Valve Not Releasing VR Hardware, Giving Tech To Oculus

The Valve news can’t stop, won’t stop, will never stop. Until tomorrow, at which point Steam Dev Days will conclude and Valve will clamber back under its Cone Of General Silence (Except During Very Specific Circumstances). Today, though, we get one last blast of information – namely, that Valve does, in fact, have its own “holodeck“-level virtual reality tech, but it doesn’t plan on releasing it to the public. Instead, the Newellian empire has decided to collaborate with Oculus Rift in order to further its goals for a VR-powered future in which PC is king.

Valve discussed its VR plans in a panel titled “What VR Could, Should, and Almost Certainly Will Be Within Two Years.” While it has its own VR prototype that even Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey called “the best virtual reality demo in the world right now,” the PC juggernaut won’t be heading up the hardware side of things.

A slide presented by the world’s most quiet and composed mad scientist, Michael Abrash, noted that Valve and Oculus partnered on Crystal Cove’s tracking functionality, and the two will continue to work together to drive VR forward. And of course, Valve recently revealed its own VR API, SteamVR, which will hopefully facilitate smoother, more consistent VR experiences.

Abrash did, however, add that Valve hasn’t ruled out releasing its own VR hardware in the future. So the whole situation is reminiscent of its approach to Steam Machines: work with a third-party manufacturer for now, but be prepared to take the reins later on if need be.

So then, what will come of all of this? Well, to hear Valve tell it, The Future’s near-future is bright, with Abrash claiming that high-quality virtual reality for everyone – not just devs – will almost certainly be available in two years, probably less. He also noted that PC will be a “hotbed” for all of this, what with all of its power, versatility, and room for evolution.

For those who want to view slides of Valve’s proposed plans to turn VR from wizz-bang technogizmo doohickey to a plastic brick we’ll all be proud to tether to our faces, SteamDB has rounded up all relevant slides. Go have a look-see. Oh, but do please remember to wipe any The Future you step in off your shoes before returning to RPS. Wouldn’t want it staining our rustic (and also infinite) bear rug, after all.


  1. WoundedBum says:

    Using that header image really makes you a meany pants, you know.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      2 Words
      HL3 confirmed!

    • Old Man Jenkins says:

      Everyone’s gotta get their sick kicks somehow.

    • unimural says:

      I took me a second or two to understand how the use of that image could be considered as mean. I’m not sure whether that means that I’ve associated Gordon so strongly with Valve that he’s become a mere symbol, or that HL3 is so illusory to me these days that the possibility of its existence doesn’t emerge from my subconsciousness without some effort. Or both.

      Or OP meant something else and I’m proving myself wrong :-)

      • BTAxis says:

        At this point I’m starting to believe HL3 is getting to the point where Duke Nukem Forever used to be. Hotly anticipated, constantly referred to but ultimately never forthcoming. And by extension, any product by that name could never live up to the internet’s ridiculous expectations (as indeed DNF spectacularly failed to do).

  2. Old Man Jenkins says:

    This is the kind of stuff that makes me giggle like a little schoolgirl just thinking about it. Future, come faster!

  3. RProxyOnly says:

    I don’t like the comments being made that existing games might not be port-able or be able to reuse the same assets, that didn’t seem to be an issue before all this crystal cove, low persistance, head tracking stuff.

    BTW.. crystal cove designed for the sitting position?… the more they ‘improve’ the more restrictive this seems to become.

    I like this from the best practices doc… “Sound…….When designing audio ,keep in mind that the output source follows the user’s head movements when they wear headphones, but not when they use speakers. Allow users to choose their output device in game settings, and make sure in-game sounds appea to emanate from the correct locations by accounting for head position relative to the output device.”

    Nice, so basically they are reminding devs to allow the sound to reposition itself dynamically based on real time head position when coming from speakers… Good.

    • Koshinator says:

      It’s not about not being able to port existing games over.. it’s that the experience will be nowhere near as immersive or impressive as an experience that’s tailored for VR from the outset. This has always been the case, and with the addition of positional tracking, third-party wrappers like VorpX and Tri-Def (which inject rift compatability into existing games) lose even more functionality when compared to out-of-the-box VR experiences.

