Half-Life 2: Episode Two Q&A - Story, Setting, and Technology

Valve's Erik Johnson fills us in on the highly awaited next installment in the Half-Life 2 saga.

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Almost a full year has passed since Valve released Half-Life 2: Episode One, the first of three promised episodes that will continue the saga of the blockbuster first-person shooter franchise. Episode Two was originally scheduled for release late last year, but Valve pushed the release date back to later this year. When it does arrive, it will feature not only the continuing story of series protagonist Gordon Freeman and partner Alyx Vance battling the alien Combine, but also the multiplayer action game Team Fortress 2 and a 3D puzzle game called Portal. To learn more about what's going on in Episode Two, we caught up with Valve project manager Erik Johnson. A warning to those who haven't played Episode One yet, as this preview contains spoilers to major events.

Alyx Vance is in Half-Life 2: Episode Two. And so is a hot rod.

GameSpot: Obviously, we're not looking for spoilers, but what can you tell us about Episode Two's story? At the end of Episode One, it seemed that a major chapter had come to a close with the escape from City 17. What's next to come?

Erik Johnson: The Citadel's destruction triggers formation of a massive superportal. To close the portal and prevent the Combine from sending reinforcements, Gordon and Alyx must make sure the data packet they seized in Episode One gets to White Forest, a former missile base where their scientist friends and family have made their stand. It's a breakneck run through an alien-infested wilderness patrolled by Combine troops, marked by encounters with mysterious entities. If they make it on time, they stand a good chance of shutting down the portal. If they fail, then, in the words of Eli Vance, "It'll be the Seven Hour War all over again. But we won't last seven minutes this time."

GS: It's been reported that Episode Two will be longer than Episode One. Could you elaborate on that? Will it be approximately as long as Half-Life 2? Slightly shorter?

EJ: Our play tests of Episode Two are running closer to eight hours, where Episode One was taking around six. If you take a look at the statistics we compiled from people who actually played through Episode One, it looks like the average completion time ran around five hours, 41 minutes.

GS: Will vehicles return in this episode? Half-Life 2 featured the dune buggy and the air boat, but Episode One took place entirely on foot. Will either of those vehicles return, or is there something new to look forward to?

EJ: There will be a new vehicle in Episode Two. The buggy from Half-Life 2 was built by a group of rebels that was clearly skilled at welding together a tube frame but was a bit lacking in the horsepower department. In this episode you'll be driving a car built by someone with a lot of knowledge of older American hot rods.

GS: What can you tell us of the major characters, such as Alyx, Dog, and the G-Man? What are they up to? And will we meet any major new characters in Episode Two?

EJ: Most of the characters will be back in Episode Two, including the G-Man. Since the Vortigaunts stepped in at the start of Episode One and pulled you out of the G-Man's control, he'll be coming back to enlighten Gordon on a number of events and give you some insight into his line of thinking. There will be some new additions to the cast in Episode Two, as well.

GS: Will Episode Two introduce any major technological improvements to the Source Engine? For example, Episode One introduced high dynamic range lighting. Will Valve use Episode 2 to introduce DirectX 10 support in the PC version?

EJ: We've been building more technology into Source alongside the development of Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. Episode Two specifically will be taking advantage of cinematic physics, which gives us the ability to create large-scale destruction events that are physically simulated. You'll see that feature in action right at the beginning of the episode.

Meanwhile, the visual budget for Episode Two is higher than Half-Life 2 and Episode One, so we essentially have a higher "high end" on the graphics side. We made this decision as a result of tracking the rapid GPU adoption rate of gamers on Steam via our hardware surveys. Having moved to episodic development, we are able to more accurately target these early adopters and provide an experience that does a better job of scaling to the power of their systems. And we've built a new particle system into Source. This has put more of the control of our visual effects directly into the hands of the artists, resulting in the most graphically sophisticated game we've ever made.

The White Forest is full of Combine forces, including those dreaded striders.

