Half-Life 2: Episode 3 creator reflects on reception, one year after release

Half-Life 2: Episode 3 [official site] came out one year ago and I never even noticed. It wasn’t an official release from Valve, for well-known reasons, but instead a player-made mod. Yet surprisingly, Episode 3: The Closure is not a fastidiously faithful extension of Valve’s world by super-serious fans. Instead, it plays fast and loose with Half-Life by introducing everything from Star Trek bits to cutscenes showing Gordon. In a hugely fascinating post, the mod’s creator has looked back on the (often furious) response from Half-Life fans and explained some of his curious decisions, all of which I adore. This has truly made my day.

As you may know, I pore over mod readme files for odd and earnest expressions of authors’ personalities. Whether they want puke rockets or memorials to lost loves, I’m into it. Please understand that I’m entirely earnest when I say I was delighted to read creator Leon Brinkmann’s reflections on Episode 3.

He explains in a ModDB post that Episode 3 took him five years to make then, well:

“As soon as the mod was released the hard core HL2 community started to bash the mod. It was HL(2) unworthy, it should never have been named Ep3. It was by far the worst mod many people ever had seen. Now that I think of it, it is a real miracle that i haven’t received even one death threat (honestly).”

While some people have dug it, many complained that it wasn’t Half-Life-y, that it didn’t continue the story properly, and that it wasn’t what Valve would make (duh). But it was the Episode 3 he wanted to (and was able to) make, full of things he liked.

Here, look, read this about not following established Half-Life lore.

“It all comes down to how I play games I assume, and therefore make maps/mods. I love fpshooters like the first 2 COD games, the FEAR series, etc. To me a story is not that important. So I knew something about the HL2 story, but because it has been 7 years or so ago that I played it I had forgotten most about it it seems. Because after the mods release and reading all comments it is clear that i made quite a lot of mistakes for instance with the characters. All I wanted was to make a very large mod, with lots of action, and a story that linked it all together. At the same time I wanted to make some kind of follow up on the original Ep2. So I don’t fully agree with those people that say that this mod has nothing in it that makes it a follow up on Ep2, and therefore it deserves the ep3 title. Because you do find the Borealis in this mod and it does give a answer to how the whole HL sage ends. Of course it is not what Valve would have made, thought that was such a silly remark many people made.”

That’s smashing stuff.

But why did Episode 3 have third-person cutscenes and even show Gordon?

“Of course am I aware that Valve doesn’t use cutscenes (beside at the start of Ep2), but I love making them, and watching them myself. But, that is not the only reason why I made them. A lot of people said that the use of them did harm the immersion, and that did amaze me quite a bit. Because I always feel much more immersed in a game when i do see cutscenes. And even more when i see the player figure in it. I really don’t make this up, this is the truth. So that is why I used them, and why I showed Gordon in them. Also is it much easier to tell a story this way because as developer you have to do a lot of extra work when you give the player freedom to move while the story is told.”

And why does The Closure use assets from other games and Star Trek?

“As some of you know is this my 5th HL2 mod and I really had seen, played and used already too many times the original HL2 assets. I really needed new content for me to be able to work 5 years on this mod, I simply can’t stand the old weapons, zombies and Combines anymore.”

So he asked to borrow assets from other mods, and one which said yes was a Star Trek HL2 mod. That’s fantastic! What modding spirit! Make the game you want and the game you can.

I’m so chuffed with all of this. I’m delighted that someone liked Half-Life 2 well enough to want to continue it but not with that fervor that makes people obsess over every detail and scream every time a Valve employee says the word “three”. He just made the Episode 3 he wanted. That’s fantastic. Fuck it, it’s only Half-Life.

You can download Episode 3 from ModDB, though do follow those instructions in Brinkmann’s post to get it running. I’ve not played it myself and, having read this, I never will. The idea of it has me happy enough.

I have fixed a few typos and bits in these quotes for readability.


  1. Dugular says:

    And he finished it! That is an achievement in itself.

    I completely agree with the view in this article. The whole point of mods being free, in my opinion, is because they are made from what the creator wants, not the user. Anything free really.

    This guy stayed true to himself and released what was in his heart. And that is what art is about.

  2. Babymech says:

    This feels so much like the late 90’s attitude to modding – it was mostly about having fun with the modding tools and seeing if they could be used to make something personal and unique, rather than the exceptionally faithful portfolio pieces made later on by talented individuals hoping for an opening into the games industry… or the exceptionally soulless asset flips made even later by completely untalented individuals hoping for an opening into a few greenlit steam bucks.

  3. Kemuel says:

    How awesome would it be if more people did this? Like, if instead of there being no Episode 3, or just the one official Episode 3, there were a hundred different mad takes on the series’ ending. Representing a hundred individuals’ own reflections on what they wanted from the ending. If Valve did something like the Saxxy awards I’d play every damned one of them.

    • iainl says:

      That sounds like a great idea, one that should be extended.

      Really that annoyed with Mass Effect 3’s ending? See if you can do any better. We’ve already seen Black Mesa effectively recut the first Half Life to get rid of Xen, after all.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      Yeah, Valve loves crowdsourcing. They should sponsor an Episode 3 game jam.

    • GepardenK says:

      This is exactly what has happened to Freespace. It never got a third installment so a huge modding community filled the gap. We now have many really high quality mods that tackle the issue of what happened after the cliffhanger-ish ending in Freespace 2. It’s so great to play them side by side and see how different people interpet the story forward

  4. Mungrul says:

    Alice, I love that you love these odd little stories hidden away in readme files and go out of your way to present them to us. Keep on keeping on!

  5. skeletortoise says:

    Ha, this person’s attitude does seem pretty fantastic. HL is undoubtedly the only franchise to which I have any serious allegiance and really what gave me my start in PC gaming, so I too could probably write an essay on what this mod does wrong. But some things (most things, really) simply should not be taken that seriously and free HL2 mods must be near the top of the list. Work hard to have something you’re proud of and can enjoy, sounds awesome. Maybe if I’ve cleared out my steam backlog in a few decades I’ll give this mod a whirl.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    That’s it, I’m making a cheeky fansite called Rock Paper Shotgun 2 that will be about console games.

  7. fish99 says:

    When you said bits of Star Trek I thought you meant it was so whacky it had Kirk and Spock in it, cause that would have been awesome. Maybe Vader and Gandalf too…

  8. zeep says:

    From the way you introduced the authors post i expected much more.
    So he made what he likes to play, ok.
    He doesn’t think naming it Episode 3 matters though he didn’t really know the full story and all the character parts anymore. How can you agree with that? I can’t. Naming it EP3 implies it takes the story from EP1 and EP2 and rolls with that.

    Having said that, i haven’t played it. Didn’t even know it existed.

    • Sandepande says:

      It seems to me that Valve, at the moment, gives fuck-all about Episode 3 (or Half-Life), and I think that makes it fair game as far as modding scene is concerned.

      If someone starts frothing at the mouth like this about an unofficial mod, they might dial their fervent fanboyishness down a bit. Unless Valve has stated that now that somebody made an Episode 3, they will never be arsed to do it themselves.

  9. Neurotic says:

    Sounds great! I shall definitely have a look next time I’m HL2ing.

  10. Marclev says:

    Doesn’t calling it Episode 3 put him at risk of a lawsuit from Valve? I’d have thought that’s infringing on their intellectual property.

    • Faults says:

      Valve have generally been pretty okay with people playing fast and loose with their IP, usually as long as it stays on Steam.

  11. tonicer says:

    I really hate cutscenes but i still feel the need to play this mod.