The secret to Half-Life: Alyx’s near-universal acclaim is… well, not as secret as you might think. Yes, the game surely had a budget much larger than any other VR game to date, but it’s far more than money that makes a great game.

In an interview with Half-Life: Alyx game designer Robin Walker, I got a glimpse of Valve’s game design process which felt intriguingly different from much of what I’ve seen elsewhere in VR game development. As Walker put it, creating Half-Life: Alyx was truly approached ‘one room at a time’.

The way we build Half-Life is unlike how we build our other games. The other games are sort of a service-multiplayer games […]. When we build Half-Life, we just build it one piece at a time… conceptually one ‘room’ at a time. And for each room a group of people sit there and they think: ‘what happens in this room that hasn’t happened in any of the previous rooms and fits into where we’re going with the next room?’ And then once you’re finished that process and you’re happy with it, you put it in front of some playtesters and see what happens, and you iterate on it, and then you go onto the next room. And you just do that until you’ve built the whole game.

It’s almost an ‘easy’ process… it’s a very fun process, because it involves a huge amount of just watching people repeatedly play the stuff you made—which was way more fun when working in VR than anything in previous games.

So rather than approaching the game’s structure from the top-down, starting with high-level gameplay concepts, as many seem to do, Valve really honed in on the gameplay of each room in the game, almost like creating a string of mini-games that were each designed to be interesting and fun. Crucially, this allowed the studio to regularly playtest discrete sections of the game—and then remix, rearrange, or even cut them as needed.

SEE ALSO
Loved 'Half-Life: Alyx'? Here's 10 Great VR Games to Try

Putting playtesters through each room regularly also allowed the developers to anticipate and react to what future players would do in instances where they found that many playtesters behaved the same; walker explains how watching playtesters helped Valve decide where to focus its development efforts in each room.

The thing that [this process of building rooms and playtesting] really allows you is to respond to what you’re seeing players do. I like to think of it like: you’ve got a [conceptual] ‘budget’ as a developer and the real choice is where you spend your ‘budget’, and your goal is to spend it in the place that generates the most value for the most players.

And the great thing about VR is that everyone seemed to react so similarly [in playtests] […]. Where in Half-Life 2 we might build a room—and there might be a vent on one side and some stuff on a bench or something—maybe 75% or 80% of players run through the room [without looking at anything] and 5 to 10% of the players explore one thing and another 5% of players explore another thing. [When only 5% of players are looking at those things] it’s hard to justify spending a little bit of time going ‘let’s give them a unique little piece of content or experience if they explore that thing’. But when we watched [players in] VR early on it was like ‘oh my god, everyone looks at the vent, everyone pokes their head under the desk’—then it became ‘oh great, now we can afford to put all that budget there’.

Among other things, many of the game’s contextual voice-lines were added only after seeing that many players would do (or even say) similar things as they played. Seeing that common behavior helped the developers decide where to spend their finite resources.

Walker said that this process—of testing, iterating, and testing again—created a feedback loop which explains why Valve decided to focus so much on extremely detailed environmental art.

There were areas of the game that were essentially art-passed fully multiple times. The section right after you go into the quarantine zone was the first area of the game we really built because it was [essentially the game’s tutorial]. We built it first and we tested it before it had any art, and then we put art in it, and then players explored more [because of the extra art], so we put more art in it, and then they explored more, so we put more art in it—and it was just sort of comical how much… you could do that forever it seems […]

Had Valve not observed that players responded positively as they enhanced the artwork, the studio would have spent far less time on that aspect.

For Valve, constantly running playtesters through the game was so critical to the game’s development process that the developers built tools to aggregate player data so that it could be reviewed to answer key questions about the game, like how much of the game’s useful objects (ammo, resin, health, etc) were players actually finding as they progressed.

Everything you find [in the game] has been hand-placed and chosen as to what it is. We’ve done multiple complete passes over the game about exactly what you find and where you find it. We stat-gather the heck out of it—we have a whole system for seeing… [for instance we would] gather the data from 10 playtesters and walk through the game linearly and see ‘alright, 10% of them picked up that one, and no one found that one, and these three people found that one…’ and be able to really track it.

So we did a lot more work on that than we’ve ever done before on any of our games to try to make that payoff; we have a specific experience we want to deliver in that—we want you to always feel like you have ammo, but never as much as you’d like. And that’s true of all the other things as well whether it’s health or resin, etc.

