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Opinion Game Dev Valve Explains Why Half-Life 2: Episode 3 Was Never Made.

IbizaPocholo

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Ahead of the release of Half-Life: Alyx, I spoke with level designer Dario Casali – a Valve veteran who has been with the studio since 1996 – about Half-Life 2, its development, and its influence on Valve’s new VR prequel. During that chat, we also discussed why Valve decided to make Episodes instead of a full sequel, and why the now infamous Episode 3 (and a sequel in general) never arrived.

His answer is, frankly, the clearest I’ve heard on the issue yet, but there’s still no single, simple reason it never manifested. It was partly due to Valve’s worry about “scope creep” in what were supposed to be smaller expansions, partly the studio’s desire to begin development on the Source 2 engine, and partly the lack of a creative spark (and unsatisfactory internal experiments) worthy of carrying the Half-Life name.

I initially asked Casali what lessons he felt Valve had learned from the development and release of Half-Life 2, and he says one of the main ones was that trying to build a game from the ground up while also developing the new game engine it was running on was a bad idea. “When we put Half-Life 2 out, of course it was a really long time,” Casali says, “that's six years, and we were developing the Source Engine alongside the game design.”

Casali tells me they had to throw out a lot of the work they had already done on Half-Life 2 as they experimented with what Source could do, played around with the physics system, and tried to push the limits of their new tech. “I think our main take away from that is ‘get some stable technology and then build a game on top of it,’” Casali explains, but the eventual completion of Source meant they were finally able to do just that - even if it did take longer than they had originally hoped.

“After working on Half-Life 2 for six years we decided we didn't want to go dark for so long. That's why we started doing the episodes where we thought, ‘well, we have the stable technology now. We understand the characters, we understand the story, we have most of the mechanics. Let's just bite off little chunks and then release more often. We think players are going to prefer that from waiting six years and going through however many delays we went through.’"

Of course, I pointed out the irony of him saying Valve disliked going dark for six years when the gap between Episode Two and Alyx ended up being more than double that, to which Casali jokingly replied “yeah, it's like we adjusted to an extreme” after they moved away from the quicker episodic format.

But, regardless of how it ended, a plan was set to develop and release each episode in a year, designing them as shorter additions to the story to keep players satisfied more frequently. That plan didn’t work out entirely as Valve had hoped. While Episode One was successfully developed in about a year, Casali says “scope creep” became a problem. “We found ourselves creeping ever forward towards, ‘Well, let's just keeping putting more and more, and more, and more stuff in this game because we want to make it as good as we can,’” he explains, “and then we realized these episodes are turning more into sequels.”

Episode Two actually took two years to make – Valve started work on it at the same time as Episode One. The plan for smaller, faster releases didn’t line up with the studio’s ambition for the project, and the scope of Episode Two increased past its original concept. After Episode One shipped, some members of its team even joined the Episode Two team to help out. “I think at that point we realized, ‘Okay, maybe this episodes thing, it was a good concept, but we're not executing terribly well as far as getting things out quickly enough,’” Casali explains, so the team started rethinking things after Episode Two.

So that’s why Episode 3 never arrived (though former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw did post what is seemingly a gender-swapped synopsis of what it could have been it back in 2017) but why did Valve’s re-evaluation result in an indefinite cliffhanger (and innumerable memes) instead of a proper Half-Life sequel? Casali ties it back to two things: the start of Source 2’s development, and Valve’s goal of making Half-Life games more than just another release.

Both Casali and Valve co-founder Gabe Newell explained to IGN that Valve uses Half-Life games explicitly to push technology forward and turn heads. In a new interview with our own Ryan McCaffrey, Newell said “Half-Life games are supposed to solve interesting problems,” and explained that Valve doesn’t want to just “crank Half-Life titles out because it helps us make the quarterly numbers.” Casali similarly says that they were “looking for what is going to make that next big impact” after Episode Two.

In the time since then, Valve has worked on loads of different projects: Steam, Dota 2, CS:GO, multiple VR headsets, and plenty more, many of which the outside world never saw. Casali confirmed something Valve has already publicly stated elsewhere, that some of those projects were Half-Life-based and never saw the light of day. He explains that, “we were never really that happy with what we came up with.”

