual style. It requires more from the consumer, so the market will shrink.

I don’t see a world in which Half-Life 3 is both on a VR system and a good game.

But there’s another reason. In the canyons of the internet, a call sometimes echoes: VALVE IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. For years, Valve has been the untouchable golden boy of games. While EA was lambasted for their shite customer service, Valve got a free pass – despite a complete lack of customer service for the Steam market. The public image of Valve was that of the fun, quirky company; the Google of Games, so to speak.

But Valve is Not Our Friend.

Here’s a shot of the top records for current simultaneous players on Steam:

steam

Take a look at that list. The number one game is DOTA 2, a Valve title. The number two title is CS:GO – another Valve game. Going down to the number five slot, we have L4D2 – Valve. Then, sitting pretty at number nine, we have TF2 – VALVE.

Of those games, DOTA 2, CS:GO, and TF2 all rely on microtransactions. Millions of them. There’s a great article on DOTA 2’s 2013 profits from VentureBeat. The article leads off with the line “Developers don’t need to make single-player first-person shooters starring nerdy silent protagonists if they’ve got something like Dota 2.” DOTA 2 is a free-to-play game, but generated $80 million for Valve in 2013. It’s grown since. That same year, 2013, Team Fortress 2 posted $139 million in profits. CS:GO, famously, was struggling along before Valve implemented microtransactions.

And that’s not even getting started on the golden calf that is Steam itself.

Valve – like any good company! – is making money. I am not one of those people who believes that microtransactions are killing games. If they are, it’s the fault of the consumer, not the producer. CS:GO proves that. And CS:GO also proves a more important point: Valve is both smart and ruthless. They are very good at making money from videogames. So why would they spend the money to create Half-Life 3? Why hire anyone to develop a game that cannot possibly meet the impossible expectations? And who’s to say HL3 wouldn’t be running on microtransactions?

I really don’t want Half-Life 3 to come out. Maybe five years ago, sure. But at this point, I don’t think it could live up to the hype. And there’s not much reason for Valve to make it. They’re really good at what they do – and I love their games that are on the market right now. I do. I took a year-long break from TF2, but recently hopped back on and it’s like I never left. (Well, mostly. There are some banana hats I don’t recognize).

The point is: I don’t think HL3 could possibly be both revolutionary and good at this point. I think Valve is doing fine with their current projects, and I’d rather see them work on those than feel pressured to finish Half-Life 3. The recent departure of Marc Laidlaw all but confirms it for me: Half-Life 3 is not coming out any time soon. And that’s fine.

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Book Review: The Rosie Project

Whoa…

I actually read a book.  This is my first book review type thingy or whatever! So bear with me as I get a proper footing for talking about feelings, thoughts, and such in a non-video game/technology related manner (since that’s more my specialty).  Look, I’ll be honest, I love to read; in fact, my job mostly consists of reading.  However, when you read as part of a job all day, you rarely take the time to sit down a read a book ‘for fun’ like I did back between semesters.  Of course I’ll point out that Game of Thrones literature is an exception to this general rule.

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Writing and Editing: A Video of You Dancing Horribly

I’ve been thining about editing a lot lately. Maybe that’s because I’m STILL EDITING MY MASSIVE FANTASY NOVEL OH RIGHT. After finishing this keystone chapter the other day (took me 6 weeks to get 2000 words done), I’ve written an additional 8000 words(!) and edited the everliving bumpus out of my chapters.

BUT WHAT EVEN IS EDITING?

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The Personal Hell of George R. R. Martin

Pity him, pity him.

In his end-of-2015 wrap-up blog post, George R. R. Martin made a doom-wrought update on his progress on The Winds of Winter, book 6 in A Song of Ice and Fire. The news was not good.

To quote him:

Here it is, the first of January. The book is not done, not delivered. No words can change that. I tried, I promise you. I failed. I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline. And that almost certainly means that no, THE WINDS OF WINTER will not be published before the sixth season of GAME OF THRONES premieres in April (mid April, we are now told, not early April, but those two weeks will not save me). Even as late as my birthday and our big Emmy win, I still thought I could do it… but the days and weeks flew by faster than the pile of pages grew, and (as I often do) I grew unhappy with some of the choices I’d made and began to revise… and suddenly it was October, and then November… and as the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more. The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became.

