No hardware yet, but Steam is coming to TV today! Also: after all that we’ve learned about Valve lately, it feels like the Half-Life developer is becoming known as the Apple of the gaming world: a magical, secretive place, kind of like the Chocolate Factory in real life.
Today, Valve is launching a “Big Picture” mode on their games download store, Steam, where you connect your computer to your television. But this isn’t about putting the Steam store on your TV. It’s a new way of playing PC games on your television. You even get to play as you would on a console: with a game controller. It sounds a lot like Ouya or OnLive, but with a much larger catalog of games — anything that’s on the Steam store, you can play through Big Picture mode your TV — and without the box. In this case, your PC serves as the game console. Big Picture gives Steam a huge makeover, turning its interface into something akin to the Xbox 360 dashboard. It also comes with a web browser that’s said to be easier and more intuitive to use than your standard TV-based browser, and it even supports multitasking, so you can switch from gaming over to surfing the Net without turning either off.
In related news, The New York Times has published a lengthy article about Valve Software today, which details another project Valve is working on: virtual reality goggles. The project, assuming it eventually gets manufactured and released for public consumption, looks like a solid competitor to the Oculus Rift. But a future version of the goggles is planned to include powerful Augmented Reality technology — tech that’s at least three to five years away. The VR headset project is being led by a Valve veteran named Michael Abrash, who has worked at numerous game companies during his career. Abrash says that Valve may not even manufacture the goggles themselves, but plans to share its designs with other companies so there will be plenty of variations.
If you’re as fascinated by Valve and its unorthodox business practices as I am, the Times article is filled with fascinating stuff you won’t want to miss. I know I compared Valve to Apple earlier, but that was only for the sense of wonder that fans have for both companies and their offices. In reality, the two companies are nothing alike. Apple has a strict — some might say oppressive — corporate structure, while Valve has no structure at all. Apple’s selling of content happens through a completely closed system, and its hardware is made to be difficult to crack open and modify; Valve is a strong supporter of open source software and encourages its fan community to modify the games Valve makes. But there is something about both companies that ignites the imagination, don’t you think?
So with the Rift, and now Valve’s new pet project, are we finally taking our first steps into true Virtual Reality? And how long before we reach the pinnacle of VR technology — the Holodeck?