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Valve confirm Half-Life: Alyx, a VR game being revealed on Thursday (rockpapershotgun.com)
348 points by atemerev 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 205 comments

A thought: the Half-Life games have always essentially been explorations of the possibilities behind new technologies.

• HL1 was an exploration of the possibility-space of having objects interact through emitted “energy” (i.e. by broadcasting messages that get attenuated by distance.)

• HL2 was an exploration of the possibility-space of putting a dynamics simulation engine in a game (and also spawned Gary’s Mod to continue said exploration.)

• The major offshoots of the series, Portal and its sequel, were explorations of the possibility-space created by combining “beams” of matter or energy (lasers, hitscan gunfire, tractor beams, paint), gravity, and wormholes.

In other words, each major new entry in the Half-Life universe was essentially a narrative wrapped around the results of playing around with implementing some journal paper (or reimplementing some prototype) of a novel type of realtime physical simulation, that had obvious game-mechanical implications.

I’m not surprised that we never got an HL3, because for the past 10-odd years, there hasn’t really been a big new obvious realtime physical-simulation tech to turn into game mechanics.

I’m also not surprised that Valve would return to making games under the Half-Life brand in order to explore the implications of a new technology (even if it’s not a new realtime physical-simulation technology. Or maybe they’ve got one of those up their sleeves as well...)

In the cases of Brave and Moana at Pixar and Disney Animation respectively, the story definitely came before the tech was developed. I was an intern at Pixar during the production of Brave, and I worked on Moana, and I can say that in both cases, there was a mad scramble to develop the tech to catch up with the story. We didn't really have the water on Moana working completely correctly until like 6 months before the movie came out.

Parent comment was edited after this post, so now this reply seems out-of-context. The parent comment originally made a comparison to Pixar and Disney Animation coming up with hair and water tech first and then coming up with stories for Brave and Moana respectively to wrap around the tech.

That's so interesting! I think the fact that they nail the tech so well makes it intuitively surprising that it didn't come first. Not pixar but similarly, when I saw the siggraph talk where Disney Animation showed off how they do snow rendering in Frozen I wondered whether the tech came first

That's also a case where the tech came a while after the story. Our early snow tests on Frozen looked pretty terrible until the MPM simulator [1] came online later.

[1] https://www.disneyanimation.com/technology/innovations/matte...

Did the MPM simulator get used in practice for Frozen? I talked to a few sim TDs (or whatever the equivalent Disney title is) and they said it was too slow at the start for practical use!

Hair in computer animation is still so bad, I'm surprised you don't see the animators lobbying hard for all stories to be set in Wakanda.

Same for Nemo 2. One of the first scenes (Octopus in the Zoo) was only finalized after 2 years because the puppetry and shading of the Octopus took a lot of R&D to implement

I have to imagine the Pixar shorts are, however, a way to do this kind of technical experimentation to better render mediums between stories? Some examples for me include the sand / features rendering in Piper, and the water rendering in Lava? I guess that's more of a question - are those used as tech platforms, or story platforms to test teams? (Either way, a good way to do it!)

Whoa, cool! What sort of work did you do during your internship? Pixar is definitely in my top-5 list of companies I would love to work for.

Rendering. :)

I worked on a GPU-based real-time path tracer prototype at Pixar, which became the RTP renderer used for their in-house lookdev tools [1].

[1] http://on-demand.gputechconf.com/siggraph/2017/video/sig1738...

That's dope. Thanks for sharing!

> • HL1 was an exploration of the possibility-space of having objects interact through emitted “energy” (i.e. by broadcasting messages that get attenuated by distance.)

I played FPS games before HL, and I played all the original HL games including Blue Shift and Opposing Force, plus a bunch of single-player fan-produced games and even Gunman Chronicles, all using the engine, and I don't follow what you mean here.

Half-Life 1’s “thing” is sort of like Breath of the Wild’s “thing”: every object in the game has physical attributes, and these physical attributes can cause the sim to emit signals from particular objects that interact with other sim objects through general interfaces (rather than only interacting with specific “compatible” objects), with the results differing depending on source attributes, target attributes, and the distance between the source and target; and with the same attribute of the target often taking on a weighted-average of the sum of the input signals it’s been receiving lately.

When an HL1 object is “on fire”, for example, it’s emitting “infrared-radiation particles” as hitscan shots off of a point-source at its center. If these hit something, the physics sim checks the “on fire” object’s “hotness” attribute, and its distance from the target it hit, and from these computes a “heat impulse” that should be given to the target, which may or may not be enough to set the target “on fire.” Different things burn with more or less “hotness”, and for more or less time before burning out, depending on the material they’re made of. Explosive barrels don’t have any special code—they’re just “on fire” for a very hot, very short time (but they’re also “concussive”, which is a separate instantiation of this same logic.) The Crossbow’s alternate fire just slides a physical object that’s intensely “on fire” through the scene at high speed. Etc.

This system continues into HL2 as well. Pheropod/bugbait objects are just a copy of this system, where “on fire” is instead “acts as ally”, and antlions can be temporarily or permanently caught “acts as ally” by getting hit by a strong enough dose of pheropod radiative signalling.

This system is basically why HL1 and HL2 play the way they do: rather than only being able to kill things with weapon-objects programmed to emit “kill” signals toward enemies, you can kill things with pretty much any object, in a variety of ways, as enemies are physical-sim objects that can die for physical-sim reasons. And it’s very easy to make a useful new object in these engines, as you can just model something, give it some interesting physical attributes, and plop it into a level. The sim will then take care of making it useful.

I get the narrative you're trying to paint here, but it's really just not true. None of what you mention is a focal point of the game. The focal points are its story telling, level design, enemy AI, etc. I think this is reflected well in reviews from when it was released [1] [2].

Whereas Half Life 2 was definitely a big ol tech demo of the source engine.

[1] https://www.ign.com/articles/1998/11/26/half-life-5

[2] https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/half-life-review/1900-25373...

Valve originally was a game engine company just like Epic and Id, and they still are but have broaden into a platform and publisher. All three companies built games to show off the capabilities of their engines. Valve is unique for also caring about storytelling and rich game mechanics compared to Epic and Id, at least at the time. HL1 was as much about being a tech demo as it was about being a great game.

