It’s MONDAY and you all know what the means right!? Probably not, in actual fact, as I’m roughly as punctual as the Awesome Coffee van man, who seems determined to either never show up at the same time twice, or to just not show up at all. Anyway, I’m doing a new thing. It’s called bibbling inanely about games on a Monday; and I’ll try my best to stick to it. Just, y’know. Don’t hold your breath or anything. Your death on my hands isn’t going to help any of us, is it. Off to it then eh.
It’s a nice time of year for video games. While the start of a New Year is often comprised chiefly of coughs and splutters and wheezing, and the kind of haphazard stumbling that would make an intoxicated gazelle proud, once the wheels are set in motion and somebody’s given the engine a boot into life, we get to start talking about the FUTURE. And that’s pretty much as exciting as this industry gets, isn’t it. It’s a future-friendly culture we exist in in fact, whether we’re making a hashed up attempt at inventing the IRL Minority Report (Kinect) or knocking over tall-standing lamps with the DOS version of the Holodeck (Rift?), the next piece of technology or hardware; the next genre-defining, mind-jarringly spectacular gaming experience is almost always genuinely, leg-vibratingly exciting.
So desolate can the rest of the year be mind, that it’s easy to forget that this type of excitement can even exist. If we’re not being sardonically invaded by DRM or microtransactions, it seems our favourite games and names are being contorted into brash, unashamed, half-finished comedy acts, and it’s all bit sad. With the Consumer Electronics Show right at the start of the year, and then the Game Developer’s Conference straight after, these are the trade shows that quite frequently afford the big names a platform to get all their new bits of hardware out and jiggle them around a bit, for our sordid enjoyment. And jiggle them they did.
I’m a raucous Valve enthusiast which you may or may not know, and in true Valve fashion they took all the biscuits at this year’s GDC. And that’s not even a thinly veiled fat joke. So you can unleap from that conclusion. If you’ve not heard of the Oculus Rift, it’s a genuine slice of tomorrow that’s been torn straight out of a movie and slapped right here in dingy, boring old reality. It’s a VR headset the likes of which have never been seen; or at least, they hadn’t been seen before it came to light all the way back in 2012. I had a go on one a while ago, it was nuts.
But while Oculus have been busy refining their prototype and performing increasingly acrobatic belly flops into their swimming pools of cash they inherited after selling themselves off to Facebook, the gaming industry has been scrambling to play catch up. Sony’s effort is the most obvious rival, and Project Morpheus (a name I can only hope has come from an inventive UI that has you stood in a white room, while shelves of whatever you require magically appear and hurtle toward you on your request – games, lots of games) was first out the gate announcing its planned 2016 arrival.
And then came Valve’s announcement. Partnering with HTC, the mobile phone extraordinaires; the company have created the Vive VR headset. Instead of simply headtracking, like its Oculus rival, the Vive uses a couple of nearby magic boxes to locate you in 3D space. Its VR controllers are sticks that mimic the new Steam controller in some aspects, while reportedly gifting you a natural way to interact with your new environment. While this may all sound like mere technical variations, there’s a reason it’s all so exciting.
Valve have been ahead of their time for many years; back when they created one of the most defining pieces of software in Half Life; back when they leapfrogged the entire industry, creating Steam and becoming the number one platform for games distribution, back when head honcho Gabe Newell sat down at a DiCE Summit and said, I want to give the users more options, I don’t want Steam (that multi-million dollar machine he’d invented) to be a bottleneck. They are a predominantly forward thinking and exciting company, and VR is the next generation change we’re waiting for in gaming. Those two things combined is irrefutably, trouser-flappingly titillating.
Graham Smith over at Rock Paper Shotgun had a go, and it’s an intoxicating read.
At what turned into a real Valve-fest, the company also managed to reveal the final design of their controller, their curated hardware in Steam Machines, and their home-streaming solution the Link.
I think what I’m getting at here is; the gaming industry is its most positive in this state. When it’s thinking ahead, when it’s talking about growth and expansion and what’s new, and Valve at GDC managed to reignite that edge-of-your-seat immersion, that used to come primarily from E3, and the bigger shows. A few years ago, E3 was an event worthy of time off work or school. I would ardently drink in every minute of coverage I could find, watching developers and publishers and manufacturers showing off their latest bits of kit, feeling like I couldn’t wait to try it. Here’s to an exciting, virtual tomorrow kids.