Half-Life 3 unconfirmed: every rumor, hoax, and leak in one place

It's been over ten years since the Half-Life series last showed life, with the shocking conclusion of Half-Life 2: Episode Two. And surely, we thought, Valve wouldn't leave such a stunning cliffhanger untended for long. Surely, that heart-wrenching finale meant that Valve had a proper finish already cooked up, and the infamously long Valve-time waits between games would be a thing of the past. Surely.

The decade since has not resulted in Episode 3 or a proper Half-Life 3. But much has happened: through both official channels and clever hoaxes, our hopes have been raised up and then dashed on the rocks, again and again. The most recent information comes from a 2017 Reddit AMA with Gabe Newell and some major revelations from an interview with ex-Valve writer Marc Laidlaw.

Here's every Half-Life 3 hoax, rumor, and leak we've collected.

May 2006 – Confirmed 

The fun begins not with a hoax, but an actual, official announcement: Half-Life 2: Episode 3, in time for Christmas 2007! There was even talk of Episode Four! Because sure, why not? Gabe Newell said episodic releases would be "pretty frequent," ideally spaced out by six to eights months. By my calculations, that means we're just about due for Half-Life 2 Episode 16.

January 2008 - The faking begins

Half-life 3 fakes started pretty much as soon as The Orange Box was out the door. Just a few months later, this screenshot began circulating. It was obviously a fake, but it was a sign of things to come: the years of hoaxes, leaks, rumors, and wishful thinking that led to this article today.

October 2008 - Two million copies?

Just as things were getting into full gear for the 2008 holiday season, Valve's Doug Lombardi told Videogames Daily that Valve "may [show Episode 3] at the very end of the year." Emphasis on "may," obviously, as Valve ultimately had nothing to say. He also expressed worry about over-committing to Half-Life 3, saying that if the studio got too deep into it, "We have to sell two million copies or else we're fucked." Two million copies, you say? I suppose that seemed like a lot back then.

July 2010 – The blob shake

Half-Life 3 references are found in the Alien Swarm SDK, in object properties like "Ep3 Blob Shake Position," "Ep 3 Fire Cover Position," and "Ep 3 Blob Brain Cover Position." It obviously wasn't proof of anything, but we were so hungry for a new Half-Life by this point that it was taken as rock-solid evidence that Gordo and co. would be making their return any day now.

May 2011 – Bad advice

"Combine Advisor – Roaming" code is found in the Portal 2 SDK. Advisors had previously appeared in Half-Life 2, primarily in Episode Two, but that particular slice of code was not in the Episode Two SDK. It was new! And then Valve removed it! Clearly there was something to hide, although by now probably everyone involved has forgotten what it was.

July 2011 – A small, strange room 

A brief, very strange video clip containing a hex string led to the discovery of a small Half-Life 2 map on Megaupload. Hidden in the tiny, decrepit room is a heavily distorted image of a face and an audio file that, when fed into a spectrograph, revealed... well, not a hell of a lot of anything, really. The Half-Life connection at that point was pretty thin but that's the conclusion everyone jumped to because we were all so desperate for some crumb of hope, and it did have the distinct look of an ARG in its early stages. Alas, Valve kiboshed the idea in short order, and that was that.

 December 2011 – T-shirt guy 

Some guy, who some other guy said works at Valve, wore a Half-Life 3 t-shirt to a "local game development event." The wearer of said shirt was cool with having a photo of the shirt taken, although not his face, which is perhaps telling—although whether it's telling us that the over-sharing Valve employee wanted to keep his identity on the downlow, or that he was just some rando who dropped a fiver at a t-shirt shop, is impossible to say.

December 2011 – Wheatley gets involved

Valve whipped up a video for the 2011 VGAs featuring Wheatley of Portal 2 fame, complete with Stephen Merchant's voice, and also some science-y looking guffola in the background. Among it was a spot of Russian text which translates in part to "Lanthanum," derived from the ancient Greek "lanthanein," meaning "to lie hidden," and written, "λανθανω." That first character look familiar to anyone? Sadly, Wheatley didn't win his award, and we still don't have the game.