Valve originally was a game engine company just like Epic and Id

Their first product was a game based on technology licensed from Id. It's a fairly different development path from Id and Epic.

Not true. GoldSrc wasn't ever really sold. They just acquired mods built on the engine (which was source available) to sell themselves (like counter strike or team fortress)

There were also third party games such as a 007 game.

There is nothing like this in hl1, most of the behavior is hardcoded in the game's SDK and pretty generic. I.e every breakable object has 'health', and the barrels explode when they hit 0, explosion is just an instant calculation of dmg property to distance falloff, and there is very basic "if then" scripting language that you have to configure manually. The engine is not very far from quake1 because technically it is one. Source: a former hl modder.

I think derefr was talking about the underlying implementation, which the SDK sits on top of, acting as an interface for modders like yourself.

Underlying implementation is a pure rendering engine, network and some low level core stuff (which is, as I mentioned a facelifted quake1 engine). All game logic including weapons, enemies, ai, bullet and explosion raytracing and game objects called 'entities' are contained in SDK and being compiled to client.dll and server.dll for server side and client side respectively. What derefr is talking about I have no idea because it has not a slightest relation to the game (no offense)

Yeah, I remember being surprised at the interactivity even HL1 had, like that crates were destructible, and not in a super simple, binary [completely intact] vs [completely obliterated] kind of way. You could break them down more gradually with the crowbar.

The big idea that the first Half Life explored was never breaking from first person. No cutscenes. Sometimes they’d trap you to focus your attention on something but they never took away the player’s control to look at what they wanted to.

And it worked so well for immersion, and is the most natural and comfortable way to tell a story in VR.

Well that and the fact that they had a writer and a story instead of a free for all killing spree like their contemporaries.

There were already a lot of FPS around that era that had a proper story.

Can you provide some examples? I don't remember Turok or Unreal having gripping stories.

Pathways into Darkness (1993), Marathon (1994), Marathon 2: Durandal (1995), and Marathon Infinity (1996) all precede Half-Life (1998).



The stories of these games have been the subject of discussions for many years.



You may know Bungie as the studio behind Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) and subsequent games.

Marathons are awesome games still. It’s kinda sad that most of the PC players missed them. If my memory serves me right, only Marathon 2 was publishes on Windows quite late and it got bad reviews because of Quake and its 3d graphics. Marathons had bitmapped NPCs instead of 3d models.

Before Microsoft bought Bungie, They open sourced the Marathon code and gave the game data for free. Luckily people have been working on bunch ports for modern OSes:


Beside the Bungie games mentioned, there were tons of others. The first two Dark Forces, System Shock, Goldeneye just off the top of my head - all released before HL.

This is what I remember being the most novel thing about Half Life too. It's surprising more games don't do this, even now cut scenes are more common than not.

There's a brief scene where they take away control, when you get knocked unconscious and carried to the trash compactor, but it's arguably not a cut-scene in the original sense (cutting away from the player's POV) because it stays in first person view.

No audio-logs either. No text. Just experiencing the whole thing first-hand, with set pieces that felt like plausible places and not just "cool geometry."

I think a lot of the AI functions like smell, Grunt AI and houndeye group behavior rely on this. A lot of it is easy to miss, like Vortigaunts fleeing, hiding and not attacking below a certain health. Houndeyes for example will react differently to quiet/far away noises than loud startling ones.



Yes, and this should be listed as HL1's main advance, its brilliant AI, which at that time of the release was unlike anything else.



Yeah I thought it was about smashing facecrabs with a crowbar.

> for the past 10-odd years, there hasn’t really been a big new obvious realtime physical-simulation tech to turn into game mechanics

Idk about that. I think Valve has simply changed their identity from "Game Developer" to "Gaming Platform Holder".

They have continued to experiment with new tech like they always have. They've made significant contributions to VR, streaming, and (for better or worse) monitization - technologies that are in service to their platform.

Valve as a game developer isn't dead. It just takes the back seat to Valve as a platform holder.

You might be right on their priorities, but I think my reasoning also holds, even if it’s maybe not the primary reason they didn’t make an HL3.

I’ve given some thought to this, and I invite you to do the same: if there was an HL3 that continued in the tradition of serving as a tech-demo for a new kind of realtime physics-sim tech, what are the possibilities for the tech it could be showcasing?

I’m not too deep into physical-simulation research, so I can’t say whether there’s something just sitting around as a journal paper. What I can say is that I haven’t seen anything in a modern title (even an artsy indie title) that would have made for a good basis for an HL game. Have you?

HL1 had a good story and narrative arc. You, the first person scientist are pressed into shooting things, confused as hell about what's going on. You had a direct line of sympathy into the situation, as player. It was very easy to feel the dreamlike-yet-horror narrative, from start to finish. It was quite compelling just how well they did it.

HL2 had some interesting mostly-environmental exposition intermixed with an extremely lame narrative arc. You are basically just a guy with a gun who spends most of your time in transit. If you swapped places with Barney or a random citizen in an early scene, nothing would have changed. Your character is sterile. The main character was the environments, some of which were very good, but it felt more like a very long "demo" than a game. Everyone expressing surprise at how you are in fact Gordon Freeman and it just doesn't matter at all. You're a lunatic with bullets to spend, plus a couple science fair level physics ramps to complete. Tomb raider, every single one of them, did physics puzzles better, and they didn't have a physics engine!

I think everyone was wowed at the tech at the time and didn't realize just how bad the rest of the experience was. Replaying it, its very easy to feel (compared to replaying Deus Ex or Thief or HL1)

There was no emotive force in HL2. The story become uncompelling. I think they realzied HL3 would fall super flat without some new technology to showcase, because they made the Gordon story so damn boring. (You'll notice in a lot of fanfics, people actually talk, or they aren't about Gordon at all.)

I don't think it's a mistake that we don't hear Gordon Freeman talk, and barely ever see his face. I think the burden is on the player to feel connected to HL2. It's more an exploration of a dystopian landscape, which wasn't as played out 15 years ago as it is now. You get NPCs with excellent-for-the-time voice acting and huge landscapes to explore. You get to insert yourself into the character of Gordon, it's kind of "2004's VR" in that way.


