The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx

I've never been particularly interested in playing Half-Life games, having the hand-eye coordination of a partly paralyzed goldfish as I do and never liking first person shooters or horror. But Half-Life as a series has left an indelible impression on the gaming industry, as has the Steam distribution platform (borne out of horrible experiences with physical publishing gatekeepers) and the Valve company that created both of them.

After a stint of a few years where the "episodic" nature of the second Half-Life game came to a halt on a climactic cliffhanger, any development on any Half-Life title has been shrouded in mystical secrecy befitting of a Salinger-esque recluse; the original Half-Life and the last episode of Half-Life 2 were released within a 9 year window, and were followed by 12 years of silence.

The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx is a compendious monolith of behind-the-scenes reporting from independent games journalist Geoff Keighley who previously produced similar articles for the original Half-Life, Half-Life 2 and Portal 2. Not only does it tell the story of Half-Life: Alyx, the VR-only prequel finally announced at the end of 2019, but it reveals the series of false starts, development stalls and projects that were not in tune with the current circumstances that occupied the enigmatic dozen-year sabbatical.

Valve is an incredibly successful company with vast resources, and its employees driven, capable and afforded legendary levels of freedom, but in the end, game development remains a creative and human endeavor, and is susceptible to downturns, lulls or, as one employee dubs it, wandering off into a collectively shared wilderness. Stories like these are all-too-common, but in a "10x engineer" world obsessed with venture capitalists roving around for "rockstar developers", they are too seldom told.

(If you think you might be interested in playing Half-Life: Alyx at some point, stay far away – there's no way of reading this without being spoiled to high hell. Also, be prepared for requiring a several GB download on a reasonably recent Windows PC to read an article.)

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