This will not sit easy with the fanbase. The fans are growing restless – the dedicated ones particularly. They – we – see Season 6 approaching like a freight train, threatening to spoil these books that some of them have waited twenty years to read. There’s a lot of righteous anger. But still I say – pity him, pity him.

In 2007, GRRM sold the rights to A Song of Ice and Fire. He handed over the TV show reins to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It would be another several years before they could even put a pilot together, he knew. And 2007 was three years after the release of A Feast for Crows. A Dance With Dragons was progressing, and promised to be out sooner rather than later. With the show slated to hit the small screen around 2011, GRRM felt safe. He had a four-year buffer to get further along; even if the show did well and even if it got renewed for further seasons, it wouldn’t be until, oh, 2016 that he really had to worry. That gave him almost nine years to write three books.

It wasn’t enough.

A Dance With Dragons is, thus far, the ASOIAF book with the longest downtime. After insane perfectionist rewrites and edits, GRRM finally published the book in 2011. His lead was gone. Now he had five, maybe six years to finish two books. Having just taken six years to finish ADWD, you’d think he’d be a little more expedient, aware of the building pressure.

But he was not. The sudden, unexpected wave of celebrity from the show completely undermined GRRM’s writing pace for 2011 and 2012. Nobody was ready for Game of Thrones to get as big as it did, least of all GRRM. By the time he realized what had happened, it was far, far too late to save it.

When GRRM set out to write ASOIAF, he wanted to escape the constraints of the TV medium. He wanted to write budgetless and free; he wanted them to give him the reins and and just let him wander happily until his messy little fantasy series was completed.

What has happened here is nothing short of Greek tragedy. George R. R. Martin is in a prison, a hell of his own making – and he’s genre-savvy enough to know it. He’s a walking cautionary tale. Cyclically he suffers; he stresses about writing, so he doesn’t write as much, so he stresses about writing, so…

There’s no place for value judgments here. It would be a waste of time. As GRRM said in his blog post – “No one else is to blame.” GRRM is fully, keenly aware of what he’s done to himself. No amount of kvetching on our part is going to tell him anything he doesn’t know. And as Theon says at the end of Season 2, he’s “come too far to pretend to be anyone else.” GRRM has, like Theon, trapped himself in a mighty fortress with legions of wolves at the gates. Pity him, pity him.

The good news is that ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, none of this will’ve mattered. When someone in Space Barnes and Noble picks up the holobook of A Game of Thrones in the year 2072, they won’t know anything about the interminable wait, the slow-motion horror story, the nightmare prison that George R. R. Martin built for himself. They will just know a good book when they see it. And it will be a good book, I’m sure. Those insane perfectionist rewrites for ADWD gave us an incredible book, a rich and powerful story with more layers than a thousand clones of Shrek.

There is light. But GRRM is still in his tunnel, the one he built when he wasn’t looking. All we can do is wait.

The Ridiculous Six and Our Past-Blind Culture

I hope you’ve heard about the Native American actors walking off the set of Adam Sandler’s movie The Ridiculous Six. If not, you can catch up real quick here and here.

Let me preface these thoughts by saying: I am white. I am a man. I am not the people being directly oppressed/mocked/belittled in this situation, and I don’t want to come across like some sort of white savior guy.

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Thomas Jefferson Will Burn Your Bibles

I’m back at home for Thanksgiving, and when I’m home and it’s a Saturday, that can mean only one thing. Or more things too, but one thing in this case: going to the library with dad.

I stopped by the book sale at the library – hardcovers for $1! Paperbacks $0.50! – and found a really, REALLY interesting book.

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Hayfield

Fairfax County Later Start Times: A Bad Idea

It’s been a debate for years now in Fairfax County: delay start times for high schools, or keep them early? When I attended high school, the start time was at 7:20…and I liked it, dammit. Okay, maybe I didn’t love it so much. But this recent vote to change school start times to later than 8:00 am is not necessarily the wonderful thing people think it is…but let me let 2012 Michael speak on that.

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