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Valve Failed To Make A Lot of Half-Life Games Before Alyx

Illustration for article titled Valve Failed To Make A Lot of iHalf-Life /iGames Before iAlyx/i
Image: Valve

Back in March, after 13 years of waiting, Valve finally released a new Half-Life game. Half-Life: Alyx, a VR-only prequel to Half-Life 2, was a big success for Valve, garnering lots of positive reviews and pushing many folks to buy a VR headset. But before Alyx, Valve tried and failed to create more Half-Life, with multiple canceled projects explored in Geoff Keighley’s The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx.

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Final Hours is hard to describe. It’s an interactive article-slash-documentary on Steam covering the last decade of Valve and their many canceled projects. It includes some puzzles and videos that complement the written portion. The biggest and most interesting canceled Half-Life project discussed in the documentary was a 2013 project the team was calling Half-Life 3. Half-Life 3 was going to be built in Source 2 and was planned to feature procedurally-generated levels and scenarios, like a building that would have its layout and enemy placement change each time players loaded up the game. But, in what was a common Valve trend around this time, the project died after running into multiple problems and a lack of staff. The biggest problem was the engine: Source 2 just wasn’t finished, and building shooters in it was extremely challenging.

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Another, smaller project was going to be a part of The Lab, Valve’s free VR mini-game collection released back in 2016. Codenamed “Shooter,” this game was a shooting gallery built using Half-Life 2 assets that would task players with fighting off waves of Combine soldiers in various Half-Life 2 locations. Shooter, like other Valve projects, faced a host of issues, but one of the biggest was the reality of releasing something Half-Life-related in 2016 that wasn’t Half-Life 3 or Episode 3. The team working on Shooter was nervous about how fans would react to Valve’s return to Half-Life being a small, VR shooting gallery mini-game.

“Shooter”
“Shooter”
Screenshot: Valve

Another VR Half-Life project that started development shortly after Shooter was internally known as “Borealis.” This project was developed in Source 2 and would have been set on the bridge of the famous Borealis ship, seen in Half-Life 2 Episode 2. Players would experience multiple time-jumps on the ship as it went back and forth through time, visiting important moments in the Half-Life timeline. This project didn’t get very far before shutting down in late 2015. Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw was spearheading this project; shortly after its development ended he left Valve and retired, though Final Hours doesn’t explore the reasons he left.

A timeline included in Final Hours showing some of Valve’s canceled and released projects.
A timeline included in Final Hours showing some of Valve’s canceled and released projects.
Screenshot: Valve
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During all of this, another Half-Life project was being developed by Arkane Studios. As shown off recently in NoClip’s documentary about Arkane, Half-Life: Ravenholm was going to be a Half-Life game built using Source and set in the creepy city of Ravenholm. It was, like nearly every other Half-Life project after Episode 2, canceled.

As for the future of Half-Life, Keighley says in Final Hours that Valve developers told him “privately” that they were excited to make more Half-Life, including Half-Life games that aren’t VR only. However, Keighley makes it sound like those projects would be far off. Considering Valve’s track record, it’s likely any new Half-Life games wouldn’t see the light of day until Valve is truly ready.

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The full After Hours is available now on Steam and features a lot of other canceled Valve projects, including Left 4 Dead 3 details and information about an RPG Valve was working on that was inspired by Elder Scrolls and Dark Souls. For Half-Life fans like myself, there is a lot of information in this interactive documentary about Valve’s struggle to make more Half-Life, as well as all the planning and work that went into Half-Life: Alyx.

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Kotaku Weekend Editor | Zack Zwiezen is a writer living in Kansas. He has written for GameCritics, USgamer, Kill Screen & Entertainment Fuse.

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DISCUSSION

macklemoreorless
Mackleless

I’m still so bleak about the fact that a proper part of Half-Life lore and story is locked behind hardware that I cannot justify spending money on. As much as I want VR I can’t justify to my partner spending money on this thing that costs at least as much as a PC, and has only a scattering of must play games. It was conceding I’m probably still five years away from owning a set that I shamefully listened to a few spoilercasts on it. Which only upset me more because it sounds brilliant.

I understand why Valve did it, and whatever I have a lot to entertain myself. But to have a franchise that is such a cultural phenomenon, adored and revered by millions, and then put it behind super niche tech is a real limp dick move.