Seeing Double: Valve Set To Reveal Its Own VR Hardware

By Nathan Grayson on November 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

Hey, did you hear? Valve’s throwing a giant party and YOU AREN’T INVITED. Neither am I, for that matter. Steam Dev Days is a set of developer-only sessions at Valve HQ in Seattle, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall for it except that flies have meaningless, grubby little lives that are typically snuffed out hours after they begin. Also, they’re unable to use virtual reality hardware, which would kind of defeat the purpose of wriggling my putrid little fly body through an open window to begin with. But anyway, Valve plans to show off its own VR hardware prototype during the gathering – an interesting decision given its decision to cast off CastAR and the reality-blurring reign of VR neo-cyber godking 20XX Oculus Rift.

Here’s a description of the session in question, courtesy of Steam Dev Days’ event schedule:

“We’ve figured out what affordable Virtual Reality (VR) hardware will be capable of within a couple of years, and assembled a prototype which demonstrates that such VR hardware is capable of stunning experiences. This type of hardware is almost certainly going to appear in short order, and the time to starting developing for it is now. This talk will discuss what the hardware is like, and the kinds of experiences it makes possible. A few attendees will be randomly selected to try out the prototype following the talk.”

It will, of course, be led by Valve tech guru Michael Abrash. Meanwhile, programmer and self-professed “augmented and virtual reality enthusiast” Joe Ludwig will follow with a session about Valve’s plans to integrate Steam with virtual reality setups. Everything from overlays to store changes to Steamworks will be discussed.

So Valve’s still definitely paving its own way toward the inevitable VR future, despite competition from both Oculus and, er, former employees that it kicked to the curb. It’ll be interesting to see what the Steam-powered empire does differently, especially given that its flotilla of living-room-conquering Steam Machines sure could use a secret weapon right about now.

Steam Dev Days will run from January 15-16, so expect to hear more around then. For now, though, who’s ready to strap unwieldy block masks to their faces for the rest of their gaming lives? Or at least for a couple years? Don’t get me wrong: I love VR, but I’m deathly afraid that a) it makes me look like a rhinoceros who charged face-first into a brick wall and b) people will slowly, methodically bury me in household objects while I’m playing and, therefore, blind. The future is bright, but do not presume it to be kind.

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56 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge Gap Gen says:

    Perhaps VR headsets need a HUD showing you the view out of two eye-mounted cameras, so you can keep a sneaky check on anyone drawing penises on your forehead while you play.

    • takfar says:

      Yea, it’s one of the first things that sprang to my mind when I first saw the oculus being demoed. A camera, even a low-res one, that can be activated while a button is held on the controller and replaces the VR display with a RL display should be enough.

      • Boozebeard says:

        I can ‘t help but imagine the market for gamers who have lost nerve sensation in their forehead is not that big though.

      • Reapy says:

        Random, but the guy who had that video way back of 2 kinects forming a 3d mesh he could pan around and stuff? Anyway saw a video with him doing some oculous rift stuff, and he basically used his kinect in that way.

        He was going to take a drink, and he hit a button that made his desk and arms appear in front of him in a fuzzy textured 3d mesh so he could see the ‘real world’ in front of him, grabbed the soda, drank, put it down, then clicked off the camera.

        Really cool stuff.

    • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

      Better idea — lots of cameras in all sorts of places, so you can keep checks on everyone, turning you into a kind of cyber-God.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      I’m stuck at what is harder technically, more expensive, or worse for the vision:
      1) A camera showing external view, so you don’t hit your head/die in a fire (alarms withstanding, loosing such situational awareness has got to be dangerous).
      2) A small hole in the corner of the displays or a small gap on the side, so you get some peripheral awareness even during use.

    • KhanIHelpYou says:

      http://youtu.be/2MN3FHrQUa4?t=2m53s
      This guy has a kinect set up and can click a toggle to show the 3d input from it.
      He uses it to find a glass on his desk to take a drink.

    • warcroft says:

      yeah, I want something like that, but which shows your hands on the keyboard.
      Like, you look down and it gives a faint overlay of your hands on your keyboard.

  2. waltC says:

    The only thing I want to see out of Valve is HL3.

    • DuneTiger says:

      >Valve
      >HL3

      Half-Life 3 confirmed!

    • Stevostin says:

      I guess you’re gonna hate me then but I really don’t see how a corridor FPS, no matter how good it is, could be even half as interesting as generalisation of VR devices (hence VR games)(including VR corridor man shoot HL3)

      • Premium User Badge DantronLesotho says:

        It is if it comes out with Source 2 and is as revolutionary as Source 1 was.

