With the release of Half-Life: Alyx, the first single player game from Valve in nine years, the studio has teased that it’s getting back into the swing of making new games. Tyler McVicker, the voice behind the YouTube channel Valve News Network, believes Valve’s next game is codenamed ‘Citadel’ and based on an asymmetric PC vs. VR structure.
Though McVicker’s work deciphering Valve’s plans often involves rumor and speculation, there’s generally a basis to the claims derived from data-mined info pulled from various Valve game tools and updates. Before the announcement of Half-Life: Alyx in 2019 he was spot-on with a handful of details about the game, including the time-period between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, Alyx as the player-character, and even the inclusion of the Gravity Gloves.
Now McVicker’s sleuthing leads him to believe that Valve’s next game is codenamed ‘Citadel’. Rather than a VR-only single-player adventure like Half-Life: Alyx, ‘Citadel’ is thought to be a multiplayer game that pits PC against VR players with asymmetric gameplay.
An ‘asymmetric’ game is one where players take on wholly different roles from one another. VR games are ripe for this kind of game design (like Panoptic) because of the unique interactive capabilities of VR compared to a controller or keyboard & mouse.
In the case of ‘Citadel’, McVicker thinks the asymmetry involves one side having a top-down view of the map with the ability the spawn AI enemies, while the other side would likely be down on the map fighting the enemies up close and personal. Exactly which role would be in VR and which would be on a regular flat screen isn’t entirely clear, though he reasons that the VR player could be the top-down enemy spawner, considering early AR experiments Valve had done where an AR user played the role of Left 4 Dead’s ‘Director’ (the system which controls the action on the map).
Before the release of Alyx, it would have been reasonable to think that ‘Citadel’ might have simply been a level in Alyx that takes places in the Combine’s Citadel (the monolithic structure in the middle of City 17). However, Alyx launched without such a level. Further, McVicker says that shaders for the ‘Citadel’ project have been updated after the release of Alyx.
Another clue he points is found in The Final House of Half-Life: Alyx, a behind-the-scenes book exploring the making of the game (which also touched on several other VR projects Valve was working on). The end of the book teases what the studio might be up to next:
Others wonder if more VR games might be in the future, as Valve continues to push further into the VR hardware space. Maybe there will be surprises as well, including a top-secret new project that another small team at Valve has been working on since the first part of 2018.
McVicker says he was able to confirm that this “top-secret new project” was indeed referring to ‘Citadel’.
And while the name ‘Citadel’ implies the Half-Life universe, McVicker says he hasn’t seen any evidence that the project has been attached to an IP yet. Rather, he thinks the game could be a good fit for the Team Fortress 2 IP, given that its ‘Mann vs. Machine’ mode already pits AI bots against real players.
While the clues are certainly interesting, if there’s one thing we know about Valve it’s that its game development process is rarely straightforward. ‘Citadel’ could very well never see the light of day, or wind up turning into something else entirely. And we shouldn’t forget that the end of Half-Life: Alyx already gave a very unambiguous tease that there’s more Half-Life to come in the future.