Yesterday, the development team from Half-Life: Alyx hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. This was a great chance for the large fan base to get an idea on where this game was headed and get into the brains of the developers a little more. There was a lot of questions and a lot of answers.
To save you time from scrolling through the never-ending Reddit thread, we have compiled all of the important headlines and answers to questions. You can find each of them below.
Subtitles Launching, Non-English Voiceovers Possible
Knowing what is going on in this game is going to be huge. The story is much more important than most other VR games here. So if you aren’t fluent in English, knowing what is going on could be an issue. Not to worry though, as subtitles for English, French, German, Spanish-Spain, Japanese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish-Latin America and Traditional Chinese will be available at launch. Non-English voiceovers are still in question. The devs also want to do their own commentary, but won’t be available on launch day.
SDK Not Launching with Game
The development team is “not currently planning on shipping a full SDK.” They want to release it at some point, but launching it at the same time as the game seems unreasonable at this point. They want to focus on polishing the game as much as possible right now. “Source 2 is a new toolset, much of which hasn’t been previously released … 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.”
Index Finger Tracking and Virtual Arms
When the first trailers were released for the game Half-Life: Alyx, many people were calling out the lack of arms in gameplay. We don’t think that would ever be a problem, and the devs have the same school of thought. “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.“
As for finger tracking with the Valve Index, they say that “Index controller finger-tracking allows for greater player expression and more opportunities for fine-grained engagement with the world. But the game was tested with all major VR solutions throughout development to ensure full compatibility for all required interactions.”
The Game is Finished
There is a constant joke going around that the game won’t be released in time. The devs even joked about “Valve Time” during the AMA. All of this is funny, but would quickly lose humor if the game isn’t released in March. But is the game done? Yes, just about. “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.”
Something we were incredibly happy to hear was the game will allow every weapon to be used with one hand. The second hand could be used to stabilize the weapon if you choose to, but it isn’t required. “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.”
The inventory system is meant for easy access too. “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 Secret Behind the Game
“Working on HL:A before we announced it was pretty worrisome. I have a teenage son, and for 4 years I’ve refused to tell him what game I was working on, because I knew he wouldn’t be able to keep it to himself. On the team we joked that releasing the game was much less scary than announcing it. But in the end, we are very happy with how it’s been received, and we’re really excited to get it finished and into your hands.”
Original Alyx Voice Was Involved
“We worked with Merle at the beginning of HL:A development, but in the end, felt we wanted to go in a different direction. We love Merle, her work in Half-Life 2 was instrumental in bringing Alyx to life, and we hope to work with her again in the future.”
The team also noted that the character you are playing as will speak throughout the game. This is almost unheard of inside of virtual reality games, so this will be a fun and new experience for many players.
Valve Writer Eric Wolpaw addressed this changed. “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.”
More Gameplay and Details Coming
The devs answered a few more questions about gameplay and what the future holds before release. They confirmed that a train ride essential in this game, just like most other Valve games. “It’s actually illegal to ship a Half-Life game if you don’t spend at least a little time riding in a train.”
They talk about the enemies in this game, and how they are original to the Half-Life series. Barnacles, Head Crabs, and Combine Soldiers are all going to be making their appearance in this game. “Barnacles are a threat in VR. They don’t kill you instantly. You’ll deal with them in familiar ways, but the opportunities afforded by VR also give you new methods to use against them.”
“We experimented with moving the player, but moving the player without their input in VR didn’t work very well. As with many aspects of working on this game, we’ve had to find new ways to take well-worn mechanics and other Half-Life staples into the specific framework of VR.”
“You can put a bucket on a headcrab, and it’ll move the bucket as it crawls around. Playtesters all keep reporting it as a bug.”
“Similarly, Combine soldiers definitely return, both in the form you’ve previously seen them as well as with new variations to keep players busy and take advantage of VR. Some creatures respond to audio more than others. We don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s an example of this we’re particularly excited about.”
About the Headcrabs…
The headcrabs seem to be the most terrifying translation to VR for most people. One member of the team took center stage yesterday to explain how fun, yet scary these creatures are.
“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 to navigate on the 2nd 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.”
There won’t be many instances of jumping in this game. Even though you’ll be able to pick from three different movement options, none of them will use the virtual jump very often.
“For instance, if you need to get past an obstacle like a crate, you mantle up rather than jump up. The only time you need to jump is to traverse a short gap, which happens very rarely. We tried a few iterations of jumping, but ultimately found that even in continuous motion, players preferred dealing with those jumps with a teleport-style movement.”