This week VR had its biggest release yet. Valve’s Half Life: Alyx broke records for VR games within in its first 24 hours of release. It hit a 42,858 concurrent user, 5X the peak of The late 2019 release Boneworks. This is the most significant measurable spike in use of VR ever and perhaps more notably, this might be one of the most significant leaps for VR as a platform that becomes a “must have” for any serious gamer while also increasing desire for causal gamers and even the general public who may only rarely play games. The key to how a momentous leap like this can happen boils down to the game at the center of it.
VR releases happen all the time. There are hundreds on Steam VR and many are premium games that had significant budgets to produce them with the highest caliber of developers and story creators. Yet, many gamers are not familiar with most of these titles and the casual gamer or general public certainly can’t name a single VR title. That just changed.
While Half Life: Alyx got a lot of hype leading up to the release, and had one of the most beloved game franchises to stand upon, these aspects alone are not enough to do what Alyx is accomplishing. The reviews are in and the game is being massively well received. VR enthusiasts are pretty much in heaven with the game, noting specifics on what the game does very well in VR compared to previous games and also noting how Alyx is integrating the latest concepts of VR principles. Interestingly since Valve has created the current cutting-edge consumer controllers “knuckles” and of course optimized to compliment each other.
More interestingly, however, is to see the reactions and reviews of those gamers who are not VR enthusiasts, or who may even have felt that the game shouldn’t have been released as a VR only title. It’s these gamers that we can learn the most from; they see the game for what it is, and have the best insights into why this game is good.
People had a lot of faith that the story would be good in this prequel to Half Life 2. The story does not disappoint, as it never can for a successful game. For most people, story is more memorable than game mechanics. Story is what initially gets people excited to play a game and it leads the player throughout the levels. Think of even the most simple of block building games such as Tetris or Minecraft. There must be the elements of a story to ever justify going much beyond level 1. The empires built around these games flourish through the leveraging of story to expand upon the core game.
As important as story is to expanding a game and an empire that may be able to be built around it, there must be a strong core of game mechanics and game play at the heart of the game. Tetris for instance is based on centuries old table game, a game like Alyx; utilizing the timeless model of “killin zombies” allows for all sorts of tricks and challenges to navigate objectives and proceed to higher level of challenges.
Teaching The Player:
For the player to progress to higher levels of challenge they need to be prepared. With the intricacy of games nowadays, tutorials have to be a standard part of virtually all games now. What’s great to see with Half Life: Alyx and other emerging games, is that they are moving more and more away from starting with a full tutorial, instead opting to teach the player bits along the way. This isn’t a brand new concept but it is one of the most definable shifts of gaming expectations in recent times and it is crucial with VR games. We’ve play hundreds of of VR games and experiences, created over a hundred solutions ourselves and we know every time someone steps into a VR world, they have no idea what they’re getting themselves into because after all our experiences we still feel that way too! The excitement of putting on VR headset to try something new is also a feeling we want to preserve and make a special feeling each time. The need of the tutorial is clear, and it doesn’t need to be all up front! We focus on giving enough to get the player off to the races and then cleverly teach them more along the way.
We love seeing this reflected in a major VR release like Half Life: Alyx because it’s a reverberation that our industry has ways of moving forward in a collective way. We want our clients and their users to feel comfortable with the way that they utilize and have fun in VR and industry movements and standards absolutely contribute to user understanding and ability to quickly adapt to enjoying their full experience. We create games, and we create solutions that integrate concepts from games. What makes a good game good, makes an educational or informational experience good. Story, engagement through interaction, and educating the user on how to effectively make those interactions are what create great games and solutions and keep our industry moving forward.
Check out MXTreality CEO Jeff Rayner play Half Life: Alyx with the Valve "Knuckles" Controllers:
Feel free to share this blog with those interested!