In his talk at the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Valve VR developer predictably didn’t share any specifics on the company’s yet to be revealed VR game, but he did offer a glimpse into his approach to VR game design as it relates to the upcoming title.

As we noted earlier this month, Valve developer Kerry Davis held a talk at his alma mater, the DigiPen Institute of Technology, last week, in which he promised to talk about “developing the company’s upcoming flagship virtual reality title.”

Though Valve has confirmed their so-called “flagship” VR game is due to ship in 2019, the company still hasn’t actually revealed anything about the title. While Davis did offer an interesting case-study focusing on the process of VR interaction design, he made it clear up front that he wasn’t going to be sharing any specifics about the upcoming VR game.

“I will not be making any product announcements, and I will not be sharing new details about projects currently in development. Believe me, I am dying to share all the exciting things that we’ve been working on at Valve. It’s killing me, but today is not the time or the place for that.”

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When asked whether Valve’s upcoming game would still launch this year, Davis said he didn’t actually know the release date of the title himself.

I do not know. And that is an honest answer. Because, like I said, Valve is a very autonomous department… that is not my choice to make, and I haven’t been in the meetings that are making that decision. My daily goal at Valve is to keep pushing the project forward, writing code, fixing bugs, making it awesome… and the day will come where the word will come through the office and they’ll say ‘Ok we’re announcing tomorrow’… and that’s when I’ll know about it.

Through the rest of the talk, Davis was careful not to share any revealing details about the title (other than the fact that it will include doors, apparently), though he did present an interesting perspective and case-study of the not-as-easy-as-it-seems process of VR interaction design.

Throughout, he focused on the difference between building a game that ‘simulates reality’ versus one which ‘simulates the experience of reality’.

Interactions have been pretty much the same throughout [non-VR] game history. It’s the big dividing line between the game world and the real world. If you want to interact with something in the game, you have to do something in the real world to make that happen, through an abstraction layer. So if you want your character to jump in the game, you have to press the B button on the controller to make him do that. Now with VR, I hypothesized that we can eliminate nearly all of these abstractions. Because if you can put the player into the virtual world themselves, why not just let them interact with the world directly just like they would in the real world?

But this is the question you have to ask first… I didn’t realize this until a long time later: what are we really trying to simulate? Are we trying to simulate physically accurate real-world interactions? Or are we trying to simulate the player’s experience of those real-world interactions? They’re actually two different things, and the distinction is important. To put it differently: are we simulating reality or perception?

Davis argued that the developer’s choice to focus on simulating reality or simulating perception should be intentional, so that the rest of the design can fall into place around that choice.

You can do either… if you’re making [the VR game] Hot Dogs, Horseshoes, and Hand Grenades […] you’re going for perfect physical reality simulation; that’s fine—that’s your choice—make sure it’s intentional. Know what you’re trying to simulate. Set your goals and make sure what you’re doing fits those goals. Increasing the accuracy of the simulation does not result in a more realistic experience […].

Focusing on the seemingly simple case of trying to make a usable door in VR, Davis outlined the iterative process of starting from a simple ‘press button to open door’ approach to something specially made for VR which included interactive physics, a handle, a latching mechanism, and one-way hinges. As the realism of the door’s functionality increased, it became harder for players to use because, Davis argued, VR is still missing tons of cues and haptics from the real world. Although the more complicated version of the door was more realistic functionality speaking, using it correctly was hard for players in a way that real doors aren’t.

He stressed the importance of playtesting interactions to put assumptions about player behaviors to the test, and make changes if things don’t work out as expected.

Only rigorous testing will tell you what suits the goal you’re trying to make. You have to test the heck out of it. And don’t get mad at your testers, don’t claim they don’t know how to work the real world. They do! It’s your fault they can’t figure out what they’re supposed to be doing. And we can’t assume that real-world interactions automatically translate to VR. We still need to teach players somehow what they can and can’t do in the VR world. Or if you choose not to do that, make that an intentional decision and know why you’re doing that.

Davis said that because Valve’s VR game is striving to focus on simulating the perception of reality, rather than reality itself, dialing back to a less complicated version of the door actually improved the player experience because playtests showed that it was easier to use and understand. In the real world doors might be functionally complicated but they are easy to use. Thus, a virtual door that’s easy to use, he said, more closely simulates the player’s ‘perception’ of the real world than a virtual door which is more physically and functionality accurate but is more challenging to use .

Davis’ nearly hour long talk offers up more nuance in this process than is reported here. If you’re interested in VR interaction design it’s worth a watch to understand how Valve is approaching the topic, and you can luckily catch a full recording of the talk here.

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  • Niklas Fritzell

    Looking forward to valves flagship game “Doors and how to open them”. Valve is “dying” to tell us why we should shell out 1000 bucks on an index, and this is how they promote it? A bit pathetic if you ask me.

    • kuhpunkt

      What does one thing have to do with the other?

      • Ratm

        To Obvius advertising to ask that.

        • Ratm

          Reminds me a bit the vive cosmos press tactic.

