The public story “didn’t match how we saw it” – Valve explains why Campo Santo worked on Half-Life: Alyx

By Kirk McKeand, Tuesday, 7 April 2020 10:03 GMT

Back in 2017, Firewatch developer Campo Santo unveiled an exciting trailer for In The Valley of Gods – a first-person adventure set in Egypt.

A year after the announcement, Campo Santo was acquired by Valve. Shortly after, the Firewatch developers began scrubbing In the Valley of Gods from their Twitter bios. It soon transpired that the developers had put In the Valley of Gods on hold to instead work on other Valve projects, including Half-Life: Alyx.

Campo Santo co-founder Jake Rodkin released this statement:

“To fans looking forward to In the Valley of Gods, it’s probably clear that the optimistic ‘2019’ at the end of the announcement trailer isn’t going to be accurate. In the end, Valve Time makes fools of us all. But yes, developers from the former Campo Santo team have joined other projects at Valve, including Half-Life: Alyx. As you can imagine, our experience in the first-person adventure genre is pretty relevant.

“You hear a lot about how at Valve you can work on what you want. It turns out that’s true, and there’s a lot of work available. As we integrated ourselves into Valve it became clear there was a lot of valuable work to be done on Half-Life: Alyx. Some of us starting lending a hand, and have since become full-time on the project as it approaches launch. Similarly, some ex-Campos are working on Dota Underlords, some are on Steam, and so on. So to answer your question as of today, In the Valley of Gods development is on hold—but it certainly feels like a project people can and may return to. And when that happens, we’ll find an exciting way to let fans know.”

We recently had chance to talk to Valve about Half-Life: Alyx and we asked programmer and designer Robin Walker how this series of events played out internally.

“That didn’t really happen any differently than how everything is going on at Valve, all the time, which is that as people finish up bits of work, they often will be looking at what else is going on,” Walker explained.

According to Walker, the freeform structure of Valve – like how Walker himself is clearly a lead, but he calls himself simply “programmer and designer” – allows people to pick and choose, to an extent, what they’d like to do. Plans sometimes get delayed as people position themselves in a place where their skillsets will be most helpful at any given time.

“So, there was no choice at any point where Campo folks should come join us, or anything like that,” Walker said. “They were just here and there. One or two joined us as they finished up some piece, and then over time, more joined us. They didn’t all come to Alyx. Some of them were working in other places in the company as well. I couldn’t tell you exactly what made each of those individuals make those choices. I mean, at the time there were people joining Alyx sort of constantly. “

One of the reasons Alyx was so tempting for developers is because it was so far along. Valve knew this game was going to ship, and it was in a state where you could see the potential and see exactly what you personally could bring to it.

“They can put in a bit of time, and see, ‘Okay, as an animator, I can make that, and that, and that better. I’m going to come over and do that,’ or whatever,” Walker told me. “And so, I think there’s this momentum building constantly.

“When you hit that last couple of years, it’s really just a matter of taking what we have and making it all look better, play better, put that final coat of polish on it. I think that’s very attractive to lots of people – depending on what kind of thing you’ve been doing in the past, whatever project you’re on, sometimes it can be really fun to go from a project that might be figuring out a bunch of stuff in the abstract, to one that’s got a very finite amount of concrete work to do.”

Walker compared it to when he was working on Dota 2 for three years. “It’s just an endless marathon that extends out into the future forever, and it’s really fun to work on a different game,” he said. “I’m very much enjoying the fact that in four days, we’ll have to fix a bunch of bugs, and so on. But mentally, I can take a huge part of this out of my head and set it aside because I’m done with it, in a way that you just never get to do in those service games.

“So, people move around in the company, and work on things. That was the story especially with respect to Campo Santo. The story about that publically didn’t really match internally to how they saw it, or we saw it. It was just natural, people moving around the company to employ their skills on something they thought could benefit from it.”

Check out our Half-Life: Alyx review to see why VR’s killer app is worth your time.

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