Half-Life: Alyx marks the long awaited return of one of gaming’s most popular franchise. It’s also intended as a showcase of VR, one of the first truly AAA titles for the fledgling platform, which Valve hopes will sell more headsets.
No pressure, right?
Getting Alyx right was essential. Thankfully, Valve (largely) delivered; Alyx is a polished gem of a game with a few hiccups. What was it like returning to the franchise after all these years? How did the team find the transition from flatscreen to VR? We talked about those topics and others with the team’s Greg Coomer and Jason Mitchell earlier this month. Here’s our full, lengthy interview with the pair.
Note that the latter half of this interview will contain a few spoilers, but we’ll give you another heads up for then.
Half-Life: Alyx Valve Interview
Upload: I’m sure it goes without saying, but you guys must be very proud.
Greg Coomer: Yeah we are actually very proud of what the game ended up being. It’s been especially great to finally show it to other people, because we’ve been looking at it for a while. But it also has just changed a lot in the final few weeks. So even when we play it we are basically pretty happily surprised by what our co-workers have just added to the game all the time. So we have a little bit of the same experience that you just had when so much new content is going in.
Upload: It’s very, very much one of those cases as with traditional games then that the game together in the last couple of weeks?
GC: For sure, and especially just in the kind of polish that’s so noticeable. It’s not like the story changed but so many details that add up to the experience that even in the past couple weeks a lot of changes have gone in that are amazing.
Jason Mitchell: There’s a kind of category of things you intentionally don’t get to until you’ve got a lot of other stuff locked down. So it kind of naturally results in that.
Upload: So I want to start of with a controversial statement: Half-Life: Alyx is a horror game. Discuss.
GC: I think it’s a totally valid response to the game.
JM: Yeah, that’s for sure. I think especially when you expose someone who either isn’t used to VR or maybe isn’t that used to our titles or our genre, yeah, they have a very visceral reaction to seeing that stuff in VR. And you’ve got sort of the two prongs there which is, you know, it’s next-gen, our engine had advanced a lot since we’ve shipped a Half-Life game so there’s generally the fidelity of it is just much higher.
And then you add onto the fact that that thing is life-size in front of you and it’s pretty darn impactful when it’s a zombie and it’s making hysteric sounds, all of that.
GC: Also a lot of the experiential design work was done in a way that — I haven’t ever worked on a horror movie but I think a lot of the decisions had the same constraints and the same kind of discussion around them that a horror experience often must have then the creators of a horror movie are working on something. About pacing and how much fear is appropriate.
There was a lot of careful decision making about those kinds of things, keeping players feeling safe. Because we had accessibility really high in our priority stack, but the nature of Half-Life when headcrabs are jumping at your face and there’s a lot of tension in dark places, those things are inherent to the experience. And so we wanted to be pretty careful the whole way for a player, introducing that to those more horrific elements of the experience.
JM: And some point to that was to just follow what’s strong in VR. So like, holding certain tools and using certain kinds of tools is just viscerally actual in VR. And having a flashlight in a dark place and having it on a separate place than just mounted to your head as it was in our prior games.
But now you’ve got your tracked head, you’ve got your tracked hands, let’s decouple, say, a flashlight from the rest of that and control it independently. It’s just really compelling. So then, obviously darkness in play just falls out of that, which is scary.
Upload: I’m someone that traditionally can’t handle horror in VR, I have to nope out for a long time. But I felt like this kind of ramps it up in ways that start you off with a sense of security and then you kind of trust the player to deal with a bit more shock and surprise the further you get in the campaign?
GC: That’s definitely intentional, so it’s nice to hear that that came through. Especially in the earlier stages. We wanted to be responsible. If we had tossed you in and then just thrown a bunch of jump scares at you I think you would have noped out of this even if you were a Half-Life fan, it would have been really rough. Whereas we hope that this is not just a nice progression but, as you say, a responsible use of that kind of tool.
JM: Yeah, we definitely like, feather in the contact that you have with the scary things. You see the first zombie, he’s behind the gate. And it’s up to you whether you open that gate or not. If you do or if you even choose to deal with that guy or let the barnacle get there. Or, for example, going through train cars and they’re right there and they’re breaking glass and reaching in but they can’t reach you. So it’s sort of trying to feather that intensity in.