Casali says Valve doesn’t move forward with projects that don’t seem promising or aren’t working out. “Our judge and jury is always the playtesting,” he explains. “It never comes from us. It always comes from somebody outside. And they always tell us how we're doing. And no matter what it is that we're doing, we get validated by that playtesting process, and we stick to that religiously.” Simply put, if we never got to play the Half-Life games Valve was messing around with, odds are we wouldn’t have wanted to anyway.

The other reason for the long delay in Half-Life’s return was the creation of Source 2, the follow-up to the Source engine used in Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, CS:GO, and lots of other games (including the Titanfall series). By the end of Episode Two, Valve was already looking towards its next engine, and had already learned the hard lesson not to develop both a Half-Life game and its engine from the ground up at the same time. “We [didn’t] want to make that same Half-Life 2 mistake again,” Casali explains, “of working on Source 2 and the next Half-Life game at the same time, because that created a lot of pain the first time we tried to do that."

To break the timeline down for you, Half-Life 2 was in development for six years, starting just after the first Half-Life’s release in 1998 and ending in 2004. Episode One followed roughly a year and a half later in 2006, followed by Episode Two at the end of 2007. At that point, Valve knew it wanted to make Source 2 and didn’t want to start work on a Half-Life game using it before it was ready – and knew it still wanted that follow-up to make an impact.

Seven years later, Source 2 was made available in Dota 2’s Workshop Tools in 2014 before the entire game was ported to the engine in 2015. Meanwhile, Valve tells me Half-Life: Alyx has been in development for roughly four years, allowing the studio to start working on it around 2016 with a Source 2 engine that Casali says was nearly complete by that point.
 

rofif

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Let's hope they will release next half-life very soon. After Alyx ending... it's another huge tease again
 

JMarcell

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The reason they never did HL3 (Or HL2 Ep3, its the same shit) is that they began to make a shit ton of money with Steam game sales back in 2007~2008, so they don't need to spend time and money on a AAA game to generate a big profit as a company. They're doing HL: Alyx now because they want a future-proof business and they're placing their bets on VR.

Releasing the first AAA VR game they hope to transform VR from a niche to something like "normal" non-VR games are today.
 

Paracelsus

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This is going to end up like Star Wars, unless they bring back Laidlaw or something.
 
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Fawst

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Let's hope they will release next half-life very soon. After Alyx ending... it's another huge tease again
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere: don’t mistake Valve’s inability to finish a story with intent to do so.

They’re worse than Stephen King. At least he is able to finish a story, even if the ending doesn’t satisfy everyone.
 
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Gabe says that he didn't want to just shell out games...

Proceeds to not release a single game for like 7 years. The company is a business, I understand their reasons but you have demand and you haven't supplied it in a long time.
 
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lukilladog

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And all of that vanished in the ether after Gabe felt the need to push sales of his newest toy.
 
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oagboghi2

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I'm I the only one who takes them at their word?

They seem to legit care about this franchise, and only want to attach it to things they see are ambitious. I can respect that. It would be so easy for them to drive Half-Life into the ground like AC. Instead every release is always incredibly well polished and executed.
 

lukilladog

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I'm I the only one who takes them at their word?

They seem to legit care about this franchise, and only want to attach it to things they see are ambitious. I can respect that. It would be so easy for them to drive Half-Life into the ground like AC. Instead every release is always incredibly well polished and executed.
Only Gabe knows the real reason.
 

vaibhavpisal

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I'm I the only one who takes them at their word?

They seem to legit care about this franchise, and only want to attach it to things they see are ambitious. I can respect that. It would be so easy for them to drive Half-Life into the ground like AC. Instead every release is always incredibly well polished and executed.

They have also said before explicitly that it's far easier to make cosmetic objects for multiplayer games and make shit load of money so why make a proper game?
 
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Screamer-RSA

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Placing their bets on VR? Lol, more people where playing a mod of half life 2 than their supposed AAA VR game on release day.
 
