PIXEL BURN – Veni, Vidi, Vive, Valve & Tim Schafer’s GDC puppet pratfall

In which Matt probes a VR hell of perfidious puppetry.
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Hello you beautiful misfits. My name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I take a sarcastic look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things to have happened in the week’s gaming news. Most of it coming out of GDC.

GDC is the largest annual gathering of professional game developers and GDC 2015 kicked-off this week in San Francisco California. Incidentally the same week as PAX East 2015, which is great for people like me who want decent news, but a murderous hell of travelling for any developers who’ve scheduled themselves for both events.

One problem with a bumper-week like this is that it’s nigh-on impossible to cover everything in a short video like this. So as always I’m going to narrow it down to stuff that interests me.

Once I’ve got all the guff about Virtual Reality, of which there was bucket-loads, out of the way first. What with that being the new big shiny thing at the moment. Besides the usual suspects like Sony’s Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift, Valve were also at GDC to show-off their entry into the VR shebang with the…Vive (Veev)? Vive (vyve)? Vive (vee-vuh)? Vive (vy-vay)? Bah, whatever. It’s the VR headset Valve are making in conjunction with Taiwanese smartphone and tablet manufacturer HTC, and kinda looks like it came straight out of Ghost in the Shell.

And it wasn’t even announced at GDC! That’s just where Valve were showing it off. The Va-jay-jay was initially revealed at the Mobile World Congress which, like PAX East, was also happening in the same week as GDC. Like I don’t have enough big events to try and keep up with.

As well as the headset itself the HTC Viva Las Vegas also utilises two Wii-style motion controllers, with touchpads and triggers. And it all works in conjunction with another bit of tech from Valve codenamed “Lighthouse,” a room-scale tracking device consisting of two boxes that triangulate your position using voodoo and witchcraft or something.

All of which Valve demonstrated with a neat little Portal-themed tech demo in which you repair a robot. Which immediately had people screaming “VALVE’S MAKING A PORTAL 3 AND IT WILL USE VR AND YOU’LL BE FIXING STUFF AROUND APERTURE SCIENCE AND” except no. It’s about as much a confirmation of Portal 3 as that version of Portal 2 for the Razer Hydra was. But then people went similarly mad over that as well.

Look, Valve had the Portal 2 game assets lying around and used them to make a tech demo. It doesn’t mean anything. If they’d used a bunch of Half Life 2 assets instead so you were Gordon Freeman fixing Dog the robot with a crowbar, I wouldn’t assume that meant Half Life 3 was round the corner. Well actually I…probably would. So I guess people can be forgiven for jumping the gun on this one.

Initial impressions of the HTC Veni Vidi Vici from numerous sources are so overwhelmingly positive, if you stuck them in a blender and injected yourself with them you’d be insufferably cheerful for the rest of your life. One or two journos even came out saying the HTC Vivarium made them “believers” in VR as a concept.

Even if the Vive is as great as everyone’s saying however, this talk of having room-based sensors and “walking around” all sounds like too much hassle to me. Plus not everyone has a spare room they can turn into some sci-fi holo-chamber with padded walls. So I’ll stick to playing games while sat on my arse in this battered, comfy chair, thankyouverymuch.

Like a fucking caveman or something.

Valve also showed off their official Steam streaming device called, somewhat unimaginatively, the Steam Link. A $50 set-top doodad that lets you stream stuff from your PC to your TV and…that’s it. As living room streaming solutions go it does what it says on the tin, and it’ll probably – although this isn’t confirmed – work with the VR stuff so you can stick it in your padded dream vault. What more could you want for only fifty bucks?

Well how about the final version of the Steam controller? Because one portrait of President Ullysses S Grant is how much that’s gonna cost as well. I can’t say I’m too keen on the button placement shown here, but perhaps that’s something I could learn to get used to if I ever get one.

Or I can carry on using my 360 controller while sitting here in my chair, at my PC, and keep playing games that way, like a normal person.

Unless I win the lottery. Then I’d buy all this stuff along with a big house and tell this grim, miserable real world of ours to go fuck itself. From the comfort of my Virtual Reality isolation womb.

GDC isn’t all hardware and tech bollocks however, it’s also about games. What with it being called the “Games Developers Conference” after all. Most of the news about them however was trailers, “sizzle reels” and other PR guff, with all the real meaty stuff shown-off behind closed doors to journalists and other devs.

However, console owners did get the pleasantly surprising announcement that space sim Elite: Dangerous is coming to XBOX one. So rather than only being able to play it on PC, ideally in a Aeron chair with a fancy flight-stick setup costing hundreds of your regional currency, you’ll be able to play it on your living room TV instead. From the comfort of your sofa, armchair or beanbag.

Which, speaking as someone who loves space sims but sadly has zero time to actually play any, is no bad thing. I mean new-generation console owners aren’t exactly drowning in that sort of game right now. Or much in the way of any other games for that matter.