Upload: It’s also the appearance of headcrabs, right? The famous thing from the prior Half-Life games is being in a vent, turning on a flashlight and one will jump out at you from nowhere. But here there’s almost always a sense of distance. They’ll appear safely from a pipe. That seemed very intentional.
JM: We think of our single-player games in terms of track. You’re making a ton of choices, you have a ton of agency but there is a direction that you’re going generally, of track. And we don’t make things come from behind you in that track, generally. Like we’re not trying to surround you for that same reason.
Upload: So the flip side of all of that is I think the game is less Combine heavy than I was expecting. Both in terms of the number of encounters and then the numbers of Combine in a particular battle seem to be reduced. And I feel like that’s a VR first decision as well?
JM: Possibly. There may be performance limitations in terms of having so many in an encounter. One thing we’ve definitely found in VR is that they definitely live longer. Partially because, prior to VR, you were such an engine in terms of the speed you could move around and aim and reload, all those things as they were just key presses and mouse movements and stuff.
But the actions that you have to perform in this game required to make physical movements that are just constrained by your humanness, right? The taking cover, physically reloading, all that stuff, so they have to be a bit more interesting, those Combine, so their AI underwent a bunch of technical work to make them do more interesting things during that longer lifetime that they have.
GC: One thing about them being a little more burly or taking more to kill a given solider. We found that it was pretty amazing to watch playtesters and learn, on aggregate, most players actually are far better at aiming in VR. That’s not true, of course of the really high-end FPS players that have gotten so used to aiming with the keyboard and mouse but, on aggregate, most people are far, far better shots when they have full six degrees of freedom on their head and on each hand and they can use their whole body and really line up their sights and put a beat on someone.
So it definitely caused us to tweak not just the AI code but also just the health of enemies because of that.
Upload: That’s a great point because ever since I started using VR my skills with a gamepad have gone down. I am worse at playing traditional games now. Were some of the new Combine and aliens introduced because of the nature of the way the game is played?
JM: I think it’s partially a side-effect of them living longer than they did traditionally. They have actual stats that, in a typical fight in Half-Life 2, like how long, it’s just a few seconds really that a given Combine lives in a given encounter. And so in this case, yeah, you’re going to get a better from variety of them visually and sort of making them more interesting and giving them more variety, letting them sort of have deeper presentation during that longer life time sort of led to having different classes rather than just a cookie cutter Combine in a number of small instances.
Upload: Watching past interviews about the game, one of the things you reference a lot is your work on The Lab which is obviously hugely instrumental in what Alyx ended up being. But I’m interested to know what were some of the external touchstones for you in the past four years; particular games, development practices that weren’t necessarily made inside Valve. Obviously Boneworks is a game that feels like it shares a lot of DNA with this and there must have been lessons learned from things like Superhot.
GC: One huge one for us was Budget Cuts. Even just pretty early on since they were pretty early in the whole cycle. They didn’t put a ton of effort into things like giant amounts of graphical fidelity, they focused on tension and emergent combat and putting you in positions that filled you with dread and made you think of space differently and really inhabit the space differently.
And I think while they were doing that they added layers of humor, so there was deeper emotional engagement even from a simplistic set of enemies and surroundings. And, just as a thing that lighted up the player’s brain more in ways that most VR experiments hadn’t at that point, it really did make us think harder about what we could do.
Upload: What about Boneworks? Was there any kind of collaboration between you and the Stress Level Zero guys there? Because it definitely seems like the two share a kindred spirit of sorts.
GC: I wasn’t part of the back and forth with those guys. They came by to visit us a couple of years ago and we always have been admirers of what they were building and it stayed that way through them shipping. We definitely compared notes and I don’t think we ever really looked at builds of theirs. Robin on the dev team talks about how they visited once or twice but it was always kind of a mutual admiration of what the other people were building.
And I do think they went for something that was sort of different, different perspective in what they ended up shipping and it totally makes sense that they shipped what they did given the size of their team and we just remain fans of it.
Upload: Traditionally when I play VR games I use smooth locomotion, artificial, gliding however you refer to it. I did that for the first half of Alyx and then I switched to Shift. Why do you guys think I felt more comfortable or more at home with the game in Shift as opposed to Continous?
