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Half-Life: Alyx Developer Team AMA

Valve did an AMA regarding Half-Life: Alyx right on reddit over at /r/HalfLife today.


Valve did an AMA regarding Half-Life: Alyx right on reddit over at /r/HalfLife today.

The team answering questions consists of Robin Walker, Jamaal Bradley, David Feise, Greg Coomer, Corey Peters, Erik Wolpaw, Tristan Reidford, Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, and Kaci Aitchison Boyle. They answered questions for an hour.

We've compiled most of the questions and answers below, excluding answers about the pink cookies.

/u/Geozach22 asks: Will there be A train ride In Half-Life: Alyx?

It's actually illegal to ship a Half-Life game if you don't spend at least a little time riding in a train.

/u/SmashLurks asks: 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.

/u/rojahel asks: 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?

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.

/u/TholGamingIs asks: 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.)

It's our plan to release gameplay videos in the lead up to launch. Our intention is to use these to showcase not just gameplay elements, but also VR-specific elements like different movement options.

/u/Nobiting asks: 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.

/u/illusdidi asks: 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.

/u/Nobiting asks: 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.

/u/SmanDaMan asks:

  1. Was Half-Life Alyx the main reason you decided to open up communications with the community more?
  2. Are you experiencing 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.

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.

/u/ormagoisha asks: Did Kelly Bailey return to do the music?

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.

/u/worldwithpyramids asks: 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.

/u/etbillder further asks: 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.

/u/valvenewsnetwork asks: What percentage are your announced locomotion & comfort features at? How will the team be implementing a seated mode if the game has not been designed for such a mode? Where is Smooth Locomotion at, and what is left for it?

Our locomotion and comfort features are all done, including things like Seated, Left-Handed mode, etc. We have almost all our accessibility work done as well, but there's a little bit more we'd like to do there (support for one armed play, for instance).

We'll be talking about and showing more of our various locomotion options in some upcoming videos.

/u/SterlingFM_ asks:

  1. How are Barnacles a threat in VR? Do they pull the player upwards or do they kill you instantly to avoid player discomfort?
  2. Will there be any call backs to original Combine Soldier and CP officer designs from HL2?
  3. 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.
  4. Is a limb dismemberment/body damage system in the game? Similar to systems used in L4D2.
  5. 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.

/u/joelecamtar asks: Among the testers, did any of them ever have to remove the headset, out of fear or disgust for the zombies / horror atmosphere?

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.

/u/Boldhams asks: 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?

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.

/u/ormagoisha asks:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

/u/Bychop asks: Does HL:A use the Steam Audio HRTF?

We're using Steam Audio HRTF, DSP, and occlusion in HL:A. Having the Steam Audio 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.

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.

/u/PM_BODYPARTS asks: 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?

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.

/u/MontyAtWork asks: 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.

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.)

/u/YabbaTroll asks: In the announcement trailer [...] all guns are one handed. Will there be 2 handed weapons in game? How will inventory management of weapons/ammo work? How will Alyx carry all her guns and switch between them?

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.

/u/Nobiting asks: 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.

/u/kageurufu asks: 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.

/u/Zypl0x_XD asks: 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.

/u/Chronikkk asks: 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.

/u/kikoano asks: Why did you decide to have boring, flat and simple ceilings like for example in the apartments hallway?

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.

When is Prospero releasing?

Robin here: Greg still talks about it daily. We just nod and pretend we're listening.

Is Ricochet 2 still in development?

Greg here: Robin still talks about it daily. We just nod and pretend we're listening.

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