Former Valve Writer Posts Possible Half-Life 2: Episode 3 Plot Summary

Former Valve Writer Posts Possible Half-Life 2: Episode 3 Plot Summary

Former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw has posted a fictional letter on his site that sure reads like a possible plot summary for Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

Laidlaw joined Valve in the 1990s, and announced his departure from the company in January 2016. In that time he worked on the story for Half-Life 1, Half-Life 2 and both the latter game’s episodic sequels.

Earlier this evening, Laidlaw tweeted:

That link led to a letter written by “Gertie Fremont”, and features stuff like a ship called the “Hyperborea” and alien bad guys called the “Disparate”.

Swap those out for actual Half-Life names and places (Gordon Freeman, the Borealis and Combine, etc) and you’ve got what certainly appears to be a summary of events that could have taken place after the end of Half-Life 2: Episode 2.

Whether it’s a “final” plot outline from an attempt to actually develop Episode 3, a potential storyline that was competing against others or just some notes scribbled down on paper, we don’t know. Though Laidlaw did later tweet:

Laidlaw’s personal site has crashed from the pressure of people wanting to read it, “snapshot of a dream” or not, but there’s a version on pastebin that has “translated” the original, with the correct characters and locations inserted over the top of Laidlaw’s bogus labels.

The Borealis’ cameo in Episode 2.

The Borealis’ cameo in Episode 2.

The tl;dr short version of the full letter (which you can read here) is this:

Gordon and Alyx head for Antarctica, resting place of the Borealis, the research ship mentioned at the end of Episode 2. They’re shot down as they approach, though, and find that surrounding the ship is an enormous Combine base, inside which the Borealis is continually flickering in and out of existence.

After an encounter with Dr. Breen — whose consciousness had been transplanted into an alien slug’s body, allowing him to survive the demise of his human body in Episode 2 — Gordon, Alyx and Dr. Mossman (who you rescue from a Combine prison) manage to board the Borealis, and while there are pulled across both space and time, seeing things like the Seven Hour War, alien worlds the Combine were about to conquer and even the ship’s origins at Aperture.

Following a dispute over what to do with the ship (Mossman argues for keeping the ship, Alyx wants to honour her father’s wish to destroy it), Alyx shoots Mossman dead, and commits Gordon to a plan to drive the ship into the heart of the Combine’s “invasion nexus”.

Before it can strike, though, the G-Man arrives, speaks with Alyx and the pair depart, leaving Gordon alone to drive the ship on its suicide mission. Just as its about to hit its target, the Vortigaunts open a portal and save Gordon, dropping him on a shore where he isn’t certain of what year it is or how the war against the Combine has ended.

And…that’s where it wraps, Freeman writing “Except no further correspondence from me regarding these matters; this is my final episode.”

Interestingly, if you go back and look at some concept art that leaked in 2012, you’ll see images showing a crashed helicopter in a snowy location, with what could easily be Gordon and Alyx (who also features in the art in winter clothing) in the frame.

UPDATE: Here’s an interesting note on the ending:


  • With a mute protagonist, it’s hard to care about anything story related when it comes to Half-Life.

    EDIT: Downvotes without articulated arguments suck, dudes.

    • With a mute protagonist I found it easier to be sucked in, rather than have the character say a range of cheesy/terrible/obvious dialogue that would help remove immersion.

    • Wow, bit harsh getting downvoted that much for having an opinion haha

      I can see where you’re coming from, but I believe the intention of a mute protagonist is so the player is able to formulate their own thought processes and feel like that’s what the character would sound like and how they would think. It makes it a little more personal.

      On the flip side, a mute protagonist feels a bit soulless, because the player may feel like they’re just piloting a robot around.

      Have an upvote for a non-sheep opinion 🙂

    • you literally just said that any story with a silent PoV could not be meaningful to you without putting forth an argument as to why when tons of potential counterexamples exist

      you aren’t owed more attention than you give

    • I downvoted you without argument because there was no argument presented – you just stated your personal opinion without explanation, and then depersonalised it. An equivalent response would basically be “You’re wrong.”

      But I’ll argue anyway – a mute protagonist allows for the protagonist to act as a self-insert for the player. Freeman’s thoughts are irrelevant – the player’s thoughts are Freeman’s thoughts for the purposes of the game. That’s why a series like Freeman’s Mind works. If you don’t care about the story because Freeman is a silent protagonist, you just plain don’t care about the story and having him speak probably wouldn’t change that.

      • @mic @jusking3888 I’ll just reply to all you guys in one comment to make things easier.

        @soldant I actually agree with you that I didn’t provide an articulated argument either. My assumption was that making your protagonist silent for non story-related reasons (as Mic and Jusking said above, “player immersion”) while every other character they interact with is fully voiced, being a terrible idea, was a pretty self-evident position.

        I thought we had all sort of come to that conclusion from playing games like The Witcher 3 that a fully voiced, fully fleshed out main player character can make even the most tired and weak narratives (fantasy open world RPGs) sing.

        It comes down to this, the more question marks you have in your story and plot, the more sacrifices in quality you need to make. Look at Dragon Age Inquisition for example: by letting the player determine who the protagonist is, the storytellers need to dumb down and simplify the story so that it can vaguely apply to many different possible protagonists. This is why we always see The Chosen One / The Reborn Savior / The Centre of the Universe angle in Bioware games (games praised for player choice and world building, but rarely for nuanced character progression and plot).