Now combine that with what the GP said about HL1, some A-tier object manipulation and the impressiveness of VR and you have a game that's a lot of fun to play even if you're just along for the ride (in terms of plot). Throw in a decent story arc, hook people with letting them actually make some tough decisions (earth is descending into a dystopia in the time it's set so plenty of opportunities to force the player to choose between a bunch of bad options and feel guilty about whatever they choose) and you have a highly immersive experience.

I don't mean to make it sound trivial, each one of those things is hard to do right and they all have to be done right but it should not be rocket science. Valve just needs a Decent(TM) game using their existing principals. The hard part is going to coping with the constraints of VR without neutering player freedom within the story or botching the VR part.

This was exactly my experience. The story they were telling in HL2 was extremely poorly suited to the technology they were trying to use to tell it. You can't tell a story about being an insurgency in a huge city or running from your life from a totalitarian state while never letting the character deviate more than 10 feet to either side along a fixed path. It just doesn't work, and it never felt like more than a game. I often felt like I was playing a rail shooter like the old light-gun games at an arcade that moved the character for you.

It's weird, isn't it? It's not like I think the game was total trash, its got high points, but its always baffled me that Metacritic has had it for more than a decade as the highest rated PC game of all time. Was everyone drunk? Paid off?


I doubt that was the case. Looking at HL2 now, with all those other FPS games that built up upon what HL2 introduced, of course it doesn't look that impressive. But at the time, it felt like it came from the future. The whole physics gameplay aspect was pretty much unprecedented at that time, especially with how seamless and integral it felt. It didn't feel forced or bolted-on at all.

A good analogy in other media would be Citizen Kane (movies), NWA (music), or Akira (japanese animation). Neither of those would garner mass praise if they were released today, but they were first of a kind and paved the way for moving their respective medium forward.

The story in HL2 is a mess. You go from city controlled by invaders to zombie town to "They" town to nonsense alien citadel. They all have absolutely nothing to do with each other, they're just glued together because some designers/artists thought it would be cool to have them. Players fill in the rest with their own imagination, not by any smart writing or design by Valve.

I would argue that HL2 was just “Gary’s Mod the Single-Player Campaign”—probably with Valve first thinking more along the lines of something that would look like Gary’s Mod itself if they had delivered it in that state; and then losing confidence, thinking that a pure sandbox title couldn’t possibly be something people would pay for (those really weren’t a thing back then, until GMod itself showed the demand!) So they backed off and built a single-player campaign instead.

But I think their goal with HL2 wasn’t really to deliver a compelling narrative, any more than the point of a modern Mario title is to give a compelling narrative. It’s a sandbox with a goal condition. (Sort of like Scribblenauts, now that I think of it.)

Gabe said as much himself[0]:

> Products are usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges.

> When we decided we needed to work on markets, free to play, and user generated content, Team Fortress seemed like the right place to do that. That work ended up informing everything we did in the multiplayer space.

> Left 4 Dead is a good place for creating shared narratives.

[0]: https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Gaben/comments/5olhj4/hi_im_gab...

Going a step aside from the technology itself, here's another way of looking at those games:

Half-life basically helped kick start story-driven FPS games (Bioshock, etc)

Half-Life 2 helped kick off physics based FPS games.

Portal basically kicked off the FPS puzzle genre (Talos Principle, QUBE, Quantum Conundrum, etc).

L4D basically kicked off FPS co-op games (Borderlands, Killing Floor, PayDay), as well as asymmetric co-op.

For better or worse, TF2 with hats and later CSGO basically started the microtransaction/crate system.

Lastly, Dota 2 did a lot to push e-sports forward too.

This is the kind of advances Valve is interested in. It's hard to tell now, but this game could easily have a huge impact on how VR games are made in the future.

what about artifact?

It showed how to fail spectacularly.

> The major offshoots of the series, Portal and its sequel, were explorations of the possibility-space created by combining “beams” of matter or energy (lasers, hitscan gunfire, tractor beams, paint), gravity, and wormholes.

This isn't a technology, rather it's a set of game mechanics.

It’s a technology for simulating the interactions of these things. Point the paint gun in Portal 2 through a portal into an area with different gravity and you’ll see something that required the invention of novel tech. That system “worked” since Portal 1; they just didn’t fully explore it in Portal 1.

Every game mechanic requires a technology behind it. However, the mechanics you described did not require new technology. It was simply a novel application of existing technology. It doesn't fit in with the rest of your tenuous examples.

That technology has worked since at least Quake FWIW! Shooting rockets through teleporters into zones with different gravity.

Both Portal games are cool though.

To continue your line of reasoning. And I think it's what makes XR so immersive, with immersion being a hallmark of the HL franchise. Is the opening of a possibility-space in VR of having any human player "thought" made manifest as "material" in the virtual world.

HL:A possibly represents a watershed. The 40-hour, single-player narrative action VR experience (not to mention a Counterstrike VR mod). What recently released Asgard's Wrath referred to as "God-scale" gaming


Nintendo is well known for making some games like this too. It's a bunch of cool tech and physical controllers generating new interaction models, and game designers stretching that as far as they can, sometimes cohesively as a full game sometimes a collage of mini-games.

Some Nintendo games are definitely explorations of their own novel input methods; and also, earlier on, explorations of the possibilities of the console’s fancy custom hardware features. (Whether you got one or the other often depended on whether the software/product department, or the hardware/R&D department, was responsible for the game’s design—the product folks [Nintendo EAD] tended to push for the inclusions of novel input methods on new hardware designs, so they built games around those; while the R&D folks were more intimately familiar with the more “gimmicky” hardware features they had included into new console designs, and so only they really understood what could be done with them, until they demonstrated it to the world and to the other departments with a tech-demo game.)

But I would say that, most of the time, Nintendo (and similar allied shops like HAL and Intelligent Systems) just invent novel game mechanics out of thin air, then ask how the player should interact with those mechanics; they make the interaction with the mechanic as a prototype, and playtest it on its own; and then, if that turns out to be fun, they wrap a game around that.

