Half-Life: Alyx documentary video: 'We couldn't possibly' make it for mouse and keyboard

With Half-Life: Alyx officially revealed and set to arrive next year, Game Awards host Geoff Keighly shared a 22-minute video chat with members of the development team that digs into how it all got started, and why there won't be a non-VR version released down the road.

Interestingly, the project didn't begin as a new Half-Life game: Valve's David Speyrer explains in the video that after the release of The Lab in 2016, Valve committed to making a "big VR game," but didn't settle on getting back into the Half-Life universe until later.

"It was definitely, 'Let's do a big VR game,' and then we explored different franchises," he said. "We kind of ruled out multiplayer just because of the small audience for VR, and other issues as well with VR, avatars and things like that. And we kind of settled on Portal or Half-Life as interesting, and Portal is so much about flinging yourself through space and through portals that we thought, well, we're gonna make a bunch of people sick with this game."

"And then we looked at Half-Life and kind of the DNA of that product, and a bunch of elements seemed really enhanced by VR. Half-Life is about this cadence of story, combat, puzzle, exploration, interaction, environmental art, vistas, things like that. And they all seemed to be enhanced or reinvented in interesting ways by VR."

While VR exclusivity locks out the vast majority of the Half-Life fan base without buying a headset, Dario Casali said that as Valve pushed forward with its experiments, it found that it was able to do all kinds of things that normal games don't allow—which, unfortunately, is also why you won't see Half-Life: Alyx appear on conventional PCs.

"[Half-Life: Alyx] began as an exploration of VR, and the more we used the controllers and the headset, we realized the amount of interactions this gives, the amount of possibilities these things give us, the more we explored it and the more we realized that there's so much opportunity that we can't really translate back to the keyboard," Casali said. 

"When you can track your hands separately from your head, they're all 3D space, all simultaneously tracking and moving, you just can't really get that with a mouse and keyboard. And when you put that into game mechanics, the kinds of interactions that we can do now, we couldn't possibly do with a mouse and keyboard."

He cited the complexity of doors as an example: Players can crack open doors and put their guns through, open a door, drop a grenade, and pull it shut, knock doors open, or open them just a crack for a peek at what's behind: "The more we explored those mechanics, the more we realized that In order for us to deliver a keyboard and mouse experience we'd have to ship a game that's missing a lot of those interactions, and they were playtesting so well that we didn't feel like that was a good idea."

The good news is that Half-Life: Alyx will run on a variety of headsets, including the Index, Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, and Windows Mixed Reality rigs—so while there's an unavoidable cost of entry, there's at least some degree of flexibility to it. Half-Life: Alyx is set to come out in March 2020; Keighley's in-depth report on its development, The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx, will presumably show up around the same time. 

More information about the game will be revealed at The Game Awards, which begin at 5:30 pm PT/8:30 pm ET on December 12.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.