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Oculus Rift: Valve promises to take virtual reality to the masses
For a few years, back in the early 90s, virtual reality (VR) looked like the obvious future for video games. Here was a technology capable of truly immersing participants in the digital environment; the essentially alienating presence of the 2D screen would be gone for ever, to be replaced by computer-generated realms that we could step into and exist in. Consumer headsets by companies such as Virtuality and Victormaxx crept on to the market, as films like the Lawnmower Man and Disclosure considered the implications of our soon-to-be lives in cyberspace. But the screens were low-resolution and the motion tracking primitive, the sensors prone to sickening lag. The gulf between expectation and reality was impassable. The future moved on.
Two decades later, in a packed room at the Washington State Convention Centre, Valve Corporation told the industry that virtual reality can become a consumer reality by 2015. When Valve says something, people in the technology sector listen. Not only has it produced two of the most beautiful and sophisticated science fiction game series' of all time (Half-Life and Portal), it also runs the Steam digital distribution service, where 75m PC owners purchase 20m games a month. During a talk at the company's Steam Dev Days conference, attendees discovered that Valve will be working closely with the creators of the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift, a VR device that has received a huge amount of positive attention in the gaming press. The aim? To "drive PC VR forward".
The attendees have seen in Valve's declarations a genuine desire to explore and support the technology rather than to stake a claim on the mega-bucks that could ensue. "I remember when computer entertainment companies were careful about toying with new technology, and constantly missed new trends because they lacked sufficient mainstream exposure," says Leonard Ritter of German studio Duangle, currently working on Nowhere, an experimental RPG for Oculus Rift. "I'm happy to see that an established player isn't afraid to meddle with cutting edge tech, not because someone did the numbers, but because they think it's cool and they'd like to see it succeed."
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