Half-Life 2: Episode Three, if it is ever released, will be the third and final episode in the Half-Life 2 story arc, following protagonist Gordon Freeman as he leads a human resistance against the Combine forces. Although Episode Three will be the last in the ill-conceived trilogy of extra Half-Life 2 episodes, senior members of Valve Corporation have confirmed that Episode Three will not be the end of the Half-Life franchise.
Little is known about the game at this time, save that, obviously, it will directly follow the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Concept art has hinted that a fight against a Combine Advisor will take place at some point in this game. Episode Three will likely see partners from the previous games in the Half-Life 2 arc, such as Barney and Alyx, follow Freeman on his journey. Hints from Episode Two suggest that the game will be set far away from City 17 and its outskirts, perhaps in the Arctic or in icy conditions, hailing back to the original design concept for Half-Life 2. Several analysts have interpreted the more open-world design of the final chapters of Episode Two as hinting to a larger, less corridor-based approach to Episode Three.
In an interview with Edge, Gabe Newell noted that Episode Three would probably see a change to survival horror over the franchise's pure action roots. Newell said the series had to broaden its "emotional palette." "I feel like we've gotten away from genuinely scaring the player more than I'd like, and it's something we need to think about, in addition to broadening the emotional palette we can draw on." The game will explore the fans' fears. When asked what he thinks his aging fan-base fears the most, Newell said, "The death of their children. The fading of their own abilities." Newell has confirmed that Freeman will be utterly unchanged in the next game with regards to his superficial behavior -- he will not talk, and he will remain "an arm and a crowbar." "Right now," said Newell," making your companions more interesting and compelling seems a more fruitful avenue to explore."
The concept of deafness has also been linked to Episode Three. According to Gabe Newell, Episode Three may see the introduction of a deaf character who will interact with Dog and Alyx using sign language (Alyx knows sign language from her experience training Dog). Some have speculated that this may tie in with better support for players with hearing impairment, though this is almost certainly not the case.
Valve's silence on the development status of Episode Three has largely caused the game to be termed " vaporware." Although tiny bites of reiterated information, usually in the form of one line responses, habitually emerges from senior ranking members of Valve, their comments pass for little other than confirmation that the game is still in some form of existence. The most recent affirmation came from Doug Lombardi in an interview on the 5th of August, 2010, with Computer and Video Games. "We hate to make you wait, but we have no announcements regarding Mr. Freeman or his ongoing adventures at this time," Lombardi said. Fans continue to remain on a constant vigil.
Following the release of Valve's free game Alien Swarm, users found what appeared to be several hints at Episode Three in the Alien Swarm SDK (software developer kit). Among the hint nodes were the labels "Ep3 Fire Cover Position," "Ep3 Brain Cover Position," "Ep3 Brain Regenerate Position," "Ep3 Spawn Generator Position," and "Aperture: Nest" (supposedly as in Aperture Science, the central corporation from the Portal franchise, but more likely meant literally, as in "a hole"). Hint nodes are used to tell NPCs such as enemies and allies what to do, and how to react in specific situations. A short time later, the community at Steam discovered further hints in the SDK: "This is a blood color script for the so called blob_brain entity, as you can see it has a decal for FROZEN. Which means it would be some kind of a creature which can be frozen," wrote one poster. This would work with the supposed Arctic setting of Episode Three. There are also references to Antlions, Zombies, the Gravity Gun, and one thing labeled "HL2_EPISODIC." The Combine are also mentioned, as well as two types of weapons: the Tau Cannon, and Flachettes, the type of projectile fired by the Hunters. Valve has a long history of using obscure methods to hint at current projects or secrets about upcoming games. The inclusion of such labeled nodes could simply be their round-about way of confirming that the game is still in development and has not been forgotten.
In an interview with PC Gamer magazine, Gabe Newell promised that Valve would have "three big surprises" to reveal over the twelve-month period to September 2011.
"I can guarantee you people are going to be surprised at stuff we do," Newell said. "That isn't going to stop anytime soon. I'm just laughing because…people will be shocked again."
Newell later confirmed to PC Gamer that Episode Three is in active development and has been for a long time. Newell also revealed that Valve is doing studies on biometrics in house in order to better understand the player base.
June 15, 2011
On the Steam forums, a thread entitled "Half-Life 3 is official confirmed!" was quickly removed when a former Valve employees', Mike Dussalt, resume revealed his work on Half-Life 3's world programming. The post follows:
"Mike Dussault, a long time programmer at Valve, recently left the company. I didn't know him until last week. Let me introduce myself. I'm a freelance artist. I do contract work for a studio in Seattle, through the internet. They have a client access system on their site. I came across Dussault's resume, while browsing the files section. Now, I know you're all curious about Valve's in-house development, but I'm only going to talk about the Half-Life series.
According to his resume, Episode Three was put on hold when Valve decided to move away from the episodic model in late 2007, right after Episode Two's release. He was a technial advisor on a cancelled Half-Life title, made outside of the company. Dussault's work on Half-Life 3's world programming, and the scripting system (between 2008 and 2010) is also mentioned in the resume."
Valve fan-site Lambda Generation reported on the news and dug deeper to find out that the original poster, ryuuk, has been permanently banned from the Steam forums. They also discovered that Mike Dussault was in fact a real employee at Valve and left the company over a year ago. One other mention of Mike Dussault said that he was a "technical advisor on a cancelled Half-Life title made outside of the company," which was rumored to have been the infamous Episode Four gamers heard about in May 2011. Valve has stated in the past that their interest in episodic material for Half-Life 2 has been lost as of 2007 and there have been new plans for Half-Life mid 2008, after the release of Episode Two. From what ryuuk has said, Dussault has been working on Half-Life 3's world programming since 2008 until his departure in September 2010.
April 13, 2012
During the first episode of the 7 Day Cooldown Podcast, Gabe Newell addressed the state of development for the next Half-Life game, by referring to the game, with a wink and a nod, as "Ricochet 2". In the interview Newell said the following:
"In terms of Ricochet 2, we always have this problem that when we talk about things too far in advance, we end up changing our minds as we're going through and developing stuff, so as we're thinking through the giant story arc which is Ricochet 2, you might get to a point where you're saying something is surprising us in a positive way and something is surprising us in a negative way, and, you know, we'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2. The problem is, we think that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than just being silent about it, until we can be very crisp about what's happening next."
Ricochet is an official mod for the first Half-Life game that was released in 2000, and Valve has announced no plans to produce a sequel.