Lord GabeN and his minions graced Reddit with their presence Tuesday to answer questions from the community. Several of those questions touched on VR. Here’s what we learned.
Gabe Newell, the famed co-founder and figurehead of Valve Corporation, was the subject of Reddit’s latest Ask Me Anything (AMA) event. Newell and several of his company’s employees answered questions on a variety of subjects, including the future of Valve franchises such as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2. They dodged questions about Half-Life 3. Although we'd certainly like some answers on that front, I was on the hunt for VR-related news, and Newell and Co. did not disappoint.
VR Content Coming Down The Pipeline
A Reddit member named GoodCrossing asked Newell if Valve is “interested in making a full game experience for the Vive.”
“Yes,” said Newell. “We think VR is pretty important as a tool for interesting games.”
Of course, we already knew that Valve is working on VR content. During Valve’s Dev Days event in October 2016, the company hinted that it's working on a fully-fledged VR game that we would hear about this year.
Newell shed a little more light following a question from a Reddit user that goes by Air Chandler. “Just a question out of curiosity really, but interested in seeing what your view is on the direction that Valve as a company should take in the future? Such as what would you like to see the company achieve/what improvements would you like to see valve undergo/what role would you like to see Valve serve/undertake in the industry as it evolves etc. and if any, have you made any past decisions that you look back on now that you regret/could've handled differently?”
Newell didn’t directly answer all of Air Chandler’s queries, but what he did say is interesting. He officially acknowledged that Valve is developing multiple VR games, and it sounds like these games will take advantage of as-yet unknown features of a future VR controller.
“The big thing right now is broadening the range of options we have in creating experiences,” said Newell. “We think investing in hardware will give us those options. The knuckles controller is being designed at the same time as we're designing our own VR games.”
Newell also noted that he sees potential in work being done with artificial intelligence and machine learning. “Personally, I’m looking at research in brain-computer interfaces,” he added.
As far as we know, this is the first public reference to the name of Valve’s experimental finger-tracking VR controller. At first, we weren’t sure that Knuckles referred to the same controller that Valve showed during the Dev Days conference, but an answer to a direct question about the prototype controllers make that crystal clear.
Redditor billjanke asked: “Can you shed any new light on the VR prototype controllers?” Programmer Joe, a SteamVR developer, replied, “We got a bunch of good feedback on the Knuckles prototype at Steam Dev Days. We took that and are rolling it into the next version. We intend to share that with developers to get more feedback.”
You don’t have to read between the lines to realize that whatever Valve is cooking for the Vive, you’ll need a new controller to get the full experience out of it. What those experiences may be, remains a mystery, but the AMA left us with a few breadcrumbs to follow.
For example, The Four Leaf Clover asked Newell if Valve has more planned for the company’s next-generation game engine, Source 2, and “if so, what?”
“We are continuing to use Source 2 as our primary game development environment,” said Newell. “Aside from moving Dota 2 to the engine recently, we are using it as the foundation of some unannounced products. We would like to have everyone working on games here at Valve to eventually be using the same engine. We also intend to continue to make the Source 2 engine work available to the broad developer community as we go, and to make it available free of charge.”
Newell’s reply doesn’t mention VR specifically, but this all but confirms that the VR titles the company is working on are being built in Source 2, not Unity or Unreal, which prompts the question: What about mixed reality?
Valve is a big believer in mixed reality video and its ability to show the public what VR is like without trying it themselves. Currently, mixed reality content mostly limited to Unity games. Newell and company didn’t discuss mixed reality, but we have to wonder what tricks Valve has up its sleeve for MR in Source 2.
The mixed reality idea is pure speculation on my part, but I think it fits the mold. Hopefully, we’ll hear more on the topic in the coming months.
Shared VR Zombie Experience?
Reddit user MursBur asked if Valve plans to continue the Left 4 Dead series. Newell danced around the question in his typical manner, but I think the answer he gave tells us more than he may have realized.
“Products are usually the result of an intersection of technology that we think has traction, a group of people who want to work on that, and one of the game properties that feels like a natural playground for that set of technology and design challenges,” said Newell. “When we decided, we needed to work on markets, free to play, and user generated content, Team Fortress seemed like the right place to do that. That work ended up informing everything we did in the multiplayer space.
Left 4 Dead is a good place for creating shared narratives.”
At face value, Newell’s comment doesn’t say much about the future, but it could be a hint. One of the most compelling things you can do in VR is to share a virtual world with another player. Could Newell be dropping a hint about an upcoming multiplayer L4D VR game? Admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch, but a guy can dream. L4D VR is probably more likely than Half-Life VR at this stage.
More HMDs In The Pipeline
You may not know this, but Valve never intended for HTC to have the only Lighthouse-tracked HMD on the market. Valve fostered a partnership with HTC to get the first SteamVR HMD to market quickly, but the company had no intention of creating an exclusivity deal with HTC. We’re not sure when we might see future HMD announcements, but Valve confirmed there are more on the way.
VR_is_Forever asked a question about licensed SteamVR hardware partners and what types of devices we could expect from them, and the answer he received is enlightening.
Programmer Joe chimed in to say that “500 companies have signed up to use Lighthouse and some of them are making HMDs. A few of them have talked about [signing up], but a bunch more will announce when they’re ready.”
VR_is_Forever also asked: “Palmer Luckey says cooperation is REQUIRED to support the Vive in a different store but is that even true? This may be HTCs ballpark but was curious if you had any input on this. Can't they just write their own software for the Vive? Why does Oculus need HTCs/Valves help?”
Programmer Joe explained that there’s no reason why Oculus can’t support SteamVR HMDs, which means a future of hardware agnostic VR software is a possibility.
“As far as we know, everything is in place for any store to support the Vive,” said Programmer Joe. “As part of your initial setup you would still install Steam to get the drivers, but Steam doesn't need to be running for the Vive to work.”
This year should be an interesting one for Valve. The prospect of a new controller is exciting to VR enthusiasts, not to mention a glut of new HMDs from other manufacturers. And it's tantalizing to think about getting one's hands on a full VR game with Valve IP; here's hoping Valve announces L4D VR in the coming months.