It was big news back in 2017 when Valve announced that it was working on “three full [VR] games, not experiments.” It wouldn’t be until late 2019 that one of the three was revealed as Half-Life: Alyx. But what of the other two? A new book that goes behind-the-scenes at Valve reveals the fate of those projects.

The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx is the latest behind-the-scenes book from game journalist & MC Geoff Keighley. Presented as an interactive e-book available on Steam, the work is an insightful look into Valve’s unorthodox inner workings and the events that preceded the launch of the studio’s first full-blown VR title, Half-Life: Alyx.

As we now know, Alyx launched to critical acclaim, making its mark as one of the best Steam games ever. But if Alyx was just one of “three full [VR] games,” in development at Valve, what happened to the other two?

As recently as March 2019 Valve head Gabe Newell apparently indicated that, indeed, three VR games were still in the works.

The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx, gives us some clues about what the games were, but unfortunately also explains how Alyx turned into a much larger project than Valve had originally envisioned, apparently subsuming those other projects in the process.

The book reveals that Valve was working on a game called A.R.T.I, which was built with a Minecraft-like voxel-based game engine that was separate from Valve’s Source engine. It was described as a “fun, light-hearted game—in a similar vein to the Portal series—[which] transported players to a manipulable world with full construction and destruction abilities.”

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The game started development in 2013, but wasn’t initially envisioned as a VR game. Well after it had begun development and then faded to the back-burner, the book says that A.R.T.I resurfaced as one of the other two VR games in development at Valve alongside Alyx.

The other VR game in development was called SimTrek. The book provides little detail on what the game would entail, but the project was led by “some of the members of the team behind Kerbal Space Program,” which had joined Valve. Given the developer lineage with KSP (a simulator-focused space flight game) it seems safe to guess that it would a simulator style game, while the name itself seems oddly similar to Star Trek… they would be that obvious though, would they?

But, as The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx reveals, “development on both those other projects stopped, however, as Alyx’s team size continued to grow.”

Valve had originally envisioned Alyx as a VR game of just a few hours in length and made largely out of updated Half-Life: 2 assets. But as the project started gaining steam the scope of the game (and its team) ballooned, ultimately swallowing up resources and momentum that otherwise could have carried those projects to completion.

In fact, the development team that came together for Alyx was the “largest single team we’ve ever had at Valve,” the company revealed earlier this year.

That jibes with what we learned in an interview earlier this year with one of Alyx’s lead game designers, Robin Walker. We asked him point blank if the two other VR games were still in development at Valve.

“We haven’t made any sort of long term plans after this. We’re back [to building games] in the way we haven’t in the last few years [which we’re excited about],” Walker said. […] What we do next is something we haven’t decided. We have ideas but there’s no reason for us to commit right now. So we’re just going to wait and see how this goes.”

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But A.R.T.I and SimTrek weren’t the only VR projects at Valve. In fact The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx reveals a handful of different prototypes and concepts Valve had built over the years, some of which can be directly traced to what would become Alyx, and others that petered out along the way.

One of those VR concepts was called Borealis. Marc Laidlaw, a Valve writer who worked on all of the Half-Life games before Alyx, envisioned a VR game which would be set on the Borealis, the Aperture Science Research ship mentioned in Half-Life 2.

Players would explore the vessel as it ricocheted in time back and forth between the Seven Hour War, the conflict between the Combine and the citizens of Earth, and a time set shortly after the events of Half-Life: 2 Episode 2. There was even talk of a fun VR mini-game where players would fish off the bow of the ship. Ultimately, Borealis never gained much momentum internally and ended up in the pile of shut down Valve prototypes.

There’s lots more interesting behind-the-scenes insights revealed in The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx, which is an easy and fascinating read for anyone interested in unique inner workings of Valve.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • 3872Orcs

    Sure about A.R.T.I and Simtrek being the other two VR games? I thought Left 4 Dead and Citadel where the other two VR games? Citadel being the asymmetrical stealth game set in the Half Life universe.

    Well I guess with Valve you never know. Hopefully we get more triple A VR games from them.

  • wheeler

    Unfortunately, Keighly also says this in HLA:TFA:

    Privately, most of the team hopes that the next big thing will indeed be a full-scale Half-Life game built not for VR, but as a game accessible across all traditional gaming platforms

    So it’s great that they’re still undecided but this does not sound hopeful.

    • Pablo C

      Well, it is a fact that Valve brings a new game not very often (at all). So upon the question: what is the game that Valve should bring during this decade? I guess it´s fine if the answer is HL3 for flatters.

      • wheeler

        Sure, it’s fine … if they don’t care about VR. Flat gaming is established and self sustaining, but VR is in a tenuous situation and needs the attention of developers like Valve that are both willing to take the risk to innovate and have lots of resources. A project like HL3 will consume more developers than HLA (from TFA, they expect well into the hundreds) and that will leave hardly anything for VR. So if Valve decides to go back to flat games, then that means we won’t get another big VR game from them for 8 to 10 years (at least 4 for HL3, and 4 for HLVR2).

        That would basically translate to Valve sitting out VR game development while the rest of the industry is scrambling to make the VR medium work. By that time VR will have established itself or flopped again.

        • Pablo C

          That´s pretty much what will probably happen: only us care about VR more than any other type of gaming (we are about 1% of players).

    • mfx

      TFA ?

      • wheeler

        The Final Hours

  • It reminds me a lot of what happened with Team Fortress 2. The game disappeared, fans got mad, fan projects started, etc. After Half-Life 2 came we found out Valve scrapped multiple Team Fortress 2s and were working on other prototypes. I guess this is why I was never worried about HL3. I knew the next game would come when inspiration hit.

  • Rosko

    ARTI sound great. It’s sad but it’s almost like VR is just too much like hardwork to make games and will fizzle out and die.

    • It really isn’t. Having made some VR games myself, it’s a few minor changes, depending on how “VR” you want the final product to be. All first person shooters are easy conversions.

  • Joe Fecarotta

    We’re still playing through VR and frankly I can’t believe my eyes. It’s really the first AAA title on VR and will go down in history as a game changer.

  • The way the projects come to life inside Valve is a total mess, this has been confirmed to me also by ex Valve employee

    • silvaring

      I remember reading quite a big piece about the politics and factions inside of Valve. Sounded like it could be a really hit and miss kind of work environment, even if you are talented and driven.

    • Hacker4748

      Well, check their Handbook for New Employees –

    • david vincent

      And yet at the end their games are very polished (but they are getting scarce)

      • Caven

        Hopefully the scarcity should become less of an issue going forward. A lot of the problems Valve experienced in the past decade stemmed from Source 2 not being ready for proper game development. Not having a viable game engine is a pretty good way to doom a project. Now that Source 2 is actually usable for game development, it should be much easier to follow through on projects.

        It would have been nice if they had just settled on using a 3rd-party engine, but they obviously chose not to go that route. It really surprises me that it took them so long to develop Source 2, but I’m hoping the engine is flexible enough that they can progressively update it as needed instead of having to start development on Source 3.

  • Ooooh, sign me up for “A.R.T.I”! I can’t get Minecraft to work since Microsoft bought it up.