The deceptively simple part about building a game one room at a time is the seeming inelegance and constant playtesting throughout the design process. It’s the opposite of building high-level systems—like procedural planets, weapon archetypes, or dynamic daily objectives—and hoping for interesting gameplay to emerge. It’s the brute force approach to creating fun. Build a room. Test it. Is it fun? No? Fix it. Is it fun yet? No? Keeping testing and keep working on it until it is. And if it isn’t? Throw it out. Finally made a fun room? Time to make the next one.

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‘Stormland’ Behind-the-scenes – Insights & Artwork from Insomniac Games

The results of this process are clear. Half-Life: Alyx is demonstrably the most acclaimed VR game and even Half-Life game to date.

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  • Ad

    You should interview NimSony. He’s an experienced VR dev in the industry and he actually gave the game a scathing review, not as a game but as a VR game. And while I loved playing Alyx, I think he is probably right about most of what he says, and all of it has serious implications for the industry.

    • kuhpunkt

      What do you mean about serious implications for the industry? Just watched the review and found it… weird. He seriously complains about that combat, because all you can do is headshots. What?!

      • manhunt0r

        havent watched the video, but combat was by far the weakest part of alyx. you got headshots, occasional glowy bits on zombies and gas valves on combine, grenades and the obligatory red gas tanks.
        the end, you got no reason to shoot legs, arms or enemy weapons, no interactivity with level props unless you count gas tanks, you got only three weapons with the smg being very similar to the pistol.
        the ammo system was also garbage, you saved up your shotgun ammo all game long? fuck you, have near zero shotgun ammo spawns till you waste your shells to what valve deems low enough. you wasted all your ammo missing that one zombie? oh sure, have some mags in the next room.
        i only hope the editor release wont disappoint and modders give us some actually good gameplay with these lego blocks valve provided.

        • kuhpunkt

          What else are you supposed to shoot at? Do you aim at legs in Counter-Strike? Of course not. The head is the weak spot. Why would you shoot at enemy weapons?

          • Rob Farthing

            Sounds like some people want to complain and find fault in anything. Valve’s development was mostly based off playtesting feedback and tweaked to that. Alright it didn’t suit that NimSony guy’s tastes but they are probably 1 in 500 people who will find fault in a gameplay section.

          • Seanm57

            Totally agree. It’s an excellent game. There are some people that will genuinely not like a game no matter how great everyone else thinks it is. That’s fine and I won’t try to force anyone to feel otherwise. It’s all about what you enjoy most about VR. A lot of people get hung up on interaction. Melee combat. All those things. I just really appreciate polish and a gripping story. I don’t try to look into it like it’s the Oasis and get pissed because I can’t jump in an abandoned car and drive to City 16. Other people just don’t seem to ever be satisfied. Or perhaps their big thing is something like melee combat and even if that combat is super low budget with no story, they are totally satisfied.

            The good news for everyone’s favorite hobby is that most people absolutely love Alyx and that will help the industry.

          • Ad

            People expected a similar design philosophy to Half Life 3, and they didn’t get it. Nor does Alyx have as much to contribute to the industry, which we thought was the point of the game. That’s why people criticize, not to be controversial.

          • DanDei

            There are always some people trying their hardest to be controversial just so they are perceived as different. Always, everywhere. Can’t argue with them either. Just accept their inconsequential presence, don’t take their bait and move on with an eyeroll while you enjoy the thing they decided they can’t because it’s too much of a mainstream opinion.

          • NooYawker

            Yep. Being controversial or just going against the majority to try to stand out.

          • Ad

            Let’s not delegitimize other people in this space. Alyx was an amazing game. It also was built in a way that costs a massive amount of money and didn’t contribute a lot of tools or anything that the community can use or learn from. That’s disappointing and worth discussing.

          • Ad

            But that’s the problem. They were relying too much on feedback for a medium that was brand new and where the playtesters can’t actually tell you how to design the game. Alyx is a 2017 VR game done perfectly, making for an amazing experience, but if this became the model for all VR games that would be a huge problem.

