Valve Spent Over a Year Trying to Get a Crowbar Working in VR for Half-Life: Alyx, but Couldn’t Crack It

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Image: Valve

Half-Life: Alyx is an incredible game, but it’s missing one of the most iconic elements of the franchise – a crowbar. How could Valve forget to include Gordon Freeman’s weapon of choice?

According to designer and programmer Robin Walker, Valve did in fact try to get a crowbar into Half-Life: Alyx because it “unlocked a lot of gameplay,” but the weapon had to be scrapped due to various problems that the team ran into. The first of these involved basic positioning.

“The lack of force feedback meant that players would often hold their crowbar out of their sight, because that’s what you do when you’re holding a real crowbar—you wouldn’t look at it all the time,” Walker said. “But then they’d hook it on stuff. They’d be walking along, and then they’d hook it on a door. So for us, it was like ‘What do we do now?’ We tried various things like the end of the crowbar turns it physics off, or stops colliding [with objects] when it’s off screen. In real life, you would feel your arm getting tugged as you hooked the curve of the crowbar on something, but we have no feedback like that in VR. We could buzz your hand with haptics, but we found that’s never foolproof. Some players just don’t notice it enough.”

Another problem was that Valve couldn’t figure out how to make melee combat in Half-Life: Alyx fun. While there are plenty of VR games out there that revolve around swords, axes, and such, Walker said that nothing he experimented with felt right.

“Everyone thought it was a melee weapon,” said Walker. “We did a bunch of experimentation around melee, and we could just never get it to the level we liked,” Walker explained. “The player really had to kind of come along for the ride more than we were happy with… we don’t like it if there’s a real way you can do it that seems natural to you, but that the game really doesn’t want you to do.”

Lastly, the biggest reason for the crowbar’s omission is that Valve didn’t want to people to think they were playing as Gordon Freeman. As the title implies, Half-Life: Alyx is about Alyx Vance – not everyone’s favorite theoretical physicist.

“It didn’t matter how much we told them, like, literally at the start of the game, that they aren’t Gordon,” said Walker. “We would finish playtests and ask players, ‘So tell us what’s happened so far. Tell us everything you learned about the state of the world and what the story’s about.’ And the players would think they’re Gordon.”

Tsing Mui
News poster at The FPS Review.

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