Valve responses from their recent AMA on Reddit (minus all of the meme responses and the snack questions):
When Half-Life: Alyx releases, will we be getting the full Source 2 SDK, or will we be getting a more limited authoring tools-type deal which only allows us to make content for Half-Life: Alyx’s workshop?
We’re not currently planning on shipping a full SDK. We’d really like to release one at some point, but it’s a ton of work because Source 2 is a new toolset, much of which hasn’t been previously released. Any time we spend on it now is also time we could be spending on polishing the game itself, which we think is more important. As a result, we thought it wasn’t appropriate to promise anything before release.
Generally, this is how we’ve done SDKs in our previous Source 1 titles as well – making the game takes precedence, and after that’s done, we start looking at what’s next.
You seem confident in releasing the game on time. How much, would you say, of the game is done? I’m worried about Valve Time kicking in.
With the exception of some tweaks to the absolute final scene, the game is done. 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.)
If Alyx’s voice actor was recast, will we ever know why?
We worked with Merle at the beginning of HL:A development, but in the end, felt we wanted to go in a different direction. We love Merle, her work in Half-Life 2 was instrumental in bringing Alyx to life, and we hope to work with her again in the future.
Are we gonna get a gameplay reveal anytime soon?
Yes, it’s our plan to release gameplay videos in the leadup to launch. Our intention is to use these to showcase not just gameplay elements, but also VR-specific elements like different movement options.
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?
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.
Will Half-Life: Alyx be dubbed in other languages ?
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.
So does this confirm Chell was physically mute and not refusing to speak out of principle? I’ve heard both and was never sure.
Yeah, in our head, she could talk and just chose not to. But, we acknowledged that she wasn’t speaking in a way marc never really did in hl. None of the characters expected Chell to talk.
How many people are working on Half-Life Alyx?
Right now it’s around 80 people, which puts it as the largest single team we’ve ever had at Valve.
Was Half Life Alyx the main reason you decided to open up communications with the community more? Are you expericning any problems that you might have to delay for (without going into details)? This month seems to really be delay month because of Cyberpunk and FF7 remake. What is the most exciting mechanic you can talk about without spoiling anything?
Hey SmanDaMan Jamaal here.. we always enjoy speaking with the community. Our games like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike have a long history of ongoing communication with their players. For HL:A, our first single-player campaign in several years, we wanted to be able to speak to the community in a different way than we do with our service games. That prompted much of the recent work we’ve done on social media and other venues like the new HL:A site. It was a great opportunity to widen our outreach as Valve more broadly.
The team is working diligently and we are on track to deliver HL:A on our announced released date. It’s an exciting time.
We don’t want to spoil too much of the game, but my personal favorite mechanic is being able to grab and manipulate so many different things with my hands
Did Kelly Bailey return to do the music?
Dave here (Sound Designer) –
Music on HL:A is being done by Mike Morasky (Portal 2, TF2, more!), and I know he’s talked with Kelly quite a bit about his approach to the music of Half-Life. So you’ll probably hear some of that come through but in Mike’s unique style.
Will the game feature a developer commentary similar to that seen in previous titles?
Thanks Super_Smol. We did answer the SDK question above.
We are huge fans of commentary and definitely plan on producing it for HL:A, but it’s unlikely that will have it in for launch day.
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!
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.
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.
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.
In HL: Alyx, what aspects of the previous Half-Life games did you make sure to include, and what are some things you felt the need to change? (Apart from VR obviously)
Hey Boldhams… We did include many of our favorite creatures from the previous games with some interesting twists, but we don’t want to spoil too much of what you will be experiencing in HL:A.
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.
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.
The trailer implies that the player character will be voiced for the first time in a Half-Life game. Is that the case and, if so, did it affect the way you approached narrative design, dialogue and npc interactions? Does the above represent a deliberate shift in design ethos away from “blank slate” player characters like Gordon Freeman?
This is Wolpaw: I personally prefer writing games where the viewpoint character speaks. We made the silence of the protagonist into a joke in the Portals, but you only get to pull that gag once. I had a lot fun writing for the left 4 deads where the characters were all little chatterboxes, so if I had my way we wouldn’t do any more silent protagonists. That said, the I don’t get my way as often as I deserve so who knows what’s going to happen.
Are HL:A using the Steam Audio HRTF?
We’re using Steam Audio HRTF, DSP, and occlusion in HL:A. Having the SA development team in the same building has been really beneficial to the audio team since we’ve been able quickly iterate with them on feature requests and performance issues.
Will we be seeing any familiar faces that we haven’t already seen in the trailer?
When are you going to show Gordon’s ponytail again? We haven’t seen the back of Gordon’s head in any of the games in nearly 20 years now.
It was 1998, we all had bad haircuts. I don’t think we need to continue punishing Gordon for all our hairstyle sins.
12 years of Valve not mentioning Half-Life. Not putting out any new swag or toys or shirts or art or things for fans to buy. No celebrations of its anniversaries with the community.
What changed within the culture of Valve that suddenly you not only mention Half-Life but artists start putting out art, Valve gets and becomes active on Twitter, and you announce a new game.
What turned Valve from an essentially allergic-to-Half-Life company that’s quiet and doesn’t talk directly to us fans about the IP into someone hosting an AMA right here?
