Half-Life: Alyx isn’t simply the long-awaited return to a beloved gaming collection. It’s arguably the largest VR sport but. It’s a full-sized, triple-A expertise. It’s not some brief, bite-sized chunk of Half-Life made for VR. It is a whole Half-Life sport.

The VR market remains to be comparatively small. One massive sport can do so much to develop the business. So Half-Life: Alyx has some massive expectations. It has to each revive a dormant franchise and beef up aspect of the gaming world that’s nonetheless fairly area of interest.

I chatted with Half-Life: Alyx designer Greg Coomer and animator James Benson about these challenges.


GamesBeat: Was it laborious for Valve to return to the Half-Life collection?

Greg Coomer: By manner of introduction, I’ve been round Valve ceaselessly.

James Benson: I’ve been a part of the corporate since March 2018, so not fairly as lengthy.

Coomer: I labored on Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2, a few of the episodes, I labored slightly bit on, and I’ve watched that complete development. For essentially the most half, no, it wasn’t laborious in any respect. It was laborious for us, alongside the way in which — it’s been a very long time since we’ve gotten again to the franchise. Along the way in which we had been making an attempt a number of issues to determine how we might return to the franchise. We had been busy, and we had been determining what was precisely the proper manner for us to return. Once we had found out that we must always construct Half-Life: Alyx, returning to the franchise and getting that undertaking up and working and discovering enthusiasm for it was in no way troublesome. It was one thing that Valve I feel has in its DNA. It felt like coming dwelling. That’s not troublesome.

GamesBeat: James, what’s it like to return in and work on such an iconic franchise?

Benson: I used to be not conscious of the sport’s improvement — I used to be a part of a gaggle that each one got here to Valve collectively. When we organized that to occur, we didn’t learn about Half-Life in any respect. The first time I got here onsite to go to, which was February 2018 or one thing, [Team Fortress co-creator and Valve employee] Robin Walker was like, hey, good to satisfy you; come try a few of the stuff we’re doing. And he took me right into a room, put a headset on me, and … right here’s a headcrab. So for me, selfishly, it was only a actually good introduction to the corporate. I’ve been an enormous fan of the collection for principally my complete life. Half-Life got here out after I was about 9 years previous. If I had been to write down down my Christmas record of issues I might get to do at Valve, a Half-Life sport could be on the very prime of that record. That was very best, primarily. It’s humorous, in a manner; I all the time had this sense after I first began doing stuff on the sport itself, what if the sausage-is-made impact comes into play, having a bizarre distance created between me and the collection itself? But the advantages there have far outweighed the negatives. That’s been a private want achievement factor, nearly, at this level.

GamesBeat: How does VR change the Half-Life expertise?

Benson: In each manner. In tons and tons of how. It’s nearly a level-of-detail change. My perspective on enjoying the sport is — for instance, say you’re in Kleiner’s lab in Half-Life 2. You have these tidbits of world-building that get plastered all over. There’s a newspaper that’s has some blurry headline in regards to the battle, and also you’re poring over areas. All the issues the place you choose up physics issues and toss them at individuals. There’s a stage of interactivity in Half-Life 2 that’s like, hey, physics. And then the factor that I discover enjoying Alyx is the specificity of how one can go into touching the world and feeling it and being cautious with issues. Not having to be messy as you choose up objects and pore over stuff. Particularly somebody like me. I actually care in regards to the world-building side, the lore and the role-play aspect of being in these areas. The stage of effective management you will have over every part, over your digital camera and over your home within the surroundings, is so crisp and a lot extra exact. That’s what I find yourself getting out of the expertise. It’s very Half-Life, however on a special type of stage. It’s a manner of going a lot deeper on particular parts within the surroundings.

Half-Life: Alyx interview — Reviving an iconic franchise with VR

Above: No gravity gun, however you do have gravity gloves.

Image Credit: Steam

GamesBeat: How does it change issues from a gameplay perspective?

