Valve

Half-Life: Alyx delivers the watershed moment VR gaming needs

Posted by | Gaming, half life, TC, Valve, Virtual reality | No Comments

If you weren’t playing games when Half-Life came out, it’s hard to drive home just how shocking a departure it was from what had come before. Though some familiar mechanics served as a base to build off of, the injection of elaborately scripted sequences that put you into the action, mature humor and genuinely engaging set piece-driven plot put Half-Life into its own special section of the stratosphere.

It’s not often that you can say that a product changes everything in its category from that moment on. Half-Life did that.

And then when Half-Life 2 debuted, it did it again with its method of delivery, incredible building tools and yes, inventive-as-hell gameplay.

Half-Life: Alyx does that again for VR, making such a direct impact that this will be a demarcation line forever in the way we craft immersive virtual experiences.

Alyx begins in the period of time between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, taking place mostly just before the action in the latter. The world is familiar, as are most of the cast of characters (along with some bespoke new additions). Given their high-fidelity look and carefully stepped variety, even newbies to the Half-Life universe should be kept entertained as they encounter new threats.

Those of you returning will find a large part of the new experience in inhabiting the same virtually physical space as headcrabs, barnacles and combined forces. Let me tell you, seeing the underbelly mouth of a ‘crab flying toward your face in VR versus on your monitor definitely hits different.

That sense of presence that is so pivotal to VR is something Valve leaned into hard with Alyx. You are rewarded for treating environments and encounters as a place to pretend to be rather than progressing through. There are a variety of tricks that Alyx uses to make you comfortable existing in this world, not the least of which is the presence of a voice in your ear in the form of an engineer named Russell.

Played hilariously by Rhys Darby, Russell’s voice serves to mitigate issues that many VR aficionados may recognize. One of VR’s primary powers is that of embodiment — making the experience of being there so convincing that you generate real memories of presence. Along with that, though, comes isolation. Long VR sessions can make you feel cut off from reality, and horror experiences, especially, can become overwhelming. Having Russell there offering humanity and humor to punctuate the darkness of this supremely dystopian environment is a fantastic choice. You’re a solo operator, but you’re not alone.

The environmental intensity of Alyx is well paced, too. An intermix of heart-pounding horror with moments of harsh beauty and humor can often be a difficult cocktail.

“There’s a lot of different things that we give you the opportunity to do that give, I would argue, different types of players, different things to go deep on,” says Half-Life: Alyx character animator Christine Phelan. “With intentionality, we definitely spent a bunch of time trying to figure out what is that line?”

Phelan notes that when there are horror elements, VR is well-known to be an intense experience, and modulating that was key to not alienating players. Rather than a relentless onslaught, you are brought up and down.

I checked my Apple Watch heart rate data over the past week that I’ve been playing Alyx and, sure enough, there were the spikes in rate during my play sessions to prove the impact of those choices. Some of the more intense segments play like the best horror action movies you’ve seen — “Aliens” comes to mind, as well as more recent fare like “A Quiet Place.”

Keeping you engaged in that environment, of course, means that control schemes are incredibly critical. Valve’s choices on Alyx reflect a desire to make sure that the widest array of people can experience the game. They offer all of the accepted travel modes. including teleporting, a continuous travel mode like walking and, my favorite, shift — a sort of zooming snap that keeps a sense of context to your movement.

Personally, I am unable to walk continuously in VR without wanting to toss my cookies, and Alyx is no different here. In fact, the game takes a lot of pains to make sure it moves the character involuntarily as little as possible, even offering a “toggle barnacle lift” setting to avoid the motion sickness some people may feel being virtually hoisted in the air. A wise choice, as there’s a lot going on in Alyx already, with some encounters forcing you to move rapidly through the environment to combat enemies or solve puzzles.

The sheer accessibility of Alyx’s options speaks to the desire by the team to make sure it accommodated as many people as possible. Standing, seated, either hand, choice of dominant eye, room-scale or not — if there’s a way to play a VR game, Valve has you covered.

One of the biggest effective bits is the presence of Alyx’s hands in the game world. Because most people interact with the world via their hands (though not all), Phelan notes that you get a lot “for free” when you make those the primary interaction method. People already know what to expect when they do things with their hands and at that point your job just becomes to make them act exactly as you’d expect in as many situations as possible.

And they do. Your hands realistically grasp, tap, push and poke the environment (and there is a lot of environment with the most interactive objects I’ve ever seen in a VR game).