This is why, for example, the Paper Mario series looks the way it does. Nintendo + Intelligent Systems both agree that you can’t just take the same mechanics and make a new game, even if the mechanics you came up with the first time were really good. They already explored the possibility-space of those mechanics as well as they could manage in the first game!

The Portal team was acquired by Valve, based on their demo.

VR could play a part in a physics simulation.

One could argue that real time ray tracing is a jump forward in this area.

Moana wasn't Pixar btw.

> Brave and Moana at Pixar and Disney Animation respectively


I think the mistake of which part of Disney you're working is is nothing to be concerned about.

It's been over 12 years since the last entry in this franchise. Outside the memes, I wonder if the name has enough weight to be a system-seller for Valve Index the way Half-Life 2 brought Steam into the mainstream (as much as people disliked it at the time, you can't argue they were unsuccessful).

Convincing people to install software that doesn't cost any money is quite a bit easier than convincing them to invest in an expensive piece of hardware and the even more expensive computer needed to work with it. Not to mention overcoming all the other issues people have with current VR tech, like the space requirements.

But that's precisely why their first big AAA VR Experience is based on Half Life. It's probably one of the few franchises that (could) force people to jump into buying a VR rig. Yes, it's not exactly cheap, and it has some requirements like space, but being able to experience a new Half Life game after 12 years, is quite exactly the thing that will get people seriously interested.

(This is all coming from someone who's probably going to jump back into PC/VR gaming for this experience, depending on the reveal and pre-release coverage...)

The space thing is what kills it for me. Even if the VR and computer were free, I just don't have the space to use it. I'm not going to rearrange furniture or lock my dogs outside just to play a video game.

Given the previous history of the Half Life franchise, we're most likely in for a FPS Shooter with lots of environmental physics manipulation through a new VR control scheme, utilizing the Valve Index (and other VR controllers).

Given what other people in this thread have mentioned, you will not be moving within a virtual space via VR inputs with full body mapping to in-game movement, as that's a recipe for getting sick.

Given my experience with VR and playing games that required a fair amount of movement, Superhot VR and BeatSaber, the space needed was just enough to stand up, and move my arms around. I am really unsure of why this space requirement issue keeps popping up. Unless you're doing full room mapping, which I highly doubt this game will utilize, I cannot imagine that most people with an entertainment center or with a desk dedicated to their PC, don't have enough room to stand up and move their arms around...

The space requirement issue keeps coming up because not everyone lives in the same sized house. Just because you have ample space to stand in your room waving your arms around with a headset on doesn't mean everyone else does.

I'm having a hard time imagining a living situation where you don't have enough space to stand up and move your arms. Could you describe one? At worst it could only be a tiny number of people, maybe people living in their cars, and definitely not the target audience of electronic entertainment.

You need enough space to stand up, stick your arms out, and move around. Considering the average human wingspan is 5' 9" for men, add another foot and change on each side for a safety factor so you don't smack things if you lean a bit, and you end up needing a playing space that's an 8' diameter cylinder, and that's just for seated/standing experiences, not room-scale. This 8' cylinder also needs to be next to a computer, or you need to run a lot of cables. I live in a 3 story row house and the only space I have with enough room is my kitchen, anywhere else in the house and I'd end up hitting something.

Standing up and moving your arms has much lower space requirements than standing up and moving your arms while blindfolded and under a barrage of industry-leading illusions engineered for maximum distraction.

There's boundaries that the VR will put a red wall on screen if you approach. Setting them up is part of the installation of VR. I helped a friend setup Rift Oculus a while ago in a very small living room. Like bedroom sized living room. I've also played VR while sitting on a couch. Room is not an issue unless you play in a closet.

In a typical users playspace you're always near enough to the boundaries that they're visible. And speaking from experience, you do not want your VR setup within several feet of anything nice, like your television or hanging wall art, even if they're outside the boundary. As a good game of Gorn is guaranteed to make you run past that boundary and punch a nearby object.

Yes you can play some VR on a couch, but not Superhot, not Gorn, not Space Pirate Trainer. Very likely not Half Life Alyx.

I've used my VR setup from within cramped confines, but it's not something a non-enthusiast will do.

Edit: Also were forgetting a very important point mentioned above

"I'm not going to [...] lock my dogs outside just to play a video game."

There's a big difference between being able to stand up and move your arms, and being able to stand up and move your arms anywhere without looking while being certain not to hit anything.

At least for me, in all the spaces I have computers, if I stand up I have some stuff or shelves within arm's reach, because I want that stuff to be accessible - but that makes those spaces unusable for VR, because I'll hurt myself those things or myself if I'm swinging around without being able to see what's there.

I have ample space available, but I have gotten so lazy in VR that I tend to confine myself to a chair or just a small place to stand. Teleport locomotion is my favorite. I really don't feel like I'm missing a whole lot by not walking around much.

I don't know. Maybe I'm a miserable cynic by now, but too many big names have been burning my good-will. I've been disappointed by too many names by now. Blizzard, Ubisoft, Bethesda, EA. Valve hasn't done so by not publishing games. Why should I trust e.g. EA with a long-dead franchise like Lost Vikings because it's VR now? Lost vikings were pretty dope puzzles games.

At this point I prefer throwing $60 at 4-6 indie games and usually I'll find something with a couple of days or weeks playtime. Increasing the title's cost by an entire VR headset doesn't really improve my trust. Especially because a lot of the VR games I've seen on stream so far are just .. lackluster horror scare fares and entirely whacky things.

I don’t have VR and will be buying a rig for this game and will be willing to rearrange the furniture in my 624 sqft apt to do it.

Born in 1992, HL1 was what really got me into gaming.

If you haven’t tried VR yet, I would before you buy one. I bought a secondhand oculus a year ago and I don’t play with it very often because I get a cold sweat within minutes. It is cool and it is immersive, but it’s also physically uncomfortable. It’s worth getting some answers before spending hundreds of dollars on it.

Just wearing an HMD with a comfortable experience probably shouldn't make you sick within minutes. If you're running on an underpowered PC, or a PC that is adding latency due to outdated drivers, bad hardware, bad software, USB controller issues (the list goes on) that could be the cause. If your IPD adjustment isn't correct that could be a problem as well. Lastly if you jumped right into uncomfortable experiences (potentially anything with artificial locomotion or any unoptimized game) that could make you sick as well. It's possible that you are unusually sensitive but it's likely that this is something that can be fixed.

