Photo by Dan Tab r, from "Faces of Virtual Reality." Click for gallery.
Three days after Oculus announced that it was being purchased by Facebook for $2 billion, the VR company has hired programmer Michael Abrash, who has worked at Valve since 2011. Abrash has been working on Valve's virtual reality technology for the last couple years, and regularly posts deep technical discussions of VR on his blog. Abrash is joining Oculus as Chief Scientist, and in his introductory post on Oculus' website, he cites the Facebook acquisition--and Facebook's deep pockets--as "the final piece of the puzzle" necessary for VR to achieve greatness.
"A lot of what it will take to make VR great is well understood at this point, so it's engineering, not research; hard engineering, to be sure, but clearly within reach," Abrash writes in his introductory post. "However, it's expensive engineering. ... That's why I've written before that VR wouldn't become truly great until some company stepped up and invested the considerable capital to build the right hardware and that it wouldn't be clear that it made sense to spend that capital until VR was truly great. I was afraid that that Catch-22 would cause VR to fail to achieve liftoff.
"That worry is now gone. Facebook's acquisition of Oculus means that VR is going to happen in all its glory. The resources and long-term commitment that Facebook brings gives Oculus the runway it needs to solve the hard problems of VR and some of them are hard indeed. I now fully expect to spend the rest of my career pushing VR as far ahead as I can."
Abrash previously worked with John Carmack at id on Quake. He's also worked on Windows for Microsoft and on software graphics rendering.
Just last year, Abrash gave a talk at the Game Developer's Conference about the challenges of VR and showed off Valve's experiments with adding VR support to Team Fortress 2. At the time, Abrash claimed it would take years, or decades, to help VR overcome the limitations of technology. But when Valve showed off its VR technology at Steam Dev Days in January, attendees claimed it was even better than Oculus' Crystal Cove prototype. With Abrash and Carmack now both working at Oculus, Valve's hardware likely won't maintain that edge for long.
Check out our predictions for the future of Oculus Rift in the wake of its acquisition by Facebook.
Thanks to the Titanfall beta, my week has been mostly defined by super-stompy death machines. Even though that's over, my appreciation for the colossal metal monsters isn't about to end. For anyone else pining for the powerful crush of hydraulic hands, here's a brief hit in the form of a TF2 Source Filmmaker short. Unlike the game's actual giant robots, this version is a dramatically difficult challenge to bring down.
This is the second video in creator "Fedora Chronicles", although according to the creator, it doesn't have much in common with the first. Instead, it's a fully standalone story, and one of the best made SFM shorts I've seen for a while.
Has the desire for hats, hats, delicious TF2 hats diminished over the last few years, or is the public's interest in digital head-adornment as strong as ever? I ask because Valve and Irrational are adding BioShock clobber to Team Fortress 2, and- hey, don't all load up the game at once. You'll need to buy BioShock Infinite's season pass on Steam to gain access to it, which I believe comes with a few pieces of downloadable content in addition to a very small selection of hats. Full details here.
The items are only available until the 25th of March - the date that Burial at Sea part 2 is scheduled to release - and comprise a Mister Bubbles doll, a George Washington and a Benjamin Franklin mask. It's not a whole lot of content, but if you still play TF2 and you already own a season pass, then free stuff is always nice, I guess. Here's a pic of that digital clobber, as modelled by the cast of TF2:
Looking for evening of multiplayer gaming? Come and play with us. We've recently refreshed our UK server list, providing a space for readers to explore, build and... okay, mostly just kill. Whether you enjoy a friendly round of competitive brutality, or a collaborative place to create and share, our Multiplay hosted servers are waiting for you to join.
Visit our version of Chernarus for pleasant strolls around picturesque towns and memorable encounters with local characters. It's a camping trip you'll never forget. Maybe you'll even run into long-term resident Andy Kelly. Pro-tip: Don't run into Andy Kelly.
If spawning unarmed in a brutal and hostile environment doesn't sound like your thing, Rust let's you start with a rock. Our 50-player server will give you plenty of chances to use that rock along the difficult road to survival.
If you've a hankering for creative co-operation and expansive exploration, our Starbound server is for you. You can build, fight, find and live amongst the game's mushrooms, brains and bird people, all with your fellow readers.
Prefer more depth to your builds? Our Minecraft server is a massive and beautiful testament to our readers' creativity. It's a museum of wonder, and one that you can add to. Presuming, that is, you can find some unclaimed land.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
We're a classy bunch at PCG, but that doesn't mean we can't also kick back once in a while. That's why our CS:GO server is running Classic - Casual, cycling through some of the best official maps. Yes, that includes Dust.
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is still brilliant, and for that reason it's the most enduring game on our server list. Thanks to its age there's a great map pool to pick from, and our 24-player server runs through eighteen of the best. No, that does not include Hydro.