The hands even adapt to the contours of things, curving or turning corners as you slide them across objects. The fingers are used to tell you that you really can’t interact with this, but you can feel it — this is not an action point for you. But then, when there is an action point, the hand naturally curves around something, and you get the message “Oh, yeah, I can grab this.”

A lot has been said about the Knuckles controllers that come with the Valve Index headset, and they’re great. But the marquee feature for me is the soft hand strap that keeps them attached to you. This frees you up to make grabbing and grasping motions with your whole hand, as you would normally.

I have the Vive controllers, the Oculus controllers and the Knuckles. Certainly, the Knuckles, with the individual finger control, absolutely locks it in, I think, for people on the hand interaction. If every company doesn’t dupe the work that Valve has done with these, they’re dumb.

“I think the Knuckles and the Index broadly is essentially Valve’s attempt to say, ‘This is pointing towards a heightened VR experience. This is what we think of as a really great direction for this hardware to go,’ ” says Valve’s Chris Remo, who also added that they did a lot of work to make sure all the compatible VR hardware turned out a great play experience. “It was obviously pretty important that this wasn’t a Valve Index game. It’s a VR game. We genuinely tried our best to support those features, [including] all the finger tracking the Index does on the Knuckles controllers and everything else.”

A lot of the work on interactions mirrors what other creatives have done in VR, but polishes it up a level. And a lot of that work is hidden unless you look very hard for it. Doors open in the direction of your hand’s travel, for instance. Magically outwardly opening doors that open inward is a perfect affordance. Most people will never notice. The people that care will, and that’s fine, but most people will just have a better time of going through this way versus that way without fussing too much.

The gravity gloves shown off prominently in the gameplay trailers are another such affordance. They neatly avoid the VR problem of people constantly inching out or down and ramming into things outside of their play area while trying to grab objects on the ground or inside containers. They also give the player the ability to quickly utilize the environment to fend off enemies or distract them with a speed and agility that you’d never be able to realize otherwise.

Call it fate or design that Half-Life 2’s gravity gun offered the perfect in-world explanation, but it works incredibly here. Grabbing a gas mask off the ground and attaching it to your face, fending off a headcrab with a trash can lid, throwing a brick to stagger a zombie, it’s all possible with Russell.

“You can move through a space just as quickly physically, but people do end up taking longer, because you’re naturally invited to do so,” says Remo. “You can look around something in a physical way that just, there’s no equivalent to that in a non-VR game. It also meant that you can get up close to props in a way that isn’t really possible or feasible as much in a non-VR game, which meant that all that stuff has to actually hold up and be worthwhile.”

I can vouch for the time put in. At one point I grabbed a random half-crushed water bottle laying in a corner and looked inside the mouth to find the interior dimples of the bottom lovingly rendered. One person’s trash, etc.

There are so many other things that I could talk about here. The use of spatial audio anchored in what seem to be Gaussian spheres that attach sound and (incredible) music to environments, with nested encounter scores inside. The dynamic loot system that keeps the balance of the resources you have available to you tuned so that the game remains fun. The encounters that take those early scripted scenes in Half-Life and plus them to create a symphony that taxes and rewards the player for creative and thoughtful gameplay.

It’s not so much that Valve has executed One Weird Trick for making VR good. Many of these major ideas has been tried by one team or another over the past few years. But the execution has never been more precise and thoughtful. One after another the good choices keep coming — and the whole adds up to something truly special and bar-setting.

Inventive, clever and completely engaging, Half-Life: Alyx is the first masterwork of VR gaming.

But that could actually be understating its eventual impact on VR, if that’s possible. Though the template for what a truly A-list title looks like has now been truly sketched, it has always been Valve’s willingness to share its tools that has made the most impact on the gaming scene at large.

That’s why I’m looking forward to an eventual SDK. Hammer 2 is easily one of the best game-building tools ever created. Valve is already going to ship Source 2 tools for building new VR levels in Alyx, but as fans of history will remember, the level building scene really took off once the deeper tools to craft a game became available. The ripple effect on the industry will be felt long after people have dissected every sliver of what makes this game so fun. You can trace a major portion of the $1 billion esports industry directly back to mods enabled by Valve being generous with their internal tools.

Imagine what that kind of impact looks like for VR, a field that has been experimenting like mad but has no real coda of best practices for building. It could be massive, and though members of the team have said that they’re not currently planning to release an SDK, my hopes are high.

Until then, we have Alyx, and it is good.