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oagboghi2

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They have also said before explicitly that it's far easier to make cosmetic objects for multiplayer games and make shit load of money so why make a proper game?
they Just answered that question. They make a “proper game” when they feel like it warrants that.
 

vaibhavpisal

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they Just answered that question. They make a “proper game” when they feel like it warrants that.
This could be true, but to contradict that, they made half life 2 episode 1 and 2.

The two episodes didn't do anything groundbreaking compared to half life 2. Were pretty good games so I am not complaining at all. But making another episode really wouldn't have hurt them. If they weren't after easy pay.

Don't get me wrong, I would do absolutely the same. But this approach cannot be defendable in any form and doesn't deserve any appreciation or respect.
 

Kadayi

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how's that spin, can you please expand on this?
The frame is self-serving. It's never about what the existing players (customers) want. They're just post-rationalising their ineptitude at continually failing to push through difficult projects versus abandoning them as if that's par for the course. When the going gets tough, Valve goes the other way. The comfort cushion of the steady Steam income means there's no hunger driving them, unlike any other development studio, to their detriment. 4 years to make a linear VR title based on an existing Franchise. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Placing their bets on VR? Lol, more people where playing a mod of half life 2 than their supposed AAA VR game on release day.
The game helps them grow their VR customer base. No one's buying a peripheral as costly as a new GPU to play HL:A and then not buying more VR titles as a result. The reasons why they made the game were largely spelt out in the early interview Robin Walker and a couple of others did with Geoff Keightley. They felt that VR wasn't taking off as they hoped and that they believed the problem was a lack of a clear AAA VR title for people to get excited about. So they figured they needed to step up and make one. However It had nothing to do with wanting to return to the world of HL and reinvigorate a discarded franchise, but everything to do with being the easiest existing IP they already own to adapt.

 

Dr.D00p

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I don't buy any of this 'creative spark worthy of HL' bullshit, not one bit of it.

The truth is the comapny saw what a huge cash cow Steam was becoming and simply wanted to put all their efforts into developing that.

Greed.

End of story
 

darkinstinct

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There was more money in Steam than in a new Half-Life. And now that they are fighting more and more with other stores (Xbox, PS, Switch, EA, Ubi, Activision, Epic, Microsoft, ...) they are looking for the next big thing that keeps them afloat. And they think it's VR. But since nobody buys their expensive VR headset without content they had to make a Half-Life, pissing off the majority of their fan base that has no interest whatsoever in VR. Good job.
 
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Thaedolus

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I don't buy any of this 'creative spark worthy of HL' bullshit, not one bit of it.

The truth is the comapny saw what a huge cash cow Steam was becoming and simply wanted to put all their efforts into developing that.

Greed.

End of story
So a cash rich "comapny" has a beloved franchise under which they could release endless schlock and almost certainly still turn a profit, but instead cancel multiple projects due to quality concerns , and your motivation for this is greed.

You have multiple cash cows, but only choose to milk this one and not all of them because you're greedy.

You're rich, but decide to not get richer because you're greedy.

Something here doesn't really add up bruh.
 

fred

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The reason they never did HL3 (Or HL2 Ep3, its the same shit) is that they began to make a shit ton of money with Steam game sales back in 2007~2008, so they don't need to spend time and money on a AAA game to generate a big profit as a company. They're doing HL: Alyx now because they want a future-proof business and they're placing their bets on VR.

Releasing the first AAA VR game they hope to transform VR from a niche to something like "normal" non-VR games are today.
Yup, pretty much this.

Valve are a bunch of lazy twats that are making a shitload of money from Steam purchases with very little effort. They haven't even curated their store properly for 8 years or so. The more crap they let on Steam the more money they make.

Now I THOUGHT that they had changed their tune with Half Life Alyx and the other two games they were working on but it seems not. They've stopped development on those other two games apparently.

Pure laziness imo.
 

oagboghi2

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This could be true, but to contradict that, they made half life 2 episode 1 and 2.

The two episodes didn't do anything groundbreaking compared to half life 2. Were pretty good games so I am not complaining at all. But making another episode really wouldn't have hurt them. If they weren't after easy pay.

Don't get me wrong, I would do absolutely the same. But this approach cannot be defendable in any form and doesn't deserve any appreciation or respect.
They explained the episodes. They thought they could produce more half life content faster with smaller teams because they were re-using some assets and they weren’t being slowed down by building a new engine alongside them. The theory was proven wrong, and they decided to stop. What’s the problem with that?