 December 2011 – Black Aperture 

The last month of 2011 was a big one for Half-Life 3. A couple of weeks after t-shirt guy made his appearance, a mysterious site appeared at black-aperture.com bearing a very similar logo, along with branding for Valve, Steam, and the Source engine. Alas, the hoax effort didn't even stand up to the cursory inspection of a domain whois check, but it's to the credit of the owner that the site is still up, now bearing a blurry ".../3" image. 

April 2012 – P-powered

Proving that simple is sometimes best, an April Fool joker caused millions of fans to momentarily go nuts when he posted a Half-Life 3: Now Available image at store.steamppowered.com. (The URL now leads to a potential phishing site, so we've disabled it.) Some legitimate news sites fell for it, so excited were they by the prospect of Half-Life 3 being honest-to-God real that they failed to notice the extra "p" in the URL. The site remains up to this very day, although it's now tagged with a notice that it is in fact an April Fool's joke.

April 2012 - Ricochet, too?

Valve honcho Gabe Newell confused everyone when he discussed the development of Episode 3 in the context of Ricochet 2, the hypothetical sequel to the Valve-developed battle frisbee game. 

"We'd like to be super-transparent about the future of Ricochet 2," he said, "but the problem is that the twists and turns that we're going through would probably drive people more crazy than being silent about it until we can be very crisp about what's happening." I can't say that I'm really with you on that one, Gabe, at least not here in the year 2016. The good news, Newell added, is that "everyone who's working on Ricochet 2 continues to work on Ricochet 2."

And so now we sometimes refer to Half-Life 3 as Ricochet 2, and may forever.

June 2012 - Concept art slips out

This leak came to us through the bad luck of artist Andrea Wicklund, whose Picasa portfolio ended up spilling concept art all over the net. Images included Alyx in various get-ups, a crashed helicopter in the Arctic, and pictures of the alien world Xen. Interestingly, while the art was dated from 2008, it didn't slip out until mid-2012.

August 2012 – No responsibility is taken

The 2012 edition of Gamescom promised to be an exciting one: Games scheduled for exhibit that year included Dragon Age 3 and Half-Life 3! Before we could line up for plane tickets to Germany, though, a correction was issued. Eurogamer asked three separate times why the titles had been listed, but Gamescom would only say that it was "a mistake." 

June 2013 – Jira leak, stage one 

Data from Valve's project tracking tool (Jira) leaked to the public, revealing that 42 people are attached to a Half-Life 3 mailing list. Obviously, there was no way to verify that the leak was real, and even if it was, determining the age or status of the mailing list in question was impossible too. Maybe 42 people were working on Half-Life 3, or maybe 42 people are just too damn lazy to unsubscribe from the list. (I don't judge. I have two Felix the Fish plushies, because it was easier to let Big Fish Games sock my credit card for 7 bucks a month than to figure out how to make it stop.)

June 2013 – It was just a joke, we swear

A motley crew of yuksters manages to "accidentally" convince people that Half-Life 3 is in development in a segregated section of Valve's studios, and that a reveal of the project was finally imminent—in the pages of their own magazine, no less! Which gang of comedy doofuses cooked this one up, you wonder? I cannot tell a lie: It was us (but it was meant to be an obvious joke, not a hoax).

August 2013 - The pen is mightier

A Steam dev posted an announcement of the beginning of a Half-Life 3 internal beta on the community announcements page. Real developer, real community post—but fake announcement, as a close look at the list of updates makes clear. The dev in question quickly copped to it, saying he didn't "expect it to show up everywhere." Because when has that ever happened before, right?

