Valve has officially revealed Half-Life: Alyx, a full-length VR entry into the Half-Life series. IGN was able to ask a few questions about Valve’s new VR project for the official reveal and learned several new details, including Half-Life: Alyx’s length, and how the project began.
We’re thrilled to announce Half-Life: Alyx, a new full-length entry in the Half-Life series, built by Valve for VR.
Return to Half-Life in March 2020. Pre-purchase now on Steam. pic.twitter.com/GZkhp2Prx1
— Valve (@valvesoftware) November 21, 2019
IGN spoke with Half-Life: Alyx programmer Robin Walker before the reveal of Valve’s new Half-Life project, which is slated to release on all PC-based VR headsets in March 2020. Valve has been heavily invested in VR technology for years, and Valve is confident enough in the tech to create a full-length Half-Life game for the platform.
Just how big is Half-Life: Alyx? According to Valve, it’s the length of Half-Life 2, which most estimates clock in at around 13 to 15 hours. “This isn’t a spinoff or a side story, or anything of the sort,” said Walker. “It’s a full-scale campaign – repeated playtest results indicate it’s about the same length as Half-Life 2.”
Even though Half-Life: Alyx is looking to be a full-length adventure, Valve was initially just testing VR technology. There weren’t even plans to make a Half-Life game in VR.
“We didn’t set out to make a Half-Life game,” Walker revealed. “Like many game developers, we often use our previous games to experiment with new design ideas. So in this case, we started exploring VR using assets and code from Portal and Half-Life. Unfortunately, momentum retention through portals is a requirement for most the latter half of Portal’s gameplay, and we didn’t think we could build a VR game that required that movement of its players (yet).”
But Half-Life proved to be different. “[O]ur Half-Life experiments, beginning all the way back in The Lab for the Vive, yielded exciting results very quickly. As soon as we had a small section of Half-Life gameplay up & running in VR, with Half-Life 2 assets, and added some rudimentary hand physics/interactions, it was really clear that Half-Life suited VR,” Walker explained. “We thought we had something playtesters would finish in 15 minutes, and instead, players spent 45 minutes exploring it, and didn’t want to stop.”
The following are other questions we asked the Half-Life: Alyx team, including compatibility with other VR hardware, whether Half-Life: Alyx can come to non-VR platforms, and which developers are working on the project.
IGN: Is Half-Life: Alyx compatible with other VR headsets such as Oculus Quest, PS VR? Or will it be Valve Index exclusive? Will you need the Index controllers to play Alyx?
Robin Walker: Half-Life: Alyx is compatible with any VR headset that runs off your gaming PC. That includes Oculus Quest (with the Link cable), HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and so on. While we’re particularly proud of the visual and audio fidelity of playing the game on Valve Index with its finger-tracking controllers, we never considered making it exclusive. We have always believed in open platforms, and that extends to VR.
Is Half-Life: Alyx something that will only be in VR, or can it exist on a more traditional hardware platform?
RW: From our very earliest gameplay experiments on the project that ultimately became Half-Life: Alyx, it has been a VR-native experience. It simply wouldn’t be possible to translate it out of VR without sacrificing intrinsic components of gameplay and environmental interaction. Between how you move and position yourself, how you handle weapons and other objects, and how you perceive the scale of the world, it simply wouldn’t be at all the same game with VR stripped away. It affects everything you do and how you do it. Including a flat-screen version of the game would have meant straddling both worlds, and ultimately degrading and sacrificing the quality of the experience on both sides.
Who’s working on the project, specifically? There are rumors that the developers formerly of Campo Santo are on Half-Life: Alyx.
RW: Half-Life: Alyx has been built by veterans of previous Half-Life games, other developers who are new to the IP, and even some who are new to Valve. One of the things that excites us about our game is that we’ve been able to use that combination of past experience and fresh perspective to build something that feels like Half-Life, but doesn’t feel dated. Some members of the former Campo Santo studio are on the team, and they’ve brought the storytelling skill they honed in Firewatch to bear on Half-Life: Alyx.
But in that regard, they’re like the rest of us at Valve – people who played Half-Life 1 & 2, took parts of it into their own games, honed those parts into something even better, and are now bringing that knowledge back to what inspired them in the first place. And those of us who worked on the original Half-Life who haul our wrinkly old selves into work every day have been re-energized, and we’re thrilled to be back in the Half-Life universe again. Our joints hurt.
Half-Life: Alyx is scheduled to be released on March 2020 for Valve Index and other PC-based VR platforms.
Matt Kim is a reporter for IGN. You can reach him on Twitter.