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Microsoft Solving Its VR Content Problem With Steam Support, 'Halo' Title

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.

  • ommidiam
    Instead of wasting time with a VR Halo anything. Just release it as a straight up PC title like the fans want. Trust me its a far better idea.
    Reply
  • pbolton1228
    OMMIDIAM....No why not do one that can be played both VR or standard PC game. Not one or the other. You are missing the whole point that having a AA developer and franchise could draw interest to the venue. Just because it doesn't sound like AR or VR is for you. Doesn't mean they should not use this franchise to spur interest. I personally look forward to see what they will offer
    Reply
  • therealduckofdeath
    I can imagine they want the VR game to feel fully optimised for VR.
    One big problem VR has at the moment is a lack of pixels, meaning it's hard to cram information in on the screen without ruining the game play.
    Reply
  • cryogenic
    Microsoft finally realizing Steam is not a competitor but one of the strengths of Windows over other OSes. Steam for windows has kept PC gaming alive and well in the era of console wars. Great that they are finally showing some sense.
    Reply
  • therealduckofdeath
    It's always black or white, isn't it Cryogenic? :)
    You can buy Microsoft games on Steam, but can you buy Valve games on the Microsoft store? Nope.
    This is obviously a natural choice for Microsoft as Valve already has a decent ecosystem on VR. Seems like Microsoft will try to focus their ecosystem more around mixed reality. That said, I really hope Microsoft is a lot more intelligent in that war against consoles than Gabe and Zuckerberg. Those two has laid down on their back and watched while Sony buys exclusives on every single VR game of interest. Great way to run a business, if you want to fail miserably.
    Reply
  • maceacjo
    "VR Halo experience" does not mean "VR Halo game". A lot of companies have announced "VR Experiences" for their IPs and then release like a 10 minute "game" called a VR Experience. Don't get your hopes up.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    20116268 said:
    "VR Halo experience" does not mean "VR Halo game". A lot of companies have announced "VR Experiences" for their IPs and then release like a 10 minute "game" called a VR Experience. Don't get your hopes up.

    Yep, first thought I had was that it could be something along the lines of a shooting gallery, standing in place and holding off waves of oncoming enemies, like any number of other VR shooters. There is a lot they could do with a series like Halo in VR, but that doesn't mean they necessarily will. It's certainly not likely to be something with the scale of a mainline Halo game, at the very least. VR doesn't yet have the install base for them to justify investing tens of millions of dollars into a AAA title for the platform yet. That's why there aren't really any "AAA" titles designed around VR yet.
    Reply
  • falchard
    Right now Microsoft seems to be dropping platforms that are not profitable. Recently they dropped Groove Music and just said, get Spotify.
    Reply