JM: I worked on some of that code, so I’m fairly familiar with that and I’ve definitely played in both of those modes. I mean I think, probably, it really comes down to — and I don’t think it’s to do with us at all I think this is probably a general VR thing, but it comes back to the fact that you spend very little time not room-scaling. When I say room-scale I mean, we’re not moving you, you’re moving you, right? In terms of your body, micromotions of your head, to actual large real world steps or meaning, that’s what I call room-scale movement.
So when you’re doing either of the teleport modes, and I definitely like Shift myself, you’re never gone from the world, you never Blink from one place to another and have to re-get your bearings, you’re sort of always consistently there. Most of your motion is your own bodily motion and so your vestibular system is completely in the loop with regard to motion.
When you’re in Continuous motion, it’s not. The position of your head and everything else is moving through the world, your vestibular system is not giving consistent cues of that. And I don’t think that’s particular to our game.
Upload: But I feel like the game feels cleaner in Shift. One of the reasons I think I was doing it was, when it came to firefights, with continuous movement, when I was behind a pillar or something, I felt so very tempted just to nudge the analogue stick forward just a little bit, which would dissuade me in some way to physically just lean.
JM: I totally understand what you’re saying. I feel the same way.
When you think about what [Continuous] motion is in terms of how it’s implemented it’s mostly like a traditional FPS system, right? In a traditional FPS your body is basically a capsule sliding around on a plane and your mouse and keyboard or your controller if you’re playing with the game controller is just doing small motions to move you around in that plane and you’ve kind of projected the complexity of that world onto that plane and reduced the degrees of freedom, right?
Now [in VR] you’re just like, good I can just freeze with my arm out, basically I’m just like a reticule on a 2D screen in a traditional game then use my stick a play the game just like I’m on a couch, not even in VR, right? And do my micro-adjustments with my thumbstick as opposed to do doing all the real world motions which are what’s so interesting about VR. Is that the kind of intention that you’re talking about?
Upload: Yeah, I think that sums it up well.
JM: I feel that as well. I mean I really like playing in Shift and then really pantomiming out the motions of ducking and leaning and taking cover, especially in combat it’s super fun that way. But yeah you can very much fall into essentially almost traditional 2D FPS kind of mode in Continuous motion by just locking that degree of freedom out and just doing all the movement with the thumbstick. And you’re not really there, you know what I mean?
Upload: And that’s one of the real struggles, right, of designing those encounters. Because it wasn’t until I made that change. Earlier today I was on the floor between a car seat, looking through the car getting only that kind of angle that I could have got with VR, basically. That feels crucial to the Alyx experience.
JM: Yeah, I agree. And I think there’s different styles of actual players. Some of us talk about it as like, pantomimers vs optimizers. Pantomimers really want to live the thing and act it out. They really want to lean against that pillar and pop their head out and do the physical stuff like they’re really in the place.
And then an optimizer is the person that just wants to get the results, and they kind of exploit the system in the way I described of basically playing a first-person shooter with a stick and a rigid arm. I kind of think of it as a little bit like, you probably remember when the Wii first came out and there were like those tennis games and the golf game and stuff. Doing the thing and you’re like “Wow I’m really doing it.”
And then you discover that actually if you just do this thing [makes a flicking motion] it’s basically all proxies for a button push at that point. Even your waggle of the controller was a proxy for a button push in the game. So went from being a pantomimer to an optimizer maybe in that case.
And we see people that fall into those camps in VR as well. Although most actions that the pantomimers are doing are not proxies for a button push, right. Leaning around a pillar is a real interesting, complex action.
Upload: On that front, talk to me about the decision to have just one hand for a weapon for the entire game, both in terms of straying away from melee and two-handed pantomiming and what you felt that opened up.
GC: As opposed to devoting two hands to the same weapon and using it to aim? Is that what you mean?
Upload: Yeah or, like so many other VR shooters have dual-wielding. The decision to go with a one-handed gun combat game is fairly unique in the scene, I would say.
GC: I think it might be largely due to the other kinds of things that you’re trying to accomplish during Alyx. And we had off-hand interactions that we wanted to keep in mind for most of the game. We also wanted to make sure that the game itself was playable by one-handed people, people who only have the use of one-hand.