      In terms of existing assets, it’s more to do with the scale of them than anything else (a lot of current games on the market leave scale in their design as ‘what looks ok’, but this sort of approximation causes trouble when put in a VR experience where height, scale and ‘presence’ really matter. Fidelity is also an issue, as you most likely will be examining things a bit more closely then you would on your monitor.

      As for the ‘restriction’ to seated VR, it isn’t as much a restriction, as a preferred way to play. The system will still track orientation, no matter if you’re sitting, lying down, turned completely around or walking about – it’s just the positional tracking requires you to be in view of the camera (which can also be positioned so that it tracks you while you’re standing) There are also ways to ‘free up’ the limited area of use (camera fov), by using an extra tracking module, such as the STEM packs used in the STEM system wireless controller – and tbh if you’re standing up and using a VR HMD, you’re probably going to want to have some sort of motion tracking controller anyway, to increase the immersion in the game (and at this point either STEM or the PrioVR systems seem to be the more popular choices)

      • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

        While this is all true, you’ve missed out what is, in my opinion, the biggest issue – UI.

        This guy explains it all much better than I could.

        • Koshinator says:

          Sure UI is a big part of it.. i just wasn’t listing ALL the possible problems with porting existing games over :P

          • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

            I’m aware of that, I just think the UI problem is actually a much bigger issue than anything you mentioned. :)

          • P7uen says:

            This is a non-issue.

            Easily fixed by only playing Metro and Trespasser; just look at your VR gun/boobs and no UI is required.

          • The Random One says:

            The most played game in VR eventually becomes Madonna: Nineties Warrior Queen, in which all UI elements are in your gun-boobs.

          • KhanIHelpYou says:

            Playing a metro like game with oculus + kinect/hydra/a-better-gesture-tracker and raising your hand up to wipe the muck off your visor. That will be a glorious VR moment.

  4. fish99 says:

    For a company with all the monies Valve sure don’t take many risks, maybe that’s why they have all the monies.

    • nmarebfly says:

      This is a weird thing to say – Valve’s taking a HUGE risk here, bigger than any publicly traded company ever would. They’ve spent all this money on developing the best VR in the business and they’re NOT selling a product with it? The shareholders would choke and scream bloody murder. I guess even calling it a ‘risk’ isn’t giving it the right gravity — they’re really just throwing money in a hole that they’ll only see a return on if someone ELSE makes a ton of cash on it, then keeps Valve in the loop by strongly supporting steam. Fucking good on ’em, I say.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Valve doesn’t have shareholders. What they do have is a ton of money and ideas, both of which are spreading them too thin. They’re the Google of the private sector.

        • zeroskill says:

          Wow, such reading comprehension.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            My reading comprehension skills are working fine. Go brown-nose Valve somewhere else.

      • fish99 says:

        The risk would be putting a VR headset into production, that’s a much bigger investment and risk than building a prototype and software. Same with the SteamBox, the fact that they made those prototypes tells me they were planning a production run, then they had second thoughts, maybe after seeing the size of investment they were looking at. SteamOS is largely just Linux with Steam installed. Then look at the gaming side – what’s the last game they did that wasn’t a sequel, and didn’t originate outside of Valve? (L4D, CS, DOTA, Portal, TF, all originated outisde of Valve) I dunno… is the answer Half Life? :o

        I’m not seeing risk taking here.

  5. Vinraith says:

    “VR-powered future in which PC is king”

    Surely VR is just an awkward middle step towards an immersive technology that doesn’t require strapping a monitor to your face?

    • Niko says:

      VR just means “virtual reality”. Doesn’t imply strapping anything to your face.

    • islisis says:

      When PC-VR is usurped by chipset integrated-VR units take a minute to recall the true root of our eternal inferiority complex, then return to enjoying what you have

    • golem09 says:

      Just as the screen on the wall was a step. So don’t expect anything better than oculus in the next 100 years.

      • RProxyOnly says:

        100 years?

