Half-Life: Alyx Helped Change Valve’s Approach To Development

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valve half-life alyx
Image: Half-Life: Alyx - Final Hours

Since the foundation of Valve’s now-famous no-management work style, the company always believed that staff would be the happiest if they picked their own projects.

But then Half-Life: Alyx came around.

The revelation is included in Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours, a $14.50 “interactive storybook” released on Steam today. It’s largely a piece of media that outlines Valve’s development over the last decade. And when I say piece of media, I mean that in the sense that it’s a combination of a storybook, interviews, image galleries, 3D models (including a tour of Valve’s Bellevue office) and more.

The whole thing is just over 5GB. You experience it largely by scrolling down the mouse, which is a bit frustrating (page up/down doesn’t work, neither does regular middle-mouse browsing controls). But the experience is broken up by old stills, pictures of emails, old trailers, and things that bring the whole story to life.

 

valve
Image: Half-Life Alyx: Final Hours
valve
Image: Half-Life Alyx: Final Hours

There’s a ton of interesting tidbits about Valve, their vision for where VR is headed — brain-connected hardware will become more prominent, they reckon — and more about the history of Valve generally.

But one of the most interesting parts is how Half-Life: Alyx changed the studio’s view on development. Robin Walker is one of Valve’s most legendary designers, having worked on Team Fortress since the ’90s. In The Final Hours, Walker told Geoff Keighley — cheers to Ars Technica for spotting this first — how their historical flexibility didn’t always work out.

“We sort of had to collectively admit we were wrong on the premise that you will be happiest if you work on something you personally want to work on the most,” Walker said in the app’s fifth chapter, “Fixing Valve”.

Greg Coomer, who still works at Valve, said the company began “having a lot of cultural conversations about why we were unhappy”. “There were just too many things going on at the company to feel like we were healthy as an organisation.”

“We decided as a group that we would all be happier if we worked on a bigt thing, even if it’s not exactly what we wanted to work on,” Walker added.

valve half-life alyx
Image: Half-Life Alyx: The Final Hours
valve half-life alyx
Image: Half-Life Alyx: Final Hours
Image: Half-Life Alyx: Final Hours

It’s unusual to pay $14.95 for what effectively is a great long-form gaming interview, but it’s an excellent piece of transmedia that fans of Half-Life or Valve’s previous work. It’s a great window into a different form of storytelling through apps or traditional game engines. I can see a ton of developers and publishers wanting to play around with the format. (It’d be an excellent way to bring conventions to life again.)

There’s also detail about Half-Life 3 and what form that project initially took, as well as info about Marc Laidlaw’s VR-exclusive Half-Life prototype that was eventually cancelled.

More details about Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours can be found on the Steam page.

Comments

  • “— brain-connected hardware is a thing in their eyes —” Brain connected hardware is already a thing, both in the sense of being able to control things like mice (actual and pointer device) and body peripherals as well as being able to present images directly to the brain. (albeit at low resolutions and currently for people who have lost their sight) For less invasive immersion, AR is getting down to the contact lens scale so it’s really just a matter of time before it enters the entertainment sector.

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