With the release of the Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours interactive documentary, a lot of the secrets of the last decade of game development at Valve have been revealed. One of them is that a game actually named Half-Life 3 was in development and then cancelled, alongside at least four other Half-Life games and numerous other projects.
Half-Life 3 is the headline grabber, and it was in development between 2013-14 before it was cancelled. The game saw Valve experiment with procedural generation alongside “crafted experience” sections designed to enhance replayability. This was partially inspired by Left 4 Dead, which has an AI game director that changes the number and types of enemies that come at you, expanding that idea to have the game generate the world, a path to follow through it and objectives to complete.
The game was ultimately cancelled because the development of Source 2 engine wasn’t finished. This becomes a bit of a running theme through Valve’s 2010’s.
Further projects were Shooter, a Half-Life themed VR shooter that would have been a part of The Lab, which was Valve’s VR demo showcase for SteamVR, and Borealis, another Half-Life VR project that was led by writer Marc Laidlaw, set on the titular time-travelling ship Borealis as it jumps back and forth between time periods like the Seven Hour War. Laidlaw previously revealed the story planned for this game or Half-Life 2: Episode 3 in a thinly veiled blog post.
Elsewhere Left 4 Dead 3 was briefly in development, as an open world game set in Morocco, but deemed unworkable because of Source 2’s slow development. Another Left 4 Dead project – codenamed Hot Dog – was also dropped alongside a fantasy RPG project (called RPG), a voxel-based game called A.R.T.I., and SimTrek which was a VR game in development by part of the Kerbal Space Program team.
The documentary is pretty forthright about Valve’s game development process during this period, with so many projects affected by the progress, or lack thereof on Source 2 engine. The bespoke in-house engine would constantly have new demands placed upon it, of being able to handle Left 4 Dead 3’s open world or Half-Life 3’s procedural generation, which would then lead to projects stalling. With Valve having long allowed their staff to pick and choose the projects and areas that they worked on, this would see developers drift away from projects as they got stuck, and the game development then crumble.
Valve developer Robin Walker said to Keighley, “We sort of had to collectively admit we were wrong on the premise that you will be happiest if you work on something you personally want to work on the most.” Half-Life: Alyx was used as a way to channel all of the studio’s resources into a single task. Given the plaudits that Alyx received around launch, it absolutely worked.
That seems to have created new enthusiasm for creating Half-Life games in the studio as well. “The ice has been broken, now we’re hoping to smash through the ice completely,” Valve’s Phil Co said. “We’re not afraid of Half-Life no more.”
Time to dust off the Half-Life 3 name again, then?