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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: .
RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/2012 6:48:03 PM , Rating: 1
Nah, with Newell's ass so much stuck now into Linux and OpenGL there's no hope left in their engine tech, it'll be some lousy looking OpenGL shit similar to whatever id produces now, i.e. nothing special. Crytek's bleeding edge PC/DirectX only stuff (I'm not talking console port of it, this is different story) won't be even remotely comparable with this "open source" shite, since Crytek never fucks with "open source" and "portability", things that leet PC gamers don't give a fuyck about. Crytek always pay attention only to the best looking 3D tech on the leet gaming 3Dhardware from nVidia, which is impossible by definition on open source shite like Linux and OpenGL.

So I'm pretty skeptical about it. Newell seems to have chosen inferior Linux and console crap like OpenGL, once I heard about it I realized it's time to say farewell to dreams of seeing HL franchise on top again, like it was a long time ago when HL1 was just released.

Good luck to Newell milking console mediocrity and Linux cheapskates who have no idea what the leet 3D gaming and pushing the boundaries is. I support companies who pay attention to leet first and THEN port their stuff to MS consoles, letting dumber people with cheapo consoles enjoy 1/2 of the game we leet PC people did already. And this means Crytek, not Valve.

RE: .
By SPOOFE on 9/10/2012 6:50:40 PM , Rating: 2

The 1990s called...

RE: .
By Pirks on 9/10/2012 7:07:28 PM , Rating: 2
Ya, the times when PC games were the best and often exclusive, now the only studio who keeps this high bar and pushes it higher with almost every release is Crytek, the rest like Valve and id went into console/opensource crap mediocrity and hence stopped being 1990s leet. I don't argue with that either.

RE: .
By TakinYourPoints on 9/10/2012 8:13:10 PM , Rating: 2
Its a shame that Crytek's games are so boring. Crysis is overrated and Crysis 2 was garbage (Warhead was actually decent, being short was a plus).

Nothing they've done comes close to what Valve has done with the Half Life or Portal series.

Who cares about FPS these days anyway, its a tired genre made for people who like easy games. Big ups to Valve for still having foresight and putting so much weight behind DOTA 2, a game that is truly deep, fun, and always challenging.

RE: .
By AnemicCrayon on 9/11/2012 4:29:52 AM , Rating: 2,704276/Crysis-2...

Crytek uses no lead platform or so they say, they cross platform.

In January 2010 PC Games Hardware visited Crytek in Frankfurt, Germany. This gave us the chance to ask Cevat Yerli, founder of Crytek, technical questions about the Cryengine 3. From the interview we learned that although the Cryengine 3 is a multi-platform technology, there is no lead platform which is usually the case.

RE: .
By AnemicCrayon on 9/11/2012 1:45:23 AM , Rating: 2
Source uses Direct3D rendering on Microsoft Windows PCs, Xbox and Xbox 360, OpenGL rendering on Mac OS X and the PlayStation 3.

Seems to me that not all consoles use OpenGL and Source is very capable of utilizing Direct3D, it's not used on Mac and Playstation, I would imagine, because they would have to licence the tech to use it and OpenGL is free. Whatever the reason I am not sure but to say "console crap like OpenGL" is dicto simpliciter.

Also for you to say "I support companies who pay attention to leet first and THEN port their stuff to MS consoles" is a contradiction in and of itself. All Halflife games were created for the PC and ported to console later and for that matter Crytek claims to crossplatform with no "lead" platform at all which also leads your comment to contradiction because Crytek favors no "leet" platform.

RE: .
By TakinYourPoints on 9/11/2012 4:40:12 AM , Rating: 2
Yup. DX is proprietary to Microsoft. It is doesn't have their logo on it then its OpenGL, which actually covers a lot of devices and platforms.

RE: .
By momorere on 9/11/2012 7:36:46 AM , Rating: 1
I knew you were stupid due to the things you post regarding crApple but this cements it. Yeah gotta love Hypsis, I mean Crysis. Especially rendered in DX11 with that shitty patch they released in a make-shift attempt to implement DX11 features. I REALLY love how running it in DX11 mode renders all the UNDERGROUND water that isn't even supposed to exsist. Fire up the game and put it into debug mode and see what I am talking about.

It is great taking a BIG performance hit for something that is half-assed and not even supposed to be in the level. Hurry up and fall back to Hypsis 1 and how it brought so many machines to their knees. That is only because it was a HUGE unoptimized piece of crap as well. They did alot better job with Warhead though.

RE: .
By MrRuckus on 9/11/2012 3:30:51 PM , Rating: 2
You need to go do some Maximum reading and learn about your one true love Crytek and being so called all things GOD to PC Gamers by people like yourself. They support multiplatform like every other kid on the block. Why limit your profits to one platform?

The first Crysis was a benchmark utility first, and game second, and even then it was not so great.

The second was complete ass and people complained if it being a console port.

RE: .
By nocturne_81 on 9/12/2012 4:03:20 AM , Rating: 2
Are you even serious?!?! What the hell are you even talking about..?

Without OpenGL.. you wouldn't have games on PS3, linux, and -- your precious iOS and OSX. You wouldn't even have all those nifty hw-accelerated interface effects and transitions that made iOS and OSX seem so fluid and responsive. Sure, OpenGL suffered greatly from lack of interest in the early 00's due to MS's brutal strategy of locking down support and licensing when dealing with DX, but interest has surged in it again, something any could certainly attribute to Apple's gained success this past decade. And btw.. Crytek supports OpenGL rendering -- otherwise you would have no Crysis on PS3.

Your staunch opinion on this is a hell of a lot more confusing than your usual tirades. Fact is, without OpenGL you wouldn't have any sort of hw-accelerated gaming (or any 3d effects, ftm) outside of Windows desktops, xbox360, or any other company who licenses DX tech from Microsoft -- a company which you seem to hate with no reservations.

A most confusing opinion.. are you saying you game on Microsoft hard-/soft-ware..?

RE: .
By Moishe on 9/12/2012 8:55:12 AM , Rating: 2
I understand where you're coming from, but there needs to be a genuine competitor to DirectX. OpenGL is it and it needs active development and supporters in order to grow and keep up with DX.

It also offers Valve a way of sticking it to "the man" by having alternatives. I commend them.

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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