Coomer: The interactivity actually is kind of totally different. It’s truly helpful to speak by means of a few of what’s the identical to be able to discuss these variations. The core issues about Half-Life, you possibly can attempt to articulate a formulation for Half-Life, which is in regards to the narrative expertise, the expertise, the physics. Treating motion as a factor that’s intermixed with that narrative. Those parts that you’d actually have described because the core elements of a Half-Life sport don’t really feel like they’re essentially modified whenever you go to City 17 in VR. But the moment-to-moment interactivity of what you find yourself spending your time doing, and the way in which that you just have interaction in a few of the core parts like fight, they really feel essentially totally different. And like James was saying, the intricacy of that interplay issues a ton. When you’re in a room, the density of issues to do is extraordinarily excessive. The exploration you are able to do is essentially modified due to how, along with your head and your arms and your physique, you’ll be able to discover a room. And so being in City 17 feels fairly a bit totally different. Inhabiting that house is, in accordance with our playtesters and our personal experiences, much more enjoyable than it historically was, due to the depth of interactivity.

In fight, a bunch of attention-grabbing issues occur. We needed to be taught issues that had been core variations to fight once we had been crafting the AI and writing code for the way fight was going to work in Alyx. It seems, nearly everyone seems to be manner higher on the fundamentals. Just aiming. When you’re aiming in a standard 2D sport, even when you will have an awesome pointing system, a excessive decision mouse like we nearly all have now, navigating an area and aiming with these instruments is admittedly comparatively crude in comparison with what an individual can accomplish once they have 6 levels of freedom occasions 3: one in your head, and one in every hand. The facility with which somebody can lean across the nook and level their pistol precisely at an enemy is extraordinarily excessive in comparison with what most individuals can obtain utilizing the instruments that that they had when Half-Life or Half-Life 2 was round. That made us rewrite quite a lot of how the sport works and quite a lot of the foundations of fight, as a result of these issues are simply higher instruments essentially.

GamesBeat: You’re making this VR sport, however it has to return out for a number of VR platforms with totally different capabilities or limitations. Is {that a} specific problem?

Coomer: We principally see it as a single platform, truly. There are totally different headsets, however we take a look at the PC and Steam as our platform, and we’re fairly joyful that there are a number of headsets and a number of corporations slicing that in several methods. Facebook’s doing one factor. HP is doing one other factor. Valve selected to slice it a special manner. Customers have these selections. But to us it’s not separate platforms. So we simply had to concentrate to, how do the totally different enter units work? What’s the stock of buttons on them? And then make sure that all of the core actions in Half-Life had been accessible to all these units. And actually the enter units ended up mattering extra to us than the assorted headsets. Headsets are pretty and fantastic, however the interactivity of the sport is much more elementary. That was our main activity throughout the entire thing.

Back to (half) life

GamesBeat: Episode 2 had this massive cliffhanger years in the past, and Half-Life Three is principally a meme at this level. Were you fearful about revealing a brand new sport that wasn’t a sequel transferring the story ahead, however as a substitute a prequel?

Coomer: From most views, I feel, inside the corporate, that wasn’t the first fear. That was a priority, however the fear for us principally was that once we introduced the sport, it was a VR-only title. Compared to that, the truth that it’s a prequel appeared like a distant second to us on our record of considerations.

Benson: In a humorous manner, the gap in time between the final Half-Life sport popping out and the brand new one — as an individual who’s within the story, it alleviated that so much for me. God, I’m actually hungry to get again to this world, you already know? But additionally I feel the principle concern with the prequel could be, is that this story materially related to the bigger ongoing world and characters? That’s not a priority I’ve with this sport in any respect. It’s a particularly massive, related, significant piece of the Half-Life story. It was fairly fast. Once we acquired in and was enjoying the sport and studying about what the beats are and what occurs, that fell away instantly. There’s additionally simply — in the identical manner that should you’d say there’s an isometric sport, after which all of a sudden you say we’re doing a full free-camera Mario 64 factor now, even simply the change of digital camera perspective and the change of each verb you will have within the sport and each manner you will be current within the sport, essentially greater constancy and a literal change of perspective — that does an enormous job of creating you not really feel such as you’re retreading or rehashing something in any respect. It’s extraordinarily — it’s a really totally different sensation, being inside a metropolis road in City 17 in comparison with piloting the digital camera round in 2D with a mouse and keyboard. It’s a really totally different sensation.

