Mark reflects on how long-awaited games rarely meet expectations and how Valve's name has become synonymous with a platform, not a creator.
October will mark the seven-year anniversary of Half-Life 2: Episode Two, the last installment in developer Valve’s trademark first-person shooter series. Since then, we’ve seen portals, swanky new hats, and even a remake of everyone’s favorite rage-inducing shooter, Counter-Strike.
But there’s been no hints about a release of Half-Life 3 — or, at the very least, a third episode of Half-Life 2. Granted, the Internet — and more specifically, the gaming community — has kept the word of Gaben (Gabe Newell, Valve’s co-founder) alive and well and has continued to sing his praises in wait for this next installment. The memes, stories, and pictures that have arisen have been everything from depressing (if I see another fake website with a countdown timer, I’m going to cry) to downright hilarious (but I could see a few more “Gaben, Our Lord” propaganda posters).
As the years go by, I’m slowly reminded of a more recent game that came out after the community had been waiting, watching, and wishing for what seemed like a millennia — Duke Nukem Forever. Remember that game, guys? The game that took 15 years to develop because of a myriad of developer decisions, hold-ups, funding issues, dissolution of companies, and plain bat-shit insanity?
Better yet, remember how bad it was? There was no possible way it could live up to the hype 15 years of development can bring. By that point, fans of that series were already rabid for anything new, and gamers that had never chewed bubblegum and kicked ass before were left underwhelmed without the sense of nostalgia veteran players felt. The game was laughable (thought it had its fun moments), sold miserably, and ended the reign of the king posthaste.
Granted, Valve has infinitely more clout than 3D Realms ever did, but in the end, it wasn’t necessarily the company that destroyed the game. Duke Nukem Forever was a Duke Nukem game for all that I remember of the series; I just didn’t care about it anymore by the time I got my hands on it.
We’re now coming up on half of that time with Half-Life 3, and while I’d love to see Gordon Freeman’s story finished, I’m becoming increasingly more skeptical of the game and how it’ll be received. As years pass, I encounter more gamers who have never heard of Half-Life — much less played any of the games — and instead know Valve (and subsequently Steam) more as a digital distribution platform and less as a developer that tells amazing stories.
The cult of Gaben diminishes daily as gamers give up the hobby for more important things like work and family, and the few who stick around like religious zealots have smaller soapboxes to stand on. What if we gave up the fight? What if we let the Freeman legacy stand as a beacon of gaming accomplishment? An incredibly popular franchise that was never finished yet still revered.
Then we have no chance of another Duke Nukem Forever. We have no chance of our nostalgia glasses being stepped on, forever crushing our memories of days gone by. Sometimes? Sometimes, I feel like the fight for Half-Life 3 is just that situation.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!