Epistle 3 Jam

A week or so ago, Marc Laidlaw– a writer who worked at Valve for years, on HL1 and HL2– published a genderswapped Half Life 3 synposis on his blog. You can read it here. Laidlaw has been out of Valve for the last 18 months. This is probably as good a statement on HL3 as we are ever gonna get from anyone at Valve.

Taken separately, I find the first and last paragraphs of the piece very tragic and emotionally affecting:

And here we are. I spoke of my return to this shore. It has been a circuitous path to lands I once knew, and surprising to see how much the terrain has changed. Enough time has passed that few remember me, or what I was saying when last I spoke, or what precisely we hoped to accomplish. At this point, the resistance will have failed or succeeded, no thanks to me. Old friends have been silenced, or fallen by the wayside. I no longer know or recognize most members of the research team, though I believe the spirit of rebellion still persists. I expect you know better than I the appropriate course of action, and I leave you to it. Expect no further correspondence from me regarding these matters; this is my final epistle.

I do know the appropriate course of action: for us to make Half Life 3 ourselves, as we wish it to be. Half Life 3, it seems, was never really going to be a thing; the realest versions of it are a) this synopsis, and b) whatever version of it exists in the imaginations of us players. Half Life 3 may have never really been anything more than a phantasm in the minds of the people. Whatever we imagine Half Life 3 to be, that version has as much a claim to reality as anything else in the world. Half Life 3 is ours; it belongs to us; it’s up to us to make it.

And it’s better, isn’t there, that there be a hundred competing Half Life 3s, each representing a different facet of that communal hallucination? If Half Life 3’s realest manifestation is in our imaginations, then it’s necessarily an amorphous, many-faceted thing.

So I made this game jam on Itch, the best game jam platform around. There’s currently over 140 participants. I’m very excited to see what everyone makes! The jam has been covered in a couple places, and there have been a few submissions already, so I figured I’d address some of my thoughts on the project here on my blog.

I have very strong opinions on whether you should make a game complaining that Valve never released Half Life 3

You shouldn’t. I feel very strongly that it is a thousand times worse that Laidlaw & Co. never got to make the game they wanted to make than for us to be denied a game we wanted to play. We have played many wonderful games over the last decade. We did not suffer in any real way by missing out on HL3. Reading the blog post, though, it’s very clear that some Valve people did want very badly to make HL3, and that they couldn’t. That’s way sadder.

I’ve worked on a lot of canceled projects– seeing a creative possibility on the horizon and never being able to release it is probably the worst feeling there is. When something seems so real you can almost taste it, when you spend tons and tons of energy on a thing and never get to show it to anyone– that feels like death. It makes you feel like years of your life have been stolen from you. I personally feel like I wasted my early 20s on canceled projects. Those are years of my career I will never get back.

So even though HL3 is a community phantasm we all created together, I will feel somewhat responsible (and very sad) if people make a lot of jam games about how pissed they are at Valve. I hope we make things that make them happy, not sad. It doesn’t feel like they deserve people shitting on them over this.

There is no better way to get involved in game development than by making the real Half Life 3

I think that game jams are one of the best possible ways to get involved in game development.

One of the worst things that young creators do to themselves is take on gigantic projects and then fret forever about whether they are perfect (and then never release them!!). I did this about ten times before I released anything on my own and it’s bad!

Game jams, however, force you to pick a small topic and finish it completely. This is very good. And for people who are getting into game development because they are incredibly excited by great older games like Half Life, maybe picking a limited topic related to a game you like is a great way to get into game development.

Also, you get to put a game called “Half Life 3” as the first game on your itch account, which is pretty great.

Stop telling me we’re gonna get cease-and-desisted

I am not worried about us getting cease-and-desisted.

It’s not a script, it’s a synopsis.

The thing he wrote is not a script. I don’t know why it bugs me so much that outlets keep calling it a “script” when they write about the jam. I don’t want potential jammers thinking like there’s this script asset out there that they have to adapt. It’s more open-ended than that. There’s a lot of freedom for people to make whatever they want.

Also, readers can handle the word “synopsis” just fine, if that’s what you’re worried about.

It’s not a competition.

You can have competitive jams on itch. This isn’t one! I don’t think it would be in the spirit of the situation to run a competitive jam on this topic.

Everyone’s interpretation of this jam idea is super valid.

It’s exactly as cool and good– perhaps even cooler and gooder— for someone to make a dating game for this jam as it is for them to make an FPS. You super don’t have to make an FPS. Whatever you want to imagine HL3 as is exactly as valid as any other kind of thing. It belongs to you now; you can do whatever you want with it.

The synopsis is great and I love it.

I am a giant fan of the synopsis and I think the Breen-grub is the funniest shit. I love how weird the synopsis is; it sounds extremely Half Life-esque.

Thank you to everyone who’s covered the jam. I’m super excited to see what people make! The final versions will all be in on Halloween!