After attending the first day of the annual Game Developers Conference, the only games I played were in virtual reality. In the following four days, many, many more VR experiences will happen. Some will be good, some will be great, some will be not-so-great. One thing's for sure: when this week's over, the VR landscape will look very different.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the room right now: yeah, we're all pretty sure that Sony's got a VR headset and it's going to be shown at GDC. This panel right here -- which takes place this evening and we'll be liveblogging -- features a trio of big names at Sony's PlayStation arm: Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida and PlayStation hardware R&D guys Richard Marks and Anton Mikhailov. Those three are particularly interesting for a few reasons. First, Yoshida already professed his love for VR to us last year. Second, the latter two gentlemen were previously involved with another major PlayStation hardware initiative: PlayStation Move. We'd call it less than shocking if some form of PlayStation-branded virtual reality headset is announced during tonight's panel.
Of course, what Sony's rumored headset can do is what matters most. Even the rumor mill is relatively light on this one; the only suggestion of its ability is that it's superior to the original Rift dev kit and more similar to the Crystal Cove prototype from CES. Here's hoping we'll find out tonight!
Will we finally see the Oculus Rift retail unit at GDC? Sorry to tell you, but our money's on no. Last we checked, there's no launch window for the retail version of the Rift. And, wouldn't you know it, the original Rift dev kit just recently stopped production. It's no secret that, after the Crystal Cove prototype was shown at CES, another development kit would eventually have to exist. Now seems the perfect time to introduce a newer model dev kit with a higher-res screen, depth tracking, and "low persistence" -- one giant step closer to what we'll eventually be able to buy in stores.
This is a VR prototype headset from Valve
Valve insists it isn't creating any consumer-grade VR tech just yet, but the folks behind Steam are still a presence at this year's GDC. Besides coming for the business side of the show (finding new employees, brokering deals with other companies, etc.), we're hopeful that the new Steam Controller iteration will be at the show for a fresh hands-on. In case you missed it, Valve added eight buttons in place of the touchscreen in the original prototype.
There's also no indication that Valve's updated game building tech, Source Engine 2, is getting any real showing. It makes most sense to show off fancy new engines with games, though, and that's best saved for a private event or E3. We've not heard anything on the former, and the latter is approaching quickly (this June).
Oh, and Half-Life 3 will finally be re-announced and given a release date: it's available right now! Hooray! ... No no, not really. Sorry y'all.
Yes, I did only mention two VR headsets. So what about the rest? GameFace Labs is here, albeit with the same prototype from CES (which uses Rift optics). We spoke with CEO Ed Mason yesterday morning and his company is working toward its next prototype for soon after GDC. His company was the only other VR headset maker we found at CES this year. At GDC, however, they're one of five or six (that we know of thus far). Some may be hangers-on to the sudden mass interest in VR, but we also expect to see some very interesting new entries in the field of VR by weeks end.
We'll of course bring it to you live, as fast as we can, from sunny San Francisco.