Working on Khronos VR Standard

December 6 - Programmer Joe


Today the Khronos Group announced a new open standard initiative for VR. The goal is to allow VR hardware and software to talk to each other without the need to go through anybody’s proprietary API.

As the number of competing VR systems grows, this effort will provide a stable platform for application developers to target. And as new VR headset manufacturers come online, the same standard will give them access to a broad set of applications without the need to convince anyone to port those applications to the new piece of hardware.

This new standard is the next logical step from what we’ve been working on with OpenVR. The VR team at Valve is hard at work with the rest of the VR standard group at Khronos to define these APIs. Over time we expect significant pieces of OpenVR itself to be replaced by the Khronos APIs.

If you work on VR hardware or engines, we invite you to join us and work on the standard through Khronos. You can find information about joining Khronos on the Khronos site.

Welcome to Steam OSVR Headsets

November 29 - Chet


Last week we added an additional icon for titles that are compatible with OSVR headsets, that is the ominous image above.

Thanks to Open VR support, the OSVR HMDs launch with over 200 titles already showing support and more developers will be verifying support and adding the icon every day. If you are a developer, give it a go, reach out to the fine folks at OSVR by email - dev@osvr.org - to get your very own developer kit.

This is the first new HMD we have added since this past spring when both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched on Steam and this won't be the last new headset supported. As the industry keeps growing, changing, and experimenting, Steam will be there to help you experience the latest VR content on whatever device you choose.

Recent New Titles

November 21 - Chet

A quick recap of a few of the recent titles.

First up is Google Earth VR - which is available for free! We have strong emotional attachments to physical locations, so the first thing we see everyone do when playing around with Earth is to is load up their childhood homes or other locations that are special to them in their lives.

After that, other popular destinations have included - checking out other cities you have lived in, cities you will visit, or even cities you will only visit virtually. Don’t forget you can go to human scale (available in the settings), or stomp around any of the maps as a giant. Let us know where your favorite locations are. Mine is pictured above, sitting above Cleveland Browns Stadium, celebrating their perfect season. (Earth stores the pictures in "\\Users\User\Pictures\Google Earth VR")

EVE: Valkyrie is now available and for a limited time you also get Gunjack free! One of the cool things players may not be aware of in this cross-platform space shooter is, each platform has a ship available unique to that platform.

Cowbots and Aliens is a multi-player game that embraces teleportation. This highly polished game has some great weapons but make sure to use headphones as the positional sound means everything in this one.

Climbey is a strange one. In this climbing racer... not sure that is a category, but either way in this game you race people by climbing through courses. It is exhausting but fun. Warning, some of us found the intro training levels a bit... um... uncomfortable, but we were all fine in the races.

VR The Diner Duo is a PC monitor to VR Co-op game. Can you make the food fast enough for the impatient customers? You can work together with one person in VR and the other at the computer or you can go it alone in VR. This is a great party game.

For more games, there are new ones every day, you can now visit the dedicated VR landing page at http://store.steampowered.com/vr.

Scaling the Play Area

November 17 - Chet
Today we have a guest blog post from Andy Moore at Radial Games, one of the companies behind Fantastic Contraption.



A few days ago we released Fantastic Contraption v1.5: The Kaiju Update. The update's key feature is the ability to rescale the entire play space so that you can tower over the levels like a lizard over Tokyo. Why and how did we do this? First, we have to explore the reasons behind the initial scale of the game.


The Benefit Of Room Scale Design

Fantastic Contraption was built from the ground-up to be a 360-degree room-scale experience - one that uses your entire room and requires you to move and turn around. There were two primary reasons for this; the first (and most obvious) reason was simply that the Vive was the just-announced hot-new-product and we were excited to push our new toy to its limits.

The second reason was that, at room-scale, our in-game actions trigger proprioception queues in your body. Your body uses proprioception to feed your body extra data about your environment; for example, there are nerves in your neck that help you feel a sense of awe when you look up at a skyscraper; those nerves don't fire when you look at a photograph of the same skyscraper, so those feel like different experiences to you. Building a large contraption that fills your living room triggers these various physiological reactions, and we believe any game that fully leverages these queues will - by default - feel more real than any game that ignores them. We love the sense of room-filling majesty a large contraption can invoke in players; we love that players have to duck under connecting beams, step over oddly spaced wheels, dodge windmill arms, and inch back cautiously from catapults. These all add to the experience in a very real (if hard to measure) sense.

Being able to forget our mundane reality and being transported to Fantastic new environments was key for us, and room-scale technology really made that easier to achieve.


The Challenge Of Room Scale Design

There are two big problems with room-scale design though. First, simply not all games fit the format; many experiences would work just as well seated, standing, and sometimes even as a flat game not requiring VR at all. Thankfully we designed the game from day one to be room-scale and didn't have to wrestle with this one.