          • manhunt0r

            in good games you get interactivity with the world and enemies via your tools/guns, not just deplete their hp bars. in mgs 2-3 did you forget about shooting bee hives, guard walkie talkies, legs to slow them down, arms to worsen their aim, cop weapons in gta4 forcing them to run away? all that made the enemies in those games much more real than the walking hp bars in alyx. even plenty of low brow zombie games allow you to cripple enemies for immediate advantages – that creates combat encounters that go beyond aim at head to end encounter. lightning dog doesnt count, its just that their head migrates.

          • kuhpunkt

            Comparing HL:A to Metal Gear Sold feels… weird. Could you make enemies in HL2 run away by hitting them with cop weapons?

          • manhunt0r

            examples were asked for, provide them i did. obviously most of that wouldnt work 1 to 1, though the movement or aim penalty for the heavy gunner combine would have been nice since as it stand you just play whack a mole shooting between his bursts. and at least in hl2 the combine ai was actually good, unlike the joke we got in alyx due to tp movement. the game also had a bit of interactivity with the gunships shooting down rockets.oh and hl2 also had a good arsenal, and superior level design. the more i think about it the less i can think positively of alyx.

          • kuhpunkt

            So you want to shoot heavy gunners in the knee… ?

          • ¬‿¬

          • ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

          • Seems like you expected way more than what HL2 did.
            Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more.

            Your expectations were pretty extreme for you to feel like this about the game.

            99% of the players(That reviewed this) love this game for a reason. You are getting in your own way of enjoying this game.

            Think not of what it could have been, but what it is. Play it w/ a fresh mind and lower expectations. You maybe surprised.

            Play after you get over what this game does not do.

            W/o limiting your expectations, you may find the number of VR games that you would play quite limiting.

          • Ad

            Enemies are supposed to move quickly, making a headshot a quick way to kill them that’s really hard. Here they take four shots to the head and a dozen to the body, making body shots not viable. In a half life game especially you should be able to shoot the headcrab to kill both the zombie and the headcrab, whereas here the headcrab still comes back either way. Also there are many games where you shoot limbs.

          • kuhpunkt

            And your point is what?

        • There wont be any serious implications as Alyx acts has the base for all great VR games.

          Take what they did and improve on it like brilliant modders do.

        • Ad

          I agree for the most part. I wish the weapon upgrades had allowed for more variety but they don’t really, and the laser sight turns the game into story mode. My one worry is that the lego blocks Valve provided are either too constrained or too hard coded for modders to do much with. Hopefully I’m wrong about that, but Alyx didn’t throw them too much.

      • Ad

        Have you played H3, Pavlov, Onward, etc? There are issues. Like a shotgun blast at point blank range doesn’t kill an enemy unless it’s their head, and the head crab still survives. Even though you have like no ammo. They intend for you to use burst fire on a pistol to get headshots which makes no sense. The combat revolves around getting a lot of headshots on enemies with body shots being pretty useless. It makes the combat less dynamic with enemies that don’t move.

        • kuhpunkt

          What does any of this have to do with anything?

          • Ad

            About the gunplay.

        • Funny, the combine came to my location often.

          Flanked quite a bit.

      • There wont be any serious implications as Alyx acts has the base for all great VR games.

        Take what they did and improve on it like brilliant modders do..

        • Ad

          No? Alyx is a step back in a lot of ways if you think it can be the base for all games.

          • W/ mods you’ll see for yourself it can after all the improvements cause thats what other devs shall do. Apply todays VR standards to the Alyx formula and make it their own.

      • Ad

        The implications are that it encourages a way of using VR that doesn’t go nearly far enough into actually using what makes VR truly unique, that is is built in a hardcoded way that is hard to emulate and doesn’t give modders or indies much more to work with, and that it could encourage AAAs to make similarly constrained games.

        • kuhpunkt

          That’s complete and utter nonsense. Just because one game does this stuff like here for an introductory game, doesn’t mean everybody will follow this.

          • Ad

            Again, it’s not that it’s too simple, it’s how the game is constructed.

          • kuhpunkt

            And because of that games never evolve?!

    • Adam Broadhurst

      Are people seriously suggesting amatuerish junk like Arizona Sunshine is superior to Halflife:Alyx because you can shoot body parts?

      Valve have just produced what PC VR is crying out for, a game of the same quality as the best traditional 2D games yet some people would clearly rather play the endless shite VR that infests Steam.

      • Ad

        What is your problem? The question is how Valve spent their huge budget. Did they make a base for the industry to build on, or a hand crafted experience only the most AAA can try and copy, with a lot of guard rails? If you just wanted a AAA game that showed VR could be awesome, sure. But Nimsony was looking for something that would take a lot of the best of VR and show what only VR could do.

