Have you got it yet? It's not that cryptic, you'll kick yourself to be honest; Valve. Yes, Valve, creators of everybody's favourite mute Gordon Freeman in the Half Life series, everybody's favourite psychopathic robot killing machine AI thingymabob GladOS in Portal, and everybody's favourite zombie killing documentary Left 4 Dead.
Okay, maybe people love Steam and its PC dominance, sales and simplicity. But that’s a lot of money made, money that can be spent on hiring some staff who like to work rather than have Nerf fights or whatever.
Let’s have a look at the goods then shall we? As previously mentioned I haven’t had any experience with the popular Counter Strike and Team Fortress games, so we’ll forget they exist.
With Left 4 Dead, however, I have a lot of experience, specifically the second game whose downloadable content includes all of the first games maps and characters. A simple game, L4D2 essentially has you fighting zombies on your way from A to B. The magic lies in the AI director however, a system that changes the game’s enemy resistance, locations and supplies based on your playstyle. Healing friends and sticking together means a more lenient level with more supplies, trying to hoof it alone and you have any number of obstacles hindering progress up to the frantic crescendos that end the levels, creating timeless stories for you and your mates about your antics. L4D2 is probably the most replayable and fun game going.
Arguably the most ingenious puzzle game created, Portal got an audience thanks to an inclusion in the Valve compilation The Orange Box, which everyone bought for Half Life 2. Again a simple concept, the game has you create an in hole and an out hole to progress through obstacles in cleverly designed levels, the brilliance was in the depth of gameplay which included making you think about momentum and cleverly placing portals whilst mid portalling, this is all whilst a homicidal AI guides your progress. By the time the second game came along, the variations on gameplay including magic goo and a brilliantly funny script meant you were dreaming about portals and begging for more.
Half Life is the game that put Valve on the map and most likely on your computer thanks to Steam. It can be described as a first person shooter with puzzle elements and a barmy story about aliens doing stuff, I don't really know it's just a lot of fun, okay? Both the first and second games were examples of what computers could do, maxing out most systems on release thanks to crafty new game engines. Not only that but in terms of gameplay, it showed how sequels could improve and expand whilst pleasing fans and holding the core gameplay, which is stellar and holds up today along with the graphics. The popularity even made Valve release two expansions, Episode One and Episode Two. Of course, there were three promised and more than 10 years later we're still waiting. Perhaps the next entry will be simply Episode Three?
I think one of the major problems is the expectation. Half Life 1 and 2 showed what was possible with computer games, perhaps the reason a third episode or a sequel hasn't arisen is due to them not being able to push things further? Maybe the rumoured Source 3 engine isn't up to snuff? Doubtful. It is much more likely Valve just want to deliver the experience everybody wants, or expects. That level of expectation must be daunting for all three franchises, especially Half Life which doesn't have the benefit of a flourishing modding scene adding new levels frequently like Portal 2 and L4D2 enjoy. In any case, the silence regarding any new games in so many years is simply frustrating but I'm sure that if something is in the pipeline it will be worth the wait.
The only problem is that the silence makes us think maybe there isn't anything in there. They've had time to do their entire primary school maths again anyway, twice. Hopefully they won’t leave it another five years and make it - ironically - three times.