The New Half Life and What it Means for VR Gaming

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The next entry in the beloved Half-Life series has been announced. Unfortunately for the fans, it is not a continuation of the story that ended on a cliffhanger in Half-Life 2 Episode 2, but a prequel that takes place between the first and second Half-Life. What makes this entry entirely different from the other is that it is entirely in VR with no version planned for the traditional flat surfaces of monitors. The announcement was met with great enthusiasm from the gaming industry as well as criticism for the fact that the game is VR only and also the fact that it is a prequel, rather than a continuation.

A Prequel?

The story will follow Alyx Vance, the secondary character in Half-Life 2, and her father as they struggle against the Combine, the game’s alien race that has invaded Earth. She and her father formed a small resistance after they have been relocated to City 17 making great efforts to research and find out more about the unknown enemy and develop tools for the few people that have risen against the Combine. Most fans of the series have expected that the next entry would be a continuation of where the story left-back in Episode 2. Much of what happened during the invasion is not explored in the previous game and it would be interesting to experience what happened during that crucial moment in the Half-Life universe.

A joke revolving around Valve and their games is that they don’t know how to count past number 2. Instead of Portal 3, they release a spin-off known as Bridge Construction Portal and the Lab, which itself is a VR game. The latest entry in the Team Fortress series is Team Fortress 2. In the DOTA series, the last major entry was Artifact which is based in the DOTA universe. And now we have Half-Life. After almost a decade since the last entry, we are met with a prequel to Half-Life 2, instead of Half-Life 3.

The Game Development

Gabe Newell, the one and only, mentioned that the company has invested a lot in this VR project and hopes that Half-Life Alyx will get players and developers more interested in VR gaming and also showcase VR gaming at the highest fidelity possible. He also explained that the project is a culmination of everything that Valve stands for, that being: creating great games, using cutting edge technology and open-platforms. The game will be built on Valve’s in-house game engine, Source 2 and will be compatible with all most VR devices such as Valve’s own HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. The game has been in development for 4 years, a time during which the game was tested extensively. One of the designers, Greg Coomer, has mentioned that the new game will be as long as Half-Life 2 and that the game will be a full Half-Life experience, complete with everything that fans of the series would expect. From a great story to exciting exploration and combat. When the project was started, Robin Walker, who is  another game designer at Valve said that the prospect of creating Half Life 3 was a daunting idea.

The trailer that was revealed for the game looks amazing, showing the familiar City 17 with the iconic Combine fortress in the distance. It is interesting to see how much the technology has evolved since we last saw this environment back in 2007. Each shot has a great amount of detail and from what the trailer showed us, it looks like there will be a lot of interactivity with the surrounding environment.

What Does This Mean for VR Gaming?

Many believe that the interest in VR gaming is declining. This, however, is not the case. The problem with VR lies in its affordability and the requirements to be able to play using a VR headset. Since Half-Life Alyx will be a Windows exclusive, there are 2 great VR options. The HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. If a headset would be the only necessary gadget to own, this would not be a problem for most people. However, the technology requires a high-end PC so that games can run smoothly using a VR headset. No one is exactly sure what impact will Half-Life Alyx will have on the VR market. Valve rarely develop games these days with more focus being put into developing new technologies and maintaining Steam. They even added support for games to be played on Linux with Steam Play which also incorporates Proton, resulting in accessing games in Linux as simple as hitting the play button.

VR is being implemented in all sorts of media and entertainment, even that of gambling. It was in 2015 when the first VR slot game was released which allowed people to play slots inside a virtual environment and what followed is many online gaming developers becoming more interested in VR technology to be used in casinos. The drawback of VR casinos is the same as regular games in general. Players require a VR headset to play these games.

The major draw of online casinos was that they can be played comfortably just by having an internet connection and a VR headset will negatively impact this experience. However, while there is interest in the technology, not many game developers have adopted it. Many online casinos are maintaining popularity without the need for VR, just by having good games like the popular Book of Ra. The game gained much popularity which led to new slot games of this style, the latest being Book of Ra 10. These games also require fewer specs to run properly, especially because they are not VR. Since the Half-Life series has had such a major impact on the gaming industry, releasing the new entry in VR will probably increase the adoption rate of virtual reality headsets by more people which in turn will have a spilling effect on other industries looking to adopt VR.

Hardware Requirements

According to Steam, the minimal requirements to run Half-Life Alyx are the following:

Operating System – Windows 10

Processor – i5 7500 / Ryzen 5 1600

Graphics Card – GTX 1060 / RX 580 – 6GB VRAM

RAM – 12 Gb

The specification above falls somewhere within mid-range and one must keep in mind the fact that these are the minimum requirements with no details regarding the recommended specifications. Some people were annoyed at the necessity for a minimum of 12Gb RAM as a minimum requirement. Current triple-A games such as Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Jedi Fallen Order need 8 Gb as a minimum requirement and with Half-Life Alyx set to release in 2020, something similar was expected. This shows how much tech is needed to run the game and combined with the necessity of owning a VR headset, many players will be left behind. When the first 2 Half-Life games where release, they completely transformed the gaming landscape at the time.

There is a strong possibility that the new one will drastically change how Vr games are made and the potential that they bring to fully experience a game with VR. The game was revealed almost a week ago and it is probably too soon to speculate the changes that it will have in future games, but from the trailer itself, the game looks and feels like a true Half-Life experience that players have been waiting for.

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