        • Adam Broadhurst

          Valve made the best VR game currently available.
          Why the fuck are sad sacks like Nimsony moaning?
          He didn’t have a good thing to say about the game.
          Stunk of petty jealousy or an elitist/indie mindset to me
          “How dare these corporate big shots show us how to make a VR game”
          I’ve seen his efforts at VR and they are laughable yet he berates Valve like they are some sort of amateurs?

          And as far as the complaints about Alyx being linear, since when has linear gameplay been a problem?

          • Ad

            Sorry but if you’re going to go there then Alyx is a lot closer to mediocrity than you think, like Call of Duty, because it’s more experience than game. Regardless, he did an entire part 1 video where he talked about everything he liked and said it was an 8/10 game.

      • NooYawker

        Well let’s not disparage AZ either. It was one of the first and it was a pretty great game in it’s own right.

    • There wont be any serious implications as Alyx acts has the base for all great VR games.

      Take what they did and improve on it like brilliant modders do…

      • Ad

        Too much of it is hardcoded or hand built, that’s the problem.

  • Bumpy

    Valve made a safe, for the masses VR shooter with high production values.

    If you want depth, got elsewhere like Boneworks or Saint&Sinners.

    • Seanm57

      I actually feel like Saints and Sinners is done exactly the same way. Decent story with relatively small areas to explore 1 at a time coupled with resource management. It almost defines this room concept. Although Saints and Sinners gets a bit repetitive.

      • mirak

        I am sure people play it less because it’s scary, and not so easy.
        The high school is so scary ^^

        • NotMikeD

          But why would I ever go to the school? I played TWDSS all the way through, and after the credits rolled, I couldn’t believe a game with this level of depth, upgrade paths, etc.. ended as soon as it did, with so few quest givers and main quest-lines. The game never gave me a REASON to go to the school, outside of one basic quest-line in the gym. IMO this would be a much better game if they offered us some DLC that gave us things to do in this otherwise richly crafted semi-open world.

          • mirak

            Then play more like you want to enjoy a game, and less as if you want to beat it.

      • NooYawker

        I think Alyx is the best VR game created so far. But for replay value, I’ve played Saints and Sinners several times. It’s just fun stabbing zombies.

    • impurekind

      If you want a game that’s actually fun to control and play then choose Alyx over Boneworks every single time.

      • mirak

        If you want real puzzles, and awesome sceneries, go for Obduction.

        To me Obduction is still the most mindblowing VR game.

        • Charles

          I bought Obduction when it was new. It ran horribly on my mid-high-end graphics card, and the graphics were boring. So I got a refund. A couple years later, there was an offer to get the game for free, so I downloaded it again and ran it on my RTX 2080 Ti. STILL ran horribly and had boring graphics (even when maxed out). And a lot of the voice acting is completely non-compelling – sounded like they tried to save money by getting the HR department to read the lines from a script. This game was a huge disappointment to me, given how big a fan I am of the studio’s earlier game, “Riven”.

          • impurekind

            Yeah, Obduction was pretty cool for what it was but it ran bad on my setup too, which was pretty high-end when I got it, so I never really played it for too long (I did watch an entire play-through though). Maybe if it ran as well as Alyx I might have devoted more time to it. This is similar to Arizona Sunshine for me too, where I think the game is actually decent but it just doesn’t run smooth enough for me to want to play it for more than short bursts, and when not in it I don’t feel like going back to it because I know I never feel great playing it. Half-Life: Alyx is on another level though, and that’s even with some of the very best visuals I’ve seen in VR to date.

          • mirak

            You are too picky. You can’t afford that in VR.

            Half Life puzzles sucks.

          • impurekind

            Alyx proves you can afford that in VR. We don’t have to put up with clunky crap just because it’s a VR game, and, no, I don’t subscribe to this belief the just making everything a [janky] physics interaction = a superior game, and certainly not when it comes to actual fun. Boneworks is ambitious but almost a total mess imo, from the object control and interaction to even the most basic player movement in the world. Alyx, as far as I’m concerned, is about 1000 better a game at the core underlying gameplay design level than Boneworks is.

          • mirak

            It ran fine on my 1070 with i5 4690.
            I don’t see how the graphics where boring, it doens’t mean anything.