But the first thing in our minds was actually the first one that I mentioned, which was off-hand interactions and reserving a hand for those things. So, flashlight or multitool, just having a gun and secondary tool or hand that you could reserve for other things.
JM: And then just the Gravity Gloves of course as well. Y’know, in combat with a Combine I don’t know if you got to this level but I love it when they throw a grenade, because that’s an opportunity to get the thing and chuck it, right? It’s like a seven second timer on that thing, that’s a long time. So having the off-hand there is super compelling and super fun.
We could have done more in terms of technical investment in two-handed weapons, and we did look at that, but it didn’t seem in service of this game. It sort of seemed at odds with some of the complementary things that we just described in regards to the use of off-hand.
Upload: I felt in terms of the pacing that contributed to the game, especially when later on you’re fighting the Antlions, there’s almost a methodical Resident Evil 4 kind of vibe to the combat, right? And that’s interesting because it’s such a hard thing to recapture when you have the freedom of VR.
GC: Well part of what you’re getting at I think is the kind of tension through game design that the placement of resources inspires. So we were very careful and systematic about the upgrade resources and resin and how much ammo and health there are. And we built a somewhat responsive system that will populate the world with those resources and change them based on difficulty.
And tuning that is a lot about what we get out of playtesting. So trying to get that tension to feel correct, and the Resident Evil 4 vibe is a really nice comparison so I’m glad it had that feel for you. But did you mean something more?
Upload: Let’s say in Half-Life 1/2. You died a lot, you press a button the game quickly reloads, you’re back in, you keep going. Dying a lot in VR, it takes a toll on you, I feel. Having to restart a combat scenario, go through the motions of killing enemies that I already killed feels heavier in VR than it does in a traditional game. How aware were you of that?
GC: It’s actually the first time I’ve heard someone mention that specifically. You’re probably not making it up but as far as the combat of the consequences of a death and replaying the same section; VR vs non-VR maybe there’s something about Half-Life in particular that makes it more weighty.
JM: Well in terms of fatigue, definitely, I have worked on another VR project sort of aside from The Lab and Half-Life VR internally here. One thing on that project that definitely applies to this is that many people bend over a lot. It gets you. There are certain physical motions that really can wear on you. And so in that other title we ended up giving you a tool that had a lot of the same properties as the Gravity Gloves in terms of, taking that need to bend over out of the equation.
You can bend over, if you want, and the world still has the same physical properties and fidelity as what you’d expect in terms of what’s down there etc. But it takes the physical fatigue out of it, so there’s one example of where we certainly acknowledge the fatigue factor.
Upload: [How much are you worrying] about the conditions in which people are going to play this game. I live in a small flat, I don’t have a lot of space, but I’m going to play this game standing up, walking when I can, trying to make it as immersive as possible. But, as immersive as some of these moments are, I put my hand out and then there’s the Guardian system or the Chaperone system and instantly there’s something saying “Be very careful.” And I think from that perspective a lot of people are going to have very different experiences with Alyx, right?
GC: We worry about mostly making the game as accessible as possible to play. So I guess we don’t worry about it in the same way that you just phrased it, that people might play it in sub-optimal conditions. We think about it as just trying to increase the accessibility and make the game playable in all kinds of different conditions.
And Jason was just talking about all the pantomiming and big room-scale actions, not everyone plays the game with that pantomiming style. And it could be because it’s not their style, it could be because they have more constrained space. And as designers we just tried to make the game as accessible to as many people as possible.
JM: That’s definitely the way to think about it. And in terms of concrete steps, we have access to Steam stats, so we know the setups/room sizes that SteamVR players have generally. So we’ve analyzed that data and there’s a lot of people with small spaces, basically standing room. Rift 1 players, for example, have to be forward facing, right? So like we had snap turns in the game.
And if you came to the office to see our workspace, you would see we’re standing next to each other. It’s fairly traditional, it’s an open plan but only has so much space in terms of how we work and we don’t want to hit each other, so we’ve all become pretty used to constraining ourselves. I think we only managed to break one TV. Just one.
So we have a few dedicated test rooms that are mostly converted conference rooms. And we’ll do play tests in there and of course individuals will just choose to play test in there sometimes. It’s really freeing to remember that you can take a big stride and not endanger yourself or anything. But I think we’ve all gotten used to working in constrained spaces because we know our customers are in the same thing. Seated, for example, we’ve done a bunch of seated playthroughs and made changes to certain puzzles to make sure elements are not so high that they’re unreachable.
