While Valve has been largely silent on what's happening with Half-Life 2: Episode 3, a recent focus test at the developer may point to the inclusion of a deaf character that ties into supporting character Alyx's past.
Valve founder Gabe Newell discusses this character in a newly uploaded YouTube video, which appears to be from that focus test. In it, Newell speaks of a hearing impaired character that Alyx "had a crush on" well before her first meeting with protagonist Gordon Freeman. According to Newell, Alyx taught her robot sidekick Dog to sign so she could practice, while this person is off, say, fighting the Combine.
Newell calls the character's inclusion and use of sign language an "excuse to build the technology for signing" in an unspecified game. Joining Newell at that session was Valve modeler/animator Bay Raitt, who apparently attends to study facial movements made by the deaf focus testers.
Newell also asks the testers, some of them fans of Valve games, if they think the developer is serving the deaf community properly with its games, particularly in multiplayer.
We're not sure what Valve has planned for Episode 3, but Newell has indicated before that its extended development cycle is related to some new technology that the company plans to implement alongside the expansion's release.
But we're definitely happy that Valve is paying attention to this sort of thing, catering to a small segment of its user base, the one's incapable of hearing the soothing sounds of Gordon Freeman's voice.