Valve presented a show at GDC last night, shedding new light on the Vive VR headset, the long-awaited Steam Machines and the next generation of Source Engine games.
It was... interesting.
Now, in the cold light of day, the three of us have put our heads together to recap and dissect the news as well as revealing our reactions to what was an odd little show in the end.
Half-Life 3 confirmed!
Gotcha. Sadly, despite Valve's GDC presentation kicking off at 3/03 at 3PM, there was no "3" in sight. No Portal 3. HL2: Episode 3. Left 3 Dead? DOTA 3? The more I think about it, the more I reckon some mischievous event organiser came up with the timings just to drum up some publicity.
Never mind, though, because Valve did bring some interesting announcements to the class. Starting with the fact that Source 2 is finally on the way and will be free to use. Valve joins Epic and Unity in opening up game development to everyone (with a little licensing kickback of course), meaning that big publishers will have to find a different excuse than "games are so expensive to make" to justify their silly prices. Plus, seeing as most engines launch with a flagship game... no, I won't get your hopes up.
I'm incredibly excited about the Vive. VR seems to be gathering pace now that Oculus Rift, Sony, Samsung and now HTC are getting involved, and frankly the more the merrier. Better yet, for me, Vive seems to be the nearest to being a viable consumer product right now; even looking comfortable, well-machined and able to directly tap into Steam for a wealth of software. The ability to freely explore a 3D space is a great idea in theory that hopefully more games will explore, property damage notwithstanding.
Steam machines, though, still seem to be half-baked. "Steam Machines will start at the same price point as game consoles, with higher performance," boasts the press release, but this seems like so much hot air considering that PS4s and Xbox Ones have been going for around £250-£270 in big game bundles recently. To be honest I already own a decent gaming rig, so the newly announced Steam Link will be more my speed, acting as a streaming hub rather than an HTPC. I daresay my colleagues will weigh in with more detail.
So not quite the megaton we were not-so-secretly hoping for then -- Valve, as ever, are the masters of raising our hopes and dashing them expertly -- but still a juicy morsel considering that it's only March!
While the big song-and-dance press conference didn’t happen, the info on Valve’s range of products yielded promising info, even if it was very light on actual details. Take the VR headset Vive, for example. While we know that its combination of sensors and IR cameras will allow users to move around in a limited space, right now we don’t have any information on whether it truly is the next step in VR. It’s expected that hands-on impression pieces will start emerging later today, so hopefully we will know more then, but until then I will be staying fairly cautious on the topic.
The same can be said about the Steam Machines, which other than a November 2014 release date which will no doubt be US specific, we still have no details on the specs of the machines. While chances are Valve are still trying to finalise the components they will be using, stating that it will be more powerful than the current-gen consoles isn’t going to cut it with savvy minded customers. That said, if they do match their spiel along with the similar price point, it could be the biggest shake-up the gaming industry has seen in some time.
Providing the driver updates and all that aren’t a horrendous mess for our console-only brethren.
At least there was some good news from my standpoint, which was the reveal of the Steam Link. Essentially the PC version of the Playstation TV, the streaming device will fulfil the function I’ve been after since the announcement of the Steam Machines – a small, cheap device that will be able to stream my main PC rig elsewhere in the house. Price will absolutely be a factor, and currency conversion will most likely play havoc with any purchasing plans, but confirmation that the Link is happening is the best piece of news to emerge so far.
In a very close second place is the announcement of Source 2. While its existence was no secret, the reveal that it will be taking the same approach as Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 5 by being free is a fantastic move. Yes, the obvious joke about never-ending microtransation hats will now be more relevant than ever, but the industry’s encouragement to get enthusiasts alongside actual developers creating products in a fantastic step.
As GDC continues I hope we learn more information on the Steam Machines and the Vive headset. Hell, we definitely need more information on the Steam Controller. For the moment, Valve have kept to their cool-mysterious approach to revealing everything, which continues to intrigue and annoy me in equal measure, but they’ll need to drop some hard facts and specification soon if they are serious about a November release for its hardware.
So, according to Valve the entry level Steam Machine will be $350-$400 (£230-£260 in a straight currency conversion, but no UK prices mentioned), be more powerful than the Xbox One / PS4 and will be out towards the end of the year. As a console gamer waiting for a simple opportunity to get into PC gaming, this sounds fantastic. But where is the rest of the information?
Actual specs? Specific release dates? A solid price? European release information? Will it come with a controller? Can we use it with third-party controllers? Oculus Rift compatible? Windows or Linux? Upgradable components? There's still so much we don't know and I find myself as frustrated as ever to be honest. The news that there would be over a dozen Steam Machines to choose from doesn't sound great either as it's hardly keeping things simple for the consumer, but I suppose various PC hardware manufacturers all want a piece and who can blame them?
I would have liked to see a few more solid prices for different Steam Machines so I can start to form a picture of how much I'd want to spend and see which version offers the most value in regards to performance and future-proofing for a while, as I've always had the impression that PC gamers are constantly chasing the goal line of performance. And although I have no intention (or clue what I'd be doing) concerning building my own rig, I'm still none the wiser about a Steam Machine costing more and performing less. I'd imagine this will be the case to a certain degree, as you're paying for the convenience, but I still want to know by how much.
Despite my reservations, I'm allowing myself to get excited. If Valve can actually deliver a console on a par (or better) than a new-gen console for $400, I'm so in. Naturally, I'll be asking around to see what regular PC gamers make of the specs and maybe wait for the reviews. If I think my pile of unfinished PlayStation games is bad, things are going to get serisouly packed when the world of Steam, Green Man Gaming, GOG and CD Keys opens up to me.