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:

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.

What Any VR Game Can Learn From the 'Electronauts' Interface – Inside XR Design
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.

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.

Latest SteamVR Update Includes Steam Link Improvements for Quest

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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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.
  • Neuromute

    Oculus VR now has quite the competition.

    One has to wonder why Valve would want to go and create their own HMD, given their relationship with Oculus VR.

    A VR UI for Steam is something I have been hoping would become available soon, hopefully around the time of a consumer Rift release.
    Just imagine being inside VR Cinema 3D, watching a video file, while at the same time having realtime conversations with friends in a 3D chat box that would hover above your waist.

    While competition leads to innovation, I just hope the VR market isn’t completely oversaturated with crap.

  • Chris Given

    Actually it looks as if the guys at Oculus and at Steam are very happy to share what they have learned with each other because they understand at this point they both stand to benefit from working together… I would not be surprised in the future if they end up a single company with Valve buying or at the very least partnering with Oculus… I think there will be just as much Oculus VR tech in the Valve HMD as the other way around. For all we know at this point the Valve HMD might be a modified Oculus HMD… Time will tell but either way as a VR enthusiast it’s good news all around!!

  • Mageoftheyear

    I take it this is an industry event and as such none of the talks will be filmed?

    It’s a shame. That knowledge has massive value for devs big and small worldwide who can’t be there.
    Not to mention from an enthusiast’s perspective I would probably watch each and every talk three times over.

    • Mageoftheyear

      Oh yeah, and I nearly forgot – thanks for the great write-up Paul. The work you put into tying everything together made it a very entertaining (and exciting!) read.

    • Untold Games

      Having a video recorder version of the meeting wpuld be amazing! Can’t we asked valve to do it?

      • Untold Games

        *Having a video recorded version of the meeting would be amazing! Can’t we ask valve to do it?

        • Mageoftheyear

          It’s not clear if the sessions will be recorded for release to the public, or recorded and only released to the developers present:

          I really hope they are released to the public though, even if it is weeks later.

  • Untold Games

    Another VR headset? I find it hard to believe… why would the spend so much on R&D when their relation with oculus is so prolific? (The team fortress bundle is only one example).
    What i’m expecting is more of a big title bundle (portal3? Half life 3) or a “valve version” of the oculus For the steam box.

    • Mageoftheyear

      I think Chris’s post above is the most likely explanation. Valve are clearly passionate about VR, their attitude towards hardware was “we son’t see real innovation. If we need to make that innovation ourselves then we will.” [I’m paraphrasing]

      So if Oculus is already so far along with the Rift it makes sense for Valve to contribute towards that relationship if it will bring more customers to their platform. It’s very much a win win for both Valve and Oculus, as Oculus will then gain the exposure of the worlds largest gaming distribution platform.

      I highly doubt any Valve employees think of Oculus as competitors. Their time is needed for so many other projects. Like Half-Life 3 launching on the Rift in 2016.
      Pretty please with a headcrab on top?…

      • Chris Given

        I would put money on the fact that Half-Life 3 is in development, will be a VR title, and it will be released for the steam box and PC!! It’s a done deal!!! What better way to get people to run out and buy a steam box?? No other reason necessary!! Take my money!! LOL

        • Mageoftheyear

          Oh from your keystrokes to GLaDOS’s empathy core! :P

  • BlueGimbal

    I think that the mobile space is going to be huge for VR. For a while, people had mp3 players, but it eventually got merged into the phone. Oculus themselves can see this future, and that is what John Carmack is working on in Dallas. BlueGimbal has submitted an app to the iPhone app store for use with headsets such as the vrAse or FOV2GO viewers, and it is the first of hopefully many stereoscopic gyroscopic apps for immersive mobile experiences. Check it out at