The second problem is accessibility. To play Fantastic Contraption we required you had a large play area and an able body. In some cultures, tiny living spaces is the norm, and entire markets were cut off from us. People that lacked flexibility in their joints, the elderly, the wheelchair-bound, the people with their leg in a cast, and the disabled in general - we were leaving them out in the cold. Finally, let us not forget those anguished souls among us who choose to stay less mobile when gaming. We get it, you had a long day! Maybe you want to relax and get off your feet!

When we considered how many people were missing out on building Fantastic Contraptions, it gave us sad faces. We made the decision that while Fantastic Contraption was /best/ played room-scale, /requiring/ it was unfair.

Planning The Change

We wanted the game to be whimsical, fun, and cute - but fit the play space of as many people as possible. Our goal was clear, but the path to obtain it was quite murky. Could we take our already-implemented "grabby claw" and make the game work from a universal standing position? Could we just bring all the interaction elements closer to the player? Could we do clever level design to make everything just work with minimal changes?

Soon after the initial launch of the game, we put a few "experimental" buttons in the Settings menu and let people change their play space to test these ideas out. We built some presets for seated and standing modes that people could play with and made some minor edits to see if this kind of gameplay had legs.

It turns out that didn't work so well. All the effort we put into making things feel big, your play area feeling uncluttered, open, and relaxing - all went out the window when we started crowding things up against you. Editing objects far away was annoying. Sometimes a person's desk would prevent them from reaching the floor; sometimes people would "lose" an object by accidentally placing it behind them and never turning around, or even just placing it under their chair or inside their couch. We needed a different solution.

After a lot of multiplayer meetings on the green of Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, we came up with the idea of having two primary modes: the standard room-scale mode, and a second "scaled" mode where you stand /beside/ the play area and can scale, rotate, raise/lower, and otherwise place the game wherever you want.

Custom Scaling - The Killer Solution

Because we allow you to set the height, size, placement, and rotation of the play area, we ended up solving a lot of problems in one fell swoop. You could now quickly size the area to fit on your lap for seated play, or you could scale it up fairly large and sit cross-legged on your floor to play. You could align it beside you so you don't clip the tea on the edge of your desk or set it up for someone in a wheelchair. You can make a "mini room scale" configuration that allows shorter humans to feel like they are ten feet tall. You can make your play area face your tracking device head-on for better visibility. This scaling solution ended up being very customizable, and therefore very flexible for just about every situation.

So flexible, in fact, that this change also made the game hardware-agnostic. As long as you have tracked hands, the game would now work well with any modern VR hardware with any space restriction you might have. From a business angle, making this change was a no-brainer.

This scaling solution put an ace up our sleeve as well. We often struggled with how we'd implement a level editor - when by definition the level exists outside of your reachable play space. With the scaling solution now implemented, getting the player within arm's reach of any corner of the level was trivial. Implementing a scaled mode of play made the level editor possible, and now we're wishing we built this feature first for our own use! (Our next big patch will contain the level editor for everyone to enjoy.)


Challenges

Implementing this wasn't exactly easy and required a lot of re-design. Now that the player was standing, looming, over each of our levels, we realized they were potentially standing inside level geometry; all of our levels had to be touched up, and some had to be mirrored or flipped to ensure there was always safe standing space. We had to worry about things (like text or save-game-models) being visible when scaled down, tutorial fonts and placements had to be reworked, and we redesigned the helmet-world entirely to fit the new paradigm.

Then there’s the interface. Figuring out exactly how to scale the world with such flexibility in 3D space took a lot of brainpower and iterations. Tons of work all around. We're now over 6 months from our initial launch and we just now felt comfortable enough to release the feature! We learned our lesson, though - start early. Plan for this eventuality.

It's definitely worth it, though. We encourage all developers to make a flexible, accessible design - not just for your users, but for your game's and studio's own health as well. VR is a new market, and every little edge you get is a foothold that will keep your studio (and the whole ecosystem!) afloat for the coming years. Use everything in your toolbox! Limiting your game to one niche of customers is dangerous!

If you're starting fresh, think of all these eventualities up front. Changing everything after the fact was hard (as we learned!), but engineering for this from day one isn't a lot of extra work.

And for the gamers out there - we're excited that everybody has a chance to try out our game, regardless of their mobility or real-estate limitations.

Let's make something Fantastic!

Try VR at a store near you!

November 7 - christen


The best way to understand the potential of Virtual Reality is, of course, to try it for yourself. That's why we've been working with HTC and retail partners to offer Vive demos in stores around the world. We've recently introduced a new demo experience at GameStop, Microsoft, Fry's, and other retailers across the US and Canada, where guests can try their choice of a number of popular VR titles.

New demo locations will continue to be introduced over the coming months. Check out our ever-growing map of retail demo locations to find a VR demo near you.
HARDWARE PARTNERS
STEAM HARDWARE