      • Ad

        Aren’t you a dev? Isn’t fairly clear how Alyx has a much more limited vision, more limited puzzles, pretty much everything? Do you really think that if Alyx had boneworks ambition it wouldn’t be a better game? Or if Boneworks had Alyx’s budget?

        • impurekind

          I feel that Boneworks fundamental vision is actually broken–the idea that building the entire game on pure “realisitic” [but actually quite janky] physics interactions, even on the player’s virtual legs and stuff, is the key to some kind of sublime VR experience–so, no, I don’t really think it having the budget and dev resources of Alyx would make it a better game ultimately, at least not in the ways that actually matter imo. But, Alyx adding in just a couple more of Boneworks interactions, such as being able to bash enemies with any objects you find, would make it even better. Of course, that’s only if Alyx doesn’t use the absolutely horrible laggy and wobbly physics on melee items that Bonework’s developers honestly believe is better than having weapons that actually move when the player swings and in proper 1:1 accuracy with how the player is swinging. Almost nothing about Boneworks is actually FUN to me, which should be the entire point of playing games as far as I’m concerned, whereas the exact opposite is true of Alyx to me,so in my opinion Alyx wins hands down.

          • Ad

            Puzzles in Alyx are simpler too. Keys are never more than 10 feet from the door. There are fewer weapons, fewer systems and interactions, guns control better in boneworks. Alyx is an amazing experience but when the xbox head said he played Alyx and didn’t think VR was ready for making it a priority, I believe that 100%.

          • impurekind

            In my experience literally nothing in Boneworks is better in terms of actually being fun. And having keys not too far from doors, fewer weapons, fewer systems and interactions are not actual issues–because more does not automatically equal better.

          • Ad

            “more does not automatically equal better.”

            This is disingenuous, a huge part of Alyx’s appeal is the sheer number of objects, the length of the game, the diversity of environments, come on.

          • impurekind

            And yet that’s not what makes it so much better than pretty much every single other VR game out there; it’s the sheer level of quality of the stuff that is in Alyx that makes the difference (the polish and execution, the level of presentation, the responsiveness and fluidity, the overall feel and the fun you have doing whatever stuff in the game).

            A game like Beat Saber is about as simple as it gets compared to Alyx, and yet that too is a stunningly fun game to play.

            Quantity is not the answer; quality is the answer.

            Remember the old adage about gameplay > graphics, well that’s true of gameplay over quantity too. So long as what’s there in and of itself polished in the other aspects, be it the visuals or audio or whatever, then it’s the underlying gameplay and controls and the way you play in the world that makes the difference between a game and an amazing.

            Boneworks is a game trying lots of shiny and fangly but ultimately clunky new stuff (most based around total physics interactions).

            Alyx is, however, simply an amazing game.

          • Ad

            No one is helped by worshipping Alyx like this. Play it a second time and then tell me this. It doesn’t have enough weapons, the most impressive interactions are hardcoded and show up once, the best part of the game is a fully scripted invincible enemy encounter that if you think for ten seconds you realize you can just walk two feet behind and he can’t hear you, there is no replayability from top to bottom since the weapons don’t act as you would have to assume and even little things like shooting a zombies head to kill both the headcrab and the zombie just don’t work, and on and on. I had a wonderful experience with the game but the idea that this is the best VR game is a dangerous thing to say that spits in the face of all the games that would be as good or better if they had the same budget as Alyx, and it risks making all the flaws of Alyx that Valve was able to hide become standard in the industry. Plenty of people are already attacking devs for their games not being as good as Alyx when that’s often nonsense in the first place. I think you’re wrong about Boneworks, I think that’s simply something where half of people love it and half of people hate it and I don’t think there’s a legitimate argument that just debunks what they tried. But if you’d listen you would hear that I’m not just saying the body physics or hand physics are the only thing that stands out compared but to Alyx. The puzzles are more ambitious, as are a lot of environments, and a lot of intractability in the environments that Alyx doesn’t try or only tries once. And everything from long range combat to other ways of completing the objective, and actual things to unlock. If Boneworks had had the budget of Alyx, or Alyx had had its ambition even in just the none body physics ways, that game would have been much much better. As for the accessibility problem, you can add things on top of the game that allow the brand new people to put on training wheels. Again Alyx didn’t do that, rather it just removed the back wheel and only put training wheels.

