Valve has defused speculation that it is working on its own VR technology by announcing a collaboration many of us already expected: the PC gaming giant is working together with Oculus.
Specifically, Valve is working together with Oculus to "drive PC VR forward," according to a summary of Steam Dev Days' second day. Valve currently has no plans to release its own VR hardware, but isn't ruling out the possibility in the future.
To Valve, a successful implementation of VR incorporates a wide field of view, adequate resolution, low pixel persistence, a high enough refresh rate, a global display, optics, optical calibration, rock-solid tracking and low latency, and the company estimates by 2015 we'll have just 20ms latency, a 95Hz refresh rate, a 110-degree field-of-vision and 1Kx1K resolution per eye. The company believes the PC -- not just Windows computers, but also Mac OSX and Linux machines -- will be the hotbed for VR due to the freedom to innovate it provides to developers. Freedom to innovate leads to the ability to rapidly evolve -- something we've already seen with iterations of Oculus' Rift hardware. Not only that, but the PC is still the most powerful platform out there due to its inherently upgradeable nature -- it can move with the times and advancements in VR much more quickly than the more restrictive console platforms.
Valve is serious about virtual reality in general, and not just within games itself -- the latest beta version of the Steam client allows you to use Big Picture mode in VR mode if you have an Oculus Rift. And Oculus, it seems, is also keen to make sure the job is done properly.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey stressed to devs that they should "stop thinking about porting existing games," and instead consider whether or not assets or core technologies could be reused. He emphasized the importance of experimentation, prototyping and iteration, and the fact that "Oculus is targeting a 'seated' experience" rather than requiring you to stand up and flail around Kinect-style. At the same time, however, he stressed that everything developers build should include head tracking -- not just 3D gameplay, but also loading screens, head-up displays, menus and cutscenes. Palmer believes good VR adaptations of games such as Hearthstone, Fifa and The Sims will be extremely successful.
There are still further problems to overcome, too; head-tracking is an issue that isn't yet fully resolved, and VR technology developers have barely begun considering how to solve the issue of eye-tracking. Not only that, but for the system to be truly practical in the living room -- Valve's super-into the idea of living-room gaming at the moment, on the off-chance you'd failed to notice -- it needs to get rid of the "tether" and become a truly wireless solution. This, of course, brings up a whole host of its own issues regarding how the image then gets from the computer to the headset with minimal latency and interference from other wireless devices.
Valve partnering with Oculus makes a lot of sense: in this way, Oculus, the main proponent in the recent VR push, can focus on the hardware side of things while Valve can concentrate on providing software solutions that help developers implement VR into their games and players to make use of it. In fact, Valve's already built its own API known as SteamVR, which aims to make the use of VR a smooth experience for both developers and players. If this sees widespread adoption, it could be a major coup for Valve, who will then not only be on the front lines of digital distribution in general, but also of the burgeoning VR platform.
To check out more of the recent happenings at the Steam Dev Days, take a look at Steam Database's summaries of the two days' events, and full videos of the sessions will reportedly be available to the public in "the coming weeks."
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