The Half-Life series has been on a long hiatus, although Valve is finally starting to chat a bit about Half-Life 3. So we were thinking: What would Half-Life be like as an MMO?
Why Half-Life Online would be a great MMO: The Half-Life franchise is one of the most widely respected and loved game series in the modern era. The Half-Life universe is ripe with mentioned and inferred locations, events, and people. The games themselves have already featured some of the greatest MMO innovations, such as a sandbox control tool, a powerful physics engine, and highly detailed, believable environments. The Half-Life universe would break away from the common fantasy setting, allowing the developers to innovate new ideas without needing to feel trapped by the current common tropes of the genre.
With MMOs trying to make the jump to consoles, it is worth noting that Valve is in the best position to help make a seamless transition where we might be able to see PC and "console" gamers playing together in the same universe. Valve is already one of the most respected developers in the industry, and with innovations such as the Steam Boxes and the SteamOS, the game would have an ideal platform to allow players from multiple systems to interact freely. Steam also features an extremely healthy modding community, and if Valve ran Half-Life Online through the Source Engine, the game would have a huge amount of potential as a sandbox game that could capture the attention of a significant part of the gaming community. There are already servers in Garry's Mod dedicated a Half-Life RPG, and a Valve generated MMO based on that framework has great potential.
Finally, the Half-Life universe is huge, but is generally speaking one giant question mark. During Half-Life 2, we see only a small part of the world surrounding City 17, meaning that the whole world is a big blank page for the developers to work with. After the 7 Hour War, Earth has clearly undergone some pretty significant changes in the Half-Life universe, and some high quality writers could create pure gold by implementing interesting changes to other parts of the world. With all the creative freedom in the world and one of the most successful franchises in gaming history, Half-Life Online would be everything a creative development team would need to create a beautiful, compelling, and desirable game world.
Potential story timeframe: Taking place several years after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, the story picks up with Alyx Vance taking over the Resistance, which has gained support after the major blow they landed against the Overwatch forces following Episode 2. Gordon Freeman has disappeared back into stasis, leaving the human race to fend for themselves and regain their bearings. The Overwatch and Resistance are now fighting for the fate of humanity, with conflicts arising over resources, technology, and control.
Research facilities once controlled by Black Mesa or Aperture Science have begun to reappear on the map, and desperate leaders from both sides of the conflict are sending in groups of explorers to try and find a new technology to give them an edge over the enemy. Portal and Gravity guns have entered production, and are now available to those with proper training. In this world, players will create and take control of a character in either the Resistance or Overwatch, and fight for the Earth once and for all.
Classes: The class system I imagine for Half-Life Online features four basic classes that will then evolve into one of three specialized classes organically as the character levels up. A Researcher is a knowledge-based class that gains access to the Portal Gun, and can specialize into the Physicist, the Doctor, or the Xenologist (who would gain access to an Antlion companion). The Soldier is a martial class that gains access to the Gravity Gun, and can specialize into the Footsoldier, the Heavy Arms soldier, or a Sniper. The Mechanic is a technology-based class that gains access to special vehicles and the HEV Suit, and can grow into the Driver, the Smith, or the Robot Engineer (which gains access to a mechanical companion similar to D0g). Finally, the Investigator gains access to the remote viewing lens and the Long Fall Boots. The Investigator can progress into the Detective, the Assassin, or the Explorer. Additionally, there would be the Vortigaunt-only class, the Shaman, and the alien technology-based Xen Engineer available as a Combine-race-only class.
The class selections are based on the different roles that a player takes on within the Half-Life and Portal games, and grants access to all of the most iconic (and let's be honest, fun) mechanics within the Half-Life universes without giving players access to all the toys at once.
Races: The primary race in Half-Life Online would obviously be humans, who would be a playable race for both factions. Combine would be a playable race only for the Overwatch faction, and Vortigaunts would be playable only on the Resistance faction. Due to the advancement and increase in popularity of transhumanism, Cyborgs could be an addition race that players can grow into during play, abandoning their humanity and change their race to Cyborg for the benefit of player-made technological modifications. Races other than human would still have access to all of the other classes, as the Half-Life universe is an equal-opportunity employer. Vortigaunt scientists and engineers are commonly seen throughout research labs, and it's far from a stretch to assume that the Combine have researchers and engineers of their own.
Progression Zones: One of the benefits of the Half-Life universe being so undefined is that there is a lot of room for creative development by the game's writers. As long as they don't tread on the already existing canon, there's virtually nothing written about 90% of Earth since the timeline split from our own in the mid-40s. Though the area surrounding City 17 would be an ideal region of the world map in Half-Life Online, the game need not be limited to just that. With all of Earth as a potential framework, Valve would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to bring players up to speed with what has happened to the rest of the planet since the Seven Hour War. Areas affected by Portal Storms would make for a great way to mix up environments, and bringing players to familiar regions warped by the alternate timeline would make for a supremely interesting story.