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  (Source: Carolco)
It's the 1990s and virtual reality all over again

Valve Corp., the famous game maker who brought the world the popular franchises Half LifeCounterStrikePortalTeam Fortress, and Left 4 Dead, made waves last week when it posted a job listing seeking hardware developers to help it design first-party hardware.  That led to fervent speculation -- was Valve designing a gaming console?  Was it making a "brain controller"?

I. Valve, the Hyper-Google

new report in The New York Times may answer some of those questions, as well as provide a bit of insight into Valve.

Founded by ex-Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) employees, Valve has no bosses, despite being incorporated.  The company's employee manual, obtained by The New York Times reads, "We don’t have any management, and nobody ‘reports to’ anybody else."

Valve's free-form atmosphere puts even Google Inc.'s (GOOG) policy of giving employees 20 percent of their time to work on pet projects to shame.  At Valve employees make their own way (supposedly) 100 percent of the time.  The NYT describes:

New employees aren’t even told where to work in the company. Instead, they are expected to decide on their own where they can contribute most. Many desks at Valve are on wheels. After figuring out what they want to do, workers simply push their desks over to the group they want to join.

Valve's Gabe Newell has a tough time letting employees go. [Image Source: Windows 8 Update]
The Seattle-area company zealously retains its employees.  Gabe Newell -- who The NYT says is "CEO" of the company, but only by empty formality -- comments, "I get freaked out any time one person leaves.  It seems like a bug in the system."

II. Building Gaming Goggles

The report says that Valve has hired Jeri Ellsworth, a self-taught inventor and chip designer, whose early work includes circuits for pinball machines that Valve has in its headquarters’ lobby.  To make her prototypes at Valve Ms. Ellsworth employs 3D printers, laser cutters, and other bleeding edge modular manufacturing tools.  Comments Ms. Ellsworth, "At one point, I said a hardware lab could be very expensive, it could be like a million dollars.  Gabe [Newell] said, 'That's it?'"

Ms. Ellsworth is working on a team led by Michael Abrash -- a former id Software veteran -- to produce augmented reality goggles, somewhat similar to the Android-powered "Google Goggles" (officially dubbed "Glass Explorers").  Wearing the Valve goggles, gamers will be transported into the world of the game.

Valve Goggles
A prototype of Valve's gaming goggles sits in their lab.
[Image Source: Stuart-Isett for The New York Times]

Valve is reportedly still ironing out how it wants to produce the designs -- but it already has working prototypes.  According to Mr. Abrash, the goggles will likely first be employed in virtual reality gaming (where the entire scene is animated), then 3 to 5 years down the road will be upgraded to support augmented reality gaming (where game world objects are overlayed on real world settings).

There are both technical and social hurdles to the augmented reality gaming vision.  For one thing, someone walking down the street playing Half Life might be a bit dangerous.  And then there're technical challenges, like how to popular "glue" faux billboards onto real world buildings to enhance the fantasy.

Thus far all attempts to produce a virtual or augment reality console have failed for the most part.  While some smartphone apps are now offering mild augmented reality, perhaps the most ambitious virtual or augment reality device was Nintendo Comp., Ltd.'s (TYO:7904) ill-fated "Virtual Boy", which TopTenz lists as the "#1 video game console flop of all time".

Virtual Boy
Virtual Boy, the most famous virtual reality console, was a massive commercial flop.
[Image Source: TopTenz]

III. Valve is Drifting Apart From Microsoft

Gabe Newell, in his interview preached radical anti-authoritarianism, saying he would rather dissolve the company than sell it.  The report claims that Electronics Arts Inc. (EA) was keen to purchase Valve years ago for $1B USD.  Valve rebuffed the offers, and according to the report is today worth $2.5B USD.

But Valve has some big concerns ahead.  Its ubiquitous "Steam" digital distribution service is facing hurdles in Windows 8 -- the biggest of which is Microsoft's decision to offer access to many operating system features only to apps purchased through Windows Store.  That means apps distributed by services like Steam may be effectively crippled, potentially killing such third-party services.

Gordon from Half Life
Valve has grown increasingly critical of Microsoft, and says its games play faster in Linux than Windows.

Gabe Newell strongly resents this approach from his former employer of 13 years (Mr. Newell was among the "Microsoft Millionaires" of the 1990s).  In a comment to The NYT he stated, "We would say to Microsoft, we understand all these frustrations about the challenges to your business, but trying to copy Apple will accelerate, not slow, Microsoft’s decline.'"

