The interwebs this morning are abuzz over a blog post from an ex-Valve writer that is essentially a name and gender swapped summary of what seems to be the outline of a story for the essentially canceled at this point Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Since the writer is no longer with Valve and essentially admitted over Twitter that the post was essentially fanfiction.
While many discussions are being made over this, essentially the lamenting of what could have been and what basically never will be, I have a different perspective. If this outline essentially tells the entirety of what Half-Life 2: Episode 3 would have been, why even make the game? Essentially, at this point, the game would just be padding for what is just a very short story, well-told in print and could even be translated to animated form via Valve’s Source Filmmaker — complicated, long tales of high drama and action have been told via that tool before, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a highly motivated small team could make their own movie out of the short tale that was told.
Truthfully, the Half-Life games have always been just so much padding for what is essentially a self-contained short story, a series of set pieces linked together to pad the play time via linear paths, something that could be simplified and made into a cohesive, simple movie. In fact, this is exactly what Half-Life set out to be, and created the entire modern gaming era of “games” that are essentially failed pieces of fiction for other media linked together with gameplay that is really not that essential to the telling of the story other than giving the player something to do between story points. Actual games don’t really have this problem, as the story points are really very sparse and nearly nonexistent. Imagine the original Doom told as a story without a ton of additions and exposition added (like the Doom novels) — “Doomguy is the last one left after an invasion from Hell through teleporter gates. He goes to find out what happened to Deimos, teleports there, finds it’s floating above Hell itself, goes down to Hell, and kills the big bad guy.” That’s it. The original Doom’s story in a nutshell. The reason it’s so sparse and doesn’t have much to it is simple — it’s not supposed to have much to it. It’s a videogame. The story is supposed to be told through the player’s actions. When your actions in a game are incidental to what the story is, and you’re just being swept along a path of a story much more interesting than the one you’re actually participating in, it might be a better idea to just abandon the whole idea of it being a game, and go write a book or make a movie out of it. Doom was so much more than Doomguy being swept up in some grand story — it was a living, breathing game concept that demanded exploration, resource management, and enjoying the game for the gameplay itself, not for some frustrated writer’s world created for the sake of its own creation, glued together by mediocre gaming sections created as padding.
Half-Life helped create the idea of the movie-game, a sort of interactive entertainment that corrupted the classic notion of games being simple, sparse stories that were only there to give you a reason to do what you are doing. My hope is that the release of this story for Episode 3 will make people realize that story isn’t the entirety of what a game is supposed to be, and have it be the destruction of the idea of the movie-game as well.