On 22nd May 2006, Valve put out a press release promising an episodic trilogy for Half-Life 2. Eurogamer wrote a news story, authored by one Ellie Gibson, with the headline: "Half-Life Episode 3 confirmed."
10 years later, we're still waiting for that third episode.
The press release heralded the launch of Half-Life 2: Episode One for PC. At the time, Valve said the trilogy would conclude by Christmas 2007. Here's the relevant blurb:
Valve, developer of the blockbuster series Half-Life and Counter-Strike, announced Half-Life 2: Episode One has gone gold. Episode One is the first in a trilogy of episodes that will conclude by Christmas of 2007.
Half-Life 2: Episode One advances the 15-million unit selling franchise and launches the first in a new, three-part series that leads far beyond City 17. Half-Life 2: Episode One does not require Half-Life 2 to play, and will be available via Steam and at retail stores in North America for just $19.95 on June 1st. Also included in Episode One is a first look at Episode Two, which will ship by year's end.
Episode Two did not ship by the end of 2006. Rather, it came out in October 2007, alongside the wonderful The Orange Box package that included the ground-breaking sort of Half-Life game Portal.
Even then, Valve's plan appeared to be to release a third episode. In fact, the Steam page for Episode Two still references it being a part of a trilogy.
Half-Life 2: Episode Two is the second in a trilogy of new games created by Valve that extends the award-winning and best-selling Half-Life adventure.
Talk about false advertising!
And that's where Half-Life dries up. Valve and boss Gabe Newell have over the years batted away questions about the series with increasing silence. What begins as, "yes, it's still in development and we're still working on it", became, "we've got nothing to say on Half-Life".
I faced a similar response from Newell in an interview I did with the Valve boss back in 2011. Here's the brief exchange:
Eurogamer: Do you get sick and tired of being asked about Half-Life 3?
Gabe Newell: I understand why people ask about it. I'm not sick and tired of it. But I don't have anything to say.
What's going on? Why would Valve refuse to discuss the development of Half-Life or why Episode Three failed to materialise? We're talking about a video game here, not government corruption.
Back in 2009, Newell said he had "very good reasons" for not discussing Half-Life 2: Episode 3, but wouldn't be drawn on them or when the developer would be able to open up about the concluding chapter in the FPS saga.
"I get a ton of email every day saying why aren't you talking about Episode 3? And there are very good reasons why we're not talking about Episode 3, which I can't talk about yet, but I will," Newell told G4 (remember that?).
The wait for Episode Three has proved excruciating for some. In 2010, Lionhead co-founder Peter Molyneux released a video of his son calling on Valve to get a move on.
Then, in 2012, a fan campaign designed to encourage more Half-Life information from Valve staged a mass gameplay session.
Newell responded by admitting Valve was aware of frustration at its lack of communication.
"We're acutely aware of how much we annoy our fans and it's pretty frustrating to us when we put them into that situation," Newell told Penny Arcade.
"We try to go as fast as we can and we try to pick the things that we think are going to be most valuable to our customers and if there's some magic way we can get more work done in a day then we'd love to hear about it.
"But we recognize that it's been a long time whereas we have so many games that people really love - Counter-Strike, Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead, not a whole lot of Ricochet enthusiasts out there, and at the same time we want to be making sure that those games and those stories and those characters are moving forward while also making sure that we don't just get into terminal sequelitis."
All the while, fans have fed off scraps, such as the time in 2011 that a Valve employee was spotted out in the wild sporting a Half-Life 3 T-shirt.
More recently, screenshots of Dishonored developer Arkane Studios' Half-Life 2: Episode 4, aka Return to Ravenholm, emerged. A former Arkane developer provided ValveTime.net with the images, lifted from the game Arkane was making 2006/2007 before it was cancelled.
Valve's Marc Laidlaw explained why it was cancelled to LambdaGeneration:
"We are big fans of Arkane and wanted to come up with a project we could work on together. We threw ideas around, they built some cool stuff, but we eventually decided that it didn't make sense to pursue it at the time. As I recall, we felt like a lot of the staples of Ravenholm - headcrabs and zombies! - were pretty much played out, and the fact that it would have to take place sometime before the end of Episode 2 (so as not to advance beyond where Valve had pushed the story) was a creative constraint that would hamper the project...and Arkane."
Heading into 2016, with Valve's Steam enjoying a monopoly on PC game sales, its Vive virtual reality headset full steam ahead, and Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2 three of the most popular video games in the world, most seem to have given up hope that Valve will ever release anything with a 3 in the title, Half-Life related or no.
The final nail in the coffin? Earlier this year Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw left Valve after 18 years at the company.
Laidlaw joined the company in 1997 to work on Half-Life, and is described as the "sole writer" on Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and the lead writer for the Half-Life episodes.
In the email exchange, Laidlaw explained his departure:
An outwardly obvious reason is that I'm old, or anyway oldish. My nickname when I first started at Valve in 1997 was 'old man Laidlaw'. The little baby level designer who gave me that that nickname is now older than I was then.
I had a good run but lately I have been feeling a need for a break from the collaborative chaos of game production, and a return to more self-directed writing projects.
What of the future of Half-Life now Laidlaw has left Valve? While the world continues its 100-year wait for Half-Life 3 with bated breath, Laidlaw, it seems, had his fill.
"Where Valve may choose to take Half-Life in the future is not in my hands," Laidlaw said.
"I have been a grateful co-creator, but my time working on the series is behind me."
And yet, every now and then something Half-Life 3 related pops up on the internet and the crowd goes wild all over again.
In February, Valve released its very own SteamVR Performance Test, and people spotted files within the Source 2 game engine build that reference Half-Life 3 and Left 4 Dead 3.
The wait (are people still waiting?) goes on. So now, 10 years after Valve told the world to expect the Half-Life 2 trilogy of episodes to conclude by Christmas 2007, we remember a time when Gordon Freeman was the protagonist in a story that had the potential to end, rather than simply dangle forever on the edge of a cliff.