Improbably, a new Half-Life game is coming out in just a couple of months. To celebrate, Valve hosted an AMA on Reddit today, audaciously claiming, among other things, that the game won’t be delayed and confirming a truth we already knew in our hearts: all Half-Life games must have at least one train.
Given that Half-Life 2 was famously delayed, and Half-Life 2: Episode 3 suffered so many delays that it eventually stopped existing, it’s quite a revelation to hear that Half-Life: Alyx will, barring catastrophe or trans-dimensional alien invasion, come out in March.
“With the exception of some tweaks to the absolute final scene, the game is done,” wrote the Half-Life: Alyx development team on Reddit. “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. (We let the Valve Time happen before we announced the game.)”
Half-Life: Alyx is the first Half-Life game to be created with VR in mind – last time a Half-Life game came out, people still associated video game VR primarily with the Virtual Boy – which means it’ll be full of new spins on familiar locations and enemies. Valve used “barnacle” enemies, which previously lifted players off the ground in an attempt to devour them, as an example, saying that “we experimented with moving the player, but moving the player without their input in VR didn’t work very well.” That might come as a disappointment to some fans, but Valve went on to say that “the opportunities afforded by VR also give you new methods to use against them.” Same goes for more straightforward enemy types like Combine soldiers.
Movement and weapon usage will also be different, given that players will physically occupy game spaces. As a result, Valve has paid special attention to accessibility, saying that there will be seated and left-handed modes, as well as support for one-armed play. Even while playing regularly, though, weapons will only require one hand.
“Our weapons all require only one hand, but they can be optionally grabbed and steadied by your offhand,” said Valve. “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.”
But while you and Alyx’s hands – melded into a singular stew of digits through the magic of virtual reality – will be of the utmost importance, you will not have arms. At least, in the game.
“We don’t render arms due to our experiences with playtesting,” said Valve. “Briefly, we found that players themselves don’t notice them missing (spectators do, obviously), and they don’t like them obscuring their view.” But Alyx’s arms are still there, kinda: “We actually simulate invisible arms though, which connect from your hands back up to your [head-mounted display], and we use those to detect impossible things, like completely closing a drawer over your wrist.”
Alyx, unlike many Valve single-player game protagonists, will also speak. “Having the viewpoint character speak is mostly liberating,” said writer Erik Wolpaw. “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.”
Prior to Half-Life: Alyx’s announcement last year, it had been eons since we’d heard Valve talk at length about the long-cherished series. This, however, was not due to any sort of company-wide gag order. According to Valve, there just wasn’t anything to talk about.
“Half-Life isn’t like Fight Club – there was never a first rule of ‘we must never speak of it!’ over the last decade or so,” the Valve developers wrote. “The real answer is super simple: We didn’t talk about Half-Life for a long time because we weren’t actively working on a Half-Life game.”
But even once work on Alyx began in earnest, the team didn’t want to count its chickens before they hatched. For years, secrecy was paramount. “I have a teenage son,” wrote one Valve developer, “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.”
While Valve said that Half-Life isn’t like Fight Club, it does have one rule: trains.
“It’s actually illegal to ship a Half-Life game if you don’t spend at least a little time riding in a train,” Valve wrote in response to one fan’s question about the presence of trains, hearkening back to previous games’ iconic openings.
Lastly but most importantly, you will be able to put a bucket on a headcrab, and the headcrab will absolutely move the bucket.
“You can put a bucket on a headcrab, and it’ll move the bucket as it crawls around,” said Valve. “Playtesters all keep reporting it as a bug.”