The 2016 Game Developer’s Conference kicked off this week and virtually every press release and panel discussion has the letters V and R stamped all over it.
Virtual Reality isn’t just A thing, it’s THE thing among game developers right now. And I’m not sure that’s good.
Let’s talk hardware. As we’ve already covered on prior Into Gaming segments, the hardware you strap over your head for the VR gaming experience is expensive. Hundreds of dollars expensive. But that’s pocket change compared with what you need to shell out for the best VR capable video card.
At GDC 2016, AMD took the wraps off its Radeon Pro Duo video card that offers 16 teraflops of computing performance. That’s not a misprint. That’s supercomputer territory in your PC, and we’re just talking graphics cards. The magic is the combining of two Fury-X class graphics cards on a single card, resulting in much lower latency between two discrete graphics controllers than would be possible even with a dual card Crossfire configuration. That’s the sort of horsepower AMD thinks you’ll need for proper pre-and-post rendering in the VR world.
Two workstation-class graphics chips on a single card connected to gaming drivers just so you can do VR at its full potential. And the price tag for this? Around $1500 when it becomes available later this year. That’s not for the gaming computer, or even the VR headset, that’s just the graphics card.
Now admittedly, you don’t NEED a graphics card this powerful just to play VR-enabled video games. But the fact that AMD thinks you’re going to WANT one badly enough to actually make it tells me a lot. This card will find its way into the hands of video game developers, where it will become the “new normal” for hardware benchmarks, and they will want to take advantage of it and push it to its limits. The resulting games, while no doubt stunning, will require similar hardware on your end to reproduce.
I am not a curmudgeon who hates VR games (even though I have to admit that I find wearing the headset uncomfortable and difficult). On the contrary, I think that eventually we will have holodecks because our android servants will figure out how to build them for us. So I want the future of video games. I’m just concerned that there is so much effort going into creating VR video games before the hardware required has become reasonably priced. If you think I’m making much ado about nothing, can we discuss 3D HDTVs? That was the future of HDTV not two years ago, and now we’re all 4K and 3D is one number down and several letters early to be cool. I worry that VR will simply be a strange plaything for rich gamers that turns out to be distracting us from making better games. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am, but I fear I won’t be. We need games that are better because they’re BETTER, not because they’re VR-enabled.
Speaking of games that will get better, Bethesda has dropped the trailer for Fallout 4’s first DLC, “Automatron.” The plot is simple. Someone called the Mechanist is making bad robots. Lots and lots of bad robots. And a good robot comes to ask you for help. To fight the bad robots, you have to build your own robots, and thus the fun begins.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Robot Wars or been part of building a battlebot, this DLC is going to be right up your alley. You’ll get to design robots using whatever parts you can scavenge and the challenges will get progressively harder as you get closer to the final showdown with the Mechanist. Automatron will be available across all platforms on March 22nd. It can be purchased as a stand alone for $10 or it is included in the Fallout 4 Season Pass, if you chose to buy one of those.
That’s Into Gaming, I’m Mark Lautenschlager.