Recently at GDC I got to try out Valve's new collection of VR game vignettes, The Lab. It was cool. It was also... another set of scattered ideas. It's been years since Valve released a big game. The Lab is Valve's Vive launch title, and it strings a series of VR minigames together with an overarching Portal-themed plot. Highlights included one where I got to pet and play fetch with a tiny robot tube dog, a bow-and-arrow shooting gallery that felt nice, a thing where I "calibrated" Portal cores by catapulting them into precariously stacked boxes and causing as much damage as possible, a bullet hell shooter where my hand was the ship and the part where the dog came back at the end.
It was enjoyable, and Valve promises that it will include some fun secrets. Still, it's hard to imagine mentioning an admittedly clever minigame collection alongside other members of the Valve pantheon: Half-Life, Portal, Counter-Strike, DOTA 2, TF2, Left 4 Dead and of course, their biggest game of all, Ricochet.
There's a growing chorus of discord among fans that basically amounts to, "Valve doesn't make games any more," backed up by the fact that Valve seems more interested in releasing VR demos, hardware, controllers and updates to existing software than big new games these days. I tried to get Valve's Jeep Barnett to talk about... any of that. It was a process.
Kotaku: Are you guys working on more traditional, larger-scale experiences for VR? More singularly focused games?
Jeep Barnett: We're super focused on getting this shipped. The whole team is focused on that right now. Going forward in the future, there's gonna be all types of VR games, and we'll definitely continue to do new types of stuff.
Kotaku: This sort of continues a theme, though. You've been releasing small VR experiments and other little things. Meanwhile, a number of high-profile video game designers have left Valve (or, in the case of Erik Wolpaw, are working on projects with other companies). It's kind of a facetious question that a lot of your more cynical fans throw around, but... does Valve still make games?
Jeep Barnett: What did you think about The Lab? Did it feel like a game to you?
Kotaku: It was a fun series of smaller interactions, but it felt like a sampler of ideas that could go into any number of more focused games. It's a good and useful introduction to VR, but I'm not sure if it feels like The Next Big Valve Thing, you know?
Jeep Barnett: I'm interested because it's something we've kept under wraps for a while, all these different things. I think when people see the full package — all the different pieces of it and how it connects together — I hope they feel like it's a game Valve made, and it's out this year.
Kotaku: But for people who are waiting for that larger Valve thing — that new fiction or that interesting new multiplayer game — do they have something to look forward to after all these years? Do you have something like that in the pipeline, whether for VR or regular old vanilla Steam?
Jeep Barnett: I would say that everyone at Valve is a gamer. We love games, and there's no reason we wouldn't want to make games.
Kotaku: So the waiting and hoping and wishing will pay off... at some point?
Jeep Barnett: Yeah.
Kotaku: Non-specific, but that's good to hear!