I worked on a game called Luna (https://store.steampowered.com/app/605770/Luna/) and many of the people who play tested it said it was the first VR game they played that didn't make them sick, previously they thought "VR makes me sick". It was optimized for player comfort and is a pretty slow paced relaxing game so I think that helped.

I’m familiar with all of that. The “comfortable experiences” don’t bother me, but they also don’t stimulate me. I enjoy 6DOF shooters and racing simulators.

It's a sliver of a sliver of the market. Gamers -> PC gamers -> PC gamers with powerful gaming rigs -> PC gamers with powerful gaming rigs who care even a little about VR and so might buy a headset, if they don't already have one

I don't get this move. But hey, maybe I'm wrong and this'll be what takes it mainstream... somehow.

Valve supports some weird stuff, but I'm glad they do. They've put a lot of work into improving Linux gaming, and their Steam surveys show that more people have VR setups than use Linux for gaming.

Otoh, its also the part of the market that has demonstrated that they have a lot of disposable income and an interest in the hobby.

I think it's a better way of getting VR off the ground than the "social" mass market stuff that Facebook is pursuing. The industry should focus on building high quality niche stuff first, like FPS games and flight sims, then work on broadening the appeal once the tech has matured.

This whole announcement has been a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario for Valve in terms of reception. At this point Valve has put a lot of investment in VR. For years people have asked for a big first party VR game from Valve, often explicitly a Half-Life game. They announce it and many responses are "why did Valve release a game for their own hardware". It's possible that growth will slow in VR and Valve will give up, but why do it now when they have a game ready for release and solidly selling first party hardware?

Anecdotally, I've got a PC that is VR-capable. I've tried VR as a curiosity, but it hasn't been compelling enough for me to buy my own headset. However, Half-Life 2 is my favorite videogame of all time, and this announcement will probably get me to reconsider and shell out for an Index or similar.

The announcement got like 120k upvotes on r/gaming.

I think it'll be fine. Half-Life hasn't had a proper entry in a long time -- though it's worth pointing out that Portal takes place in the same universe and has some mechanical similarities, at least -- but it still has legendary status among gamers.

While I may not buy Valve Index specifically, the announcement of this game is the decision maker for me to save up for VR. Previously I just wanted it, but probably wouldn't have purchased it. So I think people will buy VR for this game, whether or not it's Valve's Index is unknown though.

> enough weight to be a system-seller for Valve Index the way Half-Life 2

I doubt so. There are inherent issues with VR currently (stuck in a small environment, limited interactions), I can't see how they could make a first-person game extraordinary enough for people to suddenly open and empty their wallets and embrace VR just for one game. But I may be wrong.

How many VR first-person shooters are there where you can actually move? The last I heard, having your character move in VR while you are standing still is a fast pass to nauseaville.

Pistol Whip (just came out) seems to have nailed it pretty well - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bae9EykifVk

Not sure it applies to FPS, but nausea in VR first person continuous movement almost completely disappears after 2-3 hours (over a few days) of gameplay on lower turning speed.

I played Fallout 4 like this a bit, and my wife spent nearly 100h in Skyrim VR.

I watched on youtube some Fallout4 and Skyrim gameplay and the player after adjusting some of the options seemed to enjoy it a lot, a few hours of playing seem possible for an average gamer after getting used with the technology.

I played a stationery FPS vr game and it’s certainly a weird disorienting feeling. I also get motion sick pretty easily. That said it didn’t really effect me much outside of a little disorientation.

In some games you can at least move some meters around if you have roomscale VR. But for every bigger movement than that you have to use teleportation.

No, you just need to get past the initial 2-3 hours with breaks while your brain adjusts.

easier said than done unfortunately

The most popular game by player count is Pavlov VR and it's full movement via left hand C-stick. I play for hours at a time comfortably.

If you want to sell something as expensive as VR based on a game franchise, you'd better hope that it's old enough for the initial players to have paid off their mortgage...

In any case or kind of makes sense for something called Half-Life to slow down over time.

It should have been a free launch title with the Index to spur sales. This is not going to do that now as a separate sale. The buzz (what little there was for an expensive VR rig) is over. It may well be good for VR overall, however.

There is no name that could sell a meaningful number of $1000 systems, especially when the game is playable on a $400 system that's barely any worse than the $1000 one.

Especially for teenagers. They're a big gaming demographic, but do they know or care about Half-Life as more than a meme?

Yes but also not necessarily a big spending demographic. It seems better to target nostalgic late 20's to early 40-somethings since they are more likely to have the disposable income for a VR capable desktop and VR headset.

It has been long enough and Valve quiet enough that delivering anything meets expectations. We aren't in one of those cycles which ended in disappointment like Duke Nukem or Battlecruiser 3000? which took forever to deliver and underwhelmed on all counts.

the only way to alienate fans would be to use it as a platform to deliver a political message; many game players take offense at such and it horribly dates games that do much like music

Not calling it Half Life: 3 seems like a great way to temper expectations a bit. Curious how much focus is put on the knuckles/Index versus generic headsets.

It's a prequel. Half Life 3 would be the follow up to Half Life 2 Episode 2, taking place supposedly on the Borealis.

I'm guessing this is going to show Alyx first interacting with G-Man.

I hope it remains generically SteamVR compatible and doesn't require Index or shut out the Rift or original Vive.

I think that would be missing the point. With Half-Life 2, you could buy the game as a disc but it still required Steam to play. They leveraged their legendary IP to bring users into a system that is way more profitable for them than selling copies of any particular game, even a Half-Life game. They've been sitting on that IP for a while now, not tarnishing their repuation from the release of a title that could potentially not live up to expectations. Now they're launching a new platform, and they're leveraging the IP to get people to buy into the platform. If they can own the best VR platform and get enough people to buy in on it, the game sales that come after that will overshadow whatever return they make on a new Half-Life game. Supporting other platforms would hurt them, if I'm correct about their intentions. Years ago a friend suggested to me that Valve might do a combined HL3/in-house-VR launch, and I've been expecting it ever since; it makes too much sense as a business strategy, and fits in with their prior method of operations.