I don't buy any of this 'creative spark worthy of HL' bullshit, not one bit of it.

The truth is the comapny saw what a huge cash cow Steam was becoming and simply wanted to put all their efforts into developing that.

Greed.

End of story
if You oppose companies making a profit, video games might not be for you.
 
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V4skunk

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I don't think we'll see HL3 for a while. Perhaps when game engines are heavily physics based and open up new gameplay possibilities.
 

FireFly

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This could be true, but to contradict that, they made half life 2 episode 1 and 2.

The two episodes didn't do anything groundbreaking compared to half life 2. Were pretty good games so I am not complaining at all. But making another episode really wouldn't have hurt them. If they weren't after easy pay.

Don't get me wrong, I would do absolutely the same. But this approach cannot be defendable in any form and doesn't deserve any appreciation or respect.
They already explained this. A lot of the time spent on Half-Life 2's development was taken up building Source and learning how to use it effectively. So at the end of the project they didn't want to let that work go to waste, and with their newfound experience they felt that they could make new content much more quickly. In reality, they fell victim to their own ambition, so Episode 2 ballooned in size, and Episode 3 become too ambitious to be makeable.

So actually what has hurt them is the opposite of wanting "easy pay". They could have put out another episode similar in scope to Episode 2, and made a lot of money on it, but they chose not to. And effectively they gave up 13 years of profits from Half-Life games. Can you imagine Activision not releasing a CoD game for 13 years?

It is super weird to me that people are accusing them of being "greedy" for releasing one game in 13 years on a platform that will cause them to make a fraction of their potential profits. Anyway, hopefully they will find the right balance after HL:A between ambition and actually releasing something at all. At least we are at a similar point to where we were when HL2 released, since Valve have already made the investment in converting HL to VR, and presumably haven't exhausted everything they want to say on this iteration of technology.
 
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StormCell

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So in short they didn't care because nothing to push half life with.

Half life 2 was made for source and push steam and no other reason.

Half life VR was made to sell there vr glasses.

Want half life 3? stop using steam.
This is probably pretty close to the truth.

Gabe sees the Half-Life brand as his "Mario" and "Mushroom Kingdom." I mean, what did Portal ever have to do with Half-Life? Yet, it all ties in to the same universe and world. It all just sounds like Gabe wants to keep the Half-Life set pieces to be his toys that he's able to use whenever some new concept comes up that he thinks can be really important to the business.

So it frankly doesn't surprise me that the Half-Life 2 story as we know it, along with its supposed conclusion, are what we have -- and everything else related to Half-Life will just be there as set pieces to push new technologies for Valve.

Strangely, I'm cool with that. Half-Life series is just Mario with a crow bar and some guns.

And yeah -- the quickest way to see Half-Life 3 is for Gabe to realize Steam needs a killer exclusive. Stop using Steam, and I bet that game materializes pretty damn fast.
 
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sol740

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"It had been six years, and we didn't want to go dark again for so long. We know the characters, story and tech now, so we decided to release smaller, shorter bites on a regular release schedule with the episodes. Then we were just like FUCK IT, let's not release any further small bites, and go dark for twice as long as before."
 
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Helios

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The reason they never did HL3 (Or HL2 Ep3, its the same shit) is that they began to make a shit ton of money with Steam game sales back in 2007~2008, so they don't need to spend time and money on a AAA game to generate a big profit as a company.
Right. They stopped making games after 2008 because Steam was getting big . . . except for the games that they did release after 2008. And they didn't want to spend time and money on games even though they canceled multiple projects.
 

vaibhavpisal

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Gabe sees the Half-Life brand as his "Mario" and "Mushroom Kingdom

And yeah -- the quickest way to see Half-Life 3 is for Gabe to realize Steam needs a killer exclusive. Stop using Steam, and I bet that game materializes pretty damn fast.
They have got you there. Only valve could be audacious enough to do this cause they have steam.

