Alyx’s modding community is stronger than ever

From mobsters to Rapture, Half-Life Alyx has a thriving modding community.

To find out more, we spoke to the developers behind the Levitation and Gunman Contracts mods, talking about the wider scene.

We have witnessed amazing creativity in modding communities over the years. Sometimes these are just minor tweaks, bringing quality of life improvements to the games. Maybe you wanted more songs in beat the saber, a game that thrives on this medium. Or maybe someone has created a VR mod for your favorite recent flatscreen games, like Resident Evil Village and Cyberpunk 2077. There’s incredible scope here, but whichever you choose, one thing remains consistent. These community efforts are a labor of love. Half Life: Alyx mod scene is no different.

Two years after its launch, Alyx remains one of the best virtual reality games. It saw a few post-launch updates like developer comment and smooth rotation, but given that nothing has happened since November 2020, Valve is almost certainly done with its own major post-launch updates. It’s a blessing, then, that they corrected Steam Workshop support, which currently houses almost 1,300 individual mods. From minor cosmetics to full campaigns, it’s given Alyx a second life beyond Valve’s original designs, and it won’t be stopping any time soon.

Wanting to know more, I contacted two of the most prominent developers in the scene. The first is Corey”Corey Laddo” Balsom who works alongside FMPONE on the next Levitation mod. The second is Arne”ANB_Seth” Burkert, developer for the Shooter contracts mod, which turns Half-Life Alyx into a gangster shooter. Discussing the state of Half-Life: Alyx’s modding community, their own projects, and more, what I found out was enlightening.

Asking how they got into Half-Life, the two developers tell a similar story. Balsom said Half-Life 2 “was the first game I really remember playing on my dad’s PC back in 2004” and that he’s been a huge fan of the series ever since. Buying a Valve Index after Alyx announces it calls it “one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had,” explaining that he looks forward to Valve’s next steps. With Burkert, he explained that the original Half-Life “holds a special place in my heart. Although he didn’t understand his story, the technical side was inspiring, telling me “HL1 had me creating maps in Hammer consecutively for years as a teenager.” When Alyx landed, Burkert thought it was “just a perfect, visually beautiful VR experience” that inspired him, even if the story views didn’t change.

Moving on to their own projects, I asked how these got started. Balsom explained that two years ago, FMPone contacted him and presented him with the Levitation story, informing me that “at the time, it was quite simple; just Alyx infiltrating a cartel structure looking to destroy dangerous technology. They’ve since fleshed out that premise considerably, stating that they hope to match “Valve’s quality bar as best we can when it comes to narrative sequences and smooth dialogue” and are “proud of what we were able to achieve with the tools.

Shooter Contracts 1

Regarding the recent trailer for Levitation, he said the “overwhelmingly positive response” was “breathtaking”, sharing how he “can’t wait for people to get their hands on it”. Telling me they wanted to build on Alyx’s ambiguous ending, he confirmed that Levitation’s story is very narratively self-contained, explaining that as a fan-made project, they didn’t want “rewrite already established traditions”. Afterwards, he advised “having the character of the G-Man available to us allows us to find ways around that to better fit the Half-Life universe.”

With Gunman Contracts, Burkert explained that VR games often lacked the “action feel” he hoped to find, which includes Alyx. So he wanted to “create a VR action experience ‘for me,’ something that I really wanted to play since I first played VR games, but couldn’t find anywhere”. Telling me how Alyx “got closer to the technical side of things” led him to feel capable of creating this himself. After checking out the dev tools, work slowly began on Chapter 1.

Burkert went on to detail his experiences with these modding tools, calling them “well done, but sometimes restrictive,” explaining that it didn’t allow for altering the game’s original content. While he enjoyed working within those limits and pushing what was already there, Burkert explains “I would have appreciated a bit more freedom/means to modify the game itself, especially when it comes to enemies.” Questioning how it handled the gameplay changes, I was then told that Gunman Contracts is “full of filthy workarounds left and right”, calling them a nightmare during development and that they’re “certain to weigh on performances”.

Balsom had similar tool complaints, telling me it’s has sometimes been a struggle “due to its difficult nature and systems”. As such, I’m told he couldn’t have made some of the planned content “without some extremely helpful members of the Source 2 modding community.” As a project animator, he confirms that his time is mainly spent within Source Filmmaker. , exporting the animations used for the map editor, Hammer. Telling myself “It absolutely took some getting used to,” Balsom explained how stressful it gets when “things just aren’t working and the solution isn’t there.” Unlike Gunman Contracts you won’t find any big gameplay changes here, I’m told it builds on the core gameplay of Alyx with some “new level design twists”. He teases “lots of exciting moments in store” for players, however.

Moving forward, I asked where they see the direction of the modding scene. Balsom tells me “wWe’ve already seen some impressive projects within the Half-Life: Alyx modding scene,” naming Gunman Contracts, Alyx Bond: Trackand Back to Rapture as specific examples, alongside future projects like Anti-Citizen. Explaining that “I expect to see some truly outstanding work from modders in the future, as the engine will be more broken down in the years to come,” Balsom hopes this community will thrive and gain recognition.

Along with Burkert, he tells me that Chapter 3 of Gunman Contracts is currently planned, explaining “it will also feature a completely different setting, this time taking the unknown shooter to a grand mansion.” Teasing that it “could be inspired by a very special mansion in the game’s history” – also explaining that it may feature a “suitable secondary game mode” – I’m told it’s looking to test the waters to create a complete standalone Gunman Contracts project. The only problem is that Source 2 can’t be licensed for standalone games, so it’s testing projects on Unity instead. Unsurprisingly, I’m told it’s “still very early to say more,” but Burkert is clearly determined to make his own game, citing how “Gunman Contracts’ “experience, awesome feedback, and feedback” helped to this reflection to develop.

Regarding the future of the modding community, Burkert praised, expressing how “the Alyx community is amazing, very talented, very helpful all around, [and it’s] simply a pleasure to work with them. Believing that we will continue to see great content in the future, his main concern is with the Source 2 license, saying creators will need to move to other engines as these cannot be officially “owned” or monetized. Telling me that Valve has developed “a perfect foundation for modern VR gaming”, that could always change, but for now Burkert thinks it’s a “missed opportunity”, which could help push the VR community further.

I would like to thank Corey Balsom and Arne Burkert for speaking with me about this future. It’s clear that between their work on Gunman Contracts and Levitation, both have a strong passion for the community and, in Arne’s own words, there’s still “better content” to come. Valve was previously called Alyx”our return to this world, not its end” and since my crystal ball is in repair, it is difficult to predict what they have planned. We don’t even know if the next Half-Life will be in VR. No matter what, modders are keeping Alyx alive, and the future is bright.

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