It just hasn't been their strategy so far. That's Facebook's strategy. Valve has wanted to be the "good guys", if your device supports Steam VR you can play.

Platform lock-in to encourage adoptance was a strategy they used in HL2's release, as I noted above.

Yes but that was 15 years ago, and they are referring to Valve's VR strategy. Valve has made an effort to have SDKs available to anyone and have developed a generic VR input system that allows you to play any SteamVR game with any brand of device, Oculus, Microsoft, Valve, whatever. They've also stated in response to the Oculus store offering hardware exclusive titles that they would never create or publish a VR game specific to one platform.

Going back on those claims would ruin so much goodwill towards Valve among the VR community.

> They've also stated in response to the Oculus store offering hardware exclusive titles that they would never create or publish a VR game specific to one platform.

Sauce? I tried googling, didn't find anything immediately relevant. I'd be curious as to their exact wording of that claim.

Valves games are tied to OpenVR (which they created), an/the only implementation of which is SteamVR. They are trying to do what Google did with Android - create an open platform/ecosystem which OEMs jump into in order to push consumer adoption.

Seems I was wrong: https://half-life.com/en/alyx

> Play on any SteamVR system

It wouldn't surprise me if it was only compatible with more recent VR sets. They are giving a shot at an engine that could set the pace for the next decade, the same way CryEngine 3 and Unreal Engine 4 couldn't run on current generation average rigs when they came out.

VR sets are really just display and IO devices, there's no good reason for them to not work with older equipment. That's not to say that Valve isn't likely going to make best use of their Index Controllers to provide a unique and purpose designed experience which would just be represented by a button press on other sets. Just that they wouldn't be any good technical reason not to be compatible.

Gabe Newell said that Valve was jealous of Nintendo being able to design their hardware and software together. Expect Knuckles/Index to be a major factor in the gameplay.

The new controllers are compatible with the Vive, and sold separately, so that leaves an option open. I would still be very surprised if Valve locked the game to the Index.

rumors say it is, but considering the rumors are all about the index's finger stuff being used a lot i'm not sure how that's all gonna work out

I'm curious if there will be a non-VR version too.

According to https://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey, just over 1% of Steam users have VR headsets, and that is trending downward.

Anecdotally it feels like VR never really took off? From casual perusals of the steam store at https://store.steampowered.com/vr/, there are very few VR games and the ones that do exist are fairly mediocre looking - things you've never heard of from indie developers self-publishing to steam.

Seems like an odd move from Valve - I don't suspect that this on its own will be enough of a draw to lure people to purchase a VR headset for. Especially since this started out as an "exploration of VR" ... I am left wondering if this is basically going to end up being some glorified DLC or mod that adds a couple of levels with a few neat little VR-specific touches/gimmicks rather than a full-blown installment in the HL franchise?

They may well prove me wrong and trigger a renaissance in the VR gaming industry and wow us with a huge and well-executed sequel to HL2 that will lure people in, but I remain skeptical for now.

"Seems like an odd move from Valve"

This is exactly the move many of us in the VR community have been expecting. It may seem like a tiny percentage (because it is) but the VR numbers themselves have been growing massively since launch of Vive/Rift.

The community is alive and vibrant, not what you'd expect of dead technology.

You don't provide any data for your claims. He's saying less than 1% of Steam users have a headset and declining, and you're claiming that it's growing and vibrant.

There may be some awesome VR experiences out there and a handful of people that enjoy them, but sales numbers don't lie - VR is not currently succeeding. If you compare VR sales to Kinect sales, it makes the Kinect look like a roaring success - and Microsoft abandoned it due to lack of consumer interest.

I can find dedicated communities to restoring antiquated decades old computers - a niche does not make a growing vibrant market. Anecdotally (and I welcome people to provide real data instead) everybody I know that used to work on VR for a living has moved on with their careers, including several engineers who got acquired by Facebook.

1% of Steam users is still a lot of users. Considering that Steam itself is still seeing massive growth, VR hovering at 1% is evidence of said growth.

There's many sites which report the proper number of headsets and their absolute growth. Headsets are still doubling every year, even if it's a small number.

People also tended to hate the Kinect, which only made sales due to marketing bundles. I've never met a single person who's tried VR that doesn't like the tech bar it's rough edges (display quality, PC requirements and long term comfort) but these problems can be solved.

> I've never met a single person who's tried VR that doesn't like the tech bar it's rough edges

The fact that you've never met someone that tried VR that didn't like the tech shows your overwhelming bias. Most people I've met didn't enjoy it - many were literally too nauseous to use it. It's extremely well studied that a lot of people get sick from VR and yet you are claiming everyone that tried it loves it. One of my friends at Facebook left because he didn't think they'd ever get it so VR wasn't nauseous for too many people. Even Palmer Luckey, the poster boy for VR, moved on years ago (not to mention Iribe and Mitchell).

Was this mobile VR? Because that is horrible and nauseating and likely won't ever be a thing in the next decade.

As long as you're using solid VR game design principles, the biggest being: don't move the player using artificial locomotion, people do not feel sick. The hardware is ready in that regard - motion sickness is a solved problem.

Many games ignore that and have you moving with a joystick - you can get used to it, but it should always be optional imo.

My bias is simply from people I've showed my own hardware to, family and friends, not tech people who have a vested interest. The excitement is there, just not as a mass-market consumer product yet.

I admit the hardware is immature in every other respect: comfort, weight, audio, cables and display quality.

> Was this mobile VR? Because that is horrible and nauseating and likely won't ever be a thing in the next decade.

It wasn't mobile VR - it was a dedicated space with external sensors and (usually) a complete Oculus headset.

Your experience differs from mine. As someone who used to love VR and considered moving across the country at one point to work on it, I've since fallen out of love. Ultimately I look at sales as my grounding data, and I don't think VR is going to take off for years.

Of course as I type this, Valve is announcing Half Life for VR - which is huge news. So maybe I'm wrong?

Don't trust the hardware survey. If the headset isn't plugged in it doesn't exist. Not many people leave the headset plugged in 24/7, so I don't think the HW survey is a reliable source.

