Valve’s upcoming VR game Half-Life: Alyx works with all tracked PC VR game controllers, but some optional interactions are only possible with the company’s own Index Controllers.
The intriguing detail comes to us in a lengthy answer from Bronwen Grimes, Technical Artist at Valve, in response to a question we sent the company about the highly anticipated game. The artist also told us core interactions in the game, like “picking up, holding, dropping, throwing, and manipulating” objects “end up being better on Index Controllers because we were developing them in concert with the game.”
Half-Life Alyx is available for pre-order now on Steam for around $60 and slated for release in March 2020, but it’ll be free to owners of the Valve Index VR headset. Valve debuted the high-end Index VR headset earlier this year in tandem with the Index Controller — a new type of tracked VR controller which straps to each hand around the knuckles and palm.
In 2016, HTC shipped the Vive with wand-like tracked controllers powered by Valve’s technology while Facebook shipped Oculus Touch. The following year, Microsoft supplied PC manufacturing partners with another type of controller which combined features of both for VR headsets running on its Windows Mixed Reality platform. While these earlier controllers require the player to hold them, the Valve Index Controllers track the movements of all five fingers and allow more realistic grasping and release sensations.
Earlier this year Pistol Whip developer Cloudhead Games worked with Valve to release the Aperture Hand Lab free introductory software which showcased some of the interactions these controllers were uniquely capable of providing — like playing a game of rock, paper, scissors. Owners of the original Vive controllers can replace them with Index Controllers for $279. A new VR buyer needs a VR Ready PC plus $1,000 to purchase the Valve Index VR headset, tracking base stations and controllers.
Valve’s SteamVR software interfaces with all the tracked PC controllers mentioned and many VR games work with all of them, including Half-Life: Alyx. But people with the Index Controllers may have different experiences with the game as compared with the rest.
Crushing Cans In Your Hands And More
Here is the full answer provided by Valve’s Bronwen Grimes to our question seeking to understand the differences players might notice playing Half-Life: Alyx with the Index Controllers versus others:
“We’ve really tried to make the best use of Index Controllers for those who have them, while also ensuring that those who don’t still have a great experience with Half-Life: Alyx. There’s a small set of things that Index Controllers can do that other controllers can’t do at all, and they’re fun but not required – like being able to crush a can that you’re holding in your hand. But there’s a larger set of things that work on any tracked controllers, yet end up being better on Index Controllers because we were developing them in concert with the game. The most obvious example is the core interaction players have with objects in Half-Life: Alyx – picking up, holding, dropping, throwing, and manipulating. Players perform these basic actions many times throughout the game, and over our years of playtesting, we’ve found that combining the player’s trigger usage with their tracked finger locations was the most successful method of supporting their intentions. So while you can perform most actions with just a trigger or a button, we just think it feels more natural with the way the Index Controllers operate. Finally, the ability for the player to relax their hands without dropping their controller turned out to be a significant factor in our Half-Life: Alyx playtests. As our Index Controller prototypes started replacing our older controllers in playtests, we started seeing players able to play for longer and longer stretches of time, because they weren’t required to hold onto a real-world object the entire time. This wasn’t really something we saw as a problem in our early days of VR development, but now that VR games are becoming longer and more fully featured, we think it’s becoming more important.”