Half-Life: Alyx ends the place Half-Life 2: Episode Two ends, after having modified the whole lot we thought we knew about the place the story was going, or what’s going to occur subsequent.
It’s a neat trick for a prequel. What may need been a sport that stored the story in a holding sample turned one thing that modifications the character of Half-Life’s narrative as we thought we understood it.
But after all, to go any additional, and to ask the sport’s writers about what all of it means, we’re going to need to spoil some stuff.
Everything previous is new once more
As we’ve reported earlier than, there doesn’t appear to be a lot query about whether or not there will likely be extra Half-Life video games sooner or later. What these video games will likely be, nonetheless, is up for some debate.
“There’s certainly no bible that lays everything out for the next three games, I would love that, if Marc [Laidlaw, Half-Life’s original writer] had some secret book,” Valve author (kinda) Erik Wolpaw informed Polygon, laughing. “That would have been tremendous.”
“The ending certainly suggests certain directions that we’re all really excited about, so it’s not like there’s no idea, but no, there’s not a concrete, 300-page manual of where the game goes after this,” Valve author Jay Pinkerton mentioned in settlement.
So let’s discuss that ending, as a result of it’s a doozy, and it definitely does appear to recommend quite a bit.
The sport begins by admitting that the mission Alyx is on — a journey to avoid wasting her father Eli Vance from the Combine — is doomed to fail. Eli Vance is useless. We’ve already seen him die. The sport itself reminds us of this truth in its opening moments. The stakes appear low, and it seems like we’re merely going over the identical floor as earlier video games, narratively talking, besides this time we’re in VR.
But Alyx truly succeeds in her first objective lengthy earlier than the sport is over, regardless of the whole lot we’ve been led to imagine. Eli is freed, and has information of some type of tremendous weapon that’s being held by the Combine. Something they don’t need anybody to find out about. Something they appear to be afraid of. And no matter it’s, the resistance must get its arms on it if there may be to be any hope for City 17.
Alyx’s mission is now now not a couple of rescue, however about discovering, and maybe utilizing, that weapon. But she finds out that it will not be a factor in any respect, however might be an individual. And that individual is likely to be essentially the most consequential human being within the Half-Life mythos: Gordon Freeman. If Alyx can get to the person who turned a legend after the occasions of Black Mesa, solely to have disappeared straight afterward, they could have an opportunity of successful the planet again from the Combine.
So now we’re again to the sport being a rescue mission, only a rescue mission with a really completely different goal. And the nearer she will get to that focus on, the weirder issues turn into. Because it’s not Gordon Freeman being held captive, it seems.
It’s the G-Man.
And releasing a seemingly almighty energy from jail has its perks, as he presents her a favor in return for being launched. He doesn’t have the facility to take away the Combine from Earth, that may be an excessive amount of meddling for his “employers,” however he can do one thing that is likely to be simply pretty much as good, within the long-term. He reveals Alyx her future, besides Alyx’s future came about in our real-life previous. We see the loss of life of Eli Vance, and Alyx is given the chance to avoid wasting him, so long as she goes to work for the G-Man.
Remember the ending of Half-Life 2: Episode Two? If not, let’s give it a rewatch. This is what Alyx sees, kind of, and what she’s given the choice to vary.
Changing the previous, or perhaps, extra precisely, altering the circumstances across the sport’s current, allowed the crew to get gamers reinvested within the sport’s story with out merely repeating issues followers already knew.
“The problem was how do you make any ending feel like this game mattered?” Valve author Sean Vanaman defined to Polygon. “How do we solve the prequel problem to not feel like this game is just like a hermetically sealed short-story in the world of Half-Life?”
Alyx now truly does have the power to avoid wasting her father, however doing so will change the course of the sport’s complete story. She accepts the deal, her father is saved, and he or she goes away to … wherever the G-Man retains belongings in between their missions. The identical place Gordon Freeman disappeared to within the time between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, presumably.