The one-handed mode we put in recently that allows a one-handed player to play the game — we’re a lot more about making sure people can play it than worrying about whether they it play it the right way.
Upload: Talk to me about Rubikon. It’s arguably the center piece of the game. I wanted to know about its development and why you think it’s key to making experiences like Alyx so immersive.
GC: Well I have a lot [of knowledge] on just the nature of interactivity and how much physics matters in VR. However, the decisions about one physics solution and technology vs another, most of us didn’t think about that. Because Rubikon is probably great for some reasons that I don’t personally know about but I think that most people on the team don’t know about the intricacies of the Rubikon solution and engine.
But as far as just the importance of incredibly robust physics in VR, Alyx relies tremendously on that. Like the density of physical interaction and the intricacies of physics interactions with so many different objects in the world and the interplay of those things. It matters enormously.
It was a hallmark and an identity component of, of course, Half-Life 2, but there is I think it’s fair to say an even deeper requirement and robustness and we rely on it even that much more in Half-Life: Alyx because the density of interactions is just enormously higher.
Upload: A lot of games with physical elements like yours do is the idea of ‘anything is a weapon’. Why wasn’t that such a thing in Alyx?
GC: It’s very, very true that was much more a component of the game design in, say, Half-Life 2 than it is in Half-Life: Alyx. I think it has to do with the nature of melee and that what we ended up thinking worked in Alyx but I wasn’t really involved in a lot of those decisions so I don’t know if I have a very great answer myself.
JM: I think one of the things is the property of VR, right. In Half-Life 2 of course, there was no expectation of force feedback. We were watching the Gravity Gun and then the physics took over and cool stuff happened, right? In Alyx if we have the player hold something large and rigid there’s a lot that’s gonna happen in a physical simulation that’s not gonna feed back into your hand.
So basically you’re not going to have any kind of haptic feedback. Don’t even worry about bludgeoning and impaling something, even something just as simple as tapping a tool on a desk or whatever. You don’t get the force feedback from that sort of thing. I think it’s just inherent in VR that we aren’t in the sci-fi future exoskeleton level of VR where every bit of our sensory input and output can be manipulated. So it’s not a strength of VR systems now, so we decided not to lean into it for that reason.
SPOILERS FOR HALF-LIFE: ALYX BEYOND THIS POINT
Upload: Let’s get into some of the spoilery stuff, then. One of my absolute favorite moments in the game I think is in the third or fourth chapter. It’s the second time you use the flashlight in the dark and Alyx asks Russell to tell a story to take her mind off of it. The reason that is probably my favorite moment is that as I was exploring in the dark, I realized his stupid story was working for me physically. I was terrified and I stopped thinking about being terrified, I was thinking about a sandwich. How did that moment come about?
GC: I think in general character development is more the frame that we usually think about those moments. I really like your story because it’s not so much about character development it’s about emotional management at a difficult moment.
But we usually think about it as a way to add far more depth and dimensionality. Obviously when a protagonist doesn’t say much, you can only really go so far as a narrative experience. And really having Alyx truly have a voice, with real back and forth, it really is freeing as a designer of a narrative experience to have that depth to play with. And so the back and forth with Russell, usually it’s not done to manage the emotions of the player as much as it is to add all this dimensionality and help you kind of connect with the characters and give Alyx a true presence so that she’s not just a cut out but it was more like her embodiment as an AI companion in past installments of the series.
Upload: And that’s very new ground for you guys, right.
GC: Well I think in some of the other titles like, the writing in Portal, Valve pushed things forward a fair amount. But the specific kind of back and forth narrative that Alyx and Russell have I think is somewhat new for us and you can actually see the hand of some of our newer people who have joined the company, like a couple of them worked on games like Firewatch where there’s a very similar dynamic there of a protagonist and someone who is distant on the radio and the back and forth there is incredibly important as well.
Upload: What happens to Russell? He’s not in Half-Life 2? Are we going to get Half-Life: Russell?
GC: That’s a great idea. I’m writing that one down. I don’t think we have an answer for you.