(But don't worry Windows fans -- despite Valve selling games for Macs, it's also been a harsh critic of Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) similar "walled garden" iOS methodology.)

Incidentally one thing not mentioned in the piece was what operating system the wearable goggles use.  Given Valve's anti-Microsoft sentiments of late, it seems likely they're built on Linux.  That hypothesis would make sense as Valve recently ported its source codes to also use the open graphics interface OpenGL, instead of just Microsoft's proprietary PC graphics API DirectX.  The port allows Valve's software to run on Linux and Apple Mac computers.  Valve claims that Left 4 Dead 2 is running faster on Ubuntu 12.04 Linux (OpenGL 4.3) than on Windows 7 SP1 (DirectX 11).

Microsoft is also reportedly considering augmented reality goggles for use with its upcoming Xbox 720 console.

Sources: The New York Times, Valve [Linux > Windows]

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RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 12:35:05 PM , Rating: 2
Why bother about mediocre last decade's crap tech like Source when Crysis 3 with the cream of the crop best engine in the industry is near?

Because the Crysis games have been dull, uninteresting, uninspired, and so generic they make Oblivion look completely fresh in comparison. I'm a gamer, not a coder, and I'm not impressed by fancy-sounding game engine features.

RE: .
By retrospooty on 9/10/2012 12:58:54 PM , Rating: 2
"Because the Crysis games have been dull, uninteresting, uninspired, and so generic "

Exactly, and thank you. I have never been so initially impressed by graphics and then later completely bored by the actual games on my life than Far Cry, Crysis and Crysis 2. Yawnfest and they just dont feel right during heavy combat.

RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 1:33:28 PM , Rating: 2
I remember one level in Crysis where you have to shoot down a series of helicopters, and it was just a raging pain to actually hunt down all the rocket launchers on the map to accomplish. I compare this to the original Half-Life and its duel with a chopper on the cliff side, a vastly superior experience.... even without fancy shaders, a trazillion polygons, and neat texture tricks.

RE: .
By retrospooty on 9/10/2012 2:28:20 PM , Rating: 2
Yup... HL, HL2, and the left 4 dead series for that matter are just fun. There is a fun factor that is totally missing from Cryteks games.

RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 3:56:27 PM , Rating: 3
Modern games are designed to be impressive E3 trailers.

RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/12, Rating: -1
RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 4:44:06 PM , Rating: 2
Crysis's plot IS A PLOT.



RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/12, Rating: 0
RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 6:49:01 PM , Rating: 4
It looks like you're admitting that Half-Life 2 has more plot than Crysis, by virtue of there being....... more plot.

RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/2012 7:03:59 PM , Rating: 1
Yeah, there's more walking g-spot in suit and with a nice looking case, if you are a brainwashed HL2 zealot you will call this "plot", I don't argue with that.

RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/2012 6:59:45 PM , Rating: 2

RE: .
By christojojo on 9/10/2012 11:46:13 PM , Rating: 2
Wow pirks your trolling has become less controlled maybe you need a

RE: .
By retrospooty on 9/11/2012 8:31:07 AM , Rating: 2
I know really... I am pretty sure he just invented this HL fanboy thing in his head. WTF is wrong with you Pirks? GO spend some time with that kid of yours and stop tripping.

RE: .
By retrospooty on 9/10/2012 5:08:08 PM , Rating: 2
Take your meds man. You'll feel much better.

RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/2012 6:30:18 PM , Rating: 2
You better stuff your meds into that demented Valve's moron who writes HL franchise plots, maybe this will help him/her, although I doubt it.

RE: .
By StevoLincolnite on 9/11/2012 11:44:26 AM , Rating: 2
You just hate what everyone else likes and like what everyone else hates.

RE: .
By FastEddieLB on 9/10/2012 5:24:37 PM , Rating: 3
0/10 You put way too much effort into this troll, Pirks.

RE: .
By JKflipflop98 on 9/11/2012 12:46:57 PM , Rating: 1
You just cemented my opinion of you as "imbecile douchenozzle". Good job.

RE: .
By MrRuckus on 9/11/2012 3:05:46 PM , Rating: 1
You drinkin the Maximum Koolaid..

Tell me you wouldn't have fun beating people with a crowbar in a game, thats why its in there.

RE: .
By Strunf on 9/11/2012 7:53:41 AM , Rating: 2
I've enjoyed Crysis a lot and the AI on Crysis is much better than on HL, the environments on Crysis are also much more "realist".
L4D is load of fun but it's not a single player game.

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