The Identity of a Series, Sequelitis, and Half Life 3

The big titles and new releases that sell more copies than any others tend to be sequels to sequels of sequels, which seems to be the current state of the video game industry (see: Resident Evil 6, Grand Theft Auto 5, Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls V, Halo 4, Final Fantasy XIV, etc.). While this trend can be argued as a lack of creativity, distrust of the consumer base for new and innovative products, or even as a stagnation of the industry as a whole, a more interesting analysis can be made on the nature of the sequels themselves.

A sequel can be as radically different as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to Majora’s Mask, where while the graphics and sprite set were essentially the same , the storyline and tone were worlds apart, or Spec Ops: The Line where it seemed like an entirely new series from its previous roots in Spec Ops: Ranger Elite, Cover Assault, or Airborne Commando, where the game was nothing more than an ordinary modern military shooter without any further complexity or depth.


Sequels can also be nothing more than glorified DLC stretched into a sequel to wring another $60+ from the audience. Activision franchises have been under heavy scrutiny of following this practice, with their sequels to Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Tony Hawk, most notably, arguably being no different from their previous games, other than a slight graphical redux with a handful of minor new features. However, regardless of the growth or stagnation a sequel brings to its predecessor, this raises an important question of what, exactly, makes a game fit into its overarching series?

I first asked myself this question when I had replayed Half Life 2 and its following episodes for the third time. Like many, I wonder why Valve has made no effort toward informing the public about the state of Half Life 3, if there is any state of the game at all, and it can be somewhat frustrating because of my own fondness for the game. After six years since Half Life 2: Episode 2, however, what exactly would a sequel to the game entail? Recent titles such as Duke Nukem: Forever have done nothing but prove that nostalgia and beloved characters can’t make a poorly-made game any better, so removing Gordon Freeman, the G-Man, and Alex Vanyce from the equation, what would the mechanics of Half Life 3 be? What would be the “hook” of the game? Half Life had always sold itself around a narrative-driven experience without the use of cut scenes, a heavy emphasis on physics puzzle, and (at the time) excellent graphics to animate believable and compelling human characters in the world around Gordon Freeman. However, in our modern era, these are all three very common themes in games and it would arguably do nothing to set apart Half Life 3 to audiences that had no prior history with the series, which would be a fairly large section of the market Valve would be selling to, as the series has not been active for over half a decade. Merely following the footsteps of previous games would make Half Life 3 a niche sell, only to those who would buy for nostalgia’s sake, unless Valve created an entirely new game around the story. Perhaps that’s where other titles evolved from, Left 4 Dead being very reminiscent of the Ravenholm chapter of Half Life 2, for example, similar to how the original Devil May Cry being the original prototype of Resident Evil 4, but was later created into its own series after the designers felt that it strayed too far from the Resident Evil model.

Ultimately, Half Life lacks this creative identity that can still be relevant in the modern era, which is why, personally, I believe that we may never see another addition toward Gordon Freeman’s fight against the Combine.

  7 comments for “The Identity of a Series, Sequelitis, and Half Life 3

  1. Jim
    January 30, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Disclaimer, I am a huge fan of Valve and know an almost unhealthy amount about Valve. I should probably define whats known as ‘Valve time’. Essentially, Valve has never been good with release dates and communicating them with fans. This wiki page ( sums up there history of release dates.

    Forgive me, if I’m wrong, but essentially your conclusion is that just because Valve doesn’t show off Half Life 3 that must mean they don’t know where to take the game. Thus they don’t plan on releasing Half Life 3. That’s just not true. As far as I’m concerned Half Life 2 set the bar for first person corridor shooters for the second half of the decade.

    Between Half Life and Half Life 2 there was a period of 6 years. In those 6 years, valve produced the Source Engine and made Half Life 2 (and then remade Half Life 2, google Half Life 2 Beta for more details on that). We already know that the Source 2 engine as well as ‘Ricochet 2’ is in development (I don’t remember where Gabe talks about it, but watch this and this .

    Personally, I think the lack of information about Half Life 3 has evolved into a brilliant marketing. They ensure that anytime they leave any sort of clue about Half Life 3 (like the dry dock in Portal 2, the directories found in DOTA 2 that supported Source 2 engine and Half Life 3, or the picture of a Valve employees workstation with a HL3 icon on the desktop), every gaming journalist, blogger, and Internet troll will go nuts (and they have). They don’t really need to show off the Half Life 3, there is already so much anticipation for it, that the hype grows by its own.

  2. cristina
    January 30, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    I have to agree with Jim, it does in fact seem that the lack of information regarding Half Life 3 only adds to it’s appeal. Your statement of it lacking a creative identity that can still be relevant in the modern era is completely opposing the actual interest that exists regarding Half Life 3. The lack of information provided is in fact an extremely modern marketing tactic much like those “secret” shows that many contemporary bands throw in which the location and directions are not distributed until the night of, or movies that do not advertise thought mainstream media and instead lead you to their website where they leak little information about the film itself.

  3. Cronimus
    January 30, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I sincerely hope that Half Life 3 does come out at some point, but I agree with the possibility that it might not. However, I would like to think that the people that played the previous Half Life games would buy the third if it were to come out, not only out of nostalgia, because they want to finish the story that they have started and waited so long for. Few games have seen such a lull in between sequels as the Half Life Series has. However, I think that quality over quantity is always true. Half Life provides a very interesting story and boasted innovative gameplay at the time it came out with weapons such as the Gravity Gun. Will Half Life 3 be able to be as innovative if it comes out? I’m not quite sure.