  3. CookPassBabtridge says:

    The headset MUST be shaped like a headcrab

  4. The Dark One says:

    Also note that Palmer “Oculus Rift inventor” Luckey is going to be presenting the “Porting games to Virtual Reality” session. I don’t think Valve is taking too cutthroat an approach to VR headsets just yet.

    • Eazee says:

      Not only that. The quote from the article does not necessarily mean that Valve is designing their own product – it might as well mean that they tinkered with and modified Rift prototypes, and that their findings will be considered in the design of the consumer Rift.

      • Premium User Badge phuzz says:

        Yeah, I noticed that.
        It sounds like they’ve created something that they think will be similar to commercial models in two years time, and they want developers to start getting ready to support VR.
        If the steambox is the only console to support VR headsets in a year or two, then, well, Gabe’s money hat can grow another balcony and maybe a swimming pool or two.

    • InternetBatman says:

      That’s good. I wouldn’t want this announcement to create an Oculus Rift between them.

      • Premium User Badge Clavus says:

        Ha.

        Anyway, it definitely seems like Oculus and Valve are coordinating their efforts to bring VR to the masses. Oculus on the hardware front… and Valve could very well be working on the system seller.

      • Phoibos Delphi says:

        We all know perfectly well what happened the time they created that uncanny valley!

    • Reapy says:

      I don’t know that they really are. I recall reading some blurb about Abrash wanting Carmak to get how important the low latency displays were and him trying it out and getting sold on it. They definitely talk, and I don’t see any point in competing here as the tech has to still get a foothold, working together would seem to be a more profitable endeavor.

  5. TheIronSky says:

    What happened to that whole thing with Gabe Newell saying that “If anyone is going to figure out how to make proper virtual reality it’s the Oculus guy?”

    Unless whatever they have planned has nothing to do with VR goggles.

    • quintesse says:

      I’m completely speculating here, but nowhere in this announcement is Valve saying it’s making a *product*, so one way of reading this is that they have something awesome to show for interested developers that are currently on the fence deciding to support VR or not and looking at the Oculus and thinking that it’s just not good enough.

      Because Oculus of course want to make something awesome… but it also must be a viable product, it can’t cost a $1000 or not enough people will buy it. So maybe Valve wants to show: ok Oculus will bring a good product to market, but *this* is what you might expect to come *after* that. The technology is there, it’s just not consumer ready yet. But be prepared!

      • Ehlii says:

        The dev kit for the Oculus Rift only costs $300. There’s no way the consumer version will cost $1000 (even assuming the improved screen and other things from the dev version). It’s likely that due to volume, the consumer version will actually be cheaper.

        If anything, Valve will be announcing a more expensive version of the Rift that doesn’t have some of the Rift’s limitations.

        • Stevostin says:

          Unless they sell direct to dev and without a margin. Once you sell retail there goes at least 30% of the cut so you have to increase pricing.

          That being said $300 for and OR headset certainly does sound already decent.

  6. David Shute says:

    Hang on, so Carmack’s working on the Oculus Rift, and Abrash is working on this? Just need Romero to announce his own aggressively marketed headset (which will presumably play metallica all the time and call you a bitch,) then the world can finally end.

  7. reggiep says:

    I suspect this is kind of like Microsoft’s position with Windows 8. Microsoft has their own hardware, the Surface tablet, but the OS is also distributed on 3rd party hardware like ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, etc. Valve will have their own VR unit that serves as the baseline while other vendors, such as Occulus, are free to use their own options with Steam.

    Valve seems to be a fan of openness with Steam, but they also need to be able to provide a complete set of tools for branding purposes. They can’t sell a Steam machine and then tell you to go out and buy an Xbox controller and an Occulus Rift unit. They need to be able to offer the complete package: a Steam Machine with Steam OS, a Steam Controller and a Steam VR headset. You can’t offer up a hodgepodge of products with random branding and expect to compete with the Apples, Microsofts and Sonys of the world.

    • Premium User Badge Cinek says:

      “Valve seems to be a fan of openness with Steam” – hahahahahahahahahahaha

      • Muffins says:

        Helps them with their work-flow.

      • Premium User Badge phuzz says:

        Compared with either of the consoles, Steam is so open it’s practically inside-out, but yeah, not that open in the grand scheme of things.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Everything is relative. If we like we could insist Steam is not Open until they pay us all £1000 each while developing an OS for every individual, matched to their own needs, and posting each source code online.

          If it’s moving in the right direction, don’t knock it back to the other. Or as they say, “careful what you wish for”, or “give a dog a bad name”.