        Half-Life’s decision to make its protagonist silent was one of the biggest missteps Valve ever made. They were aiming for an adult, complex story and game that pushed the medium forward and gained it the respect it deserved. But they made the same decision game developers had been making from back when voicing characters was a technical impossibility. Even Link has outgrown his muteness, and his world is way more fantastical than Gordon’s.

        And speaking of Gordon, the player immersion argument doesn’t really fly when you consider that Gordon isn’t us. He has a name, a history, he even has a face, that we see on the box and loading screens and promo material. Now while you could make the argument that every guy rocked that Edward Norton / Matthew Perry look in the 90s when the first game came out, he’s still not anonymous enough that we could successfully make an argument for player projection.

        Ultimately, it comes down to this. When Barney says “Gordon! My best friend! We’re so close!” I don’t buy it. When Alyx tries to lay the groundwork for some sort of “will they / won’t they” romance with Gordon; I don’t buy it. When everyone on the internet tells me that Half-Life’s storyline is amazing; I. Don’t. Buy. It.

        Even Destiny 1 had the good sense to not have mute player characters, a game that was shredded for not having a good enough plot. Apparently they’ve ditched that for the new game (bad move), but at least they’ve replaced it with conversation trees.

        • I would generally agree, though I think at least part of it has to do with them not really working within the limitations of the mute protagonist very well in Half Life. They even have characters who look directly at you and act disappointed when you don’t reply to their direct questions.

          I felt imprisoned by Gordon, not immersed.

          They went on to use the mute protagonist to great effect in the Portal series, which I regard as having some of the best writing ever put into a game. I think the big difference was the way the NPCs responded to the player’s actions. I wouldn’t say that Chel herself was much of a character, but the experience of interacting with Glados/Wheatly was amazing. I actually do think that in this case the first-person mute protagonist helped foster that immersion.

          • I agree with you totally on Portal. With that game it felt like Chell was mute by story design. Making their test subjects mute seems exactly like the sort of thing they would do. I think the game’s comedic elements and absurd ideas also played into this. The idea of a mute protagonist being pulled along by a cast of wacky supporting characters just works.

            There are many other games where muteness is totally fine. Inside is another one. It just depends on the tone of the story and whether or not the character’s muteness is believable within the world that’s been build. Half-Life’s mute character is not believable. You want to make a stoic just-get-it-done type? Look how Halo treated Master Chief or how the first Crysis treated Nomad. They don’t say much, but when they need to, they can.

            It all depends on what it is you’re trying to do. When the best excuse people seem to throw out for a questionable mute protagonist is “It helps me pretend i’m the protagonist.” My response is “You’re not the protagonist, grow up, you’re playing a character, and that character needs to be written.”

        • And speaking of Gordon, the player immersion argument doesn’t really fly when you consider that Gordon isn’t us. He has a name, a history, he even has a face, that we see on the box and loading screens and promo material. Now while you could make the argument that every guy rocked that Edward Norton / Matthew Perry look in the 90s when the first game came out, he’s still not anonymous enough that we could successfully make an argument for player projection.

          Yeah, but you can say that about any voiced game, even Mass Effect/Dragon Age where I can literally make someone look like me because A) The character doesn’t sound like me and B) My surname isn’t ‘Shepard’ (and it’s not as if ‘Pathfinder’ is any better)

          And going back to the voicing, the number of times in ME I’ve picked a reply to a question or something and the tone has been way off. I can’t remember specific examples, but there was a number of times I might have wanted to ask someone a question coolly, but instead my character starts yelling and getting heavy handed.

          Whereas with the mute protagonist I can react however the hell I want. When Eli mentioned he knew about the G-Man, that reveal would have been neutered somewhat to hear someone else react to that. Yes, the character’s name is Gordon, but that was me who had been seeing him everywhere. That had been me who had been kidnapped and locked away. That it was me who thought I must be crazy and was stunned to find someone else was actually aware of his abnormal nature.

          It let me self-insert and choose how I wanted to react (mentally, obviously) rather than choose my response from a number of preselected responses.

  • A shame, this seems like a really fitting story, one that would have been a joy to play.

    On one hand I’m glad I finally have some sort of closure as to the Borealis, Mossman and Alex, but I’m still rather sad that it feels like this is the door closing on Half-Life. It doesn’t seem likely that someone would spill the entire plot if the game had still been intended to be made.

  • Eh, honestly sounds like a little bit of a confused mess at times – maybe that’s just because I was skim-reading but it sounds like it was going to cram in a load of things and play with spacetime for a bit more deus ex machina.

    Really fits with the concept art that was leaked a while back, so seems likely that this is what they were actually trying to do.

  • Maybe some ambitious modders now get to work crafting it, and we can have some form of closure.

  • I still think that a bunch of modders should get together and make the ultimate half-life 3. Make it a community project, in which anyone can join-in if they are capable. There are a lot of modders and indie developers out there who are familiar with the Source engine, so some decent leadership and plenty of helps could result in something amazing. I could use Beyond Skyrim as an example. They’re making the whole continent of Tamriel playable in Skyrim, and they are recruiting people from the community to help out.

  • I still think one day….BAM….valve will announce HL3, and everyone will be like “whoaa well played, totally wasn’t expecting it” and valve will be like “was our plan all along lol” and then we’ll all look back on this and be like lol they sure did get us back then

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