Valve's Robin Walker, one of its most senior developers and a key figure in the creation of everything from Half-Life to Team Fortress to Dota 2, recently gave an interview to The Gamer discussing the company's internal reaction to making Half-Life: Alyx and gave something of a tease about things to come.
“I think for the first couple of years [of Alyx development]," says Walker, "it was just a bunch of people in the company sceptical that we were going to actually build and release a Half-Life product again. All the scepticism about Valve working on Half-Life that’s out there was just as alive within the company itself, and you just resign yourself to thinking that we’re never going to do it.”
Walker goes on to observe that "fear is a good motivator" and the positive reaction to the announce calmed internal nerves. Alluding to the title's nature as a VR-only experience, he adds: "The worst thing we could do is ship a bad Half-Life game, but if we ship a good one that is worthy of the name, then I'm sure people will be able to experience it in time."
The most interesting aspect of the interview is Walker discussing the 'narrative limbo' that fans of the series had been left in after the HL2 episodes, and a determination with Alyx to change that equation. Discussing the game's ending (no spoilers) Walker says:
"We realise that it needed to be something that mattered. The story couldn’t be something you could just ignore and move onto whatever we build next. We also knew that Half-Life fans have been stuck in a sort of narrative limbo for a long time now, and we wanted that to change."
Staying away from the spoilers still, the context that is needed here is that Alyx finishes in a manner that is open-ended and suggests more to come.
"We wanted to be excited about possibility again,” says Walker. “We gave [you] a red herring where you think you know how it’s going to end with a fully plausible ending and we then subverted that, which were all really important elements that took a lot of iteration and came together towards the end."
Well, I'm certainly excited about possibility again. I know Half-Life 3's been so anticipated for so long that it's now a meme, but it genuinely feels bizarre that Half-Life 2, one of the greatest and most influential shooters and environments ever constructed, was left alone for so long. When Walker's talking about narrative limbos, the original came out in 2004, 17 years ago, and Episode 2 released in 2007 and ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. It's good to hear that Valve "want[s] that to change." Rise and shine, Mr Freeman. Everyone's waiting.