As part of our review coverage, we were able to interview Valve's Robin Walker and Brad Kinley, during which time we got talking about Half-Life, the studio's recent venture into VR, and how it all came about. One point of focus that we found interesting is why they chose to make Alyx instead of Half-Life 3, and the reason why the studio decided to make it in virtual reality.
One specific question that brought out some rather interesting points was when we asked what made them want to work on Half-Life again after being away from the series for such a long time?
Walker took the lead and talked about the journey that the team went on throughout their Half-Life experience. It was interesting to learn what initially prompted the company to work on the original games, and why that philosophy meant the studio didn't end up making Half-Life 3. Walker explains:
"We started building that [Half-Life] because at the time we thought there was an opportunity around first-person shooters to do something more narratively than had been done before."
Building on this he goes on to talk about what then gave them their motivation for Half-Life 2 by explaining how there "was an opportunity to go deeper [into the characters] and drive the narrative forward that way. And the other thing was, of course, the emergence of physics engines."
Hearing these initial motivations for Half-Life and its sequel really sheds light on the whole situation within Valve and shows the motivation at the studio when picking projects. It wasn't about the money or even keeping fans happy, they wanted to challenge themselves, returning to the market with something new that could revolutionise the genre.
This leads on perfectly to Half-Life: Alyx. For years and years fans have been crying out for another game in the franchise and for so long there had been radio silence from Valve. Then, all of a sudden, Alyx returned. When asked what brought about the decision for Alyx we discovered it was the same drive for innovation that stopped them from making Half-Life 3. Walker explained thus:
"The problem we ran into after the Half-Life 2 episodes, as we tried to build more Half-Life, was we kept searching for a hook and it's really hard to build a Half-Life game without one. We would start to build one and in the process search for a hook and that's a scary and hard problem to solve because you have to face the prospect that you could do a year of work and then at the end of it still have nothing.
"So when Half-Life: Alyx started it wasn't because we wanted to build a Half-Life game," he continued, "it started because we wanted to build a VR game. And we start by doing what we always do, which is spending time using our existing IPs and codebases to try and explore a design space as quickly as possible. Pretty quickly we found out Half-Life was the one that worked best, so we ran with that.
"The difference working on this [Alyx] compared to previous Half-Life experiments was significant. You could have someone play that prototype and they would leave and know exactly what it was that we were trying to do and then start to write code or make art assets immediately because we just had to take everything that works in Half-Life and figure out how it has to mutate, change, and improve in VR. That's a much less scary problem than: go find some novel idea, that we don't know what is yet."
For the full interview with Valve, head here.