The story of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, released in 2007, finally picks up again in Half-Life: Alyx, released in 2020. That’s a 13-year wait between entries in the series, and Polygon had a simple question for Valve’s legendary game designer Robin Walker, who has worked on games like Team Fortress Classic, Half-Life 2, and Dota 2: Will we have to wait another 13 years for more?
It’s a question with a lot of answers, and he described, in part, why developing another Half-Life game took so long to begin with.
“In the past, if you’re one of the sets of people who are brave enough to work on something you had to admit to yourself could be Half-Life 3 ... Half-Life 3 really always needed to answer the question of what is the opportunity, what is the big technological leap that you think we can use in some way to build some really interesting experience for the player? That’s a paralyzing thing to work on. It’s hard to sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write code on that today.’”
But then the team made a VR prototype that they thought would take about 15 minutes to play through, using assets and AI from Half-Life 2 and hand models from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Playtesters were spending as much as 45 minutes with it, because of their desire to explore everything in the world.
“As soon as we built that prototype and put it in front of people, and talked to them afterwards ... it was obvious,” Walker said. “I know how to start writing code for this today, I know how to start working.” Valve knew it had a Half-Life game it could finish. And that ultimately became Half-Life: Alyx.
So what’s next for Half-Life?
It’s too soon to even hint at the ending of Half-Life: Alyx, but the world of Half-Life has always been expansive enough to go in multiple directions. So will there be more? This is where Walker began being careful with his words, but the basic answer is that, as of right now, Valve doesn’t know.
“One of the things culturally in the company, we try to aspire not to make decisions that we don’t have to make if we’re going to get more information on them that could affect them in the future,” Walker explained, citing the feedback Valve expects from players when Half-Life: Alyx launches. “We haven’t made any decisions about what to do next, concretely, because there’s no reason to. We can wait a week.”
Walker described the fact that Valve doesn’t have anyone outside of the company to answer to as a “cheat card.” Valve is wholly independent; it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
That being said, Walker was willing to give fans some hope for the future.
“I will say there’s a lot of affection for the universe. I really think, we can all say, we really liked making this game,” he told Polygon. “It was fun as hell to make. It was a real breath of fresh air to build a game like this again after working for years on service — sort of marathons instead of things you know are going to end.”
And he’s not quite ready to walk away yet.
“We ended the game in the way you always end the game as a game developer, which is that the end is when you feel like now you really know how to make this game,” Walker continued. “I’d like to believe that we’re as good as we’ve ever been at building Half-Life at this point, and I hope we continue to make some more. I don’t think there’s going to be another 13 years [until the next one], and if it is, I probably won’t be working on it. I’m too old for that.”