I don't think it's actually trending downward, the hardware survey only shows devices connected at the time. I have two vr headsets and I only plug them in when I'm actually using them, so according to the survey I don't have one. I'm sure a lot of people do the same. Also, totally ancedotal evidence, but four of my friends bought into VR in the last few months since the price finally came down low enough for them to do it and they wanted to play Beat Saber. If that can sell headsets Half Life certainly can.

Beat Saber really seems to be the closest thing to a Killer App for VR right now. I'm introducing it to people who have never really been interested in video games and they fall in love immediately. It's also the only VR game I've played that has felt like a complete, novel, and interesting experience that I keep coming back to.

Can confirm. I'm currently pretty addicted to Beat Saber. Let my (non-gamer) mom try it some time ago and now everytime they visit she asks if she can play a bit.

Steam does not reflect the VR ecosystem at all.

Oculus store has the quality games, for the most part. Many Rift owners do not have their headset connected when not using VR. Like for example when playing a flat game on Steam.

Largest installed base is PSVR with more than 4 million devices sold.

Miners have taken a hit and now GPUs are plentiful. That wasn't the case when VR tried for a big push in 2016-2017

Supposedly it's being designed around Valve's index controller, letting you grip and manipulate objects in the game. Ars describes a set of Magnet Gloves which can pull stuff toward you from across the room and adjust/use it.

I've enjoyed quite a few VR games over the last few years, but part of why I'm excited about this one is that they are able to design the hardware and the software in conjunction.

Hopefully this will lead to something which can really take advantage of that co-development, like we sometimes see when Nintendo or Apple are able to do both.

Daily Half-Life 3 Update: Day 742 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJijEFKpKik

wtf is this channel? did he really make a video every day about half life 3?

It's pretty self explanatory. In fact you answered your own question.

They just narrated the response I think we all had.

Honestly, between this and the reactions I read on the Reddit thread following this news, I think people's obsession with HL3 is quite pethatic. I don't know why, out of all of internet's quirks and strange behaviours, this obssesion is the one that made me cringe.

When you cringe it is because you feel shame.

Shame is generally an indicator of un-dealt with trauma. Good to keep digging into those feelings and see the source if you can.

Have you ever been that obsessed in the past? Did anyone say something about it to you?

Despite once being my favorite game series and developer and I stopped caring about Half-Life and Valve sometime around when they made it obvious they only care about milking their vapid Dota franchise and they have no interest in developing any of their core IPs. I can't force myself get excited about this even if someone paid me to. The ship has sailed a long time ago.

The way I look at it is there was really no way to make Half Life 3 interesting while following their method of integrating emerging tech into it as a primary focus. Flat gaming on PC has been stale for a very long time. Now that we've got VR, there's finally a new and fresh thing to use in FPS games.

the real tragedy is we could have had like 10 portal sequels by now

Personally I find Portal so enjoyable that I'm happy that I have the original Portal and Portal 2.

However, at a first glance it seems like it should have been relatively straightforward to create sequels that just have more levels. But maybe it's not that easy to actually do it.

However, we'd be moaning about them rehashing the same IP over and over if they had done that.

You would?

It has to be the 10/10 best game ever to justfiy buying a dedicated hardware piece for at least ~$400 or so depending on the model

I'm from Europe and it's especially bad in that sense cause for example HP and Lenovo has a generic budget headset with controllers for $150 but that's US only. You won't find anything that close in price here

This is actually a really hard part for me. I immediately began looking at VR hardware I could buy and I wasn't sure what to look at. Can I use non-Valve hardware? I assume with the headset, but I don't know about the controllers. What about the sensors that Valve sells? Do I need them?

The controllers worry me the most since I don't know if they're required or if they need certain buttons I can map things to.

So yeah, right there with you. I hope it's worth trying to buy it all, but it's a big hurdle in a lot of ways so the game has to be amazing.

Lastly, since my life has changed a lot in the last twelve years, I no longer even have a real gaming PC (I assume I'm not the only one who lost that as they aged). So that's one more cost I have to factor unless maybe they release it on PS and I can buy that and it's VR rigging.

If the game is SteamVR-compatible, most VR headsets will work but generally the most common options are some variation of Vive/Rift/Index.

That said, we don't actually know the requirements yet - as far as we know it'll require full finger tracking or be straight up Index-only (as unlikely as I personally think that is, it's still possible). Definitely don't pull the trigger on anything until the full announcement on Thursday.

I've been wondering lately whether Steam will be able to hold onto its large commission and market share, given the rise of competition like the Epic Games Store with a much more competitive commission rate. I can imagine these stores will have to increasingly differentiate themselves as technology platforms going forward (e.g. VR on Steam, or Unreal Engine licensing on EGS). In this way VR exclusive games make a lot of sense for Valve, to encourage people to buy into their platform.

Ultimately it matters a lot less what developers prefer, it matters where the audience is. Right now Epic is handling that by simply giving developers a guaranteed amount of money so they don't have to worry about actually selling any copies. That strategy will probably not hold out for very long though.

> it matters where the audience is.

I don't think that strictly applies here; the stores don't play a predominant role in marketing the games (at least for popular titles), so they don't have exclusivity over an audience.

I think the relevant question is the extent customers decide not to purchase a game because it's exclusive to an alternative store.

Most likely is that Epic will eventually raise their commissions, or never reach feature parity with Steam. Steam's networking, workshop, et al aren't cheap to run.

> or never reach feature parity with Steam

To some extent this is intentional. Epic Game's market research culminated in a decision to include fewer social features, and less visual clutter than Steam.

Epic Games seems to be competing more on the back-end, offering better rates and licensing to developers in return for distribution exclusivity, rather than the front-end with features for users. That said, as a user, I appreciate the minimalism of EGS.

That decision was more than a little contentious; some developers hated the store-supplied user product reviews and forums, and Epic wooed them over by rejecting those features for allowing too much toxicity.

As an old fart, developer and gamer, I don't feel much sympathy for those who are wooed by intentional ignorance.

Personally, I will not buy products without reading user reviews; and I find that most professional reviews aren't worth the bandwidth to download.

The episode 3 plot summary by former Valve writer Marc Laidlaw that this article links to is a great read for those that want to see where the story was headed.