August 2013 – Mr. Overwatch causes a stir 

John Patrick Lowrie, voice of Odessa Cubbage and husband of Combine Overwatch and GlaDOS voice actor Ellen McLain, caused a stir when he explained that Half-Life 3 wasn't moving forward because of challenges with motion capture—which of course implied that he had some insight into the situation. He even said that overcoming mo-cap limitations was "one of the things they're working on," meaning that it was—gasp!—being worked on. Progress! Except, four days later he took it all back, saying that he doesn't know nothin' about nothin', and nobody can prove otherwise.

September 2013 – Jira, part deux 

Jira leaks again! This time there was a new "Half-Life 3 Core" group listed, and the number of people on the project had grown, too. That's practically an official announcement, right?   

October 2013 – European trademark 

A trademark filing for Half-Life 3, owned by Valve, appeared in Europe. Trademark filings are a great way to get an early heads-up on new game projects: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Gwent are two high-profile examples of games that came to light first as a result of a trademark filing. Half-Life 3 trademarked? Half-Life 3 confirmed!

October 2013, one week later – European disappointment 

Half-Life 3 de-confirmed. Fake filing. Why does this keep happening?

May 2014 – Minh Le has seen things 

Counter-Strike mastermind Minh Le told goRGNtv that he'd seen Half-Life 3 concept art, and the game is in fact being worked on! Sort of, anyway. More precisely, he said he saw something "that looked kinda like in the Half-Life universe," although he seemed surprised that anyone would be interested in such a thing. It also wasn't clear when he'd seen the material in question, since he'd left Valve several years prior to the interview. He was also clearly far more interested in Left 4 Dead 3 than anything to do with Half-Life. Thanks for nothing, Minh.

October 2014 – A bad idea 

The "We Want Half-Life 3" Indiegogo campaign wasn't a Half-Life 3 hoax or broken promise, just a monumentally bad idea. Basically, a couple of advertising types decided to crowdfund a harassment campaign to let Valve know that people really want them to make Half-Life 3. You know, in case that wasn't clear. They asked for $150,000 for their campaign (which, in their defense, they later clarified was meant to be a one-day lark rather than concerted stalking); they closed with a little shy of $1600.

June 2015 – Another fake site 

Sweet Aunt Petunia, a Half-Life 3 logo actually appeared on the Valve.Software website. Unfortunately, that site is not actually related to Valve Software, but for a few delicious hours (or minutes, depending on when you heard about it and how innately suspicious you are of such things) we could let ourselves believe that the light was finally shining. The site is still up and the HL3 logo still there, but the fine print makes it clear that it is "just a joke site." Half-Life 3 hoaxes are no joking matter, Timmy.

October 2015 – Dota 2 discovery 

A file named hl3.txt was found in a Dota 2 update, containing references to "Combine Pulse Ceiling Turret" and "NPCs that are in the same squad (i.e. have matching squad names) will share information about enemies, and will take turns attacking and covering each other." That's straight out of a Combine soldier AI script, but what's with the hl3 filename? Valve maintained its usual stony silence, but I think it's worth noting that a year later, Gordon Freeman still hasn't appeared in Dota 2. That has to mean something.

Jan 2016 – Confusion on Reddit 

Drama in r/HalfLife, billed as "possibly the first legitimate Half-Life 3 leak." What's interesting about this one is that as far as I can tell, nobody is entirely, 100 percent certain that it was a hoax. The information provided was deep, detailed, and not at all flashy in the way of most other gag teases, and its veracity was backed, in ways he couldn't or wouldn't make clear, by the forum mod. Eventually, the whole thing just fizzled out, without the usual "lol suckers" flourish at the end, which could be seen as further "proof" that the leak was real. But probably not.