GS: Computing power has increased substantially since Half-Life 2. PCs now have dual-core CPUs, and the Xbox 360 and PS3 are powerful multicore systems. Will Episode Two support multicore CPUs for better physics or AI?

EJ: We've built a system for dealing with multiple cores and threading called hybrid threading. As opposed to using coarse- or fine-grained threading, we take the approach of building a system into the engine that makes the right decisions about how to deal with multiple cores on the CPU.

In Episode Two this will translate in a number of ways, benefiting not only systems that were traditionally CPU based, such as artificial intelligence and physics, but also systems that are on the graphics side. We went with this approach because it scales well over time. Desktop processors are going to have more cores over time for us to take advantage of, so we took the route that requires more work up-front so we can keep pace with our customers' hardware as we move from dual core to quad core and beyond.

GS: Finally, when can we expect Episode Two to ship, and will it ship on all three platforms simultaneously?

EJ: We're looking to ship in the fall of this year, on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 simultaneously.

GS: Thank you.

Discussion

316 comments
juggler8460
juggler8460

Dog has got to be in the running for the best video game NPC. EVER

Hellspawn_1581
Hellspawn_1581

Kratos.....maybe you should just shut up.... Really, you say that because you're the kind of user that plays a very simple game with amazing graphics and you say "omg it's the game of the year", you don't look the story of the game, the ai,etc. I bet your arse that if you see the first fallout you would say "uhh shi*y graphics" and exit......

s2-sohaib
s2-sohaib

Half-Life one of the most (PC) greatest games ever, i knew about this game when i was 15 years old.and now am so taken with this game.and waiting for the next episode.

reiswaffel2000
reiswaffel2000

This game is just one of the best this year! ;-D Hope EP3 will be as good..

GreatBean
GreatBean

Am I the only one that caught in that badly worded comment by Kratos that he listed The Darkness as being a PS3 exclusive and it's not? At least, I think that's what he was saying, it's hard to tell.

psyko_Reaper
psyko_Reaper

an we plz get back to discussing the game? i think everyone has proved in hundreds of ways that kratos_karmakar's post was idiotic. as for all u xbox fanboys, get a pc, it's way more powerfull (though way more expensive) and all xbox exclusives get pc versions eventually 'cus xbox is owned by the currently largest pc software company out there As for the game, it's beautifull graphics and the legendary hl gameplay. the new content also looks great and pretty fun

paradise96
paradise96

xbox 360 is the king of all consoles folks!

hurrikanejae
hurrikanejae

oh yeah, i forgot the topic...this will no doubt be another great game, but for all gamers alike, it isnt the best thing in the world, nor will it be...its just another good FPS for those of us that have owned every shooter before it.

hurrikanejae
hurrikanejae

what WAS the topic for this forum anyway??? And what rock does kratos_karmakar live under? PC has had hundreds of exclusive games, and was the very first system to ever use 3d graphics (granted they were not very good). But all these other fanboys/girls keep ranting and raving about how their conToys (consoles for those that dont know the lingo) are superior to computers.....ALL CONSOLES ARE COMPUTERS!!!!! every year a system tries to become better and better, and every single year they do what PC has already done..improve the basic overall hardware. regardless of which system you choose for gaming, you will always face problems with games being available for it (damn nintendo started this **** anyway, just read your history!) as well as the age of the hardware being used...which PC gamers can upgrade at ANY TIME.

beckoflight
beckoflight

WOOOHOOOO .... the next revelation in game FPS's will be wehn VALVe wants it to BE !

ballzonfire00
ballzonfire00

yeaaahhh. half life series is da best there is n episode 2 is gonna rock harder than ever, n no other games r great enuff to 2 even be compared with it (xcept 4 da Halo which comes close with its superb gameplay n story)

HiroArka
HiroArka

Screw fanboy/girl stuff. I am a gamer therefore I play games regardless of what system it is on. I like Nintendo .. I like Playstation 3 .. I like Xbox 360 .. I like playing PC games. There is no reason to act like this at all, but I sort of understand why everyone is so Defensive about there console preference.

