So Valve and HTC have a collaborative VR headset called the Vive. It is, to be frank, pretty damn impressive insofar as specs go. What’s even more impressive is that reports out of GDC 2015 are flat-out saying that the Vive is the best VR experience available today. That must sting Sony and Oculus a little, especially considering how many Valve employees abandoned ship to shack-up with Oculus.
Mr. Valve himself, Gabe Newell, seems 100% convinced that his company has solved some of VR’s major problems. One of the biggest is latency-induced motion sickness. For many people (me included) the initial VR experience is one that is laced with an uneasy queasiness. If you’re lucky, your brain compensates and the nausea passes, but there are a lot of people who cannot even consider strapping VR goggles to their faces without wanting to barf. Is it the same for the Vive? Gaben says no: “zero per cent of people get motion sick” he told the press at GDC.
The elimination of motion sickness is thanks to Valve and HTC’s Lighthouse tech. In the Vive headset you can see a number of receptors embedded into the plastic. The bizarre looking controllers have the same receptors in them. Then, two square base stations (a bit larger than a Rubik’s Cube) sit in each of the corners of your room and fire lasers that then pick up your headset and controllers. This all creates an extremely accurate tracking system that doesn’t rely on cameras like the Oculus Rift and Morpheus systems do. The result: lower latency, full body tracking that circumvents latency-induced motion sickness.
The great news is that Valve says this Lighthouse technology is really cheap to manufacture. They’re also sharing it with other hardware companies, so in the future we might even see Oculus and Sony integrating Lighthouse into their VR products.
Insofar as Valve’s plans for games are concerned, they are of course mucking about with Half-Life. Don’t get too excited, Valve programmer Jeep Barnett cautioned Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson, “We’ve said, ‘Let’s take some existing art and see how it fits. So yeah, we’ll grab some headcrabs, we’ll grab the machine guns from Half-Life, the rocket launcher—all those different fun things—and see how they play in VR. But right now, it’s a tool for exploring the different kind of game designs we want to do.”
What exactly does Valve want to do? They’re not saying no to a VR Half-Life, but they’re not saying no to VR editions of any of their gaming IPs, including Dota 2. They currently have a VR Portal demo, which fits really well with the Vive; so much so that they’re hoping to bundle the demo with each Vive sold.
“Is Half-Life a good fit? Is Left 4 Dead a good fit? Is a new franchise a good fit?” Barnett asked. “I don’t know yet. We’re really trying to cover the broad spectrum of what we could do, and then we’ll start focusing on spearheading that.”