Powered by WPeMatico

Making money from games: the future of virtual economies

Posted by | anti-money laundering, augmented reality, ccp games, epic games, eve online, fortnite, Gaming, Linden Lab, Second-Life, Sixgill, Social, Valve, Virtual reality, virtual worlds | No Comments

Fictional portrayals of virtual worlds such as “Ready Player One” and “The Matrix” typically portray the physical and virtual worlds as distinct realms siloed from each other. Characters escape a dystopian, impoverished physical realm and enter a separate, utopian virtual realm in which they are wealthy and important.

Our non-fictional future won’t have that dichotomy. One main reason is money. Any virtual world has a virtual economy, and when that virtual economy gets really big, it integrates with our real-world economy. That is in equal parts due to market forces and government intervention.

This is part six of a seven-part series about “multiverse” virtual worlds. We will explore the dynamics of games’ virtual economies, the exchange of virtual assets for real money, challenges with money laundering and underage gambling, the compliance infrastructure needed for virtual economies, and the challenges in balancing a virtual economy’s monetary supply.

What separates virtual from “real” is the ability to make money

To many people, the idea of spending time in virtual worlds amassing in-game currency and trading goods still sounds like the geeky science fiction hobby of someone who needs to “get a real job.”

Our society gauges the worthiness of pursuits based on their social and economic productivity, and most people don’t view virtual worlds as productive places. As more people find enjoyment in virtual worlds and respect people with accomplishments in them, however, vying for accomplishment with those worlds will increasingly be viewed as socially productive. As more people start earning an income through work in virtual worlds, perception of economic productivity will quickly change, too.

Virtual worlds will be viewed as digital extensions of “the real world” and working a full-time job in a multiverse virtual world will become as normal as someone working in a social media marketing role today.

Powered by WPeMatico

Valve’s flagship Half-Life VR game will land in March of 2020

Posted by | Gaming, half life, TC, Valve, Virtual reality | No Comments

As expected, Valve just dropped some details about Half-Life: Alyx, the flagship VR game it teased earlier this week.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • It’s scheduled for release in March of 2020.
  • Players will take on the role of Alyx, wearing a pair of “gravity gloves” that allow you to grab things otherwise out of reach.
  • It’ll take place sometime between Half-Life and Half-Life 2. Alas, for anyone hoping for something that takes place after the events set in motion in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 12 years ago, it sounds like this ain’t it. With that said, they told The Verge in an interview that players should play through Episode 2 first… so Valve might have surprises in store there.
  • It’s built on the Source 2 engine, and will work on “all SteamVR compatible VR systems” — so HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest when hooked to a PC, Windows Mixed Reality headset, or Valve’s own Index VR headset.
  • It’s built to be played whether you want to move around your room, stand in one place or sit in a chair.
  • It’ll cost $60, but be free for anyone who owns Valve’s Index VR headset. Index owners will also get alternate in-game gun skins, and “Alyx-themed content” in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Valve also posted a trailer, showing everything from headcrabs to the Citadel from Alyx’s first-person VR perspective… plus a special little cameo if you stick around to the end. Check it out here:

 

Powered by WPeMatico

Valve confirms it’s making a ‘flagship’ Half-Life VR game

Posted by | Gaming, half life, TC, Valve, Virtual reality | No Comments

After what feels like years of rumors, it’s official: Valve is making a virtual reality Half-Life game.

Official word of the new title comes via Valve’s (brand new, but verified) Twitter account, where the company is promising more details later this week:

While it’s a bit curious to drop news like this as the first tweet from a brand new account, Valve’s long-established official Steam twitter account retweeted it — so signs are pointing toward it being legit.

Alas, we know next to nothing besides the name — Half-Life: Alyx — until 10 am on Thursday. Will we finally get a proper conclusion for Alyx Vance, whose storyline ended so abruptly when Valve dropped the Half-Life storyline mid-sentence 12 years ago ?

Powered by WPeMatico

Steam will soon let you play local-only multiplayer games with far off friends

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Co-op video games are wonderful.

Alas, it’s not always possible to get everyone in front of the same TV — and not all co-op games have online play, so playing across the internet is out.

With that in mind, Valve has been working on something it calls “Remote Play Together” that it’s planning on rolling into its Steam game launcher later this month. By more or less tricking the game into thinking all players are in the same room, it’ll let you remotely play with your friends generally local-only multiplayer games.

Valve published on its developers-only Steamworks site a note about the upcoming feature, first noticed by PCGamer. The note quickly made its way to the Unity developer forums.

“Your local multiplayer games will soon be improved with automatic support for Remote Play Together on Steam,” it reads. “All local multiplayer, local co-op, and split-screen games will be automatically included in the Remote Play Together beta, which we plan to launch the week of October 21.”

