Before it released Half-Life: Alyx earlier this year, Valve worked on two other Half-Life VR projects that never saw the light of day.
That much is revealed in Geoff Keighley’s Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours, an interactive app detailing the last 13 years at the company leading up to this year’s release. According to the app, Valve was originally planning to ship a Half-Life-themed minigame inside its HTC Vive launch game, The Lab.
The Lab is a bundle of free minigames including references to Valve’s Portal series. But another demo called Shooter was also being developed and, according to Keighley, clearly set in the world of Half-Life 2’s City 17. Shooter consisted of a series of small gunfights that would offer more of an experience than a full game. Final Hours states that the project was ultimately pulled from release over concerns Valve wouldn’t be able to finish it in the project’s limited eight-month development window. A video in the app shows some basic gameplay.
The second project, however, sounds much more ambitious, though never got very far. Series writer Mark Laidlaw had taken a small team to work on a new VR game set in the Half-Life universe, running on Source 2. This project would, apparently, be set aboard a ship named the Borealis.
Spoilers for Portal and Half-Life games including Alyx below.
That name carries a lot of weight in both the Half-Life and Portal canon. The Borealis was an Aperture Science Research ship detailed in Half-Life 2’s two expansion episodes and even to some degree in Portal 2. It was known to be lost in the Arctic. The Half-Life cast theorizes it may carry a powerful weapon, but are undecided on whether to find it and use it or destroy it.
In Laidlaw’s outline, this other cancelled Half-Life VR game, itself codenamed Borealis, would see players explore the vessel as it travelled through time. You’d key visit moments in the Half-Life timeline, including the Seven Hour War that leads to Combine control of the earth. There would even be a segment set after Half-Life 2: Episode Two. No word on what it was, but those that played Alyx will know we’ve now travelled a little further past that point.
Sadly the project apparently never got far off the ground before being shut down around 2015.
A third project to mention is less of a cancellation and more of the foundation for what became Half-Life: Alyx. In 2016, a small group of Valve employees started working on a new Half-Life VR prototype, using assets from Half-Life 2. This small experience was used the helped rally more of the company behind the idea of a 4 – 5 hour Half-Life VR game, HLVR, set before the events of Half-Life 2 but still using the same art assets from that game. Over time, the scope of the project grew until, well, we got Alyx.
Again, Keighley’s app contains more videos, art and screenshots of some of these early designs. Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours costs $9.99 and details other eras of Valve and the prospect of what might be next, too.