What is Half-Life 3 waiting for?
We may have to keep waiting for the next installment, for technology’s sake.
I never thought that Valve wouldn’t finish one of the most iconic trilogies of gaming, but I often feel that Half-life is considered by Valve as a game-breaking franchise where technology and storytelling collides, instead of a pop-corn game made for quick cash. And by that, there is no way they could launch something forgettable.
As always, Valve gives hints that raises more questions than answers, never to acknowledge if there is progress, or if development is so stalled that they have shifted priority and people to others projects and tasks. There has been multiple rumors about how Valve revisited the franchise internally, only to be followed by silence.
There is always a reason, and it may be technology
Valve has treated Half-Life as a new experience for players, like it was meant to be a franchise whole sole objective was to push the boundaries of what a game can accomplish using the right tools, paving the way for truly next generation games and inspiring others developers to do better and expand what was done.
Half-Life 1 became a good example of a Game Engine with good scripting overall and great player interaction. Half-Life 2 was the prime example of a Physics Engine, giving new ways to explore and play with the scenario specially thanks to the Gravity Gun. And this was the key to its success.
Half-Life 3 is looking for the same effect: bringing a good engine to the table, with that special something that makes immerses the player. Something that games with engines like Unity, Unreal Engine or CryEngine haven’t took into account, not because they don’t care, but rather because there is no need to extend beyond what is already done in the market.
Crysis was the exception in its time. Crytek decided to push the boundary in the graphics department and the game became quickly de-facto benchmark for PC and demonstrated that consoles paled in comparison to their offerings at that particular time. The studio couldn’t capitalize CryEngine licensing for a lot of reasons, and that was a shame, because Crysis was considered an graphically immersive game that led players to believe they truly were in a tropical island — gameplay aside, of course.
VR may be *that* technology
Virtual Reality is the new technology in gaming that changes how the user interacts with games, and if we consider what Valve has done in the last two years, it seems that pushing this is their next milestone.
Valve may have a shot making Half-Life 3 as a VR-focused game, a platform where a lot of games are going but none have broken the ground.
To put it simple, in the VR space, there is little to none that appeals and drives the mass market to actually buy (or invest) these still considered accessories. Instead, today’s titles feel like add-on for the blockbuster franchises. And with that idea, a consumer isn’t keen to pay USD$60 for something that feels like a sub-par or underwhelming spin-of of something.
That theory is based on what Valve has done lately. Source 2 has come with proper VR support and Vulkan, which (done right) increases the graphics performance and latency to enable this kind of experiences. They have also tested some of the VR content using Dota 2, and they’ve also helping with related Vulkan software like Debugging Tools (with LunarG) and drivers for Intel Graphics. This even led AMD to release a “cheap VR Premium graphics card”, the Radeon RX 480 4GB, at USD$ 199.
VR is still developing, strongly through. PlayStation has nailed its VR accessory with a good price-per-compromise ratio, but market effectiveness is still up to be seen — may be in the next Sony’s keynote (E3?) or investors call. Oculus is still considered too pricey, and the HTC Vive is one of the most complete experiences today, one that Valve has been very keen to work with since its inception.
Still, all of them have the same basic problem: you can’t move. That’s is something Virtuix Omni tackles on, but is still another costly and bulky accessory that nobody would want if you take into account what you are paying already with the VR headset and your PC (or console).
Another thing are cables. Considering how bulky a HTC Vive is with the cables attached, a proper wireless video standard could solve given enough bandwidth, but that is a long shot for today’s times.
“Why Wi-Fi still doesn’t solve the cable problem?” You may ask, and it’s because a video needs more data bandwidth than Wi-Fi has available. Unless it’s video-compressed like YouTube or Netflix, and that adds latency.
The latest Wi-Fi 802.11ac standard outputs a practical 2.5 Gbps at it best, but a 4K or UHD video at 120fps consumes 35.6Gbps minimum. That is something that the recently announced HDMI 2.1 solves given its 48 Gbps bandwidth cable.
Today is considered acceptable a 1080p@120fps resolution for VR, but even that consumes 8.92 Gbps, more than the 802.11ac maximum theoretical of 7Gbps!
As of today, still a long shot, and one of the many reasons why you still see VR headset with so much aliasing and paired with cables.
But still, the elephant in the room is the player’s movement. While games that doesn’t require locomotion are good enough for public consumption at this early stages of VR, I think Valve won’t bother with Half-Life 3 until this movement problem is completely solved by the OEM or by Valve itself. Otherwise they risk to release a half-baked experience only to be criticized into oblivion.
Valve won’t bother with Half-Life 3 until this movement problem is completely solved by the OEM or by Valve itself.
The community wants the best game of the century, and the bar will never go lower than that mainly because Valve’s own fault at delivering these two of the most highest rated games in all gaming history. And if this means that the community will have to wait until the planetary alignment is right for Half-Life 3 to resume development, then it should be so.
Valve efforts are going to other projects: Dota 2 & CS:GO scenes are the money makers here. Steam OS came up too soon; Vulkan (OpenGL replacement) is what they should be addressed in the first place to enable VR and Linux properly, but it doesn’t look like they’re giving up just yet. Is just that Valve took a while to realize they should be focusing where it really matter, and it’s under the hood rather than over it. Until then, a complete VR experience for Half-Life 3 to release is still a way down the horizon.
We can only hope Gabe Newell shares some light into Half-Life 3 today at his IAMA on Reddit at 3:00 PM PT.
Are you waiting for it, still after all these years?