The pending launch was later confirmed by Valve’s Alden Kroll:

Today our team announced another great new platform feature that will be built into Steam: Remote Play Together. This will allow friends to play local co-op games together over the internet as though they were in the same room together. https://t.co/jEZyGoXEfc

— Alden Kroll @ PAX Australia (@aldenkroll) October 10, 2019

So how does it work? If you’ve ever used PS4’s remote play (which lets you push PS4 games to your smartphone) or cast a game from your PC to an Nvidia SHIELD, it’s a bit like that… just tweaked for multiplayer. One player hosts the game on their computer; Steam sends a stream of the visuals to everyone else, capturing controller/keyboard input and sending it back to player one. As far as the game knows, everyone is sitting around the same screen.

It’s important to note, of course, that some games will almost certainly fare better than others here. While streaming tech is only getting better, it inherently introduces latency — and in plenty of games, latency kills. Hopefully Valve makes it clear to players that this is all pretty unofficial; if a game isn’t playable because of latency or anything else remote play brings into the mix, it’s not really the developer’s fault. Valve says developers can opt out of the beta feature if they see fit.

Valve says Remote Play Together will officially support up to four players in one game, and notes that the experience will only be as good as the connections of everyone involved.

Powered by WPeMatico

Destiny 2 goes free to play and gains cross-saving on all platforms

Posted by | Bungie, destiny 2, game streaming, games as a service, Gaming, Google, google stadia, Microsoft, playstation, playstation 3, PS4, Sony, Steam, streaming, Valve, xbox, Xbox One | No Comments

Bungie aims to fortify the popular but flagging Destiny 2 with an expanded free-to-play plan and universal cross-platform saving, the company announced today. It’s an interesting and player-friendly evolution of the “games as a service” model, and other companies should take note.

The base game, which is to say the original campaign and the first year of updates, will be available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Google Stadia. You can play as much as you want, and your progress will be synced to your account, so you can do some easy patrols on console and then switch to your PC’s mouse and keyboard for the more difficult raids.

The PS4 cross-save ability is a surprise, since Sony has resisted this sort of thing in the past and rumors had it before the announcement that they would be left out of the bargain. It’s heartening to see this level of cooperation, if that’s what it is, in the new gaming economy.

Confirmed! https://t.co/WKWtPZ7mtD

— PlayStation (@PlayStation) June 6, 2019

As part of Bungie’s separation from Activision, which published Destiny 2 to begin with, the game is now switching over to Steam on the PC. That’s probably a good thing for most, and you won’t lose any progress. It’s also being renamed “Destiny: New Light,” because why not?

Importantly, no platform will have any content advantage over another — no Xbox-specific guns or PC-specific levels. At a time when consoles are fighting one another on the basis of exclusives, this is a breath of fresh air.

The news was announced in a stream this morning, though players got a sneak peak when a publication I shall not name posted it slightly early. But we also learned more ahead of Bungie’s announcement when Google’s Stadia event showed the game coming to the streaming service in free form.

The developers at Bungie reveal Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.

A new chapter for Destiny 2 and the studio begins this September.

🌑 Watch the full ViDoc: https://t.co/A1dBgdxgMQ pic.twitter.com/nHbAW9CuYA

— Bungie (@Bungie) June 6, 2019

Destiny 2 came out two years ago and has had a number of expansions — and has also been free for limited times or platforms a handful of times. The base game was really a bit threadbare and honestly may not convince new players that it’s worth it to pay. But the price is right and if you like the basic gameplay the expansions, which improved considerably on the game and added a lot of contents, can be bought year by year.

The move is obviously meant to help Destiny 2 compete with other games-as-services, such as the constantly improving Warframe and youth-devouring Fortnite. And it’s a good test bed for the new cross-platform economy that gamers are beginning to demand. You’ll be able to test it out for yourself on September 17, when the switchover is set to take effect — more details should be available well ahead of the relaunch.

Powered by WPeMatico

Steam Link now lets you beam Steam games to your iOS devices

Posted by | Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

About a year ago, Valve announced that it was building an application called Steam Link. It’d let you play Steam games built for Mac/Windows/Linux on your iOS or Android devices through the magic of streaming, with a computer on your local network doing all the actual heavy lifting.

Then Valve submitted it to the iOS App Store and… Apple rejected it. At the time, Valve said that Apple pinned the rejection on “business conflicts.”

A year later, it seems said conflicts have finally been resolved. Steam Link for iOS just hit the App Store.