          Yeah, Steam/Valve get it wrong. But don’t kick people making comparative comments. Point to someone doing better if you think they can (GOG perhaps?) and let the good results show the other companies (MS/Apple/EA/Steam etc) up that way. :)

  8. Darth Gangrel says:

    There’s nothing legally stopping Valve from working on VR after they sacked people who were previously working in that area, but it doesn’t seem to be in good taste. Arguably, we know little of Valve’s plans and I can’t feel too sorry about the CastAR crew since their kickstarter raised more than a million dollars (263 % of the goal). This is starting to sound like another trend, just like how Sony and Microsoft both made their own motion controlled devices after seeing how successful the Nintendo Wii was getting.

    • Tuhalu says:

      I was under the impression that CastAR is all about augmented reality (like in the product name) more than virtual reality, like in the Rift. The guys at valve decided they wanted to be more firmly VR and that’s why the AR guys were extremely kindly shown the door with the rights to their own work.

      • Getterac7 says:

        CastAR does both AR and VR. The glasses come with a clip-on for a full VR experience like Occulus Rift.

    • Lemming says:

      We don’t know the circumstances of why they were let go. They may have just been part of some initial concept phase, and are no longer required. You don’t just keep people on a retainer if they’ve done all they can. It’d be nice, but it’s not a realistic expectation. They may not have had enough transferable skills to be used in other areas of the business. Most who get a job at Valve have multiple disciplines, and/or are willing to join in-company courses to learn others. Perhaps here that wasn’t the case.

    • quintesse says:

      > but it doesn’t seem to be in good taste

      I don’t see why not?
      First the CastAR is an AR solution, not VR, and Abrash always said that AR was much harder and would take a longer time to become a useful product.
      So it seems Valve just decided that they didn’t want to invest in that anymore.
      That’s completely normal, and if the people involved don’t want to work on another project there isn’t much you can do but fire them.
      But I don’t think that’s what happened here at all.
      It seems more that Valve said, we’re not investing in this anymore, but if you guys want to take this technology and your experience and set up your own company to try and turn it into a product than by all means go ahead.
      If your product is good then hopefully you’ll find other investors, if not, well too bad, but I don’t think Valve is under any obligation (morally/ethically speaking) to continue funding something they don’t *want* to fund.

      • Getterac7 says:

        Again, CastAR does both AR and VR. The glasses come with a clip-on for a full VR experience like Occulus Rift.

    • The Random One says:

      I agree it doesn’t seem to be in good taste, but the timeline suggests this was already underway when Jeri et al were fired. Although from the fired team comments, if it was, they weren’t told about this internal competition, which is in even less good taste.

    • Stevostin says:

      I entirely disagree. Whatever work was done it was financed by Valve. Actually most company would actually get people hired to sign something preventing them to work on the same thing outstide. We don’t know the details but we know this: regarding typical companie’s behaviour, Valve is pretty fair on this.

    • Baines says:

      To be fair, Sony’s Eyetoy was designed to be the PS2′s Kinect before either the Wii or the Xbox 360′s Kinect existed.

  9. Kitsunin says:

    For sure, but if it requires different infrastructure to make different brands of VR work with different things, that will be a problem, since that means Valve games and Steam will need to explicitly make Oculus work in addition to their own hardware: If they don’t, they’ll have the monopoly without even needing to try to make their own hardware superior in any way. That would be bad…obviously…

  10. Solidstate89 says:

    Sometimes I think that Valve has a really bad case of the NIH syndrome.

  11. Epsz says:

    Augmented Reality hats!

  12. Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

    Given Jim’s hybrid status as both tippetty top journo type and game designer extrodinaire, can’t we just send him?

  13. dar830 says:

    its so cool..Google is paying 75$/hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. On sunday I bought themselves a Alfa Romeo from having made $5637 this month. its the best-job Ive ever had.It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out http://goo.gl/f6e95V

  14. nicolejscott says:

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  15. TechnicalBen says:

    This. This is the argument that matters. It’s a possibility, so bring it’s importance to the fore, rightly so. :)
    But it’s not a written yet. Though we will look out for any unwanted moves!

    I’ll be as ticked off as everyone if Steam follow the likes of Sony and MS and Apple blindly. Hopefully HumbleBundle and GOG etc can pick up if Steam does go down that route.

    Hopefully there is nothing that Steam can strong arm off. For me at least I can live without their services. Hopefully they realize that, and so will work to keep the custom, instead of get the customers to work to keep Steam (look at the XBOne example to see what that is like).

  16. hypercrisis says:

    Anyone else feel that the label ‘VR’ for a head-mounted display is a bit disingenuous

  17. particlese says:

    “people will slowly, methodically bury me in household objects”

    We used to do this to my friend at his birthday parties. He was always the first to fall asleep for some reason, so he’d wake up buried in a large pile of pillows, Nerf toys, Genesis/Megadrive games, and even a Sega Activator one time. That was technically a motion tracker on his head, so I’m totally on-topic.