Incidentally during Microsoft’s announcement of it, in their little GDC conference presented by Phil Spencer, they couldn’t help but throw out that old sneaky “Xbox One exclusive” line to make you think it was only coming to Xbox One.

Which, as we should all know by now, really means it’s only a timed exclusive. So if you’re a PS4 owner who heard the news and immediately had your space-dreams crushed into so much dust, don’t despair just yet. A PS4 version will no doubt see the light somewhere down the line.

According to Elite lead creator bloke David Braben of Frontier Developments, Xbox One and PC players will both get to gallivant around in the same online galaxy. So if an enterprising console player discovers a brand new system ripe for the exploiting then PC players will be able to access it too, and vice versa. This does however also mean that Xbox One players will require a constant internet connection, just like PC players…didn’t until Frontier changed their minds about it right before release.

Frontier Developments are also looking into proper cross-platform play for Xbox One and PC players, which could be very interesting indeed. Especially if a future PS4 version also allows cross-platform play between PS4 and PC. Chances of there being a glorious interstellar three-way between all three platforms are as likely as surviving a fall into a black hole however. But even the chance for dirty PS4 or Xbox One-owning scrubs to square-off separately against snotty PC elitists sounds great, and I hope Frontier Developments can pull it off. If only so I can one day tell my nephews and neices how the console wars eventually spread into OUTER SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE.

There were other announcements too, like the trailer for Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. A standalone prequel to last year’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, this one brings the action back to the 1940s for some more traditional Nazi-killing. Which is always fun!

It IS still fun to kill Nazis, right? I assume we’re still allowed to enjoy that? Without some self-appointed moral guardian telling us why it’s bad and that we should feel bad.

Another game making a comeback is Rock Band, with Rock Band 4 confirmed by developers Harmonix for Xbox One and PS4. What more is there to say about this? It’s Rock Band. You get a load of mates round, get drunk and bang away on your plastic instruments until the wee hours. And it has been a fair old while since we’ve had this sort of thing, what with the whole market for such games dying on its arse from oversaturation.

As well as “working their arses” off – their words not mine – to support all those old plastic instruments you might have lying around from previous Rock Band games, Harmonix are apparently negotiating with Sony and Microsoft to ensure all those songs you bought as DLC aeons ago can be brought forward into the new one. That is if you stuck with the same console manufacturer. So if you had a 360 with a bunch of Rock Band DLC and upgraded to an Xbox One, or went from a PS3 to a PS4, you can perhaps look forward to using all your old songs with Rock Band 4. Assuming negotiations don;t fall apart at the 11th hour or something.

Finally, what’s a big gaming-related event like GDC without a bit of unnecessary drama to spice things up? Courtesy of none other than Mr Tim Shafer, who was in attendance to present the annual GDC Awards and took the opportunity to crack a joke about GamerGate. Which is still trucking along despite very insistent stories of its demise. Tim’s joke referred specifically to the #NotYourShield hashtag, used by supporters of GamerGate who don’t fit the “Straight White Male Nerd” stereotype regularly thrown at it by its opponents.

As puppet-related moments go it was possibly the most cringe-worthy I’ve ever seen, outside of “Puppetfucking.com.”

Was that REALLY the best joke you could come up with, Tim? Or did you let some humourless arts graduate write it for you as a Kickstarter reward.

I KNOW you can write better jokes than that!

You could’ve poked fun at the GamerGaters who shriek about “Cultural Marxism” the way Alex Jones rants about the New World Order. Or the borderline obsessive ones that fret over every little thing certain individuals do, up to and including taking a shit. Or the ones that hang on every word this secret reptilian alien in disguise spits out when he’s not devouring live guinea pigs.

Instead Tim pretty much dismisses the opinions of women, people from ethnic minorities, gay, trans and others who sincerely support GamerGate but DON’T fit the stereotype. Yes, they do exist. I know this by virtue of my neutral position on the subject, and because I at least try to do some fucking research on these things. Enough to know both sides are not as black-and-white – no pun intended – as you’d be led to believe.

I mean I’m pretty sure these people aren’t all Straight White Male Nerds.

Same with this lot.

Now in this bloke’s case I can only take him at his word that he’s gay . For all I know he might really just be a dildo collector.

Although I’m confident that sci-fi author, former games journalist and GamerGate supporter Oliver Campbell here is white and gold. Or is he blue?

But just as there are women and people from minority groups who identify as pro-GamerGate, there are also those who identify as being against it. And I’m sure plenty were in the audience at the GDC awards and found Tim’s joke hilarious.

Hmmm. That sure is a lot of white blokes, isn’t it?

In short Tim Schafer should probably stick to dishing out awards and pissing away his Kickstarter money, rather than stirring up needless drama. Although if he hadn’t then I would never have come up with “Puppetfucking.com.” So thanks Tim!

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your friends, family and Tim Schafer’s sock puppet know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. And if you didn’t like it, send me one of Valve’s Vives and I’ll disappear into a VR coccoon for the rest of my days. Until next time, as always, you can go now.



About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.