Half-Life: Alyx isn’t the first full-length virtual reality game and it didn’t invent many of the key VR-based mechanics at its core, but if our review of the game is anything to go off of, it’s certainly one of the most refined examples. Valve has, after all, been at the forefront of VR, with its development of the HTC Vive and The Lab back in 2016. GameSpot had the chance to chat with Valve level designer Dario Casali and programmer Kerry Davis about Half-Life: Alyx and all things VR–including some of the games that helped them shape how they approach VR.
“I had a level of excitement before I started [Half-Life: Alyx], just about VR in general,” Casali told GameSpot. “I was a really big fan of Budget Cuts and I flew around the Earth several times in Google Earth.”
Budget Cuts is a stealth-action game from Neat Corporation. Casali cited the “full-featured interaction” players could have with the game’s menacing robot antagonists and the sense of “presence” VR brings, and how both work together to raise the stakes for players, as inspirations.
“I mean, on a flat-screen the robots aren’t intimidating,” Casali explained, “But in real-life, when one of those comes around the corner it’s like–whoa! I think that was really influential.”
Half-Life is known for having its own set of iconic foes–our review notes the uniquely “nerve-wracking” threat of its Combine soldiers in VR. According to Casali, that sense of presence granted by the VR format was one of the first things that made him and the team excited to work on Half-Life: Alyx.
“The sense of being there and having your whole body invested and involved in the world…” said Casali. “That really, really made me more excited to work on this particular Half-Life game than previous ones.”
Another influence was 2016’s Job Simulator, from Owlchemy Labs. Casali noted the comedic mundanity of interacting with its world.
“Like, why is it interesting to be answering a phone and turning on a microwave?” said Casali. “Oh, it’s interesting because it’s all simulated and we’re all in this holographic world.”
Physical comedy has been one of the trademarks of Valve’s distinct brand of humor, particularly in Portal, which The Lab–its first major foray into VR–was centered around. Not unlike Job Simulator, Half-Life: Alyx players will find themselves interacting with the game world in a number of mundane ways, but the introduction of VR into the mix brings what our review calls a “newfound intimacy” to each task.
According to GameSpot’s Half-Life: Alyx review, “When it’s your own hands turning valves, moving junk to find critical items, pulling levers, or hitting switches while turning your head to see the results of your actions, these become enticing gameplay mechanics rather than means for breaking up the pace.”
As far as influences go, what do Valve’s designers think about the games that they have inspired–for instance, the recently-completed Half-Life fan game, Black Mesa?
“I played it, I loved it,” said Casali. “I thought they did a really good job. They were very true to the original style and experience of Half-Life 1. I thought it was brilliant.”
For more, don’t miss our full Half-Life: Alyx review and some of our guides–a weapons and upgrades guide, puzzle guide, and a breakdown of Half-Life: Alyx’s accessibility options, including how to play it seated.
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