gdc 2016

The Lab Is Valve's Free VR Training And Introduction Suite For Vive

by Mike Futter on Mar 16, 2016 at 01:40 PM

Before Valve handed over its GDC booth to developers showing Vive games, it gave us an introduction to its free suite of VR experiences. The Lab takes users to an Aperture Science pocket universe that shows off a variety of different ways you can use the Vive.

One of the biggest unknowns for me before using the Vive for the first time today was about moving around the room. Two years ago at GDC, I demoed a Holodeck-like experience that simply didn't deliver and made me feel completely unsafe using it.

HTC and Valve have solved that problem by putting up superimposed grids that gently warn users as they are approaching a real-world wall. The solution for movement is a teleporting mechanism that lets players move around environments seamlessly without constantly adjusting for space limitations.

The Lab instructs users on that and more. The first experience was a photogrammetric mountaintop with a tiny, fetch-playing robot dog. Without being told, I instinctively leaned down to pick up a stick with the Vive wand's trigger. After a few tosses, I move to another setting. 

This is handled by a portal sphere appearing in mid air. Lifting it and bringing it closer to your face initiates the transition.

The second setting is a warehouse. There, I fling a new assortment of Portal personality cores with a huge slingshot. Think first-person Angry Birds and you get the concept. The idea here is to get a feel for interacting with more complex objects.

From there, Valve introduces the second wand. In a twist on tower defense, players use a bow and arrow to attack incoming invaders. The mechanism works at any orientation, and the Vive wands perfectly track my hands.

Finally, I was able to test out a bullet hell game in 3D space. I control the ship with my right wand and use the trigger to fire. This allows users to understand VR from a third-person perspective, putting emphasis on maneuvering the ship out of the bullets' path. This subtle training teaches users that they aren't necessarily the focus, helping create an understanding of relationships between the player and the world in games that don't use the player's perspective as the primary agent.

Valve says other experiences will be included, and The Lab will be platform agnostic. This hints that perhaps later in the year when Oculus Touch launches we'll be able to visit The Lab in the Rift. For more, check out a list of games coming in the Vive's early months.