The Valve team has conducted an AMA session on Reddit and we were able to get some detailed answers about Half-Life: Alyx for VR.
Below are some of the questions and answers that we have received from the post.
Question by SterlingFM_
- How are Barnacles a threat in VR? Do they pull the player upwards or do they kill you instantly to avoid player discomfort?
- Will there be any call backs to original Combine Soldier and CP officer designs from HL2?
- Do creatures react to audio that the player creates? As seen in the trailer with the mysterious new creature that scurries away after hearing Alyx move a bucket.
- Is a limb dismemberment/body damage system in the game? Similar to systems used in L4D2.
- For the smooth locomotion option, will it also support VR jumping? Thank you, I am greatly looking forward to the game!
Answer by Valve
- Yes, 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.
- 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.
- As with audio, limb dismemberment is not a factor in most combat encounters—but there is a very notable exception.
- Because the game includes the ability to mantle in continuous motion, you don’t need often need to jump. 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.
Question by kimilil
- How much fidelity have been added to the engine to make the in-VR experience feels closer to real life than previously? I mean things like texture resolution, materials definition, soundscapes and sound propagation/processing, maybe cues and hints in object and prop definition e.g. door/box/mug handles. Also things like animation adaptation to collisions with the world/environment and cloth simulation.
- How much has the revamped SDK tools helped streamline development? Have you made measurements comparing time taken to construct a level to a certain specs in Source vs Source 2 (for VR)?
- Any thoughts on mobility and accessibility issues in the emerging VR space? How about the ease of entry (plus learning curve) into the VR scape for somebody with zero prior gaming experience?
- How much variety can we expect from the filler NPCs in terms of modeling and voicelines? Are they reprising the settled role of citizen/rebel like in HL2 or can we expect more variety? Are there child NPCs now that the game takes place closer to the 7hr war? How much more lived-in is the setting of HL:A (e.g. people seen doing jobs instead of just walking down the streets?)
- Weapons selection from Tested’s demo footage seem to rely on selection wheels, and an earlier answer hints that the game is basically complete. Any thought of implementing more realistic weapon selection system like boneworks (which may come later as updates if so needed?)
- Game units fixed yet? Or are we still disproportionately short?
Answer by Valve
Dave here (Sound Designer) – A short and incomplete list of audio features we’ve added or improved for HL:A –
*Soundscape system improved to be more fully integrated with the audio system as a whole.
*Our music system is new.
*Numerous Steam Audio improvements. *Huge amount of work on the lower level audio systems. *New tools for mixing and implementing sounds.
From a Sound Design perspective we’ve had to change how we think about the sounds we make and implement. A lot of things are the same as making a traditional game, good art/sound is good in VR as well, but there are new factors as well. A main one for me was figuring out ways of making environments sonically interesting for players who want to take their time and explore, which happens much more frequently in VR.
Question by kageurufu
- Has the Alyx team experimented with using an Inverse Kinematics for showing full player arm/bodies in game? If so, why did you decide not to include this in the game (or at least in the trailers)?
- Playing HL2 and the massive variety of Source mods over the years was a huge part of growing up. Can you comment on whether a Source 2 SDK will be available (either at release of the HL:A Hammer editor, or potentially later in the games lifecycle)?
- Can we get some new physical merch? I never bought a Headcrab Hat when they were in stock, and would love a re-stock of those too!
- How much were you able to tell your family/friends about what you were actually doing at work during development of the game? How do you feel about the “new” Valve, with a dedicated PR and social media person, and so far a more open and communicative approach towards game development and marketing? And did you find the announcement of the game to be relieving; did you get the response you expected or wanted from the community?
Answer by Valve
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.
Question by joelecamtar
Among the testers, did any of them ever have to remove the headset, out of fear or disgust for the zombies / horror atmosphere?
Like most of us here, I only tried VR in public areas and non-violent games so I really don’t know what to expect regarding that matter.
Ravenholm was so scary when I was younger (sorry PEGI), and going through this was a real achievement for me back then.
Anyway, I really hope i can get my Index in time for the release. And thanks for bringing back Half Life.
Answer by Valve
Tristan here, 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 navigate on the 2d 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.
Question by YabbaTroll
- In the announcement trailer you can see Alyx use a cool jury rigged one-handed shotgun. I love it, but the choice to make the games shotgun weapon one handed seems like a strange choice unless all guns are one handed. Will there be 2 handed weapons in game? Possibly multiple weapons that take the same ammo? like the classic half life spaz with the new handheld shotgun already seen?
- How will inventory management of weapons/ammo work? Games like H3VR, Boneworks, and Pavlov VR all use similar systems where items can go into different slots on your body depending on their size, but with the large amount of different weapons one picks up throughout half life campaigns these might not be adequate. How will our Alyx carry all her guns and switch between them?
- The Source 2 SDK is said to be coming with the release of HL:A. Although Alyx itself does not have multiplayer how easy would it be to create multiplayer vr games in the SDK?
Answer by Valve
Our weapons all require only one hand, but they can be optionally grabbed and steadied by your offhand. 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.
We have a few systems for inventory and weapon selection, all designed with the goal of keeping the players eyes on the environment as much as possible. 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.
Question by ormagoisha
- How involved was Marc Laidlaw with HLA? Rumour has it that there was a bit of a falling out internally. Has he consulted on the story for HLA recently?
- Did Kelly Bailey return to do the music?
- How much did Half Life 1 influence the VR title? Obviously there is a Half Life 2 feel to this game, but there are plenty of us who miss some of the HL1 feel.
Answer by Valve
We’ve never been able to figure out where the rumors of us falling out with Marc came from, because there’s no truth to it. He’s been super generous with his time throughout the development of HL:A, answering many questions from Erik, Jay, and Sean as they hammered away on the story. As is always the case with Marc, we send him an email, and he sends us a response, and then roughly 40 more replies to his own email.
Several of the HL:A team members worked on HL1. There are some things we think we did better in HL1 than HL2, so we did go back to look at it again. As an example of that, the soldier AI in HL1 was something we looked at carefully during the development of the Combine Soldiers in HL:A.
Question by worldwithpyramids
Do you feel Half-Life: Alyx has changed tonally from the original Half-Life games (more light-hearted, more humorous)? Additionally, does a speaking player-character fundamentally change the way the game is written and designed in any significant ways?
Answer by Valve
This is Wolpaw: I don’t think it’s changed dramatically. Honestly, though, I think the half life games are closer in tone to the portal games than they are to, say, The Last of Us. I spent a part of every day for 13 years talking to Laidlaw about writing. And the authors that inspired him like Frederic Brown and Robert Sheckley and crime writer Charles Willeford are all known for darkly comedic takes on genre fiction. Hell, he even named a character in ep2 after Sheckley.
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.
Question by illusdidi
Will Half-Life: Alyx be dubbed in other languages ?
Answer by Valve
We will be doing subtitles at launch for ten total languages: English, French, German, Spanish-Spain, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish-Latin America, and Traditional Chinese. VO in other languages is something we’re still considering.