Valve Did The Right Thing By Not Releasing Half-Life 3
After playing Black Mesa I can say Half-Life, more than a shooter is a puzzle game, namely, a navigation puzzle game. You are on point A, you want to reach point B, but it's beyond a chasm, or high up, and you need to scan the environment for something to help you get there.
Maybe you use the pipes on the wall as a makeshift bridge, or you'll use the desk as a ledge to give you that extra boost. Playing it now, those were not hard solutions to find, but then I realize I have decades of 3d gaming training to help me use the environment to my advantage.
Then it dawned on me... when I played the original Half-Life, the whole 3d thing was still pretty novel. Sure, we had 3d games but both players and devs were learning how to use them. Using a barrel to reach a ledge was a big brain moment and the game keep coming with original ways to travel the map. Yes, once upon a time, ventilation shafts were innovative gameplay instead of a tired trope. Everybody loved Half-Life and Valve was happy. Enter Half-Life 2...
Half-Life 2 keeps the same idea of navigation puzzles but instead of having the barrel near the ledge, the barrel was in another room and you had to bring it to you with the Gravity Gun. It's the same navigation puzzle but instead of you finding the stair to climb, you now had to build it with barrels and crates.
Except for this time, people did not like it. It was fun at first but the gamers, who grew up playing 3d games, were quick to solve the "puzzle" and what was left was just the slow execution of moving garbage to make bridges and ladders. A common sentiment at the time was Half-Life 2 had too many physics puzzles and yet, those puzzles were far more involved than those of Half-Life 1 that
The Half-Life 2 problem...
While the sequel repeated a success formula, the result was different because the community changed and Valve probably noticed it. If they wanted to release Half-Life 3 they would need to either move the game formula away for the whole navigation puzzle thing or create some fancy new mechanic to make people interested again. Personally, I think Portal started as one of those ideas which grew into its own game because Valve was afraid of people's reactions after the Gravity Gun was not as popular as they expected. Also, keep in mind Portal is a pretty short game that relies heavily on Glados's voice for humor. If Portal was 2x bigger with a silent protagonist like Freeman I don't know if it would have the same appeal.
Most games now have absurdly clear navigation tools. Everything from bright lights showing the way to small arrows pointing the objective and even full blow GPS telling the player the exact path they should go. My guess is people got lost a LOT, heavily disliked it, and angrily dropped the game after being stuck for a while.
So Valve decided to take their time to create a solution. Except for the solution never come... Half-Life is a product of its time, where people were happy to just explore a "high definition" big-ass military facility. People don't want this kind of gameplay anymore and may even think it's "bad game design".
The closest we can have of a new Half-Life is Alyx and maybe if the VR technology gets widely popular, we'll see Half-Life 3 because we'll have gone full circle, and exploring a 3d environment in VR will, once again, be something novel and interesting.
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