Except, in some way, Eli Vance is aware of that the G-Man has modified issues, and has his daughter. We don’t know precisely how Eli is aware of this, however we do know he needs to do one thing about it, and he is aware of simply the individual to show to with the intention to save his daughter, earlier than hopefully additionally saving the world: Gordon Freeman.
The sport’s last moments, after the credit, present the return of Dog because the robotic returns Gordon’s well-known crowbar to his arms. Or fairly, since that is VR, your arms. And that’s the place the entire thing concludes.
This ending, with its twists and turns, solves many issues the narrative crew had been fighting by way of the sport’s improvement.
“We had the prequel problem, we had the ‘god in a box’ problem. Those are the two big ones,” Pinkerton mentioned. “The idea that once you free god, god owes you a favor. And that favor has to be pretty consequential. What does Alyx want?”
The sport doesn’t give Alyx quite a bit to need exterior of that one objective. She was all the time making an attempt to avoid wasting her father from the Combine, so utilizing that need as a throughline meant they didn’t need to create a McGuffin midway by way of the sport, even when it appeared, for a time, that they’d accomplish that. Eli was all the time going to die, we all know how that story ends since we’ve performed Episode Two. But having the G-Man carry him again and recruit Alyx as an asset? Suddenly the story was versatile once more, and stunning.
“It just it moved the ball forward in a way that everyone in the room just found interesting,” Pinkerton mentioned. “You couldn’t stop thinking about it … We couldn’t stop talking about it.”
It’s a hell of an ending, returning us to the ultimate moments of the earlier launch within the Half-Life collection, whereas altering a lot of what we thought we knew about what would occur subsequent.
I used to be struck by how shortly Eli Vance was in a position to put collectively what had occurred earlier than calling on Gordon Freeman for assist. The crew mentioned leaving some clue behind that may point out that the G-Man had been there, and had pulled some cosmic strings to perhaps change issues that shouldn’t have been modified, however that concept was minimize for quite a lot of causes. So how did Eli know what went on? I requested the three males if an alternate timeline had been created, and in that case, what had occurred to the unique occasions from Episode Two.
“It’s fun to think about, isn’t it?” Vanaman mentioned, trying away from the digital camera and smiling.
Here’s the place we begin digging into the storytelling philosophy of Half-Life just a little bit, as a result of discussing this stuff, and questioning about what’s precisely happening, is a part of the sport. It’s an element the narrative crew doesn’t essentially need to shut down this early after the discharge of Alyx.
“We have a timeline, and idea in our heads that we told each other as we went, so we’re working through it,” Wolpaw mentioned. “But we kind of don’t want to talk about it just because it’s fun to watch. It’s fun to speculate on. And I feel like we shut things down as soon as we start saying, here’s what that is, you know?”
“We have an answer, we assure you,” Pinkerton added. “We have an answer, but we don’t necessarily want to spell it out.”
That stress, nonetheless, comes with its personal advantages.
“To some extent, what you just described is what we would hope would happen,” Wolpaw mentioned. “People thinking, ‘Oh, man, I am on board, I’m excited for what happens next,’ to kind of refresh this existing IP and reinvigorate it a little bit.” Now the final place the story ends isn’t one thing that occurred a long time in the past, it’s one thing that’s recent in everybody’s minds, together with the questions of what all of it means for the remainder of the sport’s lore.
At that heart of that lore, as soon as once more, was the G-Man himself.
Who is the G-Man? What does he need?
Half-Life: Alyx was in a position to do all this heavy narrative lifting with its twisty, stunning ending with out making a gift of many particulars about who, precisely, the G-Man is or what he needs. It’s one thing the franchise has usually teased at, however by no means defined. There’s an inner logic to what he can and might’t do on this world, however what that logic is likely to be is stored from the gamers on goal.