          • asshat

            you should elaborate on your thoughts over the vive cosmos press tactics. thatll be entertaining to say the least

          • Ratm

            Entertaining is to buy and have a toy and the AAA bateries to use it,thats common logic.
            Whatever is happening in this new market that is just starting is not so entertaining :(

        • kuhpunkt


    • This was an educational lecture not a PR event. This is like criticizing the late Satoru Iwata’s ‘Heart Of A Gamer’ keynote at GDC 2005 for not trying to sell the Wii. Nintendo had a lot to prove then but that speech was for game developers not consumers. Valve should show off great AAA software to help sell the Index but this was not the place to do so. I’m sure they will at a proper consumer event or via PR release.

      • Darshan

        Agree , yet shared bits should be more focused on giant issues of VR, Doors certainly aren’t among them. Things like how re-introduce open world tailored to VR limits, How to decorate on rails game play to appear as freedom of will, How to keep all of it interesting while not frustrating first time player.. There are lot of thing to talk… Doors are not among them.

        • Jorge Gustavo

          The doors was just a simple example to explain a point for fuck sake. How hard is to get that?

        • I agree boiling down a 90 min speech to “doors” is disappointing. That said I feel the point Davis was trying to make was about reality vs perception. This can be applied to every interaction in video games. I think doors were used as an example because they are easy to overlook as simple. I hope the point he was trying to make is to experiment with different interactions to see what works best for each game and developer. Its like sim vs arcade. I hope to watch the full video when I get a chance.

          • Darshan

            I am looking forward to some good outcome at end of year in terms of good game. May god bless VRkind.

    • Darshan

      Lot of it man..just lot of it.

    • Jorge Gustavo

      I am surprised by your lack of understanding about this text.

      • Darshan

        when something of grater significance or some knowledge imparting talk is expected out of someone being at his state. Turn out the person keeps on explaining very basic things for too long this happens. no one at fault mate. unless some one working for valve one should hurt here. it was just TOO MUCH DOORS.

  • Tailgun

    Fuck the shiny shit. I just want Valve to create a SteamVR interface that isn’t an exercise in murderous rage induction.

    • Andrew McEvoy


    • Darshan

      They are too much focusing on mundane things while forgetting elephant in the room.

      • Jorge Gustavo

        Rolling my eyes here reading your comments.

        • Darshan

          one is free to use free will, i used mine you used yours.calm now.

  • doug

    A 90 minute video of 12 of the top minds in video gaming watching a door get a physics workout. This game is going to have the best damn doors ever.

  • Interesting UX concept… in VR more realism may lead to a less comfortable experience for the user!

    • It’s a great expansion on sim vs arcade or fantasy vs reality. Some like realistic reloading while other just want to push a button. The amount of realism needs to fit the developer’s intentions and the target gamer. Personal I switch between games that do both so long as they are well executed. Good testing really is the key.

      • Darshan

        Good execution, caring for viewer comfort and immersion in terms of visual and story is what binds some one in virtual world… very much impressed with this amazing VR game…

      • Penn Apcs

        I get what you are saying, but while this is may be more personal preference with traditional games, in VR the approach that leads to the most “presence” seems like the “right” approach to me.

    • Penn Apcs

      Yes, very interesting. Less realism means it feels more real.

  • dota

    1. make waveguide optics based vr headset no more heavy than 2 time the normal specs
    2. release steam app on cell phones
    3. connect 1& 2 with usb-c data connection
    4. U get gaming walkman
    5. Also offer game streaming thru remote servers

  • Darshan

    We have elevator doors in real world, which just open at press of a button
    Why not keep that in game. locate the button with controller pointing out and pressing button on controller just like one would do in real world to open the doors.

    We also have auto doors which just sense presence and open (Malls, Airports, Railway Stations and so on), those can be best fit in VR world too, just developer need to remember to make that sensor brick and IR led on top of the door for sake of realism.

    • Jorge Gustavo

      The doors was just a example. He was explaining, using the doors, that more realism on interactions aren’t always the best solution for imersion. I am pretty sure that he knows how elevators work.

      • Darshan

        I am just too head to heart excited now to see the work.. bring me some next gen VALVE VR games.

  • phoenixperson

    Real fake doors?

  • brandon9271

    It has doors. Half-life 3 CONFIRMED!

  • Jorge Gustavo

    It’s so fucking obvious what he is saying. But just one small bunch of developers figured out by themselves

    • Darshan

      I hope a few…at least colleagues. we will see results and may post here again too, as we all know what is written on web wall stays almost… how many years please en-light me.

  • care package

    Why all the secrecy when it comes to games in development. Is it so they can feel like they’re on a top secret project?

    • T Sheehan

      Oh please. This is Valve we’re talking about. Proprietors of Steam, the #1 way to sell your second-rate hackjob clone of a real game that a legit studio is developing. They know only too well that whatever they preview to us will have about 30 cheesy chinese bootlegs cluttering up the storefront before their product even has a title.

  • Tricky

    I’ve been holding (unseen by the public) Valve ex-artist Ted Backman of L4D3 Zombies made in 2012. It’s killing me.. I don’t work for Valve.

  • T Sheehan

    Painful cockteases like this are what drives some hackers to backdoor a game company’s network to play the alphas, mistakenly making contact with a military A.I. which then sets off a chain of events that nearly start Global Thermonuclear War. That old chestnut.

    ProtoVision….I have you now.