        Do you have ANY notion on how the shape of everything has changed in the past 100 years… god alone knows what state every day life will be in with the rate of progression we have over another century.

        • SominiTheCommenter says:

          Just like Zemeckis predicted we would have hoverboards by now.
          Or all those guys in the 50’s that though nuclear powered cars were just around the corner.
          Or just about the entire link to blog.

          • RProxyOnly says:

            We went from having no notion of what applied electricity might mean, to putting a man on the moon, in 70 years, and rate of progression has just been picking up. The Singularity will be reached sometime THIS century, the 2100’s will be insane.. IF we haven’t entirely destroyed what it means to be human by then. ‘Buggy’ genetic manpulation, hacked organic circuitry… it’s a bleak future if it’s to be dictated by money.

          • SominiTheCommenter says:

            I wish I could share your enthusiasm, but I can’t see anything close to the Singularity in a long time. 100 years isn’t enough.
            A cynic/Gibson fan could say the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

    • DanMan says:

      So, I take it you don’t like strap-ons?

  6. Doomsayer says:

    I want HL3 to be on a flat screen like the rest of all the FPS games I enjoy. Anyone else?

    • RProxyOnly says:

      Not if they can actually make it a genuinely fulfilling VR experience.. plopped down in the middle of some HL lore AS GF..yeah.. gimme.

      • mukuste says:

        I’ve tried, but… what is an “AS GF”?

        • strangeloup says:

          I could be wrong, but I think he means if they convey that the VR unit is an in-universe item.

          Like if you were to play Portal with a special portal gun controller. (Can you get on that next please, Valve?)

          • communisthamster says:

            I think he just meant imagine the VR “feeling present in the world” (“in the middle of HL lore”) as Gordon Freeman (AS GF, capitalised for emphasis)

          • RProxyOnly says:

            Ty for that clarification Communisthamster.. I didn’t think that was so obscure.

    • golem09 says:

      Not after playing more than half of HL2 with the oculus devkit. It made me sick and the resolution was horribke, still one of the most amazing gmaing experiences of my life.

  7. skittles says:

    I find the current VR craze peculiar insomuch as there has been so much talk about this and that for over a year now. Yet there is not a single consumer product yet. Usually with such tech there is usually SOMETHING by this point in the discussion. Yet so far there is lots of behind-closed-doors stuff and not much else. I guess you could call the prototype a pseudo-consumer product, but still.

    • Stardog says:

      Well they’d ruin the entire VR movement if they released a product without the minimum necessary features. “This game can only be played on Oculus Rift 3.0 and above” would be horrible.

      They need to get it to a point where the nausea/etc is close to non-existant, the image quality is high enough, and games for it actually exist before they can release anything.

    • Clavus says:

      Problem is, VR is hard to show without actually experiencing it for yourself. It has to become easily accessible before it can start its path of global conquest.

    • goettel says:

      I think if you’d tried out the “pseudo-consumer” devkit you’d find it’s something – something very good indeed.

    • eruvalar says:

      “Usually with such tech there is usually SOMETHING by this point in the discussion.” What are you referring to here?

    • mwoody says:

      But if you have $300, you can go buy an Oculus Rift right now. That’s why there’s so much talk: while yes, it’s an earlier, crappier version than the planned wide release, it’s already tremendously impressive and open to anyone with a credit card.

  8. Dozer says:

    This is great! Valve get all the benefits of enthusiasm for VR, while the Oculus guys bear the risk! Nice going Valve.

    • mukuste says:

      They also did a lot of R&D which they are freely sharing with Oculus, by the sounds of it.

      That new Valve hate train chic is getting rather tiresome.

      • subedii says:

        It really is.

        So instead of spending time and resources on development that they are then passing on (for free) to the one company best placed to take advantage of the R&D, they’re supposed to…

        I don’t even know. Make an inferior version themselves I guess? I guess Occulus are the party being taken advantage of by Valve all of this, man they must hate this scenario. I can’t believe they went for it.

        Yeah it’s a situation that benefits Valve if VR takes off (I’m not sure there’s a PC publisher it doesn’t benefit). But frankly it benefits Occulus more-so, particularly if they DO NOT have to compete with Valve on hardware.