“It’s more important for us to be able to build the build the sort of rules around him for ourselves, so we can prescribe to them,” Pinkerton defined. “That’s something that I think is super important. And we’re always really sensitive to robbing people of the delight of the unknown. But there’s a fine line between being disciplined around that and then coming across as sort of aloof and not having done the work.”
Wolpaw identified that shining some gentle on the G-Man and dealing on these mysteries is definitely a spot the collection possible must go, however this wasn’t the sport to try this. But to maintain Half-Life going, they’re going to want to develop focus a bit, for the reason that Combine are actually a contained menace. That means the G-Man and his mysterious bosses could have a extra vital position to play within the story sooner fairly than later.
“If you bear in mind Episode Two, that they had closed these portals,” Wolpaw mentioned. “So really what’s left on Earth of the Combine are all there is left of the Combine.”
With no extra portals, the Combine are caught right here with us as a lot as we’re caught right here with them. They can’t escape, however no reinforcements are coming. So that story has the potential for coming to an finish before perhaps followers had assumed.
“You need to start thinking about shifting some of the focus to something else,” Wolpaw defined.
Who the G-Man is, and whom he works for, may make for a really completely different focus for upcoming Half-Life video games. The query I had was whether or not, internally not less than, they knew who the G-Man was, and what he’s working towards.
“I feel like I don’t want to answer this one. Just a hard pass. Let’s just sit and contemplate the silence and change the subject after,” Pinkerton mentioned.
“There are a few competing theories,” Wolpaw added.
They don’t need to write a locked down story bible, as a result of a lot of Alyx got here from an evolving thought of what they wished the story to be and the place they wished to finish issues. If they determine one thing now, does that restrict their skill to vary it to one thing cooler later if they’ve a greater thought?
Besides, the defining characteristic of the G-Man as a personality is that he can’t be understood, that he’s one thing else. And even the writing crew needs to maintain it that method for not less than a short while longer.
Like Batman, who he’s could not matter, since his impression on the story is all the time felt by way of what he does. The thriller is a part of the expertise, and explaining an excessive amount of could take away a few of his allure.
“That’s more so than so many other characters, just how unknowable he is, and just what his motivations are, everything has been mysterious,” Pinkerton mentioned. “Everything about him is alien and other and yeah, I think for me, personally, I’m not talking as the company because as a person, I just think it would just rob that character of so much if I suddenly had his bio, and I knew where he lived, or what he wore when he got his mail. It just doesn’t interest me.”
So what does occur subsequent?
The Half-Life story has to maneuver previous the cliffhanger that was launched in Episode Two after which shifted dramatically by the occasions in Half-Life: Alyx.
Valve has already gone again and re-introduced gamers to the world by way of a prequel, and altered the stakes of the unique ending, however doing one thing related once more may really feel like a cheat, a method of standing nonetheless whereas showing to shake issues up. Whatever comes subsequent within the sport’s story feels prefer it has to maneuver previous that second in time, or the crew dangers irritating gamers who’re nonetheless ready for some type of decision.
“I think we’d be frustrated too,” Wolpaw mentioned, candidly. “We did it this once. It was interesting. It totally It feels like it worked. I’m super relieved that we pulled it off, apparently. And, yeah, the next thing I would just like to keep going forward. I mean, again, this is me talking personally, not institutions. But, you know.”
Half-Life: Alyx tells a narrative that ends with one character placed on figurative ice, one other again from the useless and re-invested within the struggle after the “loss” of his daughter, and the legendary Gordon Freeman getting his crowbar again, in VR no much less. It feels just like the baton of being the hero is being positioned again into the arms of each Freeman and the participant. There are many locations the following sport may go from right here, however not realizing precisely which path the crew will choose is a part of the journey, even for these engaged on the sport.
“It feels like we’re in a nice middle ground between not being painted into a corner, but not having a giant blank page problem, either,” Pinkerton mentioned. The solely query now could also be crucial one: When are we going to have the ability to play the following chapter?