Half-Life: Alyx spent roughly four years in development, and for about one-and-a-half of those years Alyx Vance had a crowbar. The iconic Half-Life melee weapon was ultimately cut, though, because testers got it stuck on everything while assuming they were Gordon Freeman, who is not the star of Half-Life: Alyx.
Much like how playertesters being fidgety and impatient led to the trimming down of dialogue scenes and a much shorter introduction, issues with the crowbar became evident when testers got their virutal hands on it. In an interview with Kotaku, Half-Life: Alyx programmer Robin Walker said a big reason for cutting the crowbar was that players kept getting it stuck on things while they were walking around.
“The lack of force feedback meant that players would often hold their crowbar out of their sight, because that’s what you do when you’re holding a real crowbar—you wouldn’t look at it all the time,” Walker told Kotaku. “But then they’d hook it on stuff. They’d be walking along, and then they’d hook it on a door.”
Valve tried a few solutions to avoid the crowbar getting tangled up in the scenery, including turning off the crowbar’s collision when it was being held at a player’s side, and buzzing the controller with haptic feedback when it connected with something, which is how some VR games, like Boneworks, signal an off-screen collision. Neither approach proved effective.
Having a crowbar also meant players assumed it was a melee weapon—and why wouldn’t they? We’ve been bashing monsters, soldiers, and crates alike with the crowbar for over 20 years. But Valve never got melee combat working in a way it liked and decided to keep Half-Life: Alyx strictly a shooting game.
Another major reason for leaving Gordon Freeman’s signature weapon out of Half-Life: Alyx was that players holding a crowbar simply assumed they were playing as Gordon Freeman, rather than as Alyx Vance. After playtests, Valve would ask players to describe the story and events they’d experienced, and players would think they’ve been playing the whole time as Freeman. There was little Valve could do to change their minds.
“It didn’t matter how much we told them, like, literally at the start of the game, that they aren’t Gordon,” Walker said.