Please don't compare mario with half life. Mario and Nintendo have always earned my money. Valve is an evil that gets my money even if I don't want that. I would gladly buy any game they make
 

Fawst

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Right. They stopped making games after 2008 because Steam was getting big . . . except for the games that they did release after 2008. And they didn't want to spend time and money on games even though they canceled multiple projects.
Yes, that long and illustrious list of games they made post-08, like ... uhh ... The Lab. And Artifact. Yuuuuuge list.

And yes I’m completely ignoring things like L4D2, Alien Swarm, and Dota 2. And anything else that was a collaboration with another company. The heavy lifting was done by other teams.

And for people saying that the fact that they didn’t milk their franchise is a sign that they weren’t being greedy with Steam? Greed and laziness are not mutually exclusive.

And another thing: when your project becomes “too ambitious” (and I cannot roll my eyes hard enough at that excuse), you scale it the fuck back. Save that ambitious stuff for another project and get your damn game done. There is no excuse for letting the fans wait on a finale for all that time, constantly stringing them along with vague hints (or worse, allowing the rumors to go on without clarifying).

The fans owe them nothing, just like they obviously owe us nothing. Doesn’t mean people can’t be salty about it. No one owes them the benefit of the doubt. And they don’t deserve it if this is their explanation. The problem isn’t that people aren’t taking them at their word; it’s that their word sucks.
 
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Kadayi

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It is super weird to me that people are accusing them of being "greedy" for releasing one game in 13 years on a platform that will cause them to make a fraction of their potential profits. Anyway, hopefully they will find the right balance after HL:A between ambition and actually releasing something at all. At least we are at a similar point to where we were when HL2 released, since Valve have already made the investment in converting HL to VR, and presumably haven't exhausted everything they want to say on this iteration of technology.
Their business is Steam, and shoring it up. For a long time, Steam was No 1 and they were laughing to the bank with that 30% cut of everything, That's not the case now. So what they're trying to do is essentially turn Steam into the go-to VR platform for developers and try and build out the VR user base in the process. As I said earlier, all those whales who went out and lovingly handed over their £1000 for the Index when they heard about HL:A are going to need to justify that outlay to themselves (and maybe their partners) by buying more VR games. The bigger the user base, the more chance other studios will develop VR titles and probably sell them on Steam. It might seem like a small market at present, but there's been a big splash in the press about HL:A and more people will invariably jump into VR.

The fans owe them nothing, just like they obviously owe us nothing. Doesn’t mean people can’t be salty about it. No one owes them the benefit of the doubt. And they don’t deserve it if this is their explanation. The problem isn’t that people aren’t taking them at their word; it’s that their word sucks.
^ on point.
 

FireFly

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And another thing: when your project becomes “too ambitious” (and I cannot roll my eyes hard enough at that excuse), you scale it the fuck back. Save that ambitious stuff for another project and get your damn game done. There is no excuse for letting the fans wait on a finale for all that time, constantly stringing them along with vague hints (or worse, allowing the rumors to go on without clarifying).
It's not an excuse; it's an explanation. In a normal game company that is what would happen, but Valve have the financial freedom to take as long as they want, and their flat organisational structure means there is no one to tell them what to do.

How you feel about that is a separate question, and I don't how much actual disagreement there is in this thread. Just people reacting differently to the same set of facts.
 

Fawst

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It's not an excuse; it's an explanation. In a normal game company that is what would happen, but Valve have the financial freedom to take as long as they want, and their flat organisational structure means there is no one to tell them what to do.

How you feel about that is a separate question, and I don't how much actual disagreement there is in this thread. Just people reacting differently to the same set of facts.
That's pretty much a distinction without a difference in this case. Either way, it's the reason they gave. And it's one of the lamest things I've ever heard. "We were just SO ambitious, we couldn't possibly do what we imagined, so we just decided to do nothing instead." Not every entry needed to be innovative. At that point, people just wanted closure for the story. You know what explanation I would have accepted? "We were afraid we would let the fans down unintentionally, so we decided to do it intentionally instead." I would respect that.
 
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FireFly

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That's pretty much a distinction without a difference in this case.
The distinction seems pretty clear to me:

1.) The reasons why Valve didn't manage to make a sequel.
2.) Whether these reasons are justifiable.

