The release of Half-Life: Alyx, Valve’s return to form as a triple-A developer and their first Half-Life effort in 13 years, is being pegged before its upcoming release as one of the best games available in VR currently, and a ‘must-play’ for any fans of the series. More than just another immersive proof of concept, this upcoming title is leading many to ask the question: is Virtual Reality going to go mainstream in 2020?
Here’s a bit more information on how Valve are working to make Half Life: Alyx the accessible killer app on VR, and also some other points about the VR platform that suggest it could make its way into even more living rooms in the coming months and years. We could be looking at a very different gaming landscape at the other side of the decade.
Valve is known as a pretty masterful developer when it comes to optimisation and game porting, and many of their games can be run on pretty much any PC hardware, especially nowadays, while still looking visually impressive. Half-Life 2, for example, their legendary shooter that is still as impressive today as it was 15 years ago, is extremely easy to run on even the most run-of-the-mill computer. The game has also been released on Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and even Android for compatible streaming devices.
Valve really want Half-Life: Alyx to be as accessible and available as it possibly can be on a VR platform, and so they’re making it extremely easy to access and play on as many SteamVR-worthy devices as possible. This includes the Valve Index, the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and even any Windows Mixed Reality headset. This is great news for any early adopters of the technology, as it means that they will likely have a new usage for their headset before they know it, without having to make another major investment.
Many video game companies and video game developers are also creating better solutions for those with disabilities, too, and VR tech can be a great way of escapism or immersion for those with mobility issues, for example. VR is even being used in a bunch of different interesting ways outside of the gaming sphere, such as training of staff in professions that can’t exactly learn on the job (e.g. surgeons and astronauts).
VR’s ‘Killer App’
Where Super Mario 64 was Nintendo’s must-have for the leap into 3D-gaming, and Wii Sports their must-have for motion control on the Wii, the latest Half-Life could very well be the next step for fully-fledged, realised VR worlds. While it’s true that there are a ton of excellent virtual reality games already out there, in a variety of different genres, many are simple concepts, or not designed for long-duration play sessions. Half-Life: Alyx could be the first time where gamers could truly dive in and get lost in a single player adventure for hours at a time, in the same way that they would with a standard PC game.
In terms of nausea and eye strain, Valve are very much developing the VR technology itself as well as just the games, and so if anyone can do it in the right way it’s them. They’ve even implemented multiple modes of movement in the game that you can choose between, depending on your personal preference. You can walk around freely using the full body motion tracking of your chosen headset, or simply warp around to your destination if you feel motion sickness.
Cost of entry
To offer out a counterpoint to all of the positives in terms of virtual reality going mainstream in 2020, there is a significant setback for most people – in the sense that it’s pretty expensive to get started. Not only will it set you back at least a couple of hundred pounds for the headset itself (even more if you’re going for the flagship Valve Index), but you also need to have a pretty high-end gaming PC in order to run the software competently in the first place.
Those who want to give VR a go without paying out a huge sum of cash can do so by getting a cheap mobile phone lens casing and using some proof-of-concept apps, but it’s not the same experience. But what if there was a solution?
A cinema-esque experience
Aside from being expensive, most full-motion VR setups also need a good amount of space in order to be enjoy to the fullest – particularly with the rigs that use beacon-like devices in order to scan your surroundings. For those living in small apartments with a standard desk setup for their PCs, this can be a difficult hurdle. Perhaps the answer in the future is appointment based ‘cinema’ experiences that you can go to, and hire out the VR unit as you would pay for a ticket to go and see a film. These sorts of ‘VRcade’ spots already exist, and will probably grow in the future.