Valve Software has given a little more insight into the upcoming Episode Two chapter of their Half-Life 2 saga, as well as the much further-off Episode Three.

“The word ‘episodic’ is so clearly incorrect,” Valve Marketing Director Doug Lombardi said, reflecting the passage of more than a year’s time since the release of Half-Life 2: Episode One. “It’s still quicker than our other releases,” he said, “But we’re going more for annual games and eight to nine hours each.” Episode Two, according to Valve, is shaping up closer to that mark than Episode One, which according to Steam data is averaging around five and a half hours to completion.

Valve is packing a lot of content into those hours: the Combine is preparing for a large-scale counter-strike, the role of the Vortigaunts becomes clearer, the ant-lion infrastructure is explored, and the G-Man will begin to reassert himself as a major player in the game’s events. “If you reduce your scope, you can really focus on density,” said Valve’s David Spreyer.

“We really love using the episodes as a platform to push our tech forward,” he continued. In Episode Two, that means a new multicore-supported particle system, full-screen motion blur, self-shadowing bump maps, and other bits of eye-candy.

On the Episode Three front, Lombardi said, “Pre-production is definitely going, and it’ll be ramping up rather quickly now that they’re ramping down on Episode Two.” Currently, a “skeleton crew” is dividing its time between Episode Three and the final development of Episode Two.

While no details were given, Spreyer said that a lot of work had gone into “creating a natural progress of topography and climate,” while Lombardi added, “I don’t think you’ll head back to City 17, for sure,” implying a distinct change of scenery for Gordon and his companions.

No firm date has been given for the release of Half-Life Two: Episode Two, but the company hopes to have the game ready to ship by October.

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