tehhousemastor
tehhousemastor

i look at the games that ps3 has out right now and i dont think that it stacks up with what other consoles have out like lair was spose to be good wasint it lol you cant just keep saying that we have mgs4 coz after that what else do you really have oh and btw killzone 1 was lame why will killzone 2 do anything better if it is good then i will be wrong but il be to busy on halo3 mutiplayer to care ether

darkxinos
darkxinos

"pc will never hav any xclusive games" You are a total idiot. Nuff said.

Ghost_702
Ghost_702

There are so many good games coming out for the 360. OMG!!!!!!!!

Wolfie600
Wolfie600

Kratos u suck PS3 fanboy.... PS3=crap... go play Lair or something haha!!!

alarausibun
alarausibun

for kratos:f**k is wrong with you?let me tell you what`s the deal:ps3 sucks...real hard,but xbox 360 is absolutely perfect!tell me,how much is a ps3?how much is xbox?how many games has xbox360 till now?m?see,i`ve seen many losers with a console(the best case scenario) but they just dream to get one and post comments just to look though!oh,and by the way have you heard about half life 2 or need for speed prostreet?what about rome total war or C&C 3?see you don`t have any ideas about what a good game really means!

zapper188
zapper188

Haha, I thought his spelling was the worst thing there in that poorly structured argument. Dude, some people prefer PC, Some prefer consoles it's the way of life. If you don't like PCs keep it to yourself. I personally prefer my consoles but I'll always play a Little C&C3 on PC.

i_got_you60
i_got_you60

@ kratos_karmakar lol what a cow .......loser :)

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

out of all the fan boys in the universe i guess pc fan boys r the worst sore losers of em all. the cream of the crop. they make claims of their machines but despite watever they say pc just dont hav games that rock the universe yall so sgut ur traps and stick to ur "samsung" monitors and keep ur stupid comments to yaselves . no experience is more vivid than on the sony bravia with ma ps3 360 and kenwood 7.1 surrond so shut ur traps u losers.

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

pc will never hav any xclusive games, okami and resistance and killzone and darkness and mgs 4 and heavenly sword and motorstorm and killzone, no matter how much u upgrade and shi#t oo and by the way there is a reason these games r actually xlusive coz they r better. than the crappy games out on pc. and i dont think there is pc out there that can run motorstorm better than ma ps3. i luv ya sony.

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

pc will never hav any xclusive games, okami and resistance and killzone and darkness and mgs 4 and heavenly sword and motorstorm and killzone, no matter how much u upgrade and shi#t oo and by the way there is a reason these games r actually xlusive coz they r better. than the crappy games out on pc. and i dont think there is pc out there that can run motorstorm better than ma ps3. i luv ya sony.

endtype
endtype

Uh a 360 is a computer....WIth a PC you can choose you parts to be better than a 360...it will just cost more so basically the PC will always be more powerful

xboxermike
xboxermike

Man I can't wait to get this for the 360 and see it running in crisp 1080p high def clarity on my 51" hdtv and they said that know matter how high end your pc was the xbox360 version will still look better so I can't wait to play this.Its going to be awesome!!!!

TomJD1990
TomJD1990

I agree. Im a massive fan of the HL series, and will definetly buy this for my 360, even though i played and finished half life 2 2 years ago on pc. Its a shame it will get overlooked by those other games, just as the original half life got overlooked when it was released on ps2. Maybe a massive advertising campaign would turn this into one of the biggest games of the year, but i cant see that happening. Roll on the multi player, xbox live!

Specimen2501
Specimen2501

Yeeeaaaahhhhh...........don't hold your breath people.

RealKilla_789
RealKilla_789 moderator

Im a serious fan of the Half-Life series and i have a feeling that this release will be overlooked by other big releases such as Halo 3, GTA IV and Bioshock.

