Gabe Newell of Valve Sees The Future In Your Eyes

If you’re a gamer, odds are you know Valve. If you play your games on a PC, then you certainly know Valve. In a world where game developers and publishers pay employees vast amounts of money only think only of ways to get the most money out of consumers, Valve seems to be standing farther and farther apart, viewing their games as more of a service than a product. Even when they screw up, they manage to avoid controversy by exceeding their customers’ expectations. The collective goodwill that they’ve accrued with the PC community has even allowed them to get away with things that would typically infuriate the gaming community.

But Valve isn’t satisfied with leaving well enough alone, and intend to not just refine the experience that their games provide through DLC, but are willing to break into new areas of technology. In a recent interview with PC Gamer, Gabe Newell gave details on what he spends his time working on at Valve:

“These days? So my job is always changing, right? That’s the nature of the industry; it changes for a lot of people here. So right now I’m thinking a lot about longer term stuff, I’m thinking about thin client architectures, I’m thinking about cross media authoring, I’m thinking about the problems that game companies have getting movies made out of their games, and movie companies have to get decent games made. What else am I thinking about? I’m in thinking mode… oh, I’m also thinking about biometrics. Sorry, that was one thing I forgot.”

Biometrics? Like the Mission: Impossible stuff? Thankfully, Newell went into greater detail about the blending of a gamer’s body with the gaming experience, and what kinds of challenges and benefits the new technology makes possible. Specifically, what aspects of game design can be improved by monitoring a gamer’s eye movement, pulse, and the amount they sweat when playing a specific game.

“Through combining those pieces of information, we can get a much more accurate indication of player state. So that’s something we’re super interested in. We’ve done some experiments in that space, and feel like there’s some easy wins for customers and for developers.

And then there’s some surprising side-effects that we didn’t expect, like what happens when you expose that information in a social gaming context. It surprises us that how much value there is to the people who are playing. So if you’re in a competitive situation, and you see somebody’s heart rate go up, it’s way more rewarding than we would have thought. And if you see somebody in a co-op game who’s sweating, people tend to respond to that way more than we would have thought.”

Anyone who’s played through Left 4 Dead with some less-than-capable companions knows the kind of physical responses that Gabe is referring to here. But the most intriguing part of the interview was when Newell spoke about the implications of testing the eye movement of subjects; in this case, paying close attention to what parts of the game world they focused on, and which parts they never even glanced at.

“Your first reaction is, ‘Oh man, we’re not designing these things right, because if they’re spending all their time looking this rectangle on the lower half of the screen. Maybe that should just be the screen?’ So you want to actually provide meaningful stuff on the screen. And even then, if you end up finding that people spend most of their time looking here or here, then obviously you want to allocate your rendering quality or whatever ‘budget’ you have that way.

So I think we’ll move from the era of homogeneous allocation of screen real estate to rendering performance and visual quality, to a much more accurate [system where] the things that you actually look at are the things that’ll be drawn the best.”

This is certainly good news for the people who fear that console graphics can’t get much better, or will become too expensive a proposition. Perhaps this is the solution to the question of how games can get better looking, without having to sacrifice quality to do so. It’s nice to hear that somebody is trying new ways of thinking to solve a new problem, rather than using the problem to promote a newer generation of consoles. It makes sense that it would come from someone in the PC world.

Am I alone in being relieved to hear a game developer talk about how they can make their game better by relocating assets, or do you PC gamers bristle at the thought of graphics of any kind being downgraded? Let us know in the comments below.

Source: PC Gamer

tags: PC, PS3, Valve

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