Don’t get me wrong, the trailer for Half-Life: Alyx looks great. It seems like it is channeling just enough Half-Life 2 to make it immediately appealing to fans, but it also leaves no doubt that it’s a full-blown VR game. However, it is important to remember that this game, from the start, was Valve trying to build up VR and Half-Life was where they settled.
This isn’t my opinion or an assumption, it’s an answer to a question by David Speyrer, one of the developers for Half-Life: Alyx, during an interview with Geoff Keighley. Within this interview, the group of developers building this game goes through some of the more obvious questions relating to the subject. Geoff asks why they decided to go with Alyx rather than Half-Life 3. Robin Walker replied,
“Back in 2016 when we started this, Half-Life 3 was a terrifyingly daunting prospect. I think, to some extent, VR was a way we could fool ourselves into believing we had a way to do this.”
The fear of not living up to the high expectations of the franchise isn’t unfounded. After the scrapping of Half-Life 2’s episodic design due to it being ineffective at delivering content quickly, every day since has made the fan base desire more. Building a game that could follow up the significance of Half-Life 2 and its episodic expansions only became more intimidating as time went on. At this point, that third iteration would have to be a masterpiece to avoid heavy criticism given the 12 years since Episode 2’s release.
Geoff also asked, “Why does this need to be VR only?” The condensed answer to this was simply that the goal was initially to build a VR game. They built the game from the ground up to be an experience that involved complex movements and that is something that can’t be translated to a mouse and keyboard. This further expands on the fact that Half-Life: Alyx isn’t a game that is necessarily for the longtime fans of the 21-year old franchise but to convince more people that a VR headset is worth owning.
The name “Half-Life” carries with it all of the masterful work of the franchise as well as all of the disappointment from its modern shortcomings. Creating something experimental to try to grow a very limited segment of the market will be risky, to say the least. Even the most popular VR games haven’t had sales anywhere near what Half-Life 2 sold (4 million copies). Therefore, it is clear that the goal is to lift up VR with the strength of the Half-Life franchise.
I don’t believe that this process will have Valve Indexes flying off the shelves now or any time in the near future, but I do see this being a catalyst for VR in general. People who have been hesitant to buy a cheaper headset may now be looking to get one during the upcoming holiday season. The $1000 Valve Index VR Kit probably isn’t going to be the biggest benefactor, but more affordable compatible kits will benefit from a premium game with high production value. It’s hard to say right now, but luckily we have only four months before people get their hands on Half-Life: Alyx and let us cheap folks know if it’s worth the investment.