Half-Life: Alyx's Single Controller Mode Is a Welcome Accessibility Feature

Half-Life: Alyx's Single Controller Mode Is a Welcome Accessibility Feature

In a new interview with Tested, Valve opens up a bit about ensuring Alyx is playable for as many folks as possible.

A big barrier for some potential Half-Life: Alyx players is going to be its reliance on virtual reality hardware. That's not just because relatively few people own VR kits; since Half-Life: Alyx is built around using two motion controllers for input, you might think you'll need to be able to use both in order to play. In a new interview, however, Valve designer Greg Coomer says Valve has worked on a single motion controller option and other vital VR accessibility features.

Coomer was joined by Valve's Robin Walker in an interview with Tested, recorded back in December when the Tested team went to Valve and tried Half-Life: Alyx across a variety of compatible headsets and controllers. The conversation mostly focuses on Valve's process and insights on designing a Half-Life game for VR, specifically one with a focus on natural-feeling, two-handed inputs. That might be the standard, but it's not the only way to experience Half-Life: Alyx.

"We're actually going through a process where we're looking at making Half-Life: Alyx playable with a single controller, or single handed," says Coomer, "but we haven't gotten all the way through that process yet. We're trying to make sure that that's possible just for accessibility reasons." All the footage Valve has shown from Half-Life: Alyx so far has demonstrated two-handed play, but a toggle option for single controller mode can be glimpsed on a menu in footage recently released by IGN.

"One of the things that's nice now that we've announced is we're hearing from a lot of gamers who have specific accessibility concerns that in some of the cases we hadn't thought of," Walker adds later. "That's awesome, we can get those in before as opposed to trying to do them afterwards."

Half-Life: Alyx was announced with support for a few different locomotion options and can be played while seated, but the accessibility options slated for Alyx go a bit beyond that. In that same IGN clip mentioned earlier, there are menu options for toggling crouching and standing, a height adjustment switch, and an option for those with light sensitivity issues.

Earlier on in the interview, Coomer and Walker talk a lot about the lessons learned in designing interactions around players using their hands, and in making environments that are dense enough to satisfy players' curiosity. There's also a great anecdote about an early Half-Life 2 experiment where Gordon's body had a physics simulation applied to it that's well worth hearing. As more gameplay footage trickles in as Half-Life: Alyx approaches its March 23 launch, you may still wish it could be playable without VR, but at least Valve is actively looking to reach the widest range of folks who can use VR... provided you've secured a compatible headset in the wake of recent shortages.

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Mathew Olson


Mathew Olson is a writer formerly of Digg, where he blogged and reported about all things under the umbrella of internet culture (including games, of course). He lives in New York, grew up under rain clouds and the influence of numerous games studios in the Pacific Northwest, and will talk your ear off about Half-Life mods, Talking Heads or Twin Peaks if you let him.

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