GameFace: Valve’s AR Goggles Surface Elsewhere

By Craig Pearson on May 20th, 2013 at 10:04 am.

An 'artist's' impression.
Valve’s secret augmented reality project, or at least one of them, has finally surfaced. At the weekend’s Maker Faire, ex-Valvesters Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, demonstrated CastAR, a pair of glasses with a mini-projector that ‘casts’ games onto a reflective surface. The game appears in 3D in front of the player, who can interact with the insubstantial environments. It was a project that died during Valve’s “great cleansing” at the start of the year, but it’s not a cloak-and-dagger tech theft: Gabe waved his magic wand and gave his ex-employees the rights to the new technology.

The tricky face-projector set-up has a retroreflective surface that bounces the projector’s beams back to the active-shutter 3D glasses, while your head is tracked using infrared LEDs so it can adjust the image according to your position. The LEDs can also pick up other objects that you can use to interact with the scene. It supports multiplayer, so people can see different scenes in the same space.

It’s obviously something that works best if you experience it, but until I invent way to put you inside my news stories, we’re going to have to go with the whole embedded video thing. If you have a pair of monitors, why not try running the video in both and crossing your eyes?

What a lovely way to lose a job: you get a company out of it. The Technical Illusions team’s work didn’t mesh well with Valve’s games, with the company shifting support to the first-person friendly Oculus Rift, though I’d have imagined Dota 2 would work well with a table-based AR set-up.

Thanks, The Verge.

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57 Comments »

  1. soldant says:

    The Technical Illusions team’s work didn’t mesh well with Valve’s games…

    Valve are still making games? I thought they’d converted into a digital hat factory and storefront.

    • baby snot says:

      Hasn’t it been about a game a year for a while now?

      • basilisk says:

        Depends on whether you consider Alien Swarm and CS:GO Valve games, which they sort of are, but sort of are not.

      • beekay says:

        Took me a minute to remember that CS:GO and DOTA2 are games which Valve has been making. Come on Valve, throw a bone to those of us who hate humans.

      • soldant says:

        Their MO with games seems to be “Hey, that looks cool! Let’s hire that team.” Sort of like a benign EA. Their only real original IP in terms of mechanics is Half Life, a linear scripted FPS. Counter Strike, Team Fortress, Portal, Left4Dead, DOTA2, all of them come from mods or other games that Valve saw and decided to absorb, giving them better resources and in the case of Portal locking it (loosely) into the Half Life story arc.

        Otherwise Valve’s primary occupation seems to be a mad scientist lab somewhere underground while also selling everybody else’s games on their store.

        • Craig Pearson says:

          Now now. Don’t forget Ricochet.

        • Donjo says:

          “Otherwise Valve’s primary occupation seems to be a mad scientist lab somewhere underground while also selling everybody else’s games on their store.”

          I’m ok with that.

        • sabasNL says:

          Difference between EA and Valve is that Valve hires amateurs making modifications on their games and engines, while EA does (hostile) takeovers on smaller studios to turn them into one of the corporation’s factories.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          I’d certainly count Portal as a Valve original. Yes, they hired the Narbacular Drop people to make it, but Narb is nothing like Portal at all. It’s a shitty N64 platformer that has a few portals in it.

  2. Noburu says:

    This story certainly lends credit to the people were laid off and not fired stories.

    • soldant says:

      The only real difference between the two is that firing is due to performance problems, “laying off” is due to no longer finding utility in that position. Either way, Valve decided they weren’t worth keeping around.

      • AngoraFish says:

        “Laying off”, in my experience, refers to downsizing due to belt tightening. No longer needing a position is usually referred to as “redundancy”.

        • soldant says:

          Whatever you would like it call it, it all means “Pack your things, you no longer work here.”

          • Donjo says:

            “…and here are all the rights to the stuff you were working on, we could easily keep all the work you did and sit on it for years but we want you to do something interesting without a load of legal trouble.”

  3. maxi0 says:

    What about those of us who wear prescription glasses? Will CAST AR be available on the NHS?

  4. Crosmando says:

    Who the fuck cares.

    Make fuckin GAMES Valve, this shit is gimmicks

  5. joe balls says:

    Notice the woman at 0:58 almost can’t stop herself laughing at how awesome he looks in those glasses.

  6. Mbaya says:

    Looks rather enjoyable. I must admit, I’d love to play an XCOM or Warhammer based game with those, actually getting the whole living tabletop vibe, that’d be grand. Although the first thing I think I’d have to do is slap a third LED on top of those glasses and skulk about a dark room…

    @Craig: “but until I invent a way to put you inside my news stories”, don’t you ever, EVER do this. If Cara got a hold of that technology it would spell doom for us all.

  7. Novotny says:

    The chess scene in Star Wars is almost here :D

  8. Continuity says:

    Well, its interesting. but surely the Oculus Rift makes this obsolete? Perhaps that’s why Valve dropped it, they do seem to be getting behind the Rift.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Eh, not really. The Rift is yer classic “screen in front of your eyes”, which can be emulated if you have a large enough screen and stand really close. This is projectors on top of glasses, which is kind of a different beast, since I think it’ll work better in third person games, rather than the Rift’s preference for first person games.