        • Josh W says:

          It’s good for valve because it’s win-win, they are helping a partner to do well at things that will also help them. Valve are being clever by not trying to compete in hardware with hardwear companies, and they are avoiding risks, but in a synergistic rather than bastardly way.

    • goettel says:

      I used to think I was cynical – until internet comments.

    • Rindan says:

      Yes, Valve is doing free research and dumping money and support in, and then handing it off to a company that already has a product and works with hardware. This isn’t shifty. This is Valve staying competent at their core business. Valve’s core is Steam, not making fucking hardware. Valve doesn’t have the slightest clue how to manufacture hardware, buy components, setup a logistic train that crosses multiple countries, and monitor factories.

      Instead of biting off more than they can chew, they are doing what they do best and supporting the Rift with software and handing them a huge marketing bullhorn every chance they get. If that is being shitty, I want a shitty company to invest in my business.

  9. ahac says:

    Few months from now: Microsoft buys Oculus…

    • frightlever says:

      Not out of the question, though you’d hope that Valve would be given first refusal. I could even see Google taking an interest since they already have something like CastAR technology with Google Glass, but nothing comparable to the immersive VR of the Rift. Hmm.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Yeah, I’m terrified of this. Log onto Occulus to with your Microsoft account!

      • Scumbag says:

        Dont be silly, the thing will be constantly logged on as it is an Xboxone exclusive accesory for the Kinnekt.

    • ChrisMidget says:

      Don’t panic, the Xbone is not powerful enough for the Oculus Rift and according to Microsoft pc gaming is dead

    • starvingpoet says:

      I just wanted to remind you that you said this and that your dystopian future was much rosier than reality!

  10. frightlever says:

    This sort of close association doesn’t come out of nowhere. Wonder was this the source of the tension between Valve and Jeri Ellsworth.

    • RogB says:

      was thinking the same thing. they had their own in-house solution almost ready, so why were they not interested then? odd..

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Probably because Valve decided they wanted to pursue VR and not AR.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Shouldn’t be. From the wikipedias:
      On May 18, 2013, Ellsworth revealed that she had developed an augmented reality development system named castAR with fellow ex-Valve engineer Rick Johnson,[14] with the blessing of Valve’s Gabe Newell.

      • KhanIHelpYou says:

        The story goes, the way Valve projects work is people decide on what their going to work on then more people who like the sound of that join in then they work collaboratively to make the project come true.

        So people at Valve wanted to work on virtual reality and a group of them were doing that. Some were working on VR and others thought AR was where it was at. At some point the majority of the group decided to focus exclusively on VR, effectively killing the idea of people working on the AR stuff.

        Its then announced that the people working on the AR stuff are leaving Valve with gabes blessing and being given the AR tech they worked on at the company to do with as they like and try to make successful.

        Its not beyond belief that one of the reasons the Valve VR group decided to focus exclusively on VR instead of AR was because they were inspired by the rift.

  11. amateurviking says:

    Partnering with oculus makes a lot of sense. If they can ensure the rev1 consumer device is a winner by pooling their resources it’ll drive uptake which will persuade more devs to support VR, and if Valve – with the SteamVR API – make steam the easiest place to have VR software then it’ll drive software sales through steam. Makes a lot of sense.

  12. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Well at least they didn’t go and sell it to the bloody military instead.

  13. LaundroMat says:

    The machines can use me as a human battery provided they give me this tech + a compatible Dark Souls (2).

  14. Hypocee says:

    You used the right wooorrrrd, you are a rare and precious flower.

  15. ScubaMonster says:

    Sorry, anybody claiming this is “holodeck-level” has no clue what a holodeck is. I realize that’s short hand for saying “this is amazing” but let’s not be ridiculous.

    • The Dark One says:

      I believe it’s a reference to the striping/tracking patterns they had on the walls, not the “holograms & forcefields” aspect.

  16. The Dark One says:

    There’s something lovely about the fact that Abrash is working at Valve and John Carmack is working for Oculus, but they still get to collaborate on cool tech again, like it’s the mid-90s again.