BELLEVUE, Wash. — I took a short trip to Valve’s headquarters this week to view the company’s latest products. I didn’t see Gabe Newell, the chief executive of Valve, or Half-Life 3. But I did get a briefing on both Steam Machines, the Valve-powered Steam OS gaming computers with a special controller for big-screen TV play, and Valve’s virtual reality system, as demonstrated on the HTC Vive VR headset. While I was there, I snapped some photos of Valve’s headquarters.
Valve remains one of the most interesting companies in the game industry as it controls its own destiny. Founded by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington, the company started out in 1996 as a game developer, and its first game, Half-Life, was a huge hit when it debuted in 1998. It produced hit after hit, and along the way, it created the Steam digital distribution service on the PC. Now Steam has turned Valve into a digital game distribution giant.
In a bid to keep the industry open, Valve came up with its plan to enable Steam games to run in the living room. Rather than make its own console, Valve created a basic architecture for Steam Machines based on a Linux-based operating system called Steam OS. The Steam Machines also have their own Steam Controller for controlling PC games on a console-like controller in the living room, and it uses either a Steam-based computer or System Link streaming engine to display games on a big-screen TV in the living room. I got a chance to see the latest Valve Steam Machines and the redesigned Steam Controller.
Valve also showed me the Steam VR hardware system for displaying 360-degree view, room-scale virtual reality applications, where you are immersed inside a virtual world. The VR system uses an HTC Vive VR headset as the goggles for viewing the virtual reality images. It also uses a sensor system dubbed the Lighthouse Base Station. A pair of these stations send laser beams out to the headset, and they detect the movements and locations of the sensors that are built into the headset.
The result is a remarkably accurate and seasick-free VR system that can be used by multiple players at the same time. Valve has been working on the system for four years, and HTC expects to ship the first products in November 2015.
Amazingly, Valve is still small with just 380 people. It is working on Steam VR, Steam Machines, Steam, and its own games (like, presumably, Half-Life 3). By comparison, its neighbor Microsoft usually has about 2,000 people working on hardware and games for the Xbox video game console.
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