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Moz

Valve - Hell freezes over - Valve announce Half Life: Alyx VR

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Or if you’re being less charitable 

 

Spoiler

The first half life game for fifteen years ends on the exact same cliffhanger as Ep2, offering zero in the way of continuing the story, but also not having the confidence to avoid retreading the same setting and enemies again. 

 

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It's one of the most "reshoot" endings I can think of for a videogame, there was talk that it was overhauled based on feedback before launch and you can kind of see where that happened:

 

Spoiler

I expect the rescuing her father plot was originally the whole game, because you want a story to have personal stakes for the character. As it is, the personal story gets resolved half way through the game, offscreen when she's just in a hotel or something, and then everything about the new plot is either radio messages or listening to dialogue while watching shadows on the wall - all stuff that could be easily switched out without changing too much. And the new ending dials up the nostalgia fan-service heavily, which is the usual crowd-pleaser approach.

 

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Well...

 

Spoiler

What we've got above is Broker reiterating the same complaint he made in the Alyx thread, and Rubber Johnny reusing the same compaint he makes in almost every thread.

 

So I find it funny that both are having a go at Valve for treading back over old ground. ;)

 

But,

 

Spoiler

That's not to say that their complaints are invalid, but I don't really see a problem.

 

I find myself more charitable than Broker. I feel that the events of the ending allow Valve to pretty much abandon the plot from the end of Episode 2 if they wish to make another Half Life game, and so toss out any lingering threads. The events of Marc Laidlaw's Epistle Three go out the window - Alyx is gone but not dead, Eli's alive, and the story shifts from tracing the Borealis to retrieving Alyx. 

 

Is it a fudge? Sure. Was it a disappointing ending? Not for me, and certainly it didn't undo 20+ hours of terrifically immersive, unnerving gameplay that preceded it. I wasn't playing Alyx to find out what happens next in the story arc, but rather what's around the next corner, under the next box, through the next door. What I got was an experience that lived up to the promise, and one of the best VR games I've played.

 

If it required Valve to not bother advancing the story or setting, removing that weight of expectation, then I'm all for it.

 

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I’d argue pursuing decade old stakes personal to the player (something virtually no games have in the first place) is a worthy pivot from pursuing stakes for the player character. I figured out what was in the box really early on, but wasn’t disappointed by the ending at all. It resolves the narrative short circuit and lets them go anywhere while giving HL3 a narrative thrust beyond revenge. 
 

Best of all it gave them a safe space to experiment and fall in love with the world again without misstepping. They’re also a completely different team for the most part, so I’m glad they kept the scope smallish and actually brought something to release while making the mission statement to deliver HL3.

 

Half life feels fresh, exciting and unpredictable again. That’s quite a feat. 
 

Broker, RJ, did you play it or just watch vids? The reason I ask is so much of the power and novelty of the game is lost in video form. Which actually makes me worried about a non-VR HL3 or Alyx port. The small environments and simple puzzles won’t be half as interesting on a screen a few feet away. 
 

None of this is fanboyism either - I was completely done with the series (look upthread).

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41 minutes ago, Moz said:

I’d argue pursuing decade old stakes personal to the player (something virtually no games have in the first place) 

 

I'd argue every remaster (so most games nowadays) is relying on the emotional connection between the player and something decades old:

 

Spoiler

see the supporting cast in FF7RE doing big emotional speeches just before the plate falls, because they've read the script this time around

 

41 minutes ago, Moz said:

I figured out what was in the box really early on, but wasn’t disappointed by the ending at all. It resolves the narrative short circuit and lets them go anywhere while giving HL3 a narrative thrust beyond revenge. 

 

I didn't say anything about being disappointed by the ending, I think it mostly hangs together:

 

Spoiler

the treating of Gordon Freeman as an superweapon as if he's Doomguy before the reveal felt weird in-universe and also rather pandering.

 

It's just a bit obvious where it was inserted, and it's also notable for being the only game I can think of with a "reshoot ending".

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Ah I wasn't replying to you when I was talking about being disappointed by the ending - I was agreeing with Fry, though he may have been talking to you.

 

Gordon has a mythical status among the resistance and even moreso among the Vortigaunts, due to the events of Hl1. Probably also due to his unexplained disappearance and many embellished resistance stories - he's a campfire legend. Whether the reality holds up is a matter of perspective, but it didn't seem unusual.

