I had an argument about Half-Life: Alyx less than two weeks after it was announced. My friend, an avid Half-Life and Portal fan (and an exceptional theoretical physicist--coincidence, Dr Freeman?), thinks it looks similar to Half-Life 2. He was surprised by how little progress games seem to have made in 15 years.
On one hand, I partially agree with him; I wrote into Edge magazine about diminishing returns against hardware. On the other hand, as a committed fanboy, I froth-fully disagree. Edge #339 gave an excellent synopsis of just how much the industry has changed over the last decade. And Alyx, if it works, could revolutionise VR in the same way Half-Life 2 revolutionised game physics - a much more significant achievement, in my opinion.
Nonetheless, my friend’s scepticism did make me wonder what videogame evolution looks like to an outsider. And in particular, what does it look to someone who invests time in games very rarely, but invests it in what I consider ‘proper serious games’: Portal 2, Deus Ex, Bioshock, that sort of thing. That’s a very curious demographic.
The short answer is I have no idea. And this bothers me, because it’s made me realise that I don’t really know how to convince someone who is not already converted that videogames are an exciting and innovative medium that’s worth people’s time. If a Half-Life fan who hasn’t really played anything made since 2011 isn’t excited for Alyx, then what does that say about people who have no idea about games at all? Or is it that, precisely because I’m already converted, I’m not able to view the medium objectively?
Then again, perhaps all that’s missing is the phenomenology. There is something about actually playing a game, and a VR game especially, that a two-minute trailer seen on a flat screen just cannot capture. Maybe when the headset is on, it will all fall into place.