Recent Valve Hiring Hints at Next-gen Index Headset in Development

Since the release of its first (and so far, only) VR headset in 2019 and its flagship VR game in 2020, Valve has been worryingly quiet about its future plans for VR. But recent hiring and job listings suggest the company is still working toward next-gen VR hardware.

It’s been nearly four years since the release of Valve Index, a leading PC VR headset which has held its ground as the second most-popular headset on the platform for longer than most might have expected. But the aging headset mirrors the aging PC VR landscape in general which has taken a back seat to Meta’s Quest platform after it captured the attention of a bulk of VR developers.

But Valve may not be done with VR yet. As YouTuber Brad Lynch pointed out last month, the company recently brought in two new people with experience in VR displays and optics, one of which claims to be advising the company on “next-gen Valve Index and Steam Deck products.”

Additionally we’ve spotted some interesting updates to Valve job listings showing the company is still very interested in hiring people with VR expertise.

As of late 2022, the company’s listing for a Visual & User Experience Designer didn’t include any mention of VR, but sometime between then and March 2023, the company updated the description to indicate that the hire would “create UI for use across desktop, mobile, handheld & VR.”

Similarly, the Software Engineer for Hardware listing was updated sometime between mid-2022 and March 2023 with new language specifically relating to “the next generation of VR and hand-held gaming products,” and “core VR Technologies (tracking, optical calibration, display customization).”

Add that to a handful of teases from the company in the last few years, and it surely seems like VR remains on the radar internally at Valve, despite little external communication to that end. Granted, Valve is pretty unique as a company, often working at its own pace on projects that may or may not ever launch. While there’s no telling if the company’s internal VR effort is on the backburner or actively moving forward, it’s clear the company still wants to hire and retain employees with VR expertise.

Valve Interview Confirms Its VR Ambitions Are Alive and Kicking

If you’ve been plugged into the Valve leak-o-verse, you’ve probably come across the name ‘Deckard’, the supposed code name of a standalone headset allegedly under development by the one and only. While Valve isn’t confirming anything about the storied standalone, the company went on record late last year to say they are still have faith in VR, and are critically still working on VR headsets.

Valve product designer Greg Coomer spoke to Korean gaming publication This is Game (Korean) in December, saying that VR is very much still in the works. The interview wasn’t widely shared in the English-speaking side of the Internet until it landed on Reddit, Google-translated to English.

Here’s Coomer’s response to a question about what he can reveal in regard to VR, translated from Korean to English:

There isn’t much (laughter). Nevertheless, I can definitely say that we are continuing to develop VR headsets recently. Valve has a lot of expertise in VR devices and has faith in the medium and VR games.

We hope to remain open on PC platforms rather than having VR games exclusively on a certain platform. While adhering to this belief, we are continuing development.

However, we cannot confirm the existence of specific products or disclose the release date of the results. The same applies to game projects being developed internally. There are certainly many projects underway, but we cannot announce anything today.

As you might gather, Valve doesn’t openly speak about its in-development projects. Hearing that VR is still on the table from Coomer directly though, who has been with Valve since the release of Half-Life (1998), and worked on major games all the way up to Half-Life: Alyx (2020), is just about as good as you can get.

That’s especially so since the last time Valve released any VR hardware was its enthusiast-grade PC VR headset Valve Index in 2019. A year later, the studio launched its only full-length VR game to date, Half-Life: Alyx.

Still, it hasn’t been entirely all quiet on the Valve VR front. In March 2022, Valve chief Gabe Newell called its handheld gaming PC platform Steam Deck “a steppingstone” to standalone VR hardware.

“One of the things [Steam Deck] represents is battery-capable, high-performance horsepower that eventually you could use in VR applications as well. You can take the PC and build something that is much more transportable. We’re not really there yet, but this is a stepping stone.”

At the time, Coomer also noted Steam Deck’s hardware “would run well in that [standalone VR] environment, with the TDP necessary… it’s very relevant to us and our future plans.”

Meanwhile, tech analyst and YouTuber Brad Lynch has been probably the most vocal proponent of all things Steam standalone, having followed the Deckard beat since data miners first found a string in a January 2021 Steam update that mentioned the alleged VR standalone.

