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It's been a long road from where Valve started with VR. It was only a few shorts years ago that the company was letting select industry folk demo prototype VR hardware in its QR code-laden "Room." And now, Valve has its own consumer-facing VR headset, the HTC Vive; its own controller that looks like the space opera version of Sony's Move wand; and a positional-based tracking solution in Lighthouse VR. None of this has exactly caught us off guard -- Valve was always cagey when it came to questions of commercial hardware. But we weren't prepared for just how impressive the combination of all the VR tech truly is. In fact, our own Ben Gilbert called it the "best VR" he's experienced to date.
It's only fair, then, that Valve would want to look back on its own journey pioneering VR. And look back it did with a timeline of prototypes and R&D breakthroughs it had on display here at GDC. Care to take that walk down Valve's memory lane? Then treat yourself to the gallery below and be sure to head past the break for a video tour.
If the news of Xbox games coming to HoloLens and Elite: Dangerous hitting Xbox One this summer wasn't nearly enough, Microsoft has a few other tidbits to share from this year's Game Developers Conference. First up: Redmond is bringing the Xbox Live SDK to Windows 10. It's part of the universal apps push that the outfit's making with its new operating system, and will give game developers of any size access to a "vast majority" of Xbox Live's services. It wouldn't be the first time Microsoft's done something like this, but let's hope it doesn't turn into another disaster like Games for Windows Live was. The post on Xbox Wire also mentions there will be a new tier of the company's online gaming service coming as well that specifically allows "any developer to engage with the Xbox Live community." We've reached out for clarification of exactly what that translates to.
Currently, the HTC Vive is the only virtual reality headset that's part of Valve's Steam VR push. That's not because it's the only one, but because it's the only one we know about thus far. "You should think of the Vive as the first in the same way there are multiple Steam Machines," Valve president Gabe Newell told me this morning. In other words, Steam VR is an open platform supported by Valve. "We're building tools and hopefully they're valuable to hardware partners who want to do it. In some cases, we'll take the leadership role in shipping stuff. But we're really just building tools for other people to continue. So you'll see more headsets."
The studio that created SimCity and The Sims is no more. Today, EA confirmed that it will shut down Maxis Emeryville, displacing the folks primarily responsible for the aforementioned titles. In a statement, EA said that it'll relocate Maxis' development to its other offices in Redwood Shores, California; Salt Lake City; Helsinki; and Melbourne, Australia. The company plans to move forward with projects already in the works, including an expansion pack for The Sims 4 and ongoing support for the existing The Sims and SimCity faithful. Those two are massively popular PC titles, and the latter finally arrived on Mac in 2013 with players everywhere encountering a truckload of launch issues.
NVIDIA just announced the Titan X, its latest powerhouse graphics card, at Epic Game's GDC session this morning. And boy, it sounds like a monster: According to NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, it's now the world's most powerful GPU with more than 8 billion transistors (a bit of a jump from the 7 billion in last year's Titan Z). Titan X is powered by the company's new Maxwell architecture, and it packs in 12 gigabytes of VRAM, just like the Titan Z. NVIDIA isn't revealing much else about the new GPU yet -- it has its own conference in a few weeks, after all -- but at this point it sounds like the video card we'll all be pining for this year.
I spent roughly 10 minutes with the final Steam Controller at GDC 2015, playing snippets of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, The Talos Principle and Unreal Tournament on various Steam Machines. The body of the controller is wonderful to hold. Two long, clickable pads running along the backside of the handles, right where a player's middle and ring fingers lie, would be a welcome addition to any existing gamepad. Plus, the final controller adds a single analog stick on the left side. This makes the design more familiar overall, but with a trackpad replacing a second analog stick, the final Steam Controller remains what it always has been: awkward.
Steam Machines. Maybe you've heard of them. They're Valve's oft-talked about, rarely seen in the wild solution for streaming PC games to the fancy HDTV in your living room. And at GDC this week, the company brought us closer to the promise of that commercial reality with a display of all the various units you're likely to see hit retail by November of this year. As Gabe Newell told us, the variety of Steam Machines on offer, from the low-end $50 Link to the premium $5,000 Falcon NW Tiki, present a "good, better, best choice for consumers." But enough talk -- I know you just want to see the goods. So check out the gallery below for a trio of the Steam Machines Mr. Newell demoed for us, as well as a video just after the break showcasing an expanded selection coming later this year.
The story of HTC's recent fortunes is one of the more bizarre tales in modern technology. What other company releases award-winning flagship after award-winning flagship, only to see revenues and market share drop? For a while, HTC's phones truly stood out in terms of design and build quality (since 2012 there's been the One X, the One M7 and the One M8). The One M9 represents another iterative step forward for HTC, in a product cycle that has (debatably) seen rivals Apple and Samsung make huge leaps forward. But it's not all doom and gloom. Even if the M9 is being mooted as a potential miss, the Vive, its new virtual reality headset, is perhaps the biggest hit of the show. I sat down with the man at the heart of everything HTC does, chief designer Claude Zellweger, to discuss the company's direction, the M9 and its entry into VR.
Among the handful of announcements 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 an 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.