      • Continuity says:

        Well obviously I can see the technical difference, but the rift offers everything that this does just better. THe ” preference for first person games” you mention is your impression, not any limitation in the Rift, its been shown already that it works just fine for 3rd person.
        “which can be emulated if you have a large enough screen and stand really close” is just complete and utter nonsense.

        • jalf says:

          *rolls eyes*

          “the rift offers everything that this does just better” is, dare I say, it, your impression. It is certainly not any kind of universal truth. And no, quite clearly you cannot see the technical differences (or at least, their implications)

          For example, relying on forward-mounted cameras for AR stuff? Not really viable because having a camera take a picture, process it, and then pass it to the application just takes too long.

          If you want to do AR that feels at all convincing or natural, then you are working under some *extremely* tight latency constraints. Ideally, it should take no more than around 7ms to generate a complete frame, including collecting and processing input. You can push that to 15 or maybe 20ms without compromising the experience *too* much, but really, latency is king.

          And guess what? Cameras and all the associated image processing? That is sloooooooooooooow. Relying exclusively on cameras means you blow most of your latency budget just on fetching the scene that the player is looking at, without even doing your game/application’s own processing, and without rendering the image to present to the player, and without sending it to the output device. All of which also takes a lot of time.

          So no, the Rift does not do “everything better”. It certainly does some things better, but it sometimes, it would be nice if we could turn the fanboyism down a little bit, and assume that maybe, just maybe, the unreleased product that we’re excited about, but haven’t actually tried yet, might not be the solution to all the world’s problems.

          • Continuity says:

            Fair points, i’ve never really expected AR to be a consequential direction for the Rift anyway. I htink more to the point at hand though Cast AR just isn’t good AR, its more like poor mans VR, and there the Rift will beat it hands down.

    • Donjo says:

      You have to think about it in terms of the differences between AR and VR though. Oculus will create virtual reality with a 3D screen in front of your face that creates the illusion. CastAR will augment reality, allowing an interaction between real word settings, objects, etc with whatever is designed. They’re both fairly different things, neither the Oculus nor CastAR will be able to do each others jobs.

      • Continuity says:

        That’s your speculation, the concept design of the consumer version of the Rift incorporates two forward facing cameras, the AR possibilities are obvious.

        • Donjo says:

          That’s true – although it’s not the Rifts primary function it’ll probably be able to do some kind of AR when people really get working on it – forward facing cameras are totally different to CastAR tech though. I’m interested to see where they both go, I’ll probably get a Rift eventually as it seems pretty incredible but after playing around with some crude AR stuff a while ago I’ll be really interested to see what can be done with that technology aswell.

  9. stahlwerk says:

    I for one would actually really like a simple cross eyed side-by-side stereoscopic mode for games where horizontal space isn’t that important (most non-fps / side scrolling genres). Ideally with a timer that resets to normal mode every few minutes to keep the player from getting adaptation sickness.

  10. particlese says:

    Not sure if or to what extent it’s been done before, but I think that’s pretty clever having head-mounted pico- (or whatever-) projectors working in concert with a retroreflective surface. Probably takes care of the luminosity problem of that projector class, which would be even worse if they’re using polarizers for stereo separation. Nicely avoids any multiplayer problems, too, unless it’s a piggyback ride racing simulator.

  11. quijote3000 says:

    For its part, Valve has released all interest in the project, leaving the Technical Illusions team legally clear to do what they love. Says Ellsworth: “Gabe was completely behind it… I talked to Gabe, and he talked to the lawyers, and he’s like, ‘It’s theirs, make it happen,’ because he could see we were passionate about it.”

    I take off my hat for Gabe. Nice.

    • Reapy says:

      It’s always nice to hear when someone wealthy isn’t concerned about hoarding everything and holding others down around them.

      They certainly could have taken these and buried them in the vaults like most any other corporation would have done, leaving the creator’s out on their butts to start again and hiding an interesting piece of technology in the process.

  12. strangeloup says:

    If it was a Cloak and Dagger tech theft, they probably would have got away with it but only if they stopped moving for a bit every few seconds.

  13. BurningPet says:

    I think valve really missed on this one.

  14. Radiant says:

    They are doing that arse backwards.

  15. The Random One says:

    They may be tech geniuses, but not marketing geniuses. CastAR sounds like a pirate playing a MOBA.

  16. Jupiah says:

    I am just astonished that Valve simply gave them the legal rights to this technology. Most big corporations would lock that stuff down and bury in a vault rather than let anyone else possibly benefit from it without paying them a cut, even if they had no plans to ever use it. I can’t even imagine a company like E.A. doing something like this.

    This is why I love Valve so much and I trust Steam despite it still including DRM. Valve doesn’t act like a typical short-sighted money-grubbing corporation. Those guys still have a soul and vision. They see the big picture beyond their pocketbooks.

    • soldant says:

      Alternatively they don’t think it’ll really go anywhere. They’re one of the best companies in gaming for sure, but Valve are still a business out to make money. Anything they do comes back to that point, it’s just that instead of doing absurd things (like even more restrictive DRM) they do sensible things.

  17. dmastri says:

    All this new tech is fine and dandy for you non-glasses wearing supermen but I’ll stick to traditional screens until they drop a holodeck.

  18. HisDivineOrder says:

    Wasn’t the HUGE thing about all this the fact that it was only going to cost $200 to build your own with a kit by these guys?

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