Half-Life: Alyx interview — Reviving an iconic franchise with VR

Above: Pleasant!

Image Credit: Steam

GamesBeat: Going again to the announcement, that occurred comparatively near the discharge of the sport. What was the thought course of behind that call?

Coomer: Primarily, we waited to announce the sport till we had been assured about an entire set of issues. We waited till we had been assured in regards to the sport being prepared inside a time-frame — that we knew when it was going to ship. At Valve it took us till late final 12 months to be roughly assured in once we had been going to have the ability to ship the sport. It isn’t actually regular for Valve to attend that lengthy to announce one thing, or to be assured in our personal ship date. But on this case, as a result of we had some trepidation round the remainder of the announcement, like how we had been going to assist individuals perceive why it was VR-only, and that it was a prequel and every part else, we wished to be fairly buttoned down in regards to the state of every part earlier than we went out the door with any information.

GamesBeat: Alyx Vance is clearly the star of this sport. How is that this model of Alyx going to be totally different from the one we’re used to from Half-Life 2?

Benson: She’s youthful. She’s clearly — Alyx as a personality types a special perform and position within the sport than she did in Half-Life 2 in that Half-Life 2, clearly, you’re Gordon, and Alyx is your form of companion. At occasions she’s a mechanical aspect in that she helps you in fight. At occasions she’s a reinforcement for puzzle design, the place she’ll say, hey, you need to try this factor. She’s additionally a type of booster for you whilst you’re enjoying, the place she’s very encouraging should you do the proper factor. She’s a narrative aspect and she or he’s additionally a sport design aspect that may be introduced in. When you might be Alyx, it’s way more about her pursuits and what she’s pondering, what she’s doing. She’s not enjoying a supporting position. That’s primarily the large distinction. And then by way of the literal story and the character of that, the state of the world is in a fairly totally different place. She’s being requested to carry out a bunch of hurdles that aren’t issues she went by means of within the different video games.

It’s additionally simply — it’s very totally different in that she’s a verbal character. This is just not a silent protagonist. The nature of her being verbally energetic whilst you’re interacting with issues and you’ve got the forwards and backwards with Russell and issues, that finally ends up giving a special tone. In Half-Life 2 you will have a form of forwards and backwards with Alyx within the sense that as you’re enjoying the sport, she’ll touch upon stuff you’re doing, however there’s not a literal forwards and backwards between Gordon and Alyx. Having that between Alyx and Russell permits for lots of incidental character moments to return by means of that aren’t instantly, actually in regards to the puzzle you’re fixing or in regards to the fight encounter, however which can be extra character constructing and world constructing in and of themselves. You’re capable of get much more out of Alyx’s character, I discover, on this sport.

GamesBeat: I used to be going to ask about the entire silent protagonist factor, as a result of in each different Half-Life sport we’ve performed as a silent character. Is it refreshing to go in opposition to that custom?

Coomer: I might say completely, for certain, for precisely the explanations he simply mentioned. It permits a lot deeper character definition. Really it permits for character definition in any respect. The Half-Life video games beforehand, the protagonist might be the least outlined character. You find yourself embodying, or imbuing the principle character with a bunch of projection, both about your self or solely not directly, what characters find yourself saying about Gordon Freeman. Having Alyx communicate and have a forwards and backwards with different characters within the sport is evening and day for what we will accomplish at making the character even have some definition. It isn’t simply that Alyx is positioned as a sidekick within the earlier video games, and having her turn out to be the protagonist — it isn’t simply having her turn out to be the protagonist that enables us to outline her higher. It actually is having her communicate and have a forwards and backwards with the opposite characters that lets that each one come into focus.

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