So Valve are coming to GDC... and they're bringing some toys.
"At GDC 2015, we'll be giving demos of the refined Steam Controller, new living room devices, and a previously-unannounced SteamVR hardware system," read an unassuming little post yesterday that sent the internet into a flurry of speculation and expectation. Valve's much-vaunted 'Steam Machines' initiative stumbled and fell by the wayside, but they've been quietly beavering away in the skunkworks and are ready to return.
Valve are perfectly placed to become a major player in the emerging VR market, but do they have what it takes to conquer the living room? Do they even plan to? Here's what the three of us want and expect from this year's showing.
What do I want to see from Valve? Some affordable products releasing sometime soon would be a lovely start.
In all seriousness, considering the fiasco over pricing and variation of the Steam Machines, it would be great to see if Valve can deliver a VR headset that can rival the Oculus in terms of performance, comfort, and more importantly price. That last point has been the main barrier between stopping me joining the VR revolution, so I do hope that it doesn’t become another peripheral too expensive to realistically consider.
Otherwise, the big thing I’m interested in seeing is how the SteamVR will work in terms of menus within a headset. Will it be just a screen, or will users be looking around for different options? If done right, it might inspire other developers to overcome the problem of third-person games played through headsets – something I know has been a challenge for developers to get right without making the user vomit everywhere from disorientation.
As for the Owlface… sorry, I mean Steam Controller, I’m actually hoping they make the face buttons either more accessible in contrast to the track pads, or reveal they are trying something new. After the loss of the touch pad in the centre, I can’t help but feel that Valve could have done something else to help innovate the controller. Still, at this point we have no idea what is in store – for all we know they may have added in the once-rumoured biometrics again.
Oh, and we’ll no doubt see some sort of hidden trolling reference to a certain long-awaited thing that’s the third part of something. I know I would if I were Valve.
As intrigued as I am to see what Valve have planned in the VR scene at GDC 15, as they take to the stage wishing they'd stumped up the cash to buy Oculus Rift before Facebook did, I can wait. It'll be ages off and something we'll probably not see again until GDC 16.
A bit like those Steam machines we saw this time last year. You see, as a console gamer, I've been looking for a cheaper, entry level way to get into PC gaming without breaking the bank. I need to get a new laptop soon for work, so I don't really want to buy a rig as well. So unless I'm going to buy a slightly more capable laptop, I'm going to have to look elsewhere for gaming.
This time last year, I was really disappointed to see the first wave of Steam machines unveiled with hilarious price estimates. Valve and their partners seem to be missing the whole point. So this year, I'm hoping that we'll see some hardware much more sensibly priced, in order to tempt console gamers like myself over to Valve's heaving library of cheap games.
I may be dreaming, but I think anything over the price of a new next-gen console, let's say £400 for a rough day one console, isn't going to be attractive for console gamers. I'm not expecting a wonder box that'll run Battlefield on ultra settings for that price, just something that'll run most games without me having to faff around with hardware upgrades, drivers and other PC jargon nonsense that has proved so off-putting over the years.
Seasoned PC gamers already know what they're doing and have probably already built their own rigs for less than the costs of the initial wave of machines revealed last year, so I doubt many of them will be bothered about getting involved just for the sake of a steam logo on a box. And those PC gamers probably already have a large TV plugged into their rigs already, so I hope a streaming device isn't the new Living Room Experience that the company are promising.
Anything else? I can't wait to see how the Owl Face controller has evolved again. If they can just put the buttons in the rights place, we'll be laughing for the right reasons. Half-Life 3? Don't be silly, although maybe they'll troll the crowd like Square Enix did at the PlayStation Experience with Final Fantasy VII.
Oh, Valve. We've danced this dance before and where are we now? Steam machines are a joke; you promised so much yet delivered so little so slowly, while PC gaming is already becoming more accessible than ever thanks to your software, not hardware. Last year was a crushing disappointment and I really don't want to get too excited this time around...
...but wait a minute. G is the seventh letter of the alphabet. D is the fourth and C is the third.
7+ 4 + 3 = 14
4 - 1 = 3
And it's GDC 2015...
HALF LIFE 3 CONFIRMED FOR 2015 YOU GUYS! GUYS?!
Okay, so let's get real here. The fact that Valve are entering the VR race themselves is a great thing in my opinion. and I hope that SteamVR is another viable and vibrant contender. We need to face facts: Virtual Reality may be amazing, but it's basically just a community right now that has to become an industry to make a real difference. As such it needs multiple big players, machines and manufacturers involved, all with different tech, but all pushing the message that "VR is the next big thing."
I'm also curious to see the Owlface: Final Evolution, mainly because I loved the idea of a multi-genre controller that could adapt to fit practically any game with its context-sensitive touchscreen. A touchscreen that is now history, but here's hoping that the Steam Controller proves different enough to make a splash.
While the Steam Machines and SteamOS ever take off? I don't know, and to be perfectly honest, I feel that teaming up with Microsoft to help design a better version of Windows might be the smarter play for all concerned at this stage -- Microsoft especially. But for now, just releasing a HTPC with similar specs and price to the PS4's RRP might be the way to go.