Valve Software has lately been determined to out-innovate its competitors, as shown by its Steam OS, Steam machines, and proprietary Steam controller. And now it’s introduced yet another pioneering feature to its leading digital games service.
The latest technology from CEO Gabe Newell’s company is a modified version of Steam’s user interface (the visible part of the program which the user interacts with, including its menus, game library, store, etc.) designed specifically for virtual reality headsets. This feature, called SteamVR, comes as part of a beta client released yesterday, two days before Valve’s first Developer Days conference. The update’s programming includes navigating a virtual screen by moving your head, known as head-tracking.
Steam is a program that combines digital distribution of video games, a cloud-based library, and social networking. Video games on Steam are already playable in virtual reality, but now the entire program will be compatible with the Oculus Rift developer kit, the first of a new wave of VR headsets to find its way into consumers’ hands.
This should make 2014′s inaugural Dev Days, which start tomorrow and end Thursday, all the more interesting. The event is a two-day conference where professionals in the video game industry network and attend lectures. During Dev Days, developers can try Valve’s new operating system (Steam OS), prototype Steam machines (computers running Steam OS with living-room friendly designs), and Steam controllers. Now that Valve has unveiled SteamVR, it’s likely the company will also make this technology available for developers to check out. If attendees have any questions, members of Steam’s staff would be there to assist them.
In Valve’s community forums, programmer Joe Ludwig explained how to activate SteamVR. “If you own an Oculus Rift dev kit you can try it out by starting Steam with ‘-vr’ on the command line. Then press the Big Picture button to enter Big Picture + VR mode,” he wrote.
Before that, though, anyone who wishes to add the feature must install and activate the beta client by following these instructions from Ludwig:
- Run Steam in the desktop client without the -vr option
- Find “SteamVR” under “Tools” in your library. (If you don’t have it installed, install it.)
- Bring up properties on SteamVR and opt-in to the “Beta Update” beta. Let the update download.
- Quit the Steam Client again and start it with -vr
PC Gamer suggested that instead of remembering to start the client with the “-vr” extension every time, beta participants can simply create a desktop shortcut for Steam and then go into its properties and add “-vr” to the end of the its target line. They can then launch the program using their modded icon anytime they want to use SteamVR.
Comments responding to Ludwig’s post are mixed, with many community members posting that they’re having issues getting the feature to work. A few others expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of the new interface, saying that they hope for it to become more innovative or even to enable customization options in the final version.