Hi MontyAtWork! 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 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. Once Half-Life: Alyx became a reality internally, it was already clear to us that this was something we wanted to involve the community in. We’re going to be doing more of this in the next few weeks as we prepare to launch it! (Oh, and the actual first rule of Half-Life? There must be a train in the game, or we legally cannot ship it- at least according to Wolpaw in a previously answered question here.)
Why did you decide to have boring, flat and simple ceilings like for example in the apartments hallway?
Did the boring ceilings got any better since the last time we saw them from the trailer?
func_boring_ceiling is a hallmark of the Half-Life series. We did significant playtesting and iteration to make them more boring than ever, which was a particular challenge in VR, where even the most boring surface takes on the sheen of novelty and delight.
The Half-Life: Alyx website states that Hammer will be updated with VR tools and components. What other features, if any, will be added to improve Hammer? Will it be possible to make community content in Source 2 for other Source 1 games such as CS:GO, L4D2, and TF2? Or will the new editor be Half-Life: Alyx exclusive? I look forward playing around with Source 2!
This is Corey, a level designer here. Hammer in Source 2 has been overhauled from the ground up. Everything from how geometry is built and textured to how asset creation is done has been improved to increase the speed and ease at which we can build and iterate on levels.
One big feature for us on HL:A was the addition of a system similar to layers, where individual map files from multiple level designers, environment artists, and sound designers are combined into a single map. This had a huge impact on how many disciplines could get their hands into each map, which resulted in a much denser level of content throughout the game.
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
Can you catch a headcrab in a bucket, or put a bucket on a headcrab for it to cluelessly wander around?
You can put a bucket on a headcrab, and it’ll move the bucket as it crawls around. Playtesters all keep reporting it as a bug.
Hi! How did you create some of the more gruesome sounds of the game?
Most of the gore is based on meat and vegetable recordings, with some condiment recordings as well.
We’ve also killed a lot of Zombies.
Will there be gameplay enhancements for the finger tracking on the Index controllers?
Index controller finger-tracking allows for greater player expression and more opportunities for fine-grained engagement with the world. But the game was tested with all major VR solutions throughout development to ensure full compatibility for all required interactions.
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)?
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.
Does the combine make use of Dyson Spheres (or related star-absorbing) technology? And how do the citadels arrive? Are they dropped from space, or teleported in?
For the Citadel, The fiction we went with involved the citadel’s full height core being teleported in place, like a giant spear in the ground. The combine then build around this core fleshing it out from gathered resources, which is how you see it in the trailer. An under construction citadel was useful visual cliche that helped establish an earlier timeline than HL2.
- Regarding Half-Life: Alyx other than Eli, The G-Man will we see other familiar faces from the overall HL series?
- What is the overall thoughts at Valve regarding community works when it comes for Half-Life? With such titles like Project Borealis, Boreal Alyph Black Mesa, A Place in the West, Echoes, Entropy Zero and etc. Do you see something similar with Half-Life: Alyx in the future with fan made content?
- With this being the first big return to the series in over 12 years how has this endeavour impacted the team overall? Will you guys be comfortable developing more Half-Life games within the future if Alyx goes well?
Jamaal here… It’s been great to work on these classic characters and seeing them in VR has really excited everyone on the team. The HL:A trailer gave you a taste of what is coming, but we are avoiding spoiling too much at this point.
When it comes to the work the community does around the HL Series, we are humbled by the affinity and creativity that people have for the story and characters. We hope everyone will be as excited with Alyx’s journey in HL:A. Returning to HL has been extremely motivating. We have a lot of affection for the universe and characters, and personally I am proud to be helping build on something so iconic. The team has many of the original HL developers and a lot of new creative people who have made some integral additions to HL:A and the overall HALF LIFE storyline.
I don’t know what we will do next with HL, but I’m looking forward to what you all think of HL:A.
How much content and replayability is there
Playtesters have taken a similar amount of time to complete Half-Life: Alyx as they did to complete Half-Life 2. The games are comparable in terms of total amount of content.
- 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?
Physical merch is something we want to do more of. We plan to have some of it available before release.
Working on HL:A before we announced it was pretty worrisome. I have a teenage son, 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. On the team we joked that releasing the game was much less scary than announcing it. But in the end, we are very happy with how it’s been received, and we’re really excited to get it finished and into your hands.
Do you guys have a soundtrack planned for release with the game or will it be released at a later date? Always loved half-life music.
Its on our radar
In the Labs; one of the orb room was stripe out before it was released on Steam. According to the datamining, it laid the foundation of what we think is HL:A. What was the element that cause the team to remove it? Was it the Grabvity gun?
Yep, one of the various internal prototypes that led to HL:A was a slice of HL-style gunplay in The Lab. Geoff has told us he wants to cover some of those prototypes more in his Final Hours of HL:A.
Hi guys! Huge fan here! I was wondering if you were able to tell us what design changes from the previous Half-Life games you made. We see that there are different looks for the Combine soldiers and some different enemies.
Were there any drastic changes to the look of the Half-Life universe?
There was a process of upresing some familiar assets from HL2. During this process, we were always looking for opportunities to add more detail and leverage VR interactions, and pack as much world building into those new detail as possible. The health charger you see in the trailer is a good example of this, we tried to do this wherever possible, whilst honoring the original designs.
Thanks, Half-Life: Alyx team!