Is Valve waiting for next-gen consoles to release Half-Life 3?

Earlier this month, Valve confirmed that it wouldn't be showing any new titles at E3. Instead, the company will be showcasing already-revealed titles and updates, including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and Steam's upcoming "big picture mode" update for using Steam on televisions. In other words, no Half-Life 3 reveal will take place next month, much to the dismay of gamers all over the world.

It's been close to five years since Valve released Half-Life 2: Episode Two, which included hints about Half-Life 3: Episode Three involving Aperture Science's ship, the Borealis. While it's still possible another Half-Life 2 episode could come out, at this point it seems highly unlikely. Gamers would be disappointed, and it would be questionable for Valve to spend five years developing an episodic title. By all accounts, the only logical next step in the Half-Life franchise is a full sequel, Half-Life 3.

So why don't we have any information about Half-Life 3? Gabe Newell gave a clue about the company's progress in a recent interview. When Newell was asked when Ricochet 2 would be released, he responded clearly talking about Half-Life 3.

"In terms of 'Ricochet 2,' we always have this problem that when we talk about things too far in advance," Newell said. "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.'"

If the next installment in the Half-Life franchise is a "giant story arc," it's almost certainly a full game, not an episodic release. 

The original Half-Life was released in 1998; expansions and stand-alone story arcs were released until a full sequel, Half-Life 2, was released six years later, although it was announced a year prior to its release. With that timeline in mind, it'd seem logical to assume a Half-Life 3-related announcement would take place relatively soon. So why not E3, the biggest gaming event of the year? Two possibilities come to mind.

First, Valve may want to hold its own event to announce the title. But even if it Valve were interested in announcing the title on its own terms, it'd likely want to do so before E3, so it could gain the publicity the gaming expo provides. Valve took a similar approach with both Half-Life 2 and Portal 2, announcing both titles before E3 but still having them in the company's E3 showcase. 

The second and more likely possibility is that Valve's waiting for something to announce Half-Life 3. Namely, the next round of gaming consoles.

While the Nintendo Wii U launches later this year, it's not exactly a giant leap over the current generation's technical capabilities. Most developers have said it's more powerful than the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but not by a substantial margin typical of the next generation of consoles. Given that Nintendo has never been known for focusing on technical specifications, as well as the fact that its consoles don't cater to more mature gamers, the next Microsoft and Sony consoles would likely provide a better option for Valve's prolific sequel. And given that neither Microsoft or Sony has any plans to reveal the next generation of console gaming at E3, Valve would be announcing the title a significant amount of time before release.

Slowly but surely, Valve's made its foray into console gaming. The company's first project for consoles was a port of Half-Life 2 to the original Xbox in 2005 (Gearbox Software handled the original Half-Life's port to the PlayStation 2). It wasn't a big release for the company, but it did prove to be a catalyst for the developer's future. In 2007, it released The Orange Box simultaneously on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (although EA handled the game's port to the Sony console). A year later, the company released Left 4 Dead on the PC and Xbox 360, accompanied by a large advertising campaign that most PC-exclusive titles would never see.

After that, Valve got serious about console development. Left 4 Dead 2 was released on the PC and Xbox 360 in 2009, but in 2011 the company made its biggest push into console territory: Portal 2.

The puzzle game was developed simultaneously for all three platforms by Valve. Though Newell had previously made disparaging remarks about programming games for Sony's latest console, the Valve CEO quickly changed his stance and Valve embraced the PlayStation 3, allowing PlayStation 3 users to play the game cross-platform with PC users. Since that time, Valve has announced Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a title that will clearly cater to console gamers. The game features a simplified interface and emphasizes quick matches, and will be released as a downloadable title on XBLA and PSN.

Valve's proprietary Source engine has aged far more gracefully than other engines since its release, but it's starting to show its years. With Unreal Engine 3, CryENGINE 3 and Frostbite 2 all pushing the boundaries of the current generation, it'd be logical to assume Valve's working on its own engine upgrade. The easiest way to ensure consoles will be able to run a game as well as a PC is to have more powerful consoles.

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 only have a year or two left, tops. It's improbable Valve would want to release a game so late in a console's lifecycle if Microsoft and Sony are going to announce new consoles within a year.

Valve's bread-and-butter has always been the PC. That's not going to change given the company runs one of the most successful digital distribution platforms in any industry. But not showing Half-Life 3 at E3 this year means it won't be released until 2013 at the earliest. And 2013 just so happens to be the year Sony and Microsoft are expected to release their next consoles. Valve won't delay Half-Life 3 by a year just to make a console launch date, but if it's a matter of a few months, it's quite possible Valve would use that additional time to polish the game and release it simultaneously, just as it has its last few titles.

So when will we see Half-Life 3? Probably not until Microsoft and Sony announce their new consoles. So get your stasis chamber ready and hope Wheatley wakes you before GLaDOS has taken over, because we've probably got a good wait ahead of us.

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