It looks like Valve is ready to take the gloves off at Steam Dev Days 2014. Two talks to be given at the event will include a demonstration of Valve’s secret prototype VR HMD that is “capable of stunning experiences”, and a discussion on forthcoming changes to Steam to “support and promote virtual reality games.” Palmer Luckey will also take to the stage to speak about best practices for VR developers.

Steam Box, VR and, the Real Next Gen

As we head into what promises to be one of the least inspiring new generation console release in living memory, Valve’s Steam Box and the ever growing promise of living room virtual reality is a breath of fresh air for ageing gamers like me. This is why recently released details of Valve’s forthcoming Steam Developer Days conference in January are incredibly enticing. Not only do they once again highlight Valve’s continuing belief and commitment to headsets such as the Oculus Rift, they also show this commitment extends and may indeed be integral to Valve’s forthcoming Steam Box platform.

Amongst talks designed to wean Windows game developers away from the cosy world of Windows and DirectX to the wide open plains of Linux and OpenGL, there are not one but three talks during Steam Developer Days focussing on the promise and the practicalities of virtual reality. Of particular interest to those who have followed persistent rumours that Valve has been working on their own HMD is this:

Oculus Chief Scientist: How and When Augmented Reality Will Transform Our Lives

michael abrash gdc 2013 virtual reality talkMichael Abrash: What VR Could, Should, and Almost Certainly Will Be within Two Years

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.

Michael Abrash has of course been visible on the VR scene for some time (he blogs about his research here). He’s a vocal supporter of virtual and augmented reality but has often been very careful to rein in expectations and set ideals for both fledgling technologies. In a talk given at GDC 2013 he outlines his vision and pitfalls that face developers in the very near future. His history and grasp of gaming technology, having been fundamental in the early development of PC gaming and researching VR and AR internally for Valve, has lead him to become one of the most respected commentators on VR and AR.

An augmented reality prototype from Valve based on existing hardware, New York Times 2012

What have Valve cooked up in those R&D labs that only a select few have seen thus far? A good hint comes from Oculus, whose latest blog update offers a few details about Valve’s prototype HMD:

At Gaming Insiders, [Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe] talked about using a new VR prototype at Valve, which combines ultra low latency, precise head and positional tracking with low-persistence visuals for one of the most immersive and comfortable experiences ever.

In the same post, Oculus says that they’re applying Valve’s work to the forthcoming Oculus Rift consumer version:

We can’t share all the details yet, but we’re taking the insights we’ve learned from that demo and applying them to the development process to make the consumer Rift even better.

One thing’s for sure, Valve shows no signs of  diminishing its believe that virtual reality along with its Steam Box is where the real next generation of gaming will take place. Perhaps predictably, I agree wholeheartedly.

Oculus Says All Rift Pre-Orders Shipped, Narrows Touch Launch to Q4

joe-ludwig-ignite-seattle-featuredJoe Ludwig: Virtual Reality and Steam

Come and hear what Valve is working on in Steam to support and promote Virtual Reality (VR) games. This includes a discussion of the Steam Overlay in VR, Steam store changes for VR, and our VR plan for Steamworks.

Ludwig has been working right alongside Abrash, having also given a talk at GDC 2013, ‘What We Learned Porting Team Fortress 2 to Virtual Reality,’ and talking publicly about the future of VR and how Valve will be part of it. From the synposis of his talk at Steam Dev Days, it sounds like Valve is highly committed to bringing the world of steam to VR.

palmer luckey gdc 2013 oculus rift virtual reality presentation talkPalmer Luckey: Porting games to Virtual Reality

The team at Oculus has spent time helping a variety developers bring their existing content to virtual reality across multiple platforms. This talk will cover many of the best practices, technical hurdles that VR developers should be aware of, and some of the counter-intuitive approaches we’ve seen work.

In this new and growing world of virtual reality, developers are still learning what does and doesn’t work in VR. Following right alongside Ludwig’s talk, Oculus inventor and co-founder Palmer Luckey will take to the stage to guide developers toward best-practices for VR development.

If there’s one company who could single-handedly legitimize virtual reality, it’s Valve. To hear their level of support for VR is exciting news for gamers and industry folk alike.

Hat tip to reddit user rafal1 for pointing out the Steam Dev Days itinerary.

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