          • impurekind

            I am playing it a second time right now and I’m still saying the same: As a single player, linear, story driven experience, it is basically the pinnacle in VR right now, and nothing else in VR comes close to the all round level quality in terms of presentation, graphics, music and audio, sheer polish, brilliant world building, the atmosphere, and just the level of pure fun.

            If a game like Alyx is worthy of the praise it’s getting and for the reasons it’s getting it then no game in VR is as far as I’m concerned.

            Now, I’m not saying the game couldn’t do with stuff to offer much more replayability, like a 3D character gallery, a concept art gallery, maybe a developer commentary mode, maybe some cheats that could be unlocked by beating the different sections in the fastest times or something like that, possibly even some levels with a bit more scope for finding hidden areas and going off the beaten path down non-essential side routes that eventually lead back to the main route, and so on.

            But, for what it is, it is simply brilliant and as good as VR gets right now–and that praise from both critics and players backs me up on this.

          • Ad

            “presentation, graphics, music and audio, sheer polish, brilliant world building, the atmosphere,”

            I agree. However this is not all the pillars of a VR game. I also care about interactions, physics, combat, combat strategy, basic choices, rewards to gained skill and muscle memory, easter eggs, rising complexity, and so on.

            But a third time, I’m talking about what Valve could have done and comparing it to what other games would be with this talent and budget.

          • impurekind

            And Valve does most of those things you mention better than almost any other game in VR. Again, more is not equal to better; it’s about the quality of the execution. Bonework’s interaction and control and gameplay stuff is a clunky mess compared to Alyx’ in this way.

          • Ad

            No. It just doesn’t make sense to celebrate Alyx for what it doesn’t do.

          • impurekind

            Yes it does.

          • Ad

            No I mean it doesn’t make sense to celebrate it for areas where it doesn’t excel or hold up as much.

    • 0x

      If you want to focus solely on “simulation depth”, then yes, Boneworks goes deeper.. but I fundamentally disagree that it has more depth overall. It is more of a sandboxtech-demo type experience. and a less rich experience than Alyx in every single way other than its interactivity mechanics. This is not a knock on the game at all, because Boneworks achieves what it sets out to most excellently, and the developers just didn’t have Valve-level resources and staff to flesh out their game along other dimensions anywhere near as far as they pushed the interactivity.

      The strength of Alyx comes from how all the elements work together. It is greater than the sum of its parts. Alyx cohesively fuses together highly evocative art direction and graphics, finely honed physics and interactivity, immersive sound design, authentically realized characters you can empathize with, potent conjuring of tension, dread and awe, emotional story beats, and so on. They all serve each other, and serve to draw the player deeper and deeper into this world.

      Yes, Valve very consciously made sure the game was accessible rather than trying to make the “most hardcore” VR game. Boneworks and Alyx are setting out to accomplish different things. Accessibility does NOT equate to shallowness. This game is still pushing boundaries and innovating, just not with the same goal as Boneworks. Valve have threaded a needle by creating a game that can not only deliver a rich, memorable and potent immersive experience to enthusiasts, but also to first-time VR players. This is exactly what VR needs right now, and if we love this medium it should be easy to find some gratitude for Valve taking the approach that they have, even if they held back on the simulation depth to keep things more polished and accessible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an enthusiast interested in experiencing the most boundary-pushing, intense and edgy VR gameplay! That’s just not the only kind of accomplishment that matters. It’s most certainly not the only kind of depth that matters.

      It might be tempting as a gamer to look down on games which are easy or more streamlined because you are such a wicked badass (a lot of gamers see casual games this way, for instance), but a more grounded evaluation will not only recognize the exceptional quality of the work, but also its importance in showing the world at large that VR tech has now evolved to the point where almost anyone can put on a headset and go on a stunning cinematic adventure that will conjure strong and diverse feelings and emotions, rather than it just being a niche experiment solely for the most “hardcore” gamers and novelty-seekers.

      Haven’t played Saints and Sinners, but I appreciate the recommendation and look forward to checking it out.

      • Wonder how long an essay written by you would be.

    • Hacker4748

      Right? Boneworks has such a deep story, interesting characters and rich world, it’s amazing!

      • NooYawker

        Bumpy, he’s being sarcastic, I’m sure you couldn’t tell.