TEX-MEX
TEX-MEX

They have annonced that the PS3 version is ready for release but that they havent finnished the 360 & PC version and they want too release them all at they same time... Soo thats said for the PS3 .

rocketman97
rocketman97

Im assuming that the "canceled" status is for the black box package, not the whole episode 2, because the page for the orange box still has a release date of october 9th.

evac156
evac156

I'm just wondering why HL2:E2 is showing a release date of "canceled." That can't be right. What's the story here?

BlakkSteel
BlakkSteel

Today is the day that I hit up every game that's on my wish list & make the following statement: WHERE ARE THE SCREEN SHOTS?!?!?? & WHEN ARE YOU REALLY PUTTIN A DATE TO THIS MONSTER??? LOL

joshuahaveron
joshuahaveron

I haven't played number one but ill try this one if u get gamerscore on each one

vergilskater
vergilskater

still you guys,i mean 60.00 dollars for ALL this stuff,[the orange box],is a steal.And,imagine how much better HL2 will be upscaled for the 360&PS3!

football_legend
football_legend

The only reason I hate valve, ooo... i hate em so much is because of the time they take to release games. Lets face it, they themeslves promised episodes in a peroid of 3 months. Now its been more than a year and a half since ep2 was to be debuted.

PISLIX
PISLIX

It looks like Half Life 2 Episode 3's delayment will take up to 5 years. The players who cant wait will be dead. Maybe they play in heaven with XBOX36099999999999993124141234123543125. 8 hours game been delayed a whole year. It is going to be real that im talkin about.

SheepNCG
SheepNCG

I am really looking forward it although the most for TFC2. Portals is showing itself as a witty game and I think it has future. The history of HL 2 is getting interesting in each episode and the developers are always briging new and revolutionaries ideas into the following ones. TFC 2 sonuds sweet as evolution of a game that I have been playing since 2000 and since the first time I heard rummors about the second version i cannot wait for the hands on. Honestly TFC 2 shows exactly how the game should be. Caracter's serious design has changed, the action has become more surrealistic thanks to the great Source Engine and probably the playing as well. This fresh new version is not "more of the same" as sequels with polished graphics.

blesst1
blesst1

i'm really excited about this game. I didn't see anywhere mention of Team Fortress 2 on the PS3 OR X360 versions. I just assume they will get it as well. I hope so anyways.

SatanBassPlayer
SatanBassPlayer

I suppose a dx10 patch is being developed. They're doing that with many games.

Fyodor
Fyodor

Looks like we have good old HL2. Nothing special in engine I could spot. Whatsoever every one must have it

magicbat
magicbat

Delays can be a massive pain, but I would much rather a game be delayed than come out buggy and full of glitches, plus we get TF2 and Portal! life is good!

el_hermoso
el_hermoso

This game looks awesome. I have half life 2 but not episode 1. Will i still be able to play episode 2 without episode 1? In my opinion, half life 2 is one of the best games of all time, and episode 2 with portal and fortress looks even better. I cannot wait for it.

Young_Taizy
Young_Taizy

The way this game is being delayed, I'll probability play it in 2025 on the Xbox 1080

marco245
marco245

Delayed a whole year!? They better make up for the atrocious delay!

Markner
Markner

I have tried HL1, HL1: Source, HL2, HL2 Episode 1, I loved HL2 and HL2 Episode 1. So I hope this is much better than the other ones! :)

papapischu
papapischu

"fall this year..." that takes some time. i hope its for the quality's sake!

BigBoi_24
BigBoi_24

im getting all the achievment points no matter what. except for the online ones. i hate online games no story.

BigBoi_24
BigBoi_24

omggggg i cant wait. i loved this for my computer, even tho it looked like sh!t. its gonna look totally sweet on my 360 :)

i_got_you60
i_got_you60

damn it now it is shipping in fall 2007 hope it doesnt get delayed even more or iam filing a lawsuit against valve :P