    I would hope that if games like Call of Duty can be made then have nine sequels cranked out that Half Life 2 could get a sequel. I think that even if a game isn’t doing something new people will play it for an experience that’s different. I think that most would truly appreciate quality over quantity of sequels, would you agree?

  4. marnold
    January 30, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    I’d have to disagree with the idea that Half-Life 3 will never be a reality. While yes, it may have been 6 years since the last installment in the series, that doesn’t necessarily warrant the fact that there will never be a follow-up. For instance, one of the Wii U launch titles, titled “Zombi U”, is in fact a sequel to a zombie game that Ubisoft had created in the late 80’s/ early 90’s for SNES. This presents my point: time is unimportant when it comes to video game sequels. In fact, it doesn’t matter at all.

    Now I won’t pretend to be a super expert on everything Valve, but what I do know is that the company is structured in an interesting way when it comes to what games are made when. Just because they slatted 3 episodes to be made for Half-Life 2, doesn’t necessarily mean that those games were all on the assembly line one after another. The way the company works is in a non-hierarchical structure; as in no one person has more power over another. Everyone at the company sits down and talks about where they want to go next, and then they all take a vote after throwing there ideas out into the open. That being said, after having primarily been making all things Half-Life 2 for about 3 years straight, there’s a high chance that the developers wanted to branch off into something else so that they didn’t have that “Call of Duty every year” effect with the general populace.

    In my opinion, all we have to do is wait for a little while. As the saying goes: All good things come to those who wait.

  5. althky
    January 31, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I’d disagree that the Half Life saga won’t actually be continued, since there’s enough interest in the story alone and passive marketing (as mentioned in some other comments here) that I think they’d profit even if they only met the minimum quality bar. I certainly hope they won’t settle for that, and I expect they won’t.

    I may agree that Half Life 3, if they make it much like Half Life 2 and lean on the same sorts of mechanics, may lack a clear identity in a time when so many games have followed up the formula. The gravity gun and physics in general have been done and done again now, and we aren’t impressed any more by a simulated teeter-tot you need to put bricks on to move on with the game. The shooter gameplay itself isn’t much special nowadays, and I won’t even speak about how wretched those vehicle segments are in retrospect. I’m one to hope they’ll have the sense to leave the past trinkets behind when making Half Life 3.

    More than the game itself, I think that the game engine and Valve’s support for it will be incredibly important. Half Life 2 brought us the Source engine, setting a standard for PC games and creating a template which made some significant games possible. Portal and Dota2 I find to be particularly interesting, the former for story and gameplay, and the latter in discussions about the future of eSports (a more complete list of source games can be found here What’s even more important than the specific games that were made is how Valve encourages the use of the Source engine. It’s open source, allowing anyone with the skill to make use of its potential. This continued the tradition from the original Half Life of community driven content, sometimes culminating in nearly commercial quality results. Valve even integrated some of these games into Steam, their online distribution platform, such as Dystopia ( and Pirates, Vikings, and Knights II (

    Through all that, Half Life 2 and the Source engine retained relevance for years longer than many games today (some of which only last until the next annual iteration) and fostered an growing online community which keeps PC gaming healthy (or at least, healthier than it would be otherwise). I think the most important thing Half Life 3 can do is not only create a great game, but serve to kindle community involvement in PC gaming. Even if Valve doesn’t make the next greatest innovation in Half Life 3 itself, I think it would be good enough to make it possible.

  6. Steve
    January 31, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    I agree that Half-life 2 isn’t as revolutionary now as it was at release, but such is with every game. What separates the truly worthwhile games and developers from the rest is how they adapt and innovate in the face of a progressing industry. I’m not sure why Valve has remained so tight-lipped on the next Half-Life, but they are a notoriously secretive company. Simply based on its name a new Half-Life game would at least sell decently. The likely answer is that Valve wants to ensure it appropriately develops the sequel to a game that many consider one of the best ever created. By appropriately I mean that they’re probably waiting for future console generations and hardware to ensure that they can blow away their audience like Half-Life 2 did, rather than just release a highly-polished game lacking in true innovation.

    I really like some of the things you brought up about sequels in general. Side-note: I had no idea that Devil May Cry was originally intended to be a Resident Evil game. That’s a pretty cool tidbit.

  7. Thomas Hughes
    February 13, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about the reasons why Valve wouldn’t just churn out Half-Life 3, but you make some really good points. Whenever I think of sequels, I always think of the continuation of the story and not so much about what could be new or different. So you make an interesting point about what Half-Life 3 would entail because I have no idea what that game would be. If they were going to make a sequel, it would be best if they did something different with it to appeal to the old fans and draw in the new ones.

    I didn’t play the Half-Life games until about three years ago, and I didn’t really pay attention until then either. So for me all of the games kind of blend together into one long game, which ended very abruptly with a cliffhanger. With the game still pretty fresh in my mind, part of me just wishes they would just get to work on the next installment as quickly as possible. But obviously that’s not what they’re doing.

    I think you’re right about there not being a Half-Life 3, or at least not the kind of version we would expect, but I hope there will be at some point. My theory is that since Valve started focusing on the Portal series, which takes play in the same universe, there would be some crazy, mind-blowing, intuitive game that would wrap up both series. But seeing as there’s no evidence for that, who knows. I just hope they have some kind of plan because it would be a shame to let a decent series like this be forgotten.

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