How A Game Made People Think Half-Life 3 Would Be Released This Year

How A Game Made People Think Half-Life 3 Would Be Released This Year

Bossa Studios never intended for Surgeon Simulator 2013 to become a part of a Half-Life 3 conspiracy theory — the ARG puzzle found underneath a medic figurine was simply another element in the game that would require the player to use some inference. “Surgeon Simulator is a trove of easter-eggs and references, this is a big part of its core, its fun,” Henrique Olifiers, co-founder of the studio, said to me via email.

“Some of the game’s levels aren’t even available if you don’t read between the lines; it’s easy to find those who don’t realise there’s a level in space, for instance, because it’s not accessible through an obvious way.”

With a game like that, Bossa figured that an ARG made perfect sense. Why an ARG now though? Well, they had an update planned for July, but until then, they figured it might be fun to give fans something to do in the meantime. That’s when they thought of an ARG.

They thought of a few puzzles, one of which is the now-famous card featuring Korean… just like a botched update to Half-Life 2 recently. Many thought that similarity, along with the game’s inclusion of Team Fortress 2 characters,was simply too big of a coincidence to ignore. There had to be a Half-Life 3 connection, right? So players took the planets on the image, and came up with different possible release dates for Half-Life 3, most of them this year.

They were half right; the Korean was influenced by the Half-Life bug. Just not in the way most people guessed.

“One of the points of using a non-Western alphabet is that you cannot simply type it into Google Translate, there’s more crunching involved,” Olifiers explained. “The day the team was adding [the puzzle], the Half-Life 2 bug showed up minutes before, so ‘hey, Korean, there you go’. At that point (and even some time after we released the patch) we had no idea the bug was being linked to Half-Life 3 somewhere else in the depths of the web.”

People took the image and devised all sorts of insane theories about what the puzzle teased. It didn’t help that the Korean in the game said “The time is,” which incidentally are some of the same words Half-Life starts with.

“The problem with ARGs is that our brains are hardwired to find patterns everywhere. We see numbers, faces and correlations where there are none, that’s how most conspiracy theories are born and how some people get convinced there’s a gigantic human head on Cydonia,” Olifiers said. “But that’s also what makes ARGs so interesting, what make them work: the different interpretations and solutions clashing for the survival of the fittest, discussed by the players.”

Illustrating the point of how out of hand these conspiracy theories can get, Olifiers sent me this image by Ivan Bakula:

“Perhaps our mistake was to stick the puzzle to the bottom of the medic figurine, which we added in the same update as we thought the game was missing a reward for completing the Heavy’s surgery. Should we glued the puzzle to the bottom of a mug or a pencil sharpener, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Or it would anyway. Who knows?”

You’d think that with so much ruckus, the game would get a major sales boost, right? “While I would love to tell a story of riches and gains from it all, I’ll have to disappoint,” Olifiers said. “The game’s sales averaged almost the same as the days before and after the episode, as we expected it would be the case.”

Thankfully, it sounds as if the experience isn’t stopping the studio from doing more stuff like it in the future — the Korean thing, after all, is a small part of a larger puzzle.


  • I have a theory that they hit a hardware wall where they just couldn’t make the Half-Life 3 they wanted on consoles with the current generation of hardware and it was too big an opportunity missed to make it PC exclusive (even if it’s just for a year or two) these days.

    I mean they made Half-Life 2 and it brought a lot of new elements to the FPS genre and then after Portal 1-2 and their crazy portal puzzles I think they decided to wait until they could incorporate that kind of stuff into an open combat environment with complex physics and AI which we’ve come to love in a HL game.

    My hope is that it’s coming to PC, PS4 and Xbone in the back half of next year. Don’t forget that until some prick hacked their servers Half-Life 2 was announced at E3 for release a few months later.

    • Congratulations! This is the first theory I’ve seen about HL3 that made actual sense.

    • I just figured that the wait was because they would be working on a new Source engine to launch HL3 on. Source has been upgraded substantially but considering the initial framework all their games are running off is what Half Life 2 was built with, I’d say it’s time for a totally new engine. Considering this with your theory of the engine being able to take advantage of next gen standards, it makes enough sense.

      • Apparently, after somebody got hold of their internal mailing lists, there was a whole bunch of emails that while unreadable (subjects and lists were taken, not the emails themselves) indicated that work was being done on a new Source engine. Unless of course they wanted the email lists to be found, and are now just watching with delight whilst the internet slowly crumbles.

    • Don’t forget the steam box or whatever it is. I’d imagine they would make HL3 an exclusive on that just to up the launch sales.

      • I actually doubt they would do that, as Valve now seems fairly focused on content that is spread across consoles and pc, it seems to go against what they stand for to make their biggest release an exclusive. Granted, it would make the SteamBox sell like hell, but it seems like a but then it’ll screw over the PC crowd…not a good move.

        • Yeah you’re probably right. Perhaps not a an exclusive but it’d make sense to be a launch title. I can just imagine the preorders going nuts..

  • The article was worth it alone for that “Im not saying it was aliens” picture. Even where he’s plotted the HL3 logo in a cloud, awesome.

  • ARG puzzle hey?

    I don’t know what that means but I keep reading it as Augmented Reality Game. Stay informative, Hernandez.

  • Valve didn’t help this by patching HL2 and it’s episodes today 😛

  • I just love how that drawing has “Gordon Freeman – Grdn Frman – Gn Fman – G-man!”
    Oh! That makes so much sense!

    It’s a funny reminder of how some real conspiracy theorists will say “Well, if you take this name, take out these arbitrary letters, invert the first and second letters and then add in a few more letters – then it spells something totally confirms my theory!” Of course it does. Watch!

    I think Obama is a lizard space man. How do I know this?

    Obama – reversed makes amabo. Space it out – A Ma Bo – A “Ma” Bo. Reverse the Ma – that’s Am. Am – the first letters to what nation? AMERICA! Just the nation that he HAPPENS to run! So we get A Am Bo – Bo, what’s a bo? Is it short for BOA-CONSTRICTOR!?!?! Bo…. what city does Obama hail from! That’s right – BOSTON.

    I conclude that Obama is a space reptile from Boston! Who is hiding Half Life 3 from us! It’s alllll connected!

    Later I shall give evidence of my theory linking Joe Biden to Iran’s President. Has anyone seen them in the same room together!? DIDN’T THINK SO!

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