And it seems like we are talking at cross purposes, since I am addressing 1.) and you seem to be addressing 2.).

Either way, it's the reason they gave. And it's one of the lamest things I've ever heard. "We were just SO ambitious, we couldn't possibly do what we imagined, so we just decided to do nothing instead." Not every entry needed to be innovative. At that point, people just wanted closure for the story. You know what explanation I would have accepted? "We were afraid we would let the fans down unintentionally, so we decided to do it intentionally instead." I would respect that.
I think there are a few things here:

1.) There isn't a person at Valve, apart from to some extent Gabe, who can tell employees what to work on. They join and leave whatever teams they want. So if a project doesn't seem interesting and or ambitious enough, it won't gather enough internal momentum and it will eventually fall apart. This can happen without anyone explicitly deciding that the project doesn't meet some bar for ambition.
2.) The more frequently a project fails (eg. Half-Life 3), the harder it will be to get that team to reform at a later date, because people will be afraid of joining it. One of the founders of the Alyx team indicated that one of the reasons they could attract talent more easily was because it wasn't Half-Life 3!
3.) As teams reform and die and reform, you have large periods of time where nothing gets produced. This isn't people collectively saying "hey, let's work on nothing". This is just the dysfunction of the development process.
4.) I think the culture of Valve revolves around solving interesting problems. They don't just want to put out new content; they want to break new ground and get industry recognition. Gabe said recently that he sees Half-Life as a "tool" for solving such problems. In Half-Life 1, the problem was how to tell stories in the first person medium. In Half-Life 2, the problem was how integrate physics and deeper character interaction. In Half Life: Alyx, the problem was how to do all of these things in VR. So the "problem" in some sense, comes before the game.

So yeah, when I mentioned ambition, this was in reference to the set of known problems with Valve's development processes.
 

tassletine

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The problem with them is they so desperately want to be seen as innovative. That‘s the most important thing to them. Someone wants to be called a genius and they will do anything to protect that image.

They can’t go forward without new tech, but since they’re actually not as good as they think they are, the customers are left stranded. They are a company that refines existing ideas, not a company that produces anything really new — and any innovation the company may have is soon delayed by the companies overtly socialist structure.
 
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Kadayi

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I think there are a few things here:

1.) There isn't a person at Valve, apart from to some extent Gabe, who can tell employees what to work on. They join and leave whatever teams they want. So if a project doesn't seem interesting and or ambitious enough, it won't gather enough internal momentum and it will eventually fall apart. This can happen without anyone explicitly deciding that the project doesn't meet some bar for ambition.
2.) The more frequently a project fails (eg. Half-Life 3), the harder it will be to get that team to reform at a later date, because people will be afraid of joining it. One of the founders of the Alyx team indicated that one of the reasons they could attract talent more easily was because it wasn't Half-Life 3!
3.) As teams reform and die and reform, you have large periods of time where nothing gets produced. This isn't people collectively saying "hey, let's work on nothing". This is just the dysfunction of the development process.
4.) I think the culture of Valve revolves around solving interesting problems. They don't just want to put out new content; they want to break new ground and get industry recognition. Gabe said recently that he sees Half-Life as a "tool" for solving such problems. In Half-Life 1, the problem was how to tell stories in the first person medium. In Half-Life 2, the problem was how integrate physics and deeper character interaction. In Half Life: Alyx, the problem was how to do all of these things in VR. So the "problem" in some sense, comes before the game.

So yeah, when I mentioned ambition, this was in reference to the set of known problems with Valve's development processes.
A flat management structure can work if you're running a very small operation, but it just doesn't scale-up, and regardless of any notions of equality, it is natural for hierarchies to develop, and for all the talk Valve put out about their approach, it's undoubtedly a pantomime when push comes to shove because someone like Robin Walker whose been with the firm for 20+ years undoubtedly has a lot more juice with Gabe and the rest of the old guard in the firm versus some new scrub they've pulled in to strip of creative ideas. I dare say if you get your foot in the door and show just the right amount of enthusiasm for things that are on the up but are canny enough to know when to jump to the next up and coming project that has approval you can make a pretty decent living for yourself at Valve but if you're interested in actually shipping games, maybe less so.
 
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