    • Ad

      I love how people are attacking Boneworks so hard when its budget was a hundredth of Alyx. I don’t even think it’s as good of a game and think the level design is mediocre but I can still recognize that if it had the same budget it would destroy Alyx as a game, if not as an experience.

  • wheeler

    VR is changing not just interaction mechanics but the density at which artists can flesh out games. This is yet another reason why flat and VR development are at odds with each other.

    • mirak

      I kind of disagree.
      In VR you can have fun just watching your virtual hands and looking under a desk, and this helps to create new game plays, that’s true.
      But if you take a straight port like Serious Sam VR first encounter, there is nothing to visit, no gameplay that is special to VR, beside akimbo guns, and it’s super fun.

      Also many people complained about Skyrim about beeing a dumb port, but that’s still one of the top selling games in VR, I just saw that yesterday.

      • So great to have ports indeed.

        Especially when most VR devs are focused on casual experiences and most VR games are short.

        Even if they dont have the built for VR feel.

      • Leon Sparrow

        Serious SamVR was trash. I refunded that.

        • mirak

          what the fuck are you talking about, it’s awesome

          • drowhunter

            have to agree with Ad there :)

      • Ad

        I would be more than fine with content ports, but I wish the interactions and gameplay of Fallout 4 VR were a lot better, and that the game came optimized instead of taking a few hours of modding.

    • NooYawker

      I don’t agree with that. I love VR but I still enjoy flat games. I mean how many VR users could stand playing Doom Eternal in VR? It’s such a fast crazy game.

      • I already played DOOM BFG VR.

        My stomach is ready !!!

        • mirak

          Same here.
          I have to try BFG again, because the first iterations made me sick, because of some bugs.

      • Adrian Meredith

        That’s true but the sad thing is most of doom eternals environments are superfluous and unnoticed. I would love to go through those environments in vr.

        Imagine glory kills in vr where you are the one that actually rips and tears. Would be epic

        • Pablo C

          Yeah but VR is not as fast as a mouse. It is a different gameplay.

          • mirak

            This remains to be proven as in VR you can fire with both hands, in different directions, and by looking elsewhere.
            Throwing and distance appreciation should be better.

            It’s not my fault that they don’t let me see if I get sick by playing Doom 2016 and Eternal with the movement habilities as mouse en keyboard.

            In Serious Sam it was possible, there is no issue.
            Also there is a good VR mode for Doom 3 BFG, I don’t see what the VR slower is about.

            When you play Pavlov in multiplayer gun game it’s very fast.

          • Pablo C

            Doom got way faster in the last 2 games. I don´t think it was as fast in Doom 3 or before.
            May be it remains to be seen, we´ll see. But I guess you have played Doom VFR, where the speed is similar to that of the flat version. However, can you “feel” the same level of agility, that you achieve in Doom flat? I personally don´t but then I might be too old, which again, puts the mouse over the VR for fast games.
            I love VR and I love Immersion, I just think it might be too immersive, too real, for the unrealistic speed of Doom.

          • mirak

            Doom Eternal is played with a joypad on console.
            I guess you never though about that.
            Please explain me how aiming with a joypad is faster than aiming in VR.
            It’s certainly not faster, though the game is sold on console.

            If you feel less agile in DOOM VFR than in DOOM, it’s because they limited the speed.

      • Ad

        Obviously flat games will last for a long time just as 2D games have, but I think movement shooters are possible in VR.

      • mirak

        The shift teleport in Alyx is faster than movements in Doom, and it doesn’t make people sick.

        The locomotion in Arizona Sunshine makes me sick, but the faster one in Pavlov or Alyx doesn’t make me sick.

        The super fast shift in Serious Sam VR doesn’t make me sick either.

        What matters is that the game is super fluid I think.

      • drowhunter

        I agree with you in that VR and flat games coexist. There are times I feel like VR and times i just want to sit down and play FF& remake. What I disagree with you on is this assumption on what I can “handle” in VR. It is becoming a real pet peeve. They said the same stupid thing about Grip VR that it would be impossible nobody could handle that. Well guess what the finally added VR and i haven’t stopped playing and I never got sick once.

      • Hhotelconsult

        They can both exist. Internet didn’t kill TV, and TV didn’t kill radio.

  • impurekind

    Pretty much the same way I build me own games.

    • Good for you, now try to make your games look almost as good as Alyx.