 February 2016 – Virtual teasing 

The innocuous-sounding SteamVR Performance Test software, an app intended to determine whether or not your rig is up to the strains of virtual reality, is found to contain some Half-Life secrets in its code, including a high-quality 3D model of Dog, the super-strong, ball-fetching robot from Half-Life 2. Half-Life 3: The VR Experience, perhaps? Not likely: The software contained material from other Valve games too, including Left 4 Dead and Dota 2, and writer Chet Faliszek was quite clear on the point when asked about it last year. (He said "No."

August 2016 – Gamescomedy 

Right there, large as life and side-by-side with Titanfall 2, was a poster proclaiming, plainly and boldly, Half-Life 3! And some fine print underneath, which might have been missed at first because the poster said Half-Life 3! Except it was actually Half-Life: 3, as in, "Half-Life: 3 editors who played it back then." It's not so much a hoax as a lazy gag, but we all spasmed reflexively and so it gets the credit.

And that brings us to today, at least until the next joke, leak, hoax, apparent ARG, or off-hand comment. We give it at least 24 hours before that happens.

January 2017 – We never promised you a rose, Gordon 

"There is no such thing as Half-Life 3," an anonymous Valve developer tells Game Informer. "Valve has never announced a Half-Life 3. The closest they’ve come is after Half-Life 2, they said there would be three episodes. We only got two of those. That is arguably an unfulfilled promise. Anything else that we might think about as a full game or sequel has never been promised."

In other words, who ever said you were getting Half-Life 3 in the first place?

January 2017 – Ask no questions, hear no lies 

(Image credit: GDC)

Valve top banana Gabe Newell takes part in an AMA in which he acknowledges the existence of questions about Half-Life 3. When asked about the status of HL3 or Half-Life 2 Episode 3, he says, "The number 3 must not be said." And all those rumors that just won't go away? "I personally believe all unidentified anonymous sources on the internet."

February 2017 – Kids will be kids 

Newell lays the blame for some of the persistence of Half-Life 3 rumors at the feet of Valve employees, who he says get a kick out of messing with people—although he's above such things himself, of course. "Some of the more childish members of our company have worn Half-Life 3 t-shirts to GDC," he says (via VentureBeat). The appearance of an HL3 icon in a photo of a monitor at Valve was, Newell adds, was "news to us."

(Click the upper right corner to enlarge the image above, and squint at the icon above the recycle bin on the monitor.)

July 2017 – "I have no interest in going back." 

Half-Life and Half-Life 2 writer Marc Laidlaw, who left Valve in January, tells Arcade Attack that he has no idea if Half-Life 3 will ever see the light of day, and doesn't much care anyway. "I had ideas for Episode 3. They were all supposed to take the series to a point where I could step away from it and leave it to the next generation," he said.

And even if it is released someday, he doesn't think it will actually bring with it any sort of proper resolution: "My intention was that Ep3 would simply tie up the plot threads that were particular to HL2. But it would still end like HL1 and HL2, with Gordon in an indeterminate space, on hold, waiting for the next game to begin. So one cliffhanger after another."

August 2017 – Gertrude Fremont gets involved 

This one also comes courtesy of Mr. Laidlaw, who shares what is apparently a twisted-up synopsis of Half-Life 3 on his blog. Eli Vance is confirmed dead, Dr. Mossman tracks down the Borealis, Gordon and Alyx travel to Antarctica to handle the situation, and of course the plan falls completely apart before it even begins. What's especially interesting about the story is that it's basically "gender-swapped fan fiction," as we called it: Male characters are female and vice-versa, names are changed up slightly, but remain close enough to the originals to be recognizable by fans.

Assuming Laidlaw didn't make the whole thing up to mess with people (as Valve employees like to do, remember), Half-Life 3 would end with Alyx Vance murdering Dr. Mossman, after which the G-Man takes her away in place of Gordon; Gordon escapes his seeming inevitable doom with the help of the Vortigaunts, and by all appearances his role in the series is over, as Laidlaw had intended. How much validity there is to Laidlaw's tale is impossible to judge, but it does have one thing going for it: You can play (kinda, sorta) play it

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.