There’s two pieces of Half-Life related news today. First of all, the Half-Life: Alyx dev team has posted an AMA on Reddit, and they actually give some intriguing answers to what sorts of changes and design rules Valve has followed in developing the game. For example, Half-Life: Alyx doesn’t use jumping much, partly because players don’t tend to like jumping in VR. Instead of relying on jumps, the game has a continuous mantling system and uses jumping rarely. Creatures respond to audio cues more than they used to, and a lot of work was spent on tuning environments to make them more “sonically interesting” to reward player exploration.
When asked if Half-Life: Alyx would render arms, Valve responded with:
We don’t render arms due to our experiences with playtesting – briefly, we found that players themselves don’t notice them missing (spectators do, obviously), and they don’t like them obscuring their view.
We actually simulate invisible arms though, which connect from your hands back up to your HMD, and we use those to detect impossible things, like completely closing a drawer over your wrist.
We’re planning on releasing a video going into the tech behind our VR hands / interactions / etc, so there’ll be more on this soon.
Weapons will only require one hand, but you’ll have the option to steady your aim with the offhand. According to Valve, one of Alyx’s goals was to focus on two-handed simultaneous play, which means making sure you have a free hand to perform actions with while playing. They write, “We have a few systems for inventory and weapon selection, all designed with the goal of keeping the players eyes on the environment as much as possible. We have an ‘over the shoulder’ contextual inventory system for ammo on your off hand, Your weapon hand has a quick weapon select feature, and we have a couple of wrist bags for some of the other items.”
The AMA touches on a mixture of technical topics, lore, design decisions, and game development. But here, I think, is the answer that’s going to matter most to a lot of people:
With the exception of some tweaks to the absolute final scene, the game is done. Lots of us at Valve, as well as playtesters, have played through the entire game multiple times.
Right now we’re primarily polishing and fixing bugs, which is where we’d hope to be at this point in the development cycle. We’re confident we’ll hit our intended release. (We let the Valve Time happen before we announced the game.)
Nearly four years after the Oculus Rift went on sale, Beat Saber is the closest thing VR has to a killer app. It’s been a very long time since a single piece of software was enough to drive an identifiable wave in consumer hardware purchases, partly because it’s been so long since a fundamentally new piece of hardware hit the market. In the early 1990s, The 7th Guest drove CD-ROM sales. In the mid-1990s, games like Quake, Quake II, and the original Half-Life drove 3D graphics cards sales as gamers saw the difference between hardware and software rendering. There was a time, odd as it may seem, when PC users lined up around the block to buy copies of Windows 95 — which means they also lined up to buy the hardware upgrades required to run it.
There’s no guarantee that even a bombshell Half-Life: Alyx can pull off the same trick, but if any company is likely to do it, it’d be Valve. Both Half-Life and Half-Life 2 were titles that pushed game design forward in ways that still resonate today. Half-Life: Alyx might one day be commemorated as the title that drove an entirely new type of gaming into public consciousness… or yet another example of how impossible it is for any company to meet fans’ inflated expectations. Worst of all, it might just be mediocre — not bad enough to be memorable, not good enough to move the needle in any particular direction.
As part of the lead-up to Half-Life: Alyx, Valve is making all of the games in the Half-Life franchise free until Alyx releases. If you want to refresh yourself on the adventures Gordon Freeman took or to show them to a friend who hasn’t played, now is an excellent time to do it. I’m actually taking a trip back through Half-Life via the excellent Black Mesa, which I thoroughly recommend if you haven’t played it.