GIF: Valve / Source VR Mod Team / Kotaku
As of last week, a longtime dream of playing Valve’s flagship 2004 shooter Half-Life 2 in virtual reality has finally come true. The journey began almost 10 years ago, when a man named Nathan Andrews managed to hack a working version of the all-time classic in virtual reality. It was above all Vives, Index, Quests or Oculi. With a Sony HMZ-T1 primitive and specialized motion tracking gear, Andrews risked a resonance stunt scenario to assemble a working base for a full Half-Life 2 VR mod. Over the next decade, dozens of volunteers will contribute to the Intermittent Project, all in hopes of one day hitting enemies with a crowbar in semi-realistic virtual reality.
And now Half Life 2: VR Mod is ready to play, thanks to the hard work of the Source VR Mod team and their free open beta available on Steam. There’s more work to be done for sure—a public roadmap shows what’s to come, but the entire main campaign is already up and running and pretty surreal to experience. Sharp corners and all, Half-Life 2: VR Mod is worth checking out right now if you can.
The differences are quite immediate. The G-Man’s opening scene offers a whole new sense of scale since you have active depth perception. Images flash and appear inside him as fully realized 3D spaces, which you can actually look inside and see with more depth and dimension. This new presentation gives more weight to the whole scene.
GIF: Valve / Source VR Mod Team / Kotaku
As a graphical video game experience in VR, it’s super cool. Your eyes can track flying debris and exploding barrels with the ease and speed of a simple twist of your head. The violence and realistic physics of Half-Life 2 are no longer just simulations appearing on a screen in front of you; they take place in a 3D space in which you feel a sense of presence and dimension. It all feels so natural that it’s easy to forget it’s the end result of a decade of pirated technology created by enthusiastic fans.
And while there’s still work to be done on the weapons, it’s a thrill to be able to hold, examine, and fight virtually with these classic video game weaponry. Break the aggressive and flying manhacks with a crowbar in VR is so much fun that I want a mini mod derived from this alone. And my Fitbit tells me that I earn “zone minutes” by hitting these things. The 9mm pistol is fun to aim and shoot (and yes, I only aim one-handed). More modern VR games tend to have smoother reload mechanics, so this mod feels a bit clunky at times, but the action is still just as hectic and fun.
In a way, it feels like Half-Life 2 was always meant to be that way. It’s very easy to get lost in this mod, both as a VR experience and Half-Life. It easily rises above “tech demo” or “mod” status, feeling like it’s a solid VR game in its own right.
The Half-Life 2: VR Mod project is currently being worked on by users of the Flatscreen to VR Discord server, run by WormSlayer, whose involvement dates back to the early days of the project. Back then, WormSlayer saw Andrews’ early prototypes and offered his talents, beginning by working on the gun models.
WormSlayer’s description of the mod’s early days sounds like something you’d need to slap in the face to survive City 17 itself. The technology assembly included a “Sony head-mounted TV, a gun controller for a console and a professional 3D tracking system [Andrews] had access,” WormSlayer told Kotaku. That headset in question was the Sony HMZ-T1, which sported “a tantalizing 640×720 resolution per eye and a 45-degree field of view,” WormSlayer said. This helmet would be discontinued in favor of the Oculus DK1, the first hardware that the Oculus (now Meta) has just released. You can see footage of those early days in a YouTube video from 2013.
As the first consumer VR experience, the project was bound to hit a few hurdles as new technologies entered the scene, rapidly aging existing standards. “Both Valve and Oculus have moved away from treating a VR headset as just a monitor,” WormSlayer said. “It was a good idea for many reasons, but it effectively broke VR support in Half-Life 2.”
After this change, the team gave up for a while. Andrews withdrew from the project entirely. However, impatient VR community members persuaded WormSlayer to reconsider giving it all up. “[They] were confident they could hack OpenVR support in the old project,” WormSlayer said. And so, the project came back to life, making great strides before once again resuming its slumber as core contributors moved on.
Thankfully, the fledgling Half-Life 2: VR Mod would indeed see a second resurgence when the Flatscreen to VR community gathers. a new team. Now that the public beta is out and playable, they are focusing their efforts on bringing the project to a fully polished and finalized state.
As playable and fun as it is right now, Half-Life 2: VR Mod still has some issues, mostly regarding performance. “The old engine is very single-threaded and only supports DirectX 9, so even with our hack DXVK implementation, we struggled to hit the FPS targets in some places,” WormSlayer said. While I’ve yet to tackle some of the more chaotic scenes in the second half of the game, I’ve found the performance to be quite good so far. However, since there is no teleport type movement option, this mod might be hard to handle if you are new to VR.
Ultimately, the physics and technology of Half-Life 2 are still a joy to play with 18 years later. Virtual reality only amplifies the physicality of its world, with the ability to virtually pick up and manipulate objects. Half-Life 2: VR Mod isn’t Half-Life: Alyx in terms of the amount of interactive objects, but it fits in nicely as a VR-worthy prequel. And with the addition of the crowbar and a head-mounted flashlight, it has more than a few features and comforts of its own. Being able to virtually manipulate objects in the world is a refreshing way to revisit many of the game’s puzzles.
The most surprising thing for me, however, was how this experience affects my perception of the characters in the game, especially the silent protagonist himself.
GIF: Valve / Source VR Mod Team / Kotaku
Gordon Freeman is a calm guy even when he’s frantically destroying shit. But even just being able to nod to an NPC marks a 100% increase in character interaction. Play Half-Life 2 and be able to greet Dr Kleiner as he shouts excitedly at the sight of you, I wonder: is Gordon Freeman even a hesitant? Does he give a thumbs up to indicate he understands? Does he shake or nod his head when people talk to him? How did I never think about it all these years?
NPCs also stare at you at eye level in a very weird way. This feeling exists in other more modern VR games, but it’s surprising to find it so present in a game from 2004. The simplicity of the models, with smooth head animations and eyes that give a hint of personality and awareness , just a few centimeters out of the weird valley into something that’s starting to look realistic.
I’m not saying that nodding, gesturing and looking people in the eye are the cool features you list on the back of the box (which are recorded to viciously beat the crap out of metal manhacks with a crowbar and see this classic game in true 3D), but it certainly changes the tone of Half-Life 2. One small detail here: it’s a shame you can’t see your hands when piloting the airboat. Not only did my eyes never leave the G-Man as I passed him in my escape from the Combine, I would have loved to look at him and point my finger at him, as if to say “I see you, asshole. I see you.”
I look forward to playing through the rest of Half-Life 2: VR Mod, spotting the unique changes the new format adds and inspires. There’s still work to be done by WormSlayer and the team, including more improvements to weapons, tweaks to make the game a bit easier for those prone to motion sickness, and even some texture improvements to the game. ‘AI to give the older aspects of the graphics a bit of a facelift. These changes will be welcome, but for now this first playable version is a great way to get back into this classic game. If you love Half-Life and own a PCVR headset, you should download this yesterday.
Article source https://kotaku.com/half-life-2-vr-mod-alyx-pc-valve-steam-gordon-freeman-1849603782