 

Those decade-old emotional stakes aren't the same thing though - relying on nostalgic recreations in the way RE2, FF7R etc does would be a kiss of death after fans waited so long for HL3. Throughout the game the unspoken tension (at least for me) was edging closer to learning something new and concrete about HL3, resolving the immediate events occurring was a secondary concern. If it ended without feeding into the wider franchise with no new path forward or a renewed mission statement it would be extremely disappointing - like a slot-in sidequel which can't have any implications for the numbered sequels. HL: Alyx never feels like the future of Half Life or comforting nostalgia, and doesn't pretend to be. It's a side story designed to showcase VR, but it does have big implications for the next Half Life.

 

You could be right about the ending being changed, who knows. It was reportedly about 15 hours long when playtesters got to play it last year. It might simply be that the gathering pace of Alyx's development got them geared up to finally make a HL3 and they parachuted the reveal in. 

 

But, while I appreciate everyone's thoughts I was really hoping to talk more about the next game (and HOW we talk about it without ruining the ending of Alyx). Can we just say that it more-or-less

 

Spoiler

confirms a HL3

 

without giving any specifics, and go from there?

 

 

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Mayyyy...beee?

 

HL:A has the benefit of using VR as a platform. Regular flat panel interface still throws up the old problem of, "What can we do to further narrative- and tech-based FPS gaming?" that Valve have sidestepped for 15 years. 

 

I think a 3 is more likely now, but not a lock. I think an Alyx 2 is a certainty though. Although not for many years. 

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8 hours ago, Moz said:


 

Broker, RJ, did you play it or just watch vids? The reason I ask is so much of the power and novelty of the game is lost in video form. Which actually makes me worried about a non-VR HL3 or Alyx port. The small environments and simple puzzles won’t be half as interesting on a screen a few feet away. 
 

None of this is fanboyism either - I was completely done with the series (look upthread).


I watched a full play through. I didn’t think I was bothered but around launch the nostalgia got me and I went through a bunch of half life story videos and watched all of Alyx. It was clear that I was missing what’s special about the game, and I’m also not really being serious about the story. I would definitely advise avoiding getting too excited about what’s next though, no matter how sure valve seem that there’s more coming soon. VR doesn’t work for me though, I don’t like it at all, so I was never going to play it. It just seems that if they wanted to clear the decks and start fresh they could’ve made a new game, rather than 

 

Spoiler

Returning to an old setting, doing a prequel and ending it in the same place as the last cliffhanger. Which seems like a weird middle ground.


But if the fan base and people who are new to the series like it and are excited about what’s next then that obviously isn’t the general perception.

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1 hour ago, Moz said:

But, while I appreciate everyone's thoughts I was really hoping to talk more about the next game (and HOW we talk about it without ruining the ending of Alyx). Can we just say that it more-or-less

 

  Reveal hidden contents

confirms a HL3

 

without giving any specifics, and go from there?

 

It more or less does that in the same way Episode 2 did.

 

And yet, here we are.

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4 hours ago, Broker said:


I watched a full play through. I didn’t think I was bothered but around launch the nostalgia got me and I went through a bunch of half life story videos and watched all of Alyx. It was clear that I was missing what’s special about the game, and I’m also not really being serious about the story. I would definitely advise avoiding getting too excited about what’s next though, no matter how sure valve seem that there’s more coming soon. VR doesn’t work for me though, I don’t like it at all, so I was never going to play it. It just seems that if they wanted to clear the decks and start fresh they could’ve made a new game, rather than 

 

  Reveal hidden contents

Returning to an old setting, doing a prequel and ending it in the same place as the last cliffhanger. Which seems like a weird middle ground.


But if the fan base and people who are new to the series like it and are excited about what’s next then that obviously isn’t the general perception.


Aye, watching videos of it really doesn’t do it justice. It’s frustrating as a VR user, as there’s no easy way to convey a lot of what’s great about it moment to moment. You can still get the story beats etc of course. 

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2 hours ago, Fry Crayola said:

 

It more or less does that in the same way Episode 2 did.

 

And yet, here we are.


It’s more like that Kickstarter video for that blokes cancelled swordfighting game where Gabe appeared hammering a crowbar and said “these things take time“

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1 hour ago, Moz said:


Aye, watching videos of it really doesn’t do it justice. It’s frustrating as a VR user, as there’s no easy way to convey a lot of what’s great about it moment to moment. You can still get the story beats etc of course. 


