Valve has largely been a non-contributor to the public VR conversation over the past few months. We now know that it was in that silence they had quietly partnered with HTC and put a brand new prototype in the hands of a few chosen content development partners to prepare for a GDC launch.
After breaking news ahead of the event of high-res, independent displays, 360 degree viewing and laser positioning, everyone was itching to strap in and experience SteamVR for themselves. The demos didn’t disappoint. Users prepared dinner in a futuristic job simulator, painted objects in thin air, repaired robots, and came face to face with a blue whale.
Those who were granted access are still singing its praises, calling the new system the next step forward in virtual inputs with the lighthouse tracking system and smart controllers. Their ability to create a more active experience. To move their feet, use their hands and always feel present. SteamVR picked up a ton of momentum as a favorite consumer device coming out of the conference, provoking the imaginations of Valve fanboys ready for virtual versions of Portal and Half Life. The best part? They put a time stamp on it, promising developer kits in the Spring a consumer version of the Vive by the end of the year.
Playstation also unveiled the new Morpheus at the Moscone center where it was originally announce a year prior. As the only console unit in the running so far, many expected Morpheus to fall short of the competition. While the graphics will always fall slightly behind its PC competitors, Playstation has plenty of competitive advantages.
Morpheus was praised for its superior ergonomics, top notch content development, and an input system in Playstation Move that already works pretty well for VR. Sony’s knack for usability and design is coming in handy. The headset itself is being celebrated as the most comfortable of the bunch, resting atop the dome like a little nest instead of cranking on the cheeks and nose. The big benefit is that people won’t need a custom GPU or a dedicated room. Playstation’s ability to clear this accessibility hurdle and experience bringing products to the masses could very well give them the edge. We’ll find out soon enough as Morpheus is set to launch in Spring, 2016.
Oculus was peripherally involved in an announcement, just not the one most wanted to hear. They and Samsung released news that the Gear VR will be an official consumer product as of Samsung’s next product cycle. You may be under the rightful impression that it already is. In bigger news, the Gear VR store will be the first place developers are able to sell theirs products.
Another story from the week came in the form of back to back announcements from Epic and Unity that their new development engines would be available for free, each with a caveat. Tim Sweeney announced that Epic would be giving away access to Unreal Engine 4 in exchange for a 5% royalty once a quarterly revenue limit is reached. Unity 5 is offering a free “Personal Edition” with full capabilities to anyone earning less than $100,000 a year. Not to be outdone, Valve made yet another announcement during the event that their new Source 2 engine would be free to content developers, though the details have yet to be given.
To say that virtual reality was felt this week at GDC would be an vast understatement. It was arguably the biggest advancement in consumer VR to date, creating more competition, improving the experience and removing barriers for developers and content creators to continue moving the virtual ball forward.