Valve president Gabe Newell at GDC 2015

Among the handful of announcement Valve made at this year's Game Developers Conference was a subtle and hugely important one: Lighthouse. What in the world is Lighthouse? It's the "base stations" referenced in Valve's VR headset announcement, and it's even more important than the incredibly impressive headset. Valve president Gabe Newell compares it to USB and expects it to fundamentally change how people interact with virtual reality. "Now that we've got tracking, then you can do input," Newell said in an interview with Engadget this morning. "It's a tracking technology that allows you to track and arbitrary number of points, room scale, at sub-millimeter accuracy 100 times a second."

What that means for me and you is that Lighthouse puts your body into the virtual world with stunning precision. I tested it and can confirm: holy shit, yes, this really works. Want to reach out and touch something in VR? Lighthouse is how you'll do it.

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Last year was a mixed bag for fans of magical rings and short dudes with a penchant for going barefoot. On the one hand, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies was a disappointing close to the mediocre second Tolkien film trilogy. On the other, Monolith Games made one of the best pieces of Lord of the Rings-related fare in years in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Its thriving world and "Nemesis System," which has you intimidating, manipulating, and confusing an army of monsters, made it one of the first standout successes on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. We're diving into "The Bright Lord," a brand new downloadable story campaign, on JxE Streams at 4PM ET.

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If you watched Microsoft's announcement of its Hololens augmented reality headset and wondered if you'd play Xbox games with it, well, wonder no longer. Today at its Game Developers Conference presentation, Redmond announced that games would be en route to the device and that the APK should be available come its Build conference late April.

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The Gallery: Six Elements is a magical fantasy exploration game created by Vancouver Island studio Cloudhead Games for Valve and HTC's new virtual reality headset, the Vive. It includes motion controls and a soundtrack by Elder Scrolls composer Jeremy Soule, and at first glance it's a truly gorgeous 3D, puzzle-solving experience -- the game's first trailer, released today, shows that much. The Gallery was successfully Kickstarted back in April 2013, where it was pitched as an Oculus Rift game. Perhaps sensing a hit, Valve jumped on Cloudhead early on in Vive's development, Creative Director Denny Unger says.

"Valve has been stellar," Unger says. "They brought us into the process very early and genuinely listened to what we had learned about the VR space since its 2013 rebirth. Valve shared a common goal with Cloudhead Games in that they saw a vision for VR that was tantamount to the holodeck. This is the closest we've ever been to breaking down the boundaries and letting users physically step into virtual worlds. It is the fracture point all sci-fi geeks have been waiting for. It's here and its incredible."

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Last year, Epic Games Chief Technology Officer Kim Libreri and Unreal Engine 4 General Manager Ray Davis visited some friends at Lord of the Rings effects studio Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand. They only wanted a tour of the studio, but along the way they ran into Weta's head of R&D, Alasdair Coull. He mentioned that he was messing around with Unreal Engine 4, Epic's game development platform. Fast forward to March 2015: Epic Games and Weta are showing off a virtual reality demo featuring the greedy dragon, Smaug, swimming through mountains of gold in the second Hobbit film, voiced in all his baritone glory by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Smaug speaks directly to the person in the headset -- Oculus Rift's Crescent Bay model -- and his daunting size is on full display. Five hundred feet of red-scaled, deep-speaking Smaug.

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"It's getting ridiculous."

Epic Games Chief Technology Officer Kim Libreri is tired of chairs -- and rocks, and grass, and trees -- in the games created in Unreal Engine 4, Epic's game development platform. It's not that he doesn't like everyday objects, he simply sees them as a collective issue to fix: They're standard, repeatable items that developers don't need to spend time making, since they already exist in a ton of other games. To that end, Epic is releasing on its UE4 Marketplace a set of detailed, photo-real assets and a system that places these items intelligently throughout game worlds, available for studios of all sizes.

"Once a chair's been made, there's no reason to make a custom version of that chair," Libreri says. "You might as well share it with the community.... It's mind-boggling when you think about how many games have made the equivalent of the Aeron chair."

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It's almost as if I'm in the Matrix. I'm in that same expanse of infinite white space that was also Neo's training grounds in the movie. A pattern of hexagonal tiles appears underneath me. They start to rise and fall randomly and rapidly. Hesitantly, I step forward, slowly walking across the field of unstable tiles, trying to get a feel for this strange, foreign environment. Suddenly, I encounter a gridded wall. It seems the space isn't so infinite after all. I was, of course, not in the Matrix. Instead, I was in a stark, windowless room inside the Fira Gran Via in Barcelona. On my head was the HTC Vive. And for the next 20 minutes, I was about to have a virtual reality experience unlike any I've ever had.

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We're only halfway through the decade, but it's already obvious that Minecraft is the biggest game of the '10s. Its creator, Markus "Notch" Persson has now been honored for his achievement with a cover story in Forbes. The piece reveals a few interesting tidbits about how he came to leave the game that made his name, including the fact that the $2.5 billion sale to Microsoft was prompted with a single tweet.

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Independent games are a cornerstone of Sony's PlayStation 4 messaging, and a contributing factor to the system's blockbuster success. They are not for Nintendo -- neither for the Wii U, nor the 3DS. An unsurprising strategy given the Japanese company's reliance on Mario and Zelda, its familiar, first-party franchises. And yet, independent games have had a presence on the company's digital software channel, the eShop, for almost a decade. Only now, they're more noticeable. "We've been supporting Indie content and self-publishing for a really long time," says Damon Baker, senior manager of licensing at Nintendo. "I mean, [going] back to the WiiWare, DSiWare days. But I think that it's just a more visible community because there's so much talent that's coming out of it; there's so much coverage for it that it just makes it naturally higher profile."

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the latest in Hideo Kojima's nearly 30-year-old series of melodramatic espionage games, finally has a release date. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of will arrive on September 1st for $60, and on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $50. PC players have to wait just a bit longer to experience the next generation of hiding from armed soldiers in cardboard boxes. Metal Gear Solid V will be available on Windows via Steam for $60 on September 15th.

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