Back when I used to work as a VR developer "Half Life 2 quality cinematics and plot but in VR" was my go to example of how powerful of an experience VR could be if done right. I really hope they don't botch this. If they do this right you'll feel like you were there.

Due to some of the technical limitations with people (motion sickness does not make a popular game) I don't think this is not going to be an open spaces and free-movement heavy game like HL2. Not having some really good expansive panorama scenes would be a disservice to the VR tech but don't expect to be able to drive a go-kart around in them. I'm expecting a lot of semi stationary scenes where the player is free around a small space as the environment smoothly and steadily around them (like all the various freight elevator and rail car scenes in HL1). I expect that in typical Half-Life fashion there will be lots of object manipulation and head crab batting practice while the player remains nearly stationary.

Yep, I've been itching for a good example of this kind of long form immersive VR game.

Budget Cuts and Apex Construct give a taste of it, but I find myself really wanting to just be able to play some version of Portal 2 that was somehow suited for VR and wouldn't make you instantly throw up.

When I saw the news yesterday I thought I was dreaming. Never expected to see this, despite the many rumors of a HLVR.

I'm excited to see what the release brings, but I'm expecting revolutionary VR mechanics. I hope it'll be as big of a leap forward as Half Life 1 and Half Life 2 were.

It will sell like hot cakes for the first week then plummet. Then a non VR version will be made.

> Then a non VR version will be made.

That's what I'm hoping for.

All great VR games are made specifically for VR from the beginning. Taking a flat game and do a VR version of it is almost never good (I cant think of a single example where they have pulled that off, outside of simulators perhaps).

The reverse is also true.

I've never played a VR game that I would call great. There are many that make for a great demo of the technology, but ultimatealy having to wear something on my face is kind of a deal breaker.

Lone Echo is a great VR game. Makes having something on your face 100% worth it.

You are, by your own proclamation, outside the target market.

SUPERHOT VR is the best VR game I've played and it was definitely better in VR than 2D. To date, it is the only game experience I've had in VR that I felt could justify the hardware.

When are they going to replace SteamVR with OpenXR runtime? Valve are one of the major backers of OpenXR, yet their SteamVR still uses their pre OpenXR, so called "OpenVR" API.

More like Half-Life 1/3 confirmed.

Yes, I knew I died this morning!

Announcement of an announcement

The news of the announcement leaked, so Valve make an official announcement announcement to take control of the message, and prove it was real.

I guess this is slightly better than it being a mobile app...

This week it occurred to me that what is going on in Hongkong is the same as the story of Half-Life 2.

This was what I always liked about HL2. It is a game but also a kind of protest against oppression.

Announcing a new Half Life game the same week as Stadia's launch. Huge move.

I remember half-life 2 being delayed like for 5 years. Maybe even longer.

Now this is going to sell some headsets.

Initially, at least.

Valve isn't the same company they were back when they developed things like HL2. They've basically been sitting back and sucking up money for a long time. They're good at that, but there's no indication they're good at anything else at this point.

I'll go out on a limb and say this game is going to suck, and after the initial hype people are going to hate that Valve did this.

> but there's no indication they're good at anything else at this point

You mean apart from creating and still consistently updating CS:GO and DotA 2, which are both some of the most played games in the world?

Their "The Lab" VR demo, which is a collection of mini games, is also one of the most enjoyable VR experiences, so I'm very optimistic they can make something great again if they put their mind to it.

>CS:GO and DotA 2, which are both some of the most played games in the world?

Yes, I mean exactly those games, which are neither new nor ground breaking, and which were originally authored by outside firms/contractors, not valve. Since then, most of Valve's additions to the games are in the form of monetization.

If you didn't notice the news articles, they even laid off almost all the people responsible for HL2 and its episodes, including the writer.

It's a stretch to say DOTA 2 or CS:GO were initially made by outside firms. Sure they're based on community mods, but so is PUBG, TF2, all the autochess games. Outside of Half-Life and L4D (which was originally a Turtlerock game) all of Valve's games are polished commercial versions of mods or student games (Portal series), but with the exception of Counterstrike all of the originals were good ideas with fatal execution flaws.

Valve has also released DOTA Underlords and Artifact in the two years. With HLA and Underlords Valve is actually releasing two games this year.

CS:GO was literally made by an outside dev (Hidden Path). It's definitely unfair to say Valve's only additions have been monetization though, it seems Valve took over development pretty soon after the initial release and there have been a lot of major updates since then.

I've been playing CS:GO since 2001 and have no intentions in stopping :) (Almost) Best game ever!

CS:GO launched in 2012 so that's impressive :). You might have meant Counter-Strike (2000), Counter-Strike Source (2004) and then Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012), which are three different similar games in the same series.

I've read somewhere that the flat company structure, which had an initial boost has started to be a detriment to the company.

Something about, even though it’s supposed to be flat, human organizations just don’t work that way, so the hierarchy is still there but instead of explicit it’s implicit—kinda like high school.

A classic essay on this phenomenon: "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" https://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

I’m guessing it’ll be an okay game. But because it isn’t excellent, that’ll be enough of a blow.

Yeah Valve has barely made any games this decade.

This, plus Star Citizen in VR, might be enough for me to drop the $2500 to get an Index rig. So, not soon.

It'll definitely be good for some Let's Play views for a few youtubers.

But it's not HL3 is it?

It's HL√3 (i.e. between 1 and 2 in terms of the story, as I understand it)

That's a much better title.

Better wait for HL3.11 for Workgroups.

“3” is a forbidden number within Valve.

Half Life a number between 2 and 4

Do you mean e or pi?

Why you saying like those are the only options? :D

I agree - but there exist only few numbers between 2 and 4 (!= 3) that the general public knows of.

We're living half life 3

I am not gonna buy a VR setup....

What work is has been done for taking VR only games and using not VR controls/interfaces? Even if it's not optimal.

It's not just "not optimal", it's a completely different thing. It's like reading a book and reading the script of the movie of the same story: you can certainly reuse some of the material but the way you convey things is designed from the ground up for the medium you are using. In VR-native content many things are just behaving in intuitive ways that can't be replicated if you need to go through a screen and keyboard/mouse.

I dont mind that.

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