Half-Life Alyx devs asked questions on VR gameplay and what future holds for Half Life

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Half-Life: Alyx

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After so many years of radio silence, Valve really is treating Half-Life fans. With a new title to the series, Half-Life: Alyx, releasing in March, and with all the Half Life games currently free-to-play on Steam, we’re being spoilt. But there are still a shed-load of questions we still have about Alyx and the future of the Half-Life series.

Luckily, Valve has offered up the Half-Life Alyx team to answer questions on a Reddit AMA that happened yesterday – A full blow by blow can be read over on Reddit. 

Here are some of our highlights from the Half Life Alyx Ask Me Anything.

Q: Has the Alyx team experimented with using an Inverse Kinematics for showing full player arm/bodies in game? If so, why did you decide not to include this in the game (or at least in the trailers)?

A: 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.

Q: In the announcement trailer you can see Alyx use a cool jury rigged one-handed shotgun. I love it, but the choice to make the games shotgun weapon one handed seems like a strange choice unless all guns are one handed. Will there be 2 handed weapons in game? Possibly multiple weapons that take the same ammo? like the classic half life spaz with the new handheld shotgun already seen?

A: Our weapons all require only one hand, but they can be optionally grabbed and steadied by your offhand. We really wanted to focus on simultaneous two handed play throughout the game, so we needed the player to always be able to easily have a free hand. We keep that hand pretty busy with gravity gloves, movement, world interactions, flashlight, and so on.

Q: How will inventory management of weapons/ammo work? Games like H3VR, Boneworks, and Pavlov VR all use similar systems where items can go into different slots on your body depending on their size, but with the large amount of different weapons one picks up throughout half life campaigns these might not be adequate. How will our Alyx carry all her guns and switch between them?

A: 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.


GD: Of course, someone has to ask “what other new HL games can we expect after Alyx…”


Q: With this being the first big return to the series in over 12 years how has this endeavour impacted the team overall? Will you guys be comfortable developing more Half-Life games within the future if Alyx goes well? 

A: I don’t know what we will do next with HL, but I’m looking forward to what you all think of HL:A.

Q: Among the testers, did any of them ever have to remove the headset, out of fear or disgust for the zombies / horror atmosphere?

A: Tristan here, I admit I cannot deal with headcrabs in general, and definitely not in VR. If I’m testing the game, and I’m in an area where I know one of those things is around, I’ll remove the head set and hold it off my face as I attempt navigate on the 2d monitor screen, to lessen the impact of headcrab discovery. Disappointingly for me, it seems that I’m the only one on the team who can’t deal, we handle the scarier parts pretty well in terms of making the game accessible.

Horror is part of the franchise, and through playtesting, we feel like we’ve gained some confidence about where to draw this line. Some of our gorier visuals tend to evoke a grim fascination rather than revulsion or panic, and apart from myself, we’ve hardly ever seen anyone nope out of a playtest, even during the creepier sections. So among testers I still seem to be the outlier on horror tolerance.

Q: Do you feel Half-Life: Alyx has changed tonally from the original Half-Life games (more light-hearted, more humorous)? Additionally, does a speaking player-character fundamentally change the way the game is written and designed in any significant ways?

A: This is Wolpaw: I don’t think it’s changed dramatically. Honestly, though, I think the half life games are closer in tone to the portal games than they are to, say, The Last of Us. I spent a part of every day for 13 years talking to Laidlaw about writing. And the authors that inspired him like Frederic Brown and Robert Sheckley and crime writer Charles Willeford are all known for darkly comedic takes on genre fiction. Hell, he even named a character in ep2 after Sheckley.

Having the viewpoint character speak is mostly liberating. It certainly makes writing scenes easier when you don’t have to write around the fact that the main character is mute. It’s also easier to have the player feel they’re actually an active participant in the scene. In portal we got around it a little by actually acknowledging the main character is mute. I think it’s a lot more tricky when you have to maintain a fragile fiction that the player character can talk but simply isn’t for some reason. Anyway, I was and still am happy that the main character speaks.

Q: When Half-Life: Alyx releases, will we be getting the full Source 2 SDK, or will we be getting a more limited authoring tools-type deal which only allows us to make content for Half-Life: Alyx’s workshop?   A: We’re not currently planning on shipping a full SDK. We’d really like to release one at some point, but it’s a ton of work because Source 2 is a new toolset, much of which hasn’t been previously released. Any time we spend on it now is also time we could be spending on polishing the game itself, which we think is more important. As a result, we thought it wasn’t appropriate to promise anything before release.

Generally, this is how we’ve done SDKs in our previous Source 1 titles as well – making the game takes precedence, and after that’s done, we start looking at what’s next.

Half-Life: Alyx is an upcoming first-person VR title, which is to be the first game in the series released since Half-Life 2: Episode 2 in 2007. It’s going to be exclusive to VR, but will be compatible with any major headset you may have ( Valve Index, Oculus Rift & Windows Mixed Reality to name a few!)