Update, 10/3/17, 11:36am PT: At an event today, Microsoft announced that there will be some Halo mixed reality in something called Halo Recruit. It does not sound like a complete game. A Microsoft blog post described it as "a fun, brief introduction into the world of Halo – where you’ll see several iconic characters in mixed reality for the very first time."
Further, Microsoft announced that, "Starting today, developers will be provided access to the Windows Mixed Reality SteamVR preview so they can try out their experiences. This holiday, consumers will get access to this preview."
Original article, 8/28/17:
In a huge, important move for Microsoft, Steam is coming to the Windows Mixed Reality content ecosystem, and there’s a virtual reality Halo title in the works, as well.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but despite the relative affordability of these HMDs, a serious concern all along had been content. There are truckloads of VR experiences already created for the Vive and Rift, and both HTC and Oculus have sunk Scrooge McDuck-level amounts of gold into supporting developers and jumpstarting their respective ecosystems. Meanwhile, Microsoft had done...what exactly?
We asked these questions about Microsoft’s content a few months ago, and they bear repeating:
-Whether or not we can expect third-party titles for Windows Mixed Reality (and from whom)-What PC specifications you’ll need to run these games-Whether or not VR game devs will port their games from Oculus and SteamVR to Windows Mixed Reality-Whether or not Oculus and Valve will offer a UWP version of their platforms (which is a requirement for Windows Mixed Reality), which could negate the need for devs to it themselves for each and every title-Whether and to what extent OpenVR, VESA, and OpenXR will make any of the above possible
We actually don’t have specific answers to some of those questions, but we have been illuminated about others.
Third-Party Titles And Steam
First of all, as we discovered at our recent hands on of the new Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers, some of the premiere titles in VR are playable on WMR headsets, including Space Pirate Trainer, Superhot, and Arizona Sunshine. That alone is a big deal, however those games have made it to the platform, because it means that third-party content creators aren’t ignoring Windows Mixed Reality--or at least, the presence of these three bigger names is meant to indicate as such.
We should also point out that all three of those titles looked and felt great when we blasted through them on an Acer HMD, with Windows Mixed Reality controllers, running on a Razer Blade Pro. That’s a sign of high quality gaming to come on Microsoft’s nascent platform.
The compatibility with Steam, though, is the most important development yet, and it’s hard to overstate its importance. In one fell swoop, Microsoft significantly multiplied its available content offerings.
Microsoft was frustratingly light on details; in fact, this is the extent of what the company said about it in a blog post:
In addition, I am thrilled to announce that Steam content will also run on Windows Mixed Reality headsets. Virtual reality enthusiasts know that Steam is a great place to enjoy cutting edge immersive experiences. We can’t wait to bring their content to you.
For now, we’ll just have to assume that anything that runs on Steam runs on Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and that Microsoft is talking about Steam VR titles, not just windowed versions of the 2D gaming content available on Steam. (And does that mean WMR supports cross-platform play? That is, someone using a WMR HMD can game it up with a Vive wearer? Microsoft didn't say, but we believe that to be the case.)
Here’s a handy image of all the content partners:
It’s A First-Party Kind Of Party
In addition to the spate of third-party titles coming to Windows Mixed Reality, there’s some first-party content coming. We already knew about the existence of Minecraft VR, but Microsoft announced that a new Halo game is coming to the platform, too. That may be the killer title that Windows Mixed Reality needs to be taken seriously and attract the needed throngs of VR adopters.
Emphasize “may be,” though; it seems that specific plans haven’t yet been laid. In its blog post, Microsoft said only:
...it’s my pleasure to let you know that we are working with 343 Industries to bring future Halo experiences into mixed reality. We are not providing specifics right now, but it is going to be a lot of fun to work with them.
In other words, there’s not a game yet--there are only discussions. It’s anyone’s guess as to how long it may be before we can become the embodiment of Master Chief ourselves.
Even so, it’s encouraging that Microsoft seems to be solving its mixed reality content problem. With first party content, it’s trying to not just keep pace with Oculus and HTC, but looking for a edge.
One Other Thing
In the calculations of the costs of VR, people tend to point to the cost of the HMD and controllers as one thing, but the need for a high-end PC as quite another thank you very much. Indeed, although many people had the requisite rigs to support Rift and Vive, many did not, and found themselves having to upgrade or completely replace their PCs to support the VR headsets.
As part of Microsoft’s big VR play, it’s sought to reduce the PC requirements as much as possible--basically, the idea is that you may very well already have a PC that can run Windows Mixed Reality experiences, which means that you don’t have to factor the cost of a new PC into your VR budget. We've written before about the PC requirements for WMR, and we also noted in our WMR motion controllers hands-on that we experienced demos running on laptops (one of which was an Ultrabook), so we know that Microsoft is telling the truth about the PC reqs.
However, it’s now classified two tiers of PCs for WMR, and they appear to be separated only by the framerate they can support. “Windows Mixed Reality PCs” can handle up to 60FPS, whereas “Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs” can do up to 90FPS. Unfortunately, Microsoft did not elaborate on what the specs for those two tiers of PCs are, exactly, so we’ll have to extract and assume based on what we knew already.
In any case, both tiers support the new motion controllers.