CES is a giant gathering to showcase business and consumer technologies—so it’s no surprise that gaming hardware might make a splash at such as conference. This year, amidst a lot of fanfare, we’ve seen three of the most interesting products make their debut and prance across the glass walkway (or at least show up on strange and then sit in a booth.)
Like most expos, CES is about the shiny-shiny hardware—but when it comes to gaming, the hardware is only half of the equation.
Amid the products that the MMO world should be paying attention to we can first and foremost note the Steam Machine. Only a very close second is the production that is the 3D VR amazement that is the Oculus Rift.
Valve’s One and Only—13 Steam Machine Models Debut
The Steam Machine isn’t just a single product produced by Valve–publisher of such amazing multiplayer games as Team Fortress 2—it’s a technological platform licensed to a number of vendors that takes advantage of the digital distribution platform provided by Valve through the Steam client. Move aside Xbox One and PS4: the Steam Machine is a PC-like-console that starts in the price tag of a console and catapults into the stratosphere.
Currently there have been 13 Steam Machines announced. Leaving open the possibility more will appear in the market. All of them run SteamOS and the prices range from $499 all the way up to $6,000.
From the MMO and multiplayer perspective, these are essentially gaming-use PCs that will necessarily be connected to the Internet so that they can receive their digital deliveries from Steam. They will use Steam’s community-building friend system, it’s market, forums, and very likely also its media delivery mechanism as well.
Steam Machines comes in almost literally all shapes and sizes.
The CyberPowerPC Machine runs $499 (and up) and looks al lot like a console—sporting an Intel i5 core processor, AMD Radeon R9 270 / Nvidia GTX 760, 8GB RAM, and 500GB storage. The iBuyPower is a black rectangle with a cyan light loop inset into the case also at $499 and up—containing a quad-core processor (Intel or AMD), Radeon graphics, and 8GB RAM, and 500 GB storage. The ZOTAC runs around $599 and looks a lot like a wireless router—plans to have an Intel Core, Nvidia Geforce GTX, and hasn’t delivered on RAM or storage specs.
All the $500-600 level Steam Machines seem to aim for the same region of the market.
The SCAN-NC10 is expected at $1,090 and looks a bit like a flat, white external hard drive—looking at Intel Core i3 4000M, Nvidia GeForce GTX, 8GB RAM, and 500GB storage. MATERIEL.NET’s machine is just $1,098 and it looks like a metallic black cube—expecting an Intel Core i5, MSI GeForce GTX 760 CC, 8GB of RAM, and 8GB+1TB SSHD storage. ALTERNATE will be $1,339 and looks like it took a page from MATERIEL.NET’s black-box concept—Intel Core i5 4570, Gigabyte GTX 760, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSHD. WEBHALLEN runs $1,499 and looks like a small PC with an open side—sporting an Intel Core i7 4771, Nvidia GTX 780, 16GB RAM, and 1TB SSHD.
After this bracket comes the real monsters.
DIGITAL STORM – BOLT II is at $2,584 and it looks exactly like a gunmetal grey PC tower (but probably a little smaller, the pictures don’t do it justice)—Intel Core i7 4770K, GTX 780 Ti, 16GB RAM, and 1TB HDD + 120GB SSD. FALCON NORTHWEST – TIKI runs from $1,799 to $6000 and it also looks like a PC tower with pretty paint and black chassis—a customizable CPU (possibly the price point change), Nvidia GeForce GTX TITAN, 8-16GB RAM, and up to 6TB storage.
Then there’s announced but not priced on the market.
NEXT SPA has the setup of a $1000 range Steam Box but has no price announced, another box with a green “X” on it. ORIGIN PC – CHRONOS is highly configurable and looks like a flat black rectangle, it may run high in the price range because it could support 2 x Nvidia GeForce TITANs.
Standing out from the pack is the Alienware model—which looks like one might expect an Alienware console to look like: black plastic, beveled with the Steam logo, and the glowing alien head. As Dell has stated it will be competitively priced with next-gen consoles, this machine may run in the $500 range.
Oculus Rift: the VR revolution priced to sell
The Oculus Rift has been a huge joy to geeks everywhere as a 3D stereoscopic vision goggle headset priced in a range that normal people can actually buy (only $300 for the development kit). The goggles themselves are revolutionary but it’s not quite out of beta yet—however, this has not stopped numerous video game developers (even Valve) from working towards making their games work on the VR headset.
Fans of Star Citizen have long been pushing the developers of that MMO to prepare themselves for the VR revolution, and it certainly looks like it’s going to happen.
At CES 2014, the newest prototype code-named “Crystal Cove” was put on display for amazed crowds sporting a low persistence OLED screen, head tracking, and 1080p HD right in front of your eyes. For further coverage of the specs and a lot of reasons to get into thinking of the Oculus Rift as a peripheral worth having, check out Joystiq’s coverage.
The groundbreaking tech-jump between this prototype and the previous is the implementation of low persistence (allowing for less motion blur of the view field.)
I played through two demos with the Crystal Cove prototype strapped to my face, and the difference between high persistence and low persistence gameplay was astounding. In high persistence mode, I shook my head back and forth in the cockpit of a spaceship, and watched the neon screens and dials around me blur to obscurity. With low persistence engaged, the world snapped into sharper contrast and when I shook my head, I was still able to read the text projected in front of me.
As the Oculus Rift advances, it will probably bring with it a whole new way for gamers to interact with game universes. The potential for MMO gaming and this sort of technology is staggering, imagining actually-immersive and more compelling game universes. Giving FPS a right-there-right-now feel or making adventuring through a dark and looming forest a surrounding-sensory experience.
Goggles certainly won’t replace screens—but they’re just another way for gamers to experience their game, just in the same way that tablets and mobile-devices have been expanding the universe that gamers play in.