Road to VR‘s Scott Hayden goes hands on with Valve’s latest virtual reality experience, a collection of experiments in immersive gaming known as ‘The Lab’.


In the first public showing of the Lab, we got a chance to jump into 4 different areas. The first was what Valve is calling a ‘postcard’ – a beautifully rendered photogrammetry captured scene of real-world mountain, Vesper Peak.

I was transported to the peak and greeted by a sort of slinky robot dog that wanted to play fetch with a number of sticks scattered around. Teleporting with my left controller, I explored the peak, which because of the photogrammetry was a 1:1 experience in terms of realism.

Soon I had to bid my robot dog farewell (he wanted to keep playing and having his robot-tummy rubbed) and zapped to a demo called Slingshot.

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A conveyor belt of the iconic spherical robots runs past me in an industrial center. I’m atop a platform with a mechanical slingshot with a hopper loaded with fully-sentient robot spheres. Voices provided by Rick and Morty’s Justin Roiland had me cackling at his usual free-style self-deprecation. Each bot told me a story about how they would do their job and the intricacies of their personalities before I dispassionately lobbed them at a teetering structure of boxes and stacked metal.

The next was a 3d meteor-style game called Xortex. Xortex gives you a mini spaceship to play with–fitting you inside of a 2 meter sphere. It instantly reminds me of playing with spaceship toys as a kid, and the haptics buzzing in time with the toy ships thrusters makes you feel like this is how it always should have been as a kid. The object is to shoot the baddies that pop out of nowhere, and dodge the mass of their slowly moving laser pulses and collect power-ups. Get struck once though and its a big game over.

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Longbow was the next, a tower defense game that puts you inside the guard tower of a castle with a bow and arrow. You can light the bow on fire – shoot down pots of boiling oil – explosive barrels – and knock the helmets off the little pocket universe paper guys that come with shields and swords. Immense fun and a great way of learning the basic physics of projectiles.

Then I was brought to the Hub, a room filled with large dioramas and teleport spheres, reflective orbs that you hold up to your head to activate. While I used these spheres to get from one experience to another, I wasn’t allowed to go any further an explore the space or go into any other demos. On the white board behind me though I saw several others listed that they weren’t showing, a good 6 more that promise to introduce core mechanics of VR to curious new comers with a HTC Vive in hand or other Steam VR-compatible headset.

The level of graphical polish is incredibly high on each of these experiences/minigames, something that we’ve come to expect from Valve’s VR department. Voice acting, character interactions, and a tight understanding of hand controlled devices with the HTC Vive make it clear that Valve isn’t just throwing out interesting tech demos for the sake of it, but rather using the demo collection to give Steam VR users a ready-made tour of the headset and it’s capabilities. Talking to Valve’s Chet Faliszek, he told me that each demo was a way for the company to explore and share what they’ve learned about VR in a cohesive, and ever changing way. We expect to see more of Valve’s experiments in the coming future.

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The Lab is free and will be released in full as an exploration of VR locomotion and other VR-specific game mechanics. There are no plans yet to release each demo as a stand-alone game (even if I’m going to spend a bunch of time in Xortex).

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