From gangsters to Rapture, Half-Life Alyx has a thriving modding community.
Looking to learn more, we spoke to the developers behind the Levitation and Gunman Contracts mods, talking about the wider scene.
We’ve witnessed some stunning creativity in modding communities over the years. Sometimes it’s just minor tweaks, giving games some quality-of-life improvements. Perhaps you wanted more songs in Beat Saber, a game that thrives on this support. Or maybe, someone’s created a VR mod for your recent favorite flatscreen games, like Resident Evil Village and Cyberpunk 2077. There’s some incredible scope here but whatever your choice, one thing remains consistent. These community endeavors are a labor of love. Half-Life: Alyx’s mod scene is no different.
Two years since launching, Alyx remains one of VR’s finest games. It’s seen a few post-launch updates like developer commentary and smooth turning, but considering nothing’s happened since November 2020, Valve’s almost certainly done with its own significant post-launch updates. It’s a blessing, then, that they patched in Steam Workshop support, which currently houses nearly 1,300 individual mods. From minor cosmetics to full-on campaigns, that’s given Alyx a second life beyond Valve’s original designs, and that’s not stopping anytime soon.
Wanting to learn more, I reached out to two of the scene’s more prominent developers. First is Corey “CoreyLaddo” Balsom who’s working alongside FMPONE on the upcoming Levitation mod. Second is Arne “ANB_Seth” Burkert, developer for the Gunman Contracts mod, which turns Half-Life Alyx into a mobster shooter. Discussing the state of Half-Life: Alyx’s modding community, their own projects, and more, what I discovered proved enlightening.
Asking how they got into Half-Life, both developers tell a similar tale. Balsom advised Half-Life 2 “was the first game I truly remember playing on my dad’s PC back in 2004” and he’s been a huge series fan ever since. Buying a Valve Index after Alyx’s announcement, he calls it “one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had,” explaining he’s looking forward to Valve’s next steps. With Burkert, he explained that the original Half-Life “holds a special place in my heart.” Though he didn’t connect with its story, the technical side was inspirational, telling me “HL1 had me creating maps in Hammer back-to-back for years as a teenager.” When Alyx landed, Burkert thought it was “just a perfect and visually beautiful VR experience” that inspired him, though story views didn’t change.
Moving onto their own projects, I enquired about how these got off the ground. Balsom explained that two years ago, FMPone contacted him and pitched Levitation’s narrative, informing me that “at the time it was fairly simple; just Alyx infiltrating a Combine structure in search of destroying dangerous technology.” Since then, they’ve significantly fleshed out this premise, stating they’re hoping to match “Valve’s bar of quality as best we can when it comes to seamless narrative sequences and dialogue” and that he’s “proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with the tools.”
As for Levitation’s recent trailer, he advised the ”overwhelmingly positive response” was “staggering,” sharing how he “can’t wait for people to get their hands on it.” Telling me they wanted to build off Alyx’s ambiguous ending, he confirmed Levitation’s story is very self-contained narratively, explaining that as a fanmade project, they didn’t want to “rewrite already established lore.” Following up, he advised “having the character of the G-Man at our disposal allows us to come up with ways around that to better fit the Half-Life universe.”
With Gunman Contracts, Burkert explained VR games have often lacked the “action feel” he’s hoping to find, which includes Alyx. So, he wanted to “create an action VR experience “for me”, something I really wanted to play ever since I first played VR games, but couldn’t find anywhere.” Telling me how Alyx “came close on the technical side of things,” that led him to feel like he could create this himself. After checking out the development tools, work slowly begun on Chapter 1.
Burkert then detailed his experiences with those modding tools, calling them “well made, yet restrictive at times,” explaining this didn’t allow for original in-game content modifications. While he enjoyed working within those limits and pushing what’s already there, Burkert explains “I would have enjoyed a bit more freedom/ways to alter the game itself, especially regarding enemies.” Questioning how he handled gameplay changes, I’m then told Gunman Contracts “is packed with dirty workarounds left and right,” calling them a nightmare during development and that they’re “sure to weigh in on performance.”
Balsom had similar tool complaints, telling me it’s been a struggle at times “due to its fussy nature and systems.” As such, I’m told he couldn’t have pulled off some of the planned content “if not for some extremely helpful members of the Source 2 modding community,” As a project animator, he confirms his time is mostly spent within Source Filmmaker, exporting animations used for the map editor, Hammer. Telling me “It absolutely took some getting used to,” Balsom explained how it becomes stressful when “things just don’t work out and the solution isn’t there.” Unlike Gunman Contracts, you won’t find any big gameplay changes here, I’m told it builds off the core Alyx gameplay with some “new level design twists.” He does tease “a lot of exciting moments in store” for players though.
Moving ahead, I questioned where they see the modding scene heading. Balsom tells me ”we’ve already seen some impressive projects within the Half-Life: Alyx modding scene,” naming Gunman Contracts, Alyx Bond: Runway, and Return to Rapture as specific examples, alongside future projects like Anti-Citizen. Explaining that “I expect we’ll see some really outstanding work from modders in the future as the engine is broken down more in the years to come,” Balsom hopes this community will thrive and gain further recognition.
With Burkert, he tells me Gunman Contracts Chapter 3 is currently planned, explaining “it will also feature a complete different setting, this time taking the unknown gunman to a big mansion.” Teasing that it “might be inspired by a very special mansion in gaming history” – also explaining it may feature a “fitting secondary play mode” – I’m told he’s looking to test the waters for creating a full standalone Gunman Contracts project. Only problem is, Source 2 can’t be licenced for standalone games, so he’s testing out projects on Unity instead. Unsurprisingly, I’m told it’s “still very early to say more than that” but Burkert’s clearly driven in creating their own game, citing how the “experience, awesome reactions and feedback of Gunman Contracts” gave this thought room to grow.
Regarding the modding community’s future, Burkert had high praise, expressing how “the Alyx community is amazing, great talent, very helpful all around, [and it’s] simply a blast to work with them.” Believing we’ll continue seeing great content in the future, his main concern regards the Source 2 licencing, saying creators will need to switch to other engines since these can’t be officially “owned” or monetised. Telling me Valve’s developed “a perfect base for modern VR games,” this could always change but right now, Burkert believe this is a “missed opportunity,” one that could help push the VR community further.
I’d like to thank Corey Balsom and Arne Burkert for speaking with me for 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 “even better content” to come yet. Valve’s previously called Alyx “our return to this world, not the end of it” and as my crystal ball’s in for repairs, it’s hard to predict what they’ve got planned. We don’t even know if the next Half-Life will be in VR. Whatever happens, modders are keeping Alyx alive and there’s a strong future ahead.