By Ronald Gordon
If you’ve been a part of the gaming community for long enough, you’ve most likely heard of something called Half-Life, the beloved science fiction franchise made by Valve Software, developers of the Portal and Team Fortress series. From the time of its launch in 1998, Half-Life stole the hearts of many, but it went dark after the completed release of its second chapter in 2007. And although a third installment was promised, many dreaded that the promise would never be fulfilled. Now, after thirteen long years of silence, Valve has announced Half-Life: Alyx to the world, and fans all over can rejoice. My question about all this is: how has Valve Software spent the last thirteen years?
Half-Life: Alyx – The Final Hours is an interactive storybook written, developed and published by Geoff Keighley, The Game Awards’ creator. In it, you get to read up on everything that Valve did before, during, and after the development of Half-Life: Alyx, and how the game itself came to be. Keighley puts a unique spin on the storytelling by focusing on the development team during the game’s various stages. We get concise, easy-to-digest bits of background information about the important players, like the producers, the 3D model designers, and even the playtesters, all of which adds some fascinating details to the story.
I enjoyed reading Half-Life: Alyx – The Final Hours, because of how novel it felt. There are plenty of game releases that are accompanied by developer commentaries or Q&A conferences at local conventions. But there aren’t many games that get a full storybook dedicated to them. And Half-Life: Alyx – The Final Hours is leagues better than any old storybook you can find online or out in the world, like Choose Your Own Adventure books, or Visual Novels like the ones I’ve reviewed previously. It has its own beautifully rendered cut scenes and interactive slideshows, which makes it feel like you’re playing a story-heavy game rather than reading a book.
I loved the interactivity of Alyx: The Final Hours, because it drew me in more and made me want to see all the tidbits and factoids that accompanied the story. The menus collapse to allow you more space to read, the page backgrounds change and shift as you scroll down, and there’s even a puzzle to solve which gives you access to hidden slideshow photos. It all blends together to form a truly engrossing story of the game’s development.
That brings me to my next point about the phenomenal storytelling as it pertains to the game’s development. Every game goes through several phases, each with its starting and ending points, its crunch times, its roadblocks and pitfalls. Any problems a game designer anticipates – and some that aren’t – are likely to come up somewhere during the development phase. Keighley’s masterful recounting of how Valve Software trudged through thirteen years of development made me really appreciate the time it takes to bring a good game to completion. It made my heart ache to read about the shifts in software to keep the graphics up to date, the creative differences, and the struggles the team endured to make the game that they felt their fans deserved.
Although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a Half-Life fan, I was excited to hear that the franchise most notable for the many memes begging for the promised Third installment seemed to have finally succeeded in bringing the fans what they craved. Even though I had no personal experience with the game – yet, I was enthralled by the stunning new graphics on iconic enemies like the Head Crabs and zombies in Alyx’s trailers. Now that I know how much time, effort, and care was put into each and every detail of the game, I’m disappointed that I didn’t hop on this bandwagon sooner than I did.
Valve Software’s Half-Life: Alyx is a game I only know from gameplays and walkthroughs as I don’t have VR hardware up here in the Bronx. But after reading through The Final Hours, I now know that Half-Life: Alyx is more than just an amazing VR game. For me, and hopefully also for the developers at Valve Software, Half-Life: Alyx is not just a revival of the Half-Life series, but also a love letter to the fans and followers of the series, people who waited for something that could have only happened if given this time to evolve. Keighley’s story shows us that for Valve Software, Half-Life: Alyx was a way to prove how far they had come as a game development studio: all the work to craft the script, get the 3D models working right, fix the bugs, complete the test runs. And the result – the third installment of Half-Life being Alyx – is an ideal outcome for the Fandom that constantly craves more and more.
Ronald Gordon, a Bronx native who attends City Tech College, is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle.