Half-Life 2: Episode One, which will be released tomorrow on Valve's Steam service, is the first in a trilogy of new outings for the award-winning series. We spent some quality time with the team behind the hugely anticipated game to find out more about the Half-Life franchise's episodic shift.
Episode-based games are the answer to "making great entertainment for gamers," according to Valve co-founder Gabe Newell. "Episodic gaming will be as important for single-player as Counter-Strike, the biggest online action game, was for multiplayer.
"The original Half-Life took two years to create and Half-Life 2 took six years. That means Half-Life 3 would ship in approximately 2022. By which time we'll all be retired," laughs Newell. "With episodic content we can answer everybody's questions about what happened at the end of Half-Life 2, and we can do it in 18 months rather than 18 years.
"That's why we're taking this risk instead of going off and embarking on Half-Life 3," he says. Taking one of the best games of all time into uncharted territory, however, should prove to be genuinely rewarding for fans of Half-Life. Indeed, Newell stresses that the episodic approach is the best way to "move the story, the gameplay and the technology forwards much faster. Episodic gaming is going to give us a lot more freedom to take risks in gameplay."
Having played through Episode One ourselves, we believe that level of freedom is paying off. Gordon Freeman and company's adventures in this new installment feel much more intuitive and fresher than before, and this is largely due to Valve knowing which aspects of Half-Life 2 people enjoyed, and which bits they didn't.
"The ways that people play our game drive the direction of the gameplay. The expectations that gamers have teach us about the way this world should work, and how the gameplay should flow," explains Robin Walker, lead designer on Episode One. "We spent time on increasing the interactivity of our environment, so there's a load of new gameplay built around this idea that the world is alive in ways you haven't had before."