Upload: Another great point in the game is Jeff. That has to be a sort of microcosm for what we were talking about earlier in the game with horror, right? That must have been hard to balance on both an emotional level and a technical level with all the glass.
JM: I’m not sure the glass was the technical hard part of that. I think it’s AI. I don’t know if this is widely considered true on the team but I would think that was probably the hardest section of the game to really get right in terms of how much iteration was required, just throughout the project. Managing his AI and the design of the freezer that he goes in, that went through a number of iterations.
I mean even just the door locking mechanism you use to put him in there was sort of an only-in VR design that went through a bunch of iterations, interesting to encapsulate and share with the world at some point how we went with that design.
We definitely, intentionally over-committed your hands in that environment. The mouth covering was added relatively late. We’ve had it for a while now but that was probably the last element of the Jeff element that was added, actually, the coughing and the actual physical particular interaction. I mean there’s only so many things like that that you get to be first at in terms of developing VR interactions. A lot of people have, like, eating interactions — and whichever one of those got to be the first one to do eating.
We’ve got, put your hands in [the] air and it’s the new “Pick up that can.” I’m not aware of other games that make you do that. Covering your mouth is another mechanic that’s sort of like that. So yeah, that level, some sections were about over committing your hands with the flashlight you’ve got to aim, you’ve got the multi-tool that you might be doing, you’ve got two hands to open the door, you’ve got to throw some bottles, you’ve got to cover your mouth.
All this managing is interesting. In fact for one-handed players we actually have– the gas masks that you see littered in the environment? One-handed players can actually attach those to their face. Because giving a player with two hands three things to do is an interesting mechanic but for one-handed mode it’s a little unfair. So we have a solution for that.
But I guess I’m kind of rambling on the Jeff thing but designing the right pace so it felt fair but challenging to control and AI like that through the use of space was interesting. Does he hear your footsteps is a question you have to ask yourself during that design, or if you step on certain materials that you’ve broke before, is that part of the design. We had to ask ourselves a lot of questions like that throughout.
Upload: There’s also the secondary character in that level, the scavenger guy. Did he ever have a bigger role?
JM: I mean I worked on that team for a while prior to Larry’s — that’s his name — introduction. And he was probably mostly added as an expository tool to help explain to you how Jeff works. Because I think initially most of that track was developed without Larry and so we were left to teach you about Jeff without that tool and through environmental things. And people were getting it often but it got complex and we sort of needed that character to expound on it.
Upload: Character interaction in VR in general can be a really powerful thing. And Alyx definitely has moments of that, but I also feel like the game’s very cautious around being near other friendly virtual characters.
GC: I think there’s some cautiousness just in not overplaying VR’s hand. We think that there’s– we rely a lot on the kind of exposition and interchange between characters and just character development in those moments. But if you’re asking about whether we’re cautious because there are limitations even in a medium as immersive as VR about how much you can accomplish there?
Yeah, I think there’s definitely an awareness there within Valve of it’s not a perfect reproduction of all the kinds of things you get out of real world human interaction so we put some constraints on ourselves there.
JM: Yeah I think that’s true. The character, I think, can only hold up for so long and so we give you tastes of close-up interaction with other characters. The Vortigaunt is really kind of extra great because he’s not a human and so you’re not going to pick up on weird facial ticks or something kind of thing whereas imperfections in Russell’s performance would strike you more. Which may be one reason why the Vortiguant is so compelling.
GC: I think it’s definitely that, yeah.
JM: But even so, even if you could pick up on weird facial ticks due to animation, we still limit the amount of time that you spend with those characters and just kind of let you fill in the rest, right. Like, Russell is up in the window for part of that interaction, so he doesn’t have to sort of hold off as much as he does when you’re close up. We certainly don’t encourage you to get really up in his face or have a lot of handing things back and forth or the interactions that are hard to simulate and hold up at the level of fidelity we’re able to achieve in VR. So it’s for sure and we definitely…I think we sort of played to the strengths of what’s there without overdoing it.
Upload: So I’m glad I finished the game because I would be remiss if I couldn’t talk about the end with you guys. To me, that ending seemed like a bold, definitive statement that the next Half-Life game will be in VR.