Because there’s no way most PC games would be fun on a touchscreen, you’ll probably want a controller — Valve says that Made for iPhone-certified controllers should work, as will its own Steam-branded controller. The company also notes that for best performance, the computer doing the streaming should be hardwired to your router, and your iOS device should be running on your Wi-Fi network’s 5Ghz band.

Powered by WPeMatico

EU goes after Valve for ‘geo-blocking’ Steam activation codes

Posted by | eu, Gaming, Steam, TC, Valve | No Comments

Seemingly the sole government body policing tech platforms, the ol’ European Union, is now taking aim at desktop gaming’s biggest storefront, Steam, and its creator Valve.

The commission sent a “Statements of Objections” to Valve and five other video game publishers, raising a fuss over the companies’ habits of “geo-blocking” purchases, i.e. prohibiting users from using game activation codes purchased outside their country of residence.

Furthermore, the suit takes aim at Bandai Namco, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax for coming to agreements with game distributors, including Valve, that prevented consumers in some EU member states from being able to download titles that were available in other regions.

The commission claims these companies’ actions are in breach of EU antitrust rules. The letter comes after the EU opened an investigation more than two years ago.

“In a true Digital Single Market, European consumers should have the right to buy and play video games of their choice regardless of where they live in the EU. Consumers should not be prevented from shopping around between Member States to find the best available deal. Valve and the five PC video game publishers now have the chance to respond to our concerns,” Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

As Valve’s multitude of online defenders have noted, there are some reasons why “geo-blocking” might make sense. Pushing regional sales can help game developers find audiences in new markets while keeping bread-and-butter markets paying full price to subsidize the rest. Keeping prices uniform across the globe can leave developers in a tricky position when it comes to finding the ideal price point.

It seems likely that these companies will look to make nice with the EU and keep their practice moving along elsewhere.

We have reached out to Valve for comment.

h/t: Owen Williams

 

Powered by WPeMatico

Valve lets you stream Steam games from anywhere

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Steam, Steam Link, Steam Link Anywhere, Valve | No Comments

Valve doesn’t want to miss the cloud gaming bandwagon. As PC Gamer spotted, the company quietly released a beta version of Steam Link Anywhere. As the name suggests, it lets you turn your gaming PC into a cloud gaming server and stream games from… anywhere.

The company’s strategy is a bit puzzling here as Valve recently discontinued its hardware set-top box, the Steam Link. While Valve might be done on the hardware side, the company is still iterating on Steam Link apps.

You can now download the Steam Link app on an Android phone, an Android TV device or a Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, Valve still hasn’t found a way to release its Steam Link app on the App Store for iOS devices and the Apple TV. You can start Steam on your computer and play demanding PC games on other screens.

Steam Link works fine on a local network, especially if you use Ethernet cables between all your devices. With Steam Link Anywhere, your performance will vary depending on your home internet connection. If you don’t have a fiber connection at home, the latency might simply be too high to play any game.

Now let’s see if Valve plans to flip the switch and let you run Steam games on a server in a data center near you. That would turn Steam Link Anywhere into a Shadow competitor.

Microsoft recently showed off Forza Horizon 4 running on an Android phone thanks to Project xCloud. Google also has been teasing its Game Developers Conference to learn more about its gaming projects. It’s clear that everybody wants to turn 2019 into the year of cloud gaming.

Powered by WPeMatico

Discord announces 90/10 revenue split for self-published titles on upcoming games store

Posted by | discord, epic games, Gaming, Valve | No Comments

After gaming chat app startup Discord announced in August that they were building out a games store, today, they’ve detailed that they’ll be pursuing a very competitive 90/10 revenue split for self-published titles in 2019. In addition, the company revealed that they now have 200 million active users on their chat app, up from 130 million users in May.

The announcement follows a storefront launch from Epic Games last week with an 88/12 revenue split. Valve’s Steam store had typically offered a constant 70/30 revenue split for all developers regardless of the revenues they were pulling in. The company recently announced that Steam would give a more favorable split to devs pulling in more revenue.

Discord called up some of their thinking in a company blog post:

Why does it cost 30% to distribute games? Is this the only reason developers are building their own stores and launchers to distribute games? Turns out, it does not cost 30% to distribute games in 2018.

Steam’s efforts are largely focused on holding onto big developers, but indie devs now have to balance what advantages they’re earning by establishing their central home on a platform filled with tons of titles that’s also taking a more substantial cut.

This leaves some room for Discord to attract the self-publishing indies, though it’s still an uphill battle for the company that’s up against some big competitors.

Powered by WPeMatico