As is it wasn't already obvious, hats are hugely profitable. Back in July 2013, we learned that workshop creators have collectively earned $10 million from their items. This week, on day two of the Valve-hosted Steam Dev Days event, the company announced that content creators made $400,000 in just the first week of 2014.
Here are some more mind-boggling stats that were posted to Steam Database:
484,768 compendiums were sold during The Dota 2 International, which added an additional $1.2M to the prize pool. (This is higher than the $1 million figure we ve reported on previously).
More than 90 percent of Team Fortress 2 content is from the community.
Valve reports that 17 million Team Fortress 2 accounts own items, with 500 million total items.
The Counter Strike: Global Offensive community has created 4700 maps and 20,000 weapon skins.
Portal 2 has over 381,000 user generated maps, which Valve attributes to the easy to use map editor.
Garry s Mod has a total of 250,000 user generated items.
Skyrim has over 19,500 pieces of user generated content.
As we wrote about back in November, microtransactions and free-to-play games may make developers a lot of money, but remain controversial among many players, who often feel like they are being nickel-and-dimed. The most recent, obvious example of this is Forza Motorsport 5 for the Xbox One, which had to reconfigure its in-game economy after and outcry from the community about the pricing on certain cars.
What's interesting here is that Valve has managed to sell the same type of content optional and largely aesthetic without alienating the player community. In fact, according to Steam Database, Valve's presentation at Steam Dev Days plainly stated the company rejects the idea that microtransactions must have a negative affect on the player's experience.
The trick to not angering the community, according to Valve, is to let it take the lead on this type of content. User generated content is a vision of the game not restricted by the developer's resources, it said. People are going to mod a successful game anyway, so it's best to help them out and improve it for everyone."
According to Steam Database, Valve's presentation also stated that user generated content is the very thing that differentiates games from other media. It gives players a way to express themselves and improve the game for other fans, something we can't do to movies or books.
In 2013 Valve told us that it s making a controller, an operating system, and is sanctioning PC manufacturers to create Steam Machines. The three-pronged campaign to put Steam in your living room, deliberately revealed ahead of the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, was the biggest PC gaming news of the year. It s a move that establishes Valve as something that resembles a platform holder, something it s been hesitant to do despite being the PC s biggest online retailer.
We re glad that Valve is removing some of the obstacles to playing Civilization V on our couch. It gets us imagining PC gaming as a more social experience for friends, family members, and whatever other human beings you let into your house. That picture will come into focus at CES next week, when we expect a second wave of information from Valve on its initiative.
We ll also hopefully leave Vegas with a better understanding of how versatile the Steam Controller is, which we ve been investigating. But even if Valve s controller exceeds our expectations and plays a very wide set of games comfortably, there s an serious need for a keyboard and mouse platform that can be used effortlessly on a couch. I m challenging accessory makers like Razer and Logitech to make one.
Just 290 of Steam s 2,459 games feature full controller support, and 502 feature partial support a cumulative third of the library. Even if we give generous consideration to Valve s claim that the Steam Controller older games into thinking they re being played with a keyboard and mouse, I m still going to need to edit command lines, to chat with my Steam friends, to Alt + Tab, and no amount of virtual keyboards, haptic feedback, and autocomplete will ameliorate that. In particular, I don t have high hopes for how well hotbar-heavy games like Dota 2, Starbound, Path of Exile, RTSes and MMORPGs will handle on the Steam Controller.
The Phantom Lapboard. "Do you like typing on a keyboard that s locked at a significant angle to the natural plane of your hands? Of course you don t," Maximum PC wrote in 2010.
The peripheral, though, isn t actually the problem it s the absence of a stable surface in the living room that rests above your legs. Our friends at Tested put it this way in an article from last July: If you just put your mouse and keyboard on the coffee table and perch on the edge of your couch, you're gonna hurt your neck and back, craning your neck to see the TV. Conventional mice and keyboards can work in the living room, but not without a desklike platform to rest them on.
Infinium Labs yes, that Infinium Labs now known as Phantom Entertainment, produced one of the only commercial solutions to this problem, the Phantom Lapboard: a $110, wireless, cantered keyboard and mouse combo. It s bad. The bottom line is that this thing is bad, our sister site Maximum PC said in its 2010 review. The keyboard only tilts at a single angle, the mouse only features two buttons and a scroll wheel, and there s no lip on the surface to contain it. The second you take your hand off the mouse to type something, that sucker s clattering to the floor, MaxPC wrote.
The Couchmaster is the weirder and even more expensive alternative, a hulking, 24 -wide, upholstered thigh prison that at least provides a stable, ergonomic surface. But it s a frown-inducing $180, and its cumbersome shape doesn t seem conducive to easy storage or use in any living room that doesn t feature a wide couch.