Watching a dry video explaining the plot of the first two games really hammered home how little of their magic was in the actual details of the story. Even without VR, I don’t think Half Life has ever translated well to just watching or describing. 
 

Selling VR seems like selling 4K tv or 3D stuff. There’s a major issue communicating what’s actually enjoyable about it through other media. I really dislike motion controls, so the current VR solutions just don’t work for me, but I do like being able to look about in a racing or flying game where I’ve got a controller. I’ve not felt the magic from any of my VR experiences so far, and don’t have the means to play Alyx properly and really see what’s special about it.

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Alyx uses the Oculus Touch really well, as does something like Robo Recall, to the point that I don't really think of it as "motion controls". I'm gripping a gun as I'd grip a gun, pulling a trigger in the same way I'd pull a trigger, and grabbing objects by closing my fingers around them. It's a far cry from the PS4 touch wands, or the Wiimote.

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Yep I don't really class it as motion controls either, though I suppose that's technically true. They feel fairly natural - Alyx moreso than other vr games as the hands are physical objects which can rummage through things.

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I guess maybe the index makes a difference? But aside from holding a gun (which does feel quite natural with a motion controller), I don’t really feel like waving a plastic bar at something and pressing buttons on it really replicated the feel of picking things up or moving them around at all. It doesn’t feel like hands to me at all, and it’s weird seeing hands there doing things that mine aren’t. 
 

It’s more being confined to my own physical abilities. I’m not playing games so I can be a person who’s as weak and bad at aiming as me. I made the analogy before but for me it’s like a life sized chess board, I can see how in theory it might be more “immersive” but it’s pushing me into a place that removes the point of the experience. For me games are about being someone else who can do totally different things, and limiting me to what I can actually physically do with my arms whilst standing it sitting in a small box removes a lot of the point. If I actually wanted to hold my arms up and learn to fire a weapon, I’d probably go paint balling or something. What I’m looking for is a game that’s like shooting, including the abstraction of now having to walk about or move my arms too much. I don’t want to believe it’s real, I want to do something fun that’s designed to evoke the feelings. 
 

And that’s before even getting to the absolute garbage that are the PlayStation wands and vive controllers, both of which feel exactly like Wii remotes with all the other associated problems. 

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Oculus Touch, and I imagine Index, do make a difference because of the finger tracking. It's less pronounced in Touch, as it only tracks the index finger, thumb, and then the rest as a group, but that alone is enough for Alyx to allow for grasping at objects, transferring from hand to hand, and interacting with the environment in a way that feels close to reality.

 

Of course, your second paragraph goes on to describe why real isn't what you want, in a way that is entirely personal to you, and there's not much argument against that!

 

Still, what I found best about Alyx though was the atmospheric horror that gets amplified by the increased physical presence in the space that VR brings. Translating the game to VR turned a headcrab from a puny critter that deals little damage to one of the most terrifying enemies in the game, by preying on those things that Valve know we're not good at. It's a level of horror that works best when you're fumbling for another clip, backing away slowly as the critter starts to rear up for a pounce, and one that is largely absent from the traditional controls of the rest of the series.

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The problem with VR is unless you try it, you don't always see the point. But when you do, especially in something so well done as Alyx, then it's transformative. 

 

It's simple things. Most games on a flat screen have no sense of scale. But trust me, the first time you see a Strider pass over your head, you realise there really isn't anything like VR done well.

 

It's expensive and it will never replace 'traditional' 2d gaming in the same way TV didn't replace the radio, but if you if ignore it, you are missing some of this generations finest games. 

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9 hours ago, Broker said:

I’m not playing games so I can be a person who’s as weak and bad at aiming as me. I made the analogy before but for me it’s like a life sized chess board, I can see how in theory it might be more “immersive” but it’s pushing me into a place that removes the point of the experience. For me games are about being someone else who can do totally different things, and limiting me to what I can actually physically do with my arms whilst standing it sitting in a small box removes a lot of the point. If I actually wanted to hold my arms up and learn to fire a weapon, I’d probably go paint balling or something.

 I read a dev talking about eye tracking and how it would make aiming and throwing things so much easier as the game would know what you were trying to do and exactly what you were aiming for because you were looking at it. Things can only get better :)

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