Over the following years, Lynch has uncovered mounting evidence in subsequent releases of SteamVR, including his most recent supposition that Deckard may include PC VR wireless streaming capabilities, eye-tracking, and passthrough AR features.

As you’d imagine, there have been no public confirmations from Valve, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

This ‘Half-Life: Alyx’ Mod Brings a Slice of Valve-level Action

Besides making one of the most influential VR games to date, Valve also made sure Half-Life: Alyx was just as moddable as its other iconic titles. And thankfully there’s no shortage of talented modders out there who have built extended campaigns and new levels for the PC VR shooter.

One such HLA modder is Nate ‘Polygrove’ Grove, an Environment Artist and Designer at game publisher Annapurna Interactive, which is known for titles such as Outer Wilds, Stray, and What Remains of Edith Finch.

Last Friday Grove released their first solo HLA mod project, called ‘Re-Education’, something the environment artist calls a “medium-length campaign (30 minutes to an hour) featuring standard Half-Life Alyx style gameplay with a focus on slower pacing and environmental storytelling.”

You can check out the trailer below:

In Re-Education, the idea is to scavenge, explore, and make the dangerous journey while en route to a safehouse on the outskirts of City 17. There, Alyx finds her commandeered train has been halted by a Combine barricade.

“She must make her way through a long-abandoned school to access the switch that unblocks the tracks, but the task may prove more difficult than expected,” the DLC’s description reads.

The free DLC can be downloaded though Steam Workshops, which of course means you’ll need the base game to play.

This isn’t Grove’s first HLA mod either. You may also recognize the developer’s ‘Polygrove’ handle from the credits in the Half-Life: Incursion mod as well, which included the talents of Maarten Frooninckx (Hammer scripting), Ross Joseph Gardner (script writing), and Joey Bracken (voice over).

There’s a host of great content to explore outside of Re-Education and Incursion too, with one of our top picks being the Half-Life: Alyx ‘Levitation’ mod, which brings around 3-4 hours of Combine-ganking fun in an unofficial chapter that you’d swear is direct from Valve.

Former Half-Life Writer Says Cancelled Borealis Game Was Developed ‘Too Early’ For VR

Former Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw revealed why Valve cancelled the Borealis VR game in a new interview.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about Valve’s pre-Half-Life: Alyx plans in VR. Geoff Keighley’s Half-Life: Alyx – Final Hours detailed how Laidlaw looked into a new Half-Life VR game in 2015, codenamed Borealis. Named after the Aperture Science Research ship, Laidlaw’s outline would have seen players exploring the vessel as it travelled through time, showing events like the Seven Hour War. However, according to the former Valve employee in a new Rock Paper Shotgun interview, this idea came too soon:

It was too early to be building anything in VR. When people are struggling with the basic tools they need to rough out a concept, it’s hard to convey any sort of vision, and it all evaporated pretty quickly.

Continuing on, Laidlaw says Borealis would have tied together Half-Life and Portal but claims this wasn’t his idea. Stating “I didn’t want it to go there at all,” Laidlaw says he had to react “as gracefully as I could to the fact that it was going there without me” and elaborates on the consequences such a crossover would bring.

I felt like doing this made both universes smaller, but from a franchise branding perspective, that’s a good thing. I eventually did come up with a scenario in which we could connect Aperture and Black Mesa, and we had Borealis lying around from the earliest days of Half-Life 2, so I thought maybe we’d end up with some cool lore and backstory in the long run.

This isn’t the only interesting news to emerge from this interview. Regarding Half-Life’s future storyline, he calls his plan during Borealis’ development “vague and diffuse” before addressing the now infamous ‘Epistle 3,’ which detailed one potential storyline for the cancelled Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Claiming it was “deranged” and he had “nobody to talk me out of it,” Laidlaw evidently regrets releasing it and offers an explanation:

Eventually my mind would have calmed and I’d have come out the other side a lot less embarrassed. I think it caused trouble for my friends [at Valve], and made their lives harder. It also created the impression that if there had been an Episode 3, it would have been anything like my outline, whereas in fact all the real story development can only happen in the crucible of developing the game. So what people got wasn’t Episode 3 at all.

We’ll never see what Borealis could have offered, but if you’re after more Half-Life, the upcoming Episode 1 VR mod arrives on March 17 for free to all existing owners.