Apart from Ikeaing something wooden and rigid together, the two options PC gamers have are pricey and strange. If anything, they show us two designs that any future lapboards should avoid, or at least iterate on aggressively. With Valve s initiative, third-party manufacturers should be scrambling to produce a lapboard that accommodates gaming mice and keyboards, if only because it s an item that will help them sell more mice and keyboards. Razer has a small history of experiments like the Artemis prototype and the Razer Hydra, but more practically, they already make left-handed keypads like the Orbweaver and Nostromo, devices that would be the perfect starting points for a compact lapboard. Logitech would be another good candidate; they make plenty of mainstream wireless peripherals, and on the gaming side they have an ambidextrous keypad we like, the G13.
Valve should want such a peripheral to be available as an alternative to its controller. After all, a sturdy, inexpensive, versatile gaming lapboard would absolutely increase the adoption of living room PCs and SteamOS. Valve s goal isn t to sell controllers, it s to get you playing PC games on your couch, and we should all want that proposition to be as effortless as possible.
An innovative controller can t and won t replace the decades-long relationship PC gamers have with WASD because PC gamers don t like compromise we expect high framerate, high resolution, low cost, and total freedom to modify our devices and games. And while we re grateful for a controller that s built with PC gamers and PC games in mind, it s essential that we get a compromise-free way of bringing the core implements of our hobby, the mouse and keyboard, into the living room.
Last night, Valve revealed the winners of their Source Filmmaker competition, The Saxxy Awards. After a public nomination process, five videos have been crowned, with top entries chosen in the categories of Best Comedy, Drama, Action and Short, as well as an Overall Winner. Head below to see the chosen few. Just don't roll out a red carpet. It would only annoy the BLU team.
Best Short: The Mann Co. Symphony
Best Action: Chinatown Getaway
Best Comedy: Disruption
Best Drama: Till Death Do Us Part Two
Overall Winner: Lil' Pyro Guardian
If, like me, you're not ready to stop watching funny animated videos and pretending it's work, head over to the Saxxy mini-site to view the nominees. Then, pop over to Valve's list of Honorable Mentions, where you'll find excellent near-misses, like the bizarre The Advantages of Sandviches. Still not done? Find all Saxxy entrants over at the Steam community page.
Nov 22, 2013
Yesterday we told you about day one of Team Fortress 2’s latest update, Mannhattan. The second city in the Two Cities update is Rottenburg, the “vaguely European” hometown of everyone’s favorite insane physician. Rottenburg is a fitting backdrop for an update that adds some much-needed defensive capabilities to the medic class, including the ability to resurrect dead teammates and a force shield that deflects bullets.
“The Medic brings some muscle to the merdc side in the Robot War with some nifty new upgrades: He can now bring dead teammates back to life, put up an upgradeable shield that repels projectiles while electrocuting robots, and shoot Mad Milk syringes,” the update announcement reads.
All the really fun stuff goes to the hometown hero Medic, but the Soldier gets a little bit of attention, too. A new “rocket specialist” upgrade increases his rate of fire, and rockets stun any enemies they don’t outright kill. There’s also a bit of a boost to splash damage for any rocket that hits a robot directly.
All-told, it’s a good time to round up some friends and get back into TF2 if you’ve been away for a while. You can check out the full update details and the list of new achievements at the TF2 site.
Team Fortress 2 is currently in part one of a promising two-day update reveal, the Two Cities update. The first city: Mannhattan. Day one’s reveal includes a new map for the game’s siege-defense style mode, Mann vs. Machine, and a slew of weapon effects and bonuses you’ll earn from playing there.
“Mannhattan takes our mercs all the way from the sun-blasted gravel pits of the Badlands to the urban sprawl of the East Coast, where they’ll have to defend the manufacturing arm of Saxton Hale’s boutique Mhanko line,” the update page reads. “Mannhattan’s robot hordes can advance their own spawn points and introduce new bombs into the map for the first time, making for a unique new MvM experience.”
The update also brings the popular community-made Snakewater map officially into the fold, though Valve feels very strongly that Snakewater is NOT a city, and thus not viable for counting under the update’s two-city moniker: “But one thing it is NOT is a city, because this is the Two Cities Update and we're announcing a second city tomorrow. So for the record, Snakewater is more of a mill town than a city… Please don’t email us.”
The update also adds new statistics leaderboards showing points healed, tank damage dished out, money earned and more. We’ll be back for more news on the second city, which will be revealed tomorrow.
Nov 19, 2013
Saxxy. It's a good word to say. Try it out for size. Repeat it, over and over, until your mouth goes numb and your friends and co-workers have long since abandoned you. As well as being an enjoyable utterance, it's also the title of Valve's now annual film-making awards. This year, the competition is exclusively based around the Source Filmmaker tool. Luckily, the versatile animation suite has been out long enough that we're in for some exceptional shorts. For instance, this excellent film about a helpful mini-Pyro.
You can find the voting page for 'Lil Guardian Pyro' here. Alternatively, head to the main Saxxy's Steam page to browse and vote through all submissions. All while continuously saying Saxxy. Never stop saying Saxxy.