      Alyx makes me feel like I’m in the world at 500% SS. Very real feeling.

      Feels soooooooooooooooo real.

      Heck, it’d be nice if ya tell other devs too. Graphics is FAR more important in VR than on flatscreen.

      Its everything for immersion.

      • impurekind

        I only wish I could make my games look and even play that good.

  • Moe Curley

    No wonder they enjoyed making it. That process sounds like a game in itself.

  • I’m sure there has been a long phase of high-level design as well. You don’t design a game one room at a time. You can optimize one room at a time, but you should have a high-level overview built before… because to design what room you are in, you must have already a story written, and a path of the player written

    • Ad

      If you look at the trailers, the rooms are not connected the way they are in the game. I absolutely believe that this game was built room by room and then stuck together. We know the story was redone anyway.

  • jacobpederson

    This explains all those drawers that were open just enough to see the resin in them. I still checked every single closed drawer tho :P

  • MadMax1998

    Gee, it’s as if regular playtesting made games better. You hear that, EA? Bethesda? PLAYTEST YOUR GAMES!

    While playing HLA, I subconsciously felt all the things Robin talked about — ammo and health not being a real issue but always feeling “I could have more”, finding new pickups just when I needed them, and the fact that around every corner there was something to do, some kind of task. Keeping players engaged in VR is important since it keeps them from noticing physical fatigue or getting bored with nothing else to look at. That said, some pancake games could also use some of that design philosophy…

  • Nathan Benkhe

    Seeing their process described explains why I’ve found HL:Alyx to be so much fun. It brought me back to my youth playing sidescroller games like Mario. I think this has to be the way they’d develop old school games so I don’t think its a new idea. I found myself beating sections of the game, then just for the fun of it reloading, and doing it again, and again. Each time just having so much fun seeing how dynamically different each encounter would play out depending on where I decided to take cover, which weapons I’d use. I’ve never in my life played a shooter in this way. Now I’m playing through it a second time. Having more fun than the first time with the combat.

  • Jonathan Winters III

    That’s the way it should be done. Procedural generation is basically a cheap way to create large populated worlds that look pretty, but because there’s little hand-crafted care put into those experiences, and it’s much less engaging.

  • Braycen Jackwitz

    That’s…. pretty much how most games are made. The difference between this and other VR games just comes down to money. They have a much bigger budget so they can afford to spend more time iterating on small things, they can afford to stuff their levels with more art, they can afford to record more voice lines, etc. It’s not like they have some secret design process that other VR games lack, they’ve just got the money to polish and scale.

    • Adam Broadhurst

      Or,Valve are an extremely talented bunch who have created some of the best games in history.

    • Pablo C

      Not only they have money: the main point is: they don´t care about money. Otherwise they would have make it flat.

  • Anton Qvarfordt

    I don’t think there is really any big secret to building great games… That you can ‘crack’… You just have to be really good at building (technically, and in terms of ‘art’) and evaluating experiences soberly.

    At least in terms of Single Player games I don’t think it’s at all unique the approach they had.. It’s how it’s done.. Their just really good at it.

  • Trenix

    I disagree that’s what made the game fun. And honestly, while the game was probably the most fleshed out VR game, I expected more. For example, it’s obvious that the game was intended for teleportation, which is old school VR locomotion. I’ve also noticed that the rooms which were the biggest, seem to have performance issues. Maybe it wasn’t properly optimized, or maybe VR is just not ready yet for these kind of games.

  • Onyx Blue

    The depth of interaction possible with VR- is unlike another other medium. Likewise, the emotional connection to the gameplay is – phenomenal. Valve got it ALL right- they understand very clearly their audience, they understand what “works”- like the delight people take in their attention to detail and brilliant character work, the best sound effects and proprietary psychics based audio, custom effects that small studios cannot realise.

    This world would suck without Valve and VR- they are masters- and I am extremely excited they ‘hear’ and took the right direction. Everything in HL: Alyx- is something that can be built upon.

    It changed Virtual Reality forever- and has cemented this technology as the future of gaming- amongst a multitude of other uses- People are beginning to finally understand just how LARGE AR/VR/XR is- and the role it plays in our lives this decade.

    There will always be “screen” game too. No reason they cannot exist. I love a good indie on a projector- but when I want a REAL experience- out comes the the Vive Pro/ High end RTX- goodbye Kansas.