In August, former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw posted a blog post on his site which outlined a potential story for Half Life 2: Episode 3. A game jam using that story as inspiration has created some colourful interpretations of Gordon Freeman’s final adventure.
Epistle Jam, which took its name from Laidlaw’s post titled ‘Epistle 3,’ sought to pick up where Valve left Gordon Freeman way back in 2007’s Half Life 2: Episode 2: on a mission to recover the mysterious science vessel The Borealis and use whatever he finds there to fight an interdimensional empire called the Combine. Epistle Jam ran from 26th August until last Wednesday. 32 games were submitted; here are some of my favourites.
Opting for a more cinematic recreation of Laidlaw’s synopsis, Quadrilateral Cowboy and Gravity Bone designer Brendon Chung puts his Source engine knowledge to work to create a brief mod with stunning presentation. Chung has a background as a modder extending back to Quake and the original Half Life, which he puts to great use here. Tiger Team is a great proof of concept for Laidlaw’s Episode 3, buoyed by Chung’s knack for editing and his ability to dramatically frame scenes.
Aboard the Borealis
The end of Epistle 3 involves a shoot out on the Borealis where, trapped between multiple dimensions and timelines, reality begins to bends and contort in bizarre ways. Disco Bear co-creator Brian Handy interprets this comically, which a massive gunfight against reappearing and disappearing soldiers facing offer against countless Gordon Freemans. It’s awesome.
Expo. Decay runs with a simple concept: turn Half Life into a top down shooter. Submitted by designer Owen Deery, it follows Laidlaw’s synopsis closely while tossing in some floppy movement and wacky gunfights. Expo. Decay is charmingly clumsy, with noodle-armed Combine and a train car sequence where you blast hundreds of zombies. In some ways, it reminds me of the strange 2D shooter Codename: Gordon. Both shift how Half Life is played and explore new perspectives.
Sometimes, you don’t need much to get the job done. Epistle 3 is a surrealist version of Laidlaw’s script by Heather Flowers where everything is made of self aware blocks. Everything you shoot elicits a colourful text response. The world continually breaks, the fourth wall shatters, and it’s hysterical. In a lot of ways, this game captures the sci-fi strangeness of the Borealis the best out out any submission.
HL: Minimal Edition
Game designer Alexey Sigh used Epistle Jam as a chance to play around with visual style. It’s Half-Life with awesome 2D art; what more do you need? These are just a few of the games you’ll find in Epistle Jam. There’s visual novels, a Doom WAD, and a lot more. Valve’s probably not going to drop Episode 3 anytime soon, but if you’re eager for a Half-Life fix, Epistle Jam will have at least one game to fill the crowbar-shaped hole in your heart.