GC: Valve is not quite ready to say that. We haven’t made actually any plans about medium. So I think we’ve– obviously we get that question from many people. Also like, what exactly is coming next for VR? Also what’s coming next for Half-Life? We really– we’ve been working on this for four years and although we’re really excited because the reception before the game is out seems to be really quite positive, so far. I know our playtesting is good.
But really the entire team and the company is in a mode where we really want to see what the reaction to this title is before we make plans about what exactly we will do next.
Upload: Having said that, the decision to have this ending in the game is undoubtedly a confidence thing. When did you feel you had the confidence to put this ending in the game? Was it always going to be there or was there a point where you said “I think we can do this”?
GC: It was definitely an ending — I’m not on the writing team but it’s definitely an ending that has been a core part of the plan for most of the development of the game. So it wasn’t like we built the game as you’ve now experienced it and then thought hard about what should we tack on to the end. It definitely was something that was integral in the thing about how you get there and what the earlier stages of the product are.
Upload: Does Alyx remember the last moments of the game in Half-Life 2 through to Episode 2?
GC: We definitely get why you’re asking the questions, but that’s one of the things that the ending is really designed to leave unanswered, I believe.
Upload: There’s an interesting idea to Gordon picking up the crowbar at the end of the game. That could go down as a very iconic moment. And it’s interesting you decided to do that having not used melee weapons in the rest of the game. And so I wonder if there’s any kind of notion of what you’ll be able to do going forward in that handing of the crowbar or passing of the torch, if you will.
It’s like, “This is what we can do with VR tech today, by the time maybe another game rolls around…” I’m not asking you to say there’s going to be an Index 2 but the industry is obviously naturally going to progress on and it feels like you guys are already thinking about the kind of designs that will go along with it.
GC: We definitely are. You could look at — I mean a lot of the development of Alyx was done in concert with the team that was simultaneously building the Index. And I wouldn’t say, though, that the ending of the game was done deeply in concert with the people who are thinking about next-gen VR, but you could say that the Alyx team is issuing a challenge to the part of Valve which is working on next-gen VR solution to say “This is what we want from you, give us solutions that will let us build something like this.”
I haven’t heard some[one] else say that, but your question sort of made me think of the ending to our game in a different light.
Upload: It also calls to question the people out there that are disappointed the game is in VR and the notion that there may be a future for the series in VR. The way I’ve always thought about is, just because Alyx is out March 23 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to play it then. The technology is going to get to the point that it will work for you. Is that the way you guys justify it?
GC: I think we look at it in a couple of different ways. One way is that we’ve been very focused on March 23rd as an event. We know that many people will play the game later. They may find a solution that works for them later the down the road and, for sure, it is incredibly obvious that most people on Steam aren’t yet equipped to have the full Half-Life: Alyx experience — that couldn’t be more obvious to us — and the potential audience that’s having the full experience is relatively small right now.
But even though that’s obvious, those of us that have been working on the game for a long time have really been thinking about the 23rd as an event where so many people who have chosen to equip themselves and who are devoted enough to Half-Life to equip themselves just to get ready for this are really going to have this unveiling. And so to us at the moment it almost seems like an event horizon because we’re so excited about what’s going to happen on that day.
And of course the game is something that we’re proud of and we want to get the reactions to that, but we are also thinking of it as an event hopefully for the industry to some extent where this kind of content and this much fidelity for the scope of a project just hasn’t really existed in very many forms and so we hope it’s a meaningful one for the medium and for the industry because it really is in some ways a statement about what’s possible and we hope it serves as that for lots of people who care about this stuff.
Upload: Okay, quick questions. Gabe Newell once said that Valve has three VR games in development. Are there still two more VR games in development?
GC: All the resource for VR game development later in the cycle, during Alyx’s development, all of those resources got moved onto Alyx. So at the moment, no, there aren’t three other titles in development. But, as for what’s coming, we don’t really have something new or newsworthy for you to say: “Once Alyx is out the door here’s what you should expect to have happen.”
Upload: Did you ever consider having Dog in the game?
GC: Uh… yes.
Upload: If I somehow had the space to do it, in the Valve logo, would I be able to run right in front of Valve guy and see his face?
GC: It’s definitely a serious question and I believe that in very short order